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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Change of Topic for Barack Obama

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from March 21, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL RICHARDSON, GOVERNOR, NEW MEXICO: Barack Obama, you're a leader who has shown courage, judgment, and wisdom throughout the years. You understand the security challenges of the 21st century, and you will be an outstanding commander in chief.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I talked to Condoleezza Rice this morning. She called me and offered her apologies, which I appreciated. But I also indicated that this is something that has to be investigated diligently and openly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, GUEST HOST: Two big stories with Barack Obama today — Bill Richardson, governor from New Mexico, endorsing Barack Obama, a big event on the campaign trail, and then an apology from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Barack Obama for improper accessing at the State Department by some contractors into their passport files.

It turns out that all three presidential candidates had some improper accessing by some contractors into their passport files.

So has this all turned the page from the Reverend Wright comments that got so much attention?

Some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard; Juan Williams, senior correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Let's start first with the endorsement Bill Richardson gave to Barack Obama, Charles. How big is that, and does that turn the page with everything we have been talking about?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think it is very important, not because he has a reputation on foreign affairs and he is endorsing him as commander in chief, and not because he is Hispanic. I don't think it will have a good big effect in the remaining primaries.

It's all in the timing. Here is Obama reeling from the Reverend Wright affair. He's back on his heels. The polls are turning sour on him. It looks as if this has done damage.

By having a man of Richardson's stature in the Party step in and say "I endorse him. I'm with him. He's a winner," I think it sends a message to a lot of delegates who could be wavering that he's going to win this, and you should be on the right side. So I think it's very important looking at where and when it happened.

And I think from Richardson's perspective, you don't have to be that cynical to think he's a politician. He knows how important his endorsement was today, and I suspect he either dangled it before him or understood there is a high position in the administration, Obama administration, perhaps Secretary of State or Vice President.

I mean, he's a guy — if Obama wins, it's going to be with a combination of New Mexico, Colorado, Florida, and a Hispanic running mate would really help. And if I had been Richardson, I would demand at least those, and maybe a cushy ambassadorship. I would sell my soul for nothing less than the court of Saint James.

BAIER: Juan, the press availability with Bill Richardson afterwards — there were some questions about the endorsement. There were questions about this passport situation — the State Department investigating now some contractors' accessing pa passport files for all three presidential candidates, not just Barack Obama.

But a lot of the questions still dealt with Reverend Wright's comments and when Barack Obama knew what. Take a listen to the answer of one question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I wasn't aware of the AIDS conspiracy statement, which I think is completely out of line and off the wall. I wasn't aware of his statements about "god damn America."

Those statements were not ones that I knew about until the story broke a week-and-a-half ago, or so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: And he went on to say that he knew about the one statement about 9/11, and he remarked on that at the time he got into the race.

How long do you think these questions are going to dog Barack Obama?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: They're not stopping. I think they will go on, in large part because he hasn't answered them. What did he know?

So what was it that caused his campaign to say we don't want Reverend Wright standing by us as Barack Obama makes his announcement that he is running for President in Springfield, Illinois back in February, 2007? They knew something was there, and Barack Obama had to know there was a reason why his minister is being dis-invited him from this ceremony. It just doesn't make sense.

And then what you have to understand is that going towards Pennsylvania, going towards North Carolina and Indiana, those are states where there are not very many black voters, especially in Pennsylvania and Indiana.

And so this question is going to be what about white male voters? What about those Reagan Democrats? What about people who will be impacted by this?

That's why you, as you mentioned earlier, you see a shift already in the polls, that, in fact, this is having some consequence — it might have been Charles, my mind is slipping — but, anyway, one of you said that you see Hillary Clinton now picking up in terms of these national polls versus Barack Obama.

And you see John McCain picking up in terms of the Republican contest versus a Barack Obama. That's important information politically, because what that suggests is that it is not only that Democrats — that his numbers will come down among Democrats in the upcoming races, but that people thinking about how will Democrats do in November may have a different view of Barack Obama.

BAIER: And this passport story, Fred? I mean, he came out and said there should be an investigation. The campaign last night said they were indignant about the situation. But Barack Obama added that he didn't think it was information that could have been taken from the passport files that wasn't out there already.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: It would have been one thing if it were just Barack Obama whose privacy had been breached by someone going into his files, his passport files at the State Department. But it was also, as you noted, McCain and Hillary Clinton as well, and these were contractors, and it is inexcusable, but it's not a major scandal.

And the investigations are already underway, and there will be one in Congress as well.

I agree that, easily, it was the endorsement today that made a lot more of a difference. I mean, Richardson, I think, also had to calculate, among other things, that Obama, for all his trouble, is still ahead, he's probably going to be the nominee. He is 740,000 popular votes ahead and 130, 140 delegates. It's very hard for Hillary Clinton to catch up.

And now is the perfect time to jump on that train. I mean, the timing really was exquisite.

The next question about turning the page — look, the damage is done, whether this is talked about in the next few days or not. We know a couple of things that people will remember. They will remember the statements made by Reverend Wright and that Barack Obama did not complain or leave the church or anything.

And, secondly, everybody is going to remember that analogy about his grandmother. That one sticks.

WILLIAMS: And you know John Edwards is also out there as a major endorsement. He would have more consequence at this point than a Bill Richardson.

The Hispanic vote is largely gone, and so what we are looking at now is symbolism that helps Obama in the midst of this crisis.

But the key one still is John Edwards, and he hasn't said a peep.

BAIER: Not even on Leno.

BARNES: You're right about the polls, though. If you read the daily Gallup poll, he was ahead about four, five points a week ago. Now he is four or five points behind, and there was one intervening event.

BAIER: Last word on this topic.

Next up with our panel, how much trouble in Tibet, all of the troubles in Tibet, will hurt China in the Summer Olympics? Is the violence really over there? Stay tuned for more about China trying to squelch the Tibetan protests.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHAMPA PHUNSTOK, TIBET'S CHINA APPOINTED GOVERNOR: A small group of secessionists and criminals have taken extreme and radical means in the riots precisely to create publicity for their positions in the international society, and to destabilize Tibet at a critical and sensitive time while we are preparing for the Olympics.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Nothing surprises me about the use of violence on the part of the Chinese government. But I would hope that world opinion will come down heavily on them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: That is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in India, meeting with the Dalai Lama, talking about the protests in Tibet and China's crackdown. Before that, you heard Chinese appointed governor of Tibet talking about their take on the protests.

We're back with our panel. So what about this, leading into the Olympics, on the world stage, what does it mean for China?

KRAUTHAMMER: World opinion is going to have zero effect on the Chinese. They are going to control Tibet. They will not yield on that, and they worry that if they ever yielded even slightly on Tibet, it would allow or encourage secessionism in the western parts of China, some of which are Muslim.

What we can do, I think, is, if there were a threat, a credible threat from the U.S. and Europe, not the U.S. unilaterally, of a boycott, that would make the Chinese yield a bit on the edges, I think — meaning we could save the lives of some of those who are being arrested and who are going to be sent into a Gulag for 60 years. We could perhaps get them released.

They may allow a minor pleasure of autonomy, cosmetic. I would think in terms of saving lives here, if the idea is that we have influence to get China to yield a full autonomy and independence of Tibet, it is not going to happen.

But a boycott ought to be seriously considered. I'm not a fan of Jimmy Carter, but I think the boycott he did against the Soviet Olympics in 1980 were important and effective.

BAIER: Juan, the president is saying he is still going to Beijing, and —

WILLIAMS: Exactly. And I think, listening to what Charles said, there are measures you could take that would be incremental before you get to a boycott, and one of them is President Bush's presence in Beijing for the Olympics.

He says that, in fact, he's not even issuing statements about this because he prefers backchannel communications, feeling that they are more important and more influential with people like the Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, and it's not a matter of embarrassing or causing the Chinese to loose face in the international community.

If that's the case, let's trust President Bush. But I must say that John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama have all stood up and said that this is wrong. And Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, on her visit in northern India said this is a matter of conscience.

And I think you have to understand: President Bush has held hands with the Dalai Lama and met with him in defiance of the Chinese government, and yet on this issue he decides the back door is the best way. So you have to trust the president.

BAIER: What are the politics of this, Fred?

BARNES: The politics are, as Charles said, world opinion isn't going to have anything to say here, and, in fact, the Chinese don't have a view of world opinion. They threw all the reporters out of Tibet. There won't be stories coming out of there.

Now, if you had big demonstrations in Beijing, where all the embassies are, and so on, you couldn't throw everybody out of there. That's what would help them out.

I disagree with Charles — I don't think the boycott by Carter of the Olympics in 1980 had much effect, except it kept the Soviet's and the other communist countries from coming to the L.A. Olympics in 1984.

If you could demonstrate that by having a boycott of the Olympics by the U.S. and other countries, that that could really do substantial things, that it could free Tibet, in effect, it would be worth it.

But, short of that, the president thinks he has a real close relationship with, as Juan was suggesting, President Hu Jintao, and he jeopardized that when he met with the Dalai Lama. I think we will see him in Beijing.

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