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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Hillary Clinton's Controversial 'Assassination' Comment

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from May 23, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.

I was referencing those to make the point that we have had nominations, primary contests that go into June. That's historic fact, and I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation, and particularly for the Kennedy family, was in any way offensive. I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, GUEST HOST: The first video there was Hillary Clinton talking to a South Dakota newspaper editorial board, where, as you heard, she mentioned the assassination in 1968.

The second video, an apology late this afternoon, scrambling before cameras, after the Barack Obama campaign put out this quote:

"Senator Clinton's statement before the editorial board was unfortunate and has no place in this campaign," Bill Burton, campaign spokesman.

So what about this reference, the dustup from it, and what does it mean for the campaign? Now some analytical observations from Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, Nina Easton, Washington bureau chief of Fortune Magazine, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — FOX News contributors all.

Charles, how about this? It caused quite a stir this afternoon.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, COLUMNIST: It was an amazing gaffe. She has spoken in the past about how about in '68 and '92 the campaigns have gone on long into June, but she had never uttered the word "assassination." And the reason is that you don't in presidential campaigns.

We all worry about it, and we worry about it in particular when you have the first African-American candidate who can be the president.

And that's not a paranoid fascinating. You remember that Colin Powell was on a wave of support in 1996, and thinking of running. According to Bob Woodward, his wife Alma had said that he could not run, and, in fact, Woodward writes that she had said she would leave him if he ran for one reason — she thought he would be assassinated.

We have a history of that in our country. It was obviously on the Powells' mind, and it is in the back of people's minds today. And you worry about it. Whenever you see a presidential candidate wade into a crowd, everybody worries about it.

But for her to say the word is astonishing. I have to attribute it to fatigue, exhaustion, because raising it in this context is really toxic. She had to come out and apologize immediately. But I think it resonates.

BAIER: There are people out there, obviously, Nina, who will say she has said this line a million times. Today she used the assassination. Why?

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: There are some people who are speculating that she did this purposely, which is, I think, insane, because it was so politically stupid, why would she do that?

I think probably what it was was a bit of a curtain raiser for us on her private conversations, as in things could happen. This is why she'll stay in this race and why her husband Bill is encouraging her to stay in the race, because things could happen.

But I agree with Charles, the idea of mentioning the word "assassination." We know that Barack Obama has been subject to threats. He has been under secret service protection for more than a year now because of that.

It's a troubling kind of link to make, and it probably doesn't help her standing with the Obama campaign.

BAIER: That's my next question, Mort. What about this? Let's say we get to the nominating number and Barack Obama gets it and she is pushing to be number two, does today hurt her in that if she wants that?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: I don't know that it hurts her any more than she is already hurt by the whole antics of the campaign, and the idea that she's going to — in order to get the vice presidency, I think she will have to force her way on to the ticket, and forcing the nominee of the party to do something he doesn't want to do is not the way to endear yourself to the campaign.

I think that this adds a feather to that. Although, the way the Obama campaign took it, it was offended, it sounded offended. It didn't take it as a pure accident. It sounded as though she had said — it's an unfortunate comment for her to make, and it has no place in this campaign. That does sound offended.

Look, every time I have thought about June as an ending date, I don't think about Bill Clinton getting the nomination in 1992. It is just seared in the memory that the 1968 campaign ended in June, because everybody remembers Robert Kennedy's assassination.

I think this was a slip of the tongue. If something did happen to Barack Obama, she would get the nomination anyway. She doesn't have to bring it up. It doesn't have to be a conversation with Bill Clinton that something would happen. I just don't get that.

EASTON: Going back to this vice president issue, I don't think that if he did consider putting her on the ticket it would have to do with how she has conducted the campaign or whether he likes her or not.

It would be a very raw political calculation, which is that she has built a legitimate movement. She's has got this huge base of support. She has got the same number, equivalent number of popular votes a as he does, and she draws from demographics that he can't draw from. And it would be just a calculation on their part, not because they like her.

BAIER: Let's say even though the numbers don't add up in her favor, did she hurt herself today by this statement in that sense of momentum that she has been having in West Virginia and Kentucky and other places?

KRAUTHAMMER: She did. It's a gaffe. It's a big one. It will only be a one day story, but it's a word you don't use, especially in this context. I found the Obama's campaign interesting, as Mort did, calling it unfortunate, in case it was a gaffe, and no place in the campaign, in case it was intended or half-intended.

So the Obama campaign is allowing that there might have been an intent in this, which is a way of saying to her, even if you say it was entirely an error, we're a little bit skeptical.

So I think it rises above a mere accident here in the way Obama has responded.

BAIER: Does it fill the vacuum through the holiday weekend, Mort?

KONDRACKE: No, it's over. I think it's over.

KRAUTHAMMER: Until about tomorrow at 11:00 a.m., I think.

BAIER: That's the cutoff.

KRAUTHAMMER: That's the cutoff, yes.

BAIER: That's it for this topic.

Next on "Special Report," newly installed Russian president Dmitry Medvedev travels to China in a sign of thawing relations between the two cold war rivals. What does it mean for the U.S.? More with the all-stars after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HU JINTAO, CHINESE PRESIDENT: The strategic partnership between China and Russia should move forward in a healthy and stable way in the long future.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: The joint statement shows the high level of the cooperation between us within the global and regional frameworks, and expresses the positions of the two countries on the most urgent international issues, including the anti-missile issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese president Hu Jintao in Beijing today. The Russian president's first foreign trip was to China, where he signed a $1 billion nuclear energy deal and, essentially, was warm and fuzzy with the Chinese leader.

What does this all mean, and should the U.S. be concerned? We're back with our panel. Nina, the images of the two leaders were obviously meant to be broadcast around the world.

EASTON: I think it was an unnerving moment for the U.S. at this point in history.

You've got Russia, which is the largest exporter of energy and, basically, dictates our energy costs, or helps dictate our energy costs. You've got China, the fastest-growing major economy in the world, which finances our debt. And you've got the two of them in this semi-strategic alliance, or moving towards that.

You've also got the two of them undermining anything we want to do about Iran. And this is an obstacle that we're going to face not just directly with the two of them, but in our diplomatic efforts, in our punitive efforts towards countries like Iran.

BAIER: Medvedev's first trip is to China. Putin's first trip was to London to reach out to the west. He is sending a signal here.

KONDRACKE: Neither of them came to Washington.

I think the nuclear energy deal, there's nothing nefarious in that. And, as a matter of fact, you can say that if the Russians sell a nuclear reactor to China, that that's less coal-fired electric power plants that they have to build. If they want to go nuclear, it's cleaner. We should go nuclear. It's cleaner.

What is strategically important is that they're ganging up against our anti-missile system, which is an innocent system designed to protect against a rogue state, against Russia — not against China or Russia — but they are ganging up against it, and they're working together.

And I think it is a device to pose themselves as the alternative superpower to the United States. Each of them by themselves, I would say, are about a quarter of a superpower, and so together, if they are together, that's a half a superpower.

I still think that we've got much more raw power than they do, but together they're trying to offset us.

BAIER: So you're saying the major message is we're both standing up against the U.S.?

KONDRACKE: Yes. I think that it's not as though they've declared themselves enemies of the United States. We're not back in the cold war era, that's for sure.

But this is a feint in that direction. It is meant to balance off the United States. The United States is not the uni-power that it was ten years ago.

KRAUTHAMMER: The emphasis on missile defense is interesting, because we associate the resistance with Russia, it's worrying about us in placing the missile defenses in the Czech Republic and Poland, and the are Russians have protested, and NATO has backed us on that.

But we forget that China worries about that because Taiwan and Japan are open to accepting our missile defenses. And the power that a China and Russia have as one of the five big nuclear powers on earth is when you have a large arsenal of missiles and they have nukes on them, you are invulnerable and almost omnipotent. You can wipe out almost any country.

And the minute you have a missile defense closing and protecting other countries, it diminishes your strength.

And so what the Chinese and Russians are worried about is that we will start small and protect rivals like Japan, Taiwan — China's rivals — and protect Europe. But if the system will grow, it becomes a global system.

It's not a global system now. It's regional. It makes ultimately the Reagan dream of rendering those missiles obsolete a reality. And it makes them, in a nuclear way, impotent.

So it is a treat, and they want to stop it, and they have decided ganging up on us together on this issue will make them stronger than each of them protesting individually.

BAIER: What about the other issue that Nina brought up about standing up and essentially blocking efforts in regards to Iran and North Korea? We need both of those nations to step forward.

KRAUTHAMMER: It is a way of diminishing our hegemony. But this is not new. Putin has been in China before he started all this alliance. All their communiques in the past have denounced American hegemony and all that. It is a way of saying you're the big guy on the block and we don't like it and we're going to gang up against you as best we can; not as enemies but adversaries.

EASTON: The missile defense system that they condemned today that we support is partly aimed at Iran. And so I think that brings it back full circle.

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