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Special Report

'Special Report' Panelists Discuss Whether Attack on Sarah Palin's New Wardrobe Is Sexist; Motive Behind U.S. Attack on Syria

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from October 27, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN, (R-AK) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Those clothes, they ar e not my property, just like the lighting and the staging and the everything else that the RNC purchased. I'm not taking them with me. I'm back to wearing my own clothes from my favorite consignment shop in Anchorage, Alaska.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: That is Sarah Palin, of course, talking about the $150,000 tab that the Republican National Committee reported for expenditures on her clothing.

Now it turns out that the ultimate cost of those clothes will be something like a third of that, apparently, but at the moment it's been a big controversy and she has had to answer for days now.

Some thoughts on this controversy and on Palin in general from Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson National Political Correspondent of National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Well, it has now become an article of conventional wisdom in the media, at least, and I suspect among supporters of Barack Obama, that Sarah Palin has backfired, that she was a mistake, and even some conservative columnists, or so-called "conservative columnists," seem to agree with that assessment. Fred, your thoughts?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I don' agree with that assessment. Obviously she has helped energize conservatives, the base of the party, which had not been energized by John McCain alone. So she has helped there.

And, remember, in the two weeks after the Republican Convention, wound up with McCain and Palin ahead. They were ahead three, four, five points, depending on the polls.

And then there was an intervening event. It wasn't somebody's trip to Saks and Neiman Marcus, either. The intervening event was the financial meltdown, and that changed everything.

A month later, McCain and Palin are four, five, six points behind, depending on the poll you look at. But I think it's clear they were ahead. Now they're behind. That's not Sarah Palin's fault.

She has to step out and defend herself on this clothes deal because the person who went and bought the clothes, and, as I understand it, put the clothes on her credit card, went to Saks and Neiman Marcus, where she was not asked to go by Sarah Palin, where Sarah Palin has never set foot, and bought these clothes and brought them back.

The staffer who did that has been a coward and has not stepped forward and said "I made a mistake. I went and bought these clothes. I shouldn't have. It has been an embarrassment to the campaign and Sarah Palin and John McCain. I have hurt the campaign. I'm sorry, it was my fault."

Instead, she's allowed Sarah Palin to take the whole hit, and that has hurt the McCain campaign.

HUME: Do you know who that was?

BARNES: All the people I talk to say it is Nicole Wallace. If she didn't do that, then let her announce it publicly.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I think this thing has been just handled awfully from beginning to end.

HUME: The clothes incident.

LIASSON: The clothes incident.

First of all, there is no doubt that other candidates have suits or clothing, but somehow they are either on different line items so they're hidden in the budget so they are not just hanging out there for all the world to see.

And also, it's unclear if she even got $150,0000 worth of clothing.

HUME: Clearly she did not.

(CROSSTALK)

LIASSON: And they were taken to try on, and a third of it was returned. She's not keeping it anyway, number one. They had a proper story to tell about it. I think she's right to push back against.

I think the question about whether she has been a net plus or not — I think she has been a plus. I think McCain would have been doing a lot worse if he hadn't picked her, if he picked one of the less colorful, less base-energizing, white male Republicans that he had available to him.

And, also, don't forget, she has two potential benefits to him. One was to energize the base. There is no doubt that she has done that.

The other one, which I don't even think was her first task, was this theory that she would reach out to women, Hillary supporters and independents, and bring them to the McCain ticket. She hasn't done that. I don't think that was her purpose anyway.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: On the clothes thing, I think it's a bum rap. It is a sexist attack. I think there was a good story to tell, and the fact it wasn't told is disgraceful. Ad it is really a triviality.

I think she really helped at the beginning. There was a bump. It was almost entirely after the convention. It was almost entirely a Palin-effect.

But what happened was there was another intervening event. The major event of the campaign, obviously, was the financial one. But if you look at her numbers, which were very favorable, what happened was she had two disasters — interviews with Gibson and Katie Couric. And as a result of that, she became an object of ridicule.

Now, you get the attacks, you get stories now of the McCain handlers attacking her and her people attacking the McCain handlers, which in one sense is old. You always get tension between the presidential and vice presidential teams.

And, in a sense, they are both right. She was green and inexperienced and did not do well.

On the other hand, given her inexperience, it was inexcusable that the McCain handlers put her out there in the setting in which it was an invitation to an anchor to try to get her, embarrass her, and become a hero in the media by exposing her and taking her down, and that's what happened.

I would have kept her under wraps. And if anybody would have complained, I would say Obama hasn't had a news conference in a month. And Biden, after his ridiculous statement that the election of Obama would bring on a crisis, he's been in witness protection. I think they wired his jaw until after Election Day.

So keeping a candidate under wraps is perfectly OK, and they should have done it. Let her out there in public. She speaks well in set pieces, well in private, small interviews.

HUME: She did OK in the debate, too.

KRAUTHAMMER: She can debate as well.

In those interviews, which were edited, strung out over a week, she was destroyed. And there's almost no recovering after you become an object of ridicule.

LIASSON: You know what, Charles? The irony is she is right now the most accessible of all four candidates. She talks to the press right now more. She is more available to reporters.

I think instead of keeping her under wraps, they should have let her do a lot of interviews with local reporters, with the traveling press, and kind of get her sea legs, and then do Katie Couric.

HUME: Or then not do-

BARNES: If you do an event every day — look, if you make a mistake, you do interviews the next day and it goes away. It's a one day story. But you do Katie Couric and then you don't do anything for a week, it lingers, and it did.

I thought she did all right in the Gibson debate, but the Katie Couric debate was something else again.

HUME: Her interview.

BARNES: Interview, yes. Maybe I was right-debate.

KRAUTHAMMER: It was a debate.

HUME: So why did President Bush send U.S. troops into Syria over the weekend, and what will the ramifications of that be? Indeed, what happened? We'll talk about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALID AL-MOALLEM, SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We put the responsibility on the American government and they need to investigate and return back to us the results and explanation why they did it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Well, that's the Syrian foreign minister there at the U.N. saying he wants an investigation and America to report to the Syrians about why they went inside Syrian territory on a weekend raid in which it is said that they captured and killed, or killed or captured, one, an Al Qaeda leader who had been helping lead the effort to smuggle fighters from Al Qaeda through Syria into Iraq.

Of course, the Syrians will tell you that these people that were killed or injured or whatever had nothing to do with Al Qaeda.

What about this raid, Charles? What do we know, what do we think about it?

KRAUTHAMMER: If the Syrian foreign minister wants an investigation, I will save them money on an investigation and I'll tell them why right here, gratis. And that is that Al Qaeda has been, of course, using Syria as a sanctuary.

Al Qaeda is now on the run in Iraq. They have nowhere to hide, especially in Anbar province. And the only way they can possibly recover is to lie low in Syria and occasionally attack across the border. That's why we hit them. We should have hit them earlier.

But I think this is a message in many ways. First of all, when did it happen? At 5:00 in the afternoon, a brazen daylight attack. It shows America is not going to slink around and do this.

Secondly, it is happening with a week to go before an election. I think what the president is thinking is that the Syrians and others are going to calculate that in a weak the president will be a lame duck. For three months America will be in transition, and perhaps it will be uncertain and wavering.

He is sending a message that he will be a lame duck, but it fact may liberate him without any of the pressures that a president has to worry about in an election, about incumbents, about people in the Republican Party. He could be unleashed after Election Day.

It is a way of sending a message to Syria and to Iran that you ought to watch out and at least not attack in this transition period.

The president's legacy is going to be on Iraq. He's winning the war. It's almost won. He wants to actually make sure that in the three months remaining nothing is reversed, and this is a way to send a message.

LIASSON: And, also, I think, to leave Iraq to his successor in as good of shape as possible, because if Barack Obama wants to go forward with his plan to pull troops out within 16 months, he certainly has the surge to thank for that if he's going to be able to do it, in fact.

I, actually, not that I am much of an expert on this kind of diplomacy, that seemed like a very measured response from that Syrian foreign minister. It didn't seem threatening or belligerent. It seemed about as toned down as you could get for somebody who has just been attacked by the United States of America.

BARNES: Usually they are more obstreperous in their lying. They are always more emotional in their lying, as they always are in the things like this.

Look, what I thought was restrained was the attack itself — five miles inside the border, a target of opportunity, obviously looking at the terrorists that have been streaming through that path from Syria for years now. And now Al Qaeda, as Charles said, has been run out Anbar province, has not place to go, is using that as a sanctuary.

And, look, they knew this Al Qaeda leader was there. It was a target of opportunity. The president obviously approved the attack. It worked.

And I agree with Charles. I think the president was sending a message-"in similar situations, we will do the same thing again."

HUME: Charles raises an interesting question, though — would the president have done this now in this way if he believed John McCain were going to be the next president?

BARNES: I suspect he would have. It was such a ripe opportunity.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think what's really interesting is that, as Jennifer reported, there was an attempt to bring back the bad guy. Apparently they say he's dead. I'm not sure I believe it. If he were alive, I would put out a story he is dead if he has information.

Because we can attack and destroy with the remote-controlled drones at any time day or night. If you go in with helicopters and troops, it is because you want to bring stuff back, either computers who have information or people who have information.

And that, I think, is the second message. You not only might be killed, but we might get you and a lot of information. And I think that's a very strong message.

But the question I have is why in the sixth year of the war? It could be that we felt too weak in the last couple of years to threaten Syria and perhaps open a second front. I think it's a measure of our strength, with America winning the war and Al Qaeda on the run, we're not afraid of a Syrian response.

HUME: It doesn't sound as if Syria is prepared to make a response, does it?

KRAUTHAMMER: Absolutely not.

BARNES: Not much of one.

And I agree with Charles. I think they must have looked back in history and saw what happened with the Cambodian incursion during the Vietnam War, which just made the opposition, the domestic opposition to the war, just go berserk even more than they were berserk.

HUME: So you think they-

LIASSON: The waited, you mean?

BARNES: Yes.

HUME: They waited so that this wouldn't have fed into the campaign, you mean?

BARNES: No, that it — for exactly the reason Charles said, that they didn't feel strong enough, as successful as they are in Iraq now, to be able to — they didn't want to do anything to undermine that.

HUME: What do you think, Mara? Last word.

LIASSON: I don't think it was worry about domestic opposition. I think it was that they felt militarily stronger now.

HUME: That's it for the panel.

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