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Special Report

'Special Report' Panel on Swine Flu Outbreak and Release of CIA Memos

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from April 27, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are closely m onitoring the emerging cases of swine flu in the United States. And this is obviously a cause for concern and requires a heightened state of alert. But it's not a cause for alarm.

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We are proceeding as if we are preparatory to a full pandemic. We don't know that a pandemic actually will occur, but because we want to make sure that we have equipment where it needs to be, people where they need to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BAIER: The swine flu. In just the past few minutes we have learned that the State Department has put out a release saying that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a notice recommending that American citizens avoid all non-essential travel to Mexico at this time because of the outbreak there.

Let's bring in our panel about how this administration is handling this — Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, senior correspondent of National Public Radio, and Jeff Birnbaum, managing editor digital of The Washington Times.

Jeff, what about the response and what we're looking at with this situation?

JEFF BIRNBAUM, MANAGING EDITOR DIGITAL, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: Well, I certainly think the press coverage, and some of the information we're getting from the Obama administration, is over the top.

This has to be called an emergency because that's the language of the statute that allows flexibility in the federal government to get medicine where it needs to go and to allow government agencies to do their job in case what is now a small outbreak — in fact, a tiny outbreak — in this country could move into something else.

BAIER: We are at 40 cases roughly now.

BIRNBAUM: Right. Only one person hospitalized of those 40 cases, I believe. And in a normal year, there is some 36,000 Americans who die because of just regular garden variety flu.

I think that there is some element of the Obama administration not allowing a crisis to go unused, to paraphrase Rahm Emanuel. I think this — a president likes nothing better than to have a crisis that may not actually be a crisis, but look like he is in charge.

And this certainly helps, I think, Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security Secretary, who needs a little refreshing of her reputation because of problems that she had with the report about returning veterans possibly becoming domestic terrorists. If she has a daily briefing showing she is on top of this, it ought to help her.

But it really doesn't need a daily briefing, in my view.

BAIER: Juan, are you buying it? Are they hyping it?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: I don't know if they are hyping it. The facts are the facts, and, as Jeff just said, we have 36,000 cases of flu every year. So it's no big deal. So far, no reason for extreme concern.

What the government has done, though, is allow local governments to have access to federal moneys in case they need immediate response. That is why it has been cleared at some emergency levels.

I think what's interesting to me as I watch it here in Washington is to see people like John Brennan, who was up for CIA director, now acting as — I guess he's a security advisor to Homeland Security, and he is out there as a spokesman on this issue. You have Napolitano as a spokesman.

Where is the person in charge of HHS, Health and Human Services? Kathleen Sebelius hasn't been confirmed yet. Where is the surgeon general? Sanjay Gupta didn't take the job, and he didn't take the job. Tom Daschle, of course, really slowed everything down because he couldn't get the HHS job after his tax problems.

So you have a number of people who just aren't in place, and that's why Homeland Security is occupying the center stage here.

But I think, you know what, in the '70's, I used to work for The Washington Post, and I covered that outbreak of swine flu. And you know what, it seems to me overreaction is the bigger problem.

So far, I think if you keep it simple and tell people to wash their hands and take simple precautions, there is no need for an outrageous sense or outside sense of alarm.

BAIER: There's roughly a thousand people who died from the vaccinations back then.

WILLIAMS: Correct, absolutely.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Let me defend the Obama administration against Jeff and Juan.

I got an email from someone at CDC, a career guy that worked on previously, the avian flu outbreak. He thinks they are behaving pretty responsibly. He thinks this is potentially pretty serious.

The good news is that it doesn't seem to be a terribly powerful strain of the flu right now in humans. The bad news is that it is jumping from human to human, which is something swine flu doesn't usually do, which is why they are scared of a real pandemic.

Mexico is right next door. The avian flu, which turned out to be overblown, was way off in Taiwan and far away, and there weren't that many travelers coming in.

And this career guy at CDC thinks they are behaving pretty responsibly. He wouldn't panic, but he thinks it could become quite serious.

And it's in the spring. The flu virus isn't as strong as in the winter, so that's good news.

The bad news is that everyone gets asthma and hay fever in the spring, so it's hard to know. A lot of people will go around with flu-like symptoms. They will go to see their family physician, and it will take a while to figure out do they have the flu or not.

So there will be some strain, I would imagine, on family physicians over the next couple of weeks. Panic would be bad. Panic could really be dangerous. But I think it is somewhat serious, I'm told.

BAIER: Jeff, do you think that this is an effort to maybe portray that this administration is going to handle big events like a Hurricane Katrina differently than the Bush administration?

KRISTOL: Can I just interrupt a second? I really don't think it's a fair thing to say that Obama is looking for a crisis on this, or Janet Napolitano is trying to give briefings. I gather that they have told the career guys to play it straight.

The fact that there was no political appointee at HHS is probably a good thing. It means that the White House is getting unfiltered advice from medical professionals at HHS.

Janet Napolitano is the most senior political official appropriate to handle it. I don't think they've don't anything untoward.

BIRNBAUM: To be fair —

KRISTOL: Jeff is just too cynical. You've been around here too long. Give those guys a break.

(LAUGHTER)

BIRNBAUM: President Obama did say that this was not a cause for alarm, in which case it is probably a good idea for Janet Napolitano to have a news conference on the subject maybe every other day. What do you say?

And if she does, then I will agree with you.

WILLIAMS: I think the problem is if you get the Homeland Security secretary out there talking about it, people think, wait a minute, she's not a doctor. What is she doing there?

BAIER: It's a story that will not go away, one now being stoked now on Capitol Hill, all of the talk going after people responsible for enhanced terrorist interrogations.

So what is going to happen? The panel predicts, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: Looking live now at the White House, where they are talking about the interrogation techniques that came out of these memos, and were they effective. The White House saying in some instances you got information, that in some instances it turned out to be a lie.

But here are the legal memos, quoting from the CIA memo, one memo saying: "We understand that interrogations have led to specific actionable intelligence, and other significantly have informed us that the CIA believe that this program is largely responsible for preventing a subsequent attacks within the United States."

So the back and forth about what came out of these interrogations continues, as does the call for a truth commission of some sort.

We're back with the panel. Bill, where does this go from here?

KRISTOL: I think we have a big national debate on the War on Terror, on interrogation techniques, on whether we should throw people under the bus who were doing their best to help save this country.

I hope that debate goes to the whole, not just the last eight years, but the last 16 years. Let's discuss the Clinton administration, which had renditions, sent people they captured to places where they were treated, according to long legal memos preparing in any office of legal counsel in Egypt or other places where the Clinton administration sent people.

But let's have a big debate about whether the Bush administration acted properly or not, and whether the Clinton administration acted properly or not, and how to act going forward in fighting this War on Terror.

I think it's a healthy debate. Let's not confine ourselves to selectively released memos which have been selectively redacted, which is right now what the Obama administration has put out.

BAIER: You think it's good for the country to shine the light?

KRISTOL: No. I think if he had not, I would much prefer that we fight this war the way we fight usual wars, with keeping secrets secret. But Obama has thrown this thing open, and now he wants to say we can't put out anything else.

They are now characterizing memos they are not releasing about the effectiveness of the interrogation techniques. I think we should have all the truth, not just the little bit of the partial version of the truth.

BAIER: Juan?

WILLIAMS: I'm in for a full, spirited discussion of this. I think that in some ways, though, what you have now is people worried about the politicization of the process, that you have people settling scores. That's what you're hearing from a lot of the Bush people is that this is really one administration going after another.

What I think people who are fair-minded are interested in is whether or not you had a situation whether the laws of the United States, not set by the behavior of terrorists, but the laws of the United States were violated by an administration that said we want to do. Get the guys over at Justice to write us a memo justifying this kind of action, these enhanced interrogation techniques.

If that's the case, that's a blatant violation of the spirit and the letter and the law.

So now, how do you get that done on Capitol Hill? You can't have an independent panel, because Republicans on the Hill are not going to vote to give subpoena power to that kind of independent panel.

So you have Senate intelligence doing its work, but behind closed doors. I think there is a crying desire, much as Bill described, for some kind of open, public discussion of this.

BAIER: I mean, what does that do to the intelligence community, the guys working on the inside, and what does it do to countries around the world that may work with our country if this open dialogue about intelligence efforts happens?

BIRNBAUM: I think that the Obama administration feels tortured by this whole torture issue. It really wishes that it never opened this door, because people like Bill will be suggesting that there's a full effort to look into this.

And a lot of Democrats will go down in that debate, in that inquiry, because a lot of Democrats were briefed about this during the Bush administration on Capitol Hill. The Clinton administration did things that were similar. This is a long history.

And it also does create the kind of problems you suggest with our allies, because they will be less willing to work with us because we're doing all this truth telling on things that intelligence officers know very well should really be kept secret.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Can I just make one point about something Juan said, which is right. I agree that if laws were broken, people should be prosecuted. Why then release the memos? That's why we have a Justice Department. They are supposed to look at behavior of different people and prosecute people.

And people have been prosecuted over the last several years for doing things they weren't supposed to do, people who were involved in Abu Ghraib and stuff.

Releasing the memos was utterly unjustifiable.

WILLIAMS: He clearly had ACLU pressure to do so.

BAIER: But he could have kept them secret.

WILLIAMS: He could have argued for a much longer time -

BIRNBAUM: And should have.

WILLIAMS: And potentially should have. And the same is now the case with the photographs.

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