Hot Stories for the Week of May 3 - 7

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", May 8, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn't, and that was wrong. So to those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology.


FRED BARNES, HOST: And the hot story is obviously Rummy-roast, and that was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld apologizing for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, which came a day after President Bush's public apology for abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

Now, that did not bring closure to this whole prison scandal in Iraq, far from it. Rummy, Rumsfeld, I should say, out of respect, went before the two congressional committees on Friday and was roasted a bit, not surprisingly, by Senator Robert Byrd (search) of West Virginia. Listen to Byrd and, and Rumsfeld responding to him.


SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Why wasn't Congress apprised of the findings of this report from the Defense Department instead of from CBS NEWS?

RUMSFELD: The idea that this is a story that was broken by the media is simply not the fact. This was presented by the Central Command (search) to the world so that they would be aware of the fact that these had been filed. What was not known is that a classified report with photographs would be given to the press before it arrived in the Pentagon.


BARNES: Of course, Donald Rumsfeld is correct about that, and Senator Byrd is wrong. But the issue, nonetheless, is now, is whether Rumsfeld will keep his job as defense secretary. Now, Rumsfeld says he will, and President Bush says the same thing.


RUMSFELD: If I felt I could not be effective, I'd resign in a minute. I would not resign simply because people try to make a political issue out of it.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Secretary Rumsfeld has been the secretary during two wars, and he is -- he's an important part of my cabinet, and he'll stay in my cabinet.


BARNES: You know, Mort, I've been assured by senior White House officials who I trust that there is no way possible that President Bush would let Donald Rumsfeld go.

Still, and, you know, I can imagine ways in which that could happen. One, if Tony Blair (search), facing political trouble at home for being a part of the alliance fighting the war in Iraq, said, Look, you got to get rid of Rumsfeld to save me in power or something, what, I think this is unlikely, but that's a possibility.

Secondly, if things should get worse, the scandal should worsen. And, of course, Senator Lindsey Graham in that Senate hearing on Friday said, you know, the worst is yet to come. And Rumsfeld seemed to sort of agree with him in saying, You know, there are lots more photos and videos and, and investigations.

And finally, and I think this is the one way that it really could happen, and that is if the scandal lingers, just week after week after week, there's more information, it doesn't go away, dominates all the news. And, President Bush gets near the time in early June when he has to go to France to celebrate the 60th anniversary of D-Day, and then a, a week or so later, go to Sea Island, Georgia, for the G-8 meeting of all the leaders of the industrial democracies.

If it's not over by then, or at least slowed down significantly, I think Rumsfeld's going to be in it -- in even worse trouble.

MORT KONDRACKE, HOST: Well, and, you know, we've seen this, this pattern repeated over and over and over in our time...

BARNES: I know, I know.

KONDRACKE: ... in Washington, where the, what, the White House says, No, we're standing firmly...

BARNES: Yes, yes.

KONDRACKE: ... with somebody, and the opposition and the media keep, keep a drumbeat going, and, you know, eventually the person's position becomes untenable.

Now, as of the moment, I mean, Rumsfeld himself said that if he's not effective, that he would...


KONDRACKE: ... resign on his own. What would really help his case is some military success in Iraq...


KONDRACKE: ... like the capture of Fallujah or the capture of Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shi'ite bad guy.

Now, on the merits, terrible, horrific as this prison scandal is, and as it may become when these videos come out, this is not, as it's being portrayed, the My Lai massacre, where hundreds of people were...


KONDRACKE: ... were, were butchered, or the rape of Nanking, in World War II. I mean, but you'd, you'd, you'd...

BARNES: Yes, I know, I know, yes.

KONDRACKE: ... think from, from the way it sounds that, that ... that's what it was. And it's not a cover-up, either.

BARNES: Yes, I know, I know that. Don't point at me, I didn't say that.

KONDRACKE: OK. Here's, here's President Bush talk -- making a point ... that should be made over and over again. Watch.


PRESIDENT BUSH: We're a society that is willing to investigate, fully investigate, in this case, what took place in that prison. That stands in stark contrast to life under Saddam Hussein. His trained torturers were never brought to justice under his regime. There were no investigations about mistreatment of people.


KONDRACKE: I think the administration has done nowhere near the job that it should have done, making the humanitarian case for why we're there, and using all the file footage and the records and all this kind of stuff to remind ... the Iraqis, the Arabs, the rest of the world, and the American people just how horrific the Saddam Hussein regime was. I mean, we haven't seen much in the way of stuff on the, on the mass graves, for example.

BARNES: Yes, why not?

KONDRACKE: Now, the people who are at present leading the charge for Rumsfeld's head, in addition to some, some, some media outlets, are the Democrats, and here's John Kerry saying Rumsfeld's not good enough. Watch.



SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America doesn't merely need a new secretary of defense. We need a new president of the United States.


KONDRACKE: That, of course, gets decided in ...


KONDRACKE: ... November.

BARNES: Look, there are a couple questions they have to answer to get this scandal over. One is, who was in charge at the prison? After Rumsfeld's testimony, I wasn't sure. And two, what were the instructions to, to the soldiers there who did the abusing, to get the detainees ready for interrogation? And who gave them these orders?

Rumsfeld didn't answer those.

KONDRACKE: Yes, we, it's got to go up the chain in command...

BARNES: Yes, right.

KONDRACKE: ... and whoever was the, was the top person responsible for, for, for that policy...

BARNES: Yes, yes.

KONDRACKE: ... he's got to go.

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