'Special Report' Panel Responds to Charges in McClellan's Memoir and Obama's Uncle Flap

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from May 28, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he had these moral qualms he should have spoken up about them. And, frankly, I don't remember him speaking up about these things. I don't remember a single word.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it's the right approach. I think it's a very short-minded view to then come out while he's still in office with a book about things that he never expressed while he worked there.


BRIT HUME, HOST: So what are those two former top Bush White House aides talking about? They are talking about a new book by another former top Bush White House aide, former Press Secretary Scott McClellan. The book is entitled "What Happened," subtitled "Inside the Bush White House and the Washington Culture of Deception."

In it Scott McClellan, who defended the president from the podium for several years, said the following things, among other — "The Iraq war," he said "was not necessary." He called it a "serious strategic blunder." He went on to say that the president "convinces himself to believe what suits his needs at the moment."

On the Hurricane Katrina response "One of the worst disasters in our nation's history became one of the biggest disasters in Bush's presidency. Katrina and the botched federal response to it would largely come to define Bush's second term."

And, finally, on the war again "He and his advisors," speaking of the president, "confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war." Scott McClellan and his new book.

Some thoughts on all this now from Juan Williams, Senior Correspondent of National Public Radio, Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief of Fortune magazine, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Well, Juan, we have quite a to-do. The book is as we went on the air was sitting atop the Amazon.com bestseller list. What do you make of it?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: It seems to me to be an insider's view, and I am struck by the notion it was such a disciplined White House for so long in terms of people being reluctant to speak out and say anything.

Here comes a real insider. I mean, you can look at the Doug Feith book and treat it one way or another, Doug Feith having been over at the Pentagon. But here comes someone who was inside the President's magic circle, someone from Texas, who is saying things that strike me as credible. The question is why he's doing it.

Listen to the response from Ari Fleischer, the former Press Secretary and his predecessor at the podium, or you listen to what Karl Rove, our colleague now here at FOX, but obviously the President's Senior Political Advisor, all of them have said this is not the Scott we know. We don't understand where this is coming from. Some of what he is saying may be true, but we don't understand what is his motivation.

HUME: What do you think?

WILLIAMS: Forget his motivation. He says he wants to be more Christian, he has found himself, or maybe he wants to have a best-selling book and make some money, I don't know. But the question is what about these things he is saying, are they true or not? And I don't hear people responding to them.

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Well, in 2004, a former counterterrorism official from the White House, Richard Clarke, did it tell-all book. He didn't write it, but it was his story told to.

And it was derided by a White House official spokesman at the time as not only as being — the timing of was kind of curious and whether it was being timed to affect the election. That official was Scott McClellan.

HUME: He also didn't think very highly of the former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's tell-all book, did he?

EASTON: Right.

HUME: Or George Taft, right?

EASTON: And we can go on.

I think there was a level of not particularly courageousness on the part of Scott McClellan in this in that somebody like John DiIulio, who also did a tell-all letter, who was a former White House official and had a lot of these same charges — Bush is uncurious, he's not interested in policy, the White House is run more like a political operation. This came out early on.

But DiIulio didn't stay there. Scott McClellan stayed in and helped craft the propaganda particularly about Iraq —

HUME: What he now calls propaganda.

EASTON: — what he now calls propaganda, that he helped disseminate.

I think having watched a couple of these things in action, I think there is tremendous pressure from publishers to push the boundaries and to make a mark. George Stephanopoulos built his career back in the 1990's when he did something similar.

KRAUTHAMMER: Frances Townsend, who was the president's terrorism advisor in the White House, said earlier today that there were lots of meetings in the White House among the advisors with lots of give and take and questioning, and pushing back, and that in these meetings Scott McClellan said nothing.

You also heard others have said — Ari Fleischer, who was his predecessor, and who was close to him, said that Scott McClellan never shared any of these misgivings in public or in private.

So you've got to ask yourself what kind of man collaborates on what he now says was deceptive propaganda to drag America into what he now calls an unnecessary war, and does it without ever privately or publicly saying anything, and without doing the obvious, which is to resign.

And the answer is one of two things — either he is the most dishonorable man in Washington, staying in a position and collaborating in what are essentially high crimes that he now asserts, or this is a guy, a young man, who sort of left under a cloud, who had one of the most undistinguished careers as a Press Secretary ever, who was legendary for his incoherence, and who doesn't have a lot of big future on the side, is going to cash in on the one chance — the book — by telling stuff like the scurrilous stuff he has in the book about overhearing the president talking about alleged cocaine use in a telephone discussion.

That kind of stuff, I think, is — he knew that that would sell, and that's why he did it.

HUME: In light of that question, and in light of what we know about him, how credible, really, is his account?

WILLIAMS: For me, I hear what Charles is saying, what Ari Fleischer is saying, Dan Bartlett said, Karl Rove has said. They all say it doesn't seem like this is the right gay.

HUME: They also say he never raised these questions at the time. But he doesn't assert, I believe that he ever did.

WILLIAMS: No. So, therefore, the question becomes to me, can you prove or disprove what was said here? He says, for example, he was misled on the relationship that Rove and Libby had around the Valerie Plame outing story. He says Vice President Cheney was writing notes directing him what to say. We didn't know that before.

The question is, exactly, what is he saying that is credible? And I would like to have that kind of response from this White House, rather than simply trying to psychoanalyze this young man.

HUME: When we come back, we will talk about Barack Obama's statement concerning his great uncle's, or he said at the time, his uncle's military service. Is there a pattern here? Should voters overlook it? We'll see. Stick around.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had an uncle who was one of the — who was part of the first American troops to go into Auschwitz and liberate the concentration camps.


HUME: Well, he said that over the Memorial Day weekend, did Barack Obama, and there has been considerable comment on it for a couple of reasons. One is that he didn't have an uncle who did that. He had a great-uncle, and apparently the Obama camp believes uncles, great-uncles, what's the difference? That's not the issue.

But it wasn't Auschwitz, which, of course, was in Poland and was liberated by the Soviets, after which it was part of, obviously, Soviet occupied Poland, and not a stop-off point for American forces.

It was apparently Buchenwald which his great uncle had some part in liberating. And the question is whether this means anything or is it just a historical slip that occurs during the course of a long campaign and when memories get short and people get tired. Juan, your thoughts?

WILLIAMS: Well, for me, the question is if it's a patent ploy to try to reach out to Jewish voters, given all the trouble he has been having there, to say somehow he's connected through his grandfather's efforts, but he doesn't know the history. And to me, that's disturbing. You should know the history.

You could put it off as a slight misstatement. But it's so emotion packed and it's so significant, it's interesting that it comes at this juncture when he is having this problem with the Jewish community in this campaign.

So then is it a matter of simply trying to exploit something that I think is really beyond the pale in terms of exploitment, which is the memory holocaust and all that happened there. And that is what is troubling for me.

I just think if this was something that was a deep part of the family history and something significant to him, I think we would have known about it before.

EASTON: I think this is a "gotcha" moment, and I think there is a danger in all of us making too much out of this. If there wasn't as uncle, if there was no concentration camp, then I would have been more concerned. But he got the name of the concentration camp wrong.

I think with the family lore situations — keep in mind, remember Mitt Romney had said that his father had marched with Martin Luther King, and people jumped on him saying that's not right.

HUME: He marched, but King wasn't there that day.

EASTON: Then apparently some elderly people who had marched in that march, and King was there, called the campaign. So the facts were actually fuzzier and it was, and I think it was an innocent moment on Romney's part, where this was family lore that had been handed down.

And I think he could be cynically reaching out to Jewish voters. But this isn't a conversation about post-traumatic stress syndrome.

WILLIAMS: That was published.

EASTON: I'm talking about the Obama conversation. But it wasn't like he was in a moment reaching out to Jewish voters.

KRAUTHAMMER: I had a good inkling that he used the words uncle and great-uncle simultaneously because his mother was a single child and there was no reports of a large number of Kenyan units in the Soviet Army in the Second World War.

It does tell you a little bit that this is a man who wants to be commander in chief, and he's not really aware that Auschwitz was in Poland and the American army never entered Poland in the Second World War.

But there is a deeper issue here, and that is "Auschwitz" is a word that is terrible and awesome, and it is a word you don't invoke lightly. It is seared into the consciousness of Jewish people and, in fact, of the world.

And to use it to make a cheap political point about Obama's superior sensitivity about the mental health issues of veterans leading to a story about an uncle who supposedly spent six months in an attic — he says carefully it is a family story so if anybody checks he can excuse it as a legend and a soldier who was allegedly in the Second World War, and you end that chain of reasoning with Auschwitz, I think is deeply unfortunate.

It's not a big deal, but it chips away at the pedestal that Obama has established for himself and which a lot of the press worships as a man who transcends the old politics of petty maneuvering and pandering. In fact, he's a great political panderer and maneuverer, but he does it with the elegance and skill of a young Clinton, and he gets away with it, and the press allows him to.

EASTON: I think a more serious charge came this week, or today, actually, with McCain, who talked about how as a Senator Obama hasn't been to Iraq more than once. And he is part of a subcommittee — excuse me, is chairman of a subcommittee on Afghanistan and, as McCain put it, is so uncurious that he hasn't held a single hearing on the Afghanistan war.

And I think that is a bigger topic.

HUME: And that is a worthy topic that we will reserve for another day. Thank you, panel.

Content and Programming Copyright 2008 FOX News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2008 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, LLC'S and Voxant, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.