Transcript: Sens. Dodd, Lott on 'FNS'

The following is a transcript from "FOX News Sunday" that aired on Oct. 30, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Well, it's being called the worst political week of the Bush administration with the indictment and resignation of the vice president's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby (search), and Harriet Miers (search) ending her nomination to the Supreme Court.

What's next? For answers we turn to two key senators, Democrat Chris Dodd, who joins us from his home state of Connecticut, and Republican Trent Lott of Mississippi.

And, Senators, welcome back to "Fox News Sunday."

SEN. TRENT LOTT, R-MISS.: Great to be with you, Chris.

SEN. CHRIS DODD, D-CONN.: Thank you, Chris.

WALLACE: I assume both of you have read the indictment. How strong a case do you think the prosecutor has built against Libby, and what do you make — how troubled are you by Prosecutor Fitzgerald's statement, although it's not part of the formal charges, that there was a top White House official who blew the cover of a CIA officer?

Senator Lott, why don't you start?

LOTT: Well, I looked over the indictment. I don't know how strong the case is, but it's five counts in the, you know, indictment, and that's very serious, whether it's perjury or misstatements or obstruction. Obviously, those are all very serious.

But as has already been said, Lewis "Scooter" Libby is entitled to presumption of innocence. He's been very strong in saying he's going to be proven innocent. I don't know the details of what goes on there or what has gone on there.

And you know, you have to note that the blowing of the cover and exactly, you know, who did that was not what the indictments were on. They were on, you know, perjury about that. That's not to diminish it at all. But I don't know that we know now exactly what happened with regard to the — you know, the leak about the CIA agent.

WALLACE: Senator Dodd, what do you make of the strength of the case after reading the indictment? And also, what do you make of this allegation that a top White House official blew the cover of Valerie Plame (search)?

DODD: Well, the independent counsel here, Mr. Fitzgerald, has a very good reputation. Even the president himself has said look, this is a very competent, serious prosecutor whose politics — none of us can tell you what they are.

He spent 22 months doing this. This is very serious. Charges are serious, and the work that has been done has been extremely serious. They spent 22 months on this case. There are many who began to speculate that he was just taking too long. He really did a very, very good job.

Now, an indictment is not a conviction. It's important to state that. But as Trent has just pointed out, these charges are very, very serious. Obstruction of justice, making false statements and perjury — about as serious as they can be. And so you need to go further.

Now, what needs to be done is beyond criminality here. Obviously, it's now clear that Mr. Libby learned about the identity of this CIA operative, agent, whatever you want to call Valerie Plame. He got that information from the vice president. We now know that.

What did the vice president know? What were his intentions? Now, there's no suggestion the vice president is guilty of any crime here whatsoever. But if our standard is just criminality, then we're never going to get to the bottom of this.

It seems to me the vice president has an obligation now to come clean, to tell the American public what were his motivations, why did that office exist? Remember, Scooter Libby is not only the chief of staff to the vice president. He's also listed as counsel to the president.

I know of no one else in the White House operation that bears titles of responsibility to both the vice president and the president. So we need to know a lot more than just what a trial is going to show us here. I think the public demands that and has a right to know it.

WALLACE: Senator Dodd, I want to follow up. One point that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald (search) made and emphasized in his news conference was that this case was not about the war in Iraq. Let's listen to what he had to say.


FITZGERALD: People who believe fervently in the war effort, people who oppose it, people who have mixed feelings about it should not look to this indictment for any resolution of how they feel or any vindication of how they feel.


WALLACE: Senator Dodd, as the prosecutor said, this is about a narrow transaction involving one man, Scooter Libby, and what he said to grand jury and federal investigators. Do you agree that don't look here for any justification about the war, any opposition to the war?

DODD: Well, not on the trial. Remember, the special prosecutor here has a job of legality. We're talking about whether or not a crime was committed. But to suggest somehow that this whole effort was just sort of gossip around a water cooler in the White House about Mr. Wilson and the articles he was writing or the information he was giving about the alleged connection between Niger and Iraq I think is to be terribly naive.

People were born at night but not last night. The vice president was the leader of the effort here to get us into this war in Iraq. He was very disappointed, to put it mildly, with anyone who was critical of that.

In fact, there was an office, we now know, in the executive branch set up very specifically to go after people who were in any way questioning the motivations and the information that we were using to justify the invasion of Iraq. I'm one who supported that.

I believed the information we were given. We now know, of course, a lot of that information was terribly wrong. But to suggest there's no connection here, that this was just done out of the blue as idle White House gossip, I think, is to be terribly naive.


WALLACE: Let me bring in Senator Lott. And I'd like you to react, if you could both to what Senator Dodd said and also to what seems to be, if I read Senator Dodd right, an effort to somehow involve and drag Dick Cheney into this.

LOTT: I think there will be some that will try to do that, and I think they will fail miserably. Vice President Dick Cheney, you know, is, I think, the most outstanding vice president we've ever had.

He had every right to know some of these things, and I have no doubt that he — he handled what he did know perfectly capably. I would suggest, though, to my good friend, Senator Dodd, and other Democrats they might want to read an article in one of the newspapers, I think on Saturday, an article by Lanny Davis suggesting that Democrats just tried to use this as a rhetorical attack on the administration instead of dealing with real substantive issues. That will fail.

I was in Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday and, you know, we talked about a lot of things. I took questions from the crowd. Not one question about this whole area. Again, you can't diminish the seriousness of it, but the people out there in the real world — they want to know what are we going to do about the federal judiciary, what are we going to do about, you know, gas prices and home heating fuel prices, and an agenda — they don't quite understand all of this, you know, leak investigation.

WALLACE: All right.

LOTT: It is a grand jury investigation.

WALLACE: Let me, if I can, turn — I want to ask one more question about this...

LOTT: All right.

WALLACE: ... and then we'll move on, Senator Lott. The president's top adviser, Karl Rove, is in some sort of legal limbo. He is reportedly still under investigation but he was not indicted.

On the other hand, the indictment alleges that Official A who reportedly was Karl Rove talked with columnist Robert Novak about Valerie Plame.

Senator Lott — and I'm going to ask you both, but I'll start with you — what, if anything, should the president do about Karl Rove?

LOTT: It's hard for me to know because I don't know exactly what's going on with the investigation, what Karl Rove is having to do in connection with that.

I think a lot of it is really kind of up to him, because he knows how much — what's going on, how much time it will take, and, you know, it just — I couldn't speculate on that. That's a very — it's a personnel matter. I think that the decision on that or whatever is done or not done is in the hands of — should be in the hands of Karl Rove as much as anybody.

WALLACE: Meaning?

LOTT: Well, if he has — if this is going to be ongoing, if he has a problem, I think he's got to step up and, you know, acknowledge that and deal with it. If he's not going to be indicted, it's not going to be an ongoing problem, then, you know, his view of what he does is very different.

WALLACE: Senator Dodd?

DODD: Well, let me just pick — I think what Trent said a minute ago I agree with, by the way. I think the issues here — clearly, people are gas prices, jobs, and health care, and the war in Iraq, obviously all of these issues.

It's very difficult for a White House to concentrate on those issues when you're preoccupied with legal problems. And while, again, there's no existing evidence here that Karl Rove is about to be indicted, although an ongoing investigation will occur, the president has to make a determination as to whether or not he wants to be preoccupied with legal issues around the White House or the very issues Trent mentioned that I agree with.

I think it's very difficult when you've got the House, the Senate and the White House sort of grappling with its own legal issues that the country can pay attention to the issues of judicial appointments and the other issues that we must deal with.

So the president really has to make that determination. But I think he makes a mistake if he minimizes this. Do not minimize this. This is very serious. It's not going to go away.

WALLACE: All right. Let's turn, if we can, to the failed nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and also the question of who's going to now be the new nominee to the court.

Senator Lott, after her name was pulled, you came off the Senate floor singing, "Happy Days Are Here Again", and you also had this to say. Let's watch.


LOTT: Let's move on. In a month, who will remember the name Harriet Miers?


WALLACE: It's's been suggested that with the Miers nomination, with the fight over spending, that there is a new distance between conservatives and the president, that they're not going to snap to attention and follow him.

And in fact, you were quoted as saying, you know, I'm not just going to roll over with any nominee that he brings up here. Question, is there some distance, second-term distance, distance over issues between conservatives and the White House, and what are you looking for in the next nominee?

LOTT: I don't think so. But it will depend on actions. Actions always speak louder than words. Look, we were not happy, and there was concern among senators in the Senate, Republicans and some Democrats, about the qualifications of this nominee. I'm sure she's a fine lady and a good lawyer in many respects.

But there was concern about, you know, the qualifications for the Supreme Court, so it was putting a cloud over things. But now that that has been withdrawn, I'm convinced within a very short time the president is going to come forward with a very strong nominee.

There are a lot of them out there that would be really strong. And in a few days, the focus will be on that new nominee and, you know, we'll be moving forward. But again, I think the important thing is for the president to show action now. The people in America want to know that we're listening to them and their concerns.

And if the president comes forward with a strong, qualified nominee, if he, you know, addresses the agenda, if he takes actions, including dealing with perhaps some personnel decisions, I think that people will show that he is moving forward and doing the right thing for our country.

WALLACE: Senator Dodd, some Republicans are saying that the president should choose a card-carrying, rock-ribbed judicial conservative, and if it ends up creating an ideological fight over the future of the court with Democrats, that actually might be a good thing. How do you respond?

DODD: Well, first of all, I'm not going to make any recommendations for the nomination. That would do them in immediately, so I won't do that. But let me just say, the Republicans here — it's fascinating to me. They've broken all their own rules.

I mean, we were being lectured only a few weeks ago about how you ought to give these nominations an up or down vote, it seems to me. Well, poor Harriet Miers never got close to that, because, of course, it was the Republicans, the extreme right, who did her in, as we now know.

Secondly, of course, documentation from the White House — you have no right to demand those things. We had Senator Brownback and Lindsay Graham demanding documents. Religion never ought to be a part of these considerations.

Judge Roberts, who I voted for to put on the court, of course, we said religion ought not to be a consideration, yet we had the president saying you ought to be for Harriet Woods (ph) because of her religion. So all bets are off about these old standards we considered a few weeks ago.

Now, my simple advice would be when your poll numbers are at 39 percent, as they are this morning, for the president of the United States, that's tremendously low. I don't know of any other sitting president who's had numbers like that, as low as that, while in the White House.

It seems to me here you can go one of two ways. You've suggested one. Go to your base here and try to shore that up, or with the remaining three years you've got in office to try and expand this opportunity. Pick a conservative. Judge Roberts certainly is one. But pick one that's not going to have to pass the litmus test of the extreme right in the country. If you do, I think the president gets terribly hurt by that.

So I would hope he would choose the middle ground here. We could do a lot better, much, much better, than we're doing. The problems with Scooter Libby and the vice president, now with the nomination of Harriet Miers — the president has got some ground to recover and some stability. He needs stability.

The country expects us to be doing better. We're not doing better. He ought to choose someone down the middle of the road.

LOTT: You know, Chris...

WALLACE: Wait, let me just — because we're running out of time. We've got about a minute...

LOTT: I've got to respond to...

WALLACE: No, we've got about a minute left...

LOTT: Right.

WALLACE: ... I want to ask you about — incidentally, it's Harriet Miers, not Harriet Woods (ph), Senator Dodd.

DODD: Harriet Miers, excuse me.

WALLACE: That's right. But listen, I want to ask you both, as a final question — and we'll start with you, Senator Dodd. There's a lot of talk right now that this president is mired in second-term blues. People are comparing it to Reagan at his low point, Clinton at his low point.

How much trouble do you think he's really in now? And you've both talked about agenda. What does he need to do? And one of the questions that Senator Lott put on the table — does he need to shake up the White House staff?

Senator Dodd, you start.

DODD: Well, I think he does, but that's really the president's call. I think he's got to say to the public look, we are now moving on to other issues. One clear way of doing that is by that suggestion. Now, that's his call. Again, he has to make that decision.

Then he's got to get back to these issues, the underlying issues here. We've got a huge deficit in the country that's got to be dealt with. We need a change of course in Iraq. Our military people are doing a fabulous job, but clearly we need to change course here if we're going to get on track again.

We can certainly be doing a lot better. Talk about cutting Medicaid and Medicare as a way of solving the deficit, when people are expecting their country to help them provide with health care needs is — he's got to do...


WALLACE: Senator Lott, why don't you get in here, and you get the last word.

LOTT: OK. Well, first of all, on the judge, I am confident the president is going to nominate a conservative, and it's going to be a highly qualified nominee, one like John Roberts, who will be confirmed, you know, overwhelmingly in my opinion.

With regard to, you know, what's going on now, the president — I have a lot of respect for this president. I think he is a man that knows when there's a time to make moves and take actions. He will do that. There's three years left in this administration. And he is going to make sure that we do important things for our country in the balance of that time. He will step up.

WALLACE: You raise the possibility of a staff shake-up. Do you think that's needed? And if so, why?

LOTT: You know, you can always — you should always be looking for, you know, new blood, new energy, qualified staff, new people in administration. I'm not talking about wholesale changes, but you've...

DODD: I think that's a yes, Chris.

LOTT: ... got to reach out and bring in more advice and counsel. You know, maybe that's why we did have the Harriet Miers nomination. Maybe there wasn't enough consultation or enough good, strong people, you know, advising the president. But he will deal with that problem and he'll do it next week.

WALLACE: Senator Lott, Senator Dodd, we want to thank you both very much. We obviously had a lot to talk about today.

LOTT: Thanks, Chris.

WALLACE: Appreciate you coming in.

DODD: Thank you.