'Special Report' Panel on Bumpy Ride for Obama's Cabinet Nominees; President Bush's Farewell Address

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from January 15, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL-DESIGNATE: I made mistakes. And my conduct, my actions in the Rich matter is a place where I made mistakes.

What I have always said was that given an opportunity to do it differently, I certainly would have. I've learned from that experience.

I think that as perverse as this might sound, I will be a better attorney general, shou ld I be confirmed, having had the Marc Rich experience.


BRET BAIER, HOST: President-elect Obama's choice for attorney general, Eric Holder, talking about his work on the Marc Rich pardon, where he helped Marc Rich win a pardon from t hen President Clinton despite FBI objections. Rich was number two on the FBI's most wanted list and fled the country to avoid 50 counts of tax evasion, fraud, and racketeering.

Some analytical observations about that and the other cabinet nominees from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — FOX News contributors all.

Fred, your thoughts about the Holder hearings today?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I'll have to say, he has taken the notion of "I'll learn from my experiences" to quite an extreme here, trying to say he's a better person, and would be a better attorney general because of the Marc Rich case.

The Marc Rich case was an outrage. If he thought it was just a tax fraud case, as he said today, then he was probably the only person in the universe who thought that about Marc Rich.

In the first place, he was a fugitive, a fugitive from justice. He wasn't repentant. He didn't want to come back. He wasn't planning on it. Fugitives do not qualify, at least for the normal pardon process, for a pardon.

So that's why they did an end run around the U.S. attorney, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Rich, or tried to, and the FBI, and so on, and go right to Bill Clinton to get him a pardon. It was something that, look, that was no accident. I mean, Eric Holder knew exactly what he was doing. And he may say it was a mistake today, but it doesn't sound to me like he has come clean on that at all.

And I think it's a very important matter. If this were a Republican, he wouldn't get anywhere.

On the other hand, with Republicans like Orrin Hatch, who is an important member of the Judiciary Committee, who is going to vote for Holder, it looks like he's going to be confirmed for sure.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: If you're a Republican with a president who has won by this much of a majority and has this many of his party's seats in the Senate, I think he will be OK.

Look, I think he has apologized about as much as he can for the Marc Rich thing. I agree that it was a big, big blot on his record, as he said himself. And what he is saying is "I will never do something as boneheaded as this again."

I think he was raked over the coals, as expected, but I still think there is nothing that we have seen in the hearings to suggest that his confirmation is anything but be assured, and also because he gave this committee the answers they wanted on other issues, like torture and counterterrorism.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I agree. I think he is going to get confirmed for sure.

I agree with Fred that this is a blot, the Rich affair. It's not just a mistake. I think it betrays a real weakness of character. He was ingratiating himself to his bosses in a way that really disgraced his office.

However, given the rest of his life and history, I'm not sure that outweighs all the other stuff.

What worries me, however, is not what is in his past, but what's in the future. He was asked about prosecution of people who were involved in activities that we now might say were illegal, like in the interrogations, and the only answer is to say we are not going to do that. And he equivocated. He said on the one hand, on the other hand.

I think that's the real issue. Any Republican ought to ask him about that, and anyone who says they are going to engage in the prosecution of people who lawfully acted under what was law in the past ought to be denied office.

BAIER: Quickly, let's turn to Timothy Geithner, the nominee for Treasury Secretary, who is still under fire for not paying his taxes. Charles, even The New York Times editorial today said there are real serious questions here.

KRAUTHAMMER: I disagree. I think what's serious here is the fact that our banks are collapsing. Citicorp is crashing. We have record unemployment.

We have in Geithner a guy with amazing experience, extremely smart, who has been in every crisis over the weakness in 2008, all the rescues. He is a man who inspires confidence in our economy, which is what it is really lacking.

And to sink his nomination over what I think is a triviality is simply unserious. Our crisis is too strong, too big, and his is too much of an asset to deny him office over unpaid taxes, which in the end he refunded and repented.

LIASSON: All those are the reasons why is going to be confirmed.

However, this is getting to be a bigger embarrassment for the incoming administration. It is not something that is a deal breaker. It doesn't mean that Tim Geithner isn't going to be confirmed.

But to not pay your taxes, to only pay 2001 and '02 after you are nominated, and also to have claimed his kids' summer camp as childcare expenses, it's embarrassing. It's embarrassing because he runs the IRS, or he will run the IRS if confirmed.

It is more embarrassing than it was at the beginning. But I agree with Charles, he has tremendous support, especially among Republicans, and he is going to get confirmed.

BAIER: Quickly.

BARNES: Look, he is not indispensable. Some guy we hadn't heard of a few months is hardly indispensable. The economic recovery does not depend on Tim Geithner.

New things are coming out every day. He has to get through until next Wednesday.

And if more comes out — I think there are a lot of hiccups here, getting a refund from the IMF for taxes he didn't pay. If more things turn up, he will be a goner. As of now, he's not.

BAIER: Coming up, we will preview President Bush's farewell address to the nation when the panel returns.


BAIER: In just about an hour from now, President Bush will deliver his last address to the nation, a farewell address from the East Room in the White House.

We're back with the panel. So, what do we expect? What is his legacy — Fred?

BARNES: He hasn't been exactly hiding his light under a bushel here. He has given interviews to practically everybody except The New York Times and the The Washington Post, a couple of papers he doesn't like.

Look, I know what his legacy is. It may not be the one he talks about tonight, but it's basically Iraq and the war on terror. Iraq with the surge has turned into a fragile, at least, democracy. But that, unless it collapses somehow, it is a monumental change in the Middle East.

And, secondly, in the war on terror, he has completely disrupted Al Qaeda. He hasn't gotten Usama bin Laden, but he has set in place— Charles has often talked about this — an infrastructure for dealing with Islamic terrorism that Barack Obama would be crazy to dismantle.

LIASSON: And probably won't. I think he does leave a kind of framework in foreign policy, most of which were things he did in the second term after having changed course.

I don't think the Iran policy is going to be that much different. I think there will be some kind of talks, and they might fail. But they might succeed in getting our allies to put more pressure on Iran.

I think that domestically and on the economy, you know, he has — that's the worst part of his legacy, and I can't imagine that changing over time.

But I think what he is trying to do is lay down as much brief as he can with all these, this flurry of interviews and press conferences, and this speech, which is not a typical, not a standard thing for outgoing president to do, that I think he hopes that in time people will take a second look.

But right now he leaves office very unpopular with a terrible economic situation.

KRAUTHAMMER: I think he will be remembered for three things. He disseminated Al Qaeda. He turned Iraq from an enemy to an ally. And he established the tools combating the terrorism.

And the key element in that was the change of the idea about what our threat was. In the '90s everyone looked at acts of terror as law enforcement issues, and he turned it into a matter of war.

And that's why he instituted all of these elements—wiretapping, rendition, the interrogations and the detention without trial, which you have in war, and which you don't have in peace. And that's why it's now under attack.

I hope Obama will continue, and understand that even though we are in a period of calm, the war remains, and he will not undo all of this infrastructure which has kept us safe for these seven years.

BAIER: Fred, he has called these a "series of lasts" as over the past two weeks, these interviews, his press conference, and now this address. Do you expect him to be emotional? Defiant? What do you expect?

BARNES: I don't think so. He is very comfortable with low polls, even though they are actually going up already. He is up in the mid 30's. That's a low for most presidents. It's high for him.

I had lunch with him a week ago. He is in a great mood. He is not worried how history will judge him, and he is not worried what the press says now.

BAIER: Mara, last word?

LIASSON: Yes, I don't think he is going to be defiant or remorseful. I think he actually has-there's a certain relief that you can see around him when he speaks lately. I think he is looking forward to going home.

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