'Special Report' Panel on Confirmation Issues Facing Team Obama; Dick Cheney's Legacy

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from January 13, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: Is this an embarrassment for him? Yes. He said so himself. But it was an innocent mistake, a mistake that is commonly made for people who are working internationally or for international institutions. It has been corrected. He paid the penalties.

And, as I have said before, if my criteria, whether it was for cabinet secretary or vice presidents or presidents, or reporters, was that if you never made a mistake in your life, none of us would be employed.


BRET BAIER, HOST: There you see President-elect Obama defending his nominee for treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, and the mistake he said that he made dismissing concerns about Geithner's four year failure to pay self-employment taxes.

Now Geithner's confirmation hearing has been postponed as lawmakers, senators, look into this issue.

How serious is this, and what about other problems facing the president elect before he is sworn in? Some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — FOX News contributors all.

Fred, we talked about it last night. It gained steam today, and the president-elect weighed in. Your thoughts?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: If this was a common mistake made by Geithner, you would have thought a guy as smart of he is would have heard about it, common mistake, not have made it. But he did.

And the only problem he has — look, I don't think Democrats in the Senate are going to do anything to embarrass their new president Barack Obama. And there are 58 — I guess there are not 59 of them yet, there may be. And a number of Republicans are for Geithner as well.

But there is a period here between now and next Wednesday, and if there is — if the complaints of some Republicans rally a public outcry against Geithner as treasury secretary, the guy who will be in charge of the IRS, then that could change.

Is it likely? No.

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Absolutely. I think it's going to go away.

There are enough Republicans who are coming out and saying this is minor that I think that it's going to dominate the vote. I mean, all the Democrats are going to vote for him, and you've got Senator Bennett, Senator Graham, Senator Ensign, you know, Senator Hatch -- one after the other is coming out in favor of Geithner. So I think this is going to go away.

I think the most important thing that has happened on the Obama front was his convincing the Democrats yesterday that they should go ahead with the TARP money, the $350 billion second tranche of TARP.

I mean, this was a major breakthrough for him. He said he vetoed their rejection of it, if they came up with it, and they all swooned and fell in line.

I think the most interesting thing that he has done is to have dinner with Charles and a bunch of other conservative columnists.

BAIER: What a transition, Mort?

The President-elect reaching out to conservative columnists, and we understand that Charles Krauthammer was there. Were you, in fact, there?


BAIER: OK, that's all we get out of you?

KRAUTHAMMER: That's all. It was all off the record, so if I tell you more, I have to shoot you.

BAIER: It was at George Will's house, and I saw our friends at The Politico called it a dinner and said "The silence of the lamb chops" because no one is talking about it. But what can you say about it?

KRAUTHAMMER: What is interesting is the fact that he would want to do this. And you see that since his election he has kind of reached out to people that may not be ideological allies, to Rick Warren, the pastor who will be at his inaugural, to John McCain, whom he has treated with a lot of dignity and respect, and to a bunch of right wing columnists last night, in part, because I think he is a guy who is intellectually curious and wants to exchange ideas, but also in part he wants to co-opt the vast right wing conspiracy.

And I'm here to tell you that, speaking for myself, he has succeeded. I am brainwashed entirely. I'm in the tank, and I am a believer of hope and change and, above all, audacity.

BARNES: Look, this is the easy stuff, to have dinner with Charles and Bill Kristol, and so on, and invite Rick Warren, and so on.

When you're a president, you are accountable. You have policies. You make decisions. You anger people, and I suspect he will anger a lot more conservatives than liberals.

BAIER: Charles, let me ask you one question. The speed bump question — before he gets sworn in — Geithner, the consensus here is that it's not a big issue. What about other things, the TARP funds?

KRAUTHAMMER: I think he will get the TARP, a, because the country needs it, the banks are in trouble. Citicorp looks as if it may actually collapse. He will have to have the money.

And, secondly, for political reasons. The Democrats in Congress don't want to embarrass him and to force a veto. So it will probably pass it before Inauguration Day, so it happens on Bush's watch.

KONDRACKE: Besides having dinner with conservative columnists, he also had dinner with a bunch of liberal columnists. I'm here to invite President-elect Obama to have dinner at my house with a gaggle of moderate columnists anytime he wants. And I will form a group.

And I will invite Fred, who was rudely not invited to the conservative group last night.

BAIER: We'll leave it there on this topic.

Earlier we heard Vice President Cheney talk about his time in office. The Cheney legacy — we will discuss that when we come back.



VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: The challenge for the Obama administration is whether or not they can overcome their campaign rhetoric. They obviously were very critical of all those policies during the course of the campaign.

Can they overcome their commitment to that rhetoric and sit down, instead, and be objective, and look at what we have done and how we have done it and what it has produced?


BAIER: Vice President Cheney in an interview with our own Mike Emanuel talking about the policies he fought for inside the Bush administration. His legacy is getting a lot of coverage — the front cover of Newsweek says "What would Dick do? Why Obama may soon find virtue in Cheney's vision of power."

We are back with the panel. Charles, what about that?

KRAUTHAMMER: The revisionism has started. All the liberals who railed against the Bush and Cheney administration for usurping powers and augmenting the powers of the presidency and stretching it's limits all of a sudden are discovering the virtues of a strong executive in wartime when a Democrat is about to enter the office of the presidency.

So it is hypocrisy squared, but I think, actually, it is a good thing, because we do need a strong executive. And I think in retrospect history is going to judge the Bush administration well on how it did.

It stretched the limits of law, the existing law, in order to enable the fighting of an enemy about whom we were almost blind after 9/11, successfully kept us safe for seven years, and instituted procedures, including interrogation and detentions, eavesdropping and other elements, which have kept us safe and which will be the tools which, if Obama is smart, he will not dispose of and will keep, because he's going to need them in the war on terror.

BAIER: Mort?

KONDRACKE: Well, what's happened is that by asserting authorities to do things like, for example, the military commissions when they were set up under Bush and Cheney would have provided for capture, holding, trial, execution of enemy combatants without any traditional review.

Now, that clearly was unconstitutional. The courts have declared it unconstitutional. The question is how much rights do these detainees now get?

If they get the kind of rights out of the courts that will result in their being released, then that is dangerous to the country ultimately. So, you know, some middle ground might have been wiser in the beginning.

I understand why they did it. I mean, look, if 9/11 happens on your watch, especially when you were negligent — because there was not a National Security Council meeting by the Bush administration before 9/11 — you feel terribly responsible, and you want to make sure this never happens again, and you worst case everything. And Dick Cheney is the ultimate worst-caser in all this, and decided whatever needed to be done, we will do it, and we'll answer questions later.

BARNES: And it worked. The truth is there is no middle ground here. You give them rights? What do you give them? A little bit rights, a few rights but not others?

Look, these are terrorists, and Obama will face, immediately — he says he's going to on day one announce that they're going to close down Guantanamo. But the prisoners aren't going to leave because so many of them are hardened terrorists who would slit the throat of your children and your wife and your mother, and they know they can't let them out.

I would say one other thing about Cheney though, and I certainly agree with Charles when he said Cheney showed how a vice president can have influence. Not take over for the president, but have influence.

And that is, you come in and you say this is my last job. I'm not going to run for president. I'm not going to tell people what I'm talking to the president about. I want him to know that the only thing I'm interested in is helping him, his presidency, and the country.

And for that reason, Bush trusted him. And he had a lot more influence. Had he been campaigning to get the Republican nomination in 2008, it wouldn't have worked.

But Cheney is easily, I think, the most influential vice president that we have ever had.

BAIER: Charles, vice president elect Biden called him "the most dangerous vice president we have ever had." Is there a concern that the pendulum will swing back the other way, weakening the executive branch under this administration too much? It was brought up in this "Newsweek" article.

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, in the rhetoric that you heard from Obama and Biden in the campaign, you would imagine there would be weakening of the presidency, with all of their gratuitous attacks on presidential powers.

But they are now in office. They have all of this intelligence. They know about the bad guys out there, and they are going to be responsible and retain a lot of these tools, I think the vast majority of them.

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