'Special Report' Panel on Democrats' Handling of Blagojevich Scandal; President Bush's Trip to Iraq and Afghanistan

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from December 15, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


MICHAEL MADIGAN, (D) ILLINOIS HOUSE SPEAKER: Governor Blagojevich has decli ned the opportunity to voluntarily leave the office of governor. And therefore today I am announcing the appointment of a select committee on inquiry concerning the possible impeachment of Governor Blagojevich.

PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: There was nothing that my office did that was in any way inappropriate or related to the charges that have been brought.


BRIT HUME, HOST: That was Barack Obama late this afternoon after he heard from the speaker of the Illinois house there, Mike Madigan.

Obama has said that he has completed the review of staff contacts between his office and the Blagojevich administration on the subject of the appointment of a successor to Obama when his seat is vacated, but he will not release the details of that report for a while yet, saying he is doing that at the suggestion of Patrick Fitzgerald — withholding it at the suggestion of Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor.

Some thoughts on this case from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — FOX News contributors all.

What do you make of this, Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: There are really two things going on here. One, the Democrats in Illinois in the state legislature, particularly the ones who are the closest to Barack Obama, are trying to avoid an election of a new senator in Illinois.

That's why they want to get Blagojevich out as fast as possible so they could have his replacements, Lieutenant Governor Patrick Quinn come in, and choose a successor. Quinn, of course, is another guy who is, among other things, a Blagojevich apologist, and came up through Chicago —

HUME: Quinn and Blagojevich haven't spoken in about two years, I think.

BARNES: He has defended him as a truthful guy who is telling the truth, and so on.

HUME: Lately?

BARNES: I don't know about lately, but he certainly has in the past. Anyway, he is a part of the Blagojevich administration, whether he likes it or not.

Anyway, they are trying to avoid an election, Democrats, because they fear — who knows, they might elect a Republican, even though there has been this huge Democratic trend in Illinois for the last, oh, dozen years.

And the second part is Obama tried to protect himself and his staff, and maybe we will learn a lot more in a week when this report comes out, but it would be —

At some point Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff in the next White House, is going to have to answer questions, particularly after we see a transcript of what he said in his conversation with people who worked for Blagojevich about this Senate seat.

HUME: It is curious that Obama has been so cautious about it. He is a cautious man, but you do wonder, don't you?

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, he is very cautious. I think his reaction to this is pretty similar to his reaction to other curveballs that have been thrown this way, whether they were Reverend Wright or other matters.

I do think that he promised transparency. That's the problem for him right now. He has a standard that he set for himself that he is supposed to be transparent. He says he is going to release the records of what transpired between Rahm Emanuel and Blagojevich's aides, but he has been asked not to release them until December 22.

HUME: He would not even confirm, I don't believe, today that Rahm Emanuel is even the person who had any contact.

LIASSON: He says he has been asked not to talk about this anymore.

My sense is that they would like to get this out sooner if they could. They would like this to be over with. So far every time he tries to announce a new cabinet appointment, all the press wants to talk about is this, because there are still unanswered questions.

Not because somebody thinks it will be a big scandal for him or that he did anything wrong or even that Rahm Emanuel did anything wrong. We don't know yet what Rahm said or how colorfully he said it.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think what they're worried about is — I can't imagine that Rahm would have engaged in illegalities here. It's inconceivable.

But what they are worried about is the question of tone. You know, the selling of offices is an old business, but in the past there were no tape recorders and the theatrical elements of replaying the way things are discussed.

If his tone was indignant, which is what you would expect from someone within an administration that is presuming to bring a new standard of ethics, that's fine. But if it's less than indignant, it might be damaging. I don't think it would be fatal, but it could be embarrassing.

But I think what Fred pointed out is also interesting, the reaction of the Democrats in Illinois. Initially, after the shock of the announcement, all of a sudden everybody is for a special election as a sign of good government.

After about a day of good government, it seems as if it's too much for Democrats in Illinois to bear. All of them have changed course, almost all of them, Dick Durbin and others, and are now speaking about removing the governor because they realized if you have a special election the Democrats might actually lose.

HUME: But removing the governor —

KRAUTHAMMER: His successor would appoint —

HUME: I understand that, but even Pat Quinn, the lieutenant governor, said he would not be opposed to a special election. I guess nobody wants to say they are against a special election.


LIASSON: Dick Durbin's instincts at first were correct. In other words, anybody who is appointed to this seat, whether it's by Blagojevich or his lieutenant governor, is going to have a taint over them. They will have a cloud.

BARNES: That's not what they are worried about. They are worried about a Republican coming in.


LIASSON: No, I understand that. Now they are worried about it. But the first instinct, when Dick Durbin came out on the very first day and said we should have a special election, his instinct was correct because he knew it would be tainted.

Now, of course, yes, they have thought about the possibility of a Republican winning. But they —

HUME: You saw what happened. Blagojevich's popularity rating went from 16 percent, which was historically low, to eight.

BARNES: I would like to dispute the notion that the Obama people want to get this out as soon as possible.

Look, they could have gotten everything out last week. It's just supposedly over the weekend the prosecutor has said to Rahm Emanuel don't talk to the press. Well, he could have last week. He could have said all about what the conversation was. He could have done that if he wanted to.

Look, if you don't have anything to hide, don' t hide. It's as simple as that.

HUME: Fred, don't you understand? It's inappropriate to comment while an investigation is ongoing.

BARNES: It slipped my mind.

KRAUTHAMMER: It's fatal if you release information early and it's incomplete.

HUME: That's right.

KRAUTHAMMER: Then it becomes a scandal.

HUME: Then you set another standard for yourself that can't be upheld. That's right.

We're going to talk next about President Bush's trip to Iraq and Afghanistan and about you know what. There you go.






HUME: And the president would go on to say later he saw into the man's "sole."

We promise you, folks, that's the last time we will show you that on this broadcast. I thought it was impossible yesterday to show that too often. I was quickly proved wrong watching television today. So that's the end of it for the moment.

But it was an interesting episode. And what an end point for the president and his adventures with and in Iraq. Your thoughts, Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: He handled himself graciously, but he can't catch a break in Iraq. Here he was for the victory lap, and it was a victory. He was the hero of the surge. He is the guy who went ahead and ordered it against all advice, all political pressure. And he succeeded, and he is handing over to his successor basically a war that's just about won.

And here he is signing a major agreement, making Iraq an ally of the United States that began under Saddam Hussein as a true enemy and a destabilizer in the region. And in the middle of it you get a cinematic moment. Because it's so telegenic, it's going to be what's remembered.

But, look, the guy who threw it spoke for two factions in Iraq, the extreme Shiites and the extreme Sunnis who oppose the U.S., who hate the United States. He apparently is a Shia but was picked up and tortured by a Shia militia once, picked up and arrested by Americans — a murky history.

But the fact is that in the parliament, elected, speaking on behalf of the real Iraqis, the support for the pact with the United States was overwhelming. And the Shiite extremists and the Sunni extremists are marginalized.

What we really have here is success, and all of the braying among the Arab intellectuals about how he represented — the guy who threw the shoe — how he represented Arab opinion I think is a phony. There is a long history of the Arab street hating Americans. On 9/11, there was dancing in the street.

KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly, and it's not to be taken seriously. What's really important is what Iraq's leadership and parliament has done, and that's to cement an alliance with the United States.

LIASSON: I agree with Charles. I mean, it was unfortunate. It's a really indelible image. Actually I thought the president didn't just handle it well. I mean, he practically was laughing, and he had great reflexes.

But I agree. He can't catch break on Iraq, even though over time, I think, that history will judge him pretty kindly. He corrected the mistakes. He had a great beginning and a terrible middle in Iraq, but he is handing over a war that is pretty manageable if not almost won to his successor.

BARNES: I agree with that. But I'm afraid he is going to be dogged by this shoe throwing that you're not going to show again, at least over the next minute or two —

HUME: At least not tonight.

BARNES: But it's just always going to be around, and it's going to harm him.

I think more emphasis should have been made on what Charles touched on. And this guy worked for this television station in Cairo that was basically pro-Saddam. They were backing the Sunni terrorist insurgents who were trying to restore the Saddam regime.

And then for this guy to say oh, he criticized Bush for the war that killed women and children. That's what Saddam specialized in, in killing women and children, particularly if they were Kurds, but a lot of them who were Shia as well.

To treat this guy as some kind of a hero and some sort of moral force in the press corps in Iraq is ludicrous.

HUME: The press corps in Iraq has gotten to be so huge, and the proliferation of newspapers and journals has been so enormous, that you can find any viewpoint you want.


HUME: And I suppose that's true at a news conference. So they take their shoes off when they go into mosques. Now I suppose they will have to take their shoes off when they go into news conferences.

KRAUTHAMMER: It could become an Olympic event, I'm sure, in the Arab world.

HUME: That guy was good. He had great aim.

BARNES: What do you think would have happened to him if he had done that with some visiting leader when Saddam was in, if he had thrown shoes at him?

HUME: He wouldn't have gotten out of the room alive.

KRAUTHAMMER: But what's really interesting is the guy who is leading his defense team now who has organized a couple of hundred lawyers is Saddam's lawyer himself. And he does speak for a small faction of the Sunnis.

But, remember, the real story of the last two years is how the Sunnis, who hated the American occupation, who were upset about our upsetting 80 years of Sunni dictatorship and Sunni rule, have reconciled with the Americans.

There are 100,000 Sons of Iraq, Sunnis who were out on the street in neighborhood patrols who support us and work against Al Qaeda with us. That's the real story.

But, unfortunately, all you're going to see in the highlights is the shoe thrower.

HUME: You may be right, Charles, but it seems to me that there is a point at which the shoe throwing gets to be old. We're working on it now.

KRAUTHAMMER: But it's visual.

HUME: No doubt about it, it's great video.

BARNES: The president of the United States, he is over in Iraq, the biggest story of his entire administration —

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