'Special Report' Panel on NIE Controversy

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from December 4, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Iran was dangerous. Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.

SEN HARRY REID, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER, D-NEV.: President Bush is the only person that I know that can get a report like we received from the National Intelligence Estimate yesterday on Iran, who says that it is a warning signal.


BRIT HUME, HOST: Well, that was about the way the battle lines were drawn on Capitol Hill and at the White House today — the president saying that despite the fact that we now know or, at least, believe with confidence in the intelligence community that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program that, that it still continues to pursue the technology needed to build the nuclear weapon, and that Iran remains a threat.

You can hear the skepticism in Harry Reid's voice. Senator Biden came close to calling the President a liar over the whole thing. And we now have some thoughts on all this from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — FOX News contributors all.

We have now had 24 hours to think about all of this and see how it plays. Charles, what do you think?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, the Democrats are reacting as if there has been an abandonment of the program. There hasn't been. There has been a suspension. There is a big difference — suspension is not giving up. And what they suspended was the least of the three parts of building a nuke, and that is turning enriched uranium into a bomb.

Now, the Democrats are acting as if the enrichment of uranium, which is producing the material that you make into a bomb isn't happening. It is happening every day. And that is what the NIE itself has called "the hard part."

So that is going on. All that we're talking about is perhaps a wider window of when the Iranians will acquire a bomb, so a little more time and a little less urgency by our military option.

But surely on sanctions, you would imagine that Democrats, who have supported them in the past, would find no reason here to abandon them. That is the real issue. Do you continue imposing sanctions or not? And the answer obviously is "yes." And I don't see how that changes in any way.

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: What's happened here is that instead of addressing the objective reality here and reading what's in the NIE and quoting it and making their policies accordingly, what the Democrats are doing is using it as a cudgel to beat Bush over the head with, to accuse him of being a liar, to say that he has exaggerated the threat, and all that.

Instead of taking the news out of this thing — which is not specifically in the report, but is the outgrowth of the report — that the war option is off the table, and saying "hooray," "well done," the administration has changed the book here, they insist on making political points out of it.

As Charles says, what the report says is that the Iranians will continue to develop the technological capability to develop a bomb should they choose to do so. And that's just a matter of intent.

So sanctions are in order — hard diplomacy, carrot and stick is what's called for. But the Democrats only want to use carrot diplomacy. What you need here is stick diplomacy as well, saying to them that if they don't open up to international inspections, there's going to be sanctions.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think you do have to recognize, however, that this report does undercut the Bush administration's efforts to get other countries to crack down on the Iranians, either together — France, Germany, the U.S., say — or through U.N. sanctions.

I think there's not going be a third round of U.N. sanctions — probably weren't going to be enacted anyway. But this — it is bound to reduce the pressure around the world and the sense of urgency to apply further sanctions on Iran. It just is.

HUME: Fred, is there any reason to suspect that this is another skirmish in the intelligence wars that have been going on in this administration and the intelligence agencies, especially the CIA, over these many years, where there has been policy disagreements in the CIA with what the administration was doing, and intelligence has become a weapon in that? That this report may have been, for some reason, slanted?

BARNES: Look, this war has been going on, and I don't have any information that would say that the report is slanted at all. But you have to realize — what is intelligence? Intelligence is when you get a bunch of varied information together and try to guess what it means. Now —

HUME: That's called an "estimate."

BARNES: I know, but that's what intelligence is. It's an estimate. It's a guess. And there are good guesses, and they describe this latest thing as they have high confidence.

Well, I don't have high confidence in it. They had high confidence two years ago. They had high confidence in all those estimates about what the Soviets were doing in terms of military spending and its economy. I assume they had high confidence about what terrorists were planning for the United States, and they didn't know anything about 9/11.

So it is intelligence. It is not hard truth, it is not fact. It is merely a guess.

KONDRACKE: Something does appear to be going on with the Iranians, though. They have pulled away from Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq as well. So this would be an opportunity, perhaps, to engage with them, but to keep the pressure on at the same time.

KRAUTHAMMER: Engagement will not get you anywhere. It sounds as if you speak nicely the Iranians will behave nicely. Sanctions is what works. The reason all of this happened in 2003 is because of what happened to Saddam.

And Libya bended in its weapons in response as well. It knew that America was serious about weapons of mass destruction.

HUME: Next up with our panel, how big of a threat is Mike Huckabee to the Republican presidential frontrunners? And, indeed, is he now one of them? What about Mitt Romney? Coming right back.



MITT ROMNEY, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A candidate or a president that tried to make his religion a defining feature of his campaign, or of his term in office, would tend to divide the nation rather than bring us together.

MIKE HUCKABEE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But for those of us who do believe it — and most Americans do believe there is a god — for us to somehow say that it is inappropriate to speak of had him in the public square would be to defy our very civilization, and our culture, and our citizenship.


HUME: Mike Huckabee is now leading in the state of Iowa over Mitt Romney in the latest polls — all the latest polls, really — and we have a little bit of disagreement between him and Mitt Romney over the role of faith in a campaign. But we'll see who's right, I suppose, when people vote.

But what about the Huckabee express here? This thing is rolling. Did he peak too soon? Is this going to work out for him — what?

BARNES: Whether he has peaked too soon, he could have. But he has been very smart in his debates, and his message is one that resonates with a lot of people.

And there are two parts to his message. First, there is the populist part, which is entirely feelings and sentiment. "I care about the people who get up in the morning and have to go to work and worry about whether they can make a living." And all the stuff he said when interviewed by John Scott on FOX News earlier today — it was in the car that Fox has, and it was still interesting, despite the car.

HUME: We wouldn't have it without the car.

BARNES: There is a difference between Romney's religion and Huckabee's religion. Not only are they different because one is Mormon and one is a Baptist, a fundamentalist Christian, but Huckabee is running on his religion. He says it defines him.

Romney is not running on his religion. If anything, he's running away from his religion.

But there are a lot of candidates who want Huckabee to win in Iowa, not just Huckabee. It's John McCain, it's Rudy Giuliani, and it's Fred Thompson. They all want Huckabee to win, too, because that could derail the early primary strategy of Mitt Romney.

KONDRACKE: Now, among all the polls that have been taken on this subject, one that interests me particularly was a pew poll today asking Republicans "Who is the most electable of the Republican candidates?" Huckabee, three percent nationally, 10 percent among Iowa Republicans, one percent among New Hampshire Republicans, and one percent among South Carolina Republicans.

At some stage, the question of "Can this guy get elected president?" is going to swing in, and a guy who defines himself as the Christian candidate for president is going to have a very difficult time.

HUME: Getting nominated, or getting elected?

KONDRACKE: Getting elected.

The question is — Mr. President, are you going to evangelize from the oval office? If you're an Evangelical Christian, and you define yourself as the Christian candidate for president, is it your mission to convert the country to Christianity? Those kinds of questions will arise.

KRAUTHAMMER: But it is helping him in Iowa, where for a large number of people, apparently, the Mormonism of his opponent is a problem.

HUME: Or alternatively his Christian conservativism is a big plus.

KRAUTHAMMER: But it implies for those that believe that Mormonism is a heresy, that here is the guy that you want. When Huckabee had been asked is this a heresy, he said I'm above that. It's not an issue that I ought to discuss, and I'm only running for the presidency.

He should have said whether or not he belongs to a Christian sect is irrelevant in this country. After all, Joe Lieberman is not a member of a Christian sect, and he's not disqualified from the presidency.

That's what he should have done, but he is using, subtly, the suspicions about the Mormonism as a way to advance his candidacy, and that's why I think he has jumped ahead in Iowa, while the others have not found a way to exploit the Mormonism. He has.

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