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Judge Denies Libby Request; Reid Criticizes Military Leadership

June 15, 2007 at 6:30 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

David, what did you make of Defense Secretary Gates’ criticism today of the Iraqi government, saying they have not made the progress on reconciliation that was needed and that was expected by the United States?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: A firm grasp of the obvious. They’ve been beating these guys over the head for years now to pass the oil law, to pass the de-Baathification law, to get some regional elections going. They’ve been beating them and beating them.

And the big problem is, the timetables don’t overlap. The American political timetable really stretches until September, maybe; the Iraqis behave as if they’ve got 30 years. And so that’s the problem the U.S. has been dealing with.

I think eventually you’ve got to come to the point that maybe the Sunnis and Shiites are not reaching agreements, not because we’re not pressuring them in the right way, but because they’re fundamentally incapable of reaching agreements and deal with that fact.

JIM LEHRER: Can that be true, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: It could be true, Jim. And I think that…

JIM LEHRER: That all the pressure in the world isn’t going to change what’s happening on the ground?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t know how you communicate a sense of urgency anymore than has been tried already, I mean, unless you just start pulling people out contingent upon their acting. I thought his statement about General Petraeus…

JIM LEHRER: I was going to ask about that.

MARK SHIELDS: I thought that was revealing, because there was a recent national survey, and they asked 15 major, prominent American individuals, “Whom do you believe when this person speaks about Iraq, about what’s really going on?” The 15, the president finished 14th, and the vice president finished 15th in believability and credibility. Number one was General Petraeus by a wide margin. So Harry Reid and other Democrats criticizing General Petraeus…

JIM LEHRER: Which is what Gates was responding to.

MARK SHIELDS: … that’s right — is a fool’s errand. I mean, it makes no sense.

JIM LEHRER: And you read it the same way?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, Harry Reid has a history of saying stupid things. And this was extraordinarily stupid to say, David Petraeus is out of touch, who not only has been there now, but has served there for years in the past. And what Petraeus was saying was something which was mixed and which may not have been reported fully, which was, in general, things are as they are, pretty terrible, but there are some neighborhoods in Baghdad where you’ve got some amusement parks going, cafes opening.

And so he was acknowledging there are some good things and it’s not all bad, but he was not saying it’s all good. Harry Reid reacted like any positive statement is a sign of betrayal of the truth. And Petraeus is still the most trustworthy source on this.

Reid criticizes Pace

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
[Reid] was talking ... to liberal bloggers. That's when he made these remarks, and I think, you know, sometimes it's a politician's inclination to say what the audience wants to hear.

MARK SHIELDS: We did have a Defense Department report this week that said that violence has not abated and that suicide attacks have doubled and that civilians -- it's been moved. I mean, it's down in Baghdad and Anbar province, but it's just...

JIM LEHRER: Moved out to other parts of Iraq.

DAVID BROOKS: I do think that is the big news. When the surge started, there really was a sense that maybe it was working, and now that, while there's been some progress in some neighborhoods, it's become harder to argue that things have fundamentally changed, although it should be said the troops, the full troop strength is really just there.

JIM LEHRER: You know, Harry Reid also took a hit on Peter Pace. He said yesterday -- he said he was incompetent. That was the word he used, in the context to describe Peter Pace, who is not going to get a second term as chairman of the Joint -- what do you think of that, about...

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I don't -- he may very well make that assessment. He's probably had more dealings with General Pace than I have, but I don't think it has any political value for the Democratic leader of the Senate to be saying that.

I mean, Peter Pace is now rather, I guess, if anything, a sympathetic figure. I mean, he's been treated rather shabbily by the Bush administration, as it turned out, saying they didn't want to fight for his retention there. And I don't see the value.

I mean, I think I question whether Peter Pace was a strong, independent chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with Don Rumsfeld, and I think that's a legitimate question, but calling him incompetent at this point, again, has no value. He was talking -- and this is what happens when politicians talk to groups of a particular persuasion. He was talking to liberal bloggers. That's when he made these remarks, and I think, you know, sometimes it's a politician's inclination to say what the audience wants to hear.

JIM LEHRER: How did you...

DAVID BROOKS: Well, you know, David Broder of the Washington Post wrote a column a couple of weeks ago where he was extremely harsh on Harry Reid's performance overall, very harsh for David Broder, who's not given to that sort of outburst.

But I think everything that's happened in the past few weeks has vindicated a lot of what Broder wrote, and not only on this, I would say, also on immigration, on other things, where I think Harry Reid has been overly political to his own party's worst benefit.

I mean, this Congress is not succeeding. They have not passed major legislation. They've spent a lot of time on symbolic legislation they haven't even been able to get passed. The approval ratings are now as low for the Republican Congress. And I think Harry Reid shares some blame on that, not only for putting his foot in his mouth, but not going after some substance.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, what do you hear from Harry Reid's fellow and sister Democratic senators about Harry Reid and his leadership, and his comments? There have been a lot of comments.

MARK SHIELDS: Most people are openly supportive of Harry Reid. I mean, I don't get sniping criticism. The only criticism I've heard that preceded this experience -- I don't go as far as David does in his blanket indictment of him -- is that he is not the best public spokesman.

I mean, recall, if you will, that Chris Dodd ran for Senate Democratic leader against Tom Daschle. He lost by one vote. The one vote was John Kerry, who refused to vote for Chris Dodd because he was too close to Ted Kennedy, a really thoughtful decision. But, I mean, Chris Dodd is a far more persuasive public figure.

But Harry Reid is a creature -- the thing about being a leader in the Congress is you can't fire your membership, but they can fire you, for any leader. In other words, whether you're a speaker or a Senate leader, and that's your constituency, in the final analysis, whether, in fact, the members of your own party are pleased or displeased with your leadership. And I think he's been very solicitous of his members' views and...

JIM LEHRER: So if they weren't satisfied, he wouldn't be there?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I don't see any mutiny brewing.

The second life of immigration

David Brooks
New York Times Columnist
If Ted Kennedy and Trent Lott are supporting something ... then it's not going to die easily. They're going to figure out a way to get this thing moving.

JIM LEHRER: No mutinies coming.

OK, you mentioned immigration, David. And Harry Reid caught some heat for taking it off the floor, pulling it off the floor earlier in the week, and now it's alive again. Explain the rebirth or the second life of immigration.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I'd say a couple things happened. First, the president is not popular, but he still has some power. And so he went down there, and it wasn't so much what he said to the Republican senators to win them over, but he offered a little more money for security fence, a little more emphasis on security, brought some people into the process, and I think that opened things up a little.

And then the second thing to be said is, speaking of effective legislators, if Ted Kennedy and Trent Lott are supporting something, I think two of the most effective senators in the United States today, then it's not going to die easily. They're going to figure out a way to get this thing moving. I wouldn't bet on its eventual passage, but it's got another life. And Ted Kennedy is not to be underestimated.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read the second life?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I was talking to Senator Kennedy about it last night. I was just asking him. He said it's still a very heavy lift. And I think most people acknowledge the president's going down there did make a difference.

Ironically, he was going down for a victory lap. This lunch had been scheduled quite a while back, and he was going down to take bows for passing immigration. Instead of taking the victory lap, he had to apply mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Now, he got the business community ginned up. The business community is upset because of the limitation on the guest-worker program in time and in number.

But they did -- and I think what drove it home -- I mean, John McCain has said, told George Stephanopoulos this, off camera, that the registration -- I don't think it's as much as he thinks it is -- but he said the registration in Maricopa County, Phoenix, was running 6-to-1 among Latinos, Democrats over Republicans.

And I think this was part of the message the president delivered is, "Look, you're going to lose and alienate" -- and I think the Republicans are very much in jeopardy of doing that -- "the growing and perhaps most influential new constituency in American politics."

JIM LEHRER: You see it the same way, that that's a factor here?

Immigration as a cultural issue

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
I think [the immigration bill] does have a chance. I think it is alive.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I do think that's a big factor, though the fact that this is a Republican opposition, I think, has been overstated. If you look at nationally who supports the bill, I think it's 36 percent Republicans, 33 percent Democrats, 31 percent independents. It doesn't break down on neat party-line barriers.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, in the Senate, it does, though.

DAVID BROOKS: The vote in the Senate, because the serious opposition has been among this conservative base, and it's there that I become pessimistic, because for a lot of people, you know, there have been numbers floating around whether immigrants are good for the country or bad for the country. Those numbers haven't moved anybody.

This is a cultural and philosophical issue for a lot of people. And a lot of people just think the country, whether for economic reasons or for cultural reasons, just can't keep taking this number of immigrants.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Mark, with David, that this thing -- the fact that it's got a second life doesn't mean it has a real life?

MARK SHIELDS: No, but I think it does have a chance, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: A serious chance?

MARK SHIELDS: I think there is -- I mean, it is interesting. I mean, somebody like Jon Kyl of Arizona, who's been a party regular his entire career -- I mean, here he is out on this. I don't know...

JIM LEHRER: Of course, he's from Arizona.

MARK SHIELDS: ... who lighted the fire under him, but, I mean, he's taken abuse back home like he's never taken before from the very people David's talking about, overwhelmingly Republican in this case. But I think it does have a chance. I think it is alive. And, you know, I think if they can get by, they've got a guarantee, Jim, of the hours they're going to debate and the number of amendments they can do. That's the big, important step, so you're at least going to come to a resolution.

No delay for Libby

David Brooks
New York Times Columnist
I do not think there will be a pardon. That's just my gut instinct.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, new subject. Scooter Libby, were you surprised that the federal judge said he would not release him while the appeal is pending?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I wasn't. I mean, anybody who's followed Reggie Walton's career should not be surprised. This is a man -- he's the dream. He's the dream of the Republican law-and-order judge, an African-American who's tough on criminals, appointed originally by Ronald Reagan, reappointed by George Bush I, and appointed to the federal district court by George W. Bush, no political bias involved here.

He just believes and has said repeatedly that a street hustler convicted of a crime will not be treated any differently than a million-dollar lawyer turned chief of staff to the vice president of the United States. I mean, that's Reggie Walton's creed, and that's what he lived by.

JIM LEHRER: David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, everybody agrees with that principle, but he did double the suggested sentence for the federal probation board. So, I mean, the question is, is Scooter Libby even getting equal treatment?

And to me, I have no legal expertise on which to judge this, but just judging on what Judge Walton has said in public, what he talks about is rarely about Scooter Libby and the case. What he talks about is himself versus a lot of famous people.

And so famous law professors write a letter, and he says, "They're not going to influence me. In fact, their work is as shoddy as a first-year law student." So it's all about him versus more famous people.

And I just wish, in his public statements, he would say a little less about himself and more about the case so we could analyze how he's actually looking at that.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read the pressure now on to pardon or not pardon, pressure on President Bush?

DAVID BROOKS: The pressure is strong. Robert Novak wrote, I think, a column which captured the Republican sentiment very well. And the sentiment is to President Bush, "Why are you sticking by Gonzales and not sticking by Libby? Gonzales makes no one proud, but Libby a lot of us actually think very highly of." And so there is strong pressure. There has been no sign that I've seen that the president is going to pardon him, though.

MARK SHIELDS: One of the most fatuous arguments I've heard on behalf of a pardon is, "He wasn't even indicted, and no one was convicted of the crime in which he was interviewed by and perjured himself."

Now, this is an intriguing concept, Jim. If you're under oath, and you lie about something, and there's ultimately not a trial on that matter, you can skate. But if you lie, and it turns out to be a major indictment, and 21 people are convicted, you're in big trouble. I mean, perjury is perjury is perjury. And you've loved to -- you sit there with a crystal ball and say, "I'm going to lie about this"...

DAVID BROOKS: It depends on what decade you're in. If it's 1990 and it's Bill Clinton, then it's not perjury. But if it's the 2000s and Scooter Libby, it's perjury.

MARK SHIELDS: It was perjury. It was perjury with Bill Clinton.

DAVID BROOKS: I thought they both should have gone to jail. So Mark and I are the only honest people in Washington on this subject.

JIM LEHRER: On, what, on perjury?

DAVID BROOKS: I think we've been reasonably consistent, Republican and Democrat.

JIM LEHRER: Do you expect President Bush to pardon Libby?

MARK SHIELDS: I really -- I mean, to hold onto his constituency, his conservative true believers, he might have to, Jim. But I'll tell you, does anybody remember Marc Rich, 51 charges of tax evasion, one of trading with the enemy? Bill Clinton pardoned him, and I'll tell you, I still hear Democrats talking about him today as an ignominious and really outrageous act.

JIM LEHRER: Where do you think it's going to go?

DAVID BROOKS: I agree. I do not think there will be a pardon. That's just my gut instinct.

JIM LEHRER: All right, thank you both very much.