TOPICS > Politics

Libby Sentence Nullified; Candidates Release Fund-raising Numbers

July 6, 2007 at 6:30 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and “New York Times” columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, thank you for being with us, as always, every Friday.

David, Iraq, another prominent Republican senator walking away from the president this week, Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, on the heels of Richard Lugar, George Voinovich, and others, what is the effect of this?

DAVID BROOKS: Most of them old bulls, pre-Bush, pre-Gingrich Republicans, an older sort of Republican.

What surprises me is not that they believe it. I think most Republicans believe that the war is lost. What is surprising me is that they are saying it. And, so, you are seeing a leakage of people saying it. And, to me, there are two issues here.

The first is, do they agree on a common alternative? They all say they want something else, do but do they actually know what that something else is? Some people want the Iraq Study Group. Some people, like, don’t want the Iraq Study Group. And there are a million alternatives out there.

And then the final thing that I think is going to happen is, the White House is seeing this. And they know that, come September, Domenici, Voinovich, Lugar, there is just going to be a stampede of this. So, they have to head it off at the pass.

So, I think, before we get to that point in September where you get a whole bunch of senators, the White House will have some new Iraq strategy, which will be — whatever it will call for, it will be fewer casualties.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So Mark, this is a turning point. Is that — I mean, I don’t want to…

MARK SHIELDS: I think it is a turning point.

But David makes a very good point. And that is, they are all disagreeing with the president, but they aren’t moving to a single position. And they aren’t moving to the Democratic position. All I can think of is, it is a little bit like, we are against segregation, but we’re not going to endorse the civil rights bill.

I mean, they are kind of moving to some sort of a halfway house. The Salazar amendment, Senator Salazar of Colorado, a Democrat, is co-sponsored by Lamar Alexander, a Republican of Tennessee, has become — and not that the Senate Democratic leadership is thrilled about it, but it has become, I think, a viable alternative. And that…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tell us what that will do.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, what it does is, it embodies, legislatively, the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations.

And it mystifies almost all the Democrats and most Republicans why, last December, George Bush did not embrace the Iraq Study Group, because, at that point, it would have given co-ownership — because the Democrats did — co-ownership of the Iraq war to both parties.

Instead, he rejected it, said some nice words, and then totally rejected it, keeping it as a Republican problem. Thus, you get Senator Domenici, who is up for reelection in 2008, and is an institution in New Mexico, but now facing some problems. He’s being criticized in ads on his own Iraq position in New Mexico.

I thought the way he handled it was quite adroit. He attributed his change of position to the imprecation and importuning of a father of a New Mexico soldier who had been killed. And, instead of saying, we owe it to those who have died to continue to fight, he basically, the father — he quoted the father as saying, for the sake of those who are living, my son can’t be saved, but maybe they can be. Can you please do something more to try and bring them home?

And I think David is right, that we’re going to see that. And that’s — we’re coming up next two weeks in the Senate with a defense authorization bill, and we will see a series of amendments. And we will find out just how far these people who are against the war are willing to move.

Iraq critics on the left and right

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
The Republicans do not want to go in to another election in 2008 with Iraq as the centerpiece and the principal issue before the American people. They're afraid that their ranks will be decimated.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, David, do you see the coalescing around one plan, whether it is Salazar, Alexander, or one of these other ideas?

DAVID BROOKS: No. No, I really don't.

And we were through a bunch of votes a few weeks ago or a couple months ago, and they didn't get anywhere, for a couple reasons, one, the lack of coherence on what the alternative is. And the second is, you still have the fundamental problem: Do we want Iraq to become an al-Qaida state, a terrorist state?

And people may imagine ways they can prevent Iraq from becoming an al-Qaida state by withdrawing, but they are not terribly persuasive, once you get through them.

And, then, the final thing, the problem with the Iraq Study Group -- and Mark is absolutely right. I think the Bush administration bitterly regrets not embracing that now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why didn't the president? Refresh our memory.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, that is a good question.

I think their argument at the time, and the key controversial point of that was, do we negotiate directly with Iran? And their key argument was, you do not negotiate at Iran from a position of weakness. And that was a legitimate argument.

We have since tried to do it anyway. So, they gave away something for nothing. But the central problem with the Iraq Study Group, as many people have pointed out, is that it still relies on some sort of central government in Baghdad to really run the country. And, if the Maliki government can't do it, then the Iraq Study Group plan also falls apart.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, what are the critics, whether it's Senator Domenici, or somebody all the way on the left, Senator Levin, who has got a different plan, a Democrat, what are they saying happens to Iraq when the U.S. troops do come out?

MARK SHIELDS: They're saying that Iraq will be overrun by Iraqis. They're basically -- not to be a wise guy about it, but, I mean, it is -- there are limits on what the United States can do.

And David talks about an al-Qaida state. I mean there was no al-Qaida presence in Iraq before the United States went to war against Saddam Hussein. I mean, that is the legacy of this war policy that we bought. And it is a terrible, terrible whirlwind that has been reaped by it.

But the question is, how long, how many more, and to what end? And I think that's where the country is headed. And, very bluntly, Judy, the Republicans do not want to go in to another election in 2008 with Iraq as the centerpiece and the principal issue before the American people. They're afraid that their ranks will be decimated.

DAVID BROOKS: And they have gone to the president and said, you are not destroying our party over this.

Scooter Libby's commuted sentence

David Brooks
New York Times Columnist
I could have seen Scooter Libby going to jail for six months. But I thought the 30 months was excessive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Connected to Iraq, but a separate story this week, on Monday, the president commuted the prison sentence, David and Mark, of Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney.

David, big hue and cry about this. You had predicted the president would not pardon Scooter Libby. And he didn't.

DAVID BROOKS: So, right, a faint glimmer of correctness on my part.

DAVID BROOKS: And I thought he did essentially the right thing. And I could have seen Scooter Libby going to jail for six months. But I thought the 30 months was excessive.

And my rationale was this -- and I think it was the same as the president's -- that Scooter Libby did lie. He did commit perjury. And, so, he deserves to be punished. He deserved the past two years of disgrace, and maybe he deserved six months in prison.

But this -- that crime was surrounded by a vast circus of hypocrisy and partisan dishonesty, starting with the original case, which was allegedly about outing a CIA agent, when it was never really about that, because, once it turned out that was Richard Armitage, nobody cared anymore, and then the hypocrisy over whether somebody should go to jail for perjury, with Democrats saying one thing with Clinton, another thing with Libby.

So, there was just this vast mountain of partisanship and dishonesty and shamelessness, which I don't think you can separate away from what Libby did. So, I thought he deserved to be punished, but did not deserve the 30 months that was sentenced.

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree completely with what David just said.

The Armitage -- first of all, let's take Richard Armitage. Richard Armitage admitted what he had done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: State Department.

MARK SHIELDS: The State Department -- admitted that he had revealed to Robert Novak the identity of Valerie Plame. He didn't lie about it.

We're talking about very serious matters here. There are issues at stake, telling the truth, lying to a grand jury, the FBI, equal justice before the law. I mean, we have had 198 people convicted of just -- of just obstruction of justice in the Bush years, three out of four of whom went to jail for average sentences of 70 months in jail. That is just one of the charges he faced. So, we're talking about whether those who are connected politically, who are powerful, who are privileged, are going to be treated differently.

And, finally, and, most importantly -- and this is why I think that Patrick Fitzgerald was pursuing whether there was a systematic case on the part -- coming out of the vice president's office, to discredit a critic who undermined the rationale for this country going to war -- is the integrity of taking a nation to war.

That is really central and seminal to this whole debate. And I really think that is why it is an important case. I mean, it isn't -- it really isn't just a minor case of whether Scooter Libby does jail time or whatever. This is really fundamental about taking a nation to war, lying about it, and covering up.

Anger over the commutation

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
I think it is not a question of partisanship. I think the Clinton pardons were sleazy. There is no doubt about it [...] but, as bad as they were, it wasn't about taking a nation to war.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But people really are angry about what the president did.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, because it -- it is about the war. That's part of it, and because emotions are stoked about the war.

But here is where I think the parallel with the Clinton years is the same. You have people who oppose this administration, who are outraged by what this administration has done in Iraq, as some people were outraged with what the Clinton administration did, just as an existential matter. They assume there is some dark conspiracy there at the heart of this administration.

An investigation is launched, which does not find dark conspiracy. It finds some minor or some serious misdeeds, but not a dark conspiracy. So, then they immediately jump to the conclusion that, not only is there is a dark rottenness at the administration, but there's a dark cover-up of the rottenness.

And, so, no matter what happens, there is this conviction, which is, to me, a partisan conviction that there is some rottenness, and, if we didn't find it, it must still be there.

And that is just partisanship, obstructing....

JUDY WOODRUFF: You are saying it's just partisanship?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think -- well, the perjury is the perjury.

But, nonetheless, I think this was -- began with partisanship on both parts, on Joe Wilson's part and Dick Cheney's part. And then it -- it lasted through a whole series of partisan reactions and counter-reactions.

MARK SHIELDS: You have -- I think it is not a question of partisanship.

I think -- the Clinton -- the Clinton pardons were sleazy. There is no doubt about it. I mean, Senator Clinton's two brothers profited handsomely from the president giving last-minute -- but, sleazy as they were, as unseemly, as distasteful, and maybe even illegal -- I don't know -- but, as bad as they were, it wasn't about taking a nation to war.

And that is what this was. This was fundamentally about taking a nation to war. And Dick Cheney, the idea that the vice president's office -- we had Scooter Libby speaking not simply -- I mean, we had testimony, sworn testimony, in court from our colleagues, in open court, saying, yes, that this had been -- they had been told, and that this was part of it.

Now, was he the first? No. Dick Armitage was the one who told Robert Novak.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It hit the campaign trail this week, the Clintons themselves. You had Hillary Clinton and her husband, Bill, out there on a rare campaign appearance.

They both criticized the White House. The White House shot back. Tony Snow came back and said, is this Arkansan for hutzpah?


Well, to me, it wasn't the Clinton pardons. It was the Clinton lying under oath and Libby lying under oath. And some people may have a consistent standard for two, but there are probably four people in the country who have that consistent standard.

As for the politics of it, I still don't believe it will be a big issue. I don't think it has ever been that. I think the war is the big issue, and this is just a minor subplot.

Presidential campaign fundraising

David Brooks
New York Times Columnist
When you look at the Democratic race, it's like the major leagues. The Republicans are the minor leagues right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Politics, I do want to ask you about. We had some numbers came out, dollars. Barack Obama broke all records for a Democratic candidate for president in a pre-election year, raising $32.5 million dollars this quarter.

Mark, what does it say about his campaign?

JUDY WOODRUFF: He is not leading in the polls.


JUDY WOODRUFF: But he's doing very well with money.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, first of all, it says something about the Democrats.

Democrats -- for years, it has been a central tenet of Democratic faith that people who raised money were somehow in bed with all the special interests and had sold out some of their soul.

They have to revamp that. They have to revisit that now, because now they are raising more money than the Republicans.

MARK SHIELDS: The best thing that ever happened to the Democratic Party, and over the fighting of an awful lot of party leaders -- and Dick Gephardt deserves great credit for this -- was the abolition of soft money.

The Democratic Party had relied on soft money...

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the unregulated money.

MARK SHIELDS: ... these six-figure contributions from wealthy individuals, from labor unions and so forth. And Republicans had consistently raised more money from individuals.

And the Internet and what Obama is proving is that the Democrats, or a Democratic candidate who elicits a sense of hope in people, is -- can raise money from individuals, 258,000. That is what is truly impressive.

But I would remind and caution my Democratic friends that we had President John Connally, who raised $12 million, and had Ada Mills, one delegate. We had Phil Gramm, who raised $26 million, and never got to the New Hampshire primary, and Steve Forbes, who spent $40 million, and had to go back to his magazine, without even getting a delegate.

DAVID BROOKS: But you can say a couple things.

One is that the Democrats not only have more money; they have bigger crowds, more media interest.


DAVID BROOKS: When you look at the Democratic race, it's like the major leagues. The Republicans are the minor leagues right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And why is that?

MARK SHIELDS: It's true.

DAVID BROOKS: Because the Democrats are on the aggressive, on the offensive. They are united. They are angry. They are mobilized. And the Republicans are the exact opposite.

So, that is just part of the landscape. And, then, the second thing that is part of the landscape is that Barack Obama has a lot of people who really believe in him. And he has got the enthusiasm.

Clinton probably has more, and is probably a little cooler. But he has an enthusiastic base. Now, 250,000 people, that is a lot of people.

MARK SHIELDS: It really -- it truly is. I mean, and he is, you know, I think I said before that Peter Hart, the pollster, said, he is a 10,000-watt bulb. And, I mean, the question is, does he burn for -- does he burn for 20 weeks or 20 years? I don't know.

But he is -- I mean, you can see in people's faces when they see him on the campaign trail.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we are enthusiastic about both of you. You both are 10,000-watt bulbs.


MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David and Mark, thank you. And have a good weekend.

We appreciate it. Thank you.