JIM LEHRER: Now, Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, these hearings seem to be more partisan than most hearings like this. Is that just an appearance, or is that real?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: I don't think I agree necessarily. I think it is an appearance. I think this is not that dissimilar in the partisanship to an Iran-Contra hearing, or to, well, your average hearing. I mean, there is some partisanship, there's no question about it, but Joe Lieberman on the Democratic side has emerged as somebody interested in getting the facts, sort of the Howard Baker role that he played in Watergate. Bob Torriccelli for the Democrats playing is playing the Charles Sandman role, as you remember, 25 years ago in Watergate.
JIM LEHRER: Charles Sandman, right.
PAUL GIGOT: He was one of Richard Nixon's greatest defenders. He lost his seat over it, but he was a real defender right down to the--and the Republicans are making a case. I think this week there was some partisan bickering, but they also got a lot of facts on the table.
JIM LEHRER: What's the most important fact they got on the table, from your point of view?
PAUL GIGOT: No one single fact, Jim, but a whole case of circumstantial evidence that argued that John Huang was--seems to have raised an awful lot of foreign money that he wasn't supposed to be raising, and he was engaged in I think some suspicious, strange behavior, that makes you wonder about his motives and about his activities, in particular having an office outside of the Commerce Department to which he repaired, affiliated with the Lippo Group, to which he repaired to make phone calls and get faxes and it's strange. Why would you do something like that?
JIM LEHRER: How do you read 'em so far, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, I was up there this week at the hearings, Jim, and I'll say this; that I think there was one very important piece of information, and that was that $50,000 from Jakarta was wired to Hip Hing Holdings, a company in Los Angeles, where John Huang was the principal operating force, to reimburse that company, which had no money of its own, for a $50,000 contribution to the Democratic National Committee victory fund in August of 1992.
Foreign money? You'd better believe it. That's the elephant in the living room. I don't think the case on the spies--I don't understand--I don't understand why the Republicans are doing that because I don't think the spy case is nearly as strong on John Huang. They were trying to get him a job anyway. They were trying to get a job at HUD, at Education. They would have given him a job at the Small Business Office in Rutland, Vermont. I mean, he was trying to get a job anywhere in the administration.
That's what happens when people come to work in the administration. I don't know how a job at HUD would have helped the Lippo folks as they put their conglomerate together around the world. But I do think that the money story is there. I think that it's a big story, as Joe Lieberman said this morning, at a breakfast meeting with some reporters, which I attended, he said, if we don't out of these hearings change the way we finance our elections, you can be sure that the presidential election of the year 2000 will be a national auction.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, one of the things that's emerged so far in these hearings is that the networks, in particular, and the rest of the press generally isn't really covering them. And that's the reason the public isn't reacting to them and doesn't know what's going on. Do you have an opinion about that?
PAUL GIGOT: I think that this had something to do with the public's lack of interest. They are not dramatic hearings, though, Jim. They--
JIM LEHRER: But are they important?
PAUL GIGOT: I think they're very important. I think that when your government policy may have been for sale, when the foreign policy of the United States, when those decisions may have been for sale for influence, not necessarily on the spying one, by the way, with John Huang, but just influence peddling, trying to change the Most Favored Nation status policy, for example, trying to change a trade, get an Ex-Im Bank loan, that sort of thing--I think it's very important.
JIM LEHRER: You were up there, Mark. Did you have a feeling that--whether they were dramatic or not--that this was important business for the United States government going on here?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I think it is, Jim. Chairman Fred Thompson, when he opened up the hearing, he made a statement which said, these hearings are not soap operas; they are not there to titillate; they're not an athletic contest with winners and losers; they're not a trial, where somebody is prosecuted. They are an attempt to pull back the curtain on how our government and our politics operate. And this week we saw the curtain pulled back.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. But they're not being broadcast. A lot of people pointed out, oh, well, CNN and others broadcast the O.J. Simpson trial gavel to gavel--
MARK SHIELDS: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: --but they can't find room on the air for these--for these hearings.
PAUL GIGOT: It's really an opportunity for print journalism and talk radio. Unfortunately, it shows how few people still read us ink-stained wretches.
MARK SHIELDS: Haley Barbour this week--the Republican National Chairman--the Democratic National Chairman will follow, and I think with more identifiable people testifying, I think it'll probably get more coverage.
JIM LEHRER: Another big political story of the week was the attempted coup by some leading House Republicans to displace Speaker Gingrich. What happened?
PAUL GIGOT: Jim, I spent a lot of years of my career covering politics in Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Thailand. Marcos is in the Philippines have nothing. And the House Republicans, when it comes to intrigue and just crazy behavior, I've never seen anything like it.
Newt Gingrich has so lost the support within his caucus, his own leadership, really was in discussions about whether to throw him over the side in league with a bunch of junior members who were willing to go to the floor and offer an amendment to vacate the chair, a motion to vacate the chair, and throw the Republican conference in the House into what would have been chaos. It's very damaging. It means that the leadership has basically stopped to function.
They're not talking to one another. They're maligning one another. They don't trust one another. And I think it really throws serious doubt on whether this group of leaders can continue to lead this Republican Party through the '98 elections.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, do you agree? That serious?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it is serious, Jim. Jimmy Breslin wrote a book a few years ago about an inept, feckless group of small monsters called the gang that shouldn't shoot straight, and this really is the gang that couldn't shoot straight. I mean, what you had was unprecedented in American political history. You had a five-member leadership team of the House of Representatives.
JIM LEHRER: Let's go through, remind people who they are. Dick Armey--
MARK SHIELDS: Dick Armey, the Majority Leader; Tom Delay, the Whip; Bill Paxon, who's the--has the title of what?
PAUL GIGOT: Chairman of the House Leadership.
MARK SHIELDS: Chairman of the House Leadership. And John Boehner, Republican Conference Chairman of Ohio. And four of the five, other than the speaker, either knew of, participated in, depending upon the evidence, were aware of, did not discourage this effort that Paul has just described. And what they end up--ironically I think is with Newt Gingrich looking stronger. Yes, Newt Gingrich's leadership is in jeopardy and all the rest of it, but he looks stronger because the four guys who tried to put it together on him all look with serious, serious liabilities.
I don't think there's any question Tom Delay will never be elected Speaker of the House. I don't think there's any--I don't think anybody thinks that. I don't think Tom Delay probably thinks that. Dick Armey, who had a reputation of being a very--whatever you thought about him--he's a rough and ready, straight shooter, level with you, lay it on the line--it's gone. I mean--
JIM LEHRER: Why? What happened? What happened to him?
MARK SHIELDS: He gets confronted, a young kid named Sandy Hume, all right, writes a piece, a very well reported piece, for the Hill newspaper, which is a tabloid on Capitol Hill, covers Capitol Hill, and in which he lays out this whole story about what's going on and the meetings that have taken place that Dick Armey has been there and the other leaders have been there, and all the rest of it, and at the House Republican Caucus, Dick Armey's asked about this. No. You know, this thing is absolutely wrong. It's absolutely wrong. It's trash, tabloid journalism and all the rest of it. People who were at the meetings, including Graham from--
PAUL GIGOT: Lindsey Graham.
MARK SHIELDS: --Lindsey Graham from South Carolina.
PAUL GIGOT: From South Carolina.
MARK SHIELDS: Gets up and he wants the microphone. This is Lindsey Graham, a very, very serious, kind of conscientious, religious fellow.
JIM LEHRER: So there's nobody to take Gingrich's place, even if they could get rid of him. Is that what the end result of this is?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think we've seen the end result, Jim. That's the short-term result of this. There's nobody who seems a logical successor right now because--
JIM LEHRER: Because Armey really did--you agree with Mark--Armey really did damage himself?
PAUL GIGOT: They all damaged themselves, including the Speaker. I don't--I will say this about Dick Armey. He has never lied to me once. And I can't say that about a lot of politicians. So when he says I didn't know about this, I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt; not that the didn't know about it, but that he wasn't a planner.
JIM LEHRER: Wasn't part of it.
PAUL GIGOT: That he, in fact, deterred it. I don't know the full story. That's "his" story. I will say this: None of these four right now, except for maybe Bill Paxon, who resigned--
JIM LEHRER: Yes. We forgot to say that. He's the one guy who stepped aside.
PAUL GIGOT: He was fired.
JIM LEHRER: By Gingrich. Right.
PAUL GIGOT: Resigned before he was fired.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
PAUL GIGOT: He now has separated himself from the leadership and could be--could be--a rallying point for other people sometime down the line, but he probably will not challenge Speaker Gingrich. So in the short-term, Newt Gingrich does emerge somewhat stronger, but the problem he has is that the whole world has seen what the Republicans eternally knew, which is that they don't trust him; they don't have faith in his leadership. And the real question is--
JIM LEHRER: How do they function?
PAUL GIGOT: --how do they function? That's correct, between now and '98.
MARK SHIELDS: One small point of correction, and that is Bill Paxon's letter of resignation was accepted by Newt Gingrich before it was sent. I think--I think that the larger political question immediately is how do the Republicans negotiate on the tax and budget bills. I mean--
JIM LEHRER: Or anything else?
MARK SHIELDS: Republicans don't have confidence in Newt. The three figures who their voice is loudest in Newt Gingrich's defense were: Jim Walsh of New York, a moderate; Jerry Lewis of California, a moderate; and Sherry Boehlert, of New York, a moderate. So the extreme moderates in the Republican Party, he's now become sort of the institutional candidate of--for leadership, and it--
JIM LEHRER: Because all these guys who were involved in the coup that didn't come off were all very conservative.
MARK SHIELDS: That's true, and I think that Bill Clinton--I think Bill Clinton holds all--all the cards, Jim, politically as far as these tax negotiations.
JIM LEHRER: I have all these cards, and I'm pulling them off the table. Bye-bye.