APRIL 4, 1997
The NewsHour's political analysts, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot, discuss recent new reports that chief White House staffers helped Webster Hubbell find work after he left the Justice Department, and review Newt Gingrich's trip to China and his criticism of Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, our Friday night political analysis by Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
April 2, 1997:
Margaret Warner discusses the Webster Hubbell issue with two reporters.
March 28, 1997:
Mark Shields and Kate O'Beirne discuss Al Gore's and Newt Gingrich's trips to China.
March 21, 1997:
Shields & Gigot discuss the uncertain future of Speaker Newt Gingrich.
For more segments with Shields and Gigot, browse the Shields and Gigot Index Page.
Browse the Online NewsHour's Congressional coverage.
Mark, how significant is the development this week that Mack McLarty and Erskine Bowles made some calls trying to help out Webster Hubbell financially after heíd gotten--after he left the Justice Department and had some problems?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: You know, Jim, itís proof and evidence that--conclusive proof -- of the terminal cynicism we have here in Washington that people canít see a single compassionate act trying to help a fellow out whoís facing a few payless paydays. No, (laughter) what it does is it sends the message, Jim, that they werenít simply holding a benefit or a raffle so that theyíd keep the wolf from the door, they raised over $400,000, which is about three times as much as Webb Hubbell was earning in his government job. And it raises a lot of questions and legitimate questions, and the key point is politically that Web Hubbell is the one lynchpin between Whitewater, which I always thought the Republicans spent too much time, effort, energy and never sold, but Whitewater and DNC fundraising and the White House, and thatís what you have here, and--
JIM LEHRER: Because some of the money of, this $400,000, came from the Lippo Group, which was involved in the campaign fund-raising thing.
MARK SHIELDS: Campaign fund-raising.
JIM LEHRER: DNC fund-raising, yeah. Yeah.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Itís good to see Markís sense of irony in such sharp form. I mean, Markís point--
JIM LEHRER: Say thank you, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Mark. (laughing)
PAUL GIGOT: Itís also the link, itís also the link between the Ozarks-Whitewater deal and the White House behavior because what it does is weíre not any longer talking about a land deal in Arkansas. Weíre talking about how you execute the laws of the presidency because it is against the law to have obstruct justice to interview with a witness--to interfere, excuse me--with a witness whoís testifying in a case. And thatís what this--
JIM LEHRER: But there--but at the time these calls were made, I mean, thereís no evidence that that--that process had begun yet. I mean, all they--in fact, today Webster Hubbell gave an interview with the Associated Press and said he was at Camp David with the President and the President said, remember, the issue then was the Rose Law Firm; he had a problem with the Rose Law Firm, and he resigned because of it, and the billings and all of that, and the President--not to make a long thing of this--but he--Hubbell, said the President, did you do anything wrong, and he said, no, Mr. President, I didnít. Today Hubbell said, "I lied to the President; Iím very sorry about that." And it was during that time that they made these phone calls, wasnít it? Am I wrong about that?
PAUL GIGOT: Youíre right.
JIM LEHRER: Or was it before Hubbell was involved as a potential witness in the Whitewater and all this other--
PAUL GIGOT: It was after he had resigned from the Justice Department.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
PAUL GIGOT: And it was during the time when he was being investigated but it was before the time that he--they copped a plea, which was in August. Some of these meetings with the Lippo Group and the White House, including meetings that Mr. Riady, the Indonesian Lippo big shot, had with the President were in June, so we donít know--
JIM LEHRER: Itís got to be sorted out.
PAUL GIGOT: --how much the President knew, but the White House defense, which is a very clever defense in legal terms, which is we were just behaving like the Pew Charitable Trust--I mean, they were just trying to do poor Webster a favor--you know, maybe that is true, but the reason--
MARK SHIELDS: A lot of people donít seem to believe it though.
PAUL GIGOT: The reason a lot of people donít believe it is because so many of the White House stories along the way have turned out not to be true on this. Theyíve always had this information dragged out of them, as this information about the involvement of Mack McLarty and Erskine Bowles dragged out as two newspapers, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, were going to press.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about that, about that argument, that the issue here is the President said, oh, when he was asked about the Lippo Group, having given some money to Webster Hubbell, this was several weeks ago, that would be terrible, et cetera, if anybody in the White House had anything to do with that, but he didnít say anything about the other thing said--thatís always been a problem, hasnít it?
MARK SHIELDS: It has been a problem, Jim, and Mack McLarty, of course, as the Presidentís old boyhood friend, his original chief of staff, was very prominent in the fund-raising, is that he told Mrs. Clinton about it; that he was doing this; that she was definitely informed, and may very well have told the President.
JIM LEHRER: But not about the Lippo thing.
MARK SHIELDS: Not about the Lippo thing. They were raising money. They were raising money. And I guess--I guess the problem I see for it is that Webb Hubbell may very well have lied to the President, maybe telling the truth that he did, but Little Rock is a pretty small place, and thereís a buzz. I mean, this is a lawyer, a very close friend who came to Washington with them, and all of a sudden thereís a problem back in the law firm. Well, William Kennedy, had been associate counsel in the White House, heíd gone back to the law firm. It was pretty easy to find out what the charge was, and Iím sure there was a buzz going on. Whatís the problem? What do the other lawyers have against Webb? What is the problem here? So itís pretty--and the Presidentís a very curious fella. Heís very interested. Heís very bright and energetic. Itís kind of hard to believe that this was information that wasnít available.
JIM LEHRER: But for the record we must say that thereís an awful lot thatís still not known--
MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: We are talking about this in kind of--as itís developing.
PAUL GIGOT: Right. But itís having to be dug out by some resourceful reporters and by the Independent Counsel. Itís not as if the White House is cooperating, saying, let us tell you all we knew at the time about Webster Hubbell, and that makes you wonder. Itís the--what The Washington Post calls the dribs and drabs.
JIM LEHRER: Also for the record we must say about you mentioning Mack McLarty, Mack McLarty is a legitimate old personal friend of Webb Hubbell. Erskine Bowlesómaybe not.
MARK SHIELDS: He certainly is. I want to make that point. And Erskine Bowles--I think itís a complicating--Erskine Bowles, the new chief of staff, who was not an old friend, and whoís trying to establish his own credibility, his own relations on the Hill right now, on Capitol Hill, as the chief of staff for the President, this is a complicating factor for him.
JIM LEHRER: And he was then head of the Small Business Administration?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, he was.
JIM LEHRER: Weíll see how this sorts out, but talking about getting things from the White House, got another batch of documents from former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Harold Ickes this week about the fund-raising part, anything in there that you found particularly interesting?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think what it does--no bomb shells--but what it does is, what the documents do, is they kind of fill out the broader contact in which these broken rules for fund-raising took place. And what they really make clear is that you had this voracious appetite for money that was--the President, who has tried to make this a Democratic National Committee problem--you know, I was shocked, when I discovered, he said in the past, that they didnít, you know, follow the rules; that they did these things. Well, what comes through in the Ickes memos is the President was almost micro managing. He knew about specific fund-raisers. He knew about specific targets that they had for raising money. He knew that the coffees were more or less real fundraisers, so itís very hard for the White House now, I think, to say, this was Chris Dodd, or this was Don Fowler, or all those people over there. This was run from the White House?
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Thereís never been a campaign, Jim, for statewide office or above, that when they plan fundraisers, they didnít have a dollar amount assigned to them. Itís a very simple rule. You can devote so much time, effort, and energy to raising money, and how much of a candidateís time is this worth? How much candidateís time in meeting people, spending time with people, so there was a dollar amount. That really shouldnít shock anybody. Thatís like, oh, my goodness, I didnít know what was going on upstairs. I think what Harold Ickes--it does two things. It hurts Al Gore, again, because it comes right to the fore that this Buddhist event, with the nuns out in California at Hacienda Heights was a fund-raiser; it was conceived as a fundraiser; it was not just an ecumenical social chat. And secondly--
JIM LEHRER: And thatís in writing in Ickes--
MARK SHIELDS: Thatís in writing. Itís right there.
JIM LEHRER: --in Ickesí memos.
MARK SHIELDS: The second thing that is--is the point that Paul makes, the White House ran the campaign fundraising and it ran the DNC, Democratic National Committee, fundraising, as every White House running for reelection ever has. I mean, there has never been an independent party committee, and the idea of the suggestion that there may have been was absolutely erroneous and misleading.
JIM LEHRER: And so thatís the problem, though?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, it is.
JIM LEHRER: They tried to--thatís what youíre saying, both of you are saying.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: And to act like it wasnít is--is not holding water.
PAUL GIGOT: The amazing thing about this White House is that they have the capacity to shift stories almost seamlessly and to make you forget that something they said that was completely opposite of what theyíre now saying, just forget about it.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of "now saying," Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House, called Rush Limbaugh yesterday and just really unloaded on Bill Kristol, the editor and publisher of the Weekly Standard, for
leading the charge against him. Whatís that all about?
PAUL GIGOT: Maybe he wants to help Bill sell magazines. (laughing) I donít think that that--
JIM LEHRER: He accused Kristol of. What did he accuse Kristol of?
MARK SHIELDS: Pandering to liberals.
JIM LEHRER: Pandering to liberals.
MARK SHIELDS: Pandering to liberals.
PAUL GIGOT: Itís the worst thing you can say to a conservative in this city is that, you know, heís basically social climbing by trying to be nice to liberals, and criticize other conservatives. And thatís, of course, Newt Gingrich has been accused by some other members of Congress of doing the same.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes!
PAUL GIGOT: Recently--in order to rehabilitate himself. So itís a little bit of internecine warfare, but I--I thought it was actually sort of a sideshow this week and that it was a show of a bit of peak by the Speaker because he actually had a pretty good week. He had a pretty good week in China, an excellent week.
JIM LEHRER: You were with him. You went on that trip, did you not?
PAUL GIGOT: I didnít go on that trip. I was following a couple of Senators around.
JIM LEHRER: But you were there overlapping?
PAUL GIGOT: In a couple of events, and heard him, and I thought that he actually did a much better job of explaining, justifying the administrationís engagement policy with China than anybody in the administration has done, certainly better than the Vice President did. And I think that that event that week, he was really quite good talking to the Chinese, very pragmatic, just very good on our principles. That should restore his confidence a little bit to come back here and face some of the domestic wars.
MARK SHIELDS: Newt Gingrich had one great phrase he turned in China, I thought during the visit. He compared China handling Hong Kong to a giant handling an orchid, and that the world would be thinking different of China if they did it in a credible, admirable, and humane fashion. And it was a challenge to China, but I got to tell you, this Bill Kristol attack, he attacks on the very grounds on which heís criticized, okay, of catering, of wooing, of courting the left. He seems constitutionally incapable of accepting blame. I mean, it was his lawyers during the ethics. Itís always somebody else whoís doing it. And I agree with Paul; he did have a good week. He didnít have the high bar to reach in China, but he did.
JIM LEHRER: But you all have had a good Friday night, and thank you both very much.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, we had a high bar.
JIM LEHRER: You had a high bar.