SHIELDS & GIGOT
JULY 11, 1997
Our pundits analyze the campaign finance investigations that began this week in the Senate. They spar over whether the committee is really addressing the issues or simply playing party politics. Will any reform actually take place this session?
JIM LEHRER: Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, the Senate campaign finance hearings, your assessment after the first three days, sir.
A RealAudio version of this discussion is available.
July 10, 1997:
Richard Sullivan, former DNC finance chief, spends his second day before the committee.
July 10, 1997:
Two former federal prosecutors debate granting John Huang immunity.
July 9, 1997:
Kwame Holman reports on the Senate's second day of hearings.
July 8, 1997:
Senators John Glenn (D-OH) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) discuss the first day of hearings.
July 8, 1997:
Kwame Holman reports on the opening statements in the Senate's investigation into campaign finance scandals.
July 7, 1997:
Kwame Holman reports on the struggle to begin the Senate's investigation.
March 11, 1997:
Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) discuss the Senate fund-raising investigation.
February 27, 1997:
Jim Lehrer leads a discussion on the accusations against the White House campaign financing team .
February 25, 1997:
Elizabeth Farnsworth discusses the growing DNC fund raising scandal with White House Special Counsel Lanny Davis and chair of the House investigation Dan Burton (R-IN).
Browse the Online NewsHour's campaign fund-raising investigation and Congressional coverage.
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, Jim, I think that for those who are looking for the knockout of the White House, those who are hoping it would bring Bill Clinton down to earth, that hasn't happened. Democrats were hoping they would dodge the bullet. Clinton folks got out of it without any serious bodily damage, but for those who really are hoping that after 25 years we'll get some real campaign reform, I think it was a disappointment as well. I mean, the case didn't seem to be made. It struck me that Richard Sullivan, the first witness, didn't--
JIM LEHRER: And the only witness so far.
MARK SHIELDS: The only witness. He didn't fit the bill of the heavy. He didn't look like--
JIM LEHRER: He was the former DNC, Democratic National Committee finance director.
MARK SHIELDS: Exactly. But he didn't wear the cufflinks and come in in a white on white shirt, look like somebody out of a road company of Guys and Dolls, as a lot of finance people do in politics. And I thought that the chairman of the committee, Fred Thompson, set the bar pretty high by saying Chinese penetration early. I mean, at that point--
JIM LEHRER: That was his opening--in his opening statement.
MARK SHIELDS: Opening statement. And so I guess I was--I'm still hopeful but a little disappointed.
JIM LEHRER: Hopeful and disappointed, or what words would you use, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Richard Sullivan, the witness, probably could have stood two hours, not two days of testimony. He did say some interesting things. He demonstrated, testified that there was an extraordinary amount of interest at the White House presidential level. Harold Ickes, a key White House political aide, by the President, himself, in hiring John Huang, the fund-raiser, who was in some ways at the center of all of this concern. That was interesting. There were other details that were there, but it was a pudding without a theme. And you have to have--to make this dramatic in an age of short attention span theater, which our politics is, you have to have a theme.
JIM LEHRER: Is that all that politics is? I mean, is it drama criticism now, rather than political and substance criticism?
PAUL GIGOT: I'll tell you, I'm really disappointed by our fellows in the press on this, because in many ways it was the press that put this story through scoops on the front pages and made this a news story. And now when you have Congress trying to fulfill one of its major constitutional jobs, which is oversight of the executive, and finding out what happened, we say it's too boring; it's too complex. We don't--so--and besides, our polls show us the public doesn't care. Well, our job is to write and explain it in a way that maybe they will.
MARK SHIELDS: Paul makes a good point, Jim. I would say that if there was a tactical error that was made by the committee, it was not beginning the hearings the first week in August. The committee had to be on television to tell that story. I think it's a terribly important story. I think the--
JIM LEHRER: It's hard to do it with clips.
MARK SHIELDS: It's hard to do it with clips.
JIM LEHRER: With sound bites.
MARK SHIELDS: And C-Span, which has become the cable channel of record, is committed to carrying both the House and the Senate. Well, the House and the Senate this week were having very important and long sessions and a lot of key votes. And so when you start the replay at midnight and you're playing to chronic insomniacs and a few folks in Portland, Oregon, I mean it's tough.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, what about Mark's point about Thompson beginning with this opening statement about China? A lot of people said, hey, what's he up to? He issues a statement, then he says, I'm sorry, it's all classified; we can't talk about it.
PAUL GIGOT: I thought it was strange and frankly the reverse of what the real problem is. He said the problem is China was trying to influence American politics. That's not news. Taiwan tries to influence American politics; Israel. A hundred and fifty countries--
JIM LEHRER: Long list, long list.
PAUL GIGOT: The problem is--
JIM LEHRER: And we try to influence their politics.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right at some time--
JIM LEHRER: We're all in the game of influencing each other's politics.
PAUL GIGOT: The question is, the more fundamental issue is, why are--was our foreign policy for sale? Why were we available, if we were, to be purchased or influenced? And so it's our problem, not their problem, and in a curious reversal and frankly put the bar very high, as Mark put it, to try to prove espionage on the part of the Chinese, how are you going to do that?
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Mark, what's your critique of how the Democrats have played this so far, particularly Sen. Glenn, who's the minority ranking member of this committee?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, if the Democrats see their task in this, Jim, to keep, deflect criticism, body blows from the White House, then they succeeded this week. If they wanted to have the bipartisan hearing to really get some legislation written, as so many of them insist they do, I don't think their cause was advanced at all. But John Glenn brings to it a very special credibility and legitimacy because he hasn't been a partisan in the past, and, if anything, I mean, he showed himself to be a political skilled, more skilled political in-fighter this past week than most people have ever given him credit for.
But at the same time, it strikes me that there's nobody emerging in this committee--and admittedly, it's early--as the Howard Baker figure, as the Lowell Wycker figure, as the Sam Ervin figure, sort of the person that says the national interest takes precedence over my party's well-being. I mean, I think you see the Republicans on the committee, by contrast, look like piano players at a house of ill repute. Oh, my goodness, these things are going on upstairs. I had no idea of that.
I mean, Don Nickles of Oklahoma is disingenuous, talking about making calls for government property for fund-raising, while he's out sending fund-raising, dunning letters to people to come to a big fund-raiser at Vice President Quayle's house. I mean, there's an awful lot of posturing going on here.
JIM LEHRER: Paul.
PAUL GIGOT: Hats off to one Democrat, I think. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Senator, is the one Democrat on that committee who is actually showing interest in finding out what happened. Every other one couldn't--
JIM LEHRER: Would you agree with that?
MARK SHIELDS: I give credit to Joe Lieberman. What Republican do you think is trying to find out?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, this is about trying to find out what happened in 1996. We'll get to Haley Barbour and the Republicans, believe me, and Mark will make sure they do, but the point is that if this is about finding out, as it should be, whether U.S. foreign policy was for sale, what was going on in 1996, you would think the Democrats on the committee would show some interest in it. Instead, what you've seen is John Glenn saying--trying to compare Haley Barbour, what he did, spending almost all of his introduction--
JIM LEHRER: Haley Barbour was chairman of the Republican National Committee who had--up until about a few months ago.
PAUL GIGOT: Who may or may not have raised some foreign money for a third rate think tank with the President of the United States, a sovereign power, to influence U.S. foreign policy towards China and Most Favored Nation status, and a variety of other things, you would think Haley Barbour was the commander in chief. There is no moral equivalence between the two and we shouldn't--and yet he spends his time making that argument, which is a very cynical argument, because he knows the public out there is cynical about politics, and he plays right into that.
JIM LEHRER: And you're saying--so what's the message when he does that?
PAUL GIGOT: The message is the President isn't a problem; we're all the problem. Everybody's crooked, so ignore the details and ignore accountability.
MARK SHIELDS: And the fact of the matter is that the system stinks. The soft money stinks; $600,000 contributions stink; and they stink, and there was more soft money raised by the Republicans than there was by the Democrats. And what Bill Clinton and Al Gore did was beyond anything that's been done in my lifetime since Richard Nixon. Make no mistake.
PAUL GIGOT: I agree with that.
MARK SHIELDS: But the Republicans have been at this, and to pretend, to sit here and pretend that somehow it was one party and Bill Clinton and Al Gore in 1996 is just begging the truth.
PAUL GIGOT: But that's not the point I'm making. The point is that we're going to get to Haley Barbour--
MARK SHIELDS: It isn't a question of getting to Haley Barbour. It's the system is full of pollution.
PAUL GIGOT: But, wait a minute. If the system is--if this is only about campaign finance reform, then the question how your government behaves gets off the table, because then we're looking toward the future. We've got to find out what happened--
JIM LEHRER: In other words--
PAUL GIGOT: --before we can know how to fix it.
JIM LEHRER: --the system made me do it is the Democratic defense.
PAUL GIGOT: If everybody is responsible, then nobody's behavior is responsible.
JIM LEHRER: What about the specific question of John Huang? On the table, should he be granted immunity so he can testify, what's your view of that?
PAUL GIGOT: It was a very sly request because what he said is basically, grant me limited immunity basically on those things that I'm likely to be charged with, if I'm charged, but not on espionage, which is virtually impossible to prove in any case. So I think the committee was right to say wait a minute, we've got--because Joe Lieberman put it well at the end of a debate on this in the hearing when he said, look, it's one way to stop this kind of behavior is to have reform, but another way is to punish people who actually exceed the boundaries--to be accountable for their own behavior. And that means if you have to prosecute, if they warrant prosecution, prosecute them, and that immunity would run the face of that.
JIM LEHRER: Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: Let me make one point clear. I am not defending, apologizing, rationalizing what the Clinton-Gore campaign did. I'm not pretending that anybody walks in who's ever been around a nun of any denomination and says that she's lived all her life and spent all those hours in prayer and deep concentration and charitable acts to raise $5,000 to give to a presidential campaign. No. But Jim, the key is a wonderful Jewish proverb--with money in your pocket, you are handsome, you are intelligent, and you sing well too. And that's exactly what the story is of American politics. Politicians and people who run for office, as John McCain said to me this week, the first thing you ask anybody who wants to run for office is, can you get the money, and he said that--
JIM LEHRER: Not what you believe.
MARK SHIELDS: Not what you believe.
JIM LEHRER: Not what you would do if you're elected.
MARK SHIELDS: What you like, what do you believe, what have you done--
JIM LEHRER: Who are you?
MARK SHIELDS: That's it: Can you get the money? And that's it, and that's the central--that is the message that ought to be delivered.
JIM LEHRER: Is that going to change as a result of the Thompson-Glenn hearings, et al hearings?
PAUL GIGOT: No.
MARK SHIELDS: I'm still hopeful. I really think there's going to be--through the efforts of people like Chris Shays, a Republican from Connecticut, and John McCain and Marty Meehan and Russ Feingold, I think there will be a vote on soft money this year.
PAUL GIGOT: Oh, there will be a vote.
MARK SHIELDS: And I think--I think--
JIM LEHRER: There will be a vote, he said.
MARK SHIELDS: I think we can get--I think we can get to it.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. We've got to get out of this right now. Bye.