March 6, 1998
From President Clinton's leaked deposition to Vernon Jordan's testimony before the grand jury, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the week in politics.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now our Friday night political analysis by Shields & Gigot. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, a significant development this week was the leaking to the Washington Post of the President's sealed deposition in the Paul Jones case. Were there any clear winners or losers from this?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
March 5, 1998
Dan Balz of the Washington Post discusses the latest developments in the Starr investigation.
February 26, 1998
First Amendment implications of the Starr investigation.
February 25, 1998
Two congressmen debate the postponed campaign finance bill.
February 19, 1998
Two former White House counsels discuss executive privilege.
February 6, 1998:
Perspectives on the Starr investigation from beyond the beltway.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the White House and legal issues
The Shields and Gigot index page.
Mr. Gigot: "Somebody said that there was no smoking gun in this, and that's not surprising because it was the President's gun."
PAUL GIGOT: Well, Elizabeth, somebody said that there was no smoking gun in this, and that's not surprising because it was the President's gun. This was his story. This was his side of the story made under oath in the deposition, and the President, to show how good a politician he is, he went out and denounced a leak that helped him. He said this is a shock, an outrage that this leak. But really the story is his side of the story. It--there was not a lot of revelation in it about the Monica Lewinsky episode, which of course is right now the biggest debate, an issue and cloud over this presidency.
So I don't think we got a lot of news. One bit of news that might have been troubling for him in it was that he did--we are told--admit that he had had an affair with Gennifer Flowers in 1992, which he had denied at the time, before 1992, which he had denied, and that would affect his credibility. And there's a contradiction between his account now in the Paula Jones case about his denying that he made any advance on another woman by the name of Kathleen Willy, which contradicts her testimony, which we've been--we've ready about--under oath. So that could affect the President's credibility also in the Paula Jones case.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But overall--
PAUL GIGOT: But overall this is not--this was not a big advance legally in the Monica Lewinsky case, no.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you agree with that, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I do. It may upset Paul to hear me say it but I do agree with him basically, Elizabeth, and that is that the leak is certainly helpful when you have a court-imposed gag order, it's about the only way really left to communicate to sympathetic witnesses on your side, and I'm sure that people sympathetic of the President want to get the word to Vernon Jordan, to others who are appearing before the grand jury as to what the President's own story was. I don't think he admitted to an affair. I think he said that he had had relations once with Gennifer Flowers in 1977, which I don't know if we're going to define affairs on this show isn't exactly Dr. Laura, but I don't know if once in 1977 constitutes an affair, Paul.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mark, the Republican report on campaign finance was released and voted on yesterday in Senator Thompson's committee. Do you think there were any smoking guns in that report that really revealed something very new about what happened in the campaign in ‘96, ‘95 and ‘96?
Mr. Shields: "...our system is in a shambles; it's riddled with Swiss cheese--loopholes through which anybody can drive."
MARK SHIELDS: Well, the reports basically reflected the way the committee had worked, which was--it had been at partisan loggerheads almost from day one--but taken together, they constitute a pretty serious indictment of the status quo in politics, whether it's money laundering, whether it's foreign contributions. And I thought Fred Thompson, the chairman of the committee, who I know was frustrated throughout, put it pretty well, that our system is in a shambles; it's riddled with Swiss cheese--loopholes through which anybody can drive. And he made the prediction--and I think he's absolutely right--that unless and until something is done about the system, what we saw in 1996 is going to look like bean bag compared to what we'll see in 1998 and 2000, when it comes to soft money being used by candidates.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think the political message is in this report?
PAUL GIGOT: Crime pays.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Really?
Does crime pay?
PAUL GIGOT: In a political sense I think. Mark, I think, is right that when you look at the document, itself, it was a factual success. The committee came out with an awful lot of information. They uncovered things that we are now--that are now showing up in indictments through the Justice Department. They showed the White House was at least aware of some of the things that went on, if not--if it wasn't organized out of the White House. But it was a political failure, and it was a political failure because the Democratic line was that everybody does it, and it worked. The public bought it. The public believes that there really was nothing all that different about 1996 than any other time. So they're holding nobody accountable as a political matter, it seems to me, so I think the lesson that people are going to learn, especially professional politicians who want to win is you can get away with it, and so I think you're going to see an awful lot more of it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you agree with that, Mark, that the lesson is crime pays?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, crime pays is strong but Paul's never been accused of not being strong. It is his convictions and his statements. I do think that there was a lack of public alarm, whether it's by the new Dow Jones or the lower unemployment, or whatever else. There isn't a sense that they can connect what is perceived political corruption of the system to their lives being adversely affected. And I think that's been one of the problems for those want to change it. I think the Republicans tried to have it both ways on this. Republicans said, isn't this awful, what went on, isn't it terrible, oh, my goodness, oh, let's not change it in the least when they had a chance to do it. And that's why Sen. Thompson I think probably stands alone on that--on that committee--as somebody who has really walked the walk and talked the talk. We saw money laundering on the Republican side of historic proportions where non-profit groups just became wholly-owned fronts for the Republican Party, and I agree with Paul what went on in the Democratic side, the use of soft money was quite beyond anything we've ever seen before, especially when a presidential candidate takes the pledge, that only the publicly-received money he receives and signs for will be spent in his campaign and no other money. And that certainly was not the case in 1996.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Paul, you mentioned some indictments and yesterday Johnny Chung, who was one of the Democratic fund-raisers, was charged, and is apparently going to agree to plead guilty. How significant is this, do you think?
PAUL GIGOT: We don't know. And we don't know because we don't know what he's willing to cooperate to and what information he has. It's certainly significant in the sense that at least somebody is being held accountable for things that happen in 1996, but we don't know to what extent he can move up the food chain as prosecutors try to do, so how far it goes, we don't know.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. And, Mark, one thing I skipped over in what happened in the Starr investigation is the Vernon Jordan testimony before the grand jury. Was there anything significant in what he said as he came out?
Vernon Jordan's testimony before the grand jury.
MARK SHIELDS: I may be the only person in this--I'm not trying to pose as a drama critic but you recall Barbara Jordan, the congresswoman from Texas, I think she and Vernon Jordan--she was enormously eloquent as keynoter at the 1976 Democratic Convention--she and Vernon Jordan must be related because they each had the same elocution coach. They find--you find your attention riveted by the slowness with which they speak and the way they enunciate, and I thought he was quite a compelling figure outside the courtroom. I don't know what he said inside the courtroom in his testimony but what it appeared to be--a breach earlier between him and the President--appeared to have been healed by the time he took the oath.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think there was--do you get the same message?
PAUL GIGOT: Yes. I don't think that there's--both Vernon Jordan's interest in this case and the President's interest are the same, and I don't think that there is a big difference in their story lines right now, not that I've detected, and certainly none that either one of Vernon Jordan or the president claims. What he said in the grand jury of course we don't know.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Paul, turning to the interesting vote on Puerto Rico and the House, this was a bill that would set up the possibility for a referendum in which Puerto Ricans could decide whether they wanted statehood or independence or to keep their commonwealth status, and it was--it was sponsored by some top Republican leaders, including Newt Gingrich. Why?
Puerto Rico to decide its own fate.
PAUL GIGOT: Is there a Republican Congress? Sometimes I wonder, particularly when the first priority or one of the first priorities of this year, an election year, sponsored by that Republican Congress was opposed in the end by 177 members of the House Republican Conference. You have to ask yourself why. The leaders when you talk to them say, No. 1, we made a promise to one of our committee chairmen, Don Young, chairman of the Resources Committee, who has had this as a hobby horse, so we had to do it. Second, big lobbying, and I mean big lobbying in this city, something like 20 lobbying firms.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And these would be lobbyists mostly for people who want statehood.
PAUL GIGOT: They happen to be on both sides, but, the big Republicans for statehood, Haley Barbour's firm--the former RNC chairman--Bob Dole's law firm--or even Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, got into this. Who knows what that has to do with the Christian Coalition. Nothing. Puerto Rican statehood, but he was supporting it too, and then the third thing, they even got a pollster, Frank Luntz, to come in and say this is going to help us with the Hispanic voters, though how Puerto Rican statehood helps a Hispanic voters in Tucson, or in California is beyond me, but they persuaded themselves, but they couldn't persuade their own members.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark, how do you see that vote?
MARK SHIELDS: I think Paul has it pretty well. The Republicans are in trouble with Hispanic voters, and they know it. Between 1994 and 1996 the Republican vote among Hispanic voters for Congress fell by a third. The Proposition 187 in California was seen as immigrant bashing by a number of Hispanic voters, the rhetoric of Pat Buchanan in the last campaign, as well as of Pete Wilson and his own campaign, so I think there are real problems there, there's no question about it, and I think this was an attempt to address it and it failed miserably.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you both very much.