SHIELDS & GIGOT
NOVEMBER 29, 1996
The NewsHour's two Washington pundits discuss the week that was on the political front; Attorney General Reno's rejection of an independent council to look into Democratic fundraising practices; James Carville's attacks on Whitewater prosecuter Kenneth Starr; Hillary Clinton's desire to have a larger policy making role and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's declaration of independence.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
November 28, 1996
Four politicians debate what to do to reform campaign financing.
November 25, 1996
Margaret Warner reports on the recent Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.
October 18, 1996
Ellen Miller of the Center for the Responsive Politics, participates in an Online Forum on campaing finance reform.
Browse NewsHour coverage of the Whitewater story.
Browse past segments of Shields & Gigot.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Finally tonight, political analysis from Shields & Gigot. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, the Justice Department today rejected the request to turn over the investigation to an independent counsel, the investigation of the Democratic fund-raising from foreign sources. What is your reaction to that decision?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, first of all, I don't think that--two things will happen: One, we will have congressional hearings. I think they're guaranteed now on all the contributions the Democrats and probably to all of the recipients. But, secondly, Janet Reno stands as the attorney general of the United States as sort of an unsalable figure, in spite of all the unsubtle hints from those courageous, nameless, faceless folks in the Clinton White House who want her to go. I mean, she has a record of independence, having appointed four independent counsels already, more than anybody else in the first term in history, she is--she is just in a position I think of strength here. She's announced that there will be a task force already appointed, already working, of career prosecutors, and I'm willing to put it right now that there will be indictments and prosecutions from their work.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So instead of seeing this as the Justice Department trying to whitewash something, you see it as just trying to take, in itself, a responsibility, instead of giving it to an independent counsel?
MARK SHIELDS: And I think she can make the case--Joe DeGenova, the former U.S. attorney here, himself a former special counsel, independent counsel, makes the point that John Huang, who's most prominently identified, the fund-raiser who had been at the Commerce Department, then went over to the Democratic National Committee, was not of high enough rank to merit--justify an independent counsel being named for him, and he's the most identifiable, targeted figure, it seems at this point.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Paul, what's your reaction to the Justice Department announcement today?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, maybe this means that Janet Reno will be able to keep her job in the second term. As Mark suggested, there were an awful lot of people in the White House. There are an awful lot of people who whispered that they were unhappy with her, that they would want her replaced, that maybe even the President wanted her replaced, because she did have this first-term record of appointing four special counsels. They thought she was a little bit too independent. But I don't think you can fault Janet Reno on this one. As Mark suggested, there's a very narrow band of people within the special counsel statute who are covered, and John Huang was assistant secretary of commerce, which is usually not raised to that level. And she has enough standing, I think, Gen. Reno does, with Republicans, that this won't go over too badly, as long as you can have congressional hearings, and the Justice Department, itself, will continue to investigate.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And do you agree that the congressional hearings are inevitable?
PAUL GIGOT: I think so. Absolutely. And they should. We shouldn't criminalize everything in our politics. We ought to have accountability based on information and rooting out facts, and that's what congressional hearings are supposed to do.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark, just briefly on the independent--staying on the independent counsel, James Carville, who helped run the Clinton campaign in ‘92, said on “Meet the Press” last week that he's forming what he called--it's a committee to “inform the public about Kenneth Starr,” the independent Whitewater counsel, about Kenneth Starr's alleged lack of fitness for the job. What do you make of this news?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, James Carville certainly cannot be accused of having an arm's length relationship from the White House. He was the principal strategist, the architect of the 1992 Clinton victory. He's been a loyal champion advocate, supporter, and adviser to the President. So in that case--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Although, I should say he claims that the President was against it. He calls what the President's doing appeasement.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, I mean, James Carville has had a thing about Ken Starr for quite a while. I think there's two things at work here. I mean, Carville is a very shrewd political person. He knows the risk. He knows the criticism. He's already received a lot of criticism, and pretty damning criticism, but I think, Elizabeth, what he's doing is he sending a sort of a telegram, a Western Union telegram to Ken Starr, that everything that they're doing is being scrutinized and will be scrutinized and will be ventilated, but secondly, I think there may be a secondary constituency he's trying to send a message to, and that's any potential juries that are sitting on charges brought by Ken Starr in both Little Rock and Washington, D.C.. There may be a little Johnny Cochran twist to the Carville approach.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Paul, do you have any comments to add on that?
PAUL GIGOT: He's clearly trying to taint whatever possible indictments Ken Starr would bring with partisanship, with the charge that he is a right wing Republican hack, despite the fact that he's none of those things. He is a Republican, but he's certainly someone--one of the least partisan Republicans in the Judiciary--judicial circles in Washington. He's trying to do that. There's no question about it. And there's a great irony here, because in the first term the President often said, well, if there's anything wrong that's gone on here, Ken Starr will find out. He was using Ken Starr, the special counsel, as a shield in a way against politics. Now that the election is over, you have Carville saying, essentially, well, using politics against Ken Starr, that anything he does is tainted. So it seems to me that that's a very clear message he's sending, and if the President wants to distance himself from that message, he could say so publicly.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Paul, earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle seemed in comment to reporters to distance himself and Senate Democrats a little bit from the President. He said, for example, that he would support a partial ban on late-term abortions, whereas, the White House I think just wants to let that lie. What do you think that Sen. Daschle was doing with these comments?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think that he was sending a message not just to the White House but to voters out there that there's a bit of a divergence here, if you look into the second term, between the President's political interests and perhaps Senate Democrats, who have to face the voters, after all, in two years in 1998, saying that if the President wants to do some deals with the Republicans, he may not have it as easy getting the votes of the Democrats because right now you have 55 Senate Republicans. With potential Democrat retirements in 1998, you could be facing a possibility of losing even more seats. And Tom Daschle knows, he wants to give his men and women some issues, and that may mean once in a while disagreeing with the President.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you agree with that? Is that how you interpreted the remarks?
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. I think Tom Daschle has been now the Democratic leader. I think he's feeling comfortable and confident, and he has--I think Paul is absolutely right--there's a different agenda. His people have to be up in ‘98 and 2000. Bill Clinton is never again on the ballot, but I think--I'd add to that, what he doesn't want to have happen, Daschle, has happened to Democrats, has happened to the Republicans under Ronald Reagan. When Republicans in Congress were just marginalized and both Reagan--both President Reagan and President Bush made all their overtures to the Democratic leadership to get anything done, and just assume that the Republicans would line up loyally behind the Republican--he was saying hey, we're here, we're players, don't take us for granted, and I think the message was delivered.
PAUL GIGOT: Elizabeth, can I add one point?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sure.
PAUL GIGOT: I think one thing that Tom Daschle said was very, very significant, was he said he basically endorsed the idea by Bob Kerrey, Senate Democrat of Nebraska, and some Republicans, that you could take a portion of your payroll tax that we now pay for Social Security and begin to maybe invest it in the stock market on your own, outside the Social Security system. I think this is really big stuff, to have a Democrat like this, and Democrats are responsible for creating Social Security say that maybe we need to begin to privatize the system, at least in part. I think this could be momentous, because if a Republican had said this, he'd probably be dragged through the streets, it certainly would have been the last election campaign. To have a Democrat do this, I think is a signal that maybe some epic changes are possible in Social Security.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark, Paul, thanks for being with us.