SHIELDS & GIGOT
October 17, 1997
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss Attorney General Janet Reno's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and the emergence of more tapes of President Clinton's White House coffees and fund-raisers.
PHIL PONCE: Now, our regular political analysis from Shields & Gigot; syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, if I may begin with you, one of the big stories this week was the encounter between Attorney General Janet Reno and the House Judiciary Committee. Who won that encounter?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
October 15, 1997
Janet Reno answers critics of her campaign finance investigation.
October 14, 1997
Janet Reno announced that she was extending the investigation into fund-raising calls made by President Clinton during the 1994 and 1996 elections.
October 10, 1997
Shields & Gigot discuss the White House coffee tapes.
September 26, 1997
Shields and Gigot discuss the McCain-Feingold debate.
September 19, 1997
Shields and Gigot discuss campaign finance reform hearings and the McCain-Feingold bill.
June 24, 1996:
A background report on introduction of the McCain-Feingold reform bill.
Browse the past Shields & Gigot segments.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the campaign finance investigation.
Attorney General Reno vs. Congress.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Oh, I donít think either side won. It was something of a draw. The attorney general answered most questions by saying I cannot talk about ongoing investigations. And she canít. I mean, the rules of evidence are such that you really cannot talk about who youíre talking to. But I donít think she persuaded many of the Republicans that, in fact, she is right on the issue of a special counsel, of naming an independent counsel to look into the Presidentís fund-raising, or on the questions of her own Justice Department investigation and how theyíre doing.
The thing the Republicans did that was really the most damaging, I thought, was they quoted the attorney general back to herself. They quoted her arguments from 1993, when she was arguing before Congress for a reauthorization of the independent counsel statute, and she said, you know, we have to do this because sometimes thereís an inherent conflict of interest, sometimes you have to be able to restore the public trust, or make sure the public believes what youíre doing. Thatís what the Republicans said she should be doing now, and that she didnít adequately respond to that.
PHIL PONCE: And when you say they quoted her--they actually showed a videotape of her testifying--
PAUL GIGOT: They showed a videotape. Thatís right.
PHIL PONCE: --before them several years ago.
PAUL GIGOT: Thatís right.
PHIL PONCE: Mark Shields, who do you think made the--got the better end of that encounter?
MARK SHIELDS: I donít think thereís any question, Phil, that the attorney general prevailed. A single witness against a big committee, enormous advantage. Americans root for David against Goliath. Itís a raid grandstand of congressional suits. I donít care if itís Ollie North or Janet Reno, but Janet Reno brought to it sort of a no-nonsense, non-partisan approach, which served her very well. And she answered the questions, and the day after she showed the deftness, the political deftness, I think, that many people donít attribute to her, when in her press conference she said how tough the questioning had been but she commended Henry Hyde, the very respected chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, as the ideal leader, the ideal congressman, and told of the respect she had for him. So I just thought that she did. I think Paul is right. The tape was embarrassing to her of the earlier testimony in 1993, but I mean you donít hear any talk about impeachment now. I mean, there was a lot of tough, swaggering language being tossed about before. I havenít heard that since her appearance.
PHIL PONCE: Mark, even though there may not have been--even though there may not be any talk about possible impeachment, how much credibility does David have at this point?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think she has enormous credibility, and thatís--thatís of course the great obstacle she presents to Republicans. Americans, as Henry Hyde, the chairman, point out, do want an independent counsel appointed, and Americans, I think rightly, understand that our political system is broken, that money is dominant, that it speaks in a loud voice, and candidates respond to it. They think itís not restricted to either party, but when they asked about Janet Reno, thereís a respect. That respect was born of a reality--Janet Reno was defined in American minds at the time of the Waco tragedy when she alone in the pubic or private sector, and so rarely does it happen a leadership in America at any level now--she stood up and said Iím accountable; Iím responsible; it happened on my watch. And at that point then Janet Reno in my judgment would have to do something spectacularly egregious to ever rebut that presumption that she is fair, non-partisan, and tough.
Does the public want an independent counsel?
PHIL PONCE: Paul, how about that? Polls show that most Americans seem to think that she should appoint an independent counsel and yet her support among the public seems pretty strong. Why is that?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think thereís something to what Mark says about Waco. When a public figure in Washington is introduced to the country, that impression lingers, and she has some credibility left from that, although I think itís a wasting asset at this stage. She also doesnít come across as the usual beltway smoothie, you know. She does have a nice demeanor and itís modest, and I think that people like that, but sheís in a terrible dilemma.
I mean, sheís caught between pleasing a President, who doesnít want her to appoint an independent counsel, and who obviously is the target ultimately of anything she does, and yet, appearing to be credible to Congress and to the country. Itís a very careful, very difficult line to walk. You can argue that the President shouldnít keep her in that position. He should do now what he did in Whitewater, which was finally to say to her, "Look, appoint a special counsel." And thatís when she finally did it, in that instance. So sheís going to have a very difficult time throughout this whole next year as she continues her investigation. The ultimate proof will be, are--does the FBI and the career prosecutors in the Justice Department really believe that they have thoroughly looked at this.
"...This shows that Clinton stole the election."
PHIL PONCE: Moving on to another development this week, and that is the release of even more White House coffee tapes. Today, Paul, you wrote in the Wall Street Journal that this shows that Clinton stole the election. What do you mean?
PAUL GIGOT: Iím sure Mark agrees with that 100 percent.
PHIL PONCE: Weíll ask him in just a second.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think the tapes are interesting in a couple of ways. One is that they show the Presidentís involvement in this a lot more closely than we have had in the past. The Presidentís initial defense was a certain detachment. This was all the Democratic National Committee. I didnít know what John Huang was doing; I didnít know what James Riyadi was doing. These tapes show the President with his arms around, you know, some of these people, in intimate conversations, whispering conversations, very close, in situations where there are a lot of foreign donors, which is at least circumstantial evidence that maybe he might have had some knowledge of the foreign donations or of the fund that were laundered by some of these people later on. Itís not a proof, but it is a suggestion and circumstantial evidence that deserves further investigation.
The other point that is interesting on the tapes, the President basically admits all of the money that they raised went to early advertising that for six months or eight months went unanswered and decimated Bob Dole, and they did it in violation of established campaign limits that I know Mark thinks were violations. And they did it shrewdly and in a way that Republicans either out of naivete or because they didnít have the gumption didnít answer. And what happened is that won the election for him. And I think you could argue that thatís sort of the modern moral equivalent of stuffing ballot boxes.
PHIL PONCE: Mark Shields, what do the tapes show to you?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, first, a little historical revision is in here. What won the campaign for Bill Clinton in 1986 had nothing to do with what the television advertising did, which I agree with Paul, in my judgment, I welcome Paul to this point of view now, was an invasion, if not an illegality, and certainly a breaking--a breaking of a solemn vow given by Bill Clinton and Bob Dole when they accepted matching public funds for their campaign and agreed to abide by the limits of spending. And I think both campaigns broke them, and thereís no question about it. But the reality is this: In 1996, the campaign was framed--and this is not simply my judgment--the judgment of Bob Teeter, the pollster of the last seven Republican Presidents, the presidential campaigns and Peter Hart, the pollster for the last--for four Democratic presidential campaigns, who combined under the Wall Street Journal Poll--that, that election was framed with a simple question: Do you--the Republicans in the Congress want to cut Medicare in order to finance a tax break for their wealthiest supporters.
Once that became the premise of the election of 1996, Phil, the Republicans were dead. It had nothing to do with Bob Dole, or whoever the nominee was. And what it became quite simply, that was the message that came not from the Clinton advertising--they opposed it--Dick Morris opposed it--it came from House Democrats, who beat it in and it changed over the summer of 1995. And add to that one other factor--Bill Clinton essentially ran in 1996 not on a great theme or a great strategic campaign--he ran on "I am not Newt Gingrich." And Bob Dole hastened to respond to that by proving he wasnít Newt Gingrich by resigning from the Senate in a very publicly moving ceremony. So I donít think it changed that.
Was the money wrong? Yes. It was wrong. But it didnít change the results of the election. As Paul acknowledged in the last paragraph, I think, of that piece today, there was a rather dramatic difference in the economy and the fact that the deficit had been reduced by 91 percent and that four out of five jobs created the G-7 country since Bill Clinton had been president were created in the United States of America.
PHIL PONCE: Paul, real quickly. I mean, notwithstanding, whether or not something illegal happened or didnít happen, again, very quickly, how badly has the President been damaged?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think as long as the economy keeps rolling the public seems to have turned off to this. And as long as the Justice Department isnít going to bring charges against people from the bottom up, and we havenít seen evidence of that, my own judgment is it looks like heís going to get away with it.
PHIL PONCE: Paul and Mark, I thank you both.
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