September 10, 1999
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the Waco investigation, the Puerto Rican clemency issue and the evolving political landscape for the 2000 elections.
JIM LEHRER: Shields and Gigot means syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
Mark, first: Waco. Former Sen. Danforth was selected by Janet Reno to run this Waco investigation. A good choice?
|Danforth: A good choice?|
MARK SHIELDS: A good choice, Jim, and a major choice. First of all, since the demise of the Independent Counsel Law, a question of whether the Department of Justice, especially one under criticism, could reach out and get somebody of Jack Danforth's stature, experience, and reputation. And I think the fact that he responded to the attorney general's request helps the investigation, shows that she's serious this time about getting to the bottom of it.
The fact that he reached out and chose the deputy, the Democratic U.S. Attorney in St. Louis, shows that he understands the bipartisanship and the Henry Hyde proposal for a select committee on the Hill and leaves the Hill investigation of Danny Burton, chairman from Indiana, who is not widely regarded on both sides of the aisle.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Now, Paul, Danforth was on this program last night, and he said that he had two missions: first, to determine if there was a cover-up and second, to determine if, in fact, federal employees killed people, did awful dark things. Has he got it right?
PAUL GIGOT: I think that's about right, yes. I mean, some of the other decisions that were made really were hashed over in the congressional committee. These were the ones that --
JIM LEHRER: He said they were judgment calls, that he didn't want to get into that.
PAUL GIGOT: I think so. And these are the ones that really have caused a lot of the doubts about the U.S. Government's believability and credibility and given rise to some of the conspiracy theories. Was the U.S. Government really responsible, decisions that it made, in causing the fire? And then credibility, which is always a central issue, can you believe it when they decide they're going to investigate? And if you can't believe it six years later, then you can believe it never.
JIM LEHRER: And so now John Danforth has taken on the burden of being believed as well. He now has to be believed, does he not?
MARK SHIELDS: He does. And I thought he put it well on the show last night, and as well in his other public statements, was that he's interested in bad acts, not bad judgment. I mean, there were misjudgments made, but he's interested in whether there was a cover-up, whether, in fact, American forces, American employees of the United States Government did kill American citizens. I mean, those are the serious questions, and I think that's really what's the nub of the issue.
PAUL GIGOT: That's why I think the choice made -- is it better for Janet Reno politically than it might be for Jack Danforth? I mean, the record of special counsels under this administration, of lead investigators, is not great. I mean, Charles Umbella came into the campaign finance thing, didn't get anywhere, ran into difficulties and had to leave short of doing anything.
And, of course, you have Ken Starr and then some of the other special counsels who become targets. Now, the fact that Danforth is with the Justice Department, maybe he can avoid that. He's taking on a big duty.
|Hillary Clinton on clemency|
JIM LEHRER: I found it interesting what he said about that last night, that he left the Senate to escape this kind of public scrutiny and he knows that he's walked right back -- I'm paraphrasing-- he's walked right back into the buzz saw because people will be on him from the day he begins. Another subject. The Puerto Rican clemency issue -- who is getting the worst and best of that right now? Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think the Republicans think that this has fallen into their laps since they did nothing to create it. The First Lady is getting the worst of it, Jim. There's no question about it.
JIM LEHRER: Review her record on this.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, about a month ago -- clemency, the President offered clemency for the fourth time out of some 3,000 requests to 16 Puerto Rican nationalists linked to a terrorist group. And Republicans immediately said and others, "this sure looks funny; why would you do that since a lot of the agitation for this has come from Puerto Rican politicians, Democratic politicians in New York?" It took her a month to say, "I had nothing to do with this. It wasn't my idea; didn't even talk to the president about it."
JIM LEHRER: If it was designed to help me, it ain't going to do it, right?
PAUL GIGOT: But, let's face it, this administration doesn't get the benefit of the doubt when it says nothing is political because almost everything has been political. And the fact that she waited a month doesn't help and the fact that it was only the fourth clemency grant out of three thousand doesn't help and the fact that it was opposed by the FBI and the Bureau of Prisons also doesn't help.
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I couldn't disagree more. I think it was an incredibly shrewd and carefully calculated ploy to lull the New York Republicans and Mayor Rudy Guiliani into overconfidence.
JIM LEHRER: Oh, man.
MARK SHIELDS: It was incredibly botched -- from the beginning all the way through and they haven't been able to get out of it. It's the tar baby of political issues. I mean, one thing that Bill Clinton has been the master of is cutting his losses -
JIM LEHRER: -- and moving on.
MARK SHIELDS: And this thing just keeps coming and coming and coming and Paul is right. I mean, we're back now to the question of did they discuss it? I mean....
JIM LEHRER: The President and Mrs. Clinton.
MARK SHIELDS: And the President saying he's following the advice of President Jimmy Carter. Now, those of us who follow politics in this town and know about relations between Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, they have always been strained and they reached the point where Bill Clinton stopped taking Jimmy Carter's phone calls. Now all of a sudden he's making domestic policy as well as foreign policy. So, I think it's badly handled. It hurts Mrs. Clinton. It reminds her -
JIM LEHRER: Why does it hurt Mrs. Clinton?
MARK SHIELDS: It hurts her because (a) she flip-flopped on the issue. She shows a lack of sure-footedness in the ethnic labyrinth that is New York politics. She shows a tin ear. She did not seek the advice of counselors or a wider range of opinions and that's....
JIM LEHRER: Particularly within the Hispanic and Puerto Rican community.
MARK SHIELDS: Within the Hispanic community, and quite frankly, Jim, that was the knock that was put on her at the time of the health plan in 1993, 1994 -- that she did not reach beyond a very limited cadre of advisors for a diversity of opinion.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. You wanted to say something?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think it also - I'll tell you who it hurts -- I think it hurts Al Gore -- and I'll tell you why -- because along with Waco and some other things, this brings back all the political habits of the administration that a lot of Democrats don't like -- and they're trying to get away with -- from, and Bill Bradley is offering something different. And I think that that helps Bradley against Al Gore.
JIM LEHRER: And that's what's called a natural segue.
PAUL GIGOT: I was trying to set you up.
|Bill Bradley and character|
JIM LEHRER: You really did a great job, because let's talk about Bill Bradley. He made it official this week in his announcement in Crystal City, his hometown in Missouri. How well did he do in his coming out?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, Bill Bradley has never reminded me or anybody else, I think, of Ronald Reagan when comes to speaking on a podium of Damascenes, any great order. But he was good. I mean, he was as good as I've seen him.
JIM LEHRER: We ran a large hunk of it last night.
PAUL GIGOT: And I also thought it was a pretty shrewd speech. I think he's going to get some mileage out of it. What was interesting was that so much of it was biographical, so much of it was about character. He was so clearly trying to draw a distinction between his kind of politics and him as a man and as somebody of judgment from the things that people don't like about the Clinton administration from the last seven or eight years and trying to, by association, link Al Gore to those habits.
JIM LEHRER: And is that going to work with the Democrats, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, what he was careful to do is at no point could you look at any phrase in that speech and say Bill Bradley just criticized, trashed Bill Clinton. By inference, there was a difference that -- in his differentness from the Vice President and that he had not been part of this administration and a fresh start.
I think, Jim, you've got to say that Bill Bradley is in remarkably good shape tonight. Last winter, Dick Gephardt the House Democratic leader, was thinking about running as was Bob Kerrey, the Senator from Nebraska, as was John Kerry, the Senator from Massachusetts and Paul Wellstone, the Senator from Minnesota. Tonight any one of them would give his firstborn-- not his firstborn but close to it -
JIM LEHRER: We got it.
MARK SHIELDS: Okay. -- Would swap places with Bill Bradley who has gone from a 61-9 deficit in New Hampshire in the one Franklin Pierce College TV station poll up there in February to the point where it's 44-37 now. I mean....
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead. I'm sorry.
MARK SHIELDS: Talking to some Bradley people in New Hampshire this week for the first time have said we were worried about peaking too soon. I mean, that is -- it's a remarkable turn-around.
JIM LEHRER: How much is that turn-around the result of positive things, or positive feelings toward Bradley or negative feelings toward Gore and all the Clinton thing that goes around Gore?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think there's no question that Al Gore has had a tough few months. There's no doubt about it. I mean, his dramatic separation coming in early for which he was roundly criticized establishing daylight between himself and the President, then sort of a scramble back. And he's been searching for his own voice. It happens to every Vice President who runs. There's no question about it. But Bradley has had an impact and he's been a great....
JIM LEHRER: On his own, you mean?
MARK SHIELDS: He's had a great impact retailing, Jim. People over and over again audiences come out and say 'gee he's authentic.' That's a word you don't hear an awful lot about politicians.
PAUL GIGOT: Precisely why I disagree with Mark about the emphasis on - the comparison to the President. He never mentioned Clinton, the name, the word Clinton. But he did say this: leadership that puts the people front and center, not the President. That's a pretty direct, unsubtle attack on the narcissism that a lot of people associate with this President's political decisions. Everything's about him. We'll throw the Congress over the side so I can run.
And the other thing he did that's very interesting is he linked ideas to character. He talked about child poverty, he talked about health care; these are big goals I'm going to fight for. I'm not going to listen to the polls. I'm not going to be a prisoner of the polls. I'm going to lead. I'm going to risk capital and I'm going to do some big things again. No Dick Morris for me, no little things. I'm not worried about suburban commutes. I'm really going to do some big things with the presidency.
The Democrats who spent eight years -- the first two-term President since FDR - and I'm thinking what do we have for it? Welfare reform? Balanced budget? NAFTA? What about big things? This is a powerful message to an awful lot of Democrats.
MARK SHIELDS: It is a powerful message to a lot of Democrats, but I don't think he's simply drawing distinctions between himself and Bill Clinton here. I think he's drawing himself ....
PAUL GIGOT: With Al Gore too.
MARK SHIELDS: But with the whole cadre of politicians who are out there. I mean, this week we saw George W. Bush five days later explain where he was on immigration, whether the federal government should pay for the cost of immigration. He had petitioned the federal government to do it. Now he said they shouldn't. Now he says they should. I mean, this is not the Bradley style. I mean, we've only got now three candidates who apparently can speak for themselves in this race who....
JIM LEHRER: Who are the other ones?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, McCain certainly -- John McCain speaks for himself. Pat Buchanan speaks for himself. I don't mean to criticize all the other -- Steve Forbes does too. But the reality is that we're not throwing a finger in the wind.
JIM LEHRER: It's growing trouble as a result of this, serious trouble?
PAUL GIGOT: I think he's got a real race on his hands. Increasingly I think Bill Bradley is the favorite in a place like New Hampshire - a harder job in Iowa where the party is more establishment-oriented but I think in New Hampshire it's going to go right down to the wire.
JIM LEHRER: Three words.
MARK SHIELDS: Okay. Bill Bradley has to make the case that he is electable and Al Gore isn't. That is a -
JIM LEHRER: He can beat George Bush but Al Gore can't.
MARK SHIELDS: And that's an argument, Jim, that usually doesn't work but in a two-way race when there's only two candidates like Ford and Reagan in '76 and this time it may have a saliency it doesn't ordinarily have.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you, gentlemen.