MS. IFILL: The Charlie Rangel mess, a federal judge gets Arizona’s immigration law, and wartime leaks and wartime stress, tonight on “Washington Week.” For Democrats headaches and more headaches.
REPRESENTATIVE ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Public office is a public trust. Our task is to determine whether Representative Rangel’s conduct met that standard.
REPRESENTATIVE CHARLIE RANGEL (D-NY): There’s no allegation that this is scintilla bit of evidence that I have been guilty of corruption, wrongdoing.
MS. IFILL: The House Ethics Committee sees it differently. And with midterm elections just over three months away, a debate over the economy – is it picking up rapidly enough?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We’ve got a long way to go. But we’re beginning to see some of these tough decisions pay off. We are moving forward.
MS. IFILL: The administration wins one in Arizona, where a tough new immigration law is almost entirely struck down.
GOVERNOR JAN BREWER: We are going to continue to request that we get heard on this and that the citizens of Arizona are protected.
MS. IFILL: And the war in Afghanistan continues on its bumpy course with new revelations – a classified insider’s view of the war and fresh evidence of how stress is hurting the effort.
Covering the week Karen Tumulty of the “Washington Post,” Pete Williams of NBC News, and Martha Raddatz of ABC News.
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, live from our nation’s capital, this is “Washington Week” with Gwen Ifill produced in association with “National Journal.”
ANNOUNCER: Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. After 40 years in Congress capped by his tenure as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Charlie Rangel liked to say that having survived the Korean War he’d never had a bad day since. That changed yesterday. The House Ethics Committee charged the 80-year old New York Democrat with 13 violations, ranging from failure to report income to conflicts of interest. What’s more, if no plea deal is cut, the trial on those charges will take place in the heat an already heated midterm election campaign. How are Democrats taking all of this, Karen?
MS. TUMULTY: Well, it was just about the last thing that they wanted added to their plate on top of everything else that they have to deal with as they go home for the August recess. And then this evening, just as we were getting ready to go to air, CBS put out comments from President Obama in an interview that they are going to be broadcasting, and the president said –
MS. IFILL: Go ahead.
MS. TUMULTY: – he said I’m sure that what he wants to do is be able to end his career with dignity, and my hope is that it happens.
MS. IFILL: He’s somebody at the end of his career, he said, 80 years old. That’s a lower blow than I think Charlie Rangel thought he would be getting from the president he supported.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, what everyone would like to see, as I said, is this to go away. Because coming back in September, if in fact they do have to have this trial in front of the Subcommittee of the House Ethics Committee, this is going to drag on for weeks, possibly months, right into the election. And the good news for Charlie Rangel, if there is any this week, is that the subcommittee suggested that what they want to recommend is a reprimand. That is a relatively minor sanction compared to the other things that they could have done, including expulsion of the former chairman of the Ways and Means Committee from the House. So I think the pressure is going to be there over the next few weeks for them to come to a resolution.
MS. IFILL: What I don’t get about this is if the committee was signaling – the subcommittee was signaling a reprimand, which is a relatively mild sanction, why would the president go quite this ballistic and why earlier in this week did we see Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker say, “hey, let the chips fall where they may.”
MS. TUMULTY: That has a lot to do, I think, with the way Charlie Rangel has conducted himself throughout the almost two years that this has been going on. In the House Ethics Committee report this week there were several complaints about how he had missed deadlines for turning in evidence that they had requested, how at various points he was blaming this on the media, saying there was no basis for these charges, even as he knew that the Ethics Committee was preparing this bill of particulars against him. So I think looking at the past two years, there was some feeling that something had to be done.
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, is it fair to say that Charlie Rangel isn’t worried? He’s basically saying, “give me your best shot,” because he’s in a very safe district? He’ll get re-elected, no matter what?
MS. TUMULTY: Well, one thing he does want to do is have all this go past his primary. He wants to sort of go out, if he does, I think, on his own terms. And he is also arguing that if he is given a chance to defend himself on these charges, which consists of failure to pay taxes on properties that he owns, which he says was a mistake, which is sort of a difficult argument to make when you have been the chairman of the committee that writes the tax law, pressuring donors who have – pressuring people who have business before the Ways and Means Committee to give to a school that was being built in his honor, and also the suggestions that he had improperly been operating a campaign office out of a rent-subsidized apartment in New York. There is just such a long list of charges at this point.
MR. WILLIAMS: But is he vulnerable in his own district?
MS. TUMULTY: He is – again, Charlie Rangel came to power over Adam Clayton Powell’s scandal. So I think he understands that, yes, he could possibly be if this gets bad enough.
MS. RADDATZ: Karen, let’s move forward to the midterms in the next couple of months and how much this really hurts the Democrats. And you put in the economy with all of that.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, the economy is, obviously the main issue –
MS. RADDATZ: Is it good? Is it bad?
MS. TUMULTY: – well, it was interesting. We did hear a little bit of a half glass full out of the president today. The economic indicators are that this is the slowest growth in almost a year. It’s 2.4 percent. That suggests a significant slowing of the recovery. So that even as President Obama was saying today that at least we’re still seeing progress on the economy, most economists would tell you that 2.4 percent growth is not enough to be bringing back jobs. And that is, of course, the main thing that has to happen before the American public, the American voters, really feel like this is a true recovery.
MS. IFILL: Karen, how much does the anxiety that we are seeing from Democrats, whether it’s over the Rangel mess or over the interpretation of the economy, how much is it about potential for distractions to create chaos? For instance, we see – John Boehner has been out there saying “hey, it’s not – I’ve got nothing against Charlie Rangel, but it means that Nancy Pelosi is bad because she promised to drain the swamp.”
MS. TUMULTY: Exactly. That was the rallying cry to which the Democrats came to power in 2006 that they were going to drain the swamp. So it is now, I think, incumbent on them to prove that they have shown some results on this. Because, of course, their argument in this midterm is you don’t want to go back to the bad old days of the Republicans and their policies. So it’s very important for the Democrats to prove that some change has taken place. But this week they announced that they will be putting significant amounts of money into 60 different congressional races. Fifty four of those are seats that are currently held by Democrats. They are playing defense across the map and in places, I think, where they weren’t expecting to be nervous.
MS. IFILL: Isn’t the plan, spending all this money, just to stop the amount of damage? They don’t actually expect to be able to win the majority of seats. They’re in a pretty precarious situation.
MS. TUMULTY: At this point no one – certainly what they’re hoping is just for a typical number of seats to be lost. They know that they will be coming back in the House in particular with fewer seats than they have, if they can hold on to that majority. But that majority is very much at risk.
MS. IFILL: Well, thank you, Karen. It’s been an interesting week, lots of things going on. It was a federal judge in Arizona who also raised the ante for the fall elections by knocking out much of the underpinnings of that state’s tough immigration law. The court said Arizona exceeded its authority when it enacted the law, but Governor Jan Brewer has already appealed the decision.
GOV. BREWER: The bottom line is that the people of Arizona are frustrated. We shouldn’t have to do it. The federal government should be doing it. And if they won’t, well, the legislature and the people of Arizona overwhelmingly believe that we need to enforce it and help them do their job.
MS. IFILL: But did Judge Susan Bolton’s decision actually make that impossible to do, Pete?
MR. WILLIAMS: No, not completely. Because what the judge did away with is the part of the law that required police to check the immigration records for every single person who is arrested in Arizona. So the requirement is gone. Police can still do these background checks if they want to, and in fact, many police departments will. Police and sheriff’s offices were very divided over this law. Some thought it was a good idea, some not. So the people who thought it was a good idea can voluntarily do these checks. But what the judge said is that requiring everybody to do the checks is going to so overwhelm the federal system, that it will frustrate what the federal government wanted immigration enforcement to do, which is basically have a priority for illegal immigrants who are criminals or criminal record, who are a danger to public safety, potential terrorists. And the judge said you put that together and the fact that all these immigration checks are going to mean people will be detained while the police have to call the federal government and find out whether these folks are here legally or not, that will cause people who are legally here, including U.S. citizens, to be detained for who knows how long. You put all that together. She said that interferes with the federal law and you can’t do that. That is basically preempted. So that was the essence of the judge’s ruling.
MS. IFILL: Now, let’s remind people a kind of a history of Governor Jan Brewer on this because she came to the White House. She met with the president on this. She obviously signed this bill. She thinks it’s a good idea. And her argument is that she’s forcing the federal government to do its job but she’ll appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court, if that’s what it takes. What does she mean by that?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, what she means is – what she’s saying is if you look – what she says is, “look who’s frustrating the intent of Congress. Congress passed a law intending us to get tough with illegal immigration. Look who isn’t doing it. It’s the federal government who isn’t doing.” But the feds say basically “there’s only so much we can do. We have limited resources. So let’s decide what the biggest problem is and let’s not be calling us every day with thousands and thousands of people, everybody that you pick up off the street.”
Now, one other thing – the judge’s ruling she also noted that 18 other states are considering following Arizona’s lead. And she said basically it’s one thing if Arizona does this. But if this is allowed in Arizona and all these other states do it, that’s just going to make it that much more frustrating for the federal government, because every state will be trying to follow their lead and doing the same thing and overwhelming them with checks for immigration.
MS. RADDATZ: Sorry – first thing’s first. If you go to the appeals court, when can you expect a decision?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, here’s a little bit of news. The state of Arizona had hoped for a relatively quick proceeding. They wanted oral argument in mid September. Now, they’re going to get a relatively quick proceeding in terms of the federal courts. But late today the federal court said, “okay, we’ll hear argument on this in early November.” So that means that this is not going to get decided until very late in the year, and then after that –
MS. IFILL: Wait a second. Early November as in just before the elections?
MR. WILLIAMS: – well, the argument they said – the clerk said it will be scheduled the first week in November. (Laughter.) So we don’t know what the date will be for the argument or for the –
MS. RADDATZ: You’re right. That’s news, yes.
MR. WILLIAMS: But then you have to wait a while, of course, for the court to decide it. And they have no time limit for when they’ll actually make the decision.
MS. TUMULTY: All these other states, are they in fact – is this going to sort of freeze them in place, or are they likely to proceed with their own laws?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, I think that many of them may proceed with their own laws, because, of course, this judge’s ruling has effect only in Arizona. Now, if the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agrees with the judge, then in theory that could affect the nine or 10 western states that are in the Ninth Circuit. But Oklahoma, South Carolina, a lot of other states that are well along in trying to follow Arizona’s lead, a federal court of appeals decision would mean nothing to them.
MS. IFILL: One the things that came up in every discussion about this law and especially from the people who opposed it so virulently all along is that enforcing it would require racial profiling, something which Governor Brewer and the state legislators in – Arkansas – in Arizona said would never happen. Did this become part of the argument of the court?
MR. WILLIAMS: It’s really not mentioned at all in the judge’s ruling and here’s why. She was basically ruling on the Justice Department’s lawsuit. Now, there were several other lawsuits against this law, and they did raise the racial profiling. Civil rights group said it. The Justice Department didn’t bring it up, and it really isn’t a part of the judge’s ruling. It’s all about this preemption question. And by the way, if this gets to the Supreme Court, there is a case pending that the Supreme Court will hear in this coming term about an Arizona law that would crack down on businesses who hire illegal immigrants. And the question in that case is federal preemption. So we may get a preview before this new case gets to the Supreme Court. We may get a preview of what the Supreme Court thinks about this whole issue.
MS. IFILL: But why didn’t the Justice Department mention the racial profiling argument?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, I think because they made a tactical decision. They’re challenging a law before it goes into effect. What Arizona was saying “we promise we’re not going to racially profile. Wait till we do it. Watch us in action.” And that’s a better argument, maybe, to make after it’s put into effect. But the Justice Department wanted it challenged before it went into effect. So they thought that was not a strong an attack to make.
MS. IFILL: Purely from a political point of view, now especially with the argument it’s not a decision happening just before the election, did anything that happened this week put this off on the back burner, or did it just inflame the issue of immigration to the extent that people get inflamed over this issue periodically?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, there seemed to be a certain amount of scheduled outrage – (laughs) – that unfolded in Arizona. I think a lot of people were going to have protests on the day the law was scheduled to go into effect, no matter what the judge said. So we saw that play out again a little bit. But the governor’s already saying, “well, the court pointed out some problems.” And both sides admit this law was not well drafted. There were some ambiguous things in it. The governor’s already saying, “well, maybe we should have the legislature come back and try to fix it.” So at least in terms of Arizona, nothing has happened to let any of the steam out of this.
MS. IFILL: Okay, well, thank you, Pete. At the beginning of the week we were inundated with 90,000 documents on the war in Afghanistan, previously classified accounts of the war’s progress or lack thereof. The administration’s first response was a collective shrug.
PRES. OBAMA: While I’m concerned about the disclosure of sensitive information from the battlefield that could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations, the fact is these documents don’t reveal any issues that haven’t already informed our public debate on Afghanistan.
MS. IFILL: But as the week wore on and people began to actually read the documents – imagine – the response shifted both here and abroad.
PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI: This indeed is extremely irresponsible and shocking, because whether those individuals acted legitimately or illegitimately in providing information to the NATO forces, there are lives and those lives will be in danger now.
ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN: Disagree with the war all you want. Take issue with the policy. Challenge me or our ground commanders on the decisions we make to accomplish the mission we’ve been given, but don’t put those who willingly go into harm’s way even further in harm’s way just to satisfy your need to make a point.
MS. IFILL: I was struck, Martha, by how at the beginning of the week they were trying to play this down. By the end of the week, especially yesterday with Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates, there was this burst of outrage.
MS. RADDATZ: There was a burst of outrage and frankly there should have been a burst of outrage because I think when President Obama and others in the White House and other buildings were talking about it at the beginning of the week it’s exactly what you said. No one had really read it. They were surprised when all these documents came out. I think they read a few, but that’s not a big deal. But when you started reading that they had actually named Afghan informants and those names were on the website, then you really are talking about life and death. And if you think about it even beyond that, if you think about the fact that a lot of those Afghan informants, who, by the way, a Taliban spokesman said today they would go looking for them, and now you’ve also got – I’ve been in touch with some commanders over there who said they’re trying to find them to help them. But those people, number one, won’t come forward anymore. People will be scared to come forward. And what that does is put U.S. forces more at risk. So that’s why there was that incredible change of tone.
MS. IFILL: Especially in a week when we had new record casualty numbers that were set.
MS. RADDATZ: July is the deadliest month for U.S. casualties of the war. Now, we said that in June –
MS. IFILL: Yes, I remember, sitting at this table and talking about that.
MS. RADDATZ: – at this very table and said that was the deadliest month. There were 60 Americans killed in June. Thus far there have been 66 Americans killed this July. And I don’t think things are going to improve for a while. You don’t even have all the surge troops in there. So this indeed was a really startling week and particularly with those documents.
MS. TUMULTY: So, Martha, what can you tell us about WikiLeaks and the person behind it, and also, the private first class who is suspected of having provided them all that material?
MS. RADDATZ: Well, the founder of WikiLeaks is a man named Julian Assange. He’s 39 years old. He’s an Australian, and he sort of heralded this announcement of letting out all the documents at the beginning of the week. He was questioned about it when it came forward that there were names of Afghans in there who he had said that they had gone through the documents and they had taken out. Well, in fact, you really can’t go through 90,000 documents and take it out. And he basically said that it was collateral damage. I think he said it on the “Today Show,” that it was collateral damage of this. And he started blaming the military for perhaps a misclassification of the documents. But I can tell you, all of those documents that named Afghans said “Secret” on them. So they were not misclassified by the military.
Now, Private First Class Bradley Manning is accused of leaking a combat camera video a couple of months ago, in May, that showed an Apache helicopter, I believe it was, with hell fire missiles killing a Reuter’s cameraman, two Reuter’s cameramen, I believe. So he is charged with that. The man who turned him in had had an online conversation with him, and by his screen name, which is a very obvious name, it might have been Bradley Manning. But he turned him in to Pentagon investigators. They found him, they arrested him. He’s now in Quantico, Virginia, and will likely face court-martial. Now Pentagon is not positive that he leaked all of these documents. They are going to look at his computer. I have a question, too. I want to know what his supervisors were doing if he was sitting there day after day if in fact he was downloading 90,000 classified documents and apparently bragging online, if in fact this was him bragging online, saying he was listening – he would pretend he was listening to Lady Gaga and downloading CDs at the same time. So how did he spend all day doing that without anyone else noticing? So I wouldn’t be surprised if they also looked elsewhere.
MR. WILLIAMS: Let me ask you about the number of casualty. You say this is the deadliest month. What’s behind that? Why is that the fact?
MS. RADDATZ: Well, certainly there are more operations going on, and particularly in the south, in Helmand Province. But frankly, Pete, it’s those IEDs. The bigger we make vehicles, the more we invest in that, the bigger they make the bombs. The majority of people are being killed by IEDs. Now, there’s a lot of small-arms fire. They’ve had a lot of small-arms fire death and in fact I think it’s probably close to equal. But those bombs, after billions and billions of dollars, are killing so many of our forces and coalition forces.
MS. IFILL: And so many of our forces are apparently suffering in another way. You did a report this week about this new – report about stress and suicide and even criminal behavior going up among members of the Army.
MS. RADDATZ: This was a really astonishing report for many reasons. First of all, it was the Army being very critical of itself, saying “we have got to tackle this problem. We’ve tried to tackle this problem. But we’ve been in the middle of two wars and look at the statistics now.” This was one quote from the report. “More soldiers died from non-combat injuries than war, with the vast majority from suicide, murder or high-risk behavior by drunk driving.” One of the other startling things is they’re also attracting people who like high risk.
MS. IFILL: Boy, it seems like it’s only a mess, but we’ll keep following it anyway. Thank you, everyone. We have to leave you a few minutes early this week to give you the opportunity to support your local station, which, in turn, supports us. But keep up with daily developments every night at the PBS “NewsHour” online and on the air. Send your thoughts and questions “Washington Week” at pbs.org. Check out our web exclusive, “Washington Week Extra” at pbs.org. And we’ll see you again right here around the table next week on “Washington Week.” Good night.