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October 21, 2005

Transcript

BRIEFING AND OPINION

PAUL GIGOT: Also in the news this week, more controversy surrounding the president's Supreme Court nominee, top administration aides under threat of indictment, and a former dictator on trial.

Joining us with their takes on these stories are Kim Strassel, a senior writer for the editorial pages and John Fund, who reports on Capitol Hill and writes for OpinionJournal.com.

Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers came under fire from Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate, who have asked her to re-submit parts of her judicial questionnaire, saying her responses were inadequate and insulting. And it was revealed this week that in a questionnaire she submitted during her 1989 campaign for the Dallas City Council, Miers said she would support a constitutional amendment banning abortions except when necessary to save the mother's life.

John, Harriet Miers, that nomination has been getting hit from right and left. What's the White House strategy for getting her through the Senate confirmation?

JOHN FUND: Well, Paul, they do have a White House strategy. Unfortunately, it's a new one every morning. Every morning the news comes in and it's worse than the day before and this week Senator Arlen Specter and Senator Pat Leahy, the two ranking members of the judiciary committee, almost invited the president to think again about whether or not this is the nominee that he wants. I have to tell you, talking to senators on Capitol Hill, I do not see how this nomination gets through hearings and through confirmation and I think that the president next week is probably going to be visited by some senators who may give him some ideas on an alternative.

PAUL GIGOT: Have you heard that talk directly?

JOHN FUND: Yes. At least one senator has approached the White House and I think next week several will.

PAUL GIGOT: Wow.

DAN HENNINGER: I think it's doing damage to the president, now it's certainly doing damage to Harriet Miers. I mean it's almost cruel in a way what has been happening to her and it's beginning to resound I think to the president himself because the public watches it, they see it's a spectacle and somehow it effects the president's standing.

KIM STRASSEL: This is also a sideline too. I mean we are not having a debate about judicial philosophy which is what the president promised us we were going to have. We were having a debate over Harriet Miers' background and her credibility, about her time on the Texas Lottery Commission.

PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, and it's unfair I think to Harriet Miers who deserves better. Somebody who isn't really familiar with constitutional law in the same way John Roberts was because she hasn't been doing it her entire career and yet they are sending her up there and expecting her to be able to compete.

DAN HENNINGER: What makes it worse is now the hearings are going to have a very large audience and any small mistake she makes will be magnified far beyond what it should be and any slip-ups she makes may well cause senators to simply say we can't go forward with this.

PAUL GIGOT: Okay, next story. Two of the most influential men in the Bush Administration -- the president's senior adviser, Karl Rove, and vice-president Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby -- waited for word this week on whether they would be indicted in connection with leaking the name of a CIA agent. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has to make a decision within a week and it has enormous implications for the Bush presidency.

Dan, how did this investigation over what was after all a routine kind of Washington leak come to this point?

DAN HENNINGER: Well, it came to this point because the original story, the alleged leaking of this covert CIA agent's name, was a mole hill that was generated into a mountain of controversy and the mistake was that the administration decided that the only way to resolve it was to appoint a special prosecutor. Special prosecutors are very unusual institutions. They're not like a normal prosecutor who looks for a crime and then decides whether you have an individual attached to it. They are appointed to investigate individuals, in this case Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. He has to having spent all this time and money on this investigation show something for it. We're faced with the prospect of the president's closest advisor being indicted which will be catastrophic for the presidency.

PAUL GIGOT: It would be damaging, wouldn't it John?

JOHN FUND: Very much so and of course the White House is already in disarray on all these other issues that we've been talking about. I have to say though, if it happens I think it will be one of the strangest stories ever in Washington because there is no underlying crime -- almost everyone agrees on that. That the law that was investigated probably shouldn't even have been investigated.

PAUL GIGOT: And there's been these stories in the press the last couple of weeks about how Patrick Fitzgerald is still mulling this before the grand jury runs out next week. Well, if it's such a difficult decision, if it's such a close call then why would you make such a momentous decision to indict if it's a close call because you're really essentially torpedoing a second administration and you're doing potentially great damage to the ability of the government to function. Alright, next story.

Almost two years after his capture, Saddam Hussein went on trial this week, charged with ordering the killings of nearly 150 people after an attempt on his life in 1982. Saddam was defiant, even arguing that he was still the president of Iraq.

Kim, how important is this trial of Saddam both for Iraq and the Middle East?

KIM STRASSEL: This is huge. I mean what we have here is a very rare example of a dictator in a court of law being tried by the people that he once oppressed. That on its own right has a lot of importance. For one, there is going to be a lot of Middle East dictators who are watching this and they're going to be wondering if something like this couldn't happen to them at some point. Two, it's going to be a great legal education for Iraqis who are going to see due process and see how laws, that they never had while Saddam was in power, can actually be applied. Then three, this is going to be a great example for Americans to see why we went in and did this. They're going to explain the crimes that Saddam Hussein did.

DANIEL HENNINGER: I think we should also point out that this trial is being criticized for not being up to Western standards and the suggestion has been made that it should be taken out of Iraq and sent perhaps to The Hague. Well Slobodan Milosevic is on trial at The Hague, His trial started in the year 2002.

PAUL GIGOT: Former dictator of Yugoslavia.

DANIEL HENNINGER: The former dictator of Yugoslavia. Three years later it's still rolling with no resolution in sight. The Nuremberg trials tried 24 war criminals in a single year and they too were criticized for not having an appeals process and being victor justice. But the Nuremberg trials are thought to be the gold standard.

PAUL GIGOT: Saddam's strategy here is apparently going to be to play to the galleries of Arab nationalist sentiment and blame the Americans, say that this is all their fault and this is all a set up. I don't know that that's going to play though since you're talking about an Iraqi court with Iraqi judges and presumably Iraqi witnesses who are going to testify to what Saddam did to them.

JOHN FUND: The witnesses are the most important thing. Never has such a trial ever been seen on Arab television. Now with the satellites they can see it and when they see what Saddam actually did to his own people I think that will speak volumes for what they might start eventually demanding in their own countries.

PAUL GIGOT: The due process point is really important here especially if the court grants Saddam's lawyer a delay or certain evidentiary privileges -- that's a lot more than they'd get in most Arab countries like Saudi Arabia.

KIM STRASSEL: It's important to point out that one of the reasons the trial is being adjourned is so Saddam's lawyers have more time to go through the papers.

PAUL GIGOT: Okay, alright thanks Kim. Next subject.