THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC;
ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK;
TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES;
JAMES HARDING, FINANCIAL TIMES
DATE: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2004
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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Ukraine at the Crossroads.
Ukraine is in political crisis. Viktor Yanukovich was announced last week as the winner of Ukraine's presidential election. The Ukrainian Central Election Commission certified it. But the election was filled with fraud. Millions of protesters of the massive fraud stormed the streets of the capital city of Kiev and blocked the presidential palace, the Parliament, and government buildings. They support the opposition candidate, Viktor Yuschenko, who is seen as honest and pro-West. Yanukovich, the declared winner, was backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and by Ukraine's incumbent president, Leonid Kuchma.
The U.S. secretary of State denounced the Yanukovich result.
SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: (From videotape.) We cannot accept this result as legitimate, because it does not meet international standards and because there has not been an investigation of the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Bush, on the other hand -- a friend and ally of Putin -- offered a more muted criticism.
PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) There's different options on the table, and we're watching very carefully what is taking place. But any election in any country must reflect the will of the people and not that of any foreign government.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On Friday, the Ukrainian supreme court overturned Yanukovich's lawless win. The high court dictated that a runoff election be held between Yanukovich and Yuschenko within the next three weeks.
Question. Putin wants the Russian-leaning Viktor Yanukovich to win. Is Putin's eagerness to have Yanukovich win understandable, even praiseworthy? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, Putin's concern for what's going on in the Ukraine is fully justified. Kievan Rus is the father, really -- or the mother -- of all of the Russians. These folks are Orthodox together. Ukraine and Russia have been united in the Russian empire and in the Soviet Union. There are 10 million Russified Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine.
What we are doing, the United States, however, has been meddling directly in these elections through the National Endowment for Democracy. Soros's crowd is in there; Freedom House and others. And the idea that we did not involve ourselves deeply in that is wrong, and in my judgment it is foolish.
Who rules the Ukraine is not vital to the United States. What is vital is our relationship with Moscow and with Mr. Putin, and we have put that in peril by humiliating and defeating his candidate.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Haven't you heard about George Bush's interest in bringing freedom, democracy, to the world?
MR. BUCHANAN: Mr. Bush's people, his minions, have been in Georgia. They have been in Belarus. They have been in Serbia. They are in Ukraine. They have what's called a postmodern coup plan of how to take down these old ex-Soviet leaders. I think we're making a terrible mistake --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: From our point of view?
MR. BUCHANAN: From our point of view, because we are risking what is vital to us, and that is the relationship with Moscow, for something that is peripheral.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: Sounds like Pat Buchanan looked into Putin's face and saw his soul, just like the president.
MR. BUCHANAN: His eyes. His eyes.
MS. CLIFT: His eyes; looked into his eyes. Look, I think this country stands up for democracy. This was an election that was a fraud; Republican Richard Lugar, head of the delegation over there.
What Mr. Putin is doing, he's trying to renationalize Russia and turn it into a 21st century model of the Soviet Union. And he's the one who has been in there meddling. And the fact that he's trying to create a counterweight to Europe and NATO may be understandable, but he's looking at this through Cold War eyes, zero-sum game. He wants his sphere of influence.
And I think that the administration is doing things entirely appropriately. I laud them for working with the Europeans to stand up for a fair election over there, and it looks like it's moving in that direction.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You'd like to see NATO in Ukraine and you'd like to see the European Union and ourselves in Ukraine in a big way.
MS. CLIFT: I think a lot of Ukrainian --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That would be great.
MS. CLIFT: A lot of Ukrainian people would like that as well.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, can we take a look at the map, please, to see what Eleanor wants, i.e., you will see the border. There you see the surroundings of Ukraine. Read them off, Pat. You've got Belarus to the north.
MR. BUCHANAN: You've got Russia, Belarus. I can't read them from here because I can't see that map. But you're going to have the Balkans -- excuse me -- yeah. You're going to have Romania nearby. You'll have Moldova. You've got Poland and you've got Belarus.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's see that second map, see if Pat can read it any better.
MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.) I can't even see that from here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You see that white monster over Ukraine. That's Belarus.
MR. BUCHANAN: Belarus. I don't need --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Then the first country up from the white monster is Lithuania. Then you've got Latvia with a border, a new border.
MR. BUCHANAN: There's no Latvian border with Ukraine.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: With Ukraine, that's correct.
MR. BUCHANAN: No, no. There's no Latvian border --
MR. BLANKLEY: Latvia is not bordering.
MR. BUCHANAN: It's Lithuania, Poland. You'll find Romania.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Latvia has a border with Russia.
MR. BUCHANAN: Yes, it does.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, but not with Ukraine.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, that's right. And Putin allowed that. But then you come down and you see the purple there. You see the purple, Pat? Take a look at it. What's the purple?
MR. BUCHANAN: I can't -- (laughs). It looks like --
MR. BLANKLEY: Poland.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- Poland.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that Poland?
MR. BUCHANAN: It's too far away, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Belarus is the white. Purple is Poland.
MR. BLANKLEY: Hold on.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute. Now you see that whole border of Ukraine with Russia. Can you imagine that being a sphere of influence, as Putin sees it and as most people in the world see it, for the EU to come in there and NATO to go in there?
MR. BUCHANAN: When NATO comes in there, it is a direct provocation of the Russians.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with what Pat just said?
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I agree with one point that Pat makes, which is our supreme international interest is to be working with Russia in the war on terrorism, and we need to manage our conflicts that we have.
On the other -- let me just finish. On the other hand, that doesn't mean that we should give Putin a free ride to reconstitute. And he needs Ukraine and Belarus to get up to the massive population to be a superpower again. And I think that's what he wants to do. And I think we should support the genuine democratic effort. But I don't want to see NATO marching in to Ukraine any time soon.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, before and after.
These two photos show opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko before and after early September of this year. Three months ago, he was struck with a mystery illness, in the middle of the presidential campaign, that many believe was caused by poisoning. The illness drastically altered his physical appearance and also triggered acute pancreatitis, a viral skin disease, and nerve paralysis. The Vienna clinic where Yuschenko received additional treatment said recently the cause of his illness remains, quote, "totally open."
Before we move back to the earlier question, what's your intuition? Was Yuschenko poisoned?
MR. HARDING: Well, I don't know. What I do know is that hundreds of thousands of people who support the orange revolution do believe that he was poisoned. And what we do know is that Leonid Kuchma and the people that Pat talked about earlier have an appalling record when it comes to bad behavior, when it comes to the kind of thing -- you know, rubbing out a journalist.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did they try this with the Bulgarian in London? Do you remember that?
MR. BLANKLEY: The umbrella.
MR. BUCHANAN: Georgi Markov.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Markov, correct, standing in a bus stop. A guy comes over with an umbrella, gives him the needle in the leg --
MR. BUCHANAN: That was ricin, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And there was some analogous symptoms here.
MR. BUCHANAN: That was ricin.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But who knows a lot about poisons?
MR. BLANKLEY: KGB.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: KGB. Who was a member of the KGB?
MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)
MR. HARDING: We'll get to Vladimir Putin in a minute, but I just want to address Pat's thing, because I have got to say, I'll tell you what's extraordinary about the conversation we've had about Ukraine so far is it's all been this grand geopolitical story and nothing about the 48 million people of the Ukraine.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tell us about them.
MR. HARDING: The sense is that this is a question about their democratic rights and their chance --
MR. BUCHANAN: But what about --
MR. HARDING: -- at throwing out this kleptocrat, Kuchma, and his --
MR. BUCHANAN: All right, but look at the eastern -- the eastern Ukraine and the western Ukraine are dramatically different. The folks in the eastern Ukraine, some of them did vote 90 percent for Yanukovich, but in the west they did it for Yuschenko.
MS. CLIFT: But after the polls closed, the computers spiked and 100 million votes -- 100,000 votes -- came in suddenly. No, 100 million, I guess, because he won by 800,000. It's clearly fraud.
I just want to speak to the poisoning. I believe our U.S. CIA believes that he was poisoned. And it came on him --
MR. BUCHANAN: But his face --
MS. CLIFT: -- after he had dinner with the Ukrainian secret service.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you making news here about the CIA?
MS. CLIFT: I'm trying to make a little, yes.
MR. BUCHANAN: But, you know, John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Go ahead. Keep going.
MS. CLIFT: Yes. And the question is, were the Russians involved?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.
MR. BUCHANAN: But the doctors say that there is no poison -- from what I've seen, no poison caused what happened to him. They don't know. There's not conclusive as to what happened to really destroy the features of his face.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Vienna doctor says it's still an open matter, Pat. You don't have to repeat what we already know.
MR. BUCHANAN: But he didn't say it was poison.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. As to the point of --
MS. CLIFT: What else would do that?
MR. HARDING: Some of this is very sinister and some of this is just charades. You know, there was one occasion where Yanukovich was on the stump and someone threw an egg at him. He then collapsed. This huge burly man who's had criminal convictions for fighting collapsed as this egg pounded him. He then went apparently to rest, took to his bed for three days, having claimed that he'd been attacked by a man with a rock.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.
MR. HARDING: There's a lot of --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, okay.
MR. BUCHANAN: You don't think -- (inaudible) -- fraudulent?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.
MS. CLIFT: No, you don't get that --
MR. BUCHANAN: Do you think they're all sincere?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on, please.
MS. CLIFT: You don't get that many people in that freezing cold. And look at those people. They're not wild-eyed liberals, from your perspective.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. With regard to the --
MS. CLIFT: They're farmers and housewives and ordinary people.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: With regard to the kleptocrat, three years ago, in an interview with an ace journalist, Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma stated unqualifiedly that the orientation of Ukraine has been, is, and will remain westward, towards the EU, towards NATO, towards the USA, not east, towards Russia and Putin.
Then Mr. Kuchma gives a sharp insight into what makes Vladimir Putin tick. Listen and watch closely.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can you assure the people of the United States that your Euro-Atlantic orientation is solid, cemented, firm, unchangeable, and that you will -- this state will preserve its independence from any Russian designs, whether under Mr. Putin or any successor?
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT LEONID KUCHMA: I won the elections with my European choice. There are no grounds whatsoever to expect Ukraine to change its course. This, however, does not mean that we have to have bad relations with our great neighbor, Russia. Mr. Putin will not undertake any action. Mr. Putin pursues a very strict economic policy towards Ukraine, very
stiff; too pragmatic, I would say. Whereas with Yeltsin you could have cut a better deal, with Putin, cash on the nail.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Can we conclude that Vladimir Putin's interest in Ukraine is basically economic and far less political, that what he is seeking is a common market, with Kiev as the jewel hub in that market crown? Also, does Kuchma's statement about westward orientation ease the fear of anyone here who thinks otherwise?
Let me ask you, James Harding.
MR. HARDING: Well, he's already well down the track of establishing that market. The issue is not that. The issue is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He can't do it without Ukraine.
MR. HARDING: No, absolutely. And he's got that. And that's not --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He won't have it, he believes, if Yuschenko gets in.
MR. HARDING: No, I don't think so. I think the real issue there is not the issue of the market. The issue is the influence of the oligarchs and the people that Putin knows and Putin can work with through Kuchma and through his chosen successor, Yanukovich. This is about maintaining a kleptocracy and maintaining a sphere of influence from Moscow and from --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Putin is an old skilled hand --
MR. BUCHANAN: James -- (inaudible) -- Yuschenko, they've got their own oligarchs. I mean, Yuschenko has got his oligarchs. I mean, this is a guy who was in that government of Kuchma as well. Listen, John, the idea that you've got one prince of light and another prince of darkness is absurd. But what it is about is -- you're right, it's about politics. It is about Russia wanting again to be a great strategic power --
MS. CLIFT: Yuschenko was in the government --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MR. BUCHANAN: -- just like France and Europe want to be.
MS. CLIFT: Yuschenko has been in the government. He's been aligned with reformist causes. The people like him. He's got charisma. And you have to acknowledge that. I think if they have a fair election, he's going to win.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, we've got to move on. Okay, Putin sharpens the debate. In a major speech Friday in New Delhi, the Russian president -- get this -- accused the United States of pursuing a dictatorial foreign policy.
Quote: "Even if dictatorship is packaged in beautiful pseudo-democratic phraseology, it will not be able to solve systemic problems. It may even make them worse. Policies based on the barrack-room principles of a unipolar world appear to be extremely dangerous."
Barrack-room principles -- what are those?
MR. BLANKLEY: Militarism.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Militarism.
MR. BLANKLEY: Of course. He's been listening to you, obviously, and your arguments over --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of those words?
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I think the words are stunning. I think it reflects probably peevishness on his part. He's had a very bad week, I would say.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think he's given to peevishness?
MR. BLANKLEY: But it's undisciplined, which is surprising for him, because he's a very disciplined man.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Maybe there's an objective in using that language. What is it?
MR. BLANKLEY: If he intends to really stake out a strategic position against the United States's anti-terrorism policy, then this is a big event, this statement, because eventually Bush is going to have to make that adjustment.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Isn't he signaling Bush with that kind of talk, "If you want to play hardball with me and you play hardball with me, I can do the same with you"? Is that the signal?
MS. CLIFT: What he's saying is Ukraine is his vassal state and Iraq is Bush's vassal state.
MR. BLANKLEY: No.
MR. BUCHANAN: No.
MS. CLIFT: And why should there be separate standards in terms of foreign --
MR. BUCHANAN: Let me say this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor makes a good point here.
MR. BUCHANAN: She goes too far.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can you imagine if this were occurring with Mexico --
MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- towards relations with the United States, our sphere of influence?
MR. BUCHANAN: John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We even object to the Chinese being in South America.
MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And they're all over South America, cutting deals with Chavez.
MR. BUCHANAN: Can you imagine the Chinese having a candidate in Mexico and having their candidate lose narrowly and the Chinese and the Russians saying, "We demand to have another election"? Look, what we are doing, we are in their face.
MS. CLIFT: The last time I checked, Mexico was okay.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What?
MR. BUCHANAN: We are in Putin's face, and we ought to get out of his face.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, exit question. We'll cue off that. Earlier President Putin directed the international community to stay out of Ukraine. It was his sphere of influence. Ignoring this, the United States then jumped right in and voiced its opposition.
You heard the secretary of State and the president. They voiced opposition to Putin's candidate, Viktor Yanukovich. Then on Friday the Russian president accused, as you just heard, the U.S. pursuing a dictatorial foreign policy. Is the Putin-Bush relationship headed for the dumpster?
MR. BUCHANAN: It is in very rough shape. And the reason is, John, we have been meddling in the former Soviet republics. We have been influencing elections. We've been doing it clandestinely. And the Russians are enraged.
MR. BUCHANAN: This is an exit question. We're going in sequence. Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: Well, no, the relationship is not in the dumpster. Bush can't afford to give up on Putin. He's only spoken very peripherally to wanting the Russians to stay out of there. We need the oil. We need the contacts with Russia.
MR. BLANKLEY: America's participation in Ukraine has not been that big. Putin's statement is a misjudgment on his -- a mistake on his part. And if they don't some way, quietly or otherwise, back-pedal, I think this is a big problem for American-Russian relations.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think for a minute that Putin, the way he was described by Kuchma to me, that he wants cash on the -- he's money-oriented. He wants to restabilize the economy of Russia.
MR. BLANKLEY: Look --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: There's no way he's going to give this up.
MR. BLANKLEY: He can't let that characterization of American foreign policy -- everybody understood it was about America -- stand as the Russian view and maintain the kind of relationship that Bush and Putin have tried to --
MS. CLIFT: Correct.
MR. HARDING: Let me say one thing. The answer is, this is going to be a huge story in the second term. The Bush-Putin relationship was one of the hallmark achievements of the first term --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Right.
MR. HARDING: -- and it is unraveling. And it is not unraveling, Pat, because of things -- that the Russians' noses are out of joint. It's unraveling because of what Putin has done, what Putin has done over -- (inaudible) -- over democracy, Iran, in Iraq, his relationship with Chavez, the sale of those MiGs to Venezuela. All in all, Putin is causing huge concern in the White House. And when I speak to people there, they say nobody is happy about what Putin is doing.
MR. BUCHANAN: We are not blameless in this. We are not blameless.
MR. BLANKLEY: We're pretty close to blameless.
MS. CLIFT: Bush is --
MR. BLANKLEY: But you're right that the White House is concerned.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think -- does anyone --
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, Bush has looked --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just a moment. Does anyone think --
MS. CLIFT: -- the other way through all of that. And he'll continue to look the other way.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does anyone think that Putin is trying to restore the former Soviet empire?
MR. HARDING: If you speak to people in the State Department, they say very interesting things. They say that what they're concerned about is not just the political transgressions. They're concerned about the economic strategy of the Kremlin, that they are buying assets, particularly energy assets, in the periphery around Russia, in Georgia --
MR. BUCHANAN: What is wrong with them wanting to be a great power? For heaven's sakes, they're a great country. They're the largest on earth. They want to be a great power. There is nothing wrong with that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because those people want freedom and they deserve their independence.
MR. BUCHANAN: It is not our job to go in and fix an election in the Ukraine.
MS. CLIFT: We're not fixing it. We're unfixing it.
MR. BLANKLEY: Wait a second. We're not fixing it. We're doing what we --
MR. BUCHANAN: You ought to investigate --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you want us to do?
MR. BLANKLEY: We say there's been a corrupt election.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You want us to make trouble all over the globe --
MR. BLANKLEY: No, no.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- go into Iraq, maybe Syria, maybe Iran.
MR. BLANKLEY: No, I --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When we come back --
MS. CLIFT: To me, Ukraine has been an exhilarating story. It's like watching the velvet revolution again. The people have risen up, I think, and democracy is going to --
MR. BLANKLEY: Eleanor, you're absolutely right.
MS. CLIFT: And they haven't put it down with violence. They haven't put it down with violence. It's been a good experience.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It is quite clear that --
MR. BUCHANAN: You've been drawn in, Eleanor. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It is quite clear that the president has changed since the election. He had tricky situations this week. He went to Canada. He was treated with popular hostility. What else did he do? He had to handle the Ukraine issue. He didn't go as far as the secretary of State went; a little gentler.
What was the third thing that happened?
MR. BLANKLEY: The U.N. and Kofi Annan.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Then he had the U.N. and Kofi Annan and he refused to say that Kofi --
MR. BUCHANAN: He's handled them all -- personally, he's handled it well.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So what we are seeing, are we not, is a transformed president?
MS. CLIFT: Oh, I wouldn't go that far. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's different from what he was.
MR. HARDING: I was up in Canada, and what you saw is Bush going across the border, not saying, "I'm here to be nice." It's "I'm here to be Bush. I'm here to tell you that I just won an election. Deal with me."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why didn't the staff tell him, "Look, if you call for a missile-shield cooperation on the part of the Canadians, you're going to have your legs cut off"? And the answer is, they did tell him and he went ahead and did it. He did the same thing in Chile. Right now he doesn't care, because he wants to speak from the heart of what he believes.
MR. BUCHANAN: He did go to Canada.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he's doing it in a measured way.
MR. BUCHANAN: I credit him for going to Canada. He was right on the Ukraine. I think Powell was wrong.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is he changing? Has he changed?
MR. BUCHANAN: I believe there is more of a diplomatic Bush.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh. So Bush is going to start --
MS. CLIFT: Well, he doesn't have the boots on the ground to be anything other than a diplomat.
MR. BUCHANAN: Don't take it too far, John.
MR. BLANKLEY: Don't over-interpret a little few gestures that Bush is making for some change in strategy. That would be a mistake.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, Tony, you've seen a massive metanoia. (Laughter.)
Issue Two: Parade of the Ducks.
The House of Representatives will convene for a second lame-duck session this Monday, December the 8th (sic/means 6th). On the agenda is the intelligence reform bill. The intelligence reform bill says practically nothing adequate about 10 million illegal aliens living in the United States. Furthermore, there is a discussion, too, about giving them licenses, automobile licenses.
Pat, what do you think of that?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think what the Republicans, the House Republicans, did is exactly right. I mean, border security is homeland security. If you've got 10 million in here -- incidentally, 400,000 who have been ordered deported and disappeared -- you have a national security problem. It is far more important and critical than whether or not we have this czar.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The president wants to amnesty these people. Correct?
MR. BLANKLEY: But that's a separate issue.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, do you think this is going to create a civil war between the Republicans on the Hill, particularly those right of center, and the White House staff and George Bush? Yes or no?
MR. BUCHANAN: That's a separate issue. He will never get the amnesty.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will it create a civil war?
MS. CLIFT: It will create a huge backlash among Republicans and the talk-show circuit.
MR. BLANKLEY: We're not going to raise the amnesty issue this year, so there won't be a fight over this. The Republicans are going to cave to the president begrudgingly on the intelligence bill. It's a bad bill. You can't have security without secure borders.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If they cave on the intelligence bill -- the president has them just where he wants them. He's given them the first blow; then he can get his amnesty. True or false?
MR. BLANKLEY: He's never going to get amnesty.
MR. HARDING: If they don't cave on this, if they don't do business on this, what happens to Social Security? What happens to tort reform? What happens to tax reform? They've got to be able to move this along. And so I think this is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're saying they will cave.
MR. HARDING: Absolutely. I think they will.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Vile Snoopers.
Two weeks ago, an incredible sentence was slipped into the $388 billion omnibus spending bill in the dead of night. Quote: "Upon written request of the chairman of the House or Senate Committee on Appropriations, the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service shall allow agents designated by such chairmen access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and to any tax returns or return information contained therein," unquote.
"Can you believe this?" Senator Kent Conrad asks in outrage. His staff discovered the despicable provision in this 3000-page, 14-pound behemoth almost by miracle. Conrad pointed out to the press the scope of this abuse.
SEN. KENT CONRAD (D-ND): (From videotape.) You write a story they didn't like, they could get your tax return. And they could have released that to the public without any criminal or civil penalty. They could have done that to anybody in public life. They could have done that to the supporters of those in public life or their opponents. That's serious business.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On Friday, a House Appropriations Committee staffer, Richard Efford, said it was he who inserted the language. Efford says that other House and Senate Appropriations staffers were aware of the language. The lame-duck session will, of course, remove the vile-snooper sentence on Monday, which is the main reason why they came back to Washington.
Do you wish to speak to this, Tony?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. You know, I spent seven years working on the Hill with Newt Gingrich, and I find it dubious the proposition that a staffer, on his own initiative, would put a provision like this in. Now, the staffers are the ones who technically can do it, but this to me jumps off the page as something you need some authority somewhere above. I don't know where it would be. So the staffer looks to me like he's taking a fall.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does this remind you of Livingstone and Marcuso?
MR. BLANKLEY: I remember Livingstone. He was the Clinton staffer who got hold of the FBI files, including mine, and he --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is this in the same category of exercise?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, no. I mean, that was --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the Republicans --
MR. BLANKLEY: No, that was potentially a felony.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wanted this authority, you know, for get-even purposes.
MR. BLANKLEY: No, no. Wait a second. The staffer --
MR. HARDING: This is completely naughty. You know this, because this is a man who made a mistake.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Next week, a report card on President Bush's second-term nominees, including his most notable retention, Donald Rumsfeld. Out of time. Bye-bye.