THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES; DEMETRI SEVASTOPULO, FINANCIAL TIMES TAPED: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2007 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF SEPTEMBER 8-9, 2007
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: De-Iraqment.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker tell me if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Summer is spent. Labor Day has come and gone. The U.S. Congress is back in session. Once again, Iraq dominates the debate. And the commander in chief changes the focus. This seemingly off-the-cuff statement in a presidential surprise visit to Iraq this week has reshaped the argument from whether or not the United States will exit Iraq to how quickly the U.S. exit will be made. Before now, Democrats have told Republicans that the failures within Iraq demand that the U.S. troops be withdrawn. Well, Mr. Bush has spun this logic around. He's saying that Iraq's successes now make withdrawal possible.
Question: How are we to interpret this action by the commander in chief? Who is or what is his principal audience, Pat?
MR. BUCHANAN: John, the commander in chief has won the battle. The Democrats have been defeated horse, foot and dragoons. There will be no cutoff of funds. There will be no deadlines imposed. The Democrats will take what John Warner gives them. What they're likely to get is a token withdrawal maybe of one brigade around Christmastime.
The president of the United States will have a major army in Iraq by the time he leaves office. He has won this battle, John. And I'll tell you what's next. He's gearing up right now. Having defeated the Democrats, he's looking at phrase three, which is the attack on Iran.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What effect does this have on the Republicans in Congress, do you think, Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: I think it dooms them in '08, but I think the president doesn't care. This is a con job. The surge cannot be extended beyond next spring. And he's going to talk about bringing home a token number of troops. And then, beginning in April, they'll have to drop down to pre-surge levels, 130,000. And his intention is to have those troops on the ground until he gets out of town.
And I agree, the Democrats are not going to be able to change this policy. They don't have the votes. They don't have the 60 votes in the Senate. They can't overcome a veto. And I'm not even sure they want to change the policy, because then they'd have responsibility for whatever happens after. So I think this is pretty much status quo until the end of this presidency.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: General Petraeus is going to give his testimony before Congress starting on Monday, and I guess it'll trail off into Tuesday. Do you think he's going to stick with facts, or is he going to get into opinion?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, of course, we haven't heard it, so we're speculating. I think he's going to -- my understanding is he's going to objectively describe what's happening. Now, there's going to be some, I assume, adjectives and adverbs -- certain things they're doing reasonably well, that kind of phraseology. There are mixed -- you know, the performance is mixed here and there. So there will be some adjectives and adverbs, but it is going to be a largely objective performance. What's interesting is to watch the Democrats this last week start to slander him. And first they say it's not the Petraeus report; it's the Bush report. And they're going to try to say it's just politics. But Petraeus has a higher job approval in the public than Congress does.
And I think the Democrats play a dangerous game if they go after this man, who they all voted for unanimously, and who, by every consensus, including Brookings Institute and the New York Times op-ed page, that the surge is, at a military level, working. And the idea, by the way, Eleanor, that somehow in the spring that this whole process comes to an end is mistaken. I agree with you. I think there's going to be -- I think --
MS. CLIFT: The surge comes to an end.
MR. BLANKLEY: No, no. The surge --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --
MR. BLANKLEY: No, no, let me finish. The surge does not come to an end, because the surge isn't only troops. It's a strategy, the strategy and the rules of engagement.
MR. SEVASTOPULO: No, Tony, the surge comes to an end because the troops are in there for 15 months. Come April, they start to rotate home.
MR. BLANKLEY: I understand. Everybody knows that. The point is, what's made it a success is not just the extra 30,000 troops but the different rules of engagement and strategy. And they're working with Sunnis at the provincial level, and that's working.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Demetri in.
MR. SEVASTOPULO: I think the focus is not going to be on Petraeus. The Republicans are going to say, "Petraeus is telling us that security has gotten a little bit better." The Democrats are going to say, "Let's listen to Crocker," Ambassador Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad. He's going to say the political situation has not improved. There's no political reconciliation. The Maliki government hasn't come through with the goods. And that's going to be the key.
MR. BUCHANAN: But, no, wait a minute. That is true --
MS. CLIFT: Right. The surge has failed.
MR. BUCHANAN: That is true -- MS. CLIFT: The surge has failed, because the political progress has not taken place. What has succeeded is the de facto separation of Iraq into ethnic areas, and they're beginning to sort things out on their own, which is the success the president is pointing to in Anbar Province.
MR. BUCHANAN: As a practical matter, that is exactly right. Politically, they have not succeeded. They have not met the benchmarks. But I don't think that's terribly relevant in this sense. The president is going to maintain those troops there, regardless. The Democrats aren't going to cut the troops. The Democrats aren't going to impose any deadlines.
The president is running this show, clearly. And even though the situation politically is bad, John, you look at the president's speech, that American Legion convention. That is as hawkish and warlike an address as I have ever seen a president deliver. You're going to get a rollout coming out of some of the think tanks in September for the strikes on Iran. The president is running the show.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, the human toll: U.S. military dead in Iraq, 3,760; one-half of these dead, 24 years of age and under.
Okay, Iran. Good news in Iran. In Iran this past week, an important, even watershed, political development -- the election of a new chairman of the powerful 86-member political body called the Assembly of Experts. Ali Akbar Rafsanjani won. Rafsanjani is a conservative pragmatist.
He served two terms, eight years, as Iran's president, from 1989 to 1997.
Political analysts are saying that, legally speaking, Rafsanjani is now in a higher position than Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei is the supreme leader of Iran and is above, in rank, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, current president. And get this: Rafsanjani has consistently criticized President Ahmadinejad for creating unnecessary tensions with the international community.
Rafsanjani's victory also shows something else; namely, the slippage of current President Ahmadinejad's power. Rafsanjani's win comes at the dawn of the 2008 parliamentary elections in Iran. Slated for next March, these elections also have the potential of realigning Iran, reforming it to become a more moderate, pro-democracy, pro-U.S. and pro-nuclear-compliant political body.
Question: What significance does Rafsanjani's ascendance hold for negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program? Demetri Sevastopulo.
MR. SEVASTOPULO: John, I think Rafsanjani is considered to be a pragmatist. He's probably good news from the Americans' perspective, although he has some baggage. He's been tarnished by the blowing up of the Jewish building in Argentina a number of years ago. But he is seen to be on the other side of the spectrum from Ahmadinejad. And I think there's concern within the Iranian leadership, the supreme leader, that Ahmadinejad is taking Iran in a path that they may not want to go.
MS. CLIFT: Right. It's a fragile government over there. And I know probably a few people here are going to laugh, but the Senate Government Operations Committee, by voice vote, restored the State Department money to the dissident groups in Iran, which they had cut off. And so I think this is reason to continue a diplomatic route with Iran and takes away some of the impetus for the bombing that Pat has been talking about.
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me just make a point. Yes, Rafsanjani is more practical than Ahmadinejad. But you've got be very careful when you're doing this kind of Kremlin watching -- in this case Iran Kremlin watching -- that you make a relative distinction. But you've still got a radical Islamist in Rafsanjani. And there's no indication that he is going to turn off the nuclear research. I agree with you, he has more concerns about European opinion. But this is not an absolute either-or situation.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, let me tell you something.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's altogether different from Ahmadinejad.
MR. BUCHANAN: There is inside Iran a number of people who do not want a confrontation or war with the United States. They're cutting back on the number of centrifuges; they say 2,000. They're slowing it down. They're talking. They're dealing with the IAEA. The drive for war is coming --
MR. SEVASTOPULO: Ahmadinejad is in the opposite direction, Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: The drive for war is coming from the United States' side, the American side.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Is the Rafsanjani development good news in Iran? Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: I think it's good news because I don't believe we ought to have a war with Iran. And I think this is a hopeful sign that some folks in Iran will take steps which will disarm the war party in the United States.
MS. CLIFT: It's good news, and it's an olive branch that the Bush administration could seize on. And he does have to go to Congress if he's going to bomb Iran.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When was that --
MS. CLIFT: Otherwise --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who established that?
MS. CLIFT: -- if he doesn't, we're talking impeachment.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Has Bush agreed to that that he's going to go to Congress if he wants to bomb?
MS. CLIFT: I think the rules are such in the Constitution that he would have to go to Congress.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Stick with my point. Is this good news?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, we have to monitor it closely.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Moderately good news?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A little good news?
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make the point, because if he continues down the nuclear path, then it doesn't make any difference at all. If he, in fact, agrees to international inspections, et cetera, then it's good news. Let's see. The proof of the pudding -- I don't think we're going to get it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Rafsanjani is almost a capitalist. He owns an enormous part of Iraq (sic/means Iran). He's not interested in the Ahmadinejad agenda. Would you agree with that?
MR. SEVASTOPULO: He's not in the school of economic populism. That's for sure.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's for sure.
Issue Two: Political Potpourri.
Item: Thompson's Tease.
After months of showing ankle, Fred Thompson this week went all the way.
(Begin videotaped segment.)
FORMER SENATOR FRED THOMPSON (R-TN): We're where we need to be right now. And that's one of the things I wanted to talk to you about.
JAY LENO: All right, all right.
MR. THOMPSON: I'm running for president of the United States.
MR. LENO: All right.
(End videotaped segment.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: It is said that Fred Thompson wants to be Ronald Reagan redevivus. Is it true? And can he do it? Tony Blankley.
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, I think it's silly to say anyone is another Ronald Reagan. They're not. He doesn't have the long-term commitment to very specific visions of the future that Reagan had, starting in the late 1940s. So, no, he's not another Ronald Reagan.
Can he do it? Yes, he can get the nomination. But I think he's going to have a pretty swift test. I think in the next three to six weeks, if he doesn't shoot up, he's likely to collapse down.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Shoot up? MR. BLANKLEY: Yes. If he doesn't go up higher in the polls and really catch fire, he's likely to collapse.
MR. BUCHANAN: Tony's right, I think. But look -- and he's right about Reagan. Reagan came up in '64 with that great speech, and after that he was virtually the guy the conservatives were looking for for 16 years.
Fred has got a shot at it. I think it's a Rudy-Romney race right now. But Fred has a clear shot at an opening. But I agree with Tony. He's got to show in three or four weeks whether he's got it, or I think it's all starting down.
MS. CLIFT: Thompson's asset is he's not overly associated with any wing of the party, so he can appeal to everybody, and he's going to be nice and vague. And he wants to run a different kind of campaign. He's looking for the red truck, if you will. That was what he drove across Tennessee, and it won him the Senate race. I don't know if there's a red truck available to get to the White House.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, jabs at Thompson. Where were the good old days when Republican candidates for president welcomed a Republican newcomer who throws his hat late into the ring?
(Begin videotaped segment.)
FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR MIKE HUCKABEE (R): I was scheduled to be on Jay Leno tonight, but I gave up my slot for somebody else.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): We're up past his bedtime.
FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (R): I think this is a nomination you have to earn, though. Nobody's going to give it to you.
(End videotaped segment.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of that treatment, Eleanor Clift? Republicans --
MS. CLIFT: It's a little snarky, and I don't think it makes any of them look good. But Fred Thompson did not only diss them; he dissed the New Hampshire voters. And he may pay a price for that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that Fred Thompson looks like an outsider because of his absence from politics for an extended period, and therefore he brings that to the mix -- an outsider, so to speak?
MR. BLANKLEY: No, I don't think he looks like an outsider. But he talks like an American rather than like a Washington politician.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he can shake things up.
MR. BLANKLEY: And so he can sound more normal than most of us here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He can shake things up, can he not?
MR. BUCHANAN: He does sound like an outsider.
MR. SEVASTOPULO: As soon as he's gone into the race -- now that he's announced, he's going to have to start talking like a politician. Within about two or three weeks, he's going to be boring people like everyone else is boring people.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there any strength in the existing lineup before Thompson?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there any strength? MR. SEVASTOPULO: I think McCain is showing a little bit more strength, but there's not a lot there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is the center of gravity of all of those candidates, taken collectively, almost extremely to the right, with the exception of Huckabee?
MR. BUCHANAN: None of them are to the right. What are you talking about? All of them basically, before the primaries, except for Huckabee, would be moderates or liberals. I do think Romney has the inside track to Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan. Somebody's got to knock him off, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about an outsider -- Fred Thompson?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, Thompson's got a shot at it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, Craig's caper.
Larry Edwin Craig, the senior U.S. senator from Idaho, currently in his 17th year, and before that a 10-year U.S. congressman from that state, was arrested on a charge of lewd conduct in a men's restroom at a Minneapolis-St. Paul airport last June. In early August, Craig pled guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct and he was fined $1,000.
Then last week, Roll Call, a Hill newspaper, broke the story, whereupon the senator himself spoke to it.
SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R-ID): (From videotape.) It is with sadness and deep regret that I announce that it is my intent to resign from the Senate effective September 30.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In a voice message left for one of his lawyers, Craig pointed to his carefully crafted wording and Arlen Specter's encouragement to him to fight the case.
SEN. CRAIG: (From audiotape.) Arlen Specter is now willing to come out in my defense, arguing that it appears, by all that he knows, I've been railroaded and all of that. Having all of that, we've reshaped my statement a little bit to say it is my intent to resign on September 30.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On Fox Television the following day, Specter confirmed Craig's phone message.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA): (From videotape.) I'd still like to see Senator Craig fight this case. He left himself some daylight, Chris, when he said that he intends to resign in 30 days. I'd like to see Larry Craig go back to court, seek to withdraw his guilty plea, and fight the case. I've had some experience with these kinds of matters since my days as Philadelphia district attorney. And on the evidence, Senator Craig wouldn't be convicted of anything. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Specter right? Are the charges against Craig flimsy? I ask you, Demetri.
MR. SEVASTOPULO: I think they probably would have been flimsy, but Craig's mistake was that he admitted guilt. He didn't admit to the same charge he was initially charged with, but he admitted to disorderly conduct. So he shot himself in the foot, and you could probably argue that his behavior was unbecoming of a senator.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If he -- (inaudible) -- verdict, is it not also likely that he's lost the judgment and therefore it's --
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, Specter's being eccentric, as he sometimes is on legal matters. This was disgraceful --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Specter?
MR. BLANKLEY: Specter. Craig -- this is disgraceful behavior. Of course he's got to resign. He is going to resign; the sooner, the better, both for him and for the Senate.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, I think this is more about him saving face with his family and with the public.
MR. BLANKLEY: It's too late for that.
MS. CLIFT: Well, in his mind, I don't think it's too late.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here's what The New York Times thinks about Craig's principal accusers. "The Republican Party is in quite a rush to keelhaul Senator Larry Craig for his run-in with the vice squad in an airport men's room. Underlying the hurry to disown the senator, of course, is the party's brutal agenda of trumpeting the gay marriage issue. To the extent Senator Craig, a stalwart in the family values caucus, might morph into a blatant hypocrite before the voters' eyes, he reflects on the party's record in demonizing homosexuality. The rush to cast him out betrays the party's intolerance, which is on display for the public in all its ugliness."
Question: Has the New York Times editorial hit the nail on the head, Eleanor Clift?
MS. CLIFT: Yes. I mean, I think there is --
MR. BLANKLEY: Oh, come on.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her talk.
MS. CLIFT: There is social issue fatigue; if not in the Republican Party, it's in the country. And we've had a social transformation in America in attitudes towards gay people. And while Senator Craig is an aberration in this discussion, the Republican Party, if it wants to survive -- MR. BUCHANAN: John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her talk.
MS. CLIFT: -- as a major party --
MR. BLANKLEY: I'm --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish her point.
MR. BLANKLEY: Okay, you've said it. Look --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.
MS. CLIFT: Let me finish -- is going to have to quit using gay issues and gay-bashing as a foundation of its message to try to --
MR. BLANKLEY: Okay, underlying the New York Times editorial is a hypocrisy that they're taking this seriously. They want to keep running this story to further undermine Republicans. The Republicans are absolutely right to throw a degenerate out of the Senate, of course.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, wait a minute. Look, John, the guy's behavior -- I agree with Tony -- it was disgraceful. But also disgraceful is the fact that nobody acted as his friend.
He's been up there for 18 years in the Senate, and nobody said, "Larry Craig's basically a good guy. This is tragic. It's bad. He may have to go, but he's a good guy." Nobody came to the guy's defense.
MS. CLIFT: Actually, Bill Clinton did. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, don't you think, in 2006, the Republicans learned that corruption, whether it's financial or whether it's libidinous, both with Foley and with Abramoff, that they don't want any corruption, so they're not running away from it by reason of homophobia; they're running away because they've got to get away from any smell of corruption?
MR. BUCHANAN: It's homophobia, John. I mean, here's the thing. If it were involving a girl or a woman, they would not have moved against him. But you're dead right. It is scandal overload, and they've had enough. So when the next one came along, they said, "Cut him and shoot him."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question? Can Larry Craig turn this around so that he would stay in the Senate? Put that on a 10 scale, 10 being yes, he can.
MR. BUCHANAN: He can stay in the Senate if he wants to, but I don't think he should and I don't think he will, because they can't kick him out. This is not an expellable --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Realistically --
MS. CLIFT: He can't --
MR. BUCHANAN: This is not an expellable offense, but they don't want him --
MS. CLIFT: He can't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, they're saying that -- the committee is saying that they'll bring it before the Ethics Committee if he does not resign.
MR. BUCHANAN: They haven't expelled anybody since the Civil War. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: He can't turn it around. The Ethics Committee will come down hard on him if he doesn't leave.
MR. BUCHANAN: They'll censure him.
MS. CLIFT: They've stripped him of his committees. What is he going to do up there?
MR. BLANKLEY: Technically he can stay in until the election is over. But I give it a zero chance.
MS. CLIFT: Right, same here.
MR. SEVASTOPULO: I give it minus 10.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Minus 10?
MR. BUCHANAN: He's gone.
MR. SEVASTOPULO: He's gone.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It looks like zero.
Issue Three: Rehab.
Amy Winehouse may want to skip rehab, but many other people think otherwise -- Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, Britney Spears, the late Anna Nicole Smith. Rehab is not what it used to be. There was a time when the word rehab carried the connotation of a private and embarrassing experience owing to weakness of character. Today that negativity has been stripped away. Rehab is socially acceptable, even trendy. Some see clinical rehab taking over from religious redemption, from "Jesus saves" to "Rehab saves."
Congress is helping shift public perception of rehab as well. A new legislative measure is titled, quote, "Recognizing Addiction as a Disease Act 2007," unquote. In other words, rehab is public health, not moral reform. And this month is National Rehab Month.
Question: Is rehab the new redemption, do you think, Demetri?
MR. SEVASTOPULO: John, I get worried when you ask an Irishman about rehab. Are you suggesting something? (Laughter.) I think --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But you believe that rehab does wonders for addicts, correct?
MR. SEVASTOPULO: I think everyone who's got an addiction should go to rehab. But I do also think for some celebrities it's become a trendy thing. MR. BUCHANAN: John, they're downgrading the doctrine very much of free will, in my judgment, in society, and they're turning what used to be known as sin into sickness. It's part of the whole cultural trend. There is no sin. We're all ill. We're all afflicted somehow.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's winning that war?
MR. BUCHANAN: The other side is winning the culture war.
MR. BLANKLEY: John, there's a little bit of both in this. With AA, which is the greatest program for bringing people out of their addiction of alcohol, there is a spiritual component to it and there's a nonjudgmental component to it.
MS. CLIFT: And there's a --
MR. BLANKLEY: And that's as it should be.
MS. CLIFT: And drugs and alcohol have a physical hold on people.
MR. BLANKLEY: Of course they do.
MS. CLIFT: And it should be treated as a health issue. But this is not new. Remember Wilbur Mills and all the parade of politicians who cite rehab after they're caught doing something they shouldn't be doing.
MR. BUCHANAN: (Inaudible) -- Larry Craig off the hook?
MS. CLIFT: I don't think he's going to rehab. I haven't heard that yet.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: As you know, I just got back from London. I must tell you that three women have dominated the news over there recently, and that's Camilla, it's Diana and it's Amy Winehouse.
Exit question: In UK popularity polls, the royals are slipping and Amy Winehouse is soaring. Is this Winehouse popularity also an implicit put-down of the royals? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: No, it is not. And I think Harry and William did a great job at Diana's funeral, and I think they're rising.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the prince of Wales ought to be king?
MR. BUCHANAN: I would -- (laughs) --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In time. Do you think he --
MR. BUCHANAN: I think he ought to be king. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, quickly.
MS. CLIFT: Harry and William have always been held in high esteem.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, there'll always be an England and there will always be a monarchy. There should be for England. It's just right and proper.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The fact is, the polls for the royals are slipping. Their popularity is slipping.
MR. BLANKLEY: They've gone up and down for hundreds of years. (Laughter.) But England needs and wants a monarch, and they will have one.
MR. SEVASTOPULO: It's good for -- as an anti-monarchist and an Irishman, it's good for tourism. Harry and his brother did very well. Their father should not become king. He should skip over and do it for the country.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think Winehouse is an implicit protest against the sometimes bizarre behavior of the royals.
MR. BLANKLEY: Shame.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Going, gone, Gonzales.
PRESIDENT BUSH: (From videotape.) After months of unfair treatment that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO GONZALES: (From videotape.) I have lived the American dream. Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father's best days.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: After many outspoken political battles, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned this week, to become effective later this month. The storm surrounding Gonzales is due to his inconsistent and contradictory testimony before Congress over the firings of eight or nine U.S. attorneys and a night hospital visit to then-convalescing and groggy Attorney General John Ashcroft. Gonzales wanted Ashcroft to extend President Bush's wiretapping-without-warrant program. Ashcroft said no.
Question: During his tenure at the Justice Department, Gonzales has been criticized for tearing down morale, intensifying political interference, damaging the department's credibility and misleading Congress. Will the next attorney general be able to repair the damage with an 18-month term ahead? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, nobody's perfect, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it's impossible?
MR. BUCHANAN: No, let me say this. I think the president of the United States is going to get someone who is highly qualified and is not a crony of George W. Bush. I think he will go through. If he does that, he should go through. But I think the damage to the Justice Department is almost permanent.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Robert Mueller, the current head of the FBI, is the best replacement George Bush could choose to replace Gonzales. True or false? Demetri.
MR. SEVASTOPULO: I don't know if he's the best, but I think he's someone who will probably get nominated and approved and actually do a reasonable job. But whether he's the best, I don't know.
MS. CLIFT: I think Larry Thompson, who was a former deputy attorney general -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Would be better than --
MS. CLIFT: Well, I think he'd be terrific. He would also be the first African-American to hold the job.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Who's --
MS. CLIFT: But the top six jobs at the Justice Department are unfilled.
MR. BLANKLEY: The challenge is to get someone who actually vigorously pushes Bush's judicial agenda. I don't think there's time for that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions, Pat, quickly.
MR. BUCHANAN: Full-court neocon propaganda campaign for attack on Iran coming in September.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor Clift.
MS. CLIFT: Hillary Clinton will soon begin racking up the endorsements from elected Democratic officials.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony Blankley.
MR. BLANKLEY: The policies of the surge that have proved so successful will continue after next spring, when they reduce it by perhaps 20,000 or 30,000 troops.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The policy of whom?
MR. BLANKLEY: Of the surge.
MS. CLIFT: That is the surge. (Laughs.)
MR. BLANKLEY: It will continue.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I thought you said Serbs.
MR. BLANKLEY: No, surge.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, Demetri.
MR. SEVASTOPULO: When President Bush leaves office, Osama bin Laden will still be at large and Fidel Castro will still be alive.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is there a lesson there?
MR. SEVASTOPULO: I'm not sure. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The U.S. Congress will not pursue Alberto Gonzales for perjury.
Don't forget, you can iPod the Group.