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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Clinton coping. At his first solo press conference in 323 days, a record hiatus of sorts, President Clinton on Friday fielded ranging questions: domestic and international economy, police law enforcement, the Independent Counsel Act, Hillary's possible New York Senate run, staff and Cabinet loyalty, Juanita Broaddrick's rape charge, and four areas that we'll get into later in this program: Kosovo, China, espionage, and Al Gore's way with words.

He also answered questions about his current state of mind. Sir, would you tell us why you think people have treated you the way they have? Is it a conspiracy?

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: (From videotape.) You know that story about the guy that's walking along the Grand Canyon, and he falls off? And he's falling hundreds of feet to certain death, and he reaches out. He sees a little twig on the side of the canyon suddenly, and he grabs it. He takes a deep breath, and then all of a sudden he sees the roots of the twig start to come loose. And he looks up in the sky, and he says, "Lord, why me? Why me? I pay my taxes. I go to work every day. Why me?" And this thunderous voice says, "Son, there's just something about you I don't like." (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What's the import of the Grand Canyon joke, Michael Barone?

MR. BARONE: Well, it's sort of laughing contempt of his enemies, and a suggestion that they're sort of crazed and everything else.

But at the other -- at a different point in that press conference, we had -- the president was presented with a question about Juanita Broaddrick's charges, and that's really a different undercurrent. Right there he -- there is credible charge that -- credible in the sense that reasonable people can believe that he committed rape, a violent crime, and he cannot credibly deny it. In fact, the denial his attorney issued, if you parse it correctly, is not even a denial of the charges that could be based on her statements. So --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, what do you read into the Grand Canyon joke?

MS. CLIFT: Well, that the Lord is actually smiling on him, when you think about it.

I think this was not a self-pitying story. But he is pointing out, I think, that he has been the most investigated president in history -- Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate, Chinagate, whatever. And he's emerged pretty unscathed. All they got him for was having an affair.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you -- what do you see in that Grand Canyon joke, where that thunderous voice says, "I just -- I guess I just don't like you?"

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I mean, in essence, there's some truth in the analogy, because there are some people who just don't like his style. But Michael is also correct that he is also essentially blaming others for his own misfortunes.

MR. O'DONNELL: It's all about Bill Clinton being a victim, and that's the way the Clintons have always viewed any controversy around them -- that they are just the victims of people out to get them.

MS. CLIFT: Well, they have been --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The victim of the right-wing conspiracy.

Let me ask you this: How do you think he did on style? Do you want to rate him on -- zero to 10?

MR. BARONE: Well, I saw, at zero to 10, different parts of it differently. That laughing contemptuousness of his enemies, he --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not content, style throughout.

MR. BARONE: Style? That was an eight for him. But the funereal style with which he answered the questions on Kosovo were his unreliability to follow through on threats has caused a power-style --

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. And he --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How about -- give me a style -- quickly, give me a style number.

MR. BARONE: -- (inaudible) -- of two.

MS. CLIFT: He gets a 10. And he turned away all of the questions going back to the past, including unsubstantiated allegations leveled at him.


MS. CLIFT: And he is moving ahead --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think we'd agree that --

MS. CLIFT: -- carrying out the country's -- (inaudible) -- with a 10.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- at least he gets an eight on style.

Okay, another press question: "Sir, what do you think your legacy will be about lying? And how important do you think it is to tell the truth, especially under oath?"

PRESIDENT CLINTON: (From videotape.) What young people will learn from my experience is that even presidents have to do that and that there are consequences when you don't.

But I also think that there will be a box score and there will be that one negative. And then there will be the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times when the record will show that I did not abuse my authority as president, that I was truthful with the American people, and scores and scores of allegations were made against me and widely publicized without any regard to whether they were true or not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Mr. Clinton right about the box score; that his good deeds as it were, will outweigh his misdeeds when the final verdict on his presidency is rendered, Eleanor Clift?

MS. CLIFT: I think history will look at Clinton having done a very foolish act in his private life but having been an excellent president, enjoying high popularity ratings and moving us into the next century. He has been a good president.



MR. BLANKLEY: -- well, look, he has lied and lied and lied. And to say that he has also told the truth sometimes is just one of the silliest statements I have ever heard a president make.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think about his box score?

MR. O'DONNELL: The box score will be held separate from the evaluation of him as president. In the box score he is going to look like a liar, but in his job as president he will be seen as someone who accepted Republican ideas for --

MR. BARONE: His job as president is infected by his tendency to tell lies. He says he has a got a plan on Social Security; he does not. He says he --

MS. CLIFT: Is this --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait a minute, Eleanor.

MR. BARONE: -- he says he has a plan on Medicare; he does not. The fact is that we are missing an opportunity for reform.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When we come back, can Al Gore get away with telling lies the way Bill Clinton does?


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: "Let there be cyberspace."

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: (From videotape.) Well, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. (Followed by strains of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus.")

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The creation of the Internet; that's what Al Gore is claiming. The vice president's braggadocio is causing endless glee among Republicans and late-night talk-show hosts.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott issued a press release: "I created the paper clip," says Lott. Quote: "Paper clips bind us together as a nation. They are the engine of the U.S. economy. The Dow broke 10,000 due in part to strong growth in the paper-clip industry. I am glad I could play a part in such a vital sector of the economy," unquote.

Gore, the wealthy son of a senator, and a prep-school and Ivy League-college graduate, also provoked giggles this week when he told a group in Iowa that he plowed hillsides in the hot sun with mules and slopped hogs as a child.

But Democratic strategists are not laughing at Gore's remarks. They are taking them in dead earnest, worried about Gore's tendency to blunder when he has no script in front of him. The political pros are also concerned that Gore's campaign kickoff speech in Washington last week was dreary and disappointing and he failed to acknowledge his debt of gratitude to supporters and staff, a political no-no.

And that is not the only bad news for Mr. Gore. Two polls out this week show him trailing in presidential election match-ups, badly. He lags behind Republican candidate Elizabeth Dole by an alarming eight points and behind Texas Governor George W. Bush by a staggering 15 points.

And voters wonder whether Gore has what it takes to be president. Only 35 percent think that Al Gore is "inspiring," compared to 55 percent who are inspired by Governor Bush and 71 percent by Elizabeth Dole.

And get this; 41 percent of voters think Al Gore is a strong leader, compared to 68 percent for Bush, a 27-point gap favoring the Texas governor.

Gore's troubles also annoy Democrats because they bought into Gore's candidacy early. That forced out other viable candidates, such as Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, Nebraska Senator and war hero Robert Kerrey, and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. Now the only alternative to Gore is former New Jersey senator and basketball star Bill Bradley, a long shot still for the nomination.

Question: What explains Al Gore's wobbly political legs at this late stage in the game, Tony Blankley?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, it's interesting. Putting aside whatever innate disqualifications he has, it's a phenomena where he gets shifted into what you're measured by when you stop being a vice president and start being a presidential contender, and I think the shift happened early because of the impeachment process. And suddenly he found himself -- his words being noted carefully. Normally a vice president wanders around the countryside, making silly statements, and people don't pay too much attention. Suddenly the focus is there. He has not adjusted and disciplined himself, and he's paying an early price for it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, don't forget the core of that setup, and the core of the setup is that he lies, he fibs, he cultivates myths and fables. (Laughter.) Now does -- is he patterning himself on the president?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, I wouldn't compliment him that much in the skills of lying yet. But the point is that you can get away with that stuff when you're not running for president. Now he's running for president, and we're all looking back at these kind of statements he's made.


MR. O'DONNELL: He's not lying, John. He's just very bad at extemporizing, and we know this about him. He's a very bad speaker. And there is real concern in the Democratic Party already about what they consider an inexplicable gap in the polls. They don't have an explanation as to why he's so far behind Bush. And so this looks very good for Bill Bradley --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you remember when we were discussing focus groups in connection with a possible resignation of the president?

MR. O'DONNELL: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And the focus groups did not want the president to resign. Number one, they feared the trauma, which I think was exaggerated -- that is, of a -- of transferring power without an election. But secondly and more importantly, to me, and surprising to me was they didn't want a resignation because they did not want Al Gore as president.

MR. O'DONNELL: Which I again found inexplicable. How the public has decided there's something wrong with him and nothing wrong with Bill Clinton as president --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can you explain this?

MR. BARONE: Well, I think there's something going on here, John, that we've seen in other vice presidencies: a vice presidential discount. I mean, the very faithfulness that we want the vice president to have to the president, to follow his policies, to not create a Chester A. Arthur situation, where somebody shoots the president to get the vice president in -- (laughter) -- that very faithfulness tends to undercut the image of independence, the image of being his own person. And I think that that affected Walter Mondale, who is a capable man; it affected George Bush, and we saw that in the poll results in '87 where he ran behind various Democratic contenders; it affected Dan Quayle, who I think was an able man; and it's affecting Gore, who is an able man.


MS. CLIFT: And it also says something about the eagerness of the Republicans to try to turn Al Gore into the Dan Quayle of the Democratic Party, to say that he's mistake-prone. He's far too controlled for that to happen.

But Lawrence is right, he's an inartful speaker. He's got two speeds, one is quiet and --

MR. BARONE: This is the guy who gave a speech on "e pluribus unum" and got the message wrong.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.

Go ahead.

MS. CLIFT: One is quiet and heartfelt, and the other one is talking as loud as you can because maybe it will get across better.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, what's that all about?

MS. CLIFT: He's just not good at this.

MR. BLANKLEY: You mean politics? Running for president?

MS. CLIFT: He doesn't have charisma. And, frankly, you've spent the last six and a half years criticizing President Clinton and his brand of charisma. Al -- look where it got us. And, you know, maybe the country will be relieved to get Al Gore by the time the voting starts to begin. It's still very early.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By the way, who invented the Internet if it wasn't Gore?

MR. BARONE: It was the ARPA division of the Defense Department back in 1969.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Excellent. The Pentagon did it.

All right, exit question. I want a little development of this, but not too much. If Gore keeps making these mistakes, can Bill Bradley catch up with him?

Michael Barone?

MR. BARONE: I'd say absolutely yes. We've seen in all the primary races 40 points change within a period of a week or two. Al Gore's standing is not so strong. And he has done other things in the past. He got "e pluribus unum" and he made a whole speech about it; he got the country's motto wrong.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hey, Bradley is lacking in communication, in content, in money, and in organization.

MR. BARONE: I disagree with you on all four counts, John. I think that he's actually out there raising some money. He's a man of serious intellect. He has --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you're saying he can catch up.

Are you saying he can?

MS. CLIFT: The bar is set very low for Bill Bradley because we all want a contest.

And by the way, Al Gore did coin the phrase "information superhighway." Let's give him credit for that!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that the Internet?

MS. CLIFT: (Laughing) It's close.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She thinks that's the Internet.

Go ahead. Can he catch up?

MR. BLANKLEY: He can, absolutely. I don't think Bradley is particularly well positioned to take advantage of Gore's lack of charisma because he doesn't have much himself. On the other hand, I have no doubt that if he wins the Iowa election, primary, he's off and running.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He also has superior content to Gore, (A); and (B) he's got enormously more character than Gore.

MR. BLANKLEY: For a politician he's a first rate --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to speak to this?

MR. O'DONNELL: Bill Bradley --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm sorry, did I -- did you finish?

MR. BLANKLEY: I just want to say, for a politician, Bradley's a first-rate intellect.

MR. O'DONNELL: Bill Bradley is normally considered weak on charisma, but compared to Gore he's a movie star. And in New Hampshire he will be --

MR. BLANKLEY: Now let's not get carried away here!

MR. O'DONNELL: -- he will be behind Gore on money, and he will be behind Gore on organization, but that state can be won, even in that situation, by Bill Bradley.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you will -- you're saying that Bradley can catch up?

MR. O'DONNELL (?): Bradley's a very real threat. The more Gore hangs behind Bush in the polls and the more he misspeaks.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. The more foibles he commits. The answer is, Bradley can definitely catch up.

Issue three: Should U.S. troops go to Kosovo?

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS): (From videotape.) We need to be briefed more, we need to be advised what the risks are and the American people need to have a better understanding what the United States national security interests are, if any.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-TX): (From videotape.) I think before we take an affirmative action, we'd better know what our mission is and everybody better understand it, and I do not see that at this time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Failure in Paris. The month-old Kosovo peace talks have crumbled. If NATO follows through on its commitments, U.S.-led airstrikes in Kosovo are imminent. But while the threat of airstrikes was intended to intimidate the Serbs into submission, it has only strengthened their resolve.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic thumbed his nose at NATO this week by sending 30,000 new ground troops to Kosovo. If NATO does attack, these Serbian troops could unleash a blood bath, cracking down on the Kosovar Albanians.

Many Republicans and some Democrats are also worried about consequences of a quote/unquote "tremendously dangerous military strike on Serbia." That's how Marine Commandant Krulak described potential NATO involvement. Other military leaders testifying before the Senate on Thursday pointed to the problems of difficult terrain, adverse weather conditions, and the sophisticated Serbian air defense system.

And now Republican leaders are threatening to withdraw funding for U.S. involvement in NATO airstrikes. After a closed-door congressional meeting with the president's foreign policy advisors failed to draw new support, the president met with congressional leaders Friday morning to discuss the problem.

Question: Should the Republicans back Clinton? Tough question for you, Eleanor. (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: They not only should, but I believe they will and the president and his national security team have been briefing them privately. Look, there are risks if we get involved in a country over there, but there are greater risks if we don't. And I don't think anybody wants to stand by and watch Mr. Milosevic carry on a pattern of ethnic cleansing and have NATO and its European neighbors, backed by the U.S., turn a blind eye. It's not going to happen.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are we, in effect, by committing troops to Kosovo, backing the Kosovar Liberation Army?

MR. BARONE: No, I don't think --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are we taking the side of the Kosovars?

MR. BLANKLEY/BARONE?: Well, we're certainly not taking the side of the Serbians.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're fighting Serbia.

MR. BLANKLEY/BARONE?: But there are two sides in Kosovo. There are the freedom fighters and the autonomous negotiators, if you will, and so we're not picking between those two, but we are picking between Serbia, which -- who did not sign the agreement, and the Kosovars, who did.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony, we are no longer peacekeepers there. We are co-belligerents there.

MR. BLANKLEY: We actually --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By what right do we do that, I ask you, since Serbia is a sovereign nation and since by the Dayton accords, we declared in the accords, that Kosovo is a province of Serbia and, therefore, enjoys or is controlled by the sovereignty of Serbia? And constitutionally, the president can't attack a nation that way.

MR. O'DONNELL: Well, the important thing about what you have described, both just now and in that taped piece, is that this is an unwinnable situation for us. The only way for us to get our way is for Milosevic to surrender at some point. That will never happen.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We have got to get out, but -- give me a quick point.

MR. BARONE: We have got, you know, an incoherent and feckless policy here that is not being --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What kind of policy?

MR. BARONE: A feckless policy. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean "lacking courage"?

MR. BARONE: We have threatened to bomb --

MR. BLANKLEY: Lacking "feck."

MR. BARONE: -- we have threatened to bomb before, and then we didn't bomb. Obviously, our threats aren't being taken so seriously. There may be more bloodshed --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you want carpet-bombing? Is that what you want?

MR. BARONE: And this administration has just appointed somebody, to be our representatives over there, who the inspector general of State Department said lied to Congress about Haiti.


MR. BARONE: This is not exactly --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't --

MR. BARONE: -- this is -- there are a lot of problems here.

The administration should answer the questions that the House passed in their resolution last week, about requiring --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think a declaration of war is necessary before the president can do this?

MR. BARONE: -- I think that they should, at the very least --


MR. BARONE: -- answer the questions in the House-passed resolution, last week in Appropriations, which called on the administration to state the goals, state the exit strategy, state the rules of engagement.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But clearly, the Congress is not yet satisfied. As Trent Lott says, "The people deserve to hear more, and we want more briefings."

Exit question: Will Russia be drawn into a proxy war, yes or no, Michael?

MR. BARONE: Well, Russia is fully part of our team over there right now, so they are drawn in in that sense, and that's a mess, too.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, will they be drawn in in another sense, I ask you?

MS. CLIFT: No, they are going to be an ally of the U.S. And Milosevic has a history of backing down, and he still may.

MR. BLANKLEY: Oh, they could easily -- given internal politics in Russia -- they could end up having to play the pro-Slav position, and they could get sucked into it.

MR. O'DONNELL: This is not the old Soviet Union; they will not get sucked in.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The generals will sell munitions; the arms manufacturers will sell munitions also. And they will sell oil; they will be involved in that sense, and it may not stop there.

Issue four: Star Wars "redivivus."

SEN. THAD COCHRAN (R-MS): (From videotape.) We are not going to sit back and let the development of new missile technologies and weapons-of-mass-destruction technologies put at risk the citizens of the United States.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When Ronald Reagan first proposed a missile defense system, "Star Wars," in 1983, Democrats laughed at him. They said a nuclear umbrella was nothing more than science fiction fantasy.

Now, not even two decades later, the successful test of a weapon that blows missiles out of the sky has fulfilled Reagan's vision. And Congress this week hailed that vision, with an overwhelming vote to deploy a new missile defense system and well more than enough votes to override any presidential veto.

The bill's swift passage was helped by reports of Chinese espionage at U.S. nuclear missile facilities. Congress this week chided the White House for its lax security at U.S. weapons labs. They claim that these derelictions enabled China to steal secrets for building miniaturized multiple warhead nuclear bombs.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-OK): (From videotape.) I'm stating that the president withheld information and covered up the Chinese theft of our technology.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA): (From videotape.) I know of no other case where we've kept a known spy in place, where he can access critical military or nuclear-related information, for long periods of time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Under pressure to improve national security, President Clinton ordered a comprehensive review of the security threat at U.S. weapons labs. The review will be led by former Republican senator Warren Rudman, chair of the president's Intelligence Advisory Committee.

Question: Is the development of a national missile defense system inherently destabilizing, Lawrence O'Donnell?

MR. O'DONNELL: It's not so much inherently destabilizing. Its problem remains that it will not work. You know, we are already building bombers that don't work, that are so expensive we can't send them into any theater of war, because we're afraid of losing one, and they don't work in the rain -- all that sort of stuff. This technology doesn't even exist, and so we have a Congress who's saying, "Let's build something we don't know how to build."

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, it's great to have a nuclear scientist right on the panel with us. (Laughter.)

MR. O'DONNELL: John, this thing won't stop cruise missiles.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you for -- (laughs) --

MR. O'DONNELL: It won't stop all sorts of weapons --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, wait. Hold on. I want to hear from the other scientist over here. (Laughter.)

MR. BLANKLEY: (Laughs.) Yeah, Dr. Blankley here. (Laughter.)

Look, it would be destabilizing if it was Reagan's original Strategic Defense Initiative, which was intended to be able to stop 3,000 Soviet missiles at a blow.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A full strike.

MR. BLANKLEY: But this is going to be intended to essentially protect us from a very limited strike, which means it would be targeted on Iraq sort of nations, and therefore it doesn't destabilize at a strategic level. So no, it is not destabilizing.

MR. BARONE: Yeah. I mean, the fact is, John --


MS. CLIFT: Well, I think the problem is that it takes away the focus that we should be getting the nuclear weapons out of Russia's hands, not worrying about 24 missiles that China has --

MR. BLANKLEY: We can do both, my dear. We can do both. And we should be.

MS. CLIFT: But you know, the amount of money is so small compared to what Reagan envisioned that I think it's a no-brainer to let it happen. And it's largely political agreement.

MR. BARONE: The fact is that we can stop an incoming rogue-state missile, and we have every reason to believe that North Korea has us targeted with missiles today. And as Kenneth Timmerman (sp) of the Reader's Digest pointed out, they have got --- been going ahead with their nuclear procedures. They may have nuclear bombs today aimed at us. And the fact is that it would be crazy not to go there. If Franklin Roosevelt had taken the position about the atomic bomb that Lawrence O'Donnell has taken on missile defense, we would have been in a very different -- (inaudible due to cross talk) --

(Cross talk.)

MR. O'DONNELL: The bomb worked.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're right on. Michael, I --

MR. O'DONNELL: The bomb worked.

MR. BARONE: We didn't know it in 1940.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Michael, you are absolutely correct. We'll be right back with predictions.


MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions, Michael?

MR. BARONE: Al Gore will not campaign this cycle as he did in North Carolina in 1988, as a guy who grew up growing tobacco, cutting tobacco, stripping tobacco, et cetera. We won't hear it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You won't hear him do that?

MR. BARONE: Won't.


MS. CLIFT: I think we just heard that, but -- (chuckles) -- the other Bush, Jeb Bush, Florida governor, is coming on strong. He's going to get a voucher -- school voucher program through the legislature.


MS. CLIFT: Really.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he's certainly going to help his brother, right?

MR. BLANKLEY: Absolutely. No less than 51 Republican senators will vote for the Republican tax cut bill. And we'll have a tax cut either on the desk of the president or vetoed by Christmas.

MR. O'DONNELL: Linc Chafee (sp) will get the Republican nomination to succeed his father, John Chafee, as senator from Rhode Island.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wow. Christine Todd Whitman will run for Frank Lautenberg's seat.

Next week: The Baltimore Orioles travel to Cuba to trounce our Cuban amigos. Adios and bye-bye!