Video: The Crawford Ranch

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updated 12/29/2005 12:08:07 PM ET 2005-12-29T17:08:07

This year has been one filled with scandals for the Bush administration and 2006 looks like it might continue with that trend. Nick Calio, a former Bush White House advisor and MSNBC political analyst Ron Reagan spoke to Norah O’Donnell on Wednesday about Bush’s continuing headaches for the upcoming year. 

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

NORAH O'DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Let me first get your take on this NSA spying story.  And today, what we have learned is that some of the lawyers for these convicted terrorists want to sue President Bush.  Is this going to continue to be a headache for him in 2006? 

NICK CALIO, FMR. BUSH WHITE HOUSE ADVISER:  Oh, I think it will continue to be a headache, Norah, to the degree that he'll have to deal with it.  But I think the president will probably engage the Congress on the issue. 

I think he believes and I believe that he had the legal authority to do what he did and I think some perspective is in order too, because this is not about spying on you or spying on me.  This is about following suspected terrorists with known ties to al Qaeda. 

And I think the American people support that.  And I don't think they're going to get caught up in all of the legalisms that people are talking about right now. 

But, again, if I were the president, I would engage the Congress on this.  The FISA law, many people think, is out of date.  It was, you know, written during the Cold War and meant for the Cold War.  Technical innovations have clearly outpaced it and the president ought to go to the Congress to get the changes that are necessary. 

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  The president should have gone to the Congress, Norah, in the first place to get the changes, if there are changes needed in FISA, and that would have forestalled this whole problem that he's got.  And we don't know that the administration hasn't been spying on you and me, as it were. 

They have apparently been tapping into these switch boxes at the major, you know, telephone companies and they have been spying on everybody, as far as we know.  So he has got a big problem here in Congress, and despite the fact that some of the people in Congress acquiesced in this, they are none too happy about the end run that the administration has done here. 

O'DONNELL:  Ron, there's certainly a legal argument that the president is making, and he says “absolutely I had the power to do this,” not only because of the congressional resolution after 9/11, but also because of my inherent authority under Article 2 of the Constitution. 

Given that, there is going to be an argument about the legality of this.  But the politics of this, some Democrats are worrying that if they make a lot out of this, it's once again going to backfire on them because when it comes to national security, the American people trust the president. 

REAGAN:  Well, the American people are not crazy about the idea of their government spying on them, frankly, whether they're Republicans or Democrats.  There are a lot of Republicans who are very upset about this, who don't like that idea at all. 

The president does have a big political problem here.  As usual, there are some Democrats who are going to be timid about this whole thing and not be as aggressive as they should be.  But that's just because the Democrats are being Democrats. 

But there are others who will make an issue of this and who will press for investigations, as there should be. 

We need to know exactly what's been happening here. 

O'DONNELL:  But, Nick, there are comments that the Republicans take advantage of, which is, you know, the Democratic leader in the Senate saying we killed the Patriot Act.  I mean they backtracked after saying that, but when it comes to an issue of protecting American, how do Democrats fare?

CALIO:  Well, I think the Democrats run a risk here regardless of what Ron says.  They are perceived to be weak on national security.  If this were about investigating me or you or Ron it would be one thing, but people understand, post-September 11 it's a different world.  We need to deal with it that way. 

They are all pretty comfortable, however jealously we guard our civil liberties, they understand it's a different world and they don't want more attacks on our shores and they believe that the president should do what he has to do to stop them. 

O'DONNELL: Let's take a look at Karl Rove and what 2006 will bring for Karl Rove.    The special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald continues his investigation.  Ron, do you think Karl's story that Vivica Novak and the conversation she had with Rove's attorney suddenly jogged his memory and that's why he corrected the record with the grand jury? 

REAGAN:  Well, one is hard pressed to read someone's mind.  Particularly someone as opaque as Karl Rove.  Applying common sense to it, no, I don't think so.  It took a while for him to jog his memory, didn't it? 

Vivica was supposed to have talked to Mr. Luskin back in May.  It wasn't until later in the summer or early fall that Karl Rove's memory was, in fact, jogged enough to bring this to the attention of the prosecutor. 

That doesn't mean he's going to be indicted.  We don't know that yet. 

We don't know all the facts we'll have to wait and see there. 

O'DONNELL:  Nick, the argument, of course, that Karl Rove and his associates have made is the reason he wasn't clear in the first grand jury appearance, he says, I never talked to Matt Cooper about Valerie Plame, no way.  Then it was ten months later, when we he went back to the grand jury for the second time, he corrected the record and said in fact I did talk to Matt Cooper, I misremembered. 

Some people say, ten months to misremember something.  Why didn't he go back and correct the record sooner, and does this out-to-lunch theory, oh I just forgot, that it doesn't add up, and that the special prosecutor is going to say, he was obstructing justice? 

CALIO:  I subscribe to the out-to-lunch theory. 

O'DONNELL:  I agree, sometimes you are. 

CALIO:  I've been there.  First of all, I know Karl so I trust Karl.  I think when you are in government and in certain jobs, you are getting hundreds of emails and phone calls, not getting much sleep, running a campaign. 

Can you forget things that's just a small part of a conversation?  Absolutely.  I've gone back over some of my notes and been shocked at what I didn't remember happened actually.  I do believe the theory. 

REAGAN:  Norah, this wasn't where we went to lunch on Thursday.  There was a concerted interest in the White House about Joe Wilson and what he was saying about the Bush Administration and the run up to the war. 

There was a decision made to begin talking about his wife for some reason, who ironically enough was involved with weapons of mass destruction for the CIA.  So in fact you are outing an agent who is responsible in some part for the national security in order to protect your, what, fight for national security.  It doesn't make a lot of sense. 

CALIO:  Ron, I'd have to say that there probably wasn't as much attention paid to the Valerie Plame in the White House as you think.  There were  a lot of issues occupying the White House. 

REAGAN:  That's's for sure.  Why were they talking about her at all? 

Why was Karl Rove talking to anybody about Valerie Plame?

O'DONNELL:  I want to turn, because there is another big story of 2006 that's coming up, and get your prediction on what's the Jack Abramoff scandal, which largely touches members of congress.  We now that Abramoff might be moving to cut a deal with the Justice Department. 

Nick, you've worked in the White House, you've dealt with a lot of members of congress, do you think a lot of members are scared? 

CALIO:  I don't think that a lot of members are scared.  I think some are scared and some probably should be.  I think Jack cast a very wide net.  I also think that over time, we are going to find that most members didn't know what was actually going on. 

This could be another out-to-lunch theory.  Jack did a lot of things, put a lot of things in email.  What he did was breathtakingly wrong.  I think that he's going to catch a lot of people in his net.  What's scary about it is if you look at those emails and what he said, how do you know all of it is the truth? 

O'DONNELL:  You don't really want to be in the position of defending Jack Abramoff. 

CALIO:  I'm not defending him. I think I'm going after him.  I think what he put in those emails, a lot of it was puffery for want of a better term.  He said those things. 

Members have no way to protect themselves against that.  He's writing emails to third parties trying to impress clients.  I don't buy a lot of it.  I think a lot of it was not necessarily true.  Unfortunately it's going to catch a lot of people up in the net.  It's going to stop a lot of people from focusing on issues.

O'DONNELL:  Clearly, there's going to be a lot on the president's plate in 2006.  We know now he's down in Crawford, Texas.  The White House let us know he's brought in some books with us.  Let's take a look at what the president, someone who doesn't like to accept criticism has been reading at night. 

Apparently he has been reading “Imperial Grunts,” by Robert Kaplan.  In that book, the author writes, “The decision to invest al-Fallujah and then pull out just as victory was within reach demonstrated both the fecklessness and incoherence of the Bush administration.  A case cannot be made for launching a full-scale assault only to reverse it because of political pressures that were easily foreseeable in the first place.” 

REAGAN:  Do you think the president's is highlighting that passage in the book so he can refer back to it? 

CALIO:  Ron, he might have ripped it out. 

O'DONNELL:  But the point is the president is getting ready for 2006 is reading some stuff apparently critical of him.  We'll see what that means in 2006. 

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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