Video: Mike Huckabee defends decision

updated 12/6/2007 1:49:42 PM ET 2007-12-06T18:49:42
Transcript

Republican presidental candidate former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.) joined Joe Scarborough earlier this morning on "Morning Joe." Huckabee spoke about Mitt Romney's speech scheduled for today and the influence of religion in the 2008 election. He also spoke about the recent Huffington Post report that says he "aggressively pushed for the early release of a convicted rapist" when he was Governor of Arkansas.

A rush transcript of the interview is below. 

Joe Scarborough, MSNBC Host: You look at the national policy, this guy right here, Mike Huckabee, has shot to first. The Rasmussen poll has him ahead of everybody else. He is with us now, Mike Huckabee, Former governor of Arkansas and Republican presidential candidate. Sitting there on top of the Rasmussen poll, 20 percent nationally. Governor, let me start by asking you, now that you are ahead, are you going to lose your sense of humor?  Can you still talk to us about Hendrix and cougar hunting and Willie Geist?

Mike Huckabee, (R) Presidential Candidate:  Well, I certainly would hope so, Joe. In fact, when I heard the bumper music coming in, "All Along the Watchtower," it occurred to me there is a shot of White House, Hendrix music playing, that's the Huckabee White House. Hendrix music blasting throughout the White House as the president stands all along the watch tower.

Mika Brzezinski, MSNBC Host: There you go. You have to invite to us that White House.

Scarborough:  Also, Willie Geist sends his best. He is not here today.  But he wanted to us remind you that he was with you from the very beginning. Even when you outed him at his cougar hunting antics.

Huckabee:  Well, when I saw him in the L.A. Airport and I knew what he was there for, I know, we all know.

Brzezinski: Oh, Lord.

Scarborough:  Exactly. Let's talk about what is going to happen this morning. Mitt Romney is going out giving a speech talking about his faith. You have been criticized for not coming out and saying that you believe that Mitt Romney is a Christian. Do you think he is a Christian?

Huckabee: That is only for Mitt Romney to decide. I can barely describe for myself. Being a Christian means you follow Jesus Christ and you take a look at that by a person's testimony and life. Mitt Romney shouldn't be judged for his fitness of the presidency based on his religion. And should he be asked about his? No more than I should be about mine and nobody is going to ask more about his faith than me.

Mitt Romney hasn't been questioned nearly as much as I have. I get all the God questions in the debate. Every time I do a news conference people want to talk to me about my faith. Which is fine, happy to talk about it. But beyond that, it is not a qualification to be president and there is certainly not a litmus test.

Scarborough: But if I asked you if Billy Graham was a Christian, would you say Billy Graham was a Christian?

Huckabee: Well, he openly says he is and I have no reason to doubt him, but once again, Joe, when you ask someone to judge...

Scarborough:  But Mitt Romney has openly said that, too, that he is a Christian, right?

Huckabee:  He has said that he is a Mormon and also says that he follows Jesus Christ, I take him at his word.  I take that at face value. I have no reason to question that. But I think people are asking me to try to dissect his faith and quite frankly, not only am I not going to do that, I'm not qualified to do that.

Scarborough: What do you think about the timing of Mitt Romney's speech this morning?  Do you think it may be because you are shooting ahead in the Iowa polls and the national polls? I can't believe, what have you raised, like $45?  I cannot believe, I have been going around, you have blown up every cynical notion I had about presidential politics my entire adult life because I have always said it comes down to money. Except for Jimmy Carter it has always come down to who had the most money a year out.

Huckabee:  And isn't it refreshing that the American people are rejecting that ridiculous notion that you can buy the White House. That is what is happening in our campaign, Joe. We are getting contributions. I got the most precious e-mail from man that sent me a $20 contribution.  He is a janitor, his wife is disabled. He said this is all I can do right now but I want a guy like you to be president. That's why we are doing so well.

It's not about how much money we raised.  But we are raising the hopes and the dreams of Americans who believe that this country can still be a place where you can raise your kids, not so much because you are a hard core Democratic or a hard core Republican, because you are an American who believes in this nation. I'm excited about it, I think that is the most amazing thing that's happening and I'm in the middle of it and frankly, I don't understand it.

Scarborough: Governor, let's talk about a Huffington Post report.  You had suggested last week when we were talking to you as you started to make movement in Iowa, that the attacks would come. Well, yesterday they came and you read that report. It is stunning. You have a letter from a young woman who says she was raped while her three-year-old lay in bed next to her. She wrote you a letter, she begged you not to let this man out of prison and you ignored her letter. And that is what we heard on the Huffington Post and other people followed up on that. Is that the truth?  Did that happen?

Huckabee:  No, it is not. You know, Joe, let's first of all look at the source, the Huffington Post, one of the most left-wing blogs in the blogosphere. There are factual errors in what they have printed, some are outrageously incorrect. The fact is on this case, and it is a horrible case. Let me first of all say my heart goes out to the families of victims because there is nothing anybody can do or ever say that will make their pain go away. The only thing that I think is just despicable is to use their grief and pain as a political weapon.

And what a sad state of affairs it is in this country when we exploit people's pain for political purposes. That is what is happening. My role in that case was that I actually denied commutation.  He was paroled by a parole board that was solely Jim Guy Tucker and Bill Clinton appointees.  He was made parole eligible by Bill Clinton and by Jim Guy Tucker 1992, four years before I became governor. And the Huffington Post just doesn't want to give the whole story of what was going on.

Scarborough: Well, you talk about the Huffington Post, but do you not expect to see 30-second advertisements talking about this just because that is the way politics is?

Huckabee:  Absolutely.

Scarborough: And it will be Republican third-party groups. It will probably drop two days before the Iowa caucuses. How do you fight that?


Huckabee:  You fight it by just hoping that people will do a little research on their own. You fight it also by believing that a lot of people are so sick of this kind of politics where a candidate can't present his own platform, can't talk about what he would go for America. Only wants to talk about what is wrong with the other candidate.

One reason, Joe, that you see these poll numbers for me is I'm not out there attacking the other guys. I'm talking about what I think ought to make America a better place and how we can get there. And if I spent my time telling you what is wrong with Mitt Romney's religion or what is wrong with Fred Thompson, then the question would be why would people vote for me? All I'm doing is asking them is not to vote for somebody else. That is a demolition derby, that's not an election. And I'm not interested in disabling the other Republicans. I'm interested in leading this country and giving it the kind of positive leadership that I think people are hungry for. I don't care what party they are in. They are looking for somebody who believes in America.  Not somebody who just doesn't believe in the other people running for president.

Scarborough: Governor, let's bring in David Shuster here, the man who made you governor by taking down your predecessor while he was a reporter in Arkansas.

David Shuster, MSNBC Correspondent:  Well, to be fair and I have said this before, I have always said this since 1996, that I thought Governor Huckabee had the best political skills, raw political talent of anybody I have covered, but Governor Huckabee, since I have been in Arkansas, I know that it is ridiculous for people to claim that you somehow pressured a parole board that as you said was filled with people from Bill Clinton and Jim Guy Tucker. But the key question with this Wayne Dumont story is, did you agree with the parole board as your former aide, Olin "Butch" Reeves  suggests when he says that you agreed with the parole board's decision regarding Wayne Dumont?

Huckabee: I did, David.  I agreed with it. I regret agreeing with it, but I did. Now agreeing with it that doesn't mean that I had an official role because as you well know in Arkansas law, a governor cannot initiate a parole and a governor can't stop a parole. That is the sole domain of the parole board.

I did support what they did. And before me was a commutation request that would have further reduced his sentence meaning he didn't have to go to the parole board. That's what I denied which kept him in the domain of the parole board instead of just simply turning his lose. Even after that, I denied further come mutation requests, three additional times.

And there is something about that statement. Mr. Reeves is outraged today because the Huffington Post totally misrepresented and just utterly distorted his statements. We have a statement from Mr. Reeves that will be on our website, mikehuckabee.com today, and I think you will find out that this agenda of the Huffington Post is outrageously misleading.  Let's go beyond, it is just down right false.

Brzezinski:  Governor, if I could ask a question back on Mitt Romney, he is giving his speech today, this morning carried live on most of the cable networks here on MSNBC. It is going to get a lot of play and there is going to be the presence of a former president there which will add to it.  What do you make of it? I just want to hear the answer to one of Joe's questions that we didn't get. What do you make of the timing of the speech and do you think you are the reason?

Huckabee:  Well, I don't think I'm the reason. I think it is a good thing, because he has had a lot of questions. Frankly, if somebody wants to ask me that question and will give me an opportunity to go live on all the networks and talk about my faith, sign me up. I'm ready to go.

Scarborough: I disagree, I think Jesus is the reason for the reason, and I think Mike Huckabee is the reason for the speech. Look at those polls.

Brzezinski: You have been saying that all morning and the Romney campaign does not agree with that, at least Ann Romney, who I interviewed this week, says it was Mitt's decision to make a speech. It had nothing to do with Governor Huckabee. But Governor Huckabee, since I have you here, I would love to meet your wife.

Huckabee: I would love you to meet my wife. She is a delightful lady. She has put up with me for going on 34 years which in itself tells you she is extraordinarily patient and just forgiving woman to give me almost 34 years of marriage and three grown children.

Brzezinski:  We'll have to line that up then.

Shuster: From my years in Arkansas when I saw him. We didn't talk much about foreign policy when you were first governor, I don't think we talked about it at all. This week I think there was an exam of that a lot of us in the media glommed on to and that was apparently you didn't know about the National Intelligence Estimate story. Your staff took responsibility, saying they should have briefed you.

But it gets to the idea that being governor of Arkansas is not necessarily the best sort of foreign policy experience and that’s something that I think a lot of your critics are aiming at your direction.  How do you respond to them?

Huckabee: Well, I don't blame my staff. It is a situation where a report was released at 10:00 in the morning, the president hadn't seen it in four years and I'm supposed to see it four hours later.

There were 16 different agencies involved in accumulating the NIE report. Many of those agencies had classified documents. Nobody's seen, I guess except the president, all of the classified information. There was a section of the report that was declassified. I was in a wall to wall, nonstop campaign, because guys like you were trailing me with cameras and microphones all day on the trail.

We sat down to dinner and it was a gottcha question. Ok, have you seen the report that was released this morning?  And I wanted to say no because you guys have been with me all day, you know what I have been doing.

Scarborough:  And let me say this, for people that haven't run a campaign before, and I was only ran a little campaign every couple of years running for Congress. But a gubernatorial campaign or a senate campaign. You go nonstop. And a lot of times, you wake up the next morning; you are like oh my God, which happened.

I agree with you governor, in the fact, the second I saw the story, total gotcha story.

Let's move on.  After Iowa, obviously you are going to have to go to New Hampshire and you have to go to South Carolina.  Then it is Florida, New York, California. I need Howard Dean in here screaming all the states but they come fast and furious. How do you, even if you win in Iowa and let's say you win this South Carolina. Let's say even Florida, how to you then handle all the states that hit you on February 5? You won't have enough money, will you?|

Huckabee:  Well, actually, we raised more money in November alone than we had risen in the previous 10 months combined.  The money is beginning to come because the only reason we weren't raising money before is people said I just don't know if this guy can win.  I like him, like his message, he has the most executive experience anybody is running.  Nobody's run against the Clinton political machine except Mike Huckabee, he has run against it. He has beaten it four times.  Nobody else running for president has ever experienced the headwinds of the political machine that we are going to be up against next year.  I have.

So for all those reasons, people are now beginning it say in guy could win.  And, the same people that told me no several months ago because they didn't think I could win are looking at these polls and Joe, as you know, it's not just the ones in Iowa.  Now it's nationally and people are saying that I can win and in fact will win. Many of the polls show against Hillary, I've got the best chance of any Republican with the largest margin of actually winning.

Scarborough:  And of course a poll came out yesterday that had to make you smile, an Arkansas poll showed Huckabee ahead of Clinton; very interesting.

So we've been asking, the AP actually went around and asked candidates what was the worst job you that you ever had. Barack Obama, proving that he's had a very privileged life said ice cream guy, but yours was a department store employee. Tell us about it.

Huckabee: Yeah, I worked two jobs when I was a teenager, I worked at the radio station and then I also worked at J.C. Penney as a janitor, stocking the shelves. And I used to have to wipe out of glass doors and it used to irritate me, I would just get them all finished, somebody probably like you Joe, would come up and put his hands up against the glass. And I would have to go clean them off again.

Scarborough: Yeah, that is me, leaning in.

Huckabee:  See, Mika would never do that.  She would be very, very careful to use the handles of door. Not Joe, he would just go up there and touch the glass and put his fingerprints on it.

Brzezinski: Yeah.

Scarborough:  And you know where Willie Geist would be? He would be inside J.C. Penney hunting cougars.

Brzezinski:  Oh, governor. We're sorry, we apologize.

Scarborough: Governor, thank you so much for being with us. Congratulations. A remarkable week for you and I have a feeling it is going to be going this way for quite some time.

Brzezinski: It's been an amazing ride so far.

Huckabee:  Just remember, we were here first and so, you know, you put me on when nobody else was believing and it made a difference.  Thank you and I hope to do it again.

Scarborough:  All right.  Thank you so much, governor.  Greatly appreciate that.

Huckabee: Thanks.

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