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What may be next for a beleaguered Bush

Pundits Carlson, Reagan and Blankley discuss White House controversies
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With the rumor mill swirling and new information emerging by the day in relation to possible indictments out of the Bush administration in the Valerie Plame leak case, MSNBC's Chris Matthews talked with three political pundits on Monday's 'Hardball' to get their predictions for what may come next.

Matthews was joined by MSNBC's Tucker Carlson, MSNBC's Ron Reagan and Washington Times writer Tony Blankley, and asked each about what may be the best case scenario coming out of the next week for the Bush White House. The discussion continued with a look at the nomination of Harriet Miers.

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

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, "THE SITUATION":  Well, the best case scenario, obviously, is that not only does Fitzgerald not indict, but he doesn't issue a report.  There's some question as to whether he's allowed to issue a report if he doesn't indict and the whole thing goes away, he packs up and moves back to Chicago and we hear very little about it.

I don't think the story, itself, at this point has penetrated beyond the coasts.  I don't think most people are paying close attention.  If he does indict and indicts for something big, a grand conspiracy that points to Iraq and why we went there and the deception that took us there, then it's, of course, terribly bad.

I think the indication at this point though, is that its, you know, we have been hearing the last two weeks, he is going to indict on perjury or, you know, Karl Rove forgot that he talked to Matt Cooper.  I don't think he can indict on something that picayune.  I think that would be a disaster.  I think, there's got to be something we don't know about. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, wasn't perjury the charge used to remove President Clinton from office? 

CARLSON:  Well, he wasn't sadly removed from office, as you remember. 

MATTHEWS:  But he was impeached.  He was impeached on that issue.

CARLSON:  Of course, that is absolutely right.  And you can say, well, 'Republicans are being hypocritical,' and you maybe you are right, you probably are right, but I don't think that diminishes or changes the point, and that is that the Republicans, the White House can say, well, gee, these guys got indicted for things they did after the investigation started. 

So, they better be big things.  It better not be, 'I forgot I talked to Matt Cooper.'

MATTHEWS:  In other words they can't just be crimes committed because there's an investigation going on. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. Let me go to Ron.  Your thoughts on high and low on this thing.  If you are a White House person, give me the lowest nadir of your prospects and your highest hopes.

RON REAGAN, HOST, "CONNECTED COAST TO COAST":  Well, I suppose they're the same thing if you say the nadir for the White House and my highest hopes.  I agree with Tucker that the best case, of course, would be no indictments, no reports, no nothing.  I find that highly, highly unlikely. 

And I disagree with him, because I think what this really is all about, and you have pointed this out before too, when you peel back all the onion layers here this is about Iraq, this is how we got into Iraq and it has penetrated beyond the coast. 

At least it's penetrated to my coast.  I'm out here in a little town called Seattle.  And I can tell you that many people are talking about this out here.  And they're not talking about perjury and obstruction, they're talking about Iraq. 

They're talking about dishonesty.  They're talking about incompetence.  They're talking about the sorts of things that Lawrence Wilkerson was talking about and what Brent Scowcroft is talking about in the "New Yorker" article that came out today and that's dishonesty and incompetence in this administration.  And it is hurting this administration. 

There is no good scenario for them now.  The dam has broken, and as David Gergen said, this is an administration in free fall. 

MATTHEWS:  ... Let me go to Tony Blankley.  Again the same wide assessment, left and right, rather, up and down.  Is there a good way out for the administration at this point, and is there a worst way out that still looms there?

TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES:  Well, there are bad and there are worse.  First of all, I think that perjury proven beyond a reasonable doubt is a serious felony.  I thought that seven years ago about Clinton.  And I will think it this week, if that charge comes down and if the evidence supports it against Republican officials. 

But I think that the real question in the White House and the president, personally, has to decide, presumably in the next several days, is how they're going to respond to whatever does come out, presuming it's not going to be a total clearance. 

And in that regard, I think the president would be ill advised to try to minimize anything.  I think he needs to make a clean break and set his administration looking forward, and not get defensive. 

Whatever is going to happen is going to happen.  The evidence is either going to be there or not.  And if he continues to try to defend what is something which will be, you know, indefensible, if in fact there are indictments, is going to be a mistake, and it will drag him down. 

What he needs to do is put together some new staff, admit whatever mistakes have to be admitted and start moving forward.  He's got three years left in his administration and it's important for him and for the country that he be functional.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Tony, there is in the past, it's not always there, but sometimes it glimmers with this man, our president, that kind of sunny nobility.  How does he bring it back because it hasn't been apparent for a while now.

BLANKLEY:  Well, he's had a very, very hard last there months and he's had a pretty difficult administration because of the way it is.  But, I think that if he is straightforward with himself, first, and then with the public, he can get back to an agenda and start moving forward.  But if he gets locked in to defending the indefensible, then it's just going to go from bad to very worse. 

MATTHEWS: ... Tony, you first.  Let's run through this.  Your paper reported on Saturday, I believe it was, the emerging possibility -- and let's call it that -- of a withdrawal of the nomination of Harriet Miers. 

BLANKLEY:  Yes, well, I think we scooped on that.  One White House staffer talked to an outside friendly ally, who talked to our reporter, and reporters, and that seems to me to be, other than it was either sloppily or unluckily executed, good staff work to try to anticipate what the boss might do if he changes his mind, and be ready to go. 

I happen to think that the president would be best served if the nomination was withdrawn and they could start over again with a stronger nomination.  I don't know whether he's going to do that, but if you're a smart staffer, you can't be sitting around right now and not be thinking about that possibility. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Tucker Carlson on that front.  Where do you stand?  Have you taken a position on this nomination at all on the air?

CARLSON:  You mean whether it's wise or not? 


CARLSON:  I think it's very unwise, completely unwise, and obviously, the wise course at this point is to withdraw the nomination.  You've got to think at some point, Arlen Specter or somebody in the Senate who has good sense is going to go over to the White House and say, you know, it's time to pull the plug.  I mean, she failed a question on constitutional law on the questionnaire.
And also, you've got to ask yourself this.  If you're a Republican on the committee or just in the full Senate, what is your motive for voting for her?  What exactly do you get out of it?  You show loyalty to the White House, but you've been doing that anyway, and what have you gotten back?  Not a lot.  Whereas you could make a case, depending on who you are, that voting against her helps you. 

So I just think there are far more Republican votes in play than maybe people realize, and I just think the chances she actually makes it to the Supreme Court are very small. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president will withdraw her nomination? 

CARLSON:  If I had to bet on it, and maybe I will, come to think of it, yeah, I would absolutely bet that she's not going to make it, that she will be withdrawn.
MATTHEWS:  Ron Reagan, your thoughts on this topic. 

REAGAN:  Well, I think a judgment is going to have to be made as to how she will perform before the Senate committee.  If that is going to be an embarrassment to the White House, it's an embarrassment that they can't afford. 

Look, as Tucker pointed out, she is entirely unqualified.  I mean, when you have a nominee to the Supreme Court failing questions about constitutional law, there's something very, very wrong there.  I don't think he'll withdraw it.  I think he will ask her to step down voluntarily, quote/unquote, to save further embarrassment and distraction.  That's how it'll be done in my judgment anyway.  

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