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Veteran of White House scandal weighs in

Former Clinton aide Davis speculates on Bush administration's mood, moves
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Lanny Davis learned his fair share about scandal management in his 14 months as special counsel to President Clinton.  In a book called "Truth to Tell:  Tell it Early, Tell it All, Tell it Yourself," Davis explains it all.

On Tuesday, he joined MSNBC's Tucker Carlson on 'The Situation' to discuss his experiences, and what the Bush Administration may be doing to prepare for a scandal of its own.

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

TUCKER CARLSON:  One of the reasons I so wanted to talk to you  (was that ) you were one of the very few spokesmen, really, explainers for the Clinton White House during those years who managed to retain the respect of people who dealt with you.  You didn't alienate people. 

LANNY DAVIS:  Thank you. 

CARLSON:  And you always seemed believable, even when you had a pretty tough line to present to the public.  Tell me what the White House should say ... if they're indicted. 

DAVIS:  Well, the most important thing is to set the record straight about attacking a wife when you're disagreeing with a husband. 

I think they made a political misjudgment.  Whatever case they had against Ambassador Wilson and what he did or didn't say about Iraq buying uranium ore, they should have gone after him.  The minute somebody in the White House said, "You know, I have a good idea.  Let's attack him by attacking the wife at the CIA that sent him on the trip," which turned out not to be true, that was a massive political misjudgment and actually endangered her life. 

CARLSON:  But wait, wait a second.  Even if all of that's true -- and I think it's open to question -- wouldn't it be sort of odd for the White House, if Scooter Libby or Karl Rove or someone else is indicted, to come out and say that?

Because after all, they have known for many months that these officials were implicated in this leak and they didn't do anything about it.  So if they come out and say, "You know what?  What they did is totally wrong."  Don't they kind of hurt themselves by doing that? 

DAVIS:  Well, I think that's the reason why I've understood that they haven't done it to date.  But I think once the indictments are handed down and the charges are clear, the political misjudgment of attacking Mrs. Plame when they were risking her life, I think, is something that ought to be conceded at the highest level of the White House, without acknowledging the guilt or even culpability of the people accused by the special prosecutor, which is one piece of advice I give to the Democrats. 

We've got to hold our fire and not rush to judgment, not do what the Republicans did to Bill Clinton that, based on accusations or even indictments, you immediately jumped to conclusions about guilt.  We've got to get out of the way here and let the facts speak ...

CARLSON:  You're too late for that.  The presumption of guilt already exists and has been expressed. 

But I'm interested more, in going back to the Clinton years, in how the White House responded.  This was a White House -- fair or not, and it has its partisans who defend it -- but the fact is, never conceded anything, nothing. 

I will concede nothing.  The president will nothing wrong.  That was the line, for months, and months, and months, in fact for years, on a number of different scandal fronts.  And you know, in the end, it worked pretty well.  Why shouldn't the White House do that?  ... I am talking about President Clinton's strategy during the 1990s, and noting how effective it was, and asking you, why shouldn't the Bush administration take that same tact, because it works? 

DAVIS:  Well, first of all, I think there were occasions where President Clinton was willing to concede that mistakes were made.  I remember one occasion involving a coffee that was held where the regulator of the banks showed up while bankers were there.

And I think President Clinton, in a nationally televised press conference, said, "You know, in retrospect, I don't think we should have had that event."  I think this particular White House needs to do more of that.  And that's why I said, on this occasion, I think they would gain some credibility if they admitted that they should not have attacked the wife in order to go after the husband. 

CARLSON:  What about attacking the prosecutor?  That, of course, was the crux, the very center of the Clinton response...... to all of the scandals, attacking all of the independent prosecutors.  Should the White House attack Patrick Fitzgerald? 

DAVIS:  Well, I have to admit the big difference is that we did have an easy target in a prosecutor that most people felt had gone over the top in expanding his jurisdiction to investigate, which was essentially a private relationship issue. 

CARLSON:  Right. 

DAVIS:  And the American people, I think, immediately saw that Ken Starr had gone over the top ... on the Monica Lewinsky investigation.

CARLSON:  That's where you are wrong.  The American people did not immediately see that.  They were told that by you and people you worked with and convinced of it over time. 

I mean, you succeeded, fairly or not, in convincing people that he was a religious zealot, and was, you know, had sexual hang-ups, and was into this for prurient reasons.  But that's because they were told that. 

Why shouldn't the Bush administration make the same case?  All prosecutors are zealots.  That's the truth; you know it, and I know it.  They're all zealots on some level.  So why not just say that and attack the guy? 

DAVIS:  We had some facts on our side, the appointment of Ken Starr, the circumstances of the appointment, his political background, his ideological bent, the people that he was associated with.  We had a lot of facts. 

With Mr. Fitzgerald, you have absolutely a clear record of being nonpolitical, highly professional, and I think this White House -- President Bush said it was a dignified investigation.  The Starr investigation was filled with leaks of grand jury information.  As you know, this special prosecutor has not done that.  I think that they ... will have a really hard time attacking Mr. Fitzgerald. 

CARLSON:  Well, just for the record, we're not sure at this point where all of these stories are coming from in the "Washington Post" and the "New York Times."  They possibly are coming from his office.  I think they look like they are.

Finally, do you think it was smart of the Bush administration to, as you just reminded us, compliment Patrick Fitzgerald for his dignified investigation?  Was that tactically or strategically a good move? 

DAVIS:  I think it was a justified statement.  This is a very, very distinguished prosecutor that has not had any political associations.   Remember, Ken Starr, before he was appointed independent counsel, had contributed to the Paula Jones brief.  He had a record of involvement with conservative causes. 

This prosecutor does not have that involvement.  So the facts are the facts.  I think President Bush and, lately, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison actually said that we shouldn't get too serious about "technical" perjury.  Amazing to hear Senator Hutchison say that, when the entire Republican leadership was so up in arms about what they called perjury about a private relationship and ...  in a civil case, which was thrown out. ... Amazing double standards.

CARLSON:  And, as you just reminded us, by your description of the perjury ... as technical, the entirety Democratic establishment was basically saying what Kay Bailey Hutchison is saying today.  All things in Washington are cyclical. 

DAVIS:  No doubt. 

CARLSON:  I expect in another eight years you and I will be on opposite sides of this once again.  But for now, Lanny Davis, thank you.