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Transcript for October 30

Ken Duberstein, Hamilton Jordan, Leon Panetta, Michael Beschloss, David Broder, David Brooks, Judy Woodruff and William Safire
/ Source: NBC News

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  The special counsel for the CIA leak investigation, Patrick Fitzgerald, makes this announcement.


MR. PATRICK FITZGERALD:  A few hours ago, federal grand jury, sitting in the District of Columbia, returned a five-count indictment against I. Lewis Libby, also known as Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Libby has resigned.  Karl Rove, the president's deputy chief of staff, is not indicted but remains under investigation.  Harriet Miers withdraws her name for the Supreme Court.  And the death toll in Iraq reaches 2,000.  How can President Bush repair his second term?  With us, three former White House chiefs of staff:  Ken Duberstein, from the Reagan White House; Hamilton Jordan, from the Carter White House; Leon Panetta, from the Clinton White House, joined by presidential historian Michael Beschloss.  Then, insights and analysis from David Broder of The Washington Post, David Brooks of The New York Times, William Safire of The New York Times, and Judy Woodruff, former CNN Inc.

But, first, the president is only 10 months into his second term in office, and what a week.  I welcome our four guests.  Gentlemen, welcome all.

The indictment handed down Friday--Let's go back to the 2000 campaign when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were running as a ticket, saying things like this.

(Videotape, September 23, 2000):

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  Just because our White House has let us down in the past, that doesn't mean it's going to happen in the future.

In a campaign that's going to restore honor and dignity to the White House.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, August 2, 2000):

VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:  On the first hour of the first day, we will restore decency and integrity to the Oval Office.

They will offer more lectures and legalisms and carefully worded denials.

We offer another way, a better way, and a stiff dose of truth.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And, as you know, on September 30, of 2003, President Bush said this...

(Videotape, September 30, 2003):

PRES. BUSH:  If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it. And we'll take the appropriate action.  And this investigation is a good thing.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  What does George W. Bush do now?  Ken Duberstein.

MR. KEN DUBERSTEIN:  Well, I think the jury is well out in trying to figure it out.  But I think he has about three months, between now and the State of the Union address, to start going on the offense, to start laying out some issues that mean something to the American people, to overcome the reaction on Katrina, to overcome the energy prices, the gas prices.  I think you're going to start seeing it this week, with a Supreme Court nominee, that can get 65 or 70 votes, not somebody who pleads to the far right, but somebody more than a consensus candidate, somebody who, in fact, will be well-received by the American people and the Senate.

I think you're going to see Bush go abroad and be the foreign policy big-stroke leader, that, in fact, the-- that America looks for.  I think you're going to see him on other issues, whether it's immigration or tax reform, and tax simplification and federal spending, start talking about the big items, the big agenda, as he rolls toward his State of the Union address next January.

I think this is not a Hail Mary pass.  I think this is three yards and a cloud of dust.  It's the old Vince Lombardi strategy.  As Ronald Reagan did back in the aftermath of Iran Contra.  You have to work on it day in and day out, to re-establish that presidential leadership that the whole country looks for.

MR. RUSSERT:  What about the issue of honor and integrity and restoring it to the Oval Office, Hamilton Jordan?  Does the president have to address that directly?

MR. HAMILTON JORDAN:  Well, you don't--the American people will give him and his team a second and even a third chance, but you can't erase these things that have happened.  The president's critics right now say, "Well, he's had a--made a string of bad decisions," and his supporters say, "Well, he's had a string of bad luck."  In fact, it's some combination of those things.  But I can't remember a president in modern history, in a compacted time, that has had so many challenges and problems on his plate.  He's got a--he's got a tough--a tough road ahead of him.

MR. RUSSERT:  Leon Panetta, what does the president do about this particular issue, the CIA investigation?  Is it enough to--just to try to change the subject?

MR. LEON PANETTA:  No, it's not, Tim.  I think he's really got to approach the American people, and I would do it first thing Monday morning--is to have Scott McClellan go forward and say, "We apologize to the American people for having misled the people about the fact that no one in the White House was involved in this leak situation."  I think they've got to address that, because they really have undermined their trust with the American people by virtue of what's happened here.  Second-term presidencies are affected by two very important dangers.  One is arrogance, where you think you can get away with whatever you want.  The second danger is isolation from the American people.  You live in a bubble, and everybody in the White House lives in a bubble.

This president is only going to be able to restore trust, not only by taking responsibility by--from what happened, but secondly, he's got to bring some new life in the White House.  He's got to bring some people who are going to bring some new ideas, who can restore some of that credibility, both with Congress and the nation.  And then he can focus on some big issues.  Probably the first of all is Iraq, because if he doesn't settle the situation in this quagmire in Iraq, he doesn't have to worry about whatever else he does; his legacy is gone.

MR. RUSSERT:  Michael Beschloss, looking throughout history, how would George W. Bush best meet this challenge?

MR. MICHAEL BESCHLOSS:  Well, the most immediate thing--and you were talking about it a little bit earlier, Tim--he's got to let Americans know what he thinks about Scooter Libby's offense.  When he talked the other day before going off for the weekend on the south grounds of the White House, he said, you know, "He was a fine public servant," but didn't really give an idea that--or give a sense that if Libby did this, this is a really serious thing. The act that was to protect the identities of secret agents actually was lobbied for by his father, after the death of a CIA agent whose identity was revealed.  This is an administration, especially at a time of the war on terrorism, that would take very seriously a breach like that of national security.  So until he gives us some idea of what he thinks about the offense, whether it's now or at the end of the investigation or trial, this is going to be a cloud that sort of lingers.

MR. RUSSERT:  You have a situation, Ken Duberstein, where Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, did stand up before the American people and say, "Libby and Rove were not involved."  The president said that he does not want to know anyone who'd leak classified information, does not want them in the administration.  We now know that Mr. Rove talked to Bob Novak and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine.  We know that Mr. Libby talked to Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine about Joe Wilson and his wife.  What does the president do now?  How does he handle that, particularly with the understanding that Karl Rove is so central and important to his presidency?

MR. DUBERSTEIN:  Well, number one, Karl Rove, while he hasn't been cleared, is on the straight and narrow right now and still under investigation.  I think what the president has to do is, in fact, bring in some new--a new team; not everybody, not replace everybody, but bring in some new blood that has not gone through this exercise and this involvement and this accident over the last year, two years.  He needs to bring in people with credibility and great management skill, people who can go to the Oval Office and talk reality.  I think it is an important part of any second term that you have people who have that kind of independent integrity and credibility and are willing to bring it to the Oval Office.

MR. RUSSERT:  Which positions?

MR. DUBERSTEIN:  Well, I don't think it's Andy Card, but I do think it is counselor to the president across the board and bring in two or three people who can talk with him and talk reality.  I think it is central.  You know, every second-term president, as Michael has indicated since World War II, has gone off track in the first or second year of an administration.  It is fundamental when you start talking about, as Leon Panetta did--about people being tired, people being worn out.  The hubris, the arrogance from re-election, you need to bring in people who are revitalized.  That does mean the people who are there are bad.  In fact, they've very, very good, but it is a burnout environment.  Every second-term president deserves a mulligan, deserves a redo.  It is time to reset and re-calibrate, and I think this is the time over the next three months that George Bush has to do that and move forward.

MR. RUSSERT:  Your chiefs of staff were deeply involved in the presidencies of the men you served.  This was the Iran Contra scandal back in 1986, November, followed by a different statement from March of '87.  Here's Ronald Reagan.

(Videotape, November 13, 1986):

PRES. RONALD REAGAN:  We did not, repeat, did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages nor will we.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, March 4, 1987):

PRES. REAGAN:  A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages.  My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  We have denial and then we have acceptance.  Here's President Clinton January of '98, August of '98, September of '98.  Let's watch.

(Videotape, January 28, 1998):

PRES. BILL CLINTON:  I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, August 17, 1998):

PRES. CLINTON:  Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate.  In fact, it was wrong.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, September 4, 1998):

PRES. CLINTON:  I made a bad mistake.  It is indefensible.  And I'm sorry about it.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Leon Panetta, you had left the White House by the time that occurred, but looking back upon it, how difficult was it for some of your former colleagues in the Clinton White House to get the president to come forward, accept responsibility and ask for forgiveness?

MR. PANETTA:  Tim, there's a lesson that never seems to be learned in Washington and I've been in and out of Washington over 30 years.  Any time somebody makes a mistake at that level, the best thing to do is to admit it to the American people and move on.  John Kennedy probably set that standard with the Bay of Pigs, and ever since then, presidents every time they get in trouble try to bob and weave and sometimes say things that ultimately come back to haunt them.  And I think that's true--it was true for Reagan, although he eventually admitted what happened.  It was true for Clinton although he eventually admitted what happened.  And I think right now for Bush the fact is he has not taken responsibility for what's happened and I think that's one of the problems he confronts.

MR. RUSSERT:  Hamilton Jordan, you remember back in 1979, the now famous "malaise" speech as referred to...

MR. JORDAN:  Sure.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...this is what Jimmy Carter said to the nation in 1979.

(Videotape, July 15, 1979):

PRES. JIMMY CARTER:  I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways.  It is a crisis of confidence.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  The president asked for the resignations of the entire Cabinet and 23 senior White House officials.  He accepted the resignations of five Cabinet members, secretary of Treasury, Energy, HEW...

MR. JORDAN:  I even remember the names.

MR. RUSSERT:  Blumenthal, Schlesinger.

MR. JORDAN:  Enough.

MR. RUSSERT:  A week later, you were on MEET THE PRESS, and talked about this, and it's quite striking, your language.  Let's listen and come back and talk to you.

(Videotape, MEET THE PRESS, July 22, 1979):

MR. BILL MONROE (NBC News):  Mr. Jordan, it's not pleasant to be asked for your resignation even if a few days later you find out it's not going to be accepted.  Why did the president put the entire Cabinet through that process, creating a crisis that lowered the value of the dollar in order to fire a few persons?

MR. JORDAN:  The president came back from Camp David with the determination to make some changes.  In his approach to the presidency and his Cabinet and in his staff.

If we had waited long time, the government would have been paralyzed, there would have been speculation about who might or might not leave, or who might or might not replace a departing Cabinet officer.  The president made these judgments at Camp David, came back, acted on them quickly and we're now ready to get on with the business of governing this country.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  "Get on with the business of governing the country."

MR. JORDAN:  Who was that kid?  Jeez.  That's a long time ago, it was a long time ago.  We made a mistake and we recognized it.  And I think what's particularly instructive is seeing both President Reagan and President Clinton fess-up to the problems and to go to the American people.  And as Leon said initially, that's obviously what President Bush should do.  It's very, very difficult to do.

MR. RUSSERT:  How does he handle his relationship with Karl Rove?

MR. JORDAN:  Well, I don't know.  And as Ken said, for now, Mr. Rove looks like he is maybe out of difficulty.  But he seems to be the glue that holds the White House together, between politics and substance there.  So he's very, very critical.  So this--but he has--President Bush has to do what he has to do.  I mean, this is about his presidency and his legacy, and we haven't talked about Iraq.  Then- Governor Bush had no obvious theme or rationale for his presidency.  That was supplied by 9/11 and his leadership post-9/11.  And so now we have Iraq back center stage.  This is--this thing about Scooter Libby is about trying to justify that war.  And this is President Bush's legacy.  So these things have to be addressed in a straightforward way.  And I hope he'll do that.

MR. BESCHLOSS:  You know, Tim, what strikes me even more powerfully from what everyone is saying is almost why presidents aren't tempted to almost immediately say, "I've made a mistake and I'm going to change."  But Ken was being very modest over here in talking about Ronald Reagan, but he was one of the ones who went to the president and said, "You can't keep on saying you did not trade arms for hostages; no one believes it."  And when he gave that speech that we saw on the screen that you put up, Tim, saying that actually he did, although in his heart he felt he did not, his poll ratings went up 9 percent.  That was something that helped.

You know, Leon was talking about John Kennedy taking responsibility after the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs, his poll ratings shot up to 81 percent, highest numbers of Kennedy's presidency.  Kennedy joked to one of his friends, you know, "I should do this more.  It seems the worse I do, the more popular I get."

MR. JORDAN:  And it's very instructive that both presidents that did this, Reagan and Clinton, ended up as popular presidents.  So the American people are understanding and will give a president the benefit of the doubt.

MR. DUBERSTEIN:  Mea culpas sell with the American people.  The American people...

MR. JORDAN:  I agree, exactly.

MR. DUBERSTEIN:  ...want the presidents to say, "I'm sorry, I made a mistake."  They're only normal, they're real.

MR. RUSSERT:  And if you look at the headlines, the table is set.  Here is the Daily News.  "Tex Mess:  How Bush Lost His Swagger."  The New York Times, "After Upheaval, President Seeks to Steady Course."  The Washington Post, "Buffeted With Problems, Bush Must Chart A Recovery."  And the Washington Times, "Bush Base Ill At East In Dissent."

The interesting thing about George Bush's problems with Iraq, with home heating costs about to spike through the roof, with the fallout from Katrina, the indictments, but also with Harriet Miers' withdrawal, that was largely because of complaints from the conservative base of the party, Ken Duberstein. You were very involved with the Clarence Thomas nomination to the Supreme Court.  You worked with former Senator John Danforth of Missouri.  Senator Danforth said this the other day.  "I think that the Republican Party fairly recently has been taken over by the Christian conservatives, by the Christian right ... I don't think this is a permanent condition, but I this has happened and that it's divisive for the country."

How does President Bush embrace that base, provide a Supreme Court nominee acceptable to that base, and still appeal to swing independent voters and moderate Democrats?

MR. DUBERSTEIN:  Tim, if you don't mind, I'd like to go back to Ronald Reagan. The right wing, the ultra right wing, thought of him as their darling.  Ronald Reagan understood that the far right wing doesn't always want to be satisfied. He understood that he could give them some things, but not everything.  They don't want to be satisfied.  They want to raise money on their discontent.

What Bush has to do is reach out and work with them, but not use their playbook.  He expects that some people will not agree with him on the far right.  But as long as he can demonstrate he is governing and running the government, as if he were campaigning for a third term, the better off he will be.  He has to, in fact, say no to some of his strongest supporters, but do it in a way that is not inflammatory.

MR. RUSSERT:  How do you deal with the political base?  You experienced it with Jimmy Carter when you were challenged from the left by Ted Kennedy.

MR. JORDAN:  Yeah.  A very wise Republican friend, Doug Bailey, said something recently that struck me as true.  We're so polarized in this country.  The battle in American politics used to be for the middle.  Now, it's all about the building and the intensity of support on the far left and far right wings of both parties.  And we have forgotten about the people here in the middle. And that's what's happened, I think, to all of us.  And that's the challenge for President Bush.  And I think it will be played out in this next Supreme Court nominee.  I--it's a very difficult--maybe John Roberts has a sister?  I don't know.

MR. BESCHLOSS:  Or a kid brother.

MR. JORDAN:  Or--yeah.  Right.  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  Leon Panetta...

MR. BESCHLOSS:  One with no paper trail.

MR. JORDAN:  Yeah.


MR. RUSSERT:  ...what advice would you give the president for the Supreme Court nominee?  How does he satisfy his base, and still find a candidate who can attract 65, 70 votes in the U.S. Senate?

MR. PANETTA:  Well, it's been mentioned, you know, I--in 30 years, I've never seen Washington as partisan as it is today.  They're--both parties are engaged in trench warfare, both parties are moving further to the left and the right, and, very frankly, if we're going to govern in this country, you've got to govern from the center, and you've got to try to build that coalition at the center.  If you simply appeal to the extremes, then government is not going to work.  That's the reality.

Now, if George Bush wants to basically confront the Democrats and appease his right-wing constituency, then he'll appoint a judge who kind of meets their test.  But if he tries--he's trying to reach out and trying to build that center, that coalition that's so important to governing, then he'll try to move with somebody who is qualified, you know, in the manner of John Roberts. But I think that will tell us an awful lot about what happens in these next few months of this administration.  If he basically appoints somebody or nominates someone to the Supreme Court that is going to antagonize and create a huge conflict on Capitol Hill, I don't care what he tries to do on any other issue, he's going to be in trouble.

MR. RUSSERT:  Michael Beschloss, what does history tell us about presidents who kept the secure political base, a partisan base, but were still able to reach out and expand it in terms of undecided voters?

MR. BESCHLOSS:  Well, Ronald Reagan is exhibit A.  And another reason why he did that in 1987 was that he had lost the Senate in 1986.  He really had to essentially reach out to Democrats or else get nothing done.  And the other thing was that Reagan was so secure, he didn't feel that he was jeopardizing that base in a serious way by doing the main thing he did, and I think this is the biggest lesson for a second-term president, and that is, in Reagan's case, he decided, "I'm now going to turn to my legacy.  I'm going to do something important.  I'm going to try to end the Cold War."  That's the way he spent his last two years.  That's the way historians remember him.  And if you has to really give advice to a second-term president, and they all have these problems, who gets into a crisis like this, it would be "Son, just find something that's deep in your heart, that you feel passionately about, that's important, that you can now turn to."

MR. RUSSERT:  Can you envision a Bush comeback?

MR. BESCHLOSS:  Absolutely, because you look at all the other ones who did. If we were sitting here a few years ago, watching Bill Clinton, perhaps, on the night of that speech in August of 1998, confessing the relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a lot of people gave him up for dead.  He came back for two reasons.  One was, in the end, he said, "I'm a sinner, I've sinned."  A lot of Americans found that rather resonant.  And the other thing he did was he said, "I'm going to turn back to keeping this big economy, economic boom, going." And also, he tried to make peace in the Middle East between the Israelis and Palestinians; almost did it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Hamilton Jordan, you talked about your "perfect storm" with the fallout from Katrina; we talked about fuel prices, talked about the war in Iraq, the indictments.  Are there some things the president can never shake--they become almost indelibly stamped with ink?

MR. JORDAN:  Well, yeah, I think a comeback is possible, but very, very difficult.  These are not problems that lend themselves to quick turnarounds. This is not the personal lapse in judgment of President Clinton's or a flawed foreign policy escapade like the Iran-Contra deal.  This is--these are deep, long, intractable problems, and his comeback is tied to the success of those policies.

MR. RUSSERT:  Amen.  We'll continue this conversation, I hope.  Ken Duberstein, Hamilton Jordan, Leon Panetta, Michael Beschloss, thank you all.

MR. BESCHLOSS:  Thank you.

MR. DUBERSTEIN:  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, insights and analysis on the Bush White House from our political roundtable:  David Broder, David Brooks, William Safire and Judy Woodruff.  And we'll go inside the indictments announced on Friday, coming up right here.


MR. RUSSERT:  Inside the CIA leak indictments, including the role of journalists, including yours truly, and a next Supreme Court nominee, after this station break.


MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.  Welcome all.  Indictments handed down Friday; this is all very complicated, so let's try to walk our audience through this and then come back and talk about it.

It all started July 14, 2003, when Bob Novak wrote a syndicated column saying that Joe Wilson was married to Valerie Plame, who was a CIA operative.  And people said an agent had just been outed.  A special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, was appointed to look into this matter.  He did not announce any indictments of anyone on Friday for knowingly identifying or outing a CIA agent, and we still don't know who Bob Novak's primary source was.  We do know that his secondary source, Official A, was White House aide Karl Rove.  Then Mr. Scooter Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, was indicted for obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements, including conflicts with testimony from journalists, including myself, Matt Cooper of Time magazine and Judy Miller of The New York Times.

Let's look at the actual indictment.  This is regarding a conversation on July 12 with Matt Cooper.  And Mr. Libby was asked this:  "Question:  And it's your specific recollection that when you told [Matt] Cooper about Wilson's wife working at the CIA, you attributed that fact to what reporters - Libby: Yes.  Question:  - plural, were saying.  Correct?  Libby:  I was very clear to say reporters are telling us that because in my mind I still didn't know it as a fact.  ...all I had was this information that was coming in from the reporters."

Now, that's a conversation on July 12 that Mr. Libby's reporting.  Matt Cooper writes in Time magazine:  "Libby ...  never told me that he had heard about [Valerie] Plame from other reporters ..."  So a conflict there.

Regarding me, Mr. Libby said on July 10--we had a conversation on July 10 where he learned about Valerie Plame from me.  He said:  "I did not recall that I had ever known [that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA], and I thought this is something that he was telling me that I was first learning."

As we reported on NBC before, on May 21 of 2003, I was subpoenaed; we fought the subpoena, lost; testified before the special counsel on August 7.  On that night, on "NBC Nightly News," we reported:  "As previously reported, [Tim] Russert was not a recipient of the leak.  Today, Russert was interviewed under oath by the special prosecutor...  The questioning focused on what Russert said when Lewis `Scooter' Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, phoned him last summer.  Russert told the special prosecutor that at the time of the conversation, he didn't know Plame's name or that she was a CIA operative, and did not provide her information to Libby.  He said that the first time he learned the information, was when he later read a column by Robert Novak"--which would have been four days later.  And the reason Libby called me, for the record, was he was complaining about a report he had been watching on MSNBC.

Mr. Fitzgerald, the special counsel, on Friday said this about what Libby knew before his conversations with me or Matt Cooper.  Let's watch.

(Videotape, October 21, 2005):

MR. FITZGERALD:  There are at least seven discussions involving government officials prior to the day when Mr. Libby claims he learned this information as if it were new for Mr. Russert and, in fact, when he spoke to Mr. Russert, they never discussed it.

(End of videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And then the indictment goes on to list the conversations that Mr. Libby had with government officials and other journalists before the conversations with Matt Cooper and myself.  In the indictment, it says, "At the time of this [July 10, 2003] conversation [with Tim Russert], Libby was well aware that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA; in fact, Libby had participated in multiple prior conversations concerning this topic, including on the following occasions:  ...early June 2003, Libby learned from the Vice President that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA in the Counterproliferation Division; ...June 11, 2003, Libby was informed by a senior CIA officer that Wilson's wife was employed by the CIA and that the idea of sending him to Niger originated with her; ...June 12, 2003, Libby was informed by the Under Secretary of State"--then Marc Grossman--"that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA; ...June 14, 2003, Libby discussed `Joe Wilson' and `Valerie Wilson' with his CIA briefer..." who'll go unnamed.  "...June 23, 2003, Libby informed reporter Judith Miller the times that Wilson's wife might work at a bureau of the CIA; ...July 7, 2003, Libby advised the White House Press Secretary"-- then Ari Fleischer--"that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA; later than on or about July 8, 2003, Libby was advised by the Assistant to the Vice President for Public Affairs"--the Kathy Martin--"that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA; ...July 8, 2003, Libby advised reporter Judith Miller of his belief that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA."  And Judith Miller's notes reflect the exact department there.  Then; "...July 8, 2003, Libby had a discussion with the Counsel to the Office of the Vice President concerning the paperwork that would exist if a person was sent on an overseas trip," that being David Addington of the president's office.

And then we have this from Scooter Libby to Matt Cooper.  Again on July 12, after all those conversations allegedly occurred, "I didn't know [Joe Wilson] had a wife.  That was one of the things I said to Mr. Cooper.  I don't know if he's married."

Now, this has resulted in the indictment of Mr. Libby and brought this statement from his attorney Joseph Tate.  "We are quite distressed the Special Counsel has now sought to pursue alleged inconsistencies in Mr. Libby's recollection and those of others' and to charge such inconsistencies as false statements.  As lawyers, we recognize that a person's recollection and memory of events will not always match those of other people, particularly when they are asked to testify months after the events occurred.  This is especially true in the hectic rush of issues and events at a busy time for our government."

David Broder, these are allegations, but an indictment has been made.  What do you make of all?

MR. DAVID BRODER:  It's very hard to imagine that somebody as smart and as organized as Scooter Libby would disremember where he heard that kind of information about a person that he was very much interested in understanding what the background was of this person's trip.  He is entitled to the presumption of innocence, but I think his lawyers have a heavy burden to disprove these charges.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Safire?

MR. WILLIAM SAFIRE:  I think that was an excellent rundown and time line of a complicated series of accusations of a cover-up, but the most important single fact that emerged from the indictment is what was not in it.  This whole thing started as an investigation of the violation of a law.  And the law that was violated was you must not deliberately out an agent who is undercover.  And what the special counsel found is that law was not broken.

MR. RUSSERT:  That's a very important point.  Let's listen to Patrick Fitzgerald on that very point.  Here he is on Friday.

(Videotape October 28, 2005):

MR. FITZGERALD:  We have not made any allegation that Mr. Libby knowingly, intentionally, outed a covert agent.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  So there been allegation that an agent was knowingly and willingly, intentionally outed by Mr. Libby.  We know that Mr. Karl Rove talked to Bob Novak and Matt Cooper but was not charged with knowingly and willingly outing an agent.  And we know that the special prosecutor knows who Bob Novak's first source was, and he or she was not charged.  So there was no indictment on the fundamental crime that was being investigated.

MR. SAFIRE:  Exactly.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Mr. Fitzgerald, as you well know, went to great lengths to underscore how serious allegations of obstruction of justice and perjury are.

MR. SAFIRE:  Yeah.  But the most important thing is the whole basis of the political charge that came out of the CIA, which was desperate to try to cover up its own mistakes and its own huge failure in this case, this was an attempt by the CIA to get a Justice Department investigation of a law that had not been prosecuted in--once, perhaps in 25 years.  And everybody is walking around thinking, "Well, you see?  There was a conspiracy to undermine or uncover an agent."  Well, there wasn't.  It was not.  And he said it very clearly.  And so I think we ought to keep that in mind.  This was a cover-up of a non-crime.

MR. RUSSERT:  It is interesting to note some of the things that the president and the chairman of the Republican Party had to say about Mr. Fitzgerald before the indictment was announced.  Let's watch President Bush from October 11th, 2005, with Matt Lauer.

(Videotape, October 11th, 2005):

PRES. BUSH:  The special prosecutor is conducting a very serious investigation.  He's doing it in a very dignified way, by the way.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And then Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican Party, back in July on MEET THE PRESS.

(Videotape, July 17th, 2005, MEET THE PRESS):

MR. KEN MEHLMAN (Chairman, Republican National Committee):  I have tremendous confidence in Pat Fitzgerald.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Are the Republicans somewhat limited, Judy Woodruff, in what they can now say about Patrick Fitzgerald?

MS. JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, whether you agree with what Mr. Fitzgerald did or not, Tim, it's hard to remember a prosecutor who came across as smart and as well-prepared as he did in that news conference on Friday.  I think it's very hard to discredit what he did.  And I just want to come back quickly to what my good friend Bill Safire just said about they weren't--the indictment didn't--wasn't based on the original charge, or the original investigation. Pat Fitzgerald went to great lengths to say truth is the engine of our government.  And in fact, he said, "If you compromise the truth, the whole process is lost."  I mean, I think that's something that we need to remember.

You're right, no one was indicted for passing along classified information. But if you look at the list of incidents that Tim just cited, I think it's going to be very difficult for Scooter Libby defend himself.  We haven't hear his side yet.  We want to hear that.  But I think Mr. Fitzgerald did a pretty credible job of explaining why truth is central to our judicial system.

MR. RUSSERT:  David Brooks?

MR. DAVID BROOKS:  Well, I agree with that.  But listen, nobody's going to remember most of the details of this six months from now.  What people want to know, is there a dark, malevolent conspiracy in the middle of the White House? Is there a cancer on the presidency, to use John Dean's phrase.  And I think what Fitzgerald showed, you know, he was in there for 22 months.  He had full cooperation from everybody.  And what he found was no criminal conspiracy to out a covert agent.  He indicted one person of perjury, which is serious.  But the White House has to be breathing a sigh of relief, and the American people have to know that the wave of hysteria, the wave of paranoia, the wave of charges and allegations about Karl Rove and everybody else so far is unsupported by the facts.  So what we have is a serious indictment of a senior government official, but we do not have a cancer on the presidency.  And the White House, you know, it wasn't a great week, but they survived it.  And if there had been five indictments, it would have been over for them.  So they'll have to be thinking, "OK, we're alive."

MR. RUSSERT:  David Broder, how does the president reconcile the comments that Scott McClellan said that Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby were not involved in this?  And we do not--we know now that whether it was a deliberate leaking of CIA information or not, the fact is Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby did talk to reporters about Joe Wilson and his wife.

MR. BRODER:  He can't reconcile them.  And Scott McClellan is in an impossible position at this point in terms of his own credibility.

And, David, I have to disagree with you in terms of what--where this leaves President Bush, because the context in which all of this happened is critical. Leon Panetta made the vital point.  In terms of American opinion, the war in Iraq is a bleeding wound.  It continues to sap the credibility of this presidency.  You talk to any Republican governor, commander in chief of his own state National Guard, and he or she will tell you that every time there is a casualty announced, it is like a dagger in the heart of that community.

Look at what has happened to the president this year since his re-election. His first choice was "What am I going to be--put put at the top of my agenda?" Social Security reform.  He was rolled by the Democrats, and the lack of support from within his own party.  His first decision after Katrina was to scrap the Davis-Bacon Act and allow some minimum wage hiring in New Orleans. He was rolled by the Democrats, and the moderate Republicans.  His next decision was to put Harriet Miers, his friend and counsel, on the Supreme Court.  He was rolled, and defeated by the conservatives in his own party. Now, this.  What has happened to the president in these 10 months is that he has shown that he is vulnerable, vulnerable, vulnerable, and he is in full retreat.

MR. BROOKS:  Well, let's get the right diagnosis of the disease.  I agree with you about all of that.  The diagnosis of--the disease for the presidency is not scandal.  Corruption is not the problem.  It's not Watergate; it's not Iran Contra.  The disease for this presidency is, first, isolation, being out of step with the American people on Miers and on Katrina.  And, second, the failure of the central plank of a second term, which was Social Security reform.  There was an entire Republican agenda, based on the idea that we reform these entitlement programs, we give people more choices.  That's gone now because of the failure of Social Security.  So what's the agenda?  So it's important for the president to understand, "What am I rebounding from?"  It's not this.  It's what you talked about, isolation, and an exhaustion of policy.

MR. SAFIRE:  There was a great columnist once who wrote about the breaking of the president.  It was a play on the phrase "the making of the president" by Teddy White.  I think now we're in the grip of a narrative.  And the narrative is:  "This president and this presidency is finished."  And his polls are way down.  He didn't do Katrina right, the war is not over.  And everything he does is shaded by this narrative.

Now, the wonderful thing about American attention and media coverage, is the narrative has to change.  It can't stay the same, or else it's not newsworthy. And so the story will be the comeback.  And when you look at what's happened in the last few weeks, what we have overlooked is the fact that there was a constitution voted for in Iraq.  Had it been voted against, it would have been a calamity.  But it was good news, and it wasn't covered.  Katrina was supposed to--and rising gas prices, that was supposed to clobber the economy, and turn things down, and ruin the stock market.  Well, what happened?  We just found out the other day that gross domestic product rose 3.8 percent, a huge jump.  That the economy is, as it gets to 4 percent, booming.  And that has to be reflected.  But we don't cover it, because it's not in today's narrative.

But--and the appointment of Harriet Miers was a mistake.  And that got covered greatly, as it should have.  But there are two other appointments that were excellent in Roberts and in Bernanke, the...

MR. RUSSERT:  The Federal Reserve.

MR. SAFIRE:  ...Federal Reserve.  So I think now what you'll see, maybe not next week, but--and then of course, the indictment of Libby was not the indictment of Rove and it was an end of the suggestion that there was a conspiracy to out a covert agent.  So this whole narrative I see changing, and not just with the appointment of a couple of new White House aides.

MS. WOODRUFF:  Tim, if I could just pick up on that.  Two good things for the president:  This is October 2005, not October 2006.  We're not just days away from the midterm elections.  And number two, the Democrats--they don't have, I think most people agree, even the Democrats agree, a coherent message or alternatives.  At the same time, you do have--you talk to Republicans across the country, and no, they don't think this is the end of the administration. Yes, we've got three years left.  But they're worried.  You've got the governor--the Republican governor, of Minnesota saying, "My party's on the ropes."  You've got prominent Republicans like Vin Weber saying, "This president's problem is not one thing like Iraq or Scooter Libby.  It is the collapse of confidence in this country in this president's ability to lead." That is something that the White House has got to get its arms around.

MR. RUSSERT:  The president is expected to announce a new Supreme Court nominee as soon as, perhaps, tomorrow, and Tuesday, talk about avian flu. David Brooks, what kind of person do you expect him to nominate to the Supreme Court now?

MR. BROOKS:  Somebody we've heard of, somebody who's been through the process, somebody who's already been confirmed, somebody who's been on the list that conservatives are happy with.  Bill's invention, the great mentioner, has now mentioned this guy Sam Alito, maybe John Cornyn, the senator from Texas; people we're very familiar with, people who are, like Roberts, competence.  Remember, there's a fight now over what destroyed Miers. A lot of the conservatives think it was that she was not conservative enough, but if you look at the Gallup poll and if you talk to senators, it was the competence issue.  And conservatives have to understand, they can't get somebody who's completely on the party line, because it's competence, not the ideology, that was really Miers' problem.

MR. RUSSERT:  Talking about second term--we had a guest on MEET THE PRESS back in April of 1988 who knows a lot about second terms.  His name was Richard Nixon.  Let's watch.

(Videotape, April 10, 1988):

FMR. PRES. RICHARD M. NIXON:  What I am saying is that second terms are not kind to presidents, particularly in this century.  We know, for example, a second term was not kind to even Eisenhower, who was enormously popular.  A second term was not kind to Harry Truman.  We know it wasn't very kind to me. Under the cir--it wasn't kind to Woodrow Wilson, for example, who had very, very serious problems.

The second term is always very difficult.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  That's the master of understatement there.  But, David Broder, is it just this systemic problem with second terms?  Or is this one particular and unique to George W. Bush?

MR. BRODER:  No, I think there is a generic quality to this and, again, it's what Panetta talked about:  hubris coming from the re-election victory and a certain degree of fatigue.  I have to say that I thought the president had taken sensible steps to try to ward off second-term problems.  He was well aware of this history.  And he had, particularly in the terms of agenda, laid out a very ambitious second-term agenda that he thought would give a real focus and purpose to it.  Turned out that he misjudged what the country was looking for in a second term.  And the question that I think now confronts the president is:  "Can I really rely as much as I have on my own sort of gut instincts to guide my policies?  Can I trust the people whose advice has helped shape those policies?  Or do I really have to reconsider the whole way in which I have governed?"  If he's capable of raising that question for himself, he certainly has time to recover, Bill.  But I don't know whether he has that capacity.

MR. RUSSERT:  If the president does try to recover, does try to reach out, will the Democrats join with him or will they resist him?

MR. BRODER:  He has a long way to go to find cooperation from the Democrats.


MR. RUSSERT:  David Brooks, you wrote about this very situation this morning, saying that the Democrats are...

MR. BROOKS:  He's bloody and they want to kill him.  I mean, let's look at the agenda for him.  '05 is going to be the best Supreme Court, and I suspect it's going to be a 52-48 vote.  And then '06 is important for the Republicans because the Democrats are going to try to nationalize the election.  The Republicans are going to try to localize it because a lot of members of Congress are going to have to run away from the president.  So that means it's hard for the president in '06 to really have a broad national agenda because that would nationalize it, make it tough for a lot of Republicans.  So he's really got to be thinking and preparing for '07, '08.  And I would say go back to the issues that are really on people's minds:  gas prices, keeping up with China and Iraq, the fundamentals.

MR. RUSSERT:  Bill Safire, the governor of California didn't want to appear with George Bush.  The Republican candidate in Virginia didn't want to appear with George W. Bush.  What happens now to the president and vice president as they go out across the country to campaign for Republican candidates?  Are they going to be embraced?

MR. SAFIRE:  They're going to be needed, I think, next year.  And I think in the next month or two you'll see a turnaround and a swing of the pendulum.  I hope next week the president really does address a crisis that may be developing in bird flu.  And that suddenly is more important than all of this. I would like...

MR. RUSSERT:  You think he's going to do that Tuesday.

MR. SAFIRE:  Well, let's see how extensive it is.  He's got to really grasp that.  But I think, too, in discussing all of this today, I'd just like to make the point about the First Amendment.  We're talking about something that's happened here that I think is a body blow to the freedom of the press in America, and that is the tendency of a prosecutor who is now a media darling but who will be seen in future years as someone who went too far in exposing the press to the need to carry out the laws.  The press is not an arm of the law.  And I think in Judy Miller's case, for example, she's suffered 85 days in jail.  She's getting a lot of flak from a lot of people who don't like a tough-minded, hard-driving investigative reporter who did wonderful work. She's a super reporter, did wonderful work on calling attention and getting a Pulitzer Prize and being part of the team that exposed al-Qaeda a year before September 11 and helped me, frankly, in focusing attention on the oil-for-food scandal.

MR. RUSSERT:  But even within The New York Times...


MR. RUSSERT:  ...the public editor of The Times has said it's probably best she not come back.


MR. RUSSERT:  Maureen Dowd said she's a woman of mass destruction.  She's very controversial even at The Times.

MR. SAFIRE:  She's never run for Miss Congeniality, but she's a great reporter and I'm proud to have served with her.

MS. WOODRUFF:  She has three editors, though, in Jill Abramson and Bill Keller and then a Washington bureau chief, Phil Taubman, though, who have said--who've openly disputed her account of events.  I mean, you could even say that--they said she's deceived.  I mean, I don't--I mean, I'm not in a position to know what was inside her head.  I just want to say on this whole privileged reporters protecting their sources--I don't know a reporter who wants to go, you know, and talk before a grand jury.  I'm sure Tim was uncomfortable with it, but this case...

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, we resisted and the court orders you...


MR. RUSSERT:  ...and, in fact, the interesting thing is one of the judges who was appointed by President Clinton, who's for a federal shield law, said it wouldn't apply in this case because it was an investigation into national security.

MS. WOODRUFF:  It's an investigation where reporters were central to the case...

MR. RUSSERT:  But it's awkward.

MS. WOODRUFF:  ...and to proving that somebody lied.  And can I just quickly double back to--go ahead.

MR. RUSSERT:  We've got to go.

MS. WOODRUFF:  You've got to go.

MR. RUSSERT:  Judy Woodward, to be continued.  Judy Woodward, David Brooks, David Broder, Bill Safire.  We'll be right back.


MR. RUSSERT:  Watch "Dateline" tonight; an interview with the man at the center of the CIA leak case, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.  Tonight, 7:00 on "Dateline."

That's all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.