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CNN CAPITAL GANG

Were Deaths Of Hussein Brothers A Big Step To Peace In Iraq?; Are We Covering Up Saudi Arabia's Support Of Terrorists?; Are Recent Partisan Events In Congress Connected?

Aired July 26, 2003 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG.

I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak, and Kate O'Beirne.

Our guest is Congressman Robert Matsui, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from California.

Great to have you back, Bob.

REP. ROBERT MATSUI (D-CA), CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE: Thank you very much, appreciate it.

SHIELDS: Thank you.

President Bush announced better news from Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yesterday, in the city of Mosul, the career's of two of the regime's chief henchman came to an end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: The death pictures of Uday and Qusay Hussein were released to convince Iraqis that the Ba'athist regime is not returning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

L. PAUL BREMER, CHIEF U.S. ADMINISTRATOR: The strategic importance of the killings, of their being dead, is to help us persuade the Iraqi people that we are there, having liberated the country.

I think it will, in fact, in time help reduce, reduce the security threat to our forces.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, was this a major step in bringing order and peace to Iraq. AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: Mark, as Sandy Berger said, earth is a lot better place without these two degenerates, but hell's a lot worse. But I think the administration wants us to think, and they want to believe, that the postwar debacle of the past three months will change when Iraqis realize the Husseins are history, and the old man's days are clearly numbered.

But the problems run deeper. The Rumsfeld-Cheney miscalculations were so staggering. I commend to everyone a speech by the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, Dick Lugar, who said charitably the administration was guilty of incredible naivete.

He called on the president to publicly tell the American people we're going to be there for at least four or five years, it's going to cost tens of billions of dollars, we're going to lose more American lives, unfortunately.

Quday and Usay, thank God, they're gone, but it won't -- the problems won't go with them, I'm afraid.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, is it that serious?

ROBERT NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: No, I think this is not a debacle, Al, that's too strong a word. It's not a quagmire. As somebody was not in favor of this attack, I think that to say that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) exaggerate the consequences is wrong. It is going to take a long time and take a lot of money, but things are improving, and I think the administration has now become very realistic about it.

I think getting rid of these two thugs is a plus. People were scared of them, and they're never coming back. That's why they put out the pictures, to show them that they're never coming back. I think it's very unfortunate, Bob, when you find my good friend Charlie Rangel saying this was a political assassination. Wasn't a political assassination of the Hussein brothers.

SHIELDS: Bob Matsui?

MATSUI: Well, my guess is, is that as long as this continues on, and I think it will continue on for some time, because you can't stabilize that country, there's going to be a growing sentiment over time to get our troops out. And here we're probably going to have to put in 100,000 troops in in order to stabilize that country.

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MATSUI: Probably 250,000 troops. We're spending about $5 billion a month. It'll probably cost us a couple hundred billion dollars.

And then I think the American public will, as the murders of our U.S. troops continue on, will insist that we get out at the same time, and we'll have to make a very, very difficult decision, because the Middle East is so volatile.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, dozens of attacks on American troops every day.

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: Yes, absolutely. But things are being stabilized all the time. There's increasingly an Iraqi face on security. There's now an Iraqi police force that numbers 35,000. There's going to be an Iraqi civil defense force.

I mean, things are slowly improving. It is a major challenge, but things are improving. And, of course, getting these two henchmen of Hussein's couldn't be more important. It seems to me a majority of Iraqis now have more hope that they're never coming back, and a very small minority now have a whole lot less hope.

I think the Democrats have to be very careful here. My friendly advice is this, that you presciently look as though they are operationally rooting against America. They had such a begrudging response to the clear victory of killing these two. And they have to be awfully careful not to look as though they're rooting against the president when we're at war, or taking advantage of the death of American troops.

SHIELDS: I'm sure that Democrats everywhere are grateful for your counsel and your concern...

O'BEIRNE: I'm trying, I'm trying, Mark.

SHIELDS: ... Kate, which you've demonstrated time and again.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: You know, it's good advice.

SHIELDS: The United States has now inspected every single suspected location of a weapons, chemical, biological, or nuclear. We've turned up nothing, and the president is back to where he was in the time CNN Gallup poll, 55 percent where he was before September 11. So how swimmingly are things going, Bob?

NOVAK: Well, as a matter of fact, Vice President Cheney made a very good speech, I thought, this week, in which he did talk about the evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction.

But Mark, you are a true political observer. You know that isn't the issue. The issue is what Bob Matsui is talking about, and that is the American soldiers dying, and saying we got to get out of there. I don't think they have reached that stage. This is not Vietnam. I don't think it's going to.

And I agree with Kate. I think this is a Democratic response to a huge popularity surge for the president on the military victory. They better be careful.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... the question is, how long will Americans (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the issue that Bob has raised, except the trading of two deaths of Saddam Hussein's sons for countless Americans killed weekly.

NOVAK: Not countless, not countless.

HUNT: Well, do you want to answer, or shall I answer?

NOVAK: Well, it isn't countless. That's...

HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), you know.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: You know, Bob Novak has a great debate going with the Bob Novak that took place before the war, because everything he said was happened after the war has happened, and now he is, he is trying to refute it.

I think getting out would be a disaster, but I think that Bob Matsui is politically right, that there will be tremendous pressure, because I think he's -- I think that this is going to continue, this is a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that we have not been greeted as these great marvelous liberators over there, nor will we be. It's a different society.

And I think things, I think things are going to -- may not be Vietnam...

O'BEIRNE: Look, look, look...

HUNT: ... but there are some parallels...

O'BEIRNE: ... look, the American public has far more staying power than you're giving them credit for. As I said, things are increasingly improving on the ground. We are, we are involved in the war against terror. We lost 3,000 Americans. We've lost about 300 service men and women in Afghanistan and in rooting out the Taliban and liberating Iraq.

The American public we're engaged in a war on terror, even if Democratic candidates for president don't.

SHIELDS: Bob Matsui, do you detect a change in the mood among Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill?

MATSUI: Oh, there's no question. People are absolutely concerned about the fact that we haven't found weapons of mass destruction, they're concerned about the president's State of the Union address. And frankly, it's reflective of the people back home. People back home are very concerned about what's going on now.

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) defend myself on the attack by Al, because...

HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) attack. NOVAK: ... because, because, Al, something you may not understand, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), because you didn't during Vietnam, I suppose. When Americans are under fire, I support American troops (UNINTELLIGIBLE) unconditionally.

HUNT: You were addressing something I didn't say, Bob. That was a total canard. I was talking about what you said beforehand and after. If you'd listen, you'd then be able to respond more accurately.

SHIELDS: Last word, somebody.

Robert Matsui and the gang will be back to ask whether the 9/11 report points to a coverup.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

The congressional report on the 9/11 terrorist attacks criticized the CIA and the FBI.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), FORMER INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: The attacks of September the 11th could have been prevented if the right combination of skill, cooperation, creativity, and some good luck had been brought to the task.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: More than 20 percent of the report was kept from the public.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), FORMER INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: It doesn't tell the whole story, because a lot of it is censored or classified. Some of it shouldn't, in my judgment, be censored or classified, because the American people should know the whole story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Twenty-eight blanked-out pages in the 900-page report concern Saudi Arabia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Why is there a constant coddling and covering up when it comes to the Saudis? We know there are terrorists walking out in the open over there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar, responded, quote, "It is unfortunate that false accusations against Saudi Arabia continue to be made by some for political purposes, despite the fact that the kingdom has been one of the most active partners in the war on terrorism," end quote.

Kate O'Beirne, is too much being covered up here rather than uncovered?

O'BEIRNE: Well, first, let me just briefly say what we have learned. There's a lot of interesting information in this report, and I think it's potentially a very important report in the interests of fixing what went wrong.

It appears there was relevant information available to our intelligence agencies, but not specific enough to have exactly prevented 9/11. We do know that despite President Clinton having announced we're engaged in a war on terrorism, we simply never mobilized the American government to act as though that was the case.

We knew there were sanctuaries overseas, we never did anything about them. We acted as though if they get here, we hope the FBI might be able to stop them. But, of course, the FBI and the CIA had long since been crippled. You know, couldn't share information.

So hopefully policy makers will fix some of that.

If the administration is citing we have to protect sources and methods in not wanting this section on Saudi Arabia's possible involvement released, that is very high risk. If they are found to have kept this back merely to avoid embarrassing Saudi Arabia, whom the public now sees as not an ally in the war on terrorism, I think that's very risky for them.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, in fact, Kate's right, intelligence experts had said, and suggested that Osama bin Laden was interested in using planes to attack both Washington, D.C., and New York City in 1998 and then subsequent to that.

NOVAK: It was an intelligence failure. The question was, is it a second Pearl Harbor? Did the president know about it and not go on to alert the intelligence people so that we could have an attack on Iraq and the war on terrorism? Of course not. So it's not another Pearl Harbor, it's not like Roosevelt. And it's a question of, we can improve things.

As for the Israeli-based attack on Saudi Arabia, I don't think, I don't think it's very smart to hit...

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

NOVAK: ... one of our allies. Oh, was that you? I thought it was Israel.

O'BEIRNE: No, no, no, it was me.

SHIELDS: OK, if we could redact part of the transcript this, I'd just as soon redact the part about Roosevelt and Pearl Harbor from, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), do we have a consensus on that? Al. HUNT: Look, only the loony conspiracy nutbags think that anyone knew about 9/11 ahead of time, just as only the loony conspiracy nutbags think that Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor ahead of time. Both are preposterous, Mark.

But what I think this report showed, and what Bob Graham and Dick Shelby were saying, if some government agencies had done a better job, conceivably, conceivably we might have known something. We might have prevented it.

And Kate, I do think this is a case of embarrassment. I do think it's outrageous that they -- that this administration is covering up for the Saudi sins here. That's not done for national security...

O'BEIRNE: No, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

HUNT: ... that's done for embarrassment. It's outrageous that...

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

HUNT: ... it's outrageous that they won't tell us what George Bush was briefed on on August 6. That's done not for national security, that's for -- that's done to avoid embarrassment. Maybe there's some Clinton stuff on that too.

And I think the American people deserve to know, and I think whether this new 9/11 commission chaired by Tom Kane will be stonewalled and hamstrung the way this congressional committee was, is going to be a very important test.

SHIELDS: Bob Matsui, Bob Graham, Senator Bob Graham, who, as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said, "It is my conclusion that officials of a foreign government aided and abetted the terrorist attack on our country September 11, 2001." He was talking about Saudi Arabia.

MATSUI: Saudi Arabia, right. There's no question that he was talking about Saudi Arabia. And frankly, I think the 28 pages should be released. There's no question it's not for national security purposes, it's for basically protecting Saudi Arabia.

And we know Saudi Arabia has been involved in a lot of these activities, terrorist activities, in terms of funding them for the last number of years. And as a result of that, we need to come to grips with this.

One of the problems, obviously, is the fact that there are many people in this administration that have long-term relationships with the Saudi government. And I'm afraid perhaps that's the reason they didn't want they didn't want to release it. And I think this information has to be released.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, who makes the decision in something like this? You've been through a lot of these things, that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Saudi Arabian section is not released? NOVAK: I think it's done at the White House and the National Security Council. But I would say this, the National Security Council thinks that Saudi Arabia has been helpful, that they haven't been a terrorist state. Got difficulties there, got difficulties throughout the Middle East. Secretary of State Powell thinks that they've been an ally. All the responsible officials of the government think so.

Why, what, what is, why, why is it that so many officials...

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

NOVAK: ... go, go with the Israeli...

O'BEIRNE: Are you asking a question?

NOVAK: ... propaganda line?

O'BEIRNE: Are you asking a question?

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

O'BEIRNE: The report specifically talked about a Saudi official being a generous host to two of the hijackers out in San Diego with government money. The open question, according to the report is, was the Saudi financial assistance inadvertent or intentional?

I think that's a really very important question we need an answer to.

HUNT: And that's (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You're not talking about cutting off diplomatic relations, you're just saying the people who -- the survivors of the -- of those people who died...

NOVAK: It's part of a, it's part of a plan.

HUNT: ... now have a right to know.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Last word, this time, Al Hunt.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, an unusual week in the U.S. House of Representatives.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Republican Congressman William Thomas of California, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, apologized to the House for calling Capitol police to evict his Democratic colleagues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

REP. BILL THOMAS (R-CA), CHAIR, WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE: It's been said that our strengths are our weaknesses. Or, as my mother would have put it, When they were passing out moderation, you were hiding behind the door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One call, one click, and you've taken care of probably eight...

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

SHIELDS: Earlier that day, the House overturned the Federal Communications Commission and its chairman, Michael Powell, for easing antimonopoly restrictions, with only 21 dissenting votes, Democratic Congressman Edward Markey said, quote, "Never before have I seen an FCC chairman's decision repudiated by the House of Representatives so quickly and so emphatically," end quote.

Later in the week, the House defied the administration by passing a bill permitting the reimportation of prescription drugs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JO ANN EMERSON (R), MISSOURI: We did this against an army of 600-plus lobbyists and millions of dollars of misinformation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Bob Matsui, is there something that connects -- Bob Novak, I'm sorry. Bob...

MATSUI: You always confuse those, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SHIELDS: All right, no, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) really close. Bob Novak...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... is there something that connects all these events? Then I'll ask Bob Matsui.

NOVAK: I think there is. It was very interesting to me that when Bill Thomas did a stupid thing last weekend and did this, how little support he -- I couldn't find anybody say, Hey, he's a good guy, we should stick with him. And because it's not right, and he's feared but not liked by his own colleagues.

And I thought that when the administration with -- in this partisan mood, where the Democrats are savaging him on tax cuts and the military, that you -- that he -- his own Republicans defy the president on the FCC and on this drug importation question with it, with it -- they don't fear him, but I think there's a little resentment that this is an arrogant White House, and this is a White House that really isn't protecting their interests.

I think there's a little message there.

SHIELDS: Bob Matsui, is there a populist uprising, or is it -- is there a building simmering resentment against sort of the heavy- handed (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? MATSUI: I think there's both included in there. I think what Bob Novak just said is correct. There's an arrogance that is part of all of it. That's the common thread, what Bill Thomas did, sending the Capitol police to try to threaten...

SHIELDS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

MATSUI: ... people like myself and asking us to leave or else under cover of law. The second thing, obviously, was the FCC decision. You know, Powell knew he was in trouble on that one there, because members of Congress were writing letters, the public was very unhappy about that. But he went ahead anyway.

And obviously the last matter, the reason the drug reimportation bill got on the floor of the House anyway was because the Republicans wrote a prescription drug bill without any Democratic involvement, without any bipartisan effort. And as a result of that, they had to go and get Jo Ann Emerson's vote, they had to make a commitment to her.

SHIELDS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), yes.

MATSUI: And obviously now they have another problem on their hands. So it -- the thread is the fact that they were arrogant, very partisan about this, both in the administration and in the Congress.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, I have to ask you, Pete Stark, 71-year-old Democrat who Bob Novak called a multimillionaire liberal from the San Francisco Bay area (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SHIELDS: ... he -- I've never heard you call George Bush a multimillionaire conservative oilman from Texas. But that's something...

HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SHIELDS: ... that's -- But, you know, tell us, I mean, the Thomas dynamic. I mean, is this going to have lasting repercussions, do you think?

HUNT: Look, let me tell you something. I like Bill Thomas. That may make me unique. I think he's tough, I think he's acerbic, but he is a brilliant legislator. But what I think this whole thing was symptomatic of was, and Robert Novak wrote a superb column about this, I will say, it's about arrogance.

The Republicans took control of the House in 1994, and in large part, I think, campaigned against the Democratic arrogance of 40 years of control. Less than 10 years, they are just as arrogant. And Bill Thomas is hardly unique. David Dreier, our pal on the House Rules Committee, used to rail against gag rules, and now he is the worst gag rule performer in the history of the House Rules Committee. He denies people votes all the time. That's arrogance.

SHIELDS: Kate, tell me that the...

O'BEIRNE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

SHIELDS: ... Republicans are humble, self-effacing folks.

O'BEIRNE: I'm not sure how much bipartisanship you can have when the caucus, the Democratic caucus in the House, is so left-wing. If the Republican House members are trying to pass broadly conservative measures, they -- you might call it arrogance, if they're going to be committed to conservative policy, they're not going to get all that many Democrats on board.

I'm very happy you can join us and not -- you're not in custody this weekend, despite Bill Thomas's best efforts.

The FCC rule, that's been a hysterical campaign. Anybody with a beef against big media or big corporations has been stampeded there.

SHIELDS: That's about 80 percent of (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

O'BEIRNE: And on the -- and on the -- Exactly, exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: Exactly. Even though, even though I think you can make an argument that the change Michael Powell pushed through will make us more competitive.

And the drug reimportation, again, a whole lot of members of Congress want to promise their constituents cheaper safe drugs. And I think that's going to be possible with the drug reimportation, because the FDA can't guarantee the safety.

NOVAK: See, what I was trying to say, Kate, is it goes beyond the issues. It's an irritation by a lot of Republicans I've talked to, is, they don't think they're treated well by this White House. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) maybe they're wrong, maybe they're right, but they feel that way.

SHIELDS: Bob Matsui, could you address that? Pete Stark, volatile Pete Stark, whom we all know, and many of us like, used "fruitcake," which is not a politically correct...

NOVAK: Yes, he said a lot worse than that, Mark.

SHIELDS: But that's not really a politically correct epithet for a California Democrat, is it?

MATSUI: Well, I think what happened to Pete was that Bill Thomas slammed the gavel down without giving Pete an opportunity to object. And we had asked him to sit on the floor of the dais to object on our behalf while we were in the library being arrested.

And when he was not allowed to do that, obviously he was very angry about it. O'BEIRNE: Bob, in your quest for bipartisanship, you could have agreed with the Republicans on Bill Thomas. That was a real bright moment for bipartisanship. They feel the same way you do about the difficulty of working with Bill Thomas.

NOVAK: Don't you think Pete Stark...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: ... don't you think Pete Stark was the wrong guy to leave in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), in the room, though, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

MATSUI: Well, we could have had Earl Pomeroy or someone like that. I mean, we did make a mistake there.

SHIELDS: Bob Matsui, thank you very much for joining us.

Coming up in the second half of CAPITAL GANG, our Newsmaker of the Week, "Washington Post" columnist Sally Jenkins looks at Kobe Bryant and other superathletes. Beyond the Beltway considers the political plight of British Prime Minister Tony Blair with "New York Times" correspondent Warren Hoge. And our Outrages of the Week. That's all after the latest news headlines.

(COMMERCIAL AND NEWS BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG.

I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak, and Kate O'Beirne.

Our Newsmaker of the Week is "Washington Post" sports columnist Sally Jenkins.

Sally Jenkins, age 42, residence New York City, religion Episcopalian, 1982 graduate of Stanford University in English literature, sportswriter since 1984 for "The Washington Post," "Sports Illustrated," and Conde Nast.

"Washington Post" sports columnist since the year 2000, co-author of second book with Lance Armstrong, "Every Second Counts," to be published in October.

Al Hunt sat down with Sally Jenkins earlier this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUNT: Sally, Kobe Bryant, the system will determine his guilt or innocence, but this is only the latest in what seems to be an epidemic recently of athletes and violence. What's your take?

SALLY JENKINS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think another term for it is crime spree, I suppose, you know. We set ourselves up for that by kind of buying into the fairy tale end of, you know, the sports story. Then they turn out to be human beings with flaws like you or me, and we all are terribly disappointed by that.

And why we should be, I don't know.

HUNT: But we in the press tend to glorify and romanticize these figures until there's a crisis of the...

JENKINS: Well, you know, sports, for some reason, exists outside of the rest of society. People don't want to mix social issues with their sports. They don't like it when reality intrudes. And that's why you see such charged situations, like this Kobe Bryant case...

HUNT: Is there a sense of entitlement? I mean, these superathletes, they are coddled, recruited, outfitted, compensated from the time they're barely teenagers.

JENKINS: Well, I think the term "work" doesn't really bear much relation to what they do any more.

I think we've completely lost perspective. I mean, a guy plays on a sore knee, and we act like somehow, you know, he's committed one of the great acts of self-sacrifice we've ever seen.

And it's just -- it's ludicrous that we overcongratulated Kobe Bryant all these many years for getting married and not having children out of wedlock. I mean, that's essentially what we based his reputation on, that, and the fact that he could, you know, knock down the jumper.

HUNT: Sally, jocks with nocturnal habits, though, are hardly new. When your dad, the great writer Dan Jenkins, was younger than you, he was covering these legendary figures who would carouse all night, then go hit a home run or throw three touchdown passes.

But is it different, is it somehow meaner?

JENKINS: I think it's got a darker edge. I mean, the guys that my father covered were rogues, some of them, but they were charming rogues, they were accessible rogues. Joe Nameth was sort of out there. I mean, you kind of knew who Joe Nameth was.

You know, like, he wore fur coats, he always had a lady on his arm. He squired women around town. He was at the bars. Somehow, all of those things were intertwined and made sense.

And the kind of athletes I'm seeing now, I don't know, they are detached, they are insulated, they are cosseted by their money and their agents and their power.

HUNT: Well, I've seen it written that Alan Ivorson (ph) is more attractive to some marketers because he's a street guy, and Tim Duncan, NBA, MVP two years in a row, is less marketable because he's a thoroughly decent citizen. It's even been said that the latest matter could enhance Kobe Bryant with some elements, including some other players.

JENKINS: Fact of the matter is, when Tim Duncan and David Robinson and Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, who's become one of the real decent men in all of sports, you know, when we're a lot less interested in them than we are in, you know, Dillinger, you know, what does that say?

HUNT: You co-authored a book with one of the truly extraordinary figures in sports, or society, Lance Armstrong. His character obviously was affected by his valiant fight against cancer. Has his sports fame affected him positively or negatively?

JENKINS: Negatively, in the sense that he thinks it's bad for him. He thinks it's dangerous and corrosive.

You have to remember, Lance was a, you know, a 28-year-old man when he first became famous. Kobe Bryant was 17.

I think that Lance had a normal upbringing. He was a regular kid from Plano, Texas. And he would be the first one to sit here and tell you, If I'm important for any reason, it's because I'm a regular guy. If I can lick cancer, so can you. I didn't do it because I'm superhuman, I didn't do it because I'm gifted, I didn't do it because I'm rich, I didn't do it because, you know, I'm stronger than you. I did it because I fought hard.

HUNT: I read about politicians, and compared to 30 years ago, politicians today, I think, are smarter, but they're less colorful, they're less interesting. Same true of sports figures, do you think?

JENKINS: I don't even know how to answer that question, because I've been a sportswriter for 20 years, and I've never known less about the people I cover, because they are so carefully packaged and marketed.

Tiger Woods, we'll never really know Tiger Woods.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, great interview with Sally Jenkins. Is she -- is Sally Jenkins telling us that Kobe Bryant comes from a scary world that the rest of us laypeople have never had any idea about?

HUNT: Yes, Mark. I could listen to Sally Jenkins all day. But I think it is, and it's a big money world. Just look at what that big-money Bryant machine, I think, is doing to that woman who leveled the accusation against him.

I think athletes are unquestionably better today than they used to be. But I think they were not only more colorful, but I really think more real when I was a kid.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, when Bobby Thompson hit the home run, the -- in 1951 to win the pennant for the Giants, he took the Staten Island Ferry home that night.

NOVAK: You know, as Scott Fitzgerald said, the very rich are very different from us. And when the very rich is a 17-year-old kid without much education, they can be really different. SHIELDS: Bob, I've never known you to be different from any of us, but that's one...

Kate, go ahead.

O'BEIRNE: To make amends to his young wife, he bought an eight- caret purple diamond ring worth $4 million. It's a good thing bad taste is not a crime, or he had -- he'd be in big trouble there.

Clearly, when athletes behave badly, fines and penalties don't do the trick because they have this obscene amount of money. Only jail time seems to be the deterrent some of these guys would respond to.

SHIELDS: Well, the NBA has a new rule, 257 strikes and you're out.

Coming up, THE CAPITAL GANG Classic, a Ways and Means chairman 10 years ago charged with wrongdoing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Ten years ago, the former postmaster of the U.S. House of Representatives pleaded guilty to embezzlement of funds and implicated the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Democrat Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois.

CAPITAL GANG discussed this development on July 24, 1993. Our guest was then-House Republican whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), WHIP: I think clearly something fishy's going on. And when you have two eyewitnesses who claim that over a 20-year period, they were giving cash to a member of Congress out of the U.S. Treasury, in effect, something has to be looked at. And I think currently the Democrats are covering up a lot of the details.

MARGARET WARNER, CAPITAL GANG: I think the Republicans are making a mistake here to think that if he's -- if Rostenkowski's indicted, that the only party that will be tarnished are the Democrats.

NOVAK: It is very hard for a lot of people who have known him -- I've known him for 30 years -- to believe these charges against him.

The second thing is, whether they're true or not, this is another example of something I've been talking about on this program for a long time, and that's prosecutorial abuse in America.

SHIELDS: Let me just say this about Danny Rostenkowski. He is not a high liver. He passed up the chance to retire with a million dollars last year. HUNT: Isn't he also a creature of the '60s and the '70s, where some of this -- where some of the perks of -- and powers of office, there were different standard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Bob, as Ways and Means chairman, Dan Rostenkowski certainly did have a friendlier reception from the news media than Bill Thomas has today. Why?

NOVAK: Because he was a good guy, and Bill Thomas, though Al seems to love him, is not a very nice guy. He's not a good guy. That's (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And in the Washington of even 10 years ago, being a good guy meant a lot more.

I got a lot of bad mail for defending Dan Rostenkowski, but I still think he was railroaded into prison.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt?

HUNT: I agree with everything Bob Novak just said.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: I agree, this town has its favorites and its villains. I agree with everybody said on that Classic except Margaret Warner. I can see why you needed a new Margaret.

Margaret was wrong. It was the Democrats who -- alone who were tarnished by 1994, and that led to the takeover by the Republicans.

SHIELDS: I -- in defense of Margaret Warner, she was right a lot more often than some of our panelists.

HUNT: And, of course, Newt Gingrich then went on to have...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: ... that's right, Newt Gingrich went on to have an unblemished career himself.

NOVAK: He had, he had, he had scandal?

SHIELDS: That's it.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, Beyond the Beltway looks at Tony Blair's declining poll numbers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's political stock fell lower following the suicide death of weapons inspector David Kelly.

The BBC identified Kelly as the source of its report saying that top aides to Blair had, quote, "sexed up," end quote, intelligence reports on Iraq.

But Kelly then insisted he could not be the source of reporter Andy Gilligan's story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID KELLY, BIOWEAPONS EXPERT: From the conversation I had with him, I don't see how he could have the -- to make the authoritative statement that he's making from the comments that I made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Prime Minister Blair, in China, said he had not divulged Kelly's name. For the first time in 10 years, the Yo.Gov "Daily Telegraph" poll was showing a 3-point Conservative Party lead over Blair's Labour Party. It also showed 39 percent feel Blair should resign.

Joining us now from London is Warren Hoge, bureau chief and the chief correspondent for "The New York Times" in London.

Thank you for being with us, Warren.

Warren, does the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- Kelly controversy pose a serious major threat to Tony Blair?

WARREN HOGE, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It does. It's the worst crisis he's had i his entire six years in government. Remember, this is the most popular prime minister in the history of Britain, or at least the history of the time in which such measurements have been made.

He has governed through trust, through personal appeal, sometimes even saying, Believe me, trust me, I know I'm right, you may disagree with me, but I'm sincere about what I'm doing, and I think it's right, it'll be best for Britain.

So it's a big threat to him that way. It's a threat to his authority. Is it a threat to him staying in government? No. Staying as prime minister of Great Britain? No again, because the Conservatives are in total disarray. There is no alternative to the Labour Party right now.

That number in that poll, the Yo.Gov poll in "The Daily Telegraph" that shows the Conservatives suddenly -- and it may even be a blip at that -- ahead by 3 points, they ought to be ahead by about 30 points right now given the setbacks that they should have capitalized on with this Labour government.

They ought to be ahead by 30 points -- if you go back to the history of these kinds of things in Britain -- if they're going to have any chance of winning the next election in two years.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Warren, explain this to me. I can see the opposition from some of the left-wing elements in the Labour Party who (UNINTELLIGIBLE) opposed Iraq. But I cannot see for the life of me how the unfortunate suicide of Dr. Kelly at all seriously affects the prime minister. I mean, the problem with the prime minister, he went into a war that the -- part of his party didn't want.

But this would seem to be a totally a side issue. How does that impinge on his whole popularity?

HOGE: It's actually -- Bob it's actually the central issue here, for the following reason. The weapons of mass destruction were the sole reason that Blair gave to persuade the British people, who at that point were dubious, they were against the war beforehand, they only swung around in favor of it once there were British troops in Iraq.

So he used the weapons and the threat of the weapons. He did not get to -- into any argument about, this is a terrible rogue we must be rid of, this is the only way we solve the Middle East, or anything like that.

It was all about those weapons. So when the weapons were not found, and when, secondarily, the intelligence about those weapons appeared to be faulty, flawed, or, at worst -- or even worse than that, massaged and manipulated and, quote, "sexed up," unquote, as in this case, that meant that became the issue for the British public.

They are now in opposition to the war for that reason. And the Dr. Kelly suicide is right in the middle of that particular issue. So that's why.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Warren, it seems to me the impression here is that but for the war with Iraq, Tony Blair would be riding high in the polls. Is that so? Or are there some domestic issues affecting his popularity?

HOGE: No, that -- Yes, it's a good question. As a matter of fact, the old adage, all politics is local. The domestic issues are really, really affecting him. There are a lot of Britons who want him to stay at home, take care of problems here.

When this government that he calls New Labour, meaning the Labour Party shed of its socialist past, a Labour Party that's going to bring you public services with a certain kind of efficiency that Labour never did before, that's how they came to office. They promised to reform this creaking British welfare state. And that's what the people expected, and they think they're not getting it.

And one reason they think they're not getting it is that Blair is spending so much time taking care of foreign issues and going abroad and traveling all the time. As the intro said, he was in China when this whole thing happened.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt. HUNT: Warren, as you know, one of the great controversies here is over President Bush stating in the last State of the Union, citing the British as learning that Saddam was trying to buy uranium from Niger. We now say, American intelligence says, we don't believe that. The president shouldn't have said it.

The Brits, however, seem to be sticking by the story. I assume they're relying on French intelligence. Is that because they really believe, or just be too politically dangerous to reverse course now?

HOGE: No, I think they say they have separate intelligence, third party intelligence. France is the best guess as to what country that is. So I think that's why they're doing it. They also have a tendency, this government, and it's gotten them in trouble, to never say they're wrong, to never say, We might have slipped up on that, but the larger purpose will still hold to that.

When we -- if we get in this conversation looking to Blair's future, his immediate future, the really defining weeks for his prime ministership that are now coming up in the weeks to come, a lot of it's going to be his trying to see if he can install a certain kind of humility in his government.

He is so confident, so clear, so conviction-led when he speaks, when he really believes in something. That has worked until now. And now it no longer works. He's got to find a new way. And part of that new way, I think, is going to be able to say sometimes, We made a mistake here, or, Maybe we weren't as sure about that as we told you we were.

SHIELDS: Warren, we're just down to one minute. But I had a question. You, as a unique observer, as an American in Great Britain, why do you think the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction and the alleged exaggeration, manipulation in each country by critics of the leadership has become a big issue in Great Britain but less of an issue here in the States?

HOGE: Because, first of all, the American public was for the war, the British public was against the war. Secondly, Bush used a lot of rationales that he is able to cite now in the absence of finding those weapons, to say it was still justified.

Blair didn't. For Blair, the whole thing was weapons of mass destruction, let's make sure they don't get in the hands of terrorists. Therefore we have to move right away. That's how he persuaded Britain to go with him. That's why Britain is now doubting him so much more than America is doubting Bush.

SHIELDS: Warren Hoge, thank you very much for being with us.

THE GANG will be back with the Outrages of the Week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: And now for the Outrages of the Week. In the last year of the Clinton administration, George W. Bush of Texas joined 48 other governors in urging Congress to expand spending on Americorps, where citizens volunteer at next to no wages, perform useful (UNINTELLIGIBLE) public services, such as helping the elderly and teaching the young.

After 9/11, Mr. Bush repeatedly urged Americans to enlist in Americorps, and more than 20,000 have.

But the Bush administration overcommitted and overspent, and because the House of Representatives turned its back, and because Mr. Bush did nothing to change them, thousands of volunteers will now be laid off.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: OK, on July 15, 12 Cubans hijacked a boat to escape Castro's dictatorship and come to Florida. Six days later, last Monday, they were returned by U.S. authorities to face long prison sentences in Cuba. Cuban-Americans in south Florida are beside themselves. Their votes carried Florida for George W. Bush and won him the presidency. But the president has turned over to Castro's prisons Cubans seeking freedom.

It has been revealed that Castro is now helping Iran jam U.S. news broadcasts. Who are your friends, Mr. President?

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: On the eve of the release of the 9/11 report, strongly criticizing FBI investigations as not aggressive enough, the House voted to cripple an important tool in the domestic war against terrorism. The amendment, with strong bipartisan support, prohibits federal investigators from getting a court's permission to merely delay notifying a suspect about a search warrant, a rare but important ability upheld by the courts.

Notice of a warrant, of course, allows a suspect to warn others, destroy evidence, or flee. You can thank the House for this terrorist tip-off amendment.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Mark, Democratic congressional leaders claim credit for enacting the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform. So puzzling is the decision by Tom Daschle and Nancy Pelosi to dump Scott Thomas, one of the few reformers on the Federal Elections Commission.

More indefensible is their choice to replace him, Robert Lenhart (ph), general counsel to the AFSME labor union, which is opposing key provisions of McCain-Feingold.

Rank and file Democratic senators should join Republican John McCain in blocking this ill-advised nomination.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying goodbye for THE CAPITAL GANG.

Coming up next, "CNN PRESENTS: Harsh Continent." At 9:00 p.m., "LARRY KING WEEKEND," the Laci Peterson case. And at 10:00 p.m., the latest news headlines.

All that and much more right here on CNN. Thank you for joining us.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

Iraq?; Are We Covering Up Saudi Arabia's Support Of Terrorists?; Are Recent Partisan Events In Congress Connected?>


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