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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS

Serial Bomber Eric Rudolph Pleads Guilty; Tom DeLay's Ethics Remain in Question

Aired April 13, 2005 - 15:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: A day of guilty pleas by serial bomber and longtime fugitive Eric Rudolph. We're following the courtroom action.

New sightings of Tom DeLay. The House majority leader gets steamed when asked about his ethics. Still a hot topic of debate on the Hill.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D) CALIFORNIA: The issue is here for the ethical fitness of Tom DeLay.

REP. TODD TIAHRT (R), KANSAS: Tom DeLay did nothing wrong.

ANNOUNCER: America's judges on the defensive against violent defendants, and some angry Republicans. Are the political potshots appropriate?

SUPREME COURT JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS: I don't think it's unfair for us to be criticized. I think it's a part of the responsibilities that we have.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Thank you for joining us.

Eric Rudolph's almost decade-long odyssey of deadly bombings and running from the law led him to an Atlanta courtroom this hour. There, he is expected to plead guilty to three bombings in the mid- 1990s, including the Olympic Park blast that cast a pall over the '96 Summer Games. Rudolph was flown to Atlanta from Birmingham, Alabama, where he pleaded guilty to bombing a women's clinic more than seven years ago.

The 38-year-old Rudolph showed little remorse as he followed through on a plea bargain that allows him to avoid the death penalty. The deal bars any appeals and calls for Rudolph to receive four consecutive life terms in federal prison.

Now, let's bring in our CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, little remorse. It makes one wonder why they were willing to give him this plea arrangement.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I think this is really an example how the Justice Department has changed from John Ashcroft to Alberto Gonzales. John Ashcroft was a passionate and enthusiastic supporter of the death penalty, even going so far as to overrule federal prosecutors who didn't want to apply it in certain cases. Here, you have a decision that certainly went all the way to the top, involving one of the most heinous crimes in recent American history, and he's being allowed to plead guilty to a life sentence. There are always a lot of factors that go into this sort of determination, but I think the change from Ashcroft to Gonzalez is certainly one of them.

WOODRUFF: Jeff Toobin, we're going to have you stand by because we're waiting for that hearing in Atlanta to be underway, and we want to report on that as soon as we know what happened in the courtroom. We also know there is going to be a news conference afterwards. So, Jeff, we'll come back to you.

Meantime, we turn to Capitol Hill where House Majority Leader Tom DeLay agreed to meet with reporters today, but he balked at questions about his ethics. Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry has more on DeLay's day and the questions that got him riled up. Is that what happened, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Good afternoon, Judy.

Just about an hour ago, Tom DeLay had one of his regularly scheduled pen-and-pad briefings -- that means it's off camera, you can't record it, so we don't have the exact quotes. I'll tell you a little bit about what happened. He faced a very hungry press corps digging for more details about ethical allegation swirling around Mr. DeLay. He opened up with a joke, trying to say, what a great crowd. Wonder what's up? There was, obviously, a lot of people there looking for more information but Mr. DeLay, despite the joking mood, looked a little tense to me and refused to answer any direct questions on the ethical matters before him.

Specifically, he kept coming back to the mantra of, I'm not here to discuss the Democrat's agenda, I'm here to discuss our agenda. And that is what he's trying to do. He's trying to keep the focus on what the Republicans are up to and he's trying to say this is just all a Democratic smear against him. He said that over and over, and he's basically sticking with a give-the-press-nothing strategy, despite the fact that some senior Republicans like Senator Rick Santorum said this very week that they think Tom DeLay needs to come forward and explain all of this.

But there was one surprise at the press briefing, a rare apology from Tom DeLay. In fact, he said he's sorry for saying, after Terri Schiavo died, that the judges involved in the case will need to, quote, "answer for their behavior." That set off a firestorm of allegations from Democrats that maybe he was threatening the judges in the Schiavo case. Mr. DeLay said, quote, "I said something in an inartful way and I apologize for it. I'm sorry I said it that way and I shouldn't have said it." But, Mr. DeLay did not back down from saying Congress needs to provide checks and balances on what he has called "activist judges" and also some DeLay allies are not backing down from coming before the cameras and saying they believe he is the target of unfair attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIAHRT: Tom DeLay did nothing wrong. There is no evidence of any breaking of the House rules. No evidence of breaking any laws of this land or the laws of Texas. There is no evidence. What this is is a political smear campaign made by an organization, a political party, that is void of ideas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Republicans say they believe Democrats are launching these attacks because they want to get to Tom DeLay and the Republicans in general in order to try to take back control of Congress. And, in fact, today, Democratic leaders held a press conference in the Capitol using the DeLay case and other matters, to say they believe the Republican leadership is full of arrogance, that they've abused their power. And in fact, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said he believes that despite the fact that Tom DeLay has said he wants to clear up all the allegations by going before the House Ethics Committee, Hoyer pointed that the Ethics Committee essentially doesn't exist right now because of partisan battles and the fact that Republicans have changed the rules in the process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MINORITY WHIP: The Ethics Committee exercised its responsibility. What was the Republican response? Fire them, intimidate them -- Joel Hefly said he had been threatened. I suggested if somebody threatened the chairman of the Ethics Committee, they ought to be brought up on ethical charges. That didn't happen. They simply fired Joel Hefly and two of the members on the committee because in fact, they were doing their job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, outside this Democratic press conference, Republican operatives were in the Capitol handing out documents that they say show various allegations and ethical problems involving House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, and that's another part of this DeLay/ally strategy: attack the Democratic leaders, say they've done a lot of same things Tom DeLay has been accused of. Of course, the Democrats say that's not the case, but the bottom line here is that this thing is getting nastier, it's getting uglier, real fast.

Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Sounds like all sweetness and light over at the Capitol. OK, Ed, thank you very much.

We're going to show you live pictures coming into CNN right now. This is at the White House, the president is meeting with the New England Patriots, the Super Bowl champions. Let's hear a little bit what he's saying.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ...the managers and people passing out the equipment. So I'd like to pay special tribute to the people that do the work in the locker room and probably never get recognized except by the players who love you. Welcome to the White House and welcome to the Rose Garden.

I want to say a special welcome to all the Patriots' fans from around the D.C. area. I see some from New Hampshire who have come as well, and Boston, and you're welcome. Glad you're here. You're honoring a team that showed a lot of heart. The commentators would say, well, they're not flashiest bunch, they're the not fanciest bunch, they just happen to be the best team. They're the team that showed that when you play together and when you serve something greater than yourself, you win.

I'm sorry your field-goal kicker is not here. You're probably sorry you didn't have to use him this year to win, but I do wish Adam all the best with the birth of their second child. He's got an excused absence.

One of the things about this club is you set a lot of records. You know, in sports they always talk about records are made to be broken. Let me talk about some of the records of the New England Patriots. In back-to-back championship seasons, you've won 34 games. That's a record. You've won nine straight playoff games, which ties a record. The coach has the best playoff record in league history. This is a club that has won 28 games in a row in the home park. If you're going win 28 games, it's probably good to do it in your own stadium. Tends to make the fans want to come back, don't it, Marty? I...

WOODRUFF: President Bush praising the Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots. They come from the state of Massachusetts, not a state that voted for him, but he's happy to celebrate with the team that pulled it off.

Turning from sports back to politics, the White House says the president continues to have confidence in Tom DeLay, and in his ability to be a leader of the Republican Party. But Press Secretary Scott McClellan also tried to make it clear today Mr. Bush and Mr. DeLay are not all that close.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are a number of congressional leaders he works with closely on the Hill and considers a friend, sure.

QUESTION: And he considers Tom DeLay a friend? OK.

MCCLELLAN: Sure. I mean, I think there are different levels of friendship with anybody. Now, you referred to social friends, and -- but, no, he certainly is a friend. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Scott McClellan making it clear. Meantime, a Republican who knows a thing or two about ethics problems says it's up to DeLay to prove that he's done nothing wrong. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told CBS News that the majority leader should stop blaming his troubles on Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FMR HOUSE SPEAKER: What I'm saying -- when you're being attacked, the first thing you naturally do, is you describe your attackers. In this case, that won't work. DeLay's problem isn't with the Democrats; DeLay's problem's with the country. And so DeLay has a challenge, I think, to lay out a case that the country comes to believe, that the country decides is legitimate. If he does that, he's fine.

WOODRUFF: Newt Gingrich speaking on CBS.

More debate over Tom DeLay's political problems ahead. Plus the Senate showdown over judicial nominees and the political explosion that may happen sooner than we thought.

Also ahead, voices from on high about recent political attacks on judges.

And later, a history of ethically challenged figures on Capitol Hill, and how the House handled them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As we reported earlier, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay remains under fire over ethics issues. Jack Valenti, a former aide to President Lyndon Johnson and Republican strategist Ed Rollins joined me a little while ago to talk about DeLay and some other political issues. I began by asking Ed Rollins if DeLay is right when he says there's a liberal Democratic conspiracy out to get him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED ROLLINS, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Well, Tom certainly is the target, and Democrats don't like him, but he's also a very significant leader with the Republicans. And I think to a certain extent, he's going to be scrutinized whether he wants to be or not. At the end of the day, he's got to answer the questions. He can't just blame it on the Democrats. But getting this thing behind him as quickly as possible is very, very important.

WOODRUFF: Is this all -- Jack Valenti -- part of a Democratic vendetta again him?

JACK VALENTI, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL AIDE: Well, I can remember Hillary Clinton saying that the left-wing conspiracy (sic) was after her. I think this is good political...

WOODRUFF: The right-wing. The right-wing conspiracy.

VALENTI: Yeah, the right-wing conspiracy after her. And Tom DeLay is saying a left-wing conspiracy after him. I think if nothing more comes out than is in the public press today I think he's going to be okay. If something happens in Texas for an indictment or some new outrage is fueled in the public press, then he's embattled again, is the words you used. It all depends on what happens next. As of now, I think he can ride this out.

WOODRUFF: Ed Rollins, what's your sense? Can he ride it out?

ROLLINS: Well, he -- I think Tom's very tough, and he's well liked by his fellow members in the Republican conference, so, you know, there's not going to be inside effort to throw him aside. So I think he can survive it.

WOODRUFF: All right. Let's move on. President Bush -- some new poll ratings have come out. The president seems to be hovering right around 50 percent. Jack Valenti, why can't the president get higher than that? Or is that a strong rating, considering everything that's going on?

VALENTI: Well, I think this is the residue of his big battle to get private investment accounts on Social Security. All the polls show that most of America is opposed to that. I think the Schiavo case has backfired. Again, by a wide margin, the American people felt this was a private matter and that Congress shouldn't have become involved.

I think those two incidents have imperiled his standing. On the other hand, if everything goes well in Iraq, troops start coming home, Iraqi government begins to function in a fairly stable fashion, and the sounds and bugles of democracy is heard in other countries in that region, then it will go back up again.

WOODRUFF: Ed Rollins, 50 percent, is the glass half-full, or is it half-empty for the president?

ROLLINS: Well, it's a very polarized electorate. And Democrats hold him in disregard, and Republicans hold him in high regard. And that's really what gives you the 50-50. It's almost like the election all over again.

My sense is, as long as oil prices are high, and as long as the economy is still kind of shaky, and as long as we're in Iraq, then I think the president does very well to stay at 50 percent. Any of those things change and they get better, then obviously his numbers can go up a little bit.

WOODRUFF: Jack, let's talk about the thing you mentioned a minute ago - that is, Social Security, the private accounts. Right now, our polls or the Gallup/CNN poll -- "USA Today" -- 61 percent of the American people are saying right now that they think it's a bad idea, these personal accounts. Is the president going to be able to overcome that or not? VALENTI: No, I don't think so. I don't think this is going to pass in the Congress. I don't think it's going anywhere. This kind of resistance, particularly by older people, even some of the younger people, the idea of a nonguaranteed retirement account strikes frissons of fear, I think, in their hearts. So guaranteed Social Security, no matter whether it's just 3 or 4 percent, I think resonates pretty good in the American people. I don't believe these private accounts are going to go anywhere.

WOODRUFF: But Ed Rollins, the president says this is an absolute must -- that he -- that to him, it's not real Social Security reform unless he gets these personal accounts.

ROLLINS: Well, I think on this one, he's not going make it. I think the reality is, the more he's been out campaigning for this issue, the less support there is. And the other side is out campaigning equally as effective against it.

I think there's a need for some kind of adjustment to the system. And at the end of the day, we either have to cut the benefits or raise the taxes, and those aren't very acceptable solutions to politicians.

VALENTI: But I think, Ed, one of the things that's come forward is that the American public is beginning to realize that even if you did have private accounts, it would not affect one inch, one jot of the remedies required for Social Security. Something else has to be done.

ROLLINS: That's absolutely correct.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Ed Rollins and Jack Valenti. We talked to them just a short time ago.

Two justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are calling on Congress to improve protection of the nation's highest court. When we return, why recent violence against local and federal courts has the high court worried about the growing problem of justice under fire.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: As Ed Henry reported earlier on INSIDE POLITICS, Congressman Tom DeLay today apologized for a statement he made last month about judges abusing their authority. But DeLay's statement last month was just one of several comments that stoked a controversy about whether the political rhetoric surrounding judges has gone too far. That controversy, along with the recent killing of a judge in Atlanta and the family of a federal judge in Chicago, prompted calls for greater protection of judges. In fact, just yesterday, two Supreme Court justices asked for help in the growing problem of violence against judges.

Bruce Morton has more on their efforts to protect the men and women on the bench who have come under criticism lately.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some legislators have criticized the federal courts' refusal to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case.

DELAY: We will look at an arrogant, out of control, unaccountable judiciary that thumbed their nose at Congress and the president when given the jurisdiction to hear this case anew and look at all the facts and make a determination.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: It causes a lot of people, including me, great distress to see judges use the authority that they have been given to make raw political or ideological decisions. And no one, including those judges, including the judges on the United States Supreme Court, should be surprised if one of us stands up and objects. And Mr. President, I'm going to make clear that I object.

MORTON: And there's been violence. A judge, a court reporter and sheriff's deputy killed in Atlanta, a judge's husband and mother killed in Chicago. Two Supreme Court justices, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, asked Congress this week for money to hire 11 new police officers. The court has 40, including a full-time threat assessment expert.

THOMAS: The early threat assessment that I got when I became a judge horrified me. Many are individualized, but it's just looking to see who or what is a real threat to members of the court.

MORTON: Training police post-9/11 is more complicated.

THOMAS: The detection equipment is becoming more sophisticated now, and the training needs are more demanding, and you simply can't pull an officer here and an officer there to send to training, you have to pull blocks of officers.

MORTON: The worry about violence, criticism from Congress and the public, Thomas says, is part of the job.

THOMAS: I think it is the reason we have lifetime appointments is because we are supposed to be criticized, and we are supposed to take the heat sometimes for cases that are controversial, and cases that involve counted majoritarian considerations. So I don't think it's unfair for us to be criticized. I think it's a part of the responsibilities that we have.

MORTON: Will they get more police? Congress hasn't voted yet.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: They must think it's important, because it's rare for them to speak out in public.

Well, we'll head to the grid iron ahead on INSIDE POLITICS. Football could be a factor in the 2008 presidential race. Will one would-be contender take the ball and run with it?

Plus, John Kerry may have fumbled his presidential bid, but at least for today, he's in the game with the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Just before 4:00 in the East. Time for the markets to close on Wall Street and we have learned as a special occasion on Wall Street today, a dear old friend of ours is getting set to ring the closing bell. With that and more, Kitty Pilgrim joins us now from New York with "The Dobbs Report" -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks, Judy. It's a big day. Let's talk about -- stocks on Wall Street are a bit lower, and we're not paying much attention to that because we have such a nice event going on. Right now we have the Dow Industrial down about 100 points. But, ringing the closing bell today is CNN's very own recently retired financial editor, Myron Kandel. Myron's been with the company for about 25 years. And for nearly 20 of those years, I've had the pleasure of working with him, right from my very first day of work. He was one of the networks pioneers, together with Lou Dobbs, he started the CNN Business Bureau. He founded the first-ever all-business daily television show, "MONEYLINE," and Myron has covered many a closing bell for us and has provided us with years of market commentary. And today, our longtime friend and colleague Myron Kandel has the honor of ringing the closing bell, and we join in the celebration with him.

Let's move on to a couple of other market stories. Oil prices down $1.64. That puts is just above $50 a barrel. We have seen a 14 percent drop from the all-time high last week. We're still seeing unusually high gasoline prices. The $60 going to fill up the SUV is cutting into clothing, furniture, and electronics.

Also, a Senate hearing today on identity theft. That's a problem that affects millions of Americans each year. One of the companies testifying is ChoicePoint. It's a security breach there that exposed information on 145,000 people earlier this year. Senator Arlen Specter is calling for legislation to crackdown on this crime. He says it costs businesses and individuals more than $50 billion a year.

Well, coming up on CNN 6:00 p.m. Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," "Broken Borders," a new report finds hundreds of cameras designed to monitor our nation's borders are either broken or were never installed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAREY JAMES, FMR BORDER PATROL CHIEF: The fact that that system was allowed to be put in the way that it is, it's a crime. I would love to see someone be held responsible for allowing something like that to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PILGRIM: Also tonight, Republican Congressman John Hostettler talks about how to solve the illegal immigrant gang problem in the United States.

And then, face off: Lou and Congressman Luiz Gutierrez debate the issue of IDs for illegal aliens.

Plus, the former counsel to Attorney General John Ashcroft says the Mexican army is helping illegal immigrants hide from the Minuteman patrols. We'll have a special report. That and a lot more 6:00 Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT."

But, for now, back to Judy Woodruff. Judy?

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Kitty. It was great to see our buddy Myron there ringing the bell. Thanks a lot. We'll be watching at 6:00.

INSIDE POLITICS continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The Senate divided, as Republicans talk of pulling the trigger on the so-called nuclear option sooner rather than later.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're talking about principle. We're talking about the Constitution of the United States of America.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: This is an arrogance and abuse of power. If the Republicans don't like the rules, change them.

ANNOUNCER: Watching the watchdogs. Can the House Ethics Committee get its own house in order?

Play ball. It's a sporty day for the fan in chief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Now live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.

WOODRUFF: Welcome back.

Congressional Democrats put new urgency today into their fight against the president's judicial nominees, now that Republicans may be closer to launching an unprecedented counter-attack. Our Congressional correspondent Joe Johns has the latest on the threat of the so-called nuclear option, an effort to ban judicial filibusters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A Senate showdown over the president's judicial nominations could now be less than two weeks away. Pressure is mounting from conservatives to stop the use of filibusters on federal judges.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: And I believe it's in violation of the Constitution.

JOHNS: Equally adamant are the Democrats, who say it is their right to use extended debate to hold up nominees they oppose, and they threatened to shut down much of the Senate if the filibuster option is taken away.

REID: This is an arrogance and abuse of power.

JOHNS: The focus of all the are pressure is Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist who is trying to gain some ground in the public relations war over judges, while conceding the Democrats have done a better job getting their message out.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), MAJORITY LEADER: The other side of the aisle has heightened the rhetoric. You've heard me appeal again and again here standing at this microphone, let's keep the rhetoric down. Let's continue to work together.

JOHNS: But, some of that tough rhetoric is coming from conservative activist groups who is warning if Frist tries and fails to get the president's nominees through the Senate, he could get no credit especially if he runs for president, as expected.

RICHARD LESSNER, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: It is the first significant test that he has to pass. And I think if he fails this test, it's going to be a major setback. It's going to be hard for conservatives to get behind him when this is of such overriding interest to our folks at the grass roots level.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Senator Frist needs 51 votes to succeed on the nuclear option. If he takes it to the floor, both sides say it is highly likely that it will come down to just one or two Republican votes. At least four Republicans have sent signals they might not go for it and at least two Republicans are clearly on the fence, Judy.

WOODRUFF: So let's get a little more specific, Joe. Who is saying what? Can you give us any better idea about who hasn't declared themselves or who is leaving us hanging?

JOHNS: I can certainly tell you, I've had pretty extensive conversations with Senator Thad Cochran (ph) and Senator John Warner, both of them highly regarded and influential Congressman in the Congress. Neither one of them has given me a hint as to which way they're going, and I have tried to get that answer, Judy.

WOODRUFF: And I know you are going to keep trying. You don't give up easily, if at all. All right, Joe. Thank you very much.

Another point of contention on the Hill: the Senate Foreign Relations Committee won't vote on John Bolton's nomination to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations until next week. A panel spokesman said committee Democrats objected to plans to vote tomorrow on Bolton's controversial nomination.

Members of the House Ethics Committee are meeting today to try to get organized in the midst of a partisan divide, and with looming questions about Majority Leader Tom DeLay's conduct. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider puts those current headaches into context.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR POLITICAL ANALYST: It used to be worse. In 1798, Congressman Matthew Lyon of Vermont spat on a colleague, who later assaulted Lyon with a stout cane. A measure to censure both of them failed by one vote. In 1838 Representative William Graves of Kentucky killed one of his colleagues in a duel. The House tabled a motion to expel Graves. In 1967, following the controversy over the racially explosive move to prevent Representative Adam Clayton Powell of New York from taking his seat, the House established an Ethics Committee.

In the 1970s and '80s clear-cut violations came to light: Wayne Hayes, the powerful chairman of the House Administration Committee, was accused of retaining his mistress, Elizabeth Ray on the public payroll. He resigned. An FBI sting operation called Abscam caught several congressmen taking bribes. Things were brought to a whole new level in 1989 when House Speaker James Wright was forced to resign.

REP. JIM WRIGHT (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: Both political parties must resolve to bring this period of mindless cannibalism to an end. There's been enough of it.

SCHNEIDER: Not quite. In 1997, Wright's principal accuser, Newt Gingrich, was reprimanded after he became House speaker and ordered to pay reimbursement for ethics violations. After that, the parties called a truce. No politically motivated ethics investigations. The House did vote to expel James Traficant of Ohio after he was convicted on criminal charges. The truce held until last year when House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was admonished for ethics violations. Now partisan conflict has engulfed the ethics process itself.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: The ethics committee, the bipartisan ethics committee, operating under the bipartisan rules of the House admonished the leader on more than one occasion for his unethical behavior. What did the Republicans do? Purged the committee, gutted the rules...

SCHNEIDER: Those new rules passed, by the House on a party-line vote in January, require a bipartisan majority for the evenly divided ethics committee to act. Complaints die if the committee does not act within 45 days. Democrats say they will block the committee from functioning until the rules are changed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (on camera): The former Republican chairman of the committee and the ranking Democrat on the committee warn, in the "Washington Post," quote, "if the ethics process is dominated by the majority party, which ever party that might be, it will have no credibility. It will almost certainly degenerate into a tool of partisan warfare and become a farce."

WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider, thank you very much. And Bill, we want to tell our viewers, we are now able to confirm that Eric Rudolph has pleaded guilty in Atlanta to three bombings in that city. Number one, the 1996 bombing at the Centennial Olympic Park during the summer Olympic Games. That bombing left a woman dead. Another bombing in January 1997 of an office building housing a women's clinic in Sandy Springs, Georgia and wounding six people there. And finally, the 1997 bombing of a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta that left five people wounded.

Let's again bring in our legal analyst Jeff Toobin. Jeff, are we learning any more? Do we know if there's any remorse coming out of Eric Rudolph this afternoon today that we didn't see earlier today in Birmingham, Alabama?

TOOBIN: We don't know so far. And there doesn't seem to be any indication.

You know, there has been one important thing we have learned in this process of him pleading guilty. He led federal investigators to a stash of bombs that he had kept in the North Carolina forest that potentially could have been used again. So that is an important benefit of this guilty plea.

One very much unanswered question which may be resolved in the course of this plea bargain is whether he had any help while he was on the run? He was sort of a folk hero in some parts of North Carolina where he was being searched for year after year by the FBI. But no one has ever known whether any people actually gave him knowing assistance in fleeing from the FBI. And that's one question that may be answered by this plea bargain.

WOODRUFF: So there's no information yet, Jeff, is that what you're saying, on whether he had any help along the way?

TOOBIN: Nothing has come out today so far. The only thing that's come out in the course of this plea bargain is that he did have some bombs stashed possibly for future use. But other than that, as far as we know, and this could be a process that goes on for some time, nothing else has come out.

WOODRUFF: We want to remind our viewers Jeff, that the plea bargain that was reached between the federal government and Eric Rudolph involves -- he will not be sentenced to death, but he will serve what they are describing as four consecutive life terms for these four separate bombing incidents.

Jeff, what does the federal government get out of this deal?

TOOBIN: Well, it gets certainty. It gets a resolution of a case that would be somewhat difficult to try. There were no eyewitnesses that specifically saw Eric Rudolph. They saw people matching his description. I mean, there is the possibility that Eric Rudolph he could have been acquitted. It spares the government a tremendous amount of money in trying these complex cases. It spares the witnesses from the ordeal of having to testify. It got the government these bombs that were hidden in the North Carolina forest that could have come to no end.

But they did give up the possibility of an execution. And that is something that this administration is committed to in many cases, including some cases that were clearly less severe and less heinous than this one.

WOODRUFF: Well, clearly the government decided, at least from their point of view, that this is a bargain that was worth having.

TOOBIN: And some family members of those who died in these bombings approve of the deal and some don't. Some are very disappointed that he doesn't get the death penalty.

WOODRUFF: Jeff Toobin, thanks very much. We do expect to hear more, perhaps within the hour, from some of those involved in this case. Outside the Atlanta Courthouse. When that happens, we will be covering it.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: George Allen is one of the names mentioned when political pundits look ahead for the next race to the White House. The Republican senator from Virginia is in the spotlight today as Chuck Todd continues his series on possible presidential contenders. He's the editor-in-chief of the "Hot Line," an insider's political briefing produced daily by the "National Journal."

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BRIAN TODD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Virginia, of course, is trumpeted as the birth place of presidents. But it's been a generations since Virginia has had a president. George Allen is the best shot they've had in a long time. But before he can focus on 2008, he has got to focus on his reelection in 2006.

And since there's a possibility he gets challenged by the Virginia governor Mark Warner it's one he has to take very seriously. It's not like other candidates who are up in '06 who can keep one eye on '08. Right now he has to keep both eyes on 2006, which, in some ways, is an asset, because it allows him to hire staff and allows him to raise a ton of money and keep his name circulating all the time. So in some ways that's a benefit.

While not the son of a president, he's the son of an NFL coach. And in today's society that matters a lot. There's a little bit of star quality to his name. And his connections with the NFL, give him potential star quality and celebrity-type endorsement, athletic endorsements in 2008. So, it would give him an entree in the pop culture world. He has solid conservative credentials.

And compared to a field that may not include, if it does not include people like John McCain or Rudy Giuliani, he may be the most charismatic of the potential presidential candidates, at least when compared to Bill Frist or Mit Romney. And so that is a huge asset when you are looking at this in a television race.

His political kitchen cabinet is very impressive -- Dick Wadhams, who just got off of running John Thune's campaign that upset Tom Daschle; Chris LaCivita, who was behind the Swift Boat Veterans, which was a very successful third party group, are his key political advisers. Also Jay Timmons who has been with him a long time, a former chief of staff and Jason Miller is going to be running his 2006 reelection campaign.

His policy advisers are sort of his peer advisers are people like Richard Cullen, a former Virginia attorney general, Frank Atkinson, who is his legal counsel for a long time and Bill Barr, a former U.S. attorney general under the first President Bush.

So it's a solid cabinet. It's not as maybe well known of names as some Republican presidential contenders, but his all very much come with a lot of credentials.

He actually will be unique among presidential candidates in that he will be the only one in 2008 who has served in both the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate and as a governor. And of course, we all know about the history of governors into the Oval Office. But to have all three certainly speaks to having all the experience that someone would need going into the presidency.

That said, there isn't a big commander in chief type issue that George Allen owns. He's been big with fighting for a moratorium on Internet taxation. And while that's a very popular issue, particularly among the net roots and the more wired group of folks, there isn't that big national security card that he can play, yet. And that's something that he needs to develop between now and when the primary season gets under way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Chuck Todd, thank you very much. The "Hot Line" an insider's political briefing is produced every day by the "National Journal."

And you can go online to nationaljournal.com for subscription information. Thank you Chuck.

A college art exhibit in Chicago has drawn interest from Secret Service agents. Their focus was on one work in particular -- a fake postage stamp that featured a revolver pointed at President Bush's head. The story is creating quite a stir on the blogosphere.

Let's go now to our blog reporters, Cal Chamberlain and Jacki Schechner. Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy. Yeah, you wrapped it up. The Secret Service went out to Chicago to take a look at this art exhibit called "Axis of Evil," and they were interested in a particular piece called "Patriot Act." It was that postage stamp piece that had President Bush's head with a gun pointed at it. A lot of the blogs talking about this. We start out with jquinton.com (ph), Back Country Conservative. And Jeff Quinton (ph) over there has the "Chicago Sun Times" article that just came out referring to the Secret Service visit. He's also got a round-up of some of the bloggers who are talking about it, some on the left and some on the right who are discussing it. Over on the right, they're saying that this is an issue of liberal hate-mongering. Conservative Groundswell saying that "apparently some artists just don't get where the line between decency and impropriety is drawn. Sane people all recognize when the line has been crossed, while liberals find it excruciatingly difficult."

CAL CHAMBERLAIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Then we have coming over on the left at Calvin's Corner blog. Calvin Cortez (ph) is a blogger from Chicago, and he says, "No Bush supporter, believe you me," and goes on to give a little background about the artist and says, "This guy, Michael Hernandez de Luna, is no stranger to the feds. He was cited for another risque art exhibit did he back in 2001 which contained a skull and cross bones and bore the name anthrax." And he says, " He took a little bit of heat from that. And now he's obviously been flagged for his involvement."

So, I don't know, what it sounds like, he's kind of hyping his art.

We have sort of a moderate stance from Art of Idiocy blog. The name of the blogger is The Artist Extraordinaire." He says, "It's depressing that the only time artist gets any coverage is when a controversy like this boils up." And then he goes on to say, "Is this the most efficient use of our Secret Service agents? You'd have to be a complete idiot to think a the stamp in an art show is an actual threat to the physical-being of the president. But then again, if something did happen, you'd be even more of an idiot for not investigating something so out in the open." So...

SCHECHNER: Perhaps the best post of all on this at theamericanmind.com. "Overreaction to Bad Art." They say this is "the artist's version of shock and awe," and he's "shocked the Secret Service even bothered with such awful art." I can't resist a good pun. I'm really sorry.

Somebody else taking heat today, Senator John Kerry. We go over to PoliPundit.com (ph), where Lori Bird is posting. By the way, she's the wife of a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, so she has some interest in this. The e-mail -- and it's also posted on John Kerry's website and johnkerry.com -- that went out this week said that as the Senate debates military spending, Kerry will be pressing to advance key elements of the Military Families Bill of Rights. So he's looking for first-hand stories from families who know the hardships that troops and veterans so willingly take on to keep America strong. Now, Lori's (ph) saying it's really surprising that he's asking for this and wondering why he's doing so, saying that in the past, "Kerry has not exactly been known for his support of military spending, and for several reasons he is not popular with the military crowd."

CHAMBERLAIN: And another family member of a veteran who's incensed is Will Collier (ph) over at Vodka Pundit Blog and vodkapundit.com. He's so incensed that he wrote his own "Dear John" letter, which states, "We are ashamed you as a U.S. senator and would- be president would be soliciting military families to give you sound bites for political gain." So he's plenty ticked off.

SCHECHNER: On the other side, Am I a Pundit Now. Now he actually "Republitarian," as he calls himself, Ken McCracken (ph) calls Kerry "a vulture." Not a Kerry fan at all. But says, "Maybe Will Collier is being a little hard on the vulture," saying that, "one of the things Kerry wants to do for military families is to extend their stay in military housing from 180 days to one year," and saying, "Poor Kerry. Even when he tries to do the right thing and has good intentions, it still comes off very poorly."

On the other side of the political spectrum, before we run out of time here, we go over to Off the Cuff for the latest in the DeLay barrage. That is Charles Cuffner (ph) at offthecuff.com. He calls it his "Tour DeLay." He's got a list of news articles talking about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and the latest going on with regard to him.

So we're running out of time here. We got to send it back to you, Judy. But Tom DeLay again in the blogs today.

WOODRUFF: Okay. And he was one of our big stories. So isn't it funny how those things coincide? Jackie, Cal, thank you both. We'll see you tomorrow.

Well, even in the midst of his presidential duties, President Bush finds the time for one of his first loves, sports. And it looks like he's headed for a triple play this week. The story ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Attention all you sports fans. There's plenty for you to enjoy in today's Political Bytes. As we saw live on CNN, President Bush welcomed the New England Patriots to the White House in the last hour in honor of their Super Bowl victory. The photo opportunity gave John Kerry another chance to visit the house that he had hoped to live in, tagging along as one of the New England senior senators.

As for the president, that wasn't his only brush with sports greatness today. He posed for pictures earlier with golfers Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, team captain for the President's Cup competition this fall.

And as if that weren't enough, former baseball team owner Bush will throw out the first pitch tomorrow when the Washington Nationals play on their home field for the first time. We're all celebrating.

Our Bruce Morton will have more on that tomorrow on INSIDE POLITICS.

That's it for today's show, this Wednesday. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.

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