News in Review: Subpoenas, Libby, Iraq War

The week's news includes subpoenas for two former White House officials and a sentence for White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. He will appeal his 2 1/2-year prison term.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is on paternity leave. I'm John Ydstie.

This week, President Bush says it's time for Congress to act on the stalled immigration bill. Subpoenas are issued for two former White House officials in the ongoing investigation into the firings of U.S. attorneys. And the Palestinian faction Hamas seizes control of Gaza in a bloody fight.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us. Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, John.

YDSTIE: Well, there's hope yet for the immigration bill. Last week, the bill looked dead but now it looks as though it's going to back on the Senate floor by next week. Are you optimistic the bill has a chance?

SCHORR: Well, certainly the Republican leadership in the Senate and the White House are doing all they can to appease those who've been against the bill. For one thing, they're now say we'll give you $4.4 billion, will add to this thing to have more money in order to secure the borders. There are other concessions anybody can make and if there were any desire on everybody's part to get this bill, it would work.

But yet somehow, for not only this year but for years, the question in immigration has been the issue that nobody seemed to know his or her way out of. And having said that - let me add - that if they do, by some stroke of luck, get a vote for it in the Senate, they still have to go to the House where it will be even harder.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. Also this week, the investigations in the firings of U.S. attorneys got closer to the White House. Congressional Democrats issued subpoenas to former White House counsel Harriett Meirs and political director Sara Taylor.

SCHORR: Yes. That's right. Well, yes. The Democrats have something there. They can ride this for a long, long time and it's immensely embarrassing to the White House. And the Democrats are having a ball.

YDSTIE: Now, the White House isn't very interested in this, but these two people are former White House officials.

SCHORR: Right.

YDSTIE: It's possible they could work something out on their own with the committees.

SCHORR: All they have to do is answer questions. And I don't think that they're going to negotiate. Nobody is going to do anything to them. They just want information.

YDSTIE: Also, internal investigators at the Justice Department are looking into whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had an improper meeting with aide Monica Goodling, who you mentioned…

SCHORR: Right.

YDSTIE: …before she resigned last April.

SCHORR: Right.

YDSTIE: Remind us what this is all about.

SCHORR: To remind you what it's all about the Justice Department is supposed to be nonpolitical. U.S. attorneys are supposed to be nonpolitical. So when you discover that they are outright firing people because they happen to be only good U.S. attorneys and not supporters, you really have a problem.

And Goodling became a key witness, in fact, admitted that some funny little things were done while she was there. And the question was whether they tried to coach her before she went up to give this testimony in order to make it come out all right for the White House.

YDSTIE: Also this week, Lewis Libby lost another battle. This fight to delay his two-and-a-half-year prison sentence until his appeals run out, he wanted to stay out of prison while he was appealing.

SCHORR: Right. And the judge decided that there was no reason to do that and the result of that is that Libby is ordered to go to prison in about four or six weeks, however long it takes for the Bureau of Prisons to technically make whatever arrangements they have to make. And of course, I know your next question will be pardon, right?

YDSTIE: Well, you know, no, actually it wasn't going to be pardon. We handled that last week. Actually what the judge said was that Libby, just because he's a white-collar criminal, shouldn't get any treatment that a blue-collar criminal wouldn't expect.

SCHORR: The judge indicates a certain dissatisfaction with people who say there was no underlying crime. And the judge is saying that perjury and withholding information that is under investigation isn't a lighthearted little thing. It's an important thing. And the judge has certainly driven that home.

YDSTIE: Let's turn now to the Middle East. Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency this week after Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip from its rival Fatah. What will life in Gaza look like under Hamas?

SCHORR: Well, what's happening on the Hamas, particularly what is happening because the European Union and the United States are giving no support to Hamas, and it's simply the question of where they're going to get food to feed them when they didn't have people. It's unbelievable that this can go on for very long, but Hamas is determined to do it.

The president who is Fatah has fired the prime minister who's Hamas. But it doesn't mean anything. But as of now, the Gaza Strip is firmly in the hands of Hamas. And if anybody knows where they go from there, boy, I wish I could hear that person.

YDSTIE: On to Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates paid a surprise visit to Iraq this week to see for himself how well the troop surge is working. The big report from military commanders on the effectiveness of the surge is due in September but the Pentagon released its own report this week. Tell us what it said.

SCHORR: Well, it would indicate that things have gotten a little worse than they were. The surge is now open(ph) since the last brigade are supposed to arrive has arrived. And the question is, what do we get from the surge. And so far, it looks as though not very much.

YDSTIE: And Dan, an important anniversary on Sunday, the 35th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. You were deeply involved in that story.

SCHORR: I was not involved. I'll tell you, if Nixon were here today, he will be talking to people in the White House and saying, be careful. It's the cover up where they get you.

YDSTIE: NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr. Thanks, Dan.

SCHORR: Yeah. Sure.

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