The Week in Politics: Miers, Plame Case

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E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times offer their insights into the withdrawal of Harriet Miers' Supreme Court bid and the indictment and resignation of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

It has been a tumultuous week for the White House and that would be putting it mildly. Today the indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff and closest adviser Lewis Libby on five felony counts; yesterday the sudden withdrawal of Harriet Miers as the president's Supreme Court nominee.

SIEGEL: To help digest the week's developments we're joined by our regular political analysts E.J. Dionne, columnist for The Washington Post and senior fellow with The Brookings Institution. He's here in the studio.

Welcome back, E.J.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (The Washington Post): Thank you.

SIEGEL: And David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times, is joining us from New Haven, Connecticut.

Welcome, David.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (The New York Times): Good to be here.

SIEGEL: I want to ask both of you about today's indictment of Lewis Libby, who's charged with lying about what the prosecutor describes as a campaign to--an attempt to debunk Ambassador Joseph Wilson. I want to get your sense of Lewis Libby in the Bush White House. David, was he so important that he would have run an anti-Joe Wilson campaign on his own, or is he a natural extension of Vice President Cheney or perhaps of Karl Rove?

Mr. BROOKS: I think he's that important that he might have done it on his own. He was someone who was not only the vice president's chief of staff, but was heavily involved in all foreign policy, even picking Supreme Court judges. The odd thing for me is--and I'm a guy who's gone out to lunch with him a few times--is that I always left those lunches knowing less than I did when I went in. He was the most discreet member of the administration or maybe of any administration in history and it's kind of ironic that he is caught out now being too voluble and inaccurately so.

SIEGEL: E.J. Dionne.

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think he's that important that he wouldn't have done it on his own. I think that Lewis Libby was a very important person in the way that Dick Cheney is a very important person in this White House. There is no vice president who's been more influential. And I think this is a very serious deal that happened today. You had a White House a couple years ago through Scott McClellan who said--was asked categorically `Did those three individuals'--he was then speaking about Libby, Karl Rove and Elliott Abrams--`Did they or did they not authorize leaks?' And McClellan said flatly, `That's correct. I have spoken with them.' And so you have the White House lied about Libby's role whether he is a prosecuted or not.

I think the other interesting thing that happened today was the introduction to the country of Patrick Fitzgerald, and I think he's going to look very good to an awful lot of Americans. He was remark--he was refreshingly candid. At one point he said, when he was asked a question he didn't want to answer, `I thought I'd ducked that question several times.' At another point he said, `I'm taking a dive on that.' I think a lot of politicians should study Patrick Fitzgerald because he looked awfully credible when he said things like that.

BLOCK: E.J., when you look at what's going on here, are we seeing the fabled curse of the second term and do you think that the White House should be bringing in somebody to clean house?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think this week George Bush would have rather been back running the Texas Rangers even if he weren't in the Wor--even if they weren't in the World Series, than doing this job. Yeah, I think it's a good idea to bring in new people. I think there is a lot of exhaustion in the White House. We'll find out what happens with Karl Rove in the coming weeks. But I think these problems run very deep. You have seen a crack-up of the conservative movement over the Harriet Miers nomination and a kind of, you know, split in--among the people who support the president that is very dangerous. So I think this goes beyond just second-term blues. I think you have a very deep problem here in the White House and in the president's coalition of supporters.

SIEGEL: David Brooks, do you second that very serious diagnosis we heard from E.J. Dionne?

Mr. BROOKS: Pretty much. Yeah--no, I wrote a column this week saying they--first of all, they have second-term blues, which I think is caused by the intense isolation of people in the White House right now being out of touch. And I do think there is a conservative crack-up. Nonetheless, I think what happened the last two days as tumultuous and as horrible as it's been for conservatives and Republicans is actually a bit of good news. The Harriet Miers--her withdrawal is allowing conservatives to unite again potentially behind a much better nominee.

And second, today when I think people look at what happened today they'll decide it's a very bad day for Scooter Libby because Fitzgerald really did make a compelling presentation against him. But I think when they look at the White House as a whole, they'll think it--they dodged a bullet. I mean, the real danger to this White House and the thing that really could have ended its viability as a White House was that if there was a sense that there's a cancer on the presidency, if there was a sense of a broad conspiracy to reveal a covert operative's name. And that would have been multiple indictments and indictments on the underlying crime. And the fact that there were no indictments will mean that the presidency is not in great shape, but it lives to go on and fight another day.

SIEGEL: Do you think this is a story, David, that has legs far beyond Washington after the indictment today, or is it going to simply be overshadowed by the next Supreme Court nomination and it will slip to the mental back pages of the nation?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, listen, this is part of a long string of problems with Katrina, with WMD, on and on and on where people have decided the country is headed in the wrong direction. Both parties have terrible ratings. Both parties have favorability ratings about 28. So there's no way the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, but mostly the Republican Party can say they're in good shape. Will people really obsess about Scooter Libby and these indictments? I doubt that but it's part of a long chain of bad news, let's face it.

BLOCK: E.J., do you look forward and see an impact, say, on the 2006 elections?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, first of all, the bad news for Democrats is that this happened now, not a year from now. The good news for Democrats is that this is happening when they are trying to recruit candidates. And so I think anybody who ever wanted to be in the Senate, who's a Democrat, or anybody who ever wanted to be in the House said 2006 looks like an awfully good year for us. And I think Republicans are having exactly the opposite problem, which is a lot of potential Republican candidates would say, `I think I want to pass on that election.'

I think the other problem is you're going to have this very interesting discussion--a lot of people have talked about Fitzgerald vs. Ken Starr, this case vs. the Clinton case. Conservatives, I think, are going to have a hard time staying, you know, you've got five counts including obstruction of justice and perjury, which those were very big deals involving Bill Clinton in a case that involved lying about sex in a civil suit. I think it's going to be very hard to minimize this in a case--a criminal case about endangering national security. So I think it not only creates bad pol--a bad political circumstance for the Republicans but it reopens the past in a way that may not be very helpful for the Republicans.

SIEGEL: And given the Republicans' problems, David, is there some obvious fix? We heard the suggestion earlier perhaps bring somebody into the White House to shape things up or launch some new program. What do you think?

Mr. BROOKS: Well, I do think, first of all, nominating some--a good nominee for the Supreme Court will, A, unite and re-excite the party. Conservatives are really desperate to get back on the side of President Bush. But I do think bringing new people in--listen, if you've been in power for a long time, you've been corrupted by flattery, you've been corrupted by the attacks, you just have been out of touch and President Bush has been a little out of touch with the American people on Katrina, on Social Security, on a couple of other issues, on Miers. And so I do think there is some need to open him up to people who will speak bluntly to him, which doesn't happen in any administration and it's not happening now.

BLOCK: E.J. and David, thanks very much.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

BLOCK: David...

SIEGEL: David Brooks of--I'm sorry--joining us from New Haven, Connecticut, and E.J. Dionne in our studio, thanks to both of you.

BLOCK: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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