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Roundtable: Wrongfully Accused, Rice Subpoena

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Roundtable: Wrongfully Accused, Rice Subpoena

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Roundtable: Wrongfully Accused, Rice Subpoena

Roundtable: Wrongfully Accused, Rice Subpoena

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The panel discusses the case of Timothy Atkins, a prisoner released after spending 23 years in jail; and the subpoena issued to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by a House Committee investigating the use of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

For more, we're joined by our regular Roundtable. Today, we've got political consultant Walter Fields, Julianne Malveaux, economist and president of Last Word Productions, and Ron Christie, vice president of the lobbying firm DC Navigators and former special assistant to President George W. Bush. Welcome everybody.

And Julianne, I'll start with you. One of the things I was struck by in Justin Brooks is he's saying that there is no postmortem of what happens when justice is not served. Do you believe in that? How does that affect our system then?

Ms. JULIANNE MALVEAUX (President, Last Word Productions): Well, I think that there is a fair amount of cynicism in our system that is well deserved. You look at this case of Timothy Atkins - a man who clearly shines with grace and balance after having spent, you know, 20-some years in jail for a crime he didn't commit with the witness, a drug addict, who was pushed by the police to tell me something.

And you wonder how many, you know, how much pressure there is on law enforcement to settle cases that they push people. Eyewitness accounts - we have evidence that eyewitness accounts are often wrong. What you think you saw in dark, under stress is not what you really saw. So that's how you get the description that the male was black and 5'3" and he turns out to have been light-skinned and 6'2". And it's like, how do you reconcile those kinds of things?

But I think that there is a - the whole issue of a postmortem is important, because perhaps then it would incent law enforcement to do a better job at really solving crimes and not really closing cases, and those are two different things. We've seen it all too much. Farai, you know, we've got this - there's been a lot of "60 Minutes," Anderson Cooper on CNN about this whole snitch thing.

And the flipside of the snitch thing is the extent to which law enforcement officers really try to force people to push people to be guilty. And so the Innocence Project does a phenomenal service in looking back at cases. And we have to wonder how many people are incarcerated who didn't do anything - to what extent the plea bargain system pushes people to plead guilty to avoid long sentences, but puts them in jail for medium or short periods of time and how those were inadequately represented actually end up as Timothy Atkins did -serving, you know, two decades for something they didn't do.

CHIDEYA: Walter, let me ask you what could be done or what can be done in order to not put blame necessarily on law enforcement officers or prosecutors, but to get them to be more accountable for the ways in which the system fails and try to change it for the better.

Mr. WALTER FIELDS (CEO and Publisher, North Star Network): Well, I think the only way you can hold people accountable is to place blame. I mean, somebody has to take responsibility when you have a level of corruption that we've seen in this case, in the matter of policing and the administration of justice.

I think it's time that states began a wholesale audit of the criminal justice system because absent of the Innocence Project, you probably have hundreds of people sitting in jail cells who shouldn't be there. And if we didn't have an Innocence Project, those people would stay there, and that's a frightening thought. When you think about the fact that this young man - he's still a young man - could have spent his life in jail had it not been for this project.

So I think it's high time that states, particularly those states where there are large urban centers where race - you know, plays within the policing of those communities - that those states in particular need to develop some sort of audit and some sort of system of accountability. Because just the words of those prosecutor is chilling when you think about the fact that here is someone who is uphold - you know, sworn to uphold the law and says something to the effect that it really doesn't matter whether this person is guilty or not because, you know, we know he's going to do something in the future. That's frightening.

CHIDEYA: I'm going to turn to you, Ron, and ask the question, is this something that requires federal oversight? If so, how? Or is this something that's going to have to happen on the state and local level?

Mr. RON CHRISTIE (Vice President, DC Navigators): Well, I think there's a legitimate role that the federal government can play in something like this. And I align myself with the comments made by my colleagues here. The prosecutor has an amazing amount of power. The prosecutor has the ability to take someone who is innocent and to bring an indictment and to say that someone should be brought before the court on certain and specific charges.

And if that person is innocent, the presumption of innocence is there in the court system but the reality for many African-Americans around the United States is, if you're African-American and you're in the court system, well, there might be a presumption of innocence in the law - that presumption of innocence might not be there for the jury that is looking at the evidence and looking with the prosecutors and what the law enforcement authorities have brought.

So I do believe that, as Walter said, there has to be some form of accountability at the county level or at the state level to ensure that prosecutorial misconduct is investigated, that those law enforcement officials who are profiling and bringing African-Americans and other people of color before the judicial system - if it is found that they have acted improperly or if they have acted based specifically on the color of skin rather than on the color of the law - that they need to be held accountable.

CHIDEYA: All right. I'm going to move on in topic. And just to refresh anyone who is just tuning in, this is NPR's NEWS & NOTES. I am Farai Chideya, and that was Ron Christie, vice president of the lobbying firm, DC Navigators and former special assistant to President George H. - excuse me - George W. Bush; Julianne Malveaux, economist and president of Last Word Productions, and political consultant Walter Fields.

Now I'm going to go back to you, Ron. This is, I think, big and, at least to me, surprising news that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee led by California Democrat Henry Waxman wants to bring in Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to talk about the uranium claims in Niger that were proven to be false in the whole discussion over the weapons of mass destruction.

This is something that, I think, has not been on the table for a while. Bringing the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the table to really talk about this whole question of was there evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Was there a smear campaign against Valerie Plame and Ambassador Joe Wilson who disputed these claims? Is this a real turning point in the debate over what happened to lead us into war?

Mr. CHRISTIE: I don't think so. I think, candidly, the Democrats are so interested in inflicting pain and inflicting political punishment against the Bush administration that they will seek any and every opportunity to do so. Let's look at these words, and I actually printed them out this morning.

In the 2003 State of the Union Address, the president of the United States went before the country and he said, quote, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Now despite what Mr. Ambassador Wilson said, that this intelligence had been manipulated and twisted for us to go to war, the British - the entities, of course, where we got this assertion from - have never backed away from this claim. The British have said that that was a reasonable assertion for them to make. French intelligence has also said that the Iraqis had attempted to procure uranium from Niger.

And what I find most fascinating about this, if subpoenas are to be issued, I want Chairman Waxman to issue subpoenas to Joseph Wilson. Mr. Wilson claimed that his wife never sent him overseas, when in fact the Senate Intelligence Committee found that he had lied about that. Mr. Wilson claimed that the administration, you know, had relied upon false documents, when in fact the Senate Intelligence Committee found that these documents came to light eight months after his trip.

If they want to get to the truth of the matter, they ought to subpoena Mr. Wilson rather than the secretary of state. And candidly, at the time for being the national security adviser, the president of the United States must have candid, reliable, confidential counsel with his closest advisers, and I guarantee that the White House is not going to allow the secretary of state to go up to Capitol Hill to testify on what is clearly a fishing expedition.

CHIDEYA: All right. Walter, do you think that that is an accurate assessment of how things are going to play out?

Mr. FIELDS: Of course not. You know, this is a war that's built on lies and an administration is governed by deception from day one. There's enough evidence on the table, including the National Intelligence Estimate, that let's us know that this war was built upon a host of lies. And it's high time that Congress fulfilled its role of oversight and bring people to task for leading this country into a war that we shouldn't have entered in the first place.

You know, what's really interesting when I listened to Ron, I think Ron is the only person standing who's still defending this issue of weapons of mass destruction. I don't even see the most ardent, conservative commentators on the air even using that language anymore because no one believes it.

Republicans on the Hill don't believe it. This administration has absolutely no credibility. And if the administration doesn't allow the secretary of state to testify before this committee, the Republican Party is writing its own death certificate. Because clearly even Republicans know there are a host of problems with this administration, whether it's the attorney general, whether it's Wolfowitz, whether it's the secretary of state.

And you know something? It does become political, because the more you play this role of defending the wrong, the absolute wrong, they will hang it around the Republican Party's neck in 2008. So you can continue the arrogant stand that nothing happened, that this war is justified, that there were weapons of mass destruction, even though no weapons inspector could find them and all of them claimed there were none. So you can continue this party line, or you can face the facts that this administration has governed off of a pack of lies that hasn't served anyone well, whether you're Republican, Democrat, independent. No matter what you call yourself, it's time for this nation to understand that we are in trouble with the current administration at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Farai…

CHIDEYA: Well…

Mr. CHRISTIE: Farai…

Ms. MALVEAUX: That's…

CHIDEYA: You know what, Julianne, I will give you the floor. But Ron, very briefly if you want to respond.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, come on guys, I mean…

Mr. CHRISTIE: Very briefly. Okay…

CHIDEYA: No, Julianne…

Mr. CHRISTIE: …very briefly, Walter.

CHIDEYA: …we'll give you time.

Mr. CHRISTIE: To suggest, Walter, that it's based on arrogance and a pack of lies, I would throw that back on you. President Clinton believed that there were weapons of mass destruction. Madeleine Albright believed there were mass…

Mr. FIELDS: But we did not go to war.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Excuse me, Walter…

Mr. FIELDS: We did not go to war.

Mr. CHRISTIE: We…

Ms. MALVEAUX: Okay. Just a minute. I insist on getting in here.

CHIDEYA: All right, guys.

Mr. FIELDS: We did not go to war.

Ms. MALVEAUX: I insist on getting in here because…

CHIDEYA: Well, Julianne…

Ms. MALVEAUX: …people have had a debate and…

CHIDEYA: …before you go ahead, let me actually throw you an additional piece of information, which is that in a huge stroke on Capitol Hill, again yet another thing, there is a final Iraq spending bill that the House passed. And it basically says that if there are certain benchmarks that aren't met in Iraq, then we're going to have to start pulling out immediately. So add that to the Condoleezza Rice equation for us.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, you know, here's the deal with Condoleezza Rice. The White House will probably claim executive privilege. And while Walter hopes that Condoleezza Rice will testify, Ron is probably right that she won't. The White House has justified, as every other White House has been, in attempting to prevent someone who's in the inner circle from testifying. That doesn't mean anything though.

We all know that this war is built on a pack of lies. We all know the American people have absolutely lost any patience with the war that has cost us billions of dollars, heading into the trillion, with a war that has cost us more than 3,000 American lives, not to mention the number of Iraqi lives that there are. No one - no heads have rolled for the exposure of Valerie Plame, and I think that's really important.

We basically compromised our entire national security system by outing that woman for partisan reasons, and this is something that hasn't been talked about. So when we look at this at the end of the day, you've got a multibillion, nearly a trillion war based on a partisan house of cards because there were no weapons of mass destruction…

CHIDEYA: But…

Ms. MALVEAUX: …simply we're not. And so…

CHIDEYA: Julianne, we've got very little time. What about the idea that the House, and then possibly shortly the Senate, will say we need to get out and the president may well veto it. Where does that leave the American people?

Ms. MALVEAUX: It leaves the American people with at least a legislature that is reflecting their desires. The reason why the leadership of the House and Senate changed in 2006 in the November election is these people are tired of the war in Iraq. So the Democrats have done what they're supposed to do. They put something out there.

If the president vetoes it, he will say he's tone-deaf. He doesn't hear the American people. He should not veto this legislation. He should allow debate to occur. He should understand and respond to the fact that we're talking about a war with no goals, or nebulous goals or attainable goals.

CHIDEYA: Julianne, we have to wrap it up. I'm sorry that we don't have more time for this, but things are certainly a-popping on Capitol Hill, and we've got Political Corner coming up after this.

We have been speaking with Julianne Malveaux, economist and president of Last Word Productions; Ron Christie, vice president of the lobbying firm DC Navigators; Walter Fields, political consultant.

Thank you guys so much for your time.

Mr. FIELDS: Thank you.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Thanks, Farai.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: And next on NEWS & NOTES: Democratic presidential candidates debate in South Carolina. Our Political Corner ask what it means for black voters. Plus, Robin Roberts of ABC's "Good Morning America."

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