Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS



Bush Changes Policy in Middle East; Is Bush Declaring Hussein's Days Numbered?; Interview With Father Thomas Hartman

Aired April 6, 2002 - 19:00   ET


MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Margaret Carlson. Our guest is Congressman Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, a senior Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee. Thank you for coming in, Kurt.

REP. CURT WELDON (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Great to be back with you.

SHIELDS: Good to have you. As the Israeli defense force continued its military sweep through Palestinian cities, President Bush announced a change in U.S. policy.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've decided to send Secretary of State Powell to the region next week, to seek broad international support of the vision I've outlaid today.

I ask Israel to halt incursions into Palestinian controlled areas and begin the withdrawal from those cities it has recently occupied.


SHIELDS: Only reluctantly did Israel permit General Anthony Zinni, the U.S. envoy, to meet with Yasser Arafat. And the Israeli military operation continued.


SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: It seems to me that Mr. Sharon is sending back to Mr. Bush a big no through the missiles, through the more incursions and through more escalation of the situation.


SHIELDS: Today, President Bush strengthened his language.


BUSH: Israel should halt incursions in the Palestinian controlled areas and begin to withdraw without delay from those cities it has recently occupied.


SHIELDS: In a telephone conversation with President Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon said he would expedite the military offensive.

Bob Novak, is this a serious confrontation really between the United States and Israel?

ROBERT NOVAK, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Only if President Bush really means what he says, the White House is putting on a guidance after this phone call with Prime Minister Sharon that the president means now to move it back, not in a few days. But there's a lot of skepticism that he really will push them.

Now Israel cannot do a thing without U.S. support. There cannot be peace in the area without the U.S. being there. And -- but I welcome any good move, even if it's a little late, it's much, much better late than not at all for the president to tell the Israelis that they must get out and to call for a negotiation of this bloody confrontation.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, has Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon been using the time between President Bush's announcement and Secretary Powell's arrival to accelerate the invasion?

MARGARET CARLSON, TIME MAGAZINE: It's a very long hello in between Bush's statement and Powell's arrival. And I didn't hear the magic words "or else." He said "without delay," and then...


CARLSON: ...we're left hanging. So Sharon still has room. It's a, you know, Bush has gone from a green light, to a yellow caution light, to a red light, but there's no enforcement at the moment of the red light, because there's too much time in between now and then.

And Bush had been tilting so pro-Israeli, that now he's just kind of, you know, the needle is up straight this point. I think he's going to have to be tougher to get Sharon to the point where there can actually be some talks that get somewhere.

SHIELDS: Curt Weldon, what finally pushed the president to move?

WELDON: I was with the president on Tuesday. We rode from the airport out to Penn State's campus in my district. And we talked about this issue at length with Senator Specter. And the president was then contemplating sending Colin Powell into the region.

The president is steadfast in his support of Israel. And that's not going to change. In no uncertain terms, the president is not backing away from that support. But I think the president seeing perhaps some movement from General Zinni's discussions in the region and feels that perhaps now is a time that Colin Powell can go in and bring people together because of his stature and because of his ability to pull the varying factions together, to reach what I hope will be a temporary lull in the violence. SHIELDS: Right now we're seeing almost the isolation of Israel. Virtually from modern Arab nations, I mean, Egypt threatening to break off relations, even though they're not the most intimate. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) enormous symbolic heaviness. The European allies really looking with almost open enmity toward Israel.

AL HUNT, WALL STREET JOURNAL: No, I think that's right, but it goes back to what Bob said that Israel basically considers in matters of really important, there is a constituency of one. And that is the United States. And I think there will be a confrontation only if the United States, you know, is willing to risk a confrontation. I think the answer to that will clearly be no.

And the delicate situation over there, Mark, is that what you have to ask of Arafat, who as I've said before I consider a political coward, but what you have ask of Arafat is after this intrusion into the West Bank, he's got to come back. He can't control the terrorists, though what he can do is he can try to influence, he can try to pressure. But that's going to be tough to do for him right now.

What you have to ask of Sharon is there's not going to be a total cessation of terrorism, but you've got to start the peace talks at the same time there's some terror going on. I don't think Sharon politically is up to that.

NOVAK: Curt, when you say the president is steadfast in its support of Israel, I think everybody at this table is steadfast in their support of Israel. I'm steadfast in my support of Israel. I think we all want the survival of Israel.

HUNT: And every president has been since I remember.

NOVAK: Yes, the question is, he steadfast in support of General Sharon's militaristic policy, Prime Minister Sharon, since the time he took office, has had the policy we're going to use blood and iron like Bismarck to force a solution to this situation. I hope the president is not steadfast in support of that policy.

WELDON: Well, I think there's some concern certainly in the Congress that perhaps the policies of Israel help to make Arafat more of a martyr figure than perhaps he deserved. And that's where I think our policy has been wrongheaded. And I think we've got to be tougher with the Arab nations. I'm sick and tired of Saudi Arabia trying to play both sides. And I was a friend of the Kuwaitis and the Saudis and all the Gulf countries during Desert Storm.

But 15 to 19, 9/11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia. And they keep playing these games, even though they offer what I think is somewhat of a hypocritical plan to try to look as though they were trying to get things moving. And I think we've not put enough pressure on the Saudis.

SHIELDS: Who do you thinks got a better plan, Curt?

WELDON: Well, I think, to be honest with you, I think the Mitchell plan is a good start. We ought to build on that. I think he's done a lot of speed work over there. I think the president ought to bring Russia into the equation. Russia has the ability now to use leverage with Iran, Iraq and the other Arab nations. We have a closeness with Putin and Bush that we haven't seen certainly in the last decade. I think Russia ought to be a key partner with us. And I think they would rise to the occasion if the president asked them.

SHIELDS: Al, Dora McManus of "The Los Angeles Times" wrote that the U.S. would never again get the use of any military base against Iraq. That's the -- from the Saudi Arabians. That was conveyed to the president this past week. Do you think that kind of pressure, the sense of erosion, the support, contributed to the president finally acting?

HUNT: Oh, I absolutely think that. I think somewhere in the middle of what I think was a disastrous Dick Cheney trip. I think it was one of the worst foreign trips in recent years. You got to go back to Warren Christopher in '93 or Cyrus Vance going to Moscow in '77 to find a worse foreign trip. Somewhere in the middle of it, they realized hey, these things are connected. And you know, it's going to be awful hard to go at Iraq when there's war raging in the Middle East.

NOVAK: Well, I just want to say one thing. I think the Saudi plan, Curt, a land -- I mean this whole thing has to come down to land for peace. I think there was an enormous breakthrough. And I hope that Secretary Powell can get a cease-fire to start operating on that peace plan.

WELDON: Well, I'm hoping for a cease-fire also, but I think the Arab nations, the Gulf countries have not been as supportive. They've given us lip service, but they've not given us substantive support the way I think they should and could have.

CARLSON: But the Bush administration now knows you can't -- if you wait for a cease-fire, you give the suicide bombers and Sharon a veto over any peace talks. So that's over.

SHIELDS: Last word, Margaret Carlson. Curt Weldon and the gang will be back to measure whether George W. Bush's political popularity is threatened by this crisis.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. Until his change of policy, President Bush's performance on the Middle East was under fire from critics who included President Bill Clinton's ambassador to Israel.


MARTIN INOYK, FMR. U.S. AMB. TO ISRAEL: It's that reluctance to engage on the part of the president, which leads his Secretary of State to also be reluctant to get involved. They're both frightened of failure.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHIELDS: The most recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll showed approval of the president's handling of world affairs slipping from 83 percent down to 71 percent. The initial Democratic response to the president's new initiative was favorable.


SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT), FOREIGN RELATIONS CMTE.: I commend the president for taking the step today. And so, we all want to get behind that in my view.


SHIELDS: The third ranking House Republican, Majority Whip Tom Delay, before the president took his new position said "no one should expect the people of Israel to negotiate with groups pursuing the fundamental goal of destroying them. The time has come to drop the empty pretense that we can serve the region as a mere broker."


REP. HENRY HYDE (R-IL), CHMN. INTL. RELATIONS CMTE.: I think when push comes to shove, you've got to sit across the table with somebody with authority to talk about ending the terrorism. And I think Colin Powell realizes it will be Arafat.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, is President Bush losing ground politically or has he now righted himself, if you would?

HUNT: Mark, those poll numbers are still very impressive, but I think the last few weeks have laid bare some very clear Bush vulnerabilities. For six months, the White House has very successfully painted a picture of this president as decisive and as strong and secure. And for the last few weeks, he's been indecisive. He's been vacillating and I would argue he's not been very secure.

Now the word is on the Middle East he's resolute. Well, he's been about as resolute as silly putty on the Middle East. And Mark, if it were just isolated, you might say all right, the politics would be de minimus or political effects would be de minimus. But I think there are other trouble spots, too.

Overseas I think in Afghanistan, the peace is going nearly as well as the war. At home, the economy -- the economic recovery may not be as robust as advertised. Unemployment went up last month. And the poll numbers are incredibly impressive, but I would remind you that seven months after the Gulf War, another President Bush had very high poll ratings still.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, I point out this that it can't be very comforting for a president to have the papers that have supported him the most strenuously and emphatically, "The Washington Times" and "The Wall Street Journal" attack his position on the Middle East. And those that have criticized him most regularly, "The Washington Post" and "New York Times" praised him. That's got to cause some...

NOVAK: Well, this is tricky politically because the great part of the Republican Party and the conservative movement is uncritically supportive of Israel, as opposed to constructively supportive of Israel. And this is -- that's why it was a difficult political move to make. I think it is the right thing to do for the president, but there is a question he's going to lose some of his support.

Now there are other, to be honest, not people at this table, of course, but there are people who are just eager to find some weakness in the president because they're scared to death that he's going to be re-elected and that he's going to bring in some Republicans in 2002.

So they're very desirous of finding a weak spot. And they look upon the Middle East as that weak spot.

SHIELDS: All right, Margaret Carlson, the Democrats have been "The Silence of the Lambs" up until this point. And they finally seeing a little sort of vacillation on the part of Bush?

CARLSON: Well, Bush has been incredibly fortunate these last six months while he's dithered on the Middle East because the American people and the Democratic Party have not yet given themselves permission to criticize the commander in chief. It's still too close to September 11. So all of the criticism has been muted. And each time someone comes out a little bit like Senator Daschle, he pulls right back because he's criticized for being unpatriotic.

But Bush, I think, is feeling vulnerable because he stumbled when he picked up Ari Fleischer's line, which is that when Bush -- when Clinton shot for the moon, it caused more violence in the Middle East. And...


CARLSON: Yes, Bush backed away from it, but you know, he blurted out his real feeling, which is listen, don't criticize me for not acting quick enough. Look at what Clinton did and I'm just fine.

SHIELDS: Curt Weldon, let me just read -- Bob Novak mentioned this. "Mr. President, it can no longer the policy of the U.S. to urge, much less to pressure Israel to continue negotiations with Mr. Arafat, any more than we would be willing to negotiate with Osama bin Laden." That was signed by Ken Adelman, Bill Bennett, Rich Lowry, Bill Crystal, Marshall Whitman, Gary Bauer, a lot of leading conservatives.

I mean, does -- what does that show to you?

WELDON: Well, the Middle East has been a quagmire for decades. And I don't think you can put any of that fault any more of Bush's -- George Bush's feet than his predecessors.

SHIELDS: But they meant politically?

WELDON: Well, politically, I think the president's still strong. I just did two weeks of town meetings in speeches all over the country and all over my region. The support for the president is as strong as it was in October of last year.

People realize that the Middle East is a quagmire and well the fact that the president hasn't come out with a clear comprehensive plan, I think everyone is concerned about that, but I don't think they're blaming President Bush for that personally.

SHIELDS: OK. Next on CAPITAL GANG, is it onward to Baghdad?


SHIELDS: Welcome back. After meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Texas today, President Bush was asked whether the Israeli-Palestinian crisis postpones military planning against Iraq.


BUSH: I explained to the prime minister that, you know, that our -- that the policy of my government is the removal of Saddam, and that all options are on the table.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It has always been our policy that Iraq would be a better place without Saddam Hussein. How we then proceed from there, that is a matter that is open for us?


SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, is President Bush now declaring that Saddam Hussein's days are definitely numbered?

CARLSON: Depends on how many fingers you have on your hand. He's been rattling a saber at Iraq for a long time. It strikes me that he should've kind of backed away from that at this very moment, where Blair is standing there, because while we're engaged in the Middle East and the region is in flames is not a time to say we're going after Saddam Hussein.

The most moderate Arab leaders couldn't be sympathetic to us. The ones who'd like to see Saddam Hussein gone can't be on our side on that. And Blair, his body language to me, said, "Whoa, cowboy, ride that horse alone."

SHIELDS: Curt Weldon, I think it's fair to conclude that there will be no coalition until there is resolution or at least some cease- fire in progress on the Arab-Israeli crisis.

WELDON: Yes, I would agree with that, but I take it the Saddam Hussein has to go. I think we should be aggressively pursuing war crimes. If you look at the acts that he's committed against his own people, against the Kurds, against the neighbors, the use of weapons of mass destruction, this guy has done things that I think in many cases are equal to Milosevic. And we should be building the case.

And we ought to again, and I repeat this. President Bush ought to have President Putin at his side. We have a different equation now. President Putin, I think, will step to the occasion and stand with us and say that it's time, you know, there's certain conditions he wants, and they're obviously financial. But I think we can have Russia as an ally in this. And I think we ought to continue to move toward that effort to remove Saddam, whether it's military or whether it's to other means that he described with Tony Blair, I think that's yet to be determined.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Margaret, I don't think it was just body language by Tony Blair. What he said was a long way from an endorsement of any kind of action. He says how we do it and all that sort of thing. We are alone. The United States is alone on this decision that you have to remove a head of state.

I have a trouble. I'm an old time conservative. I believe on foreign policy the idea that we go around the world and decide who should stay and who should go bothers me. I don't know that we've ever proved that he gassed his own people or that he has weapons of mass destruction. But that is the decision by this government. It's not a question of if or when they go after him. And right now, we don't have any allies on our side.


HUNT: Yes, no. Bob's right. George Bush has put his political manhood on the line. So the question is not if. The question is when and how. A couple -- I mean maybe Bush will get lucky. Maybe the actuarial tables will help him and you know, Saddam will have a heart attack. But you can't count on that.

Maybe Ken Adelman's right. It'll be a cakewalk, but you can't count on that either. Bob and I interviewed General Meyers, the head of the joints chiefs, and his attitude going into any possible invasion or toppling Saddam is not that it's going to be a cakewalk.

I think one thing the president has to do before he does it, Curt, is he has to explain to the American people. He has to...

WELDON: Absolutely, I agree.

HUNT: ...we are not going after Saddam Hussein because of his links to 9/11. Those links don't exist -- they're not convincing.

NOVAK: But...

HUNT: But we are going after him because he does, I think possess weapons of mass destruction.

WELDON: Absolutely.

HUNT: And I think that is a leap of faith. George Bush has not explained this to the American people. He has not explained how we do it. He has not talked about there may be risk. We may have to send ground troops in. There may be casualties. And post-Saddam, we have to nation build.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt makes a very good point here, because what everyone says about 1991, and I felt the Democrats to a considerable degree in this as well, that there was a debate. There was a debate in the country. There was a debate in the Congress. It was ratified by a -- albeit in a very close vote and very divided vote, but once that decision was made, the country moved behind it. There has not been anything and the costs have not even been mentioned.

WELDON: I agree with that. I think you're right. I think the Congress has to be brought in. There has to be a legitimate debate. And I think the American people have to be engaged. I agree with that totally.

CARLSON: Remember in Afghanistan, we had Pakistan on our side. We'll have no one with us there, and it means we have to wait for an ally.

WELDON: I think Turkey will stay with us.

NOVAK: The military experts don't really know how we pulled this off, right now. But that's another question.


NOVAK: But you know, when the president was asked in Texas today about that how do you connect this with 9/11. And he said that if he uses weapons on his own people, that's an indication of -- that we have to go after him. But I mean, if he uses gas on his people. That is not a linkage with 9/11.

SHIELDS: There is no evidence with 9/11. Isn't that fair to say? We...


SHIELDS: Is that right, Curt?

WELDON: If you talk to the Israelis, they don't -- I wouldn't go that far. I would not go that far. I'm not going to reveal anything here, but I would not go that far. I think there are linkages. And I think there are linkages right now to support for Arafat and some of the belligerent activities going on...


HUNT: Paying $25,000 a year to people.

SHIELDS: Now the question was September 11. And with the evidence, I think it would be in the president's interest to introduce that evidence certainly.

CARLSON: But it'd be better to lay the predicate you don't need it.

SHIELDS: Yes. CARLSON: If he wants to go into Iraq, just drop the September 11 without having to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WELDON: Yes, no I agree with that.

CARLSON: And use weapons of mass destruction.

WELDON: That's right. There's a reason.

SHIELDS: Last word, General Carlson.

We'll be back with a CAPITAL GANG classic, the U.S. Chinese crisis just one year ago this week.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. A year ago, a U.S. reconnaissance plane and its crew were in Chinese hands. And there was no sign of resolving that crisis. This is what your CAPITAL GANG said on April 7, the year 2001.


KATE O'BEIRNE, NATIONAL REVIEW: The Chinese apparently are unwilling to accept the covert sort of recognition of apology that the administration was willing to offer, which was the regret over the loss of the life of that Chinese pilot who caused the entire incident. And referring to what happened as a tragic accident. Apparently, they're not going to be satisfied with that.

HUNT: I think we escalate the arms race in East Asia. I think it's going to certainly make America much closer to Taiwan. I think it's going to at least threaten our economic ties to China. That'd be disastrous for China. And thirdly, I think it'd cost them the 2008 Olympics.

NOVAK: It is so much in the interest of both sides to get this settled because the engagement, constructive engagement with China has worked. Of course, they need us, as Al said, very badly. So I think it's going to be settled.

SHIELDS: Listening to human rights experts, including Eliot Abrams, a certified card-carrying conservative, it's worse today in China than it was this year. It's worse last year than it was the year before. So much for your constructive engagement, making it better for the people later.

CARLSON: I think if we get past the -- you know, calling them hostages and the yellow ribbons, if we get something before then, we can all, both the Chinese and the Americans, can pull back. And we can each save face.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, did not the Chinese and the Americans manage to save face, just as Margaret Carlson predicted it would happen? HUNT: Never again will I disagree with General Carlson no the geo strategic question again. I defer to the general on all such matters. Mark, I do think that 9/11 has papered over, however, some I think some Chinese-U.S. tensions. The Chinese aren't -- are very nervous, not happy about the U.S. presence in South Asia.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak?

NOVAK: You know, these are -- these things sometimes can be embarrassing, Al. And for once, you were wrong on every single word you said in that last thing, including the Olympics for China. And you know, I'm embarrassed when my colleague is shown to be so wrong because this was not a crisis. It was an incident. And most people who were not on CAPITAL GANG had forgotten about it.

SHIELDS: Curt Weldon?

WELDON: Well, I think, you know, that it was exactly what you all said it would be, which was a way to save face for both countries. We're moving on. There are tensions still that we have to resolve, but I think the relationship with China is still moving along somewhat steadily. We have to continue to engage them. They need us as much as we need them. And so, I think we got beyond this and it was an incident, as you pointed out, Bob.

SHIELDS: Margaret, will you be humbled in victory?

CARLSON: Yes, General Powell, not General Carlson was right about that situation and proved himself to be a great Secretary of State.

HUNT: Both generals were.

SHIELDS: Congressman Curt Weldon, thanks for being with us.

WELDON: Thank you. Thank you.

SHIELDS: And the gang will be back with the second half of your CAPITAL GANG. Monsignor Tom Hartman is our "Newsmaker of the Week," talking about the crisis in the Catholic church. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at big time scandal, really big time in Illinois, with political columnist Steve Neal and our "Outrage of the Week." That's all after the latest news following these urgently important messages.


SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Robert Novak, Al Hunt, and Margaret Carlson. Our "Newsmaker of the Week" is Monsignor Thomas Hartman. Thomas Hartman, age 55. Residence, Hicksville, New York. Religion, Roman Catholic. Parish priest in Rockville Centre New York Diocese 1971-1979. Director of radio and television, Rockville Centre Diocese 1979 to present.

Co-host with Rabbi Marc Gelman of "God Squad," the television program. Author and co-author of six books, most recently "Bad Stuff in the News" with Rabbi Gelman. Our own Margaret Carlson interviewed Father Hartman from New York.


CARLSON: From the pulpit, many priests talked about the church scandal. How's the church going to get out of this?

THOMAS HARTMAN, MONSIGNOR, "GOD SQUAD": The church has to be honest. Some people in the priesthood have abused people. We have to make it eminently clear to the world, to the congregants, this is not what the church wishes to be or will support.

CARLSON: The church now seems like Enron or some other powerful institution, where men in power are covering up for other men. It's never the crime, it's the cover-up.

HARTMAN: Initially, about 20 years ago, we saw it as a moral lapse. Over time, we began to realize that there was psychological implications. We sent people away to the best of doctors and would only accept people back if doctors cleared the persons.

CARLSON: Some of these priests seemed to have been forgiven more quickly than they should've been, that there was a cheap grace in their redemption. And the Hartford Hospital that treated some of these priests said they were pressured to release them early.

HARTMAN: In some instances, people who came back to the job only repeated the offense. We're much more skeptical now. So I don't think you're going to see people in the church rush doctors anymore, if in fact, they ever did.

CARLSON: The pope's letter left some Catholics unsatisfied, because he attributed this to the mysteries of evil. And the church looked like it was still not accepting responsibility.

HARTMAN: This particular letter was not addressed in its content to the sexual abuse situation. It was an almost a late thought in the drafting of it. The church has to proclaim its awareness of how severe sexual abuse is. This is not just about protecting priests or having priests put in prison. We care just as much for the person who has been abused, as the priest who has betrayed his vows.

CARLSON: The cardinal speaking for the pope, after the letter was issued, said we see this as an American church problem.

HARTMAN: There is a certain conspiracy of silence in our society in America, but throughout the world. And I do not believe that it's just an American problem. It's a worldwide problem.

CARLSON: Father Tom, does celibacy contribute to a higher percentage of homosexuals being in the priesthood?

HARTMAN: The question of celibacy is a total other question and is not related to homosexuality or even sexual abuse. The issue of celibacy is a major issue because one of the issues that we're all concerned about is we're not getting people coming into the priesthood. CARLSON: Will the church change its rule on celibacy?

HARTMAN: Priests were married. We changed the rule because priests were landholders, and they were giving to their sons the right to succeed. The church was concerned that the priesthood was becoming too secular an order.

So about at 1087, Pope Gregory the VII said there would be celibacy as a mandated experience. So there's nothing in the church that says that the church can't reinvestigate celibacy.

CARLSON: The next papal election, do you think it will be a more political one?

HARTMAN: The next pope is going to be Italian. And then after that, there's going to be a third world pope. Clearly, whoever is elected is going to have to be very astutely aware of the shortage of priests, the problems of sexual abuse, and also how authority is going to be ministered in today's world.

CARLSON: I find it unusual that you're willing to get down here with those of us in the media. You even go on the Don Imus show.

HARTMAN: All I'm trying to do with the rabbi is bring a little bit of hope to everyday life, and to encourage people to see that their love, that if they're driving to a job that they don't like, well, maybe they can laugh a little bit with us.


SHIELDS: That was a good interview, Margaret. Margaret, but does Monsignor Hartman's attitude indicate that the Catholic church has come to terms with its problem? Or is he just a conspicuous exception?

CARLSON: It indicates that he's come to terms. I still find the institution itself somewhat resistant. And this coddling of the priests. Now we have one committing suicide on Thursday. I mean, it's just -- you know, you see a male-bound institution protecting males in power. And you need a reasonable guy like Monsignor Hartman, let's make him pope.

SHIELDS: Well, admittedly Bob, and reluctantly, but the Catholic Archdiocese of New York did finally turn over the names to the district attorney, something that should've been earlier, but they did it this week.

NOVAK: I think they're coming to terms with it. I was disappointed to see Monsignor Hartman wanting to open the door on the celibacy question, which the pope has come down very strongly on. And I really do feel that a lot of the people who -- people demonstrating outside the cathedral in Boston in holy week, they're really not interested in this issue. They're interested in their own agenda of female priests.

CARLSON: Ordaining people like me. NOVAK: That's right, which we don't want and celibacy. So...

CARLSON: I want it.

NOVAK: I think there's some hidden agendas here.

SHIELDS: The church needs women priests.


NOVAK: I don't think so.

SHIELDS: Well, you're wrong.

CARLSON: If there had been women in the church, I don't think we'd have this scandal now.

HUNT: I'm the house Protestant here, Mark. But I thought Father Hartman was terribly enlightened. I don't think this is a uniquely American problem. But the American church has a crisis. And Bob, you may be opposed to women and doing something about celibacy, but when you have half the number of seminarians as you did 40 years ago, that's a crisis.

NOVAK: It's getting better though.

SHIELDS: I tell you this, Al. You may be the house Protestant, but it's a very nice house you live in.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, beyond the Beltway looks at political scandal in Illinois with "Chicago Sun-Times" award winning columnist Steve Neal.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at a huge political scandal in the state of Illinois. Republican Governor George Ryan's campaign committee and two of his former top aides were indicted for illegal use of state employees.


PATRICK FITZGERALD, U.S. ATTORNEY: The indictment alleges that citizens for Ryan as a campaign for a number of years, broke the law with considerable vigor. Public funds were stolen and plundered for political benefit.


SHIELDS: Asked whether he had done anything illegal, Governor Ryan said, "They'll have to wonder. They'll have to wait and watch the courts just like I do. I'm not going to talk about anything I've done or haven't done."

Later the governor addressed the state.


GEORGE RYAN (R), GOVERNOR, ILLINOIS: I'm told that the government also wants to hold the campaign fund responsible for actions that were done by others. There is no question that today's charges have been the subject of rumor and gossip for quite some time. But now these cases are in the courts, where they belong.


SHIELDS: Joining us now from Chicago is political columnist Steve Neal of "The Chicago Sun-Times." Thanks for coming in, Steve.

Steve, does this Republican scandal mean that this coming November, Illinois, for the first time in 30 years, will actually elect a Democratic governor?

STEVE NEAL, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Mark, it looks like it's going to be a very strong year for the Democrats. For starters, the nominee for governor, Jim Ryan, though not related to George, has the same last name. And it looks like that for the first time since 1972, there could be a Democratic governor. Rod Begoyavich won the primary last month. Three Democrats are running -- three Democratic incumbents are running for re-election in the statewide ticket. The Democrats won the lottery, to draw the map for the state legislature.

So -- and this is a scandal, only scandal that I've ever covered that has a body count. And people are very angry about it. And the Republicans could pay for it.

SHIELDS: That's right. And the point you makes about the body count is a very good one, because actually, the licenses were given out. Unqualified drivers and actually death and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the highway has resulted, right?

NEAL: Yes, most scandals are difficult for people to understand or is, you know, is getting a job for a brother-in-law or some insider deal. But this is one with the unqualified drivers that turn these trucks into licenses to kill. And people are mad about it. And this is the first political scandal I can remember probably since Watergate where you hear people in the street talking about it.

SHIELDS: OK, Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Steve, is this the biggest scandal in Illinois history or just the biggest that's ever been discovered? As you know, I'm from Illinois. And from the time I was a kid, I always heard of corruption in the Secretary of States office, selling of licenses, using political people for political purposes. Was this something really new under Ryan?

NEAL: No, Bob, this is -- there was really part of a culture of corruption in this office, going back. You remember the late Paul Powell, who you knew, left $3 million in shoe boxes, that was discovered after his death. Eddie Barrett, a former Secretary of State, later went to -- later was convicted on federal charges. So it went back many years. The change though was that there were six kids that died in an exit up at Wisconsin. The trucker involved got his license through illegal means from George Ryan's employees. That's what made this scandal.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson?

CARLSON: Yes, this does strike me as one goes beyond being a rogue politician. Steve, I like to think that good can exist with the bad. And Governor Ryan did have his courageous moments when he put a moratorium on the death penalty and took people off death row that were clearly there for the wrong reasons or for, you know, inadequate counsel, you know, DNA that showed that they were innocent.

Will that be -- will that effort be hurt by the scandal that's now engulfed him?

NEAL: George Ryan's done many good things. He's governed as a moderate Republican. And the death penalty moratoriums set the tone for the national debate. Unfortunately, this has -- cloud has been over his administration since the day he took office. And I think that it towers over the rest of his accomplishments right now.


HUNT: Steve Neal, when you look at it from afar, and you're one of the great experts in Illinois politics, I don't see any way Begoyavich loses. Tell me what the Republicans say is any hope they have for pulling this out. And will it spill over and affect one or two closely contested congressional races if there's a Democratic sweep?

NEAL: Al, I think that Jim Ryan faces an uphill run. Begoyavich has turned out to be a very good candidate. He has a double digit lead in the polls right now. So I think he is the favorite right now. I don't think you're going to see a change in the congressional delegation, but the Democrats could pick up another constitutional office. They have -- they only have a couple now. They could wind up with all six.

SHIELDS: But Steve, the Democratic primary last month was pretty tightly contested. Have all the wounds from that healed this quickly?

NEAL: The Democratic primary was much less bitter than the Republican primary. Jim Ryan only months ago looked like he was going to be the next governor. But he got less than half the vote in his party's primary. Even though Begoyavich was nominated with a lower percentage, the Democrats have closed ranks behind him. There is a lot more excitement and enthusiasm on the Democrats than I've seen this state in a long time. And a lot of Republicans are wondering if they can win a couple statewide elections. They're not talking.

And Jim Ryan has -- is starting to get his campaign reorganized after the primary, but the Republicans must act quickly because Begoyavich is coming on strong. NOVAK: Steve, George Ryan is Fidel Castro's favorite governor. And the Cuban dictator said he was going to raise -- build a statue for Governor Ryan. Do you think that this indictment now threatens the erection of the statue in Havana for George Ryan?

NEAL: I think it -- I don't think so. That's never bothered Fidel in the past. If there is an indictment though, if Governor Ryan would get tagged before the election, I think that would be very harmful to the state Republican hopes.

SHIELDS: Steve Neal, I appreciate not only your candor, your knowledge, but your diplomacy in dealing with Novak, because Baby Doc and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are both building statues in their will to Novak. Thanks a million for being with us, Steve.

The gang will be back with the outrage of the week.


SHIELDS: And now for the outrage of the week. President George W. Bush told the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention "America's obligations not only go to those who wear the uniform today but to those who wore the uniform in the past... And at times, those obligations have not been met."

You said it right, Mr. President. "The New York Times" Milt Ferdenheim (ph) reports on the bad medical care, an ungrateful federal government now gives the nation's 25 million veterans. In St. Petersburg, Florida, veterans must wait for a doctor's appointment until October 2005, 3.5 years. What happened to that Bush-Cheney promise that help is on the way?

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Politically correct liberals have been after Christopher Columbus for years. And they just scored a big hit in Los Angeles. The L.A. City Council dropped Columbus Day as a paid holiday for city employees, replacing it with Cesar Chavez's birthday. Democratic political consultant Joe Sorrel, president of the National Italian American Federation, called the action racist and anti-Italian- American, but it's part of a pattern. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson stripped from history textbooks. Even Abraham Lincoln called a racist. Who's left but Cesar Chavez?

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Army Secretary Thomas White can't let go of Enron, where he used to work. And neither can I. Ken Lay, Enron's CEO, recommended him for the job. And White has been in contact with his former colleagues 84 times. He forgot to tell Congress that he was keeping his Enron stock, which he sold at a better price than the panelist people, without an inside track. Then there's White's travel schedule, which just happened to take him and his wife via military jet to visit his multi million dollar properties in Naples, Florida and Aspen, Colorado. It's reported that he and Secretary Rumsfeld have discussed whether White should resign. What's left to discuss? It's time for him to go.


HUNT: Mark, several years ago, House Republicans, including Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were so incensed at President Clinton taking taxpayer funded political and fund-raising trips, that they initiated legislation to prohibit it. Yet only last week, President Bush, at taxpayer expense, campaigned for senatorial candidates Chambliss and Graham.

Now if that was wrong for Bill Clinton, then it's wrong now. My question is, who's going to return the $35,000 an hour Air Force One tab to the taxpayers?

NOVAK: I agree with you on that one.


HUNT: Thank you.

NOVAK: But I don't remember you criticizing President Clinton when I did.

SHIELDS: Bob, Bob, did you? Bob, that's all. This is Mark Shields saying good night for the CAPITAL GANG. If you missed any part of this program, tune in for the replay at 11:00 p.m. Eastern, when Bob Novak will make more sense and again at 4:00 a.m. Eastern.


Hussein's Days Numbered?; Interview With Father Thomas Hartman>



Back to the top