Friday, July 13, 2007

Grading on a curve in Iraq

Yet again, President Bush demonstrated yesterday why he is the most potent weapon in the Democrats’ 2008 campaign arsenal.

Witness his latest truth-challenged attempt to show that “progress” is being achieved in Iraq. His summer report card, mandated by Congress, is vivid proof that grade inflation is not just an issue confined to academia. Bush, who has joked in the past about being a C student at Yale, clearly believes that his ruinous war should be judged far more leniently. As he sees it, a score of 44 percent should not be considered an F; rather, it should be viewed as “a cause for optimism.”

He’s like one of those Little League dads who thinks that every kid deserves a trophy just for showing up. His stock has fallen so low that even the newspaper in Wichita, Kansas - which endorsed him in 2004 - is now telling its red-state readers that Bush should "face reality" and recognize that "America cannot prosecute an open-ended war without achievable goals and without the support of the American people."

Bush believes that a 44 percent score is proof that goals are being achieved. In his report card, he Decided yesterday that progress is being made on eight of the 18 congressionally established benchmarks; thus, they were marked as “satisfactory.” Another eight were marked as “unsatisfactory,” and two others were marked as neither. Hence, 44 percent. But even that score is deceptively high, because most of the eight “satisfactory” achievements are relatively minor – while virtually all the failures are major.

For instance, the Bush team considered it a “satisfactory” benchmark that the various political factions in Iraq continue to have a Constitutional Review Committee, which is tasked to figure out how much power should be exercised in Baghdad, and how much power should be exercised in the regions. That’s pretty fundamental stuff, and even though this committee has been around since last November, nothing has been resolved; indeed, the committee has received an extension so that it can continue its “review.”

So even though this committee has done nothing substantive, clearly because – as the Bush report card concedes – the “political blocs still need to reach an accommodation on these difficult political issues,” the Bush team awarded this benchmark a “satisfactory” grade.

In other words, under Bush’s generous criteria, you can get a passing grade not for actually doing something, but merely for continuing to talk about maybe doing something.

The whole point of Bush’s troop “surge” is to provide a safer security environment, so that the Iraqi factions can pursue national political reconciliation. But there is no sign, in Bush’s report card, that the factions are any closer to that goal than they were prior to the “surge.” Nowhere in the report card does Bush mention, for example, that more than 25 percent of the Iraqi Parliament’s 275 members are reportedly boycotting the proceedings on a regular basis (thus often making it impossible for the body to conduct business), and that at least 12 of the 38 cabinet ministers reportedly are not attending Cabinet meetings any longer.

Which brings us to all the benchmarks that even the Bush team had to mark as “unsatisfactory.” These are all the big-ticket items: No progress on setting up provincial elections; no progress on establishing a a serious program to disarm the sectarian militias, no progress on permitting Iraqi army and security police to crack down on militias without interference from sectarian factions; no progress on the key legislation to fairly distribute oil revenue to all sects and ethnicities; no progress on ratcheting up the number of Iraqi military and security forces that can protect citizens without U.S. help (on the contrary, the Pentagon yesterday said there has been a “slight reduction” in those all-important numbers).

Nor did Bush happen to mention, in his press conference yesterday, that the government’s National Intelligence Council signaled this week that the political situation in Iraq is actually far worse than Bush’s report card suggests. In House testimony the other day, deputy director for analysis Thomas Fingar said there have been “few appreciable gains,” primarily because the sectarian strife is so intractable: “(C)ommunal violence and scant common ground between Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds continues to polarize politics.”

There is no rational reason to believe that anything is going to change in the next eight weeks, at which point Gen. David Petraeus is supposed to tell us whether the “surge” is working. David Shorr, a foreign policy specialist who posts at Democracy Arsenal (a website sponsored largely by Democrats with strong national security credentials), argued the other day: “The reason Iraqi political leaders haven't achieved the benchmarks is that they don't really want to…(It) doesn't make sense to wait for something that isn't going to happen.”

But Bush doesn’t entertain opinions that are expressed outside his bubble. Not even poll numbers rivaling Richard Nixon at the nadir of Watergate will have any appreciable impact on his thinking – as indicated by his remark yesterday, “I don’t think Congress ought to be running the war.” The ’06 elections actually demonstrated that the public does want Congress to run the war – in a new direction. But Bush will cede nothing unless Congress confronts him with a veto-proof majority. That will require the assistance of Republicans, few of whom, even now, have shown any willingness to act.

In the absence of countervailing power, Bush will work every possible loophole to buy more time; that’s precisely what his grade inflation was designed to do. And with each passing day, procrastinating Republicans will have to face the fact that their president is leading them to ruin in 2008.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fred remembers, "Oh yeah, I was a lobbyist"

These are dark days for conservative Republicans, as they continue to search in vain for an ’08 presidential candidate with purist anti-abortion credentials. Many have latched onto Fred Thompson as a potential savior, and indeed the actor/lobbyist/politician has been trying his best to bond with the purists in the hopes of acing their litmus test.

But, as you may have heard by now, Thompson has run into a bit of a problem in recent days: His past caught up with him. It turned out that, back in 1991, a Washington abortion-rights group hired him to do some lobbying for the abortion-rights cause. The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association wanted to get rid of the abortion “gag rule,” which banned abortion counseling at federally-financed clinics, and it thought that the well-connected Thompson might be able to help out. So, according to the minutes of an association board meeting, he was hired.

Let’s look at the shifting responses from the Thompson camp, as it seeks to wriggle out of this inconvenient episode. Its first impulse was to stonewall, to deny the story outright (a spokesman insisted, “Fred Thompson did not lobby for this group, period”), while also leaving the door ever so slightly ajar, by claiming that the prospective candidate was afflicted with amnesia (“Thompson says he has no recollection of it”).

The amnesia defense seemed a tad specious, since it meant that Thompson had absolutely no recollection of having dinner with association president Judith DeSarno at Washington’s Galileo restaurant, or having lunch with DeSarno at Washington’s Monocle restaurant, or of conversing with DeSarno by phone about his lobbying progress (all of which DeSarno says she remembered). This defense also put him at odds with four other people who remembered Thompson’s lobbying work.

Nonetheless, this was the initial Thompson defense: It never happened/ I have no memory that it happened. In other words, part stonewall, part amnesia. And that’s apparently what Sean Hannity expected to hear two days ago, when the Fox News host quizzed Thompson on his show. Actually, it was hardly a “quiz.” Hannity’s predictably obsequious query about the lobbying story was akin to asking Thompson, “Can I please be allowed to wash your car if I bring my own soap and sponge?”

Hannity: “They have attacked you, they have attacked your family, and now, they come out in the Los Angeles Times with a piece that says you lobbied for abortion rights. You say that’s absolutely not true.”

But, in response, Thompson did something interesting. He didn’t go with the stonewall/amnesia spin. Instead, he introduced a whole new defense: “In the first place, you need to separate a lawyer who is advocating a position from the position itself.”

Hannity, naturally, was too busy bowing and scraping to recognize that Thompson had shifted his ground, and exposed himself to some obvious follow-up questions: “Are you now saying, Mr. Thompson, that your memory has suddenly improved – and that you may indeed have lobbied for the abortion-rights group, as ‘a lawyer advocating a position?’ And, if so, should conservatives be concerned that you were so willing to compromise conservative convictions by hiring yourself out to the other side?” But those are the questions that real journalists, with professional instincts, are trained to ask.

Thompson, having gotten off easy with Hannity, is sticking with his new defense. In a posting yesterday on Powerline, a conservative blog, he wrote that it’s totally appropriate for lawyers to hire themselves out to all kinds of clients: “The practice of law is a business as well as a profession. It’s the way you support your family. And if a client has a legal and ethical right to take a position, then you may appropriately represent him as long as he does not lie or otherwise conduct himself improperly while you are representing him. In almost 30 years of practicing law I must have had hundreds of clients and thousands of conversations about legal matters. Like any good lawyer, I would always try to give my best, objective, and professional opinion on any legal question presented to me.”

He’ll get off easy on Powerline as well, because blog author John Hinderaker made the same argument a few days earlier. Defending Thompson in the wake of the abortion-rights lobbying story, he wrote that “a lobbyist, like lawyers in general, represents clients. To assume that a lawyer always agrees with the clients he represents is not only juvenile, it tends to undercut the premises on which our legal system in based.”

No argument here. This is what lawyers and lobbyists do; their professional code gives them plenty of cover. But what’s fascinating is that – politically – Thompson is now employing a defense that undercuts his carefully crafted image as a down-home southern boy, an image he introduced during his Senate campaign, when he rode around Tennessee in a rented pickup truck, clad in backwoods clothes.

He’s been trying to sell himself to GOP primary voters as a conviction conservative – and now his best defense is that, even if he did lobby for an abortion-rights group, it was merely because he, like all Washington lawyer-lobbyists, parked his convictions in the interests of "business." (And when was the last time that a Republican candidate sought to defend the legal profession? The typical GOP approach is to demagogue all lawyers as “ambulance chasers.”)

Some prominent conservatives aren't pleased with the idea of backing a candidate who suddenly takes pride in being a Washington mercenary. Richard Viguerie, one of the pioneers of the Reagan-era conservative movement, is unhappy about the abortion-rights lobbying episode (“that kind of behavior is inconsistent with principled conservatism”), and, more broadly, he concludes that “Fred Thompson plays a tough guy in the movies and on television, but in real life he is a marshmallow.”

But will Fred’s new fans give him a pass anyway? Quite possibly. Just listen to the Hannity broadcast, which featured an obsequious live audience. Here’s Thompson speaking again, punctuated by audience reaction. After defending his lawyer-lobby work, he said: “I’m not going to get down in the weeds with everything they dredge up over the next six months (Yayyy!). But in terms of being a target, all I can say is, they know who to be afraid of.” (Yayyy!)

Conservatives desperate for a savior are prepared to overlook all kinds of inconvenient facts, including their man’s attempts to defend himself as a Washington gun for hire. As Paul Simon once sang, “Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.”

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The national doc's damaging dish

George W. Bush is hardly the first president to use government power for selfish political purposes, and to treat nonpartisan public servants as mere errand boys for a partisan agenda. But no predecessor has ever sought to institutionalize these practices with such fervor – as we learned, yet again, in sworn testimony yesterday on Capitol Hill.

Dr. Richard Carmona, an ex-Army Special Forces medic and ex-Arizona deputy sheriff who served as U.S. Surgeon General from 2002 to 2006, clearly had an unenviable job. He tried repeatedly to speak out publicly about empirical scientific truths (on everything from stem cells to sex education), but he was working for a regime that adhered to faith-based certitudes; hence, he spent most of his tenure trying in vain to remove the masking tape that had been affixed to his mouth.

For instance, he once was invited to attend a meeting on global warming. At that meeting, a Bush official dismissed global warming as a liberal cause. Carmona wanted to discuss the science, but he was “never invited back.” And when he tried to raise the issue of stem-cell science, “I was told to stand down and not speak about it. It was removed from my speeches.”

It’s rare to hear a former loyalist dish on the Decider with such impunity, but apparently he’s still rankled by his dealings with the Bush apparatchiks: “Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological or political agenda is ignored, marginalized or simply buried. The problem with this approach is that in public health, as in a democracy, there is nothing worse than ignoring science or marginalizing the voice of science for reasons driven by changing political winds…The job of surgeon general is to be the doctor of the nation, not the doctor of a political party…”

Carmona followed up his testimony with an interview last night on PBS: “(I) was not allowed to speak out on health issues when needed, based on the best science, to deliver the best science…information that the American public needed to know, to be better informed to make good decisions…”

I was particularly struck, however, by one item in his sworn testimony – fresh evidence that the loyal Bushies were trying to compel nonpartisan public servants to subscribe to the kind of leadership cult commonly seen in places like North Korea:

It was the little detail about how he was ordered to invoke Bush’s name three times on every page of every speech.

By the way, the White House countered in the usual fashion yesterday, contending that Carmona failed in his job. Make of that what you will. I also anticipate that the Bush defenders will blithely ignore Carmona’s list of substantive complaints (among other things, he was ordered not to talk about advances in stem-cell science, or about how Bush’s abstinence-only stance on teen sex contradicted the best public health science), and simply take refuge in the “What About Clinton?” defense. And, yes, it’s true that Carmona’s predecessor, David Satcher, was barred in 1998 from releasing a new report about sexuality because its release would have been politically awkward for a president enmeshed at the time in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. And yes, it’s also true that Clinton forced Satcher’s predecessor, Jocelyn Elders, to resign in 1994 after she suggested publicly that masturbation should be discussed in sex ed courses.

But Carmona’s remarks need to be seen in proper context – as further evidence of the Bush regime’s unprecedented attempts to politicize the institutions of government, to bend them in the service of partisan ends.

As we already know, Bush has brought his same inimitable governing style to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (staffed with loyalists, such as Michael “heckuva job” Brown, who gutted the FEMA mission); the Justice Department (the still-unfolding prosecutor purge scandal), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (where scientists were barred from speaking out about global warming), the Food and Drug Administration (where the apparatchiks delayed the nonprescription availability of the morning-after pill), the Environmental Protection Agency (where Dick Cheney ordered the easing of air pollution rules, to satisfy the power plant industry that had donated heavily to the Bush-Cheney campaign), and, most infamously, the Department of Defense (where neoconservatives set up their own shop to push the case for war in Iraq).

Indeed, everything Carmona said yesterday merely confirms what John DiIulio was the first to say, five long years ago. DiIulio, a University of Pennsylvania professor and domestic policy expert, lasted barely a year as director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. His parting shot looks more prescient with each passing day:

“There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."


Quote of the day: “He seemed to be one of the nicest men and most honorable men I’ve ever met.”

- Jeanette Maier, former madame of a New Orleans whorehouse, extolling Republican Senator David Vitter, a “family values” conservative and married father of four, who, it turns out, regularly patronized her place of business during the ‘90s, at $300 a pop...while he was publicly writing that Bill Clinton should be impeached “because he is morally unfit to govern.”

I wonder whether Maier’s glowing character reference will help Vitter in his latest effort, serving as Rudy Giuliani’s liaison to southern Christian conservatives. A prayerful session on religious right leader James Dobson’s radio show may be in order.


Quote of the day (runner-up), courtesy of ex-Bush White House political director Sara Taylor, as she tried to explain, during Senate testimony today, why she was refusing to shed any light on Bush's possible role in the Justice Department's prosecutor purge scandal:

"I took an oath to the president, and I take that oath very seriously."

There it is again, the cult of the Leader. The fact is, Sara Taylor did not take an oath to the president. She took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution - as she later acknowledged under questioning.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Is Bush merely in Corleone mode?

So now we’re hearing that President Bush, clearly recognizing the erosion within his Republican base, intends to recalibrate his message about Iraq, and express a stronger desire to reduce the number of U.S. troops at what he deems to be the earliest opportunity. Or something like that. His aides are hinting that, as early as today, he will begin to unveil “his vision for the post-surge,” presumably as a counterweight to all the Bush visions that have come to naught thus far.

But, amidst the latest evidence that the war has already cost the American taxpayers nearly half a trillion dollars, with nearly 3600 U.S. soldiers dead, and with more than 70 percent of the electorate now favoring the withdrawal of nearly all troops by next April, the big question is whether restive Senate Republicans – particularly the 10 members who are already distancing themselves from Bush – will buy the idea that the Decider has suddenly learned humility.

They won’t fall for that. They know he is only trying to buy time – until the Petraeus status report in September, at which point he will try to buy even more time. They can perhaps seize upon one slender reed - the latest USA Today/ Gallup poll says that a majority of Americans are still willing to wait until September - but the political momentum is clearly for a strategy change, sooner rather than later.

Bush is starting to sound like Michael Corleone in Godfather II, at least in the scene when his wife Kay announces that she’s leaving him. His response: “Kay, in time you’ll feel differently. You’ll be glad I stopped you now…I’ll make it up to you. I’m going to change. I’ll change. I’ve learned that I have the strength to change…And we’ll go on, you and I. We’ll go on.”

Moments later, he slapped her.

The Senate Republicans are tired of getting slapped around; even Mitch McConnell, the GOP leader in the chamber, said something quite remarkable the other day. McConnell, who is up for re-election in 2008, said: “The majority of the public has decided the Iraq effort is not worth it. That puts a lot of pressure on Congress to act because public opinion in a democracy is not irrelevant.” (Nice of him to say that.)

Does Bush really have the strength to change? Consider all aspects of the current spin game. On the one hand, White House sources are saying that Bush might approve a gradual troop withdrawal, and be willing to accept less ambitious goals. On the other hand, Bush said today in Ohio, "we've got a plan to lead to victory." (Remind me...have we heard that one before?) And press secretary Tony Show appeared this morning on The Today Show, and seemed not to be ceding much of anything: “We need to give our forces time to show what they have done…We are at the very beginning stages of an effort to try to create the space so the Iraqis can stand up for themselves…(We are) going to try to find even more nuanced ways of trying to measure success.”

This is what happens when a president loses his political mojo – he has to make conciliatory noises to the critics in his own party, while also somehow signaling to his most diehard loyalists that he still has the old resolve. Snow was dispatched this morning to perform the latter task. The war hawks may be out of touch with landslide majority American opinion, but they’re still a vital part of Bush’s base.

Among Snow’s intended targets was Bill Kristol, the longtime neoconservative activist who edits Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard magazine. Kristol went ballistic yesterday, in the wake of reports that Bush might cede some ground to his war critics. Kristol derided the dissident GOP senators as “the current calamity-Janes of the Republican party,” and warned that if Bush caves in to this “insane, irrational panic,” he “would properly be viewed as a feckless, irresolute president, incapable of seeing his own strategy through a couple of months of controversy before abandoning it.” All told, here’s Kristol’s sage suggestion: “The best strategy for the president is to hold firm.”

But, for Bush, here’s the problem: He’s stuck between the mainstream Republicans who are waking up to political reality (McConnell’s belated recognition that “public opinion in a democracy is not irrelevant”), and the home front warriors, such as Kristol, who have been wrong about Iraq every step of the way, and who therefore would appear to lack the credibility to offer new advice.

Kristol is the same guy who said, on April 1, 2003: “There’s been a certain amount of pop psychology in America…that the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni, and that the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s almost no evidence of that at all.” He’s the same guy once said: “Nor is there any doubt that after Sept. 11, Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction pose a danger to us that we hadn’t grasped before.” He once said that “reconstructing Iraq may prove to be a less difficult task than the challenge of building a viable state in Afghanistan.” And last winter, he dismissed the bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s recommendations – including its call for a reduced U.S. presence in Iraq – as “deeply irresponsible.”

Yet today, mainstream Senate Republicans such as Lamar Alexander and John Sununu are backing a bill to put the ISG’s recommendations into effect – and that’s one of the milder options now on the table. As I mentioned here last Friday, the new GOP dissidents have yet to back up their defiant words with actual antiwar votes, but clearly that prospect is growing. If Bush sincerely intends to bond anew with the GOP, and forestall further erosion, he may be well advised to stiff the tainted neoconservative prophets and cede substantive ground.


Bill Kristol, on many other fronts, is a smart and perceptive guy. And, as I sought to demonstrate in my latest newspaper column, he was downright prescient, back in 1999, about how the conservatives intended to remake the U. S. Supreme Court, in the aftermath of a Republican presidential victory.


By the way, the latest USA Today-Gallup poll (referenced near the top of today's post) also contains this little nugget:

When asked whether Bush was right to commute Scooter Libby's jail sentence, 13 percent said yes. Sixty-six percent said no.

No wonder most Capitol Hill Republicans have been staying far away from that one. The only Republican willing to brave the Sunday shows and defend Bush's decision was Utah congressman Chris Cannon, whose predictable response was to change the subject to Bill Clinton.


The latest on the McCain campaign meltdown: This morning, his two top strategists quit. In terms of inside baseball, this is very big news.

Early last week, while insisting that McCain's fundraising crisis was no big deal, campaign manager Terry Nelson said he was honored to forego a paycheck and toil for McCain free of charge. Now he says it was a “tremendous honor” to serve McCain, but he won’t do it any longer. Nevertheless, “I believe John McCain is the most experienced and prepared candidate to represent the Republican Party and defeat the Democratic nominee next year."

Nelson was a relative newcomer to the McCain fold. Not so John Weaver, the chief strategist, who stuck with and suffered with McCain, amidst the smears from unnamed Bush partisans, during the 2000 primary season. But now Weaver is leaving, as well. He too says it was an “honor” to serve McCain; moreover, “There is only one person equipped to serve as our nation's chief executive and deal with the challenges we face, and that person is John McCain.”

If they still think he’s the best candidate, why are they bailing? The latest reports indicate that McCain fired Nelson, prompting Weaver to quit, and, in turn, prompting longtime McCain intimate Mark Salter (co-author of McCain's books) to quit as well.

No doubt we'll learn more about what triggered this implosion, which will surely feed the perception that the purported Straight Talk Express is out of gas. For McCain, maybe this exodus is an act of mercy, because there’s virtually no chance that an unreconstructed Iraq war hawk can win the presidency in 2008.

Monday, July 09, 2007

My Dick Cheney fantasy interview

I surfed the Sunday talk shows yesterday, but this is the one I really wanted to see:

TIM RUSSERT: Our stories this morning - President Bush keeps Scooter Libby out of jail and triggers more controversy for a beleaguered administration that is also facing major Senate Republican defections over the war in Iraq. These issues and more for our exclusive guest, the vice president of the United States. Dick Cheney, welcome back to Meet the Press. It’s good to have you here.

CHENEY: I’m not here.

RUSSERT: Excuse me?

CHENEY: Well, clearly I am ‘here,’ if by ‘here’ you are referring only to a temporal physical presence, one that is most certainly superseded by the provisions of Article VIII of the U.S. Constitution.

RUSSERT: I was not aware - forgive me, sir, but I was taught many years ago that the U.S. Constitution contains only seven articles. Are you saying -

CHENEY: Exactly right. Alexander Hamilton was a very prescient man, and he clearly foresaw the loss of life on Sept. 11 when he personally crafted Article VIII, which enumerates the inherently implicit powers of the vice president to create the fourth branch of government in time of national emergency. I would share this newly discovered document with you, but legal counsel compels me not to, although I can say with confidence today that we will be sharing it with our Iraqi friends, who continue to seek advice on how to best construct their new democracy.

RUSSERT: All right, let’s move to the topic of Iraq. Your superior, President Bush –

CHENEY (lopsided grin): My what?

RUSSERT: All right, perhaps I'm not up to speed on Article VIII. Let me rephrase. Mr. Bush last week announced that he had commuted the jail sentence of your longtime close aide, Scooter Libby, even though Mr. Libby had been convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in a national security investigation into an alleged White House effort to smear a critic of the Iraq war. Newsweek has just posted a new article about the president’s backstage deliberations. Let’s look at a key passage.

NEWSWEEK EXCERPT ON SCREEN (RUSSERT NARRATING): The president was conflicted. He hated the idea that a loyal aide would serve time. Hanging over his deliberations was Cheney, who said he was “very disappointed” with the jury’s verdict. Cheney did not directly weigh in with Fielding – that’s Fred Fielding, the White House counsel – but nobody involved had any doubt where he stood. “I’m not sure Bush had a choice," says one of his advisors. "If he didn’t act, it would have caused a fracture with the vice president.”

RUSSERT: Any comment?

CHENEY: Tim, as you know, Newsweek is affiliated with The Washington Post, and The Washington Post, as you know, has not always been a friend of those who understand the threat of our enemies at home and abroad. And it would appear, from this report, that it was sourced in part by leaks that I did not authorize –

RUSSERT: But isn’t there something disturbing about the suggestion that Bush didn’t have a “choice” in the matter? That he had to let Libby off, because if he didn’t, he would make you angry? Forgive me, sir, but who is running this country?

CHENEY: Again, Tim, I could reference Article VIII, but if you insist on seeing it, legal counsel advises me to take preventive measures, through the use of a burn bag.

RUSSERT: That won’t be necessary. But some people allege, Mr. Vice President, that the decision to free Mr. Libby sets up a double standard of justice. It is well known, for example, that when Mr. Bush was the governor of Texas, he turned down 57 requests to commute the death sentences of inmates who had received shoddy legal representation. One of those lawyers literally fell asleep during his client’s trial. Amnesty International even issued a report about the Bush years. I'm quoting now: “At every step of the process in Texas, a litany of grossly inadequate legal procedures fail to meet minimum international standards for the protections of human rights,” while also failing to adopt the minimum standards set by the American Bar Association. Mr. Vice President, is it fair to free Mr. Libby, who had the best legal representation money can buy –

CHENEY: Tim, again, Sept. 11, 2001 was a day that changed America, and I was of course disappointed that the judge and jury in Mr. Libby’s case declined to honor Mr. Libby’s contributions in taking the fight to the enemy in Iraq –

RUSSERT: Sir, are you suggesting that Saddam Hussein planned the Sept. 11 attacks…But let’s stay on point here. Why is it fair that Mr. Bush should be lenient with Mr. Libby, in direct contradiction to his tough-on-crime record in Texas – where as documents clearly indicate, he repeatedly refused to commute the death sentences of inmates who were mentally ill and mentally retarded?

CHENEY: Tim, I can say categorically that the mentally ill had absolutely no role in planning or executing our vital war in Iraq.

RUSSERT: Well, let’s talk for a moment about that war. You’re losing support these days even among Senate Republicans who don’t see any progress in Iraq. This weekend, in fact, a suicide truck bomb killed as many as 200 people, perhaps the deadliest single event since the 2003 invasion, and scores of other deaths were reported as well. Yet here is something you said, on this show, back on Sept. 14 of that year. Let’s watch.

VIDEO EXCERPT ON SCREEN (CHENEY, 9/14/03): We’re moving aggressively to deal with the security situation. We’re continuing those efforts. We’ve got some first-rate troops undertaking those efforts, and, needless to say, we’ve had major success, major progress when you think about the number of Iraqi bad guys that we’ve eliminated or captured….We’ve got Iraqis now in charge of each ministry in the government. We’ve got 90 percent—over 90 percent of the cities and towns and villages of Iraq are now governed by democratically elected or appointed local councils. We’ve got all the schools open; we’ve got all the hospitals up and functioning…

RUSSERT: Given the current bloodshed, Mr. Vice President, were you perhaps too optimistic in 2003?

CHENEY: Well, again, Tim, let’s talk about the unfortunate incident this weekend. To me it clearly demonstrates that the perpetrators are increasingly desperate, and that the Iraqi insurgency itself is in its last throes, if you will. And may I say one thing more, Tim?

RUSSERT: Absolutely, Mr. Vice President, it’s always a pleasure to have you here.

CHENEY: Yes, well, I would like to confiscate the video of this particular show –

RUSSERT: Excuse me?

CHENEY: - and request a permanent embargo on any and all transcripts of this show, as they might signal our future intentions to the enemy, under the provisions of Section 3 of the aforementioned Article VIII.

RUSSERT: Mr. Vice President, that is an extraordinary request. Perhaps I may at least be permitted to read the relevent provisions of Article VIII, before forwarding your request to NBC.

CHENEY: Well, we might be able to arrange that –

RUSSERT: Thank you, sir. Thank you very much.

CHENEY: - but then we might have to kill you.