Meeting The Press
Tim Russert's reputation as a reporter is growing stronger in my opinion, as he is getting back toward performing the duties of a real news reporter and not a partisan hatchet man.
As I write this, I just finished watching the 5/2 episode of Meet The Press during which Russert talked with Kofi Annan and Joe Wilson. Russert asked some tough questions of both, and kept the cheap shots down to a minimum. This isn't to say that he didn't lay down any traps for either to step into, just that they weren't cheap ones.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Annan was asked some tough questions about the UN and its future participation in the Iraq reconstruction. Among the topics were what the transfer of sovereignty meant to the UN, what role the UN was going to play in this, and what the US role should be.
Annan said that the UN is all for the creation of an interim government, whose scope would be limited to governing the country until the elections can occur, and having no long-term legislative rights which would 'bind the new government'. The UN would oversee the political situation while the US maintains overall security. Once the interim government is established, the UN would act in an advisory role. The specifics of this role are to be discussed by the Security Council soon.
Annan sees the US role being altered, with US troop strength being reduced in favor of troops provided by 'nations not already on the ground', including those of 'Old Europe' if they are willing to participate, but at this time he couldn't say they would.
One off Russert's traps involved a statement Annan made recently that Russert claimed took the position that the US should not be 'defending' itself against the uprising. Anna stated that the comments he made were aimed specifically at the situations in Fallujah and Najaf, trying to make the point (since proven, IMHO) that any actions the US was likely to take there would only aid the opposition. He felt that the US 'must take any necessary action' to defend itself, but implied that aggressive actions, like those in Fallujah and Najaf, were only making things worse.
Another of Russert's snares was a question regarding the appointment of ex-Ba'athist military officers to the Iraqi security forces. Anna felt that anyone who can pass inspection as not being involved in criminal acts should be allowed to take such positions. (Assuming that these officers still have any authority with the Iraqi people, it would make some sense.)
Yet another snare laid down for Mr. Annan involved a statement reportedly made by Brahimi that implied that 'outide factors', specifically the Israeli-Palestinian disputes and US support for Ariel Sharon's positions regarding them, affected the already tense situation in Iraq. Annan disagreed with Russert's contention, stating that he had talked with Brahimi and was told by him that this is a common perception of the people of the Middle East and needs to be addressed. the best way to do so would involve a 'quartet', at which he's going to be UN representative, (The others being the US, the EU, and the Russian Federation) working out a way to get the Israelis and Palestinians to resume negotiations. "This is a situation that must be resolved," he said. This 'quartet' is the same group that came up with 'The Roadmap', so they already have some experience with this situation. They should be able to pick up right where they left off and get directly to the specific problem of getting negotiations restarted.
Russert asked Annan if Brahimi was the right man for the job of dealing with the Iraq situation. Annan replied with a list of the situations Mr. Brahimi has been involved in, and concluded that he couldn't think of anyone better for that role.
The topic of US opinions and negative attitudes toward the UN came up. Russert asked, "Has this made the Middle East more dangerous? There have been numerous attacks in the region recently."
Annan declared the UN was trying to heal the Middle East, stating that he felt that it would be hard to prove that the recent attacks were connected to the Iraq Occupation, but the Middle East is only one place the UN is concerned with. 'Promoting world security is very difficult.'
When Russert raised the WMD inspections and the sparse results obtained during and since, Annan replied that the inspectors needed more time to come up with conclusive evidence, one way or the other, for their final report to prove or disprove the existence of WMD in Iraq.
"But Saddam wasn't cooperating!" protested Russert. Annan implied agreement when he said that Saddam became more cooperative after a statement Annan made in November of 2002, and that once this cooperation occurred, it was just a matter of time before the inspectors could complete the task of determining the existence of WMD.
"Is the UN irrelevant?" asked Russert. Annan said no, describing the UN as a 'unique' organization which can bring the world together to solve problems. 'Pooling efforts' worked best, in his opinion, and would help the Iraq situation. As to whether bush should 'kiss and make up' with 'Old Europe', Annan said that relations among the various nations continue, and their assistance would help the situation in Iraq.
Russert at this point slipped back into his GOP attack dog mode in raising the Oil For Food embezzlement scandal. He tried to make the case that Kofi Annan's son, at one time an employee of a company named Cotecna, had something to do with the award of a contract to oversee a portion of the Oil For Food program to Cotecna. One could tell from Annan's reaction to this accusation hurt him, but he gamely replied, stating that his son had been assigned to work in Nigeria for Cotecna, and he resigned before cotecna was awarded a contract. He was still on contract when this happened, but he had never had anything to do with Cotecna and Iraq.
"Doesn't this at least give the appearance of nepotism?" accused Russert. Annan replied that he had the situation appraised by the UN's legal experts, who cleared the situation of any impropriety before the award was finalized.
Having set Annan up, Russert then hit him with the haymaker. Russert claimed that [Sevan] had illicit connections with Saddam, and was given an oil voucher for $3.5 million dollars in return for assisting with the diversion of Oil for Food funds to Saddam and his sons for their pet projects. russert also displayed an email, allegedly from Sevan, that advised Saybolt (a company involved with the situation) they had to check with him before they discussed the situation with anyone.
Annan admitted that he had no knowledge of this evidence, and stated that all of the UN records were available to the Volker commission, which is investigation the allegations. The UN is preserving all documents for Volker.
Russert stated that Volker has no subpoena power, and asked how he could get to the truth.
Annan replied that the Volker Commission can interview anyone in the UN, all UN personnel have been ordered to cooperate fully with the investigation, and that all records are available to the commission.
"Will anyone be dismissed for not cooperating?" Russert demanded.
Annan avowed that anyone who didn't cooperate would be fired, and that anyone found complicit would have all immunities revoked and be subject to the judicial system.
Would that we could get such action involving the Bush (mis)Administration!
Annan defended UN actions in the program, and tried to explain how the program grew from an initial amount of $2 billion a year to $10 billion. Generally, allowing for the short time frame this discussion had, I tend to believe that Annan was telling the truth about this. Especially when, asked by Russert, Annan declared that volker would 'absolutely' have his support. He also vowed to take action on the findings of the Volker Commission. He only hoped that judgement on the UN would be withheld until Paul Volker had completed his investigation.
Now, this sounds to me like a man who has nothing to hide and isn't afraid of discovering the truth about his organization. Paying attention, W?
Joe Wilson Going Down en Plame
Russert jumped right into the 2003 State of the Union comment concerning Saddam's search for WMD materials, the '16 words' that Wilson later said should not have been included in the speech. Russert asked Wilson what he thought when he heard this.
Wilson replied that he didn't think Niger was the country referred to, since he had clearly stated in his report that this allegation could not have happened in Niger. Rice 'misstated the facts' when she denied that anyone at her level knew about Wilson's report, and Cheney (on Meet The Press, no less!) also still insisted that the allegation was true.
Russert countered with a comment from George Tenet, implying that there had to be some kind of contact between Niger officials and Iraqi officials for this to have had any credence. Wilson said that a Niger official had met with 'Baghdad Bob', but that there was no discussion of uranium at that time.
Having set up the scene, Russert brought up the outing of Mrs. Wilson.
Wilson had a lot to say about this. He was furious at the outing of his wife as a CIA agent, and brought up the instance of a friend who was approached by Novak on a Washington street (two days after Wilson had publicly raised doubts about the Administration (sic) and their use of false information to have a reason to go to war against Iraq), discussing the fact that Mrs. Wilson was a CIA agent and that Wilson himself was an [expletive]. Upon leaving Novak, the unnamed friend went straight to Wilson and reported the incident to him. Wilson says he has verified the pertinent facts through other sources.
"How many other people did Novak talk to during those days? He didn't publish his information until six days later." [after Wilson's public statements]
Russert asked about Wilson's naming of names, pointing out that on a page toward the end of his book, Wilson writes that "It's possible the Bush Administration (sic) used others to pass along this sensitive information." and thus waters down his own case against Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby and Elliot Abrams.
Wilson replied that the action is known to have come out of the Office of the Vice President, and that, as he knows from his sources, it is likely that all of those named knew about the 'work up' being done on Wilson. He accused Bush of either not being in control of those staffing his own administration (sic) or being in the loop. He also said that if Bush were serious about 'getting to the bottom of this' he wouldn't have to ask very many people.
Russert asked if Wilson was going to reveal his sources. Wilson said no, that too many of them feared retribution from the Bush people. He hadn't asked Novak to reveal his sources, and felt that he owed the same respect to his own sources. Even journalists have told him that they have been warned off covering this scandal in any way.
Wilson apparently mentions involvement by Newt Gingrich in the deliberations of the 'work up', an allegation Russert claimed Gingrich denies.
Wilson admitted that maybe Newt wasn't there, but who ever was there is stonewalling the investigation. Wilson asserted again that only a few could know the truth, and Bush was either an active participant or not in control at all, or else he would have discovered who provided the information on Mrs. Wilson.
Russert mentioned that there are indications that Karl Rove knew about this as early as March, and Wilson replied that it would explain how Novak knew when he did. Wilson felt that Libby and Abrams knew, and maybe others, but he claims he's checked his information so that he wasn't using circular reporting and had at least two independent sources for his claims. He also brought out that Poppy Bush stated that the outing of Mrs. Wilson was 'insidious treachery'.
"You stated that you wanted to see Karl Rove frog marched out of the White House in handcuffs ..."
Wilson claimed that Karl Rove told NBC's Chris Matthews that Valerie Plame (Mrs. Wilson, to those who haven't figured this out yet) was fair game. He continued with a bit of a rant about how it was his duty to hold his country to account, that if his report had been heeded the '16 words' wouldn't have been included in the State of the Union speech. "There's partisanship behind these attacks!" he declared, reminding the viewers that under the Constitution there is a system of checks and balances, for citizens and the press, to keep the government accountable.
Russert asked if Rove committed a crime by talking to Matthews, to which Wilson replied he wasn't a lawyer and didn't know, but that it was a good place for an investigation to start. What's known already indicates that 'something happened', and that this sort of 'political shenanigan' has no place in American politics.
He also made a claim that a Republican told him that the War in Iraq is about to cause 'a strategic catastrophe' (Sorry - didn't get the context).
Russert ended with a cheap shot. "Is it not unseemly for a Kerry supporter to be making personal attacks upon members of the Administration (sic)?", quoting some comments Wilson had made about Cheney and others.
Wilson replied that those comments were the 'gentlest and kindest' comments he could make about those people when their lies and deceptions caused the Iraq War. "Mr. Bush has often said that this election should be seen as a referendum on his first four years. I hope that the American people see it that way."
I still have some difficulty with the appearance of mercenary motives in some of Wilson's recent statements as I noted in a previous post, and he shot himself in the foot at least once today. But on the whole, I think Joe Wilson helped himself some. I never detected any obvious desire to obfuscate or mislead, nor do I feel that Wilson is putting us on for the benefit of a buck. Only time will provide the proof. But if I had to choose between believing Wilson or believing anyone from the Bush (mis)Administration, I'm with Joe.