HH: Pleased to welcome for the first time in 14 years to my radio show one of the most familiar faces and voices in all of American journalism, Al Hunt, currently Bloomberg View columnist, and a host of Political Capitol on Bloomberg Television. Al Hunt, welcome, it’s great to have you on.
AH: Hugh, it’s great to be on. Now be gentle with me, okay?
HH: Well, I found out today that this whole crusty journalist stuff is a complete fraud, because Christina Pilakoutis is a friend of mine. She was your student at Penn.
AH: She was.
HH: And she says you’re like a grandpa. You’re like an uncle to everyone there.
AH: You know, I’ll tell you, an aging don.
HH: Well, you bring in all lefties, though. Is that true…
AH: That’s not true. I mean, my first lecture I ever had up there was Robert Novak.
HH: Well, you can’t get better than that.
AH: And the first thing Robert Novak, he talked about how successful he was, a columnist, TV star and all that kind of stuff, and he said I know what you’re thinking now, but let me tell you one thing, kids. I’m a token, and don’t you ever forget that.
HH: Well, Christina said it’s a great class. Now Al Hunt, the reason I called you up is your column on when presidents lose top deputies to scandals, and how Obama can rescue his presidency from these fake scandals. But I’ve got to begin by saying no one ever brings up Jake Stein, and I was the clerk to the special panel of the D.C. Circuit that appointed him the prosecutor for Ed Meese. What a remarkable lawyer. Is he a friend of yours?
AH: Well, I know Jake, yes, I sure do, and he is a remarkable lawyer. I haven’t seen him in a couple of years, but he’s got to be, what, late 80s now, Hugh, and he is one of the legendary Washington lawyers. And he did that, you know, I am skeptical of those old special prosecutors, and I think some of the original conservative criticism was right that they take on a life of their own. Jake proved that it could be done, and it could be done efficiently, effectively, and short.
HH: Now it seems to me your column was arguing that President Obama really does need to do something to stop the hemorrhaging, and do it quickly. Is that the bottom line?
AH: It is. It is. I happen to think that probably none of these rise to the level of a major scandal. Maybe I’m wrong. But I certainly think they’re going to be not only a distraction, they’re going to dominate the agenda for the next three or four months, and no president can afford that.
HH: Now the IRS testimony today, the Lois Lerner 5th Amendment, whether she waived her immunity or not, that is always bad news for presidents. And how does he get out of that if his subordinates aren’t even talking to the Congress?
AH: Well, first of all, as you know, Hugh, she’s not really a subordinate. She really is, she wasn’t a presidential appointee. But you’re right. Anytime the term 5th Amendment and an administration are in the same sentence, that’s bad news. My view is that they ought to appoint a special counsel to look at the IRS. That’s not an independent counsel the way it was in the past. They still report to the Department of Justice as did Patrick Fitzgerald. I don’t think it has to take as long if there’s not much there, and I suspect there’s not. If there is, it’s going to be bad anyway. And I think they could get some kind of, somebody who knows a lot about taxes, somebody who knows a lot about the Treasury. I suggested maybe even Paul O’Neil. It would be better to have a Republican. I think that would have much more credibility than a Justice Department investigation.
HH: You also recommended, and this caught my attention, Eric Holder’s credibility is shattered beyond repair, and that perhaps a moderate Republican, and there are legions of those, Elliot Richardson’s not around anymore, but there are lots of Elliot Richardsons.
AH: You can’t appoint a dead man.
HH: You can’t. But that would not go over well with this particular cadre of Chicago people, right?
AH: Well, no, I think there probably would be some, or you know, I said a moderate Republican, but I think Eric Holder has lived whatever usefulness he might have had. I don’t think he has credibility. I think Obama would have been better served if he had offered to resign three or four months ago. There might be a few Democrats you could appoint that might be able to get through, Ken Feinberg, for instance, but it may be that you have to turn to a Republican. But the point is that you can’t have an attorney general who is, I think, under constant siege, and lacks credibility the way Eric Holder does today.
HH: You also ran through the litany, and it’s familiar to this audience, Sherman Adams, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Bert Lance. Eventually, presidents have to fire people in order to amputate the gangrenous growth. Who does President Obama fire, Valerie Jarrett?
AH: No, I don’t think she’s in the same category as Sherman Adams or Bob Haldeman et al right now. I’m not sure there’s anybody who falls in that category. As a matter of fact, there’s not. I think Holder ought to be encouraged, should we say, to offer his resignation. I think the Obama problem is a little different than all of these. There’s not one person or one small cadre that’s caused problems. It’s just that the overall tone, which is set always from the top, has been pretty insular, hasn’t been outreaching enough. They ought to talk to more Democrats and more Republicans than they do, and particularly when they’re in trouble, I think there is that tendency to circle the wagons, and that’s always a mistake.
HH: Now Al Hunt, you’ve been following presidents in D.C. since Nixon. And my old boss in the White House, Fred Fielding, was the kind of Republican who’s institutional, and can tell anyone whatever he thinks is right. I don’t see that kind of gravitas in this administration. Do you?
AH: No, you’re right. I agree with you on Fred. There are probably people that could do that, that I don’t think that they turn to. There are lawyers who I think that serve them well, who I don’t think are consulted or are involved that much in this administration.
HH: Well given that, how does he, you know, they’re tapping journalists. They’re doing all the things that got Richard Nixon into deep trouble, IRS abuse, tapping journalists, enemies lists. How do they get out of this without having it turn into the longest second term in history?
AH: Well, that’s the danger right now. I think from what we know so far, Hugh, from what we know so far, I think the IRS thing is different than Nixon. Now we may learn more. It may be that I’m wrong. Maybe I’m naïve on this. But there’s no indication yet that there was any political pressure from above that was brought on this, as there was in Nixon. If that emerges, then I think there’s almost no way to get out of it. I still doubt that. The journalists, it is, I think, unconscionable. I think what they did in all these instances, and there’s a pattern. The Fox thing probably is the most offensive of all. And I can’t defend it. It’s not, frankly, to my regret, my guess is the public doesn’t care a whole lot about it, and I don’t think it rises to the level of a governing crisis. I just think it’s, I think it’s just dreadful and chilling policy.
HH: You know, on Monday I had Michael Shear of the New York Times. Yesterday, I had your colleague, Jonathan Alter, on, a regular guest. You’re saying the same thing. But I don’t see the President coming out and saying what Jonathan said yesterday. He needs to come out and apologize to the world of journalism, and to the world of 1st Amendment enthusiasts, whether they’re professionals or not, because this was his Department of Justice. He can’t just keep saying I saw it on TV, can he?
AH: No, it’s not only his Department of Justice, but this is really the tone they have set on leaks. I mentioned in another show this morning, it drives my liberal friends crazy when I point out that Eric Holder has brought more whistleblower, including journalist, cases, then Ed Meese and John Mitchell and John Ashcroft combined. And so that’s a pattern that’s established here. It’s not just these two latest cases. Jim Risen in the New York Times and other cases, and I think, I don’t think Obama will apologize, because frankly, it reflects his own policies.
HH: Do they have contempt for adversaries, or just indifference to the 1st Amendment, or both?
AH: Well, I think they will argue certainly they don’t have any indifference to the 1st Amendment, that this is a terrorism thing, and et cetera, et cetera. They have some disdain for adversaries, but they’re not the only politicians who fall in that category.
HH: No Republicans, Al Hunt. But Al Hunt, great to talk to you, come back again, and thanks for spending some time with us. Watch Al Hunt every single weekend on Bloomberg TV where he hosts the new Political Capitol show, plus his column over at Bloomberg View.
End of interview.