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Hugh and National Review’s Byron York analyze Hillary’s nuclear option against Barack Obama

Monday, March 10, 2008
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HH: A rapidly moving story, Eliot Spitzer caught in a prostitution ring. Word is he’s about to resign, but can he in fact stick it through? That’s the question for Byron York, White House correspondent for National Review, the magazine of the right. Byron, welcome back, always a pleasure to talk to you.

BY: Hi, Hugh, good to be here.

HH: First, give us a rundown of what you folks have been able to figure out about this scandal, and where it stands right now?

BY: Well, it looks pretty bad. I mean, we know that there is this criminal complaint supported by an affidavit with lots and lots of details about a prostitution operation based in New York. And a certain client number nine, said to be the governor of New York, who arranges to have a prostitute come down on the train to meet him while he’s visiting Washington, staying in the Mayflower Hotel, a very nice hotel here, and arranges to pay for her, I think, $4,300 dollars, it was, and apparently makes use of her services on the night of February 13th of this year. And some of the operators of the prostitution ring are the subject of this criminal complaint. Spitzer’s not been charged with anything. Something new has kind of popped up in the sense that ABC is now reporting that this investigation didn’t actually start as an investigation of the prostitution ring and then inadvertently snared Spitzer. It actually started, according to ABC, as an investigation of Spitzer’s unusual money transfers.

HH: Oh, wow.

BY: These are the ways in which he was trying to hide the fact that he was paying for the prostitution ring for its services. And according to ABC, there was some sort of bank or financial institution who reports these financial transactions. The thought is that perhaps Spitzer is taking bribes or trying to hide them. They later find out that there are these payments, you know, to the prostitution place. And then that started the investigation into the prostitution ring. Now these are all news reports. We don’t know if they are absolutely true. We certainly heard some erroneous ones today, but that’s where things stand right now.

HH: Now Byron, you penned a piece over at Nationalreview.com, which had a very, I think, important observation. These sorts of scandals tend to shock us immediately.

BY: Right.

HH: And if you keep your head down, aka Larry Craig, and your feet not in the wide stance, you can sometimes survive these things.

BY: Well you know, I was thinking that. I mean, everybody is saying now my goodness, he’s going to have to resign. But listen, in January of 1998, when I heard what Bill Clinton had done with Monica Lewinsky, I thought you know, this is not survivable. Well, it was survivable. And it is true that this news is stunning when you first hear it. But this outrage you feel and the shock you feel diminishes over time. It becomes familiar, people process the information, and it becomes less, you know, shocking. And there’s the possibility that Spitzer could survive, it seems to me. Look, he may be resigning as we speak.

HH: Yup.

BY: But if he is…you have to remember, Clinton was not accused of an underlying crime. He was accused of lying about his relationship with Lewinsky.

HH: Right.

BY: He never ‘fessed up ever, ever, ever. But his defenders essentially argued that he had indeed lied, but everybody lies. Spitzer has certainly, it appears, committed an underlying crime, if only the use of the prostitute.

HH: Right.

BY: But if he is not charged with anything, his defenders can argue that he hadn’t been charged with anything. And if he is charged with it, his defenders might say that he’s being selectively prosecuted, he’s being charged with something that most people aren’t charged with. Either way, it’s not an easy argument to make, but I think it’s survivable. The difference with Spitzer and Clinton, I think, is that Spitzer, at this moment, does not appear to have any friends. I don’t know if you’ve been listening to the commentaries…

HH: Oh, yeah, and a whole lot more enemies. David Dreier…

BY: Just taking whacks at him right and left. And Clinton had people who were willing to sacrifice their own credibility…

HH: Right.

BY: …to defend him.

HH: Right. But…

BY: And…

HH: But Spitzer has built his tower out of the bones of others…

BY: That’s right.

HH: And that means there are a lot of people who are ready to come back and take a whack at him. Let me ask you about Hillary and Barack Obama at this point. All they want him to do is go away, don’t they?

BY: (laughing) All they want Spitzer to do?

HH: Yeah.

BY: Oh, yeah, I would think so, you know, because as I was writing this, I thought you know, if he stayed in office, if he did decide that he could brazen it out, I mean, there’s still a high cost, and one of those costs would be that he would be kind of hanging around the neck of the Democratic nominee, especially if the Democratic nominee were the Senator from New York. And he’s a committed superdelegate supporting her, I believe.

HH: Yes, he is. And so they’re going to push him over the side tonight. Now that leads me to the other scandal du jour, which is Tony Rezko’s trial in Chicago.

BY: Yeah.

HH: I was checking up at Rezkorama.com, and his name came up in the trial again today. Does this present other than an annoyance to him, Byron York?

BY: You know, it’s interesting. I was saying for a long time, I couldn’t believe the length of the up cycle that Obama had had. I mean, there was just this period where he was defying the law of gravity. Now, he seems, certainly since the losses on March 4th, he seems to be having much less of an up cycle. But the news, certainly with the NAFTA thing, which I think did him some damage in Ohio, but this Rezko news, to my knowledge, has really not fully resonated with people, and you’re going to have to see more of a connection, which we may see in the course of this trial. Somebody’s going to have to make this story better. And certainly the Clinton campaign, if you’re listening to these conference calls they have with reporters, I mean, not every day, but virtually every day, they’re saying watch this trial, look at this trial, ask him these questions about Rezko. But right now, you know, I don’t think it has hurt him very much.

HH: Yeah, I had Ross Douthat on last week, telling him, and he said you know, this isn’t a big deal. And I said everyone who’s bought a house in America understands that if your brother-in-law comes in and buys the empty lot for $645,000, he’s done you a favor.

BY: Right.

HH: And Senators can’t accept favors.

BY: And you two had actually walked through your own house…

HH: Right.

BY: …in the process of buying. And I mean, so he was part of the deal.

HH: So when do the Clintons take out the Ethics Committee charge in the Senate? Because that, to me, is the nuke.

BY: Wow.

HH: That’s when, you know, when they bring out, and they bring an Ethics Committee charge in the Senate…she’s committed to winning, right? She’ll do anything.

BY: She is committed, because the interesting thing about the Clintons is that they realize that if you’re willing to be totally shameless, and you’re willing to be beyond humiliation, you can win. And once you win, you’re in, you’re there.

HH: Right.

BY: So in other words, if they do anything to get elected, well, they’re in office. And the question, the open question about Obama is whether is what he is willing to do to win. Now whether there would be a surrogate or ally of the Clintons to bring some sort of ethics charge? You know, I don’t know. Frankly, I hadn’t thought about that one.

HH: Do you get to ask questions on these conference calls?

BY: Yeah.

HH: You ought to ask Howard Wolfson if they’re so sure that something’s stinky there, why doesn’t she ask for an investigation in the Senate? Because he was a Senator-elect when they bought this house.

BY: Well, you’re absolutely right, and that’s a fine question. And who knows? It could get asked.

HH: I’m here to help you.

BY: (laughing)

HH: Now let’s go back to John McCain’s side.

BY: Yeah.

HH: I have been impressed that he is very methodically doing what he has to do on the right. He hasn’t shown up on the talk radio shows yet, I’ve invited him, we’ll see if he ever shows up. But just generally, very methodical about this. What’s your take, Byron?

BY: Yeah, he’s doing exactly that, and he has a little bit of time while he is not…to sort of make the best use of his time when he’s just not in the spotlight. And he just can’t be in the spotlight right now, given what’s going on in the Democratic side. So he needs to be mending those fences, he needs to be going and making appearances in places like, I believe he was in St. Louis today or tomorrow.

HH: Right, right.

BY: I can’t remember. And I mean, that’s a good place to be. And so he needs to be working on his general election campaign without trying to scream for the headlines, because he can’t get those right now.

HH: What do you hear about his money?

BY: You know, the big question is, and it’s on my list to look into, is whether anything’s going to happen with this FEC thing. He’s fine on money if he doesn’t have to worry about this matching funds system, and he can indeed withdraw from it. My sense is that he probably can withdraw, and he can say I’m getting out, and if you want to talk about it, we’ll talk about it after the election, which is how it always works with the FEC. But it’s nothing compared to what Obama or Hillary Clinton are bringing in. Hillary Clinton, the weak contender in the money race, is pulling in a million dollars a day.

HH: Wow.

BY: And it appears that…

HH: Wow.

BY: …Obama got, what, $55 million in February?

HH: It is stunning. It’s more money than anyone’s ever seen in this process.

BY: And it is, by all accounts, it is small donations. And small donations mean two things. It means A) Obama can go back to those people, because they’re nowhere near giving the limit that’s allowed under federal law, and B) it is a measure of intensity if you get that many people who will write a $50 dollar or $100 dollar check to you. It does indicate, I think, a certain breadth of support.

HH: Does he win Mississippi tomorrow night?

BY: Oh, yeah. I think he does.

HH: And after…if you put Wyoming and Mississippi back to back, doesn’t that take some of the sting out of the Rush-powered Ohio and Texas wins?

BY: Not as much, in my view. I do think that she’s going to have a significant argument…if she were able to win Pennsylvania, and if she were also to claim victories in some way in Florida and Michigan, she has, I think, a significant argument that there are these big states that you have to have to have to win as a Democrat, and that she’s won them.

HH: Well, that’s a fascinating argument. Byron York, always a pleasure from Nationalreview.com. Read him at The Corner, read him every day. We’ll talk to him frequently through ’08 and beyond.

End of interview.

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