THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
JOINED BY: ELEANOR CLIFT, MICHAEL BARONE,
TONY BLANKLEY AND MORT ZUCKERMAN
TAPED FRIDAY, AUGUST 14, 1998
AIRED THE WEEKEND OF AUGUST 15-16, 1998
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ANNOUNCER: From the nation's capital, the McLaughlin Group, an unrehearsed program presenting inside opinions and forecasts on major issues of the day. GE is proud to support the McLaughlin Group. From medical systems to broadcasting -- GE, we bring good things to life.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: High stake showdown. On the eve of President Clinton's historic testimony before Ken Starr's grand jury, Washington is overheated with speculation about exactly what Clinton will say: He will stick to his story. No, he will change his story and admit a sexual relationship. No, he will do neither. He will walk a semantic tightrope with breath-taking linguistic acrobatics.
Question: What's causing this wild press speculation on what Clinton will say this Monday, Michael Barone?
MR. BARONE: Well, I think a certain amount of desperation among Clinton supporters. I mean, they've got to reconcile the irreconcilable. I find it fascinating that none of them seems to -- all of them seem to be taking the assumption that he did not tell the truth in his January 17th deposition, that he's got to do something or may have to do something to change it.
But some of these trial balloons I think are pretty weak, John. He's been urged in the story in the New York Times, by unnamed sources, to say that he didn't have sexual relations with Monica as defined by definition one that was given by Judge Wright. The problem is that under definition one, Monica, according to what she's evidently testified, had sexual relations with Bill Clinton in the same incident. So you're supposed to say she had sexual relations with him but he didn't have sexual relations with her. I don't think that stands the Jay Leno test.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: Well, I don't know that sources are urging him to do this. I mean, everybody is speculating on what he will say. And it seems to me that if he goes through torturous explanations of what constitutes sex or not, that that would be a terrible path to take. I mean, either he had sex or he didn't. And if he acknowledges it and then answers questions about possible crimes, whether it's lying or anything else, then I think he's on safe ground. And if Ken Starr persists in asking questions about the particulars of sex, then he looks more sex-obsessed than the president.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony, do you think it's possible that the New York Times story and the preceding Wall Street Journal story of -- what was it? -- Tuesday of last week, which was to the same point, the semantic acrobatics that the president could be going through in order to save himself from perjury. Do you think that this is really a message being sent to him by those who are out of the loop, who want to get through to him and cement him into a position if possible? Or do you think it comes from someone who is inside, like -- what's the president's lawyer's name?
MR. BLANKLEY: Kendall.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Kendall?
MR. BLANKLEY: We don't know. But I suspect that they are -- it's coming from inside out, not outside in, and that -- they're at least contingently preparing the ground for him to shift his position if he decides to do it, by -- in other words, having this discussion, in the days leading up, that he might talk about it. So when -- if he does, it won't be a shocking news story when it happens.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And it won't be that explosive all at once.
MR. BLANKLEY (?): (Inaudible.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Mort?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I mean, it is a vacuum, right? And somebody is going to have to fill this vacuum. There is such an intense curiosity about what he might or might not do that there is bound to be this kind of speculation. But I do --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How much legal jeopardy is he in?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: What I think -- he is in less legal jeopardy, at this point, than we thought in part because you have -- and it's the advice of every lawyer to every person who is being deposed, "Don't give anything to the other lawyers," which is what I think happened in the Paula Jones case. So I think in that sense, he probably does not have legal jeopardy from that particular testimony.
He is now in a perjury trap. Now, he is under very, very different circumstances, being interrogated in front a grand jury. That's where his real exposure will come from.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Don't you think he is in less legal jeopardy for what he, Clinton, knows than for what Starr knows that Clinton does not know? Do you follow me? (Laughter.)
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Look, I think I follow you. And if I do follow you, I don't follow you. (Laughter.) So let me just say -- let me just say --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you the Delphic oracle --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: I am half that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- that speaks in ambiguity?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: The "Delphic" part, not the "oracle" part. (Laughter.)
Let me just say this. He knows what happened, and he has got to assume that Starr knows pretty much what happened. And we don't know what happened.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you're also avoiding a major question. The legal jeopardy is posed most dramatically by a DNA match, potential match, with Clinton's semen and the dress. What do you say to that?
MR. BARONE: Well, this is what some people are calling a perjury trap. Of course, as any lawyer will tell you, there's one way to get out of a perjury trap, and that's to tell the truth. The problem is that he's on record January 17th as saying something that most of his supporters now seem to think was not the truth.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah. The dress --
MR. BARONE: And if he changes that story now, John, he creates a problem with obstruction of justice because he provides more of a motive, a mens rea --
MS. CLIFT: The dress --
MR. BARONE: -- of obstruction of justice.
MS. CLIFT: The dress is irrelevant if he goes ahead and acknowledges there was some sort of sexual relationship; who cares about the dress?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, it's not irrelevant --
MS. CLIFT: This is not -- wait a second. This is not going to a court of law.
MR. BLANKLEY (?): Okay.
MS. CLIFT: This is going to a court of public opinion, and Congress maybe.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. The good news for the president, 65 percent of Americans approve of how he's handling his job. The bad news for the president, 71 percent believe that if Clinton lied under oath in the Paula Jones case, it is relevant. And, get this, 56 percent would consider removing him from office for that offense. A big shift in public opinion. But it hasn't hurt Clinton's ability to connect with an audience. Last Monday the president had a little impromptu fun with Jerry Abramson, the mayor of Louisville, who was helping Clinton with his display cards.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: (From videotape.) Jerry, would you hand me the chart? You don't have to bring the -- you don't have to bring the stand, just bring -- yeah, bring that chart up here. I'll hold it. (Off-mike comment.) What did you say? (Off-mike comment.) He said he's the Vanna White of Louisville here. (Laughter, applause.) I'm not going to discuss that. (Laughter, applause.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Will this kind of roguish charm get Clinton through, do you think? Mort?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's sure going to help. I mean, this guy is the Michael Jordan of politics. He knows that he has got to give the impression of, you know, just doing my job, going on, I'm not upset by all of this stuff. And it works, and it helps him a lot. And he's no Richard Nixon in the sense of sort of retreating back into his --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Shell.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- den, shell, call it what you will.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort, let me ask you this. Politics aside, just straight socializing with the president, you were in East Hampton with all the other swells, including the president and Mrs. Clinton, right?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You were there with Spielberg and the actors and the actresses, right?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you meet the president? How did he come across in that distinguished group?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: He came across just the way you see him there. He comes across as somebody who is extraordinarily affable. But I do think he --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's also very well informed, is he not?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: He's extremely -- but let's just not underestimate one thing. What is extraordinary about what's going on here is all the pressure that we think he's under, he is under, and he still carries it off, I think, extraordinarily well. I mean, presidents are great actors and he is a great actor.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you agree with that, the roguish charm will carry him through?
MR. BARONE: I think it's likely. But, John, right now people would like to get this scandal over with. They're sickened by what they're seeing and they want to get rid of Ken Starr.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, well --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.
MR. BARONE: Bill Clinton's problem is that they may decide sometime they want to get rid of Bill Clinton.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to add to this? We're talking roguish charm, right?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes. I think the danger for a person with charm is it can wear thin and be seen through, and particularly when it juxtaposes with other elements of their personality that hadn't been seen before.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, including an economic slump, too.
MS. CLIFT: Well, what's going to save him is the fact that he's doing his job fine. And there are cooler heads on Capitol Hill. Henry Hyde, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has lived long enough to be wise about these matters and to know that the punishment of impeachment does not fit the alleged crime that's been committed here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When we come back, Hillary's decoy: The vast anti-Arkansas conspiracy.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Impeachment time line.
(Begin videotape clip.)
JONATHAN TURLEY (law professor, George Washington University): In the Constitution there were two separate roles given to the two separate houses. The House was given the responsibility to identify any credible evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors. The merits of those allegations were to be decided by the Senate.
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-MA): The suggestion of Professor Turley is that the House has a lesser function, simply sort of serving up the charges if there's a -- like a grand jury would. What Professor Turley is doing I think is trivializing the impeachment process in the House.
(End videotape clip.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What Congressman Barney Frank and law professor Jonathan Turley are arguing about is how the House Judiciary Committee may conduct impeachment hearings, more of which in a moment.
First, the current situation. Ken Starr will send an impeachment report to Congress. The report will detail evidence of crimes like obstruction of justice, multiple perjuries, and witness tampering, all by President Clinton -- evidence serious and credible enough, in the opinion of the independent counsel and his staff, to warrant impeachment hearings.
A second report will be given later to the three-judge panel that under the direction of the attorney general authorized Starr's independent counsel status. That report will assess evidence on Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, Vincent Foster's papers, et cetera.
Okay, Starr's impeachment report: It will go to Congress as early as three weeks from next Tuesday, September the 8th, the day after Labor Day, when Congress is back in session. Congress stays in session for five weeks after September 8th, adjourning for the year on Friday, October the 9th.
That five weeks would give Judiciary Committee Chairman Hyde the time needed to conduct impeachment hearings, provided Hyde chooses the grand jury model for the hearings. Under this model, the House would act much like a grand jury. They would decide whether or not Starr had reached and crossed that threshold of credible evidence required to bring charges in a trial in the Senate. There is adequate time before the October congressional adjournment for this grand jury model to be implemented.
Or Hyde could take another route. He could choose the petit jury model, which Barney Frank, seen by many as the White House point man on the House Judiciary Committee, strongly favors. Under it, the House Judiciary Committee holds extensive hearings, in analytic, detailed fashion, to check out the merits of Starr's evidence. The committee votes. A simple majority moves the debate to the full House for more analysis. Then the full House votes. A simple majority moves the process then to the U.S. Senate for trial.
Recap and conclusion: If Starr delivers his impeachment report to the House Judiciary by mid-September, three to four weeks from now, and if Hyde chooses the grand jury model of scrutiny, there would be sufficient time for an up-or-down vote in the full House on whether Clinton should be tried by the Senate.
Question: What criterion will Hyde use -- dominant criterion -- to decide whether this smoking volcano should be let blow in September and early October, three weeks before the November elections? I ask you, Tony Blankley.
MR. BLANKLEY: I think he is going to be guided -- and the speaker's going to be guided -- by the principle of not delaying or rushing. Therefore, if, as you describe, that -- there is a limited report, not on the other topics, but just on the Lewinsky matter, and the evidences then can be reviewed very briefly by his -- by Hyde's team, led by Mr. Schippers, then it's certainly possible they could reach the floor in the time you describe.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mr. Schippers is from Chicago.
MR. BLANKLEY: And he's a Democrat.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's a Democrat.
MR. BLANKLEY: A well-known Democrat.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And he will review the material first.
MR. BLANKLEY: He and his team will review the material first.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. What is going to be the dominant criterion of whether or not he opts to hold a hearing, assuming that they can expeditiously -- within two weeks, say -- leaving three weeks before they are technically supposed to adjourn, and that could be dropped from October 7th to October the 14th -- what dominant criterion will he use? And if you need help from me, ask.
MR. BLANKLEY: I believe that they're going to look for clear and convincing evidence before they go forward and do a hearing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Assuming that, assuming that that will be the case, because it will be sent up there by Starr -- shall I give you the answer?
MR. BLANKLEY: Give me the answer.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is the polls.
MR. BLANKLEY: I don't -- I don't agree.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't agree?
MR. BLANKLEY: No.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If the polls are down around low 40s, high 30s, you don't think Hyde is going to go and have the hearings?
MR. BLANKLEY: No --
MS. CLIFT: Right --
MR. BARONE: John, I think what they're going to try and do here is hold hearings. They're going to try and waive the access rule, which is to say -- try to keep this information secret within the Judiciary Committee. I think you may have hearings where they will try and read this stuff off. I do not think they will proceed fast. I think they will proceed on a grand jury (sic) model. And I think one of the reasons -- not the only one -- they will do that is the polls. Another one reason -- this is what was --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Wait, I misunderstood. I want a clarification.
MR. BARONE: -- the hearings on Richard Nixon --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you say grand jury or petit -- petit --
MR. BARONE: Petit jury. I misspoke.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Petit jury. Okay.
MR. BARONE: And I think what's -- John, you know, look back to the Richard Nixon impeachment hearings, which I believe you remember. The fact is, they were operating on the petit jury model as well --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Correct.
MR. BARONE: -- and they took three months of hearings before the House Judiciary Committee --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: There is no way --
MS. CLIFT: There is not going to be an impeachment of this president. And the Republicans are not going to hold hearings this year. I don't even think they're going to hold them next year. What do they get out of it? Ken Starr's going to issue a report solely about a sexual affair? It's outrageous that he hasn't cleared the president on these other matters that he was supposed to look into.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well --
MS. CLIFT: He's sitting on that, and he's got to rush up the Lewinsky report?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now there's one subject I don't think we ought to debate any more. You think this is sex; he thinks -- and I think, and a lot of people think -- we're talking about obstruction of justice, multiple perjuries, and witness tampering.
MS. CLIFT: Related to the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So there's no point in discussing it.
MS. CLIFT: Wait. No, related to the Paula Jones case?
MR. BARONE: Well, the fact is --
MS. CLIFT: Come on! You've got to come up --
MR. BARONE: No, just a -- let me -- (off mike) --
MS. CLIFT: Wait, let me finish this. You've got to come up with obstruction of justice and multiple perjuries and all that other stuff, and you've got to go back to Whitewater and everything else. You can't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we have a basic disagreement on that. I think the Paula Jones case is quite active in creating a body of evidence --
MS. CLIFT: Not if he tells the truth in the grand jury room, which I'm sure he will.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You want to speak to this?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, let me -- (inaudible due to cross talk) --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But let's get back to the time line. I want to know where the -- people want to know what's going to happen next. That's what they want to know.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Henry Hyde is a very responsible legislator. He is never going to take an issue of this importance and rush it through the Congress, rush it through the House. He's going to make sure that it gets enough time to be seriously discussed amongst all the House members.
MR. BARONE: Yes.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: So I do not believe for a second it's going to be rushed through in two or three weeks.
What's more, anything that happens in the House is ended at the end of their term, because it's a new House, a new -- that Starr --
MR. BARONE: They could meet after the election, although that's unlikely.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No one is talking about rushing it through. The grand jury model, which Professor Turley believes is the model the Constitution requires --
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but he's wrong.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me finish. I mean, I gave you your time.
MS. CLIFT: He's wrong. That's all I wanted to say.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, he's wrong; that's your view. Turley says that we want to avoid redundancy. The Constitution says that the Senate is the trial body, the House does not try, the House determines whether there's credible evidence to bring charges. That should be done within that space of time; true or false?
MR. BARONE: I think it's up to members of Congress.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want to hear the lawyer.
MR. BARONE: It's up to members -- well, he's a lawyer.
MR. ZUCKERMAN (?): I'm a lawyer. We're all lawyers.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's a Canadian lawyer.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.
MR. BARONE: I think most members of the House will adopt the petit jury model because they don't want to go up there and vote for a major step like an impeachment of a president of the United States unless they feel to a moral certainty that he ought to be impeached, not just the issue should be considered.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.
MR. BARONE: So while you could be done early, I don't think we're going to see any resolution of this till after the election.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You tell me what is necessary for Hyde to bring this into a hearing status over that five-week period September the 8th to October the 7th.
MR. BLANKLEY: I think they've got to find clear and convincing evidence by his investigative team --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Assume that.
MR. BLANKLEY: And then, if the polling numbers crater on the president, then I could imagine it would never get to a vote because then the Democrats would start pressuring the president to vacate the office -- if that happened. But without the cratering of the numbers, then I think you've got to go through the process we described before.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. The question is, what's the probability that Henry Hyde will call impeachment hearings or the House will take action on impeachment before the October 7th recess?
MR. BARONE: Ten percent.
MS. CLIFT: Zero.
MR. BLANKLEY: Thirty percent.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Five percent.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is 40 percent. (Laughter.)
Issue three: Hillary's decoy, the vast anti-Arkansas conspiracy.
FIRST LADY HILLARY CLINTON: (From videotape.) The great story here, for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it, is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: First Lady Clinton made that comment January 27th, six days after the Monica Lewinsky story first appeared in the media January 21. Now Mrs. Clinton is back in the headlines with a new conspiracy plot, and new enemies to explain her husband's troubles.
"I think a lot of this is prejudice against our state," she says. "They wouldn't do this if we were from some other state." How is it that Hillary sees an anti-Arkansas conspiracy? Answer: A continuing strategy of denial, then moving the blame to others.
DICK MORRIS (Former Clinton adviser): (From videotape.) Hillary is probably telling him continue to deny, deny, deny. She always does. And he's probably been following that advice pretty strictly. He can't do that anymore. He'll do it into impeachment, and he's got to stop doing it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Some have raised the question of whether Hillary's Arkansas credentials are legit.
Question: Is Hillary's claim of anti-Arkansas persecution like Geraldine Ferraro's claim in 1984 that she was singled out for financial scrutiny because she is an Italian American? Is Hillary playing the regionalist racist card? Mort Zuckerman.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: (Laughs.) Well, John, (please ?) give me a break.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That kind of threw you, didn't it, Mort?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: She --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I notice you're laughing nervously.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: (Laughs.) No, I -- yes -- well, I -- it's a hard question to answer~ because --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're stalling for time, Mort. What's the answer?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- it's a hard question to answer without laughing.
No, I don't think she is playing that card. She was talking to an Arkansas audience. There are a lot of people who felt that Arkansas was kind of described as kind of a backwater state at the beginning. There are all kinds of allegations about Arkansas, and there was a real sensitivity about that issue in Arkansas. I don't think it's a national sort of way of looking at this issue.
MS. CLIFT: Right. I have a sheaf of editorials from the Wall Street Journal that say backwater politics and Arkansas mores. And in fact, they did portray Arkansas in such a way that you can almost here the theme from "Green Acres" playing in the background. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that she collected any points for this kind of argument?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes. It's a standard procedure that you are going to get some element of the population to nod their head in approval when you make a claim like that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But is that not totally voided by that segment of the population that will become even more convinced that Hillary is just such a totally partisan monocular person?
MR. BARONE: (Well, John ?) -- having been critical of Mrs. Clinton, I do say that being loyal to one's husband -- (laughter) -- is the quality that most people would have it. And indeed the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you mean that's she's --
MR. BARONE: -- charge against Mr. Clinton is that he hasn't been loyal to her. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So she is the wronged woman. Is that the position you'd --
MR. BARONE: But the fact is -- the fact is --
MR. ZUCKERMAN: (Inaudible.)
MR. BARONE: -- that Hillary Rodham Clinton's case here is a lot weaker than Geraldine Ferraro's was against those charges in '84. And I think, you know, it's -- (less ?) -- an appeal to local prejudice. And not all Arkansas politicians have been as corrupt as -- others have said.
MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Let's run through a short list of the influential Arkansans. Can we do that, please?
Fulbright, John McClellan, Winthrop Rockefeller, Douglas MacArthur, Sam Walton, Don Tyson, "Bear" Bryant, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, John Grisham, Mary Steenburgen, Scottie Pippen, whereas Mrs. Clinton is a native of, what, Illinois?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: What about Bill Whitworth, the editor of the Atlantic, also from Arkansas -- the Atlantic Monthly?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She went to Wellesley; she went to Yale. Is she posturing by wanting to be in this class of people?
MR. ZUCKERMAN: And I don't hold her background against her. That's all I can say. But, no, of course not. I mean --
MS. CLIFT: You know --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We'll be right back with predictions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Michael?
MR. BARONE: Bill Richardson, the Energy secretary, will be stricken from lists of possible VP Democratic candidates for 2000, after the Washington Times's story questioning his testimony that the job he offered Monica Lewinsky was an open job.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will he be made secretary of Energy?
MR. BARONE: He is secretary of Energy.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will he retain that post?
MR. BARONE: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: Spooked by what's going on in Japan, Asia and Russia, the Congress will pass full funding for IMF in the fall.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony Blankley.
MR. BLANKLEY: The Republicans are going to confront the president over the budget before -- the threat of a close-down -- they will be so terrified, they will be willing to spend up to $10 billion more just so the president can't close the government down.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort Zuckerman.
MR. ZUCKERMAN: Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin will stay through the Asian crisis but still leave before the end of his term so that Larry Summers can be secretary of the Treasury at least for a short period of time.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Next week, the president testifies. What will he say, and will we find out?