Harris: Joining us now is Brit Hume, who for years was ABC News White House Correspondent. He left there to become Chief Washington Correspondent and Managing Editor of Fox News here in D.C. Good morning, Brit.
Hume: Good morning Paul.
Harris: So do you miss being out there on the White House lawn?
Hume: Not in the least.
Harris: How many years was it?
Hume: I was there eight years. And it’s a great beat and the ultimate Washington assignment, but it is not a pleasant place physically to work as a journalist. If you work for a TV network they want you there all the time because the habits of coverage are such that they may want you to go live — they think at any time — though that hasn’t happened very often in recent years. So you are over there all day long and man, it gets old.
Harris: People would think that being in the White House would be a cool thing, but I guess when it’s the place you go every single day…
Hume: Well, you know the facility that they reserve for the press over there is quite small, and it’s this little warren of cubicles plus a briefing room that looks rather grand on television, but the tourists who come and see it gasp because it’s so shabby.
Harris: You guys ask some hard questions all the time. What do expect, The Taj Mahal?
Hume: Well, the truth is if we allowed them to move us across the street to the Executive Office Building, I’m sure that they would give us very nice facilities in return for that, but the old timers over there don’t want to be any further away. We are physically quite close to the Oval Office. That doesn’t mean you can go walking in there, but everybody wants to be physically close and that’s what it’s all about. It used to be the swimming pool, you know.
Harris: Is that right?
Hume: It used to be an indoor swimming pool, so they just turned it into sort of a two story office facility. You can imagine you’ve got all the press that regularly covers the White House in a facility that small it’s a little cramped and a little shabby.
Harris: Please tell me you never saw Helen Thomas in a bikini.
Hume: Uh…I can…I can’t tell you that.
Harris: Just the thought of some of the people in that press pool and a swimming pool, ooh, the hair on the back of my neck just stood up. Anyway, now you’re in these new digs that Rupert built for you here in Washington, and you’re still covering stuff here in town. I know you’re in touch with what’s going on at the White House. How are they going to be affected by this Jim MacDougal thing yesterday?
Hume: It probably sends a few shivers up the spines there because MacDougal was thought to be a witness whose value to the prosecution was pretty well damaged or played out. He told one story and then another, he’s been convicted of crimes, he’s on his way to jail, his credibility is limited. However, when the prosecutors came out of the courthouse yesterday having asked for leniency, and gotten it, they said that he had provided a lot of helpful testimony including new and previously unknown information, which they had been able to verify by virtue of documentary or other physical evidence that he pointed them to. Which suggests that whatever story he is now telling them there’s support for. That could change the equation. We don’t know what it is, so we don’t know how important or damaging it might be, but it indicates that the prosecution at least feels that whatever he has told them, they can backup. That’s potentially dangerous.
Harris: Do you think there are beads of sweat on Clinton’s forehead over this?
Hume: I can’t imagine he is very happy about it. The worry they have to have is that if this ever develops a certain level of momentum, then a lot of people may decide that people have not been necessarily cooperative so far. People like Web Hubbell for example. MacDougal’s ex-wife Susan, who is cooling her heels in the slammer because she decided she doesn’t want to talk, might decide “Gee, I better cut my best deal here before there are no more deals to be had.” And suddenly you have everybody talking, and whatever there is — if there is anything criminal — would then come out.
Harris: They’ve been waiting for this thing to gather momentum for awhile and maybe this is the stick that pushes the rock downhill.
Hume: That has to be what you’re worried about if you are one of the President’s top advisers or if you are the President himself.
Harris: And meanwhile the other big political thing in town is that Janet Reno won’t name a prosecutor and the Republicans are going to investigate her now.
Hume: The Republicans are furious about it. You talk to some of these Republican leaders privately, they basically think that what happened here is that Mr. Clinton sat down in the year following his loss of the congressional election in 1994 and looked at the bank statements for the party and considered himself grossly under-funded, wanted to conduct a great big advertising campaign and said, “Folks, we are going to do whatever it takes. If it means breaking the law so be it, to get whatever money we need to be competitive and to try to win this presidency.” Now I don’t know whether that happened or not, but that’s what a lot of Republicans think, and they think that basically it was a concerted effort and the law be damned. Their view is that an independent counsel must be named, and they’re saying that if Janet Reno doesn’t do it they’ll loose the dogs on her. My sense is that her decision is not final, she could change her mind at any time and surely the pressure on her is going to mount after this decision.
Harris: Don’t you think the Republicans are thinking to themselves that maybe they could come out of this smelling a little bit better if they say, “Okay, investigate us, too, because we really didn’t do anything wrong?” Or do you think they won’t do that because they’re thinking, “Wait a minute, we did do a couple a things wrong. Don’t investigate us?”
Hume: What you hear them say is this…look you have your normal run of fundraising excesses. Both parties engage in that, but over and above what you have every couple of years, you have this potential involvement of a foreign government. You have this wholesale operation where the White House grounds, Air Force One, overnights in the Lincoln Bedroom, were used in a way that has never been used before. We have things here that have never happened before that ought to be the focus. And it goes far beyond the normal stuff that both parties do. That may constitute violation of one kind, sort of around the edges. They’re trying very hard to resist this idea that everybody does it.
Harris: Do you think there’s a chance if a lot of stuff does come out that Clinton will say, “Well, a lot of this stuff is true, but would you really harass a man on crutches?”
Hume: Well, the way he is going on those crutches, I mean, you see him. He is really getting good at that.
Harris: Is he?
Hume: You know Clinton is a pretty heavy set guy and he’s lost weight since he has been on crutches. It tells you that he is getting some real exercise moving his body around using his arms and I’d imagine that before long he is going to look like Superman. He’ll be busting his buttons from moving around on those crutches. I did that once after a skiing accident. You do get strong in your upper body. I think it may reach the point where nobody wants to mess with him.
Harris: As long as it doesn’t get to that Incredible Hulk/Lou Ferrigno thing, where he is having a press conference and all of a sudden he gets mad.
Hume: He starts to turn green and his shirt explodes off of him.
Harris: Yeah, we don’t need that!
Harris: Absolutely. All right, Brit, thank you for joining me this morning. I appreciate it. And say hello to your lovely wife for us. My wife and I both worked for Brit’s wife, Kim Hume, when she was running the weekend edition of USA Today — The Television Show, or as we called it for awhile USA Today — The TV Guide Listing.
Hume: She sends her regards to you both and I’ll pass it along.
Harris: Great. Talk to you soon!
Hume: Thank you, Paul.
Copyright 1997, Paul Harris.
Transcript by Craig Glenn.