Hagel: There are ways to deal with' a president who says 'I don't care'
Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is considering running for president in 2008, stopped just short of threatening impeachment against President George Bush on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday morning.
Hagel has been a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and recently referenced impeachment in an interview published in April's edition of Esquire Magazine, telling Charles P. Pierce, "The president says, 'I don't care.' He's not accountable anymore. He's not accountable anymore, which isn't totally true. You can impeach him, and before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don't know. It depends how this goes."
Hagel disagrees that "right now we're actually seeing the increase in forces actually start to deliver some results in Baghdad," as the White House has argued.
"No, I don't see that," Hagel told Stephanopoulos. "In fact, there are more incidents, not less. Sure, in parts of Baghdad, in overall Baghdad, over the last two or three weeks, we have seen some fewer, but not around the country. Look at what happened two days ago, one of the two vice presidents of Iraq was attacked there at his own compound and is lying mortally wounded in a hospital."
Hagel added, "No, it isn't getting any less dangerous, and the fact is that was predictable, the more American troops you flood into a zone, sure, you're going to see some immediate effect of that but that has nothing to do with the long-term or lasting effect. This solution in Iraq is not going to come by continuing to put more and more Americans in there because we're bogging ourselves down. We are further eroding our credibility and stature in the Middle East. It's going to make it more and more difficult for us to get out because we are going to have to get out."
Hagel mentioned that the Inspector General testified before Congress this week, and "reminded all of us that we have now spent almost a half a trillion dollars in Iraq," and "have put at least 40 billion in economic development there, [w]hich we don't know what we got out of it."
"There's still no oil law," Hagel added. "Billions of dollars have been ripped off, unaccounted for, and one more point on this -- over $22 billion of Iraqi money still sits in the accounts of the Iraqi government that they haven't spent. So something has to give here, George."
Hagel then expanded upon his "impeachment" comments in the Esquire interview.
"Well, any president who says 'I don't care' or 'I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else' or 'I don't care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed,' if a president really believes that, then there are, what I was pointing out, there are ways to deal with that," Hagel said.
Hagel added, "This is not a monarchy."
"And you think that would be appropriate in this case?" Stephanopoulos asked.
Hagel hedged a little bit, "I didn't say that. I didn't call for it. I didn't predict it. What I was saying, I was laying out options here. No president can dictate to this country, nor should he. This is a constitutional form of government. We have three equal branches of government. No president is bigger than the other two. There are three co-equal branches of government. Article 1 of the Constitution is not the presidency. It's the Congress."
But the Republican senator again referred to impeachment when he said that "there are ways to deal with this."
"So what I was pointing out, George, is that there are ways to deal with this and I would hope the president understands that," Hagel said. "I mean, his comments this weekend, yesterday in his radio address were astounding to me. Saying to the Congress in effect, you don't belong in this. I'm in charge of Iraq."
Transcript of interview:
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. The White House and congressional Democrats squared off again this week with showdowns looming on Iraq war funding and the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys. And our headliner this morning is a man who often finds himself at odds with both sides, Senator Chuck Hagel. Welcome back, senator.
SEN. HAGEL: George.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get to your presidential plans later in the interview but let's begin with Attorney General Gonzales and these documents that came out late Friday night which showed that he did attend at least one meeting where this U.S. attorney situation was discussed, but when the controversy bubbled up earlier this month he denied attending any meetings. Take a look at this.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO GONZALES: (From videotape.) Like every CEO, I am ultimately accountable and responsible for what happens within the Department. But that is, in essence, what I knew about the process, was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on. I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Does the Attorney General have a credibility problem?
SEN. HAGEL: He does have a credibility problem. George, as you know because you've been in administrations, as well as your service over on Capitol Hill, we govern with one currency and that's trust. And that trust is all important and when you lose or debase that currency, then you can't govern. And I think he's going to have some difficulties. They've changed their stories. They've moved back and forth, and I have always believed and I've been in and out of this town a little bit, the only way to govern is be straightforward. Be honest. The stories will always come out. There are no secrets and it's not just because there's a bob Woodward in this town. Just be straight out, transparent and if you've got a problem, fix it but get out of it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you explain his problems here? What do you think happened here?
SEN. HAGEL: I don't know if he got bad advice or if he was not involved in the day-to-day management. I don't know what the problem is but he's got a problem. You cannot have the nation's chief law enforcement officer with a cloud hanging over his credibility, and then you couple that with other recent events over there with the national security letter debacle with the FBI, the abuses of the Patriot Act, all within the purview of the Attorney General's scope of management, it's week after week there's another problem.
This needs to be addressed and I think the president makes a big mistake if he tries to make this a constitutional issue and make it a separation of powers issue. Fix the problem. Ronald Reagan did it. Bill Clinton did it. Other presidents have done it. Invoke executive privilege then say it's in the interest of the country to get to the bottom of this and fix it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Those are two separate issues. I want to get to both. On the first, on the Attorney General himself, you said he has a deep credibility problem. You've pointed out all the other problems that have come up in the Justice Department over the last couple of years. Do you think he can still serve effectively as Attorney General?
SEN. HAGEL: Well, I do not, and I think the president is going to have to make a tough choice here. The president has a number of other big issues that he is going to be dealing with and dealing with right now. We've got the Iraq war issue that is continuing to deepen and worsen. We will be focused in the Senate this week on that issue. The House just passed a tough bill yesterday or Friday on the supplemental spending. We've got another dozen big issues out there that the president must govern on. He must focus on, and he must lead the country and the world on. And he surely cannot be burdened by his chief law enforcement officer under a cloud of credibility.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You also mentioned the showdown over executive privilege. The White House said this week that they're willing to send up White House officials like Karl Rove to discuss this, but it has to be in private. It can't be under oath. One conversation only and no transcript. What do you think of those conditions?
SEN. HAGEL: Well, I don't think those are conditions. My goodness, isn't the objective here -- is to get to the bottom of the issue? Isn't the objective to find out the truth? Isn't the objective to be transparent and let the American people know what happened? What went wrong. If there is something that needs to be fixed, then let's find out what it is and let's fix it. The president has talked about those kind of things over the years, but to say you can't have a transcript, the American people should not understand or know what's going on, it not be done under oath, I just don't understand.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you just think he should invoke the privilege but then voluntarily send the officials up to testify?
SEN. HAGEL: That's the way I would do it and I think we have a very clear past record of other presidents taking that same course of action. President Reagan did that on Iran-Contra. "The Washington Post" has a story today which highlights your picture --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks for reminding me, Senator! (Laughs)
SEN. HAGEL: And we are very appreciative of your selfless public service to our country, George.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you.
SEN. HAGEL: But there are many examples of how presidents in the past have handled this and handled things like this very responsibly.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about Iraq. You mentioned the House Democrats passed their bill. Their version of the Iraq war funding bill this week which imposed benchmarks on the Iraqi government but also set a deadline for the removal of all U.S. combat forces. Can you sign on to that?
SEN. HAGEL: Well, I believe this, and I've said this from the beginning. There will not be a military solution to Iraq. The solution to Iraq will come as a result of a political accommodation by the people in Iraq, the Iraqi people, which will result in a political resolution. I have said also that I'm absolutely opposed to a further American military escalation in Iraq. That's what's going on here. And it's one of these, oh, by the way -- It's one of these gradual incremental-type oh, by the ways. We first heard the president's announcement on this a few weeks ago, 21,500 troops.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The question is how do you stop it?
SEN. HAGEL: Well, I think the Congress is going to play a role now like we have not played before. You've already seen the House play that role. We will debate it this week in the Senate. Senator Jim Webb and I are going to introduce some legislation that will, in fact, have the force of law in the future involvement of our military, in our country and what conditions that future will be.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So combining legislation, what kind of conditions are you going to try to impose?
SEN. HAGEL: It will be binding legislation, and it will be focused on deployment, redeployment, training, equipment. What we're doing to our force structure in this country is disastrous. We essentially are ruining our National Guard. We are destroying our Army. We're destroying our Marine Corps. We can't sustain this kind of not only deployment, but training tempo, and the consequences of that, you're seeing at Walter Reed Hospital, for example and the consequences of that, for example, dumbing down your United States Army. We are now in a situation, we're waiving criminal records, drug abuse records to entice people to join the Army. You are ruining a 30-year effort to produce, which we have, the best Army in the world.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm unclear on what exactly you're trying to do. Are you going to be setting an end date for U.S. involvement? I don't want to get too far ahead of Senator Webb on this. We have not announced what exactly those amendments will say. We will do that early next week, either tomorrow or Tuesday, but I would say that it does affect the outcome, the conditions of America's military involvement in Iraq.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, then, just to be clear, though, you cannot accept what the House passed, would you vote to strip those conditions from the legislation?
SEN. HAGEL: I would want to see what, in the end, I have to vote on. Let me put it this way, I will not accept the status quo. I will not continue to support with my vote the status quo. I am opposed to the president's current policy. I am opposed to the president's further escalation of America's military involvement. We are undermining our interest in the Middle East. We are undermining our military. We're undermining the confidence of people around the world in what we're doing. We have, clearly, a situation where the president has lost the confidence of the American people in his war effort. It is now time, going into the fifth year of that effort, for the Congress to step forward and be part of setting some boundaries and some conditions as far as --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But the White House has argued, Stephen Hadley was here last week, that right now we're actually seeing the increase in forces actually start to deliver some results in Baghdad. Don't you see that at all?
SEN. HAGEL: No, I don't see that. In fact, there are more incidents, not less. Sure, in parts of Baghdad, in overall Baghdad, over the last two or three weeks, we have seen some fewer, but not around the country. Look at what happened two days ago, one of the two vice presidents of Iraq was attacked there at his own compound and is lying mortally wounded in a hospital.
No, it isn't getting any less dangerous, and the fact is that was predictable, the more American troops you flood into a zone, sure, you're going to see some immediate effect of that but that has nothing to do with the long-term or lasting effect. This solution in Iraq is not going to come by continuing to put more and more Americans in there because we're bogging ourselves down. We are further eroding our credibility and stature in the Middle East. It's going to make it more and more difficult for us to get out because we are going to have to get out.
You know, we had the Inspector General testifying, our Inspector General, Mr. Bowen, he was testifying before the Congress this week. I met with him alone for an hour and a half. He reminded all of us that we have now spent almost a half a trillion dollars in Iraq. We have put at least 40 billion in economic development there. Which we don't know what we got out of it. There's still no oil law. Billions of dollars have been ripped off, unaccounted for, and one more point on this -- over $22 billion of Iraqi money still sits in the accounts of the Iraqi government that they haven't spent. So something has to give here, George.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It is clear to me that you are angry about this and you also gave an interview to "Esquire" magazine this month, the April edition of "Esquire" magazine where you were quoted as saying, "the president says 'I don't care', he's not accountable anymore, he's not accountable anymore, which isn't totally true. You can impeach him. And before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment."
SEN. HAGEL: Well, any president who says "I don't care" or "I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else" or "I don't care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed," if a president really believes that, then there are, what I was pointing out, there are ways to deal with that. This is not a monarchy.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And you think that would be appropriate in this case?
SEN. HAGEL: I didn't say that. I didn't call for it. I didn't predict it. What I was saying, I was laying out options here. No president can dictate to this country, nor should he. This is a constitutional form of government. We have three equal branches of government. No president is bigger than the other two. There are three co-equal branches of government. Article 1 of the Constitution is not the presidency. It's the Congress.
So what I was pointing out, George, is that there are ways to deal with this and I would hope the president understands that. I mean, his comments this weekend, yesterday in his radio address were astounding to me. Saying to the Congress in effect, you don't belong in this. I'm in charge of Iraq.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You're talking about the U.S. attorney controversy?
SEN. HAGEL: No, I'm talking about what he was referring to specifically in his radio address about what the House of Representatives did on Iraq.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Friday on Iraq, okay.
SEN. HAGEL: And essentially dismissing them. Now, he can disagree, of course. I understand that. That's his responsibility. But to dismiss them, the Congress by saying, "you don't have a role in this, you're irrelevant to this," he's getting some bad advice and I would suggest they all go back and reread the Constitution.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me talk to you about your own plans for the White House. You gave this press conference in Nebraska a couple weeks ago that you had the whole press corps come in, national press corps, and then essentially had nothing to announce and a lot of people were scratching his heads. I was, at the end of it, including the late night comics. Look what Jay Leno said.
TONIGHT SHOW HOST JAY LENO: (From videotape.) Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, he's a Republican, called a press conference to announce he'll be making a decision about running for president sometime later in the year. So he called a press conference to say maybe later in the year he's going to say something important. This is the kind of bold, decisive leadership this country needs. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What was that about?
SEN. HAGEL: Well, first of all, I didn't ask all the media to come. In fact, I don't think there was one network correspondent there except one from a cable news show. I told the people of Nebraska that I would make an announcement on a decision sometime early this year. I owed that to them. I thought about just putting out a press release, George, and saying this is what I'm going to do. Then I thought I don't think that's right. People deserve to understand why and I think the way to do that is just come before them. I went to Nebraska. We didn't make a big deal about it. We didn't ask people to come. We put out a one-paragraph statement. I didn't ask the party to come. My family wasn't there. It was the press who built this up. I didn't build it up.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So what factors are in play now in your decision?
SEN. HAGEL: Same factors that have always been. Number one, I said I wasn't ready to make a decision about my political future. I don't work off of someone else's time line, George. I've never done that. I don't work off someone else's expectations.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don't think it's too late to get in now? A lot of people looked at it and said, "He's not running."
SEN. HAGEL: Well, I'll make that decision. I can't worry about things I can't control. I do have a job now and that's an important job. I think if this town, all of us in elective office, paid a little more attention to focusing on the responsibilities we have now to govern and try to focus on, as I have and I'm going to continue to do, Social Security reform, entitlement reform, immigration reform, being just three bills that I've been leaders on, I'm going to come back and introduce new legislation on that -- those are jobs that need to be attended to and issues right now.
Now, I will make a decision when I think I'm ready and my family is ready. I can't control what the Nebraska people or the people of this country will do or will not do. I learned a long time ago to put my energies into things, George, that I can control. So I'm sorry if I didn't fulfill expectations of some people, but I never misled anybody on this.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, come back when you're ready to announce. Senator Hagel, thanks very much.
SEN. HAGEL: Thanks, George.