The following interview took place April 19. The transcript is courtesty of RadioBlogger.com -- The Editors.
Hugh Hewitt: Joined as I am many Wednesdays now by Christopher Hitchens, columnist for Vanity Fair, essayist for Slate, author of many books, including most recently, Thomas Jefferson: Author of America. Good to talk to you again, Christopher Hitchens.
Christopher Hitchens: Very nice of you to have me back.
HH: I love having you back. Come back early and often, even when you sneeze.
HH: I want to ask you first about the New York Times story that lawyers for NBC News, New York Times and Time Magazine are resisting federal subpoenas to produce appropriate documents, and eventually witnesses, in the Wilson case or the Libby case. Appropriate for these media outlets which are baying for the head of Scooter Libby to hold back on what might exonerate him?
CH: Well, look. They brought this on themselves. I still think the press should defend itself from too much intrusive prosecution or prosecutorial action, but the press demanded that one of the most repressive laws on our books be used in the Wilson case, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the author of which, Senator Robert Dole, has repeatedly said, and said to me personally, was never intended for this kind of thing, was intended only to punish rogue agents who gave away real people in the field, and certainly should never have sent Judy Miller to jail. And now, they've made a rod for their own back. Now anything that happens, there will be a prosecution over...where there'e supposed to be a prosecution over who told the New York Times that the National Security Agency was wiretapping Americans. There's been a terrible collapse of, and surrender of, the 1st Amendment in the last few years, and it's very largely the fault of a press that's lost all sense of proportion in its determination to get Karl Rove.
HH: And all sense of proportion, of course, we go back to your piece on Wilson and the uranium in Slate ten days ago, and obviously, the original kerfuffle here was based upon Joe Wilson's incompetence and overwhelming arrogance.
CH: To put it at its mildest. I mean, in case your listeners don't all know this, and what I've established beyond any doubt, is that a man named Wissam Zawahie, Saddam Hussein's chief diplomat for nuclear matters, he'd been Iraq's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, he'd been its delegate to non-proliferation conferences at the U.N., senior point man on nukes, went, on February 9, 1999, to Niger. Now I'm sorry. I cannot be brought to believe that he went there to discuss the price of goats or ground nuts. Niger and its president testified, was reported as testifying to, I think, the 9/11 Commission. No one ever comes here, save for, I think, yellowcake uranium. That's all we've got. Now Wilson's book, ridiculous book, called The Politics Of Truth, does not mention the name Wissam Zawahie in this connection. He says he knows the man from Baghdad, but that's in another connection entirely. He appears to have never understood that this had happened. So the value of his mission, as a means of ruling out an Iraq connection to Niger, is not even nil. It's less than nil. A positive threat to national security. It's a man who didn't even try to find if there was a threat coming up, and who missed something very conspicuous, and who has been, I have to...can't mince words, simply lying his head off about it ever since.
HH: Well this is why I welcome a trial, Christopher Hitchens, because he...
CH: Yes, absolutely.
HH: He will be in the dock, and he be obliged to answer these questions, don't you think?
CH: Let's bring it on. He lied about whether his wife, who works for the CIA, nominated him for the trip, which he did, on the grounds that he was, of all things, friendly with the Niger minister of mines, who had been in the 80's the supplier of Saddam Hussein's uranium. So they send a friend who has no curiosity, who doesn't discover that Saddam's point man on nukes has come calling a few months before, in fact. So I mean, it's astonishing, and I don't think, even though he's been so far hugely overpraised in the media, I don't think that his reputation can last very much longer. I think he's through.
HH: Next week's Rolling Stone will have the story, The Worst President In History: One of America's Leading Historians Assesses George W. Bush, by Sean Wilentz of Princeton. I have in my hand Joe Klein's new book, Politics Lost. They have the same theme. Joe Klein writes, "The Bush administration is in tatters, and still has three years left to run." He writes of the Iraq disaster. Sean Wilentz, let me give you a quote to give you a sense of this.
CH: No, I know these guys.
HH: Yeah. What is going here? Is it an attempt to write the end of the story before the story's even remotely close to being over?
CH: Sean Wilentz is a guy...actually, he is a good historian, and some of his work on the founding, and on the revolution, especially a book called Chance Democratic, is very good. But I remember him appearing before the House Committee on Impeachment. They were taking advice on what the law and history of impeachment were, and giving testimony that so misled and annoyed them, that actually, many people think that they made them decide to vote for impeachment. By the way, I can't say that I think that Mr. Bush at his worst is as bad as President Clinton was. That's eight years down the American drain right there. The first eight, those post-Cold War years, thrown away by a narcissist and a crook. For the nomination of worst ever president, I can't, I really, though I have many, many quarrels with President Bush, I cannot believe that people would say he was worse than Mr. Nixon or Mr. Carter, just to stay in modern times...or Kennedy.
HH: A line, though he writes, he writes, "History may ultimately hold Bush in the greatest contempt for expanding the powers of the presidency beyond the limits laid down by the U.S. Constitution." That's just ignorant of Constitutional law, but I do believe that's part of the writ that is running against Bush at this point by Joe Klein and Sean Wilentz.
CH: I think Bush, as a matter of fact, did flirt with that with the NSA stuff, because he's asking for an extraordinary power that you'd have to give to all other presidents, too, which is why I don't like it. But you and I would probably have to differ about that.
CH: It's just...I mean, I just have to say that whoever had been president that week would have been telling the NSA I want to know what everyone is saying on the telephone.
CH: I mean, there's no question. I'm really glad that it wasn't Al Gore who was in charge that day. He might have declared martial law, because look what Clinton and Gore did just after Oklahoma City, which was relatively a pin prick event. They passed a law that the ACLU says is the most repressive in American history, the Anti-Terrorism and Death Penalty Act, an absolutely beyond believable violation of civil liberties that didn't, in its provocation, didn't rise anywhere near 9/11.
HH: Now Wilentz also writes, "No previous president appears to have squandered the public's trust more than Bush has." Let's go back a little bit further to Lyndon Johnson.
CH: That's flat-out ludicrous.
CH: I mean, he can't...do his ears hear what his voice is saying? I mean, he knows better even without turning over in bed. President Johnson was really not believed on anything after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, and probably rightly not. President Nixon had to cop a plea which I seem to remember Justice Holmes regarded, ruled was an admission of guilt, rather than face impeachment after being caught lying, and using the apparatus of the State to lie. And if...by the way, Mr. Wilentz means, or Professor Wilentz means things like the Niger uranium as deception and credibility, well, he's got to go on the same rethink everyone's going to have undergo when they realize that claim originally was true.
HH: Let me give you one more graph before we run out of time. "No other president, Lincoln in the Civil War, FDR in World War II, Kennedy at critical moments of the Cold War, faced with such a monumental sense of military and political circumstances, failed to embrace the opposing political party to help wage a truly national struggle. But Bush shut out, and even demonized, the Democrats."
CH: Well, I thought it would take a lot to make me cry, but well, this won't make me weep, either, but it does make you weep for Wilentz. I mean, I suppose we're thinking of people like President Wilson locking up the main opposition leader in the election against him.
CH: And never releasing him. It had to be left to a Republican to release him several years after the first World War, Eugene Debs?
CH: For an example...
CH: I mean, I could go on. How much time have I got?
HH: You've got 30 seconds. I hope you'll write about this in Slate.
CH: Robert Kennedy ordering the FBI to send threatening letters to Dr. Martin Luther King and send him letters asking him to commit suicide?
HH: And I'm an old Nixon guy, and we kind of played hardball, too, in those years.
CH: Well, yes, I know you did, and one of these days, we'll have that out as well. But this to me sounds as though it's got a long way to go before it's even puerile.
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