James Baker Refuses to Join 'Early Show's' Dump Hastert Bandwagon

Harry Smith continued to pounce on the Foley scandal on this morning’s "Early Show." Smith talked with former Secretary of State James Baker in the 7:00 half hour, and immediately focused on the Foley e-mail scandal and whether Speaker Hastert ought to resign his position over it. Unlike Bay Buchanan on Thursday’s "Early Show," Baker disputed that Hastert should be turned into a sacrificial lamb by Republicans, and refuted Smith's assertions that if Hastert would just resign, that the story would go away.

Smith began by asking Baker what he would do if he were in charge to help Republicans get passed the Foley scandal:

"First off, you know, you were known, one of your nicknames along the line was 'The Velvet Hammer.' You had a lot of responsibility for cleaning up messes from time to time. If you were in charge right now, what would you do?"

Baker defended Speaker Hastert’s response to the Foley scandal by noting that Hastert has done all that can be done:

"Well, I think I would probably do what's being done, Harry. The Speaker of the House, who's taken a lot of incoming fire, was the fella that called for the investigation here. I think that, I think that he should be, in effect, recognized for that."

Smith later insinuated that if Hastert would just resign, the whole story would go away:

"The problem ends up being, though, for the Republican Party, Hastert doesn't quit. So this ends up still on the front burner. You've got people like members of Foley's own staff who said, 'we told you guys two years ago about Foley and you didn't do anything about it.'"

Baker refuted Smith’s claim, and highlighted that if Republicans get rid of Speaker Hastert, it won’t be long before the media demands the heads of others because maybe they knew something:

"Hey Harry, Hey Harry, you know and I know that, if they throw Denny Hastert off the sled to slow down the wolves, it won't be long before you'll be crying, hey, you got to throw somebody else over because they knew about it too. So that's not going to end the thing if that happens, and anyway, that, unless the facts show that he did not do something he should have done, he really ought not to be a sacrificial lamb because that's not going to end the story."

Nowhere in Smith’s questions did he mention how it was reported that the Foley conversations were part of a page prank. This does not excuse Foley’s behavior, but it does call into question the predator label. Second, Smith does not mention a statement released by the parents on Thursday where they say they disn't think the emails were salacious enough to warrant an investigation. Rather, they simply wanted Foley to be told to no longer contact their son and then they wanted the matter dropped. Neither were these facts mentioned in a report by Gloria Borger that preceeded Smith’s segment with Secretary Baker by a couple of minutes. If CBS wants Hastert to resign, it should at least provide viewers with all the facts, otherwise, they are simply leading a partisan lynch mob.

The transcript of Harry Smith and James Baker’s discussion follows:

Harry Smith: "Republicans are scared sick that the Mark Foley e-mail scandal will sink their party in the November congressional elections. Is there anything the GOP can do to fix this mess? Former Secretary of State James Baker is a long-time Republican political figure. His new memoir is called 'Work Hard, Study, and Keep Out of Politics." And Mr. Secretary joins us this morning. Former Secretary of State James Baker, good morning, sir."

James Baker, Former Secretary of State: "Good morning, Harry. How are you?"

Harry Smith: "First off, you know, you were known, one of your nicknames along the line was 'The Velvet Hammer.' You had a lot of responsibility for cleaning up messes from time to time. If you were in charge right now, what would you do?"

James Baker: "Well, I think I would probably do what's being done, Harry. The Speaker of the House, who's taken a lot of incoming fire, was the fella that called for the investigation here. I think that, I think that he should be, in effect, recognized for that."

Harry Smith: "He should get credit for it?"

James Baker: "Well, he certainly should. He sent the matter to the Justice Department or recommended a referral to justice. And until we know all the facts, I really don't know that this, there's much else that can be done. What Congressman Foley did, of course, was disgusting and revolting, and obviously the American people will have a significant interest in knowing that the pages who work on Capitol Hill are going to be protected from the predatory conduct of Congressmen particularly."

Harry Smith: "The problem ends up being, though, for the Republican Party, Hastert doesn't quit. So this ends up still on the front burner. You've got people like members of Foley's own staff who said, 'we told you guys two years ago about Foley and you didn't do anything about it.'"

James Baker: "Hey Harry, Hey Harry, you know and I know that, if they throw Denny Hastert off the sled to slow down the wolves, it won't be long before you'll be crying, hey, you got to throw somebody else over because they knew about it too. So that's not going to end the thing if that happens, and anyway, that, unless the facts show that he did not do something he should have done, he really ought not to be a sacrificial lamb because that's not going to end the story."

Harry Smith: "Yeah. Along with this, though, it's been an increasingly uphill battle for the Republicans in both the House and now, at least according to the front page of 'USA Today' 'Race for Senate Control Tightens.' Democrats gain in key states. How are the Republicans going to, it's less than a month to go, How are the Republicans going to turn this around?"

James Baker: "Harry, overnight is an eternity in politics. There is a full month to go. And one of the best things that can happen to you in politics is to be underestimated. Because the name of the game in politics, of course, is to exceed expectations. Nobody thinks now that the republicans are going to do any good at all. In fact, a lot of people are saying they're going to lose control of both Houses of Congress. Let's wait and see. There's still 32 days to go."

Harry Smith: "Alright, very quickly, Senator John Warner, the head of the Armed Services Committee, just back from Iraq. He says the Iraqi government is taking steps backwards. I have less than 30 seconds. Your main function in the Iraqi Study Group, your main concern, as you get ready to make your recommendations?"

James Baker: "Well, our main concern is the situation in Iraq, which is extraordinarily difficult. We spent five days, or four days there over Labor Day, around the Labor Day period. We interviewed all of the officials of the Iraqi government and all the U.S. officials who were serving in Iraq. And we have to come up with some recommendations if we can after the election in order to take this out of politics. So our real concern is what's going on or not going on in Iraq."

Harry Smith: "Alright, Mr. Secretary, we thank you for the time this morning. A little bit later on, we're going to talk more with Secretary Baker about his life in public service. Thank you very much, sir."

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