MIKE LOFGREN: I spent 28 years in Congress, Brian, as a staff member – first as a personal staffer for Congressman John Kasich of Ohio, then as a staffer for the Budget Committee, the House Budget Committee when he was chairman. I was the analyst for National Security Affairs. Then in 2005, I moved on to the Senate and worked at the Budget Committee there in the same capacity.
LAMB: So what do you think of that statement – up close, it’s truly ugly?
LOFGREN: It generally is. However, I would want to temper that. It’s been a long time habit and almost a gig or reflex of everyone to criticize Congress because they think that resonates with the public. And it truly has become, to some degree, a horror show because of the increased partisanship and polarization. However, it is an institution that is established by the first article in the constitution. And if we don’t nurture it, if good people do not go there, if good staffers do not go there, what we’ll have is the Weimar Reichstag or we’ll have one of those Chamber of Deputies situations in the French Third Republic. I don’t want that. I want young people instead of going to Wall Street to go to Congress or to go to the Executive Branch.
LAMB: We invited you to come talk about a column that you wrote about the Bob Gates book. We’ll get to that in a second, but I want to go back to the Bob Gates book in another quote, “But rude, insulting, belittling, bullying and all too often highly personal attacks by members of Congress violated nearly every norm of civil behavior as they postured and acted as judge, jury and executioner.” I know you’ve read this book. What do you think of that characterization?
LOFGREN: Occasionally, that’s true. I wish he’d cited more instances of that. Sometimes, executive branch officials are very carefully trained and vetted and screened and go through murder boards at their executive agencies of how not to tell things to Congress, to seem to be answering the question and not really answering the question. And I certainly do not believe in a Darrell Issa technique of witness badgering or the sort of Joe McCarthy technique that the current senator from Texas, if you would remind me his name…
LAMB: Ted Cruz.
LOFGREN: …Ted Cruz would use on Chuck Hagel when he was a nominee, leaving the inference in the insinuation that he was somehow in the pay of Iran or North Korea. That’s certainly something we don’t need. On the other hand, I would say in general the problem is the other way. If it’s an Armed Services hearing, rather than asking pointed questions about the strategy, how long we’re going to be there; is it working, if so prove it. If there’s a general sitting in the witness chair, they tend to fawn over him. I noticed that with Petraeus. I noticed with Gates in his hearings when he was nominated as secretary of Defense by George W. Bush. They were so thrilled he wasn’t Rumsfeld. They didn’t ask the really hard questions and a lot of those pertain to his past activities. He was involved in Iran-Contra. He was a very prominent figure in the CIA at the time. They required intelligence that Iran was somehow moderating and that intelligence was conveniently forthcoming.
LAMB: The Gates book has moved to number on the best-seller list. And I’m going to read back to you a quote from Tom Ricks who you probably know of was – excuse me – with the Washington Post. But he wrote a review of it in the New York Times, and he says, “The Gates book, ‘Duty’, is probably one of the best Washington memoirs ever.” What’s your take? I’ve read your piece here. Would you say the same thing?
LOFGREN: I would not concur. I know of Tom Ricks a bit and I just do not understand where he comes from on that judgment. I am not attacking Gates in an ad hominem way or saying that he’s the devil with horns. However, I think his representation of Congress, of the administration and so forth represents his own axe grinding. And we all grind our axes occasionally, but it should be seen as that. His criticism of Obama and Biden got a great deal with prominence, but he, in fact, persuaded them to do what he wanted, which was to add troops in Afghanistan to escalate the war that Obama wanted to wind down. And now he’s criticizing them for having the bad grace to have doubts when he persuaded them to do something against their better judgment.
LAMB: You wrote a book a couple of years ago, the paperback version came out recently and you’ve got a new premise and called it “The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted.” What’s the evolution of this for you? And are you still a Republican?
LOFGREN: I am an Independent. Even when I was working on the Hill, I regarded myself, or tried to regard myself, as a professional before I was a Republican or any member of a partisan organization. And in general, I think that served me well. I fortunately served under people who said, “Well, the figure – the budget figures are what they are and there’s only so many ways you can spend them, just give us the honest figures.”
LAMB: You wrote in your introduction, “Today’s elected officials just like those of the Gilded Age typically show craven obedience to entrenched wealth. It is long past time that they show greater fear of a well-informed public capable of articulating its public demands.” Is the public well-informed?
LOFGREN: I do not think they’re – excuse me – very well-informed at all. There’s a kind of pseudo information one gets from watching Fox News or MSNBC, which concentrate primarily on personalities, on trivial scandals, on polarization and on revving up the respective basis. But that’s not the true information that people need. What is the federal budget? What are its components? How big is it, how big is it compared to our gross domestic product? These are things people really ought to know. How does Medicare work? Who pays for it? These are the things that you find out when you’re working down at the molecular level on the Budget Committee and people really need to know those because budgets are essentially a statement of priorities, and they’re a statement of policy.
LAMB: But somebody is going to say, “Are you kidding me? This stuff is boring.”
LOFGREN: It’s not boring. It comes out of our taxes. That shouldn’t bore anyone. And it does things that are very important. Sometimes it does things that in my judgment are very foolish. And if people had a more detailed knowledge of that, they could vet their own leaders much better before they pull the lever in the voting booth.
LAMB: The most national publications now about the government, how it works, is this book on Bob Gates. And if somebody reads it from your perspective, what are they – what are they reading and what are they missing?
LOFGREN: Well, again, as I said, he is grinding his own axe. He’s looking at it from the perspective of somebody who was brought in to solve a problem and Congress isn’t participating. I think the dirty little secret that people don’t want to recognize regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is they went on so long, probably three times longer than the total period we were involved as belligerents in World War II. The people – it’s not that they hated the war, unlike Vietnam, there weren’t riots and great tumult because there was no draft. People simply tuned it out. They were no longer interested. And when people are no longer interested, you have to ask what is the point?
LAMB: Here’s – we covered a lot of the Gates book and so did everybody else. And here is Bob Gates in Philadelphia being interviewed by a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, Chris Mondics. Let’s watch this and just get you to react to it.
CHRIS MONDICS: The first Bush administration opposed the invasion in Iraq. And I was wondering, I – do you never really address that issue as far as your concern in this book? Had you been asked, had you been part of the administration, then would you have supported the Iraq War?
ROBERT GATES: Well, I say in the last – in the last chapter of sort of summing up in reflections that I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say what I would have advocated in 2003. I like a lot of people in the Congress and most other countries in the world, initially, all accepted the argument that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. That’s how U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 got passed, Intelligence Services in even Russia and China…
GATES: …thought he had these weapons.
LAMB: Your reaction?
LOFGREN: Hindsight is 20/20. I think that was rather an evasion of responsibility. At the time, around 2002, as the heavily caveated, footnoted and hedged intelligence reports that were available to any member of Congress and any cleared government employee in the Capitol, you could see that it was not a slam dunk. It was very ambiguous. Certain news organizations were simply in the tank. They accepted ipso facto that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction because ‘we say he has.’ Now there have been indications for years before that, for instance, from Scott Ritter the U.N. American investigator, arms inspector in Iraq that that was not the case. Certain news organizations like McClatchy did give a very good coverage of the whole issue. And when you read some of their pieces, it was much more ambiguous.
LAMB: Where were you when the whole Iraq thing started starting with in ‘91? Were you working on the Hill?
LOFGREN: I was working on the Hill as military legislative assistant to Congressman Kasich who was on the Armed Services Committee, so that gave me a pretty busy portfolio.
LAMB: And now he’s a Republican governor of Ohio.
LOFGREN: That is correct.
LAMB: So when we saw that we didn’t raise the money for the war, how did that track on Capitol Hill? He was the chairman of the Budget Committee. Was there ever a demand that we raised the money before we spend it in Iraq or Afghanistan?
LOFGREN: Are you talking about 1991?
LAMB: Well, just the last 20 years of all this expenditure.
LOFGREN: All right. At the time he was not chairman, and one little wrinkle that sort of bypassed that it was the controversial, at least in my view, the whole 1991 war insofar as Saddam Hussein had demonstrably in front of the whole world invaded another country. So that made it different. The other thing that makes it different from a fiscal point of view is the roughly $60 billion in then-year dollars that it cost was mostly raised by Jim Baker who was the Secretary of State. He went around the world and collected checks from the Saudi’s, from the Japanese, from other countries that would benefit from getting Saddam Hussein off the oil artery of the world. And from that point of view, financing wasn’t a problem. Now, by the time the second Iraq War, Kasich was out of – out of Congress. I still had to deal with that issue on the House and then Senate Budget Committees. And there was some grumbling from members that for one thing the initial cost was low-balled, and when Lawrence Lindsey of the Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors said it might cost – I think the amount he used was like 60 to 80 billion – he was gone because they hadn’t want people quoting high figures. Well, it’s turned out to be $1 trillion.
LAMB: How do you spend $1 trillion through all 535 members of Congress without raising the money? I mean, how do you – where do they put that off budget money? How do they – how do they raise it?
LOFGREN: It certainly was off-budget money. It comes by increasing the deficit by the proportionate amount. And they grumbled about it, but they certainly weren’t going to not supply the troops with the wherewithal. And the Pentagon knows that. The administration, whichever stripe it is, whichever party knows that. And they use it as a kind of moral blackmail.
LAMB: Let’s look at some video because – of Joe Biden. You talk about Joe Biden in your column about the Gates book and the way he treated Scott Ritter. Can you – before we show this because we just see a little bit of Scott Ritter at the end, what was your point in Bob Gates talks about in his book how much he differed with Joe Biden? Put him in context from what you saw.
LOFGREN: Well, of course, Mr. Gates was criticizing Joe Biden. Now, Biden, when he was a Senator, seemed to buy-in as early as 1998, ‘99, 2000 to the notion that Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction and that’s some sort of forcible regime change, in other words, the United States going in militarily and overthrowing him, was an acceptable outcome. And when Scott Ritter testified before him that, well, maybe the facts aren’t so cut and dried, Biden was very condescending towards him and called him “Scotty-boy.” I would have to say, however, Gates’ criticism is somewhat off the mark because a blind hog eventually finds an acorn and people eventually learn after several years of the Iraq war, which he voted for. He started to rethink things perhaps.
LAMB: You mean Mr. Biden.
LOFGREN: Mr. Biden, when he became vice president, he was not gung ho in favor of escalating in Afghanistan. He wanted other solutions than that. And for that resistance, Bob Gates says that Joe Biden has been wrong on every single foreign policy issue. Well, as we saw in that clip, if Mr. Gates is saying he didn’t know how he would have advocated on Iraq, I think all the necessary information is in. And if he is still being ambiguous on that, he’s wrong.
LAMB: Here’s a video clip of – it’s a hearing back with – Scott Ritter is in the chair and it’s Joe Biden being the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee talking to him.
JOE BIDEN: I recommend that the president have at it and let the chips fall where they may, a reasonable position for the Secretary of Defense, the secretary’s tête-à-tête. But I respectfully suggest, Major, I respectfully suggest that responsibility is slightly above your pay grade – slightly above your pay grade, to decide whether or not to take the nation to war alone, or to take the nation to war part way, or to take the nation to war half-a, halfway. That’s a real tough decision. That’s why they get paid the big bucks. That’s why they get the limos and you don’t. I mean this sincerely. I’m not trying to be flip.
LAMB: Your reaction.
LOFGREN: Well, I rest my case on the condescension. And a good public official who is relying on staff will listen to them because they sometimes have that granular information that they pick up on the ground that no public official would have been in a position to learn the things that Scott Ritter learned. So in order to make those earth-shattering decisions that Joe Biden was talking about, they really ought to listen.
LAMB: On your column that was somewhat critical of Bob Gates’ book, where did you get the idea? At what point in the process? And what did you think of the media coverage of it?
LOFGREN: I thought it was mostly fawning or concentrating on subsidiary issues such as why did he wait until now to say this when the real issue is why did he give the president and the vice president this advice and then criticized them for taking it.
LAMB: What do you think the media was somewhat fawning?
LOFGREN: They were sucked into this kind of Hollywood stereotype of Mr. Smith, the truth-teller from Kansas, comes into Washington, which he can’t stand and how much he disdains Washington and its slimy politicians who only want to get re-elected. Well, he’s been a part of the public policy process off and on in Washington since about 1970.
LAMB: Where did you write your column and where can people see it today?
LOFGREN: It’s truth-out.org.
LAMB: What’s Truthout?
LOFGREN: It’s a not for profit website that carries political articles, presumably stuff that’s too hot to handle in the mainstream media.
LAMB: And so you just go on truth-out.org and it’s there somewhere.
LOFGREN: Yes, you could do a search on the site and find it.
LAMB: You said Gates – I’m just going to read back what you wrote, “Gates has thereby contributed to the sowing of confusion to minds of Americans about what actually constitutes honoring the troops. The enlisted ranks who actually fight the wars end up, in many cases, gravely wounded or contesting disability ratings with the V.A. bureaucracy while at the same time facing a civilian economy with few career slots for someone whose occupational specialty was combat infantry. By contrast during the dozens of year of so-called war on terror no generals have been killed in action unlike in World War II when approximately 40 were killed.” What moved you to write that?
LOFGREN: I think there’s a good deal of hypocrisy regarding who it is that makes the sacrifices and who doesn’t. I think the United States and the public in the United States have been conditioned to almost have a knee-jerk reflex of we support the troops, which is fine, but who are we actually supporting? Who benefits, who loses, who gets the big bucks afterwards and who has to contest the veterans’ disability rating? Who has higher unemployment for their age and demographic than the rest of the population at a time of very high unemployment?
LAMB: In your book, you quote a Bloomberg news account. This is the book which title is “The Party is Over.” “The top U.S. – the 10 U.S. defense contractors have 30 retired senior officers or former national security officials serving on their boards. Press releases issued by these companies since 2008 announced the hiring of almost two dozen prominent flag officers or senior officials as high ranking executives.” What’s wrong with that?
LOFGREN: It’s something that more than 50 years ago General Eisenhower warned us about. It is the merger of corporations with the government. The revolving door is a terrible problem in that they’re taking people from the service who still have, you know, their service ties and their service pensions and they kind of use them as front men to sell weapons. And this kind of thing does have an effect on serving officers, and there’s no explicit quid pro quo, but once you hit the general officer or flag officer rank, you, in almost all cases, know where you’re going after you retire.
LAMB: But doesn’t – isn’t a retired general, don’t they have the right to work anywhere they want to?
LOFGREN: They have the right, but let’s put it this way. In years past, Omar Bradley didn’t do it. Most of the generals in World War II didn’t do it. They sat on their porch in a rocking chair or they did something else. It’s a little too incestuous. And most of these companies, the vast majority of their revenues come from government contracts, so it becomes almost impossible to distinguish where the government ends and where the corporations begin. I would think a case in point is Booz Allen Hamilton, the top officials at Directorate of National Intelligence and NSA all cycle back and forth between Booz Allen Hamilton and their government jobs. Booz Allen Hamilton is about 99 percent or 100 percent dependent on government contracts. Of those, most of them are intelligence contracts.
LAMB: By the way, are you retired from the Congress now?
LOFGREN: I am totally retired. I gain nothing from this. I’m not employed in any fashion. I represent no party, no interest, no faction other than my own opinion.
LAMB: Could you have written any of this when you were a member of the staff in Congress?
LOFGREN: There is no way I would have tried.
LAMB: Why not?
LOFGREN: It would be indiscrete and certainly unprofessional as you are working and taking the king’s shilling.
LAMB: One of the things that Mr. Gates I don’t think was asked about something that I just found on the web that he’s a part of an outfit called RiceHadleyGates LLC. And it’s an international strategic consulting firm based in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. The firm offers advice based on extensive experience in international area. It works with senior executives of major companies to develop and implement their strategic plans. I can go on and on. This is Condoleezza Rice, and Steve Hadley, and Bob Gates. What’s the difference between that and say going to work for a major defense contractor? And aren’t they – shouldn’t they be allowed to do that?
LOFGREN: Relatively little. I mean, it’s difficult to prohibit people, but they all want to stay in the game and make money off their government service, and that’s fine, but it’s fine for me to call it out and say that there are conflicts of interest involved. Contractors are now taking over the government. They constitute a larger and larger percentage of the actual workforce as the government itself tries to downsize and outsource personnel. And when you have thousands of contractors in the building as it were, does the dog wag the tail or does the tail wag the dog?
LAMB: Let’s go back to the conversation that Bob Gates had about MRAPs which he spends a lot of time in the book talking about. Do you know what an MRAP is?
LOFGREN: Yes, I do. It’s one of those enormous armored vehicles with a V-shaped bottom to deflect roadside bomb blast.
LAMB: It costs $500,000 a piece. Let’s watch what he had to say about this.
GATES: It was a newspaper, it was a newspaper series in the Washington Post that put me onto the problem with wounded warriors of Walter Reed that led me to fire the secretary of the army. It was a newspaper story where I first read about these MRAPs, these heavily armored vehicles. And I read in USA Today that the Marines had about 300 of these vehicles in Anbar Province and in over a thousand attacks not a single marine have been killed who was riding in one of these vehicles. I got some briefings on it and I wanted to buy these things in large numbers and I could – there was no one in the Department of Defense at a senior level either civilian or in uniform who supported that decision. And I basically said, “Well, we’re going to do it.”
LAMB: Explain – In the book, he talks about – I think he’s spending $27 billion on huge number of MRAPs.
LOFGREN: Very expensive.
LAMB: Which they’re now trying to I think…
LOFGREN: Dispose of.
LAMB: … dispose of. Has that – I mean I don’t want to be critical of the fact he was trying to save the lives of people who rode in them.
LOFGREN: I’m not critical at all when he’s right on the point, he’s right on the point.
LAMB: But why would – why would the military brass inside the Pentagon fight the idea of spending money on that?
LOFGREN: It didn’t fit their plan. They would rather have the next generation of tank than a relatively passive non-fighting vehicle that simply transports troops around albeit in greater safety. It just didn’t fit into their weapons procurement plans. But Gates was right. My rant is not about Gates, per se, although he does demonstrate intermittently traits that I’m very critical of. On that point, he is right. However, his problem with the military still persists after he is gone. They want to dispose most of them because somehow some genius in the Pentagon is getting the idea no future enemy is going to use road side bombs against us anymore, the single most effective weapon in both Iraq and Afghanistan, so they want to get rid of them. And probably half of them are going to be left over there. The other half shipped back, reconditioned and either sold to other parties, other countries by foreign military sales or God help us will be accessed to police departments in the United States. We’ve seen this gradual militarization of domestic police forces to the point where there are no longer peace officers who treat people as citizens increasingly their SWAT teams dealing with targets they have to take down, and this is simply a contribution to that and an exacerbation of that.
LAMB: What’s been – how did your attitude about all this evolve the years? When did you first come to this town?
LOFGREN: I first came in 1983, freshly married, freshly back from Europe, burning shoe leather in the halls of Congress looking for a job.
LOFGREN: It fascinated me, the political process, and I wanted to be a part of it.
LAMB: Where did you come from originally?
LOFGREN: Originally I was born in Akron, Ohio sort of the buckle of the Rust Belt. And by the late ‘70s, I certainly wanted to get out of there because there weren’t going to be the sort of jobs that were necessary and that part of that created my philosophy about outsourcing, sending jobs overseas, the deindustrialization of America, the financialization of America, and how horribly deleterious this is to the country. How the politicians and Wall Street colluding together managed not to notice this and say that a rising tide will lift all boats when if you look at Detroit, I mean it resembles Dresden after the firebombing in 1945.
LAMB: What’s caused this?
LOFGREN: I think all the factors we mentioned: wage cutting, downsizing, deindustrialization, basically a blueprint written on the Hill in the form of tax policy that allows this sort of thing that incentivizes Capitol to be exported, things to be outsourced, not made in America. A proper tax policy could assist us. Germany is certainly a traditional industrial county. It’s not faded by Adam Smith or Milton Friedman that rich countries should lose their industry. They certainly didn’t lose theirs.
LAMB: In your book though, you have a quote from Huey Pierce Long in a speech for re-election of Senator Hattie Caraway, a Democrat of Arkansas in 1932. And the quote is, “They’ve got a set of Republican waiters on one side and a set of Democratic waiters on the other side but no matter which set of waiters brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same Wall Street kitchen.” Doesn’t sound like something that just started.
LOFGREN: That’s correct. And you have to consider, I mean we went through a horrendous financial meltdown and who’s responsible depends on which party you’re in. Democrats will blame Bush the tax cuts, the fact that Chris Cox at the Securities and Exchange Commission was totally asleep at the switch, Alan Greenspan was asleep at the switch and was somehow surprised that all of this happened. Well, yes, Bush was responsible. But when you parse the historical record, was he any more responsible than Bill Clinton who signed Gramm-Leach-Bliley, the act that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1934 that kept investment and commercial banking separate. He signed that. He signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act in 2000 that took all the wraps off derivatives trading. There was no regulation. That’s how we got credit default swaps, synthetic CDOs in the nominal value of trillions that collapsed. So they’re both responsible for this.
LAMB: I’d like to ask you about labels because you say you’re not a Republican or a Democrat, Independent. I want to go back again to this interview with Bob Gates. And in the book, he says that he is a Republican and in the interview, here, he says he’s not a Republican. I’m trying to figure out what’s the label – what do the labels mean anymore? Let’s watch this short take here.
GATES: He called up and we were talking about something else and then all of a sudden he said, “You know, I was – I was largely responsible for getting – talking President Obama into running for president.” I heard that from a lot of people on the Hill. And he said “But there’s no candidate for vice president. How long have you been a registered Republican?” I said, “Well, I’m actually not a registered Republican.” And he said, “Well, where do you stand on abortion?” I said, “I don’t have a stand on abortion. Somehow that’s never come into the national security arena.”
LAMB: Well, it seems like people say they’re Republicans and then they’re not when it’s convenient for them. But I mean you say in your column that he was a genuine George Herbert Walker Bush, George Bush consigliore for a lot of years.
LOFGREN: Well, I think if you look at his curriculum vitae, the facts would tend to indicate that, that he was involved in intelligence production in the ‘80s that serve the purposes of a Republican administration. He came back a second time in 2006 when George W. Bush was facing only two more years of his second term and wanted to sort of salvage Iraq for his reputation and to get out in a kind of way that didn’t look disastrous and he had to deal with Congress that had flipped and become Democratic majority. And Bob Gates was just the man as Rumsfeld was certainly not the man.
LAMB: So what’s a Republican today, in your opinion, what’s a Democrat?
LOFGREN: Well, I think to dispose first of Gates, he is an ideological operative of the permanent regime that exist whether that you are a Democrat or a Republican in the oval office. These people post as technocrats, as experts on national security or for that matter like Larry Summers and some others, they pose as non-partisan experts on economics and fiscal policy. But in reality, they are all deeply ideological. They believe in military force abroad, they believe in the Washington consensus or neoliberalism or free market style, crony capitalism at home. And the whole business about abortion is somewhat enlightening that he should raise that because these are the types of people who don’t really bother about those sorts of issues. They understand that these are simply diversions to rev up the base, to polarize things whether it’s gay marriage, abortion and some of the other social issues. The real issue for the permanent state is who gets what, how is the pie going to be cut up?
LAMB: Was there a point back some years ago where you just – you’re – you just, yourself flipped on the Republican party something that pushed you away from being Republican?
LOFGREN: Well, it was a gradual journey. I think the first three years of Newt Gingrich’s speakership had a lot of people scratching their heads.
LOFGREN: He was a very mercurial leader. Whoever talked to him last had his total support. It was a sort of chaotic time on a lot of movement and not necessarily progress. He pretty much did his best to destroy the old committee system and the expertise that lies in committees and he tried to centralize everything in the speaker’s office. And when you dumb down Congress as he did by abolishing the Office of Technology Assessment of cutting the – at the time, it was called the General Accounting Office now the Government Accountability Office. These are support arms of Congress that give intelligence in both the factual and the cognitive sense.
LAMB: Back in 1994, here’s Tom Brokaw reporting on Newt Gingrich becoming a speaker.
TOM BROKAW: Election-year politics now just when you thought it couldn’t get any uglier, it does. Newt Gingrich, the top House Republican who hopes to become a speaker, he’s already declared war and President Clinton at his latest attack has the White House aroused. Here’s NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Declaring all out war, the Republican Whip attacked the president at his secret meeting with lobbyists. Over lunch in this Republican Club near the Capitol, Newt Gingrich told business lobbyists that Clinton Democrats are the enemy of normal Americans. As first reported in today’s Washington Post, Gingrich promised the lobbyists that if Republicans win control of the House and Senate, they will then use their newfound subpoena power to spend the next two years investigating corruption in the Clinton administration.
NEWT GINGRICH: I do not know of any administration in modern times with as many different potential scandals all around it. I did not refer to the president. I didn’t refer to his wife. I didn’t refer any individuals. I said the total behavior of the administration is a threat in the American people.
LAMB: That’s 20 years ago. What’s happened since then in your opinion from your point of view?
LOFGREN: That sort of mentality has infected the political process and now it’s become standard operating procedure, sort of ironic and counterintuitive. Where you are weak, that is where you attack your opponent, people who are ethically weak attacking others on ethics.
LAMB: What do you come down on money is speech?
LOFGREN: Money is speech, let’s haul the corporations in for jury duty and make them subject draft registration if they are people. I think it’s a totally phony thing the Supreme Court was totally in the tank on that one.
LAMB: After you left working for John Kasich on Capitol Hill, who specifically do you work for after that?
LOFGREN: Jim Nussle of Iowa on the House Budget Committee, and then after a few years, I moved to the Senate and worked for Senator Judd Gregg.
LAMB: What happens – again, when Jim Nussle moved down to be the head of Office of Management and Budget…
LAMB: But on the budgeting of this, I mean we are now over $17 trillion in debt. Does anybody ever say stop? Did they ever say stop when you were there as you watched this build up over the last 10, 12 years?
LOFGREN: Well, they weren’t too concerned with the Bush tax cuts. They weren’t too concerned with the unpaid $4 trillion war. So I guess the answer is no.
LAMB: So what’s going to be the answer in the future?
LOFGREN: Basically it will be short-term-ism ad hoc-ism and people will somehow figure out how to get around it.
LAMB: Do you get this sense that somewhere back in the – one of these offices around here, there’s somebody that’s sitting there saying, “None of this matters”?
LOFGREN: Oh, I think there are. Fiscal policy by default is almost being made in the – on elected Federal Reserve board. So many of our economic policies, simply because Congress can’t do anything, Obama cannot drive his agenda through, it was defaulting to Ben Bernanke and then Janet Yellen. I know many people have severe doubts about the Fed and quantitative easing and so forth, some even go off on conspiracy theories about the Fed. I certainly do not. They’re doing the best job they can with the hand they were given. We had a terrible financial meltdown but it is unclear as of yet whether that was the right medicine and whether it will be good for the future.
LAMB: In the Gates’ book, he – as he’s talking about going to work for him as – they had a secret meeting as you know at the National Airport or – but one other thing – and I haven’t seen this printed anywhere that in the middle of his conversation, Obama answered a question of his saying, “Yes, I’m no peacenik.” Did we think going into his administration that he was going to be a peacenik?
LOFGREN: Well, I certainly didn’t. If you carefully listened to his speeches, he was saying, “We’re going to wrap up Iraq,” well, as a matter of fact, the status of forces agreement that had – was already in place under the Bush administration provided that troops would be out December 31st, 2011. So that was not his doing. He simply said, “Under my presidency, we will be out of Iraq.” He characterized Afghanistan as the “good war” in contrast that we should have been there even if we shouldn’t have been in Iraq. So people tended to hear what they wanted to hear. On civil liberties as well, he talked a very good game but in the month before the 2008 convention at Denver, he voted on the FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, amendments bill that would essentially indemnify contractors, the telecoms for their participation in spying and surveillance that wasn’t legal. So he sort of retroactively rubberstamped that and when he made that vote, I knew the fix was in.
LAMB: So go back to the original – the reason we asked you to come and talk about the book and the column, did you get much reaction out of the column?
LOFGREN: Oh, I got a fair amount of reaction out of the column. Virtually all that was positive in that, as we’ve discussed, there are certain, shall we say, gaps in his recollection or things he says in one place that don’t square with things he says somewhere else. But again, it’s not so much about Gates other than he was a very important person in this drama called Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on terror and associated issues that have had a profound effect on the American psyche. People don’t want to realize that there is sort of a less attractive id underneath our bravado about how good we are. We practiced things like torture and assassination and tried to sweep them under the carpet.
LAMB: We watched the book – it was leaked out to the Washington Post and the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and then it started his interviews on television and then raised the view of it to the point where it became the number one best-seller on the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times best-seller list. What do you think of the idea of writing that kind of a book at all? I mean you wrote a book after you got out. What – is there a difference between your book and this book and the value of this?
LOFGREN: Well, he’s certainly entitled to write any book he wants and espouse any view he wants just as I or any other member of the general public is entitled to do Google searches on ‘Robert Gates Iran-Contra,’ ‘Robert Gates Soviet intelligence’ and other topics and find out if his recollections square with generally accepted public record.
LAMB: What do you – let me read a quote from Bob Gates in his book that when he was talking to the president about going – staying on as Secretary of Defense, “In turn, I want you to know,” – he’s saying this to the president – “I want you to know that should I stay, you would never need to worry about my working a separate or different agenda. As I have with other presidents, I would give you my best and most candid advice. Should you decide on a different path, I would either support or – you or leave, I would not be disloyal.”And the hard thing for people on this book is that a lot of their press on it said that he was critical of President Obama. He gets in here and he says a lot of very positive things about President Obama. What about – what was your reaction and then did you read the whole book?
LOFGREN: Well, it was kind of disjointed in that fashion. He maybe could have used a better editor to smooth it out. But then we all have ambivalent viewpoints about issues and other people. And at some point, you try to reconcile them. I don’t think he ever reconciled them at least in a way that was clear to the reader.
LAMB: When you came to town, were – were you a Republican?
LOFGREN: Yes, I was.
LAMB: And you changed your views over the time. Well, now, where are you going to go?
LOFGREN: It was probably – I mean my trepidations over Newt’s leadership style were trepidations over his leadership style. Where it became a matter of principle was in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. I read the same stuff everybody else read on the Hill or was cleared to read and it didn’t convince me. I told a handful of Republican members who politely listened to me that this thing’s gunna possibly turn out to be the less bank on steroids and you may end up being surprised whether there’s all those weapons of mass destruction that they’re claiming. And they listened, they asked questions but it didn’t change their votes.
LAMB: What made you suspicious?
LOFGREN: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney seemed a little too eager. Everybody in the administration just seemed a little too eager, did not address relevant issues that would have made it more ambivalent or ambiguous. And the media were in the tank mostly. Members of Congress did not want to be seen voting against it. I think the George W. Bush administration was very clever putting the vote just before the mid-term election to get these guys on record even though he would not invade for another five months. That’s kind of unprecedented for the equivalent of a declaration of war.
LAMB: So where do you think you’ll end up in the future politically?
LOFGREN: I think I will remain independent because ideologies limit thoughts. You become to the extent you are ideological or partisan, you become an automaton who is mouthing propaganda and your brain is not engaged.
LAMB: Your book is called “The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle Class Got Shafted.” And if folks want to read your critique of the book by Robert Gates, they could go in truth-out.org.
LAMB: Mike Lofgren, thank you very much for joining us.
LOFGREN: I enjoyed being here, Brian.