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In the Crossfire

Should security chief resist Congress?

(CNN) -- Should Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge be forced to testify before Congress to explain the Bush administration's $38 billion homeland security funding request for next year?

The White House contends that Ridge, as an adviser to the president, shouldn't be required to appear on Capitol Hill -- a stand that has displeased many lawmakers.

"Crossfire" hosts Paul Begala and Robert Novak went one-on-one over the issue Tuesday.

BEGALA: Time now for Round Six, where Novak and I go at it. No guests, no gloves, no holds barred. And only one topic, the standoff continues. Both sides making threats, calling names, digging in. No, not in the Middle East, but on Capitol Hill.

The issue, whether Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge should testify before the Congress as lawmakers consider the $38 billion budget request for homeland security.

Bob, this is a no-brainer. That guy wants to spend $38 billion of our money -- he should be accountable to the people who write the checks.

NOVAK: Well, if you knew a little bit about the way American government works, you'd know that we're dating all the way back to Harry Hopkins [one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's closest advisers]. With FDR, they refused to testify before Congress -- personal aides. Now what we all know is that Sen. [Robert] Byrd, who wants to take all this homeland security money and transfer it to West Virginia, where he lives, that he wants to -- he loves to beat up our government administration officials.

And so, what the administration is doing, they're saying, "Sen. Byrd, we're going to send the agriculture secretary. We're going to send the treasury secretary." Both of them appeared there [Tuesday]. And they can give you a testimony about their part of homeland security, but Tom Ridge is a personal aide to the president. And he should not, under the American tradition, have to testify.

BEGALA: Well, let me tell you the American tradition. First off, Gerald Ford, a Republican, but a fine president, testified before the Congress of the United States as president.

When I worked for Bill Clinton in the White House, not me, but most of his personnel aides were summoned up there. Take a look. This is just the four or five most famous that we saw. John Podesta, the chief of staff to the president of the United States. No more personal aide was there. Hauled up there to testify. George Stephanopoulos; Harold Ickes, the deputy chief of staff; Maggie Williams, the chief of staff to the first lady. All of them hauled up there to the Hill by Republicans.

Now all of a sudden they're saying this guy can't explain the $38 billion?

NOVAK: Can I explain to you the difference? They were brought up to testify on criminal charges against the president of the United States.

BEGALA: No, they were not.

NOVAK: Wait. And if I could speak while you're interrupting.

BEGALA: No. While I'm answering, you are misleading.

NOVAK: And they were called up there, not to talk about policy questions. They were called up to talk about criminal matters. You know, this was a very difficult period for all of us. And naturally, they had to testify. Now if Tom Ridge, if there were an impeachment proceeding against President Bush, I'd say Tom Ridge would have to testify.

BEGALA: Every one of these guys testified long before that right-wing lynch mob tried to impeach Clinton. What this was -- so this is a Novak rule. If you spend $38 billion of our money trying to save our lives, well, we won't ask any questions. But if you happen to work for a good president, a great president, we're going to harass you every day of the week.

NOVAK: Who has criminal charges against him, yes.

BEGALA: He didn't at the time.




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