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In the Crossfire

GOP fund-raising profiting off September 11?

(CNN) -- Republicans aim to raise campaign money by selling donors a photo of President Bush calling Vice President Dick Cheney from Air Force One on September 11 -- causing Democrats to accuse the GOP of exploiting the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington for political gain.

The Republican House and Senate campaign committees are offering the picture, along with photos of the president during his State of the Union address and at his inauguration, to donors who contribute at least $150 and attend a fund-raising dinner with Bush and the first lady in June.

"Crossfire" hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala debated the photo controversy Tuesday night as Bush spoke at a Republican National Committee gala that set a fund-raising record of $30 million.

Democrats are protesting a GOP plan to sell a photograph of President Bush taken after the September 11 attacks to raise money. CNN's John King reports. (May 14)

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White House defends plan to sell Bush photo 

BEGALA: The money is soft, the liquor is hard, and both are flowing in abundance here in Washington [on Tuesday night]. No, not here at "Crossfire." You're looking at a live picture of our president speaking to the Republican National Committee's gala here in Washington, D.C. This shindig is supposed to take in about $30 million in one gulp. That would shatter the old record of about $26.5 million set by [former President] Clinton and [Al] Gore at a barbecue a couple of years ago.

President Bush is no doubt regaling the crowd with stories of his passionate fight for campaign finance reform, Tucker. But what's more troubling even than that orgy of special interest money is how the Republican Party, we've learned, is trying to make money off the September 11 tragedy.

Let me show you a picture that they're selling, a picture taken by an official White House photographer, that the whole country pays for, Democrats and Republicans. That is a photograph of President Bush, according to the White House, on the phone with Dick Cheney on September 11. They're selling that picture to campaign donors, so that they can feel somehow specially, magically connected. I think it is the shabbiest, sorriest, most pathetic excuse I've ever seen. So this White House ...

CARLSON: Is that true, Paul? Because I must say, listening to you beat up on fund-raising not only makes me nauseous, but I think you'd actually feel a little bit of guilt for that level of hypocrisy. I want to show you a picture. Perhaps you'll recognize it. I bet you do. That's the Lincoln Bedroom. That's the bed that was rented by the former president to campaign donors.

BEGALA: You know what? First off, it wasn't. If the president wants to let his friends stay over, the way Bush senior brought Ken Lay to Camp David and to that room ...

CARLSON: Let me boil it down for you, Paul.

BEGALA: No, September 11 was a unique moment in American history. Three thousand of our citizens slaughtered. And Bush is raising money off it.

CARLSON: And let me boil it down. Bush did a good job on September 11.

BEGALA: Actually, he didn't.

CARLSON: And somehow it's wrong for him to say so? This from a man who defended an administration that bragged from Day One about creating 19 trillion new jobs, about rescuing people from poverty, putting a trillion new cops on the street, curing AIDS, curing cancer, curing homelessness and unemployment and indigestion and diaper rash.

The bragging began at the beginning. It has not stopped. All they're doing is pointing out he did a good job on September 11. And this is a travesty? Get some perspective, man.

BEGALA: Actually, a friend of mine named Tucker Carlson wrote that he did not show the physical courage that [then-New York Mayor]Rudy Giuliani showed on September 11. You were right then. It's a big difference between bragging ...

CARLSON: That is actually not what I said.

BEGALA: We'll read it on here [Wednesday] night. It's a big difference between bragging about your record on the economy and social policy, where Clinton was successful, and trying to trade on the greatest national tragedy in my life, which is what Bush is doing. Shame on Bush.

CARLSON: I think that's a completely unfair characterization, as you know. He did an excellent job leading this country in wartime. And I think it's fine to point that out. If Bill Clinton had been commander in chief during that war, he would literally be talking about transforming Afghanistan every day of the week.

BEGALA: No, it would be better if Bush had the staying power to actually keep focusing on that mission instead of wandering off to fund-raisers.




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