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Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields

Dick Cheney Discusses Campaign 2000

Aired October 21, 2000 - 5:30 p.m. ET


ROWLAND EVANS, CO-HOST: I'm Rowland Evans. Robert Novak and I will question the Republican candidate for vice president.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: He is Dick Cheney of Wyoming.


NOVAK: Dick Cheney's Democratic counterpart, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, has been more visible on the campaign circuit. Senator Lieberman unexpectedly turned up at the presidential debate in St. Louis. Mr. Cheney did not. Senator Lieberman has led the charge into Texas to attack the quality of life there under Governor George W. Bush.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wish Governor Bush would come here, and because I think he is a good man, I think if he saw this he would do more than he's done.

There was one bill, I believe, three years ago, in 1997, passed the legislature here in Texas with bipartisan support, to coordinate the various agencies of state government to deal more effectively with the problems and needs of the people in the colonias, and Governor Bush vetoed it.

NOVAK: Mr. Cheney, former secretary of defense during the Gulf War, has maintained that the U.S. military is in need of repair and that the vice president is unaware of it.

CHENEY: He either doesn't know what the state -- true state of the U.S. military is today or he's decided he's not going to tell the truth about it.

NOVAK: A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll indicates that voters, by a margin of nearly 2-1, regard Mr. Cheney as better qualified to be president than Senator Lieberman.


NOVAK: Secretary Cheney, during the last presidential debate, in St. Louis, Vice President Gore turned to Governor Bush and said that: I am increasing defense spending in the next 10 years twice as much as you are, how can you say you're going to have a stronger defense? Governor Bush did not have a response. And since you've been so critical of the defense levels and preparedness under the Clinton-Gore administration, what's your response to that charge?

RICHARD B. CHENEY (R), VICE PRESDIENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all, he's not telling the truth about his $100 billion. The fact is about $30 billion of it is estimated to come from unidentified savings, $20 billion of it gets spent by the State Department. So the actual dollar amount he's talking about is only half of what he said.

Beyond that, it's really not a question of how many dollars you spend, the fact of the matter is this administration has had eight years and over that eight-year period of time they've allowed the state of our military to atrophy. We badly need to improve the overall capabilities of the force, to maintain readiness, to invest in new capabilities.

We've had just tons of evidence that have been produced by the department, by objective observers, by the Congress, that in fact they have shortchanged the U.S. military. We've seen everything from the chiefs up testifying on Capitol Hill that they've been robbing Peter to pay Paul in order to finance operations. General Mike Ryan of the Air Force saying he's got 40 percent fewer assets and three times as many deployments. They have not done an effective job of it. We will.

NOVAK: Secretary Cheney, speaking of robbing Peter to pay Paul, another charge by the vice president is that you, the Bush-Cheney ticket or hoped for administration, is going to skip a whole generation of weapons. What's your response to that?

CHENEY: Well, they choose to misinterpret what we've said. What we're really interested in is advancing our technology in the military field. Partly because they haven't done anything to recapitalize the force, because we find ourselves in a situation where we're still basically relying on equipment...


NOVAK: But you do skip a generation of weapons, though, is that correct?

CHENEY: No. But we want to jump forward in terms of getting new systems and new technology into the force. And we think we need to sit down and figure out exactly what that ought to be.

But the point here is they've shortchanged the procurement budget about $150 billion, according to Bill Owens (ph), the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And, in fact, what we want to do is make sure that we incorporate the latest technology into our new systems, that we look down the road 20 or 30 years and figure out what we're going to need and begin to design that force. We don't want to get into a situation where we do what the Clinton-Gore administration has done, which is use up the capital that's already there and not replenish it in any way, shape or form.

EVANS: Mr. Cheney, on a different subject, now that every Arab state, every Islamic organization, over a billion people around this world have made it absolutely clear there can be no peace between the Palestinians and Israel unless East Jerusalem becomes a part of a sovereign Palestinian state, isn't it time for this country to begin to think about changing its policy and so we could support something that would make peace possible?

CHENEY: Rowlie, I think we have to be careful not to try to impose our views on the parties to the negotiations in the Middle East. I know it's tempting to think that somehow we can come in and specify what the settlement ought to be, but we can't. There's a temptation to try to make it all move according to our timetable, but you really can't do that either.

This is an age-old problem. These are centuries of conflict that we're trying to resolve here. It's not surprising that it's a difficult and halting process. Hopefully, they'll be able to get it restarted again after the total breakdown that's occurred recently. But I think we have to be very careful about assuming we can wade in and say that it must be A, B, C or D and have people accept it.

EVANS: But, sir, it's not an age-old -- it's not an age-old problem about sovereignty for East Arab Jerusalem. It is a new problem. And if U.S. policy goes the way you're outlining it, aren't you saying, "You are in a state of perpetual war over there and we're not going to help you get out of it"?

CHENEY: Well, you have to be a little cautious here, Rowlie. The fact of the matter is, they will only abide by an agreement that they can sign up to on both sides and both sides are willing to accept as fair. If you impose a solution that one side or the other believes is not in its interests, that they're not willing to support, then it will only be a matter of time before there'll be another flare-up in violence...


CHENEY: ... and a total breakdown in stability in the region. So it requires patience. It requires tact. It requires firmness and discipline.

EVANS: But every...

CHENEY: And we're just going to have keep at it.

EVANS: But every...

CHENEY: There's no easy answer here; there's no magic formula that's automatically going to resolve it.

EVANS: Yes, sir. But every time George Bush, the candidate for president of your party, is asked about the Middle East, he says, We support Israel. I mean, is that the total Bush policy for the Middle East, we support Israel?

CHENEY: No, we've also made it clear that we've got a lot of other friends in the region. We're very close relationships with the Egyptians and the Saudis and the Kuwaitis, the Jordanians. The United States has a lot of friends in the region. I do, based on my own past experience. And our interests over there are multifaceted, as well as our strategic and historic relationship with Israel.

NOVAK: Mr. Secretary, I'd like you to take a listen to a part of the second debate on foreign policy with Governor Bush speaking.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We went into Russia. We said, here's some IMF money. And it ended up in Victor Chernomyrdin's pocket and others.


NOVAK: Now, it's been agreed just about by everybody that whatever former Prime Minister Chernomyrdin's deficiencies, he did not take IMF money. And in fact, he is suing Mr. Bush in both Russia and the United States. Do you think an apology should be forthcoming just on that small point?

CHENEY: No, I don't. I think there are serious questions about the relationship that developed between Al Gore and Mr. Chernomyrdin. We've now had released just in the last week or so a story to "The New York Times" that pointed out that apparently Al Gore signed up in a secret agreement with Mr. Chernomyrdin to allow, in effect, the Russians to continue to sell weapons to the Iranians in violation of a statute that Congress had enacted, that Al Gore himself had co- sponsored when he was a senator.

They denied Congress information about it. Now we find ourselves in a situation where Al Gore is claiming that his relationship with Chernomyrdin is one of the experiences that he would bring to the White House as president.

NOVAK: But the...

CHENEY: Looks to me like it was a real train wreck that, in effect, allowed them to continue to sell arms to the Iranians. And when the agreement called for them to stop, they just thumbed their nose at the administration...

NOVAK: But it's not true...


CHENEY: ... Vice President Gore.

NOVAK: It's not true that he got IMF money, is that correct?

CHENEY: Pardon?

NOVAK: It's not true that Chernomyrdin siphoned off IMF money?

CHENEY: I don't know about that. I can't say on that.

EVANS: On the Gore-Chernomyrdin deal on Russian arms for Iran, sir, are you saying that if you win this election that you and President Bush will never be able to make a secret deal, kept away from the prying eyes of Congress, in certain situations where secrecy is paramount?

CHENEY: Well, clearly, there's a need for secrecy in dealings, but this is a situation where the Russians were clearly doing something that was not in our interest. They were selling weapons of various kinds to the Iranians, including Kilo-Class deep submarines. It's pretty deadly diesel sub that could conceivably bottle up the Straits of Hormuz, threaten U.S. Naval vessels.

They were doing it in a manner that Congress clearly was concerned about, because in 1992 John McCain and Al Gore sponsored legislation that would have imposed sanctions on the Russians if they were to continue to help the Iranian nuclear program, for example, which they clearly did.

Al Gore entered into this agreement apparently, signed up to it, agreed not to tell the Congress. There was a specific request from the Russians not to let the Congress know about it, and they apparently did that.

Then, finally, the agreement said by '99 they would stop all sales to the Iranians, and when they got to the deadline they just kept going. They thumbed their nose at the administration, so they had no effective impact upon the Russian sales to the Iranians. At the same time, I think they violated precepts of good dealings, because, in fact, they didn't keep Congress informed.

EVANS: All right. We have to take a break in a minute.

But just one last question on that, sir. Are you saying that Vice President Gore has jeopardized the American position in the gulf because of this deal?

CHENEY: I think that its weakened our position in the gulf, partly because the Russians are bound to have serious questions at this point about whether or not they have to pay any attention to the administration. Clearly, it has enhanced the military capabilities of the Iranians, which is a potential problem from the standpoint of U.S. forces deployed there.

EVANS: We have to take a break now, Mr. Secretary. When we come, we'll ask Dick Cheney about where can American naval vessels refuel with safety?


NOVAK: Dick Cheney, in view of the disaster of the USS Cole, can we say that in a Bush-Cheney administration we will never send U.S. warships into dangerous places like Aden?

CHENEY: I don't think you can say that, Bob. The fact of the matter is, the United States very much has vital interests in that part of the world, throughout the gulf region, in the Middle East. We need to be there, our naval forces need to be there. And I would not want to make the statement that we would never have forces in a dangerous part of the world. That's why we have a military. And it's terrible, the tragedy that befell the USS Cole. But the worse thing we could do now is pull out and reward the terrorists by, in effect, giving them a total and complete victory.

NOVAK: Governor Bush has indicated that if he were to find out as president who was responsible for such an act of terrorism, he would get them. What does "get them" mean? What would they do, would you bomb a foreign country as President Clinton did?

CHENEY: Depends on who the guilty party is. I think, clearly, we need to do everything we can to find out. And then we need to impose a very heavy penalty, and that may well mean military action. It might mean going in and arresting people and trying to bring them to trial in some jurisdiction. Or if a state, foreign government has, in fact, been host to this kind of event and supported it and made it possible, then you may want to take military action against that state.

We don't know at this point who's responsible, and until we do, I think you have to withhold judgment on exactly what kind of retribution you would be...


EVANS: Mr. Cheney, you may not believe this, but after your debate with Senator Joe Lieberman, a lot of voters were saying that the Republican presidential ticket is upside down and that you ought to be on the top. Don't they have a point, sir?


CHENEY: No, I don't think so, Rowlie. I like very much running with Governor Bush. He's done a superb job of capturing the nomination, creating a vision for the Republican Party. I think we're going to win this election on November 7. I'm delighted to be on the ticket with him. It's a real privilege for me. But there's no question about who our leader is: It's George W. Bush...


EVANS: All right. Given...

CHENEY: ... vice presidential candidate.

EVANS: Given your great experience in defense and national security affairs, will you be given some special duties, not given to most vice presidents, in the field of national security?

CHENEY: I think what will happen is the relationship will evolve into one that's fairly significant, in terms of my role, but you've got to remember the way that operation works. I've spent time in enough White Houses to know that in the end it turns on the personal relationship between the president and the vice president. We happen to have a very good one.

I'm sure he will, in fact, ask me to take on major duties and responsibilities, but those remain to be worked out. There's no contract here. There's no real job description. It's a matter of sitting down and figuring out how I can be most useful. And I'll do whatever it is he needs to have done.

NOVAK: Mr. Secretary, you have been quite critical of President Clinton for using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the present imbalance in the oil market. And, in fact, since that move was taken by President Clinton at the urging of Vice President Gore, oil prices have gone down about $2.50 a barrel. So, so far, it's been a success, has it not?

CHENEY: I don't think so. I think not only was it done for purely political purposes, Al Gore had opposed it seven months ago. Now, close to the election he's worried about prices, so he asked him to release 30 million barrels from the reserve.

But the fact is, if you look at the testimony by the Department of Energy before the Senate in the last couple of days, in fact, what happened is 30 million barrels shrinks to 10. Because 20 million of it will simply offset imports that would have otherwise come to the United States, it'll now be diverted. And of that remaining 10 million barrels, they're not going to be able to do very much with it, because our refineries are running at capacity.

The estimate I saw this morning indicated that there may only be a quarter-of-a-million barrels that actually end up as heating oil. So you go from 30 million barrels that you take out of the Strategic Reserve, for that you get 10 million additional barrels of crude, and out of that maybe only 250,000 barrels of heating oil. This is an incompetent operation. You could find a lot better ways to use that reserve than they have done.

EVANS: Mr. Secretary, you have said recently that credibility in top political candidates like yourself and Vice President Gore is the, quote, "coin of the realm."

CHENEY: That's true. I do in fact believe...


EVANS: Then you have questioned Al Gore's credibility. And on the very...

CHENEY: I think back on my own experience, Rowlie, with President Ford, for example. In August of 1974, when he came in at the height of the Watergate crisis...

EVANS: Yes, sir.

CHENEY: ... his task was to restore the confidence of the American people in their White House. That absolutely depended upon them believing he had honor and integrity, that he would speak truthfully to them. And so I think credibility is a vital asset...

EVANS: Well, I'm not questioning that, sir.

EVANS: The question I was going to ask is this: On the skimpy basis of Al Gore citing one little girl who for a moment didn't have a desk in a classroom, and he was wrong about that, she did have a desk, can you really make that charge against Al Gore that he lacks credibility, sir?

CHENEY: Well, it wasn't just the one girl in a classroom, it was a raft of other things, really. I'm not sure we have time to cover them all. The statement that he was there when the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was created is wrong. He got there two years later. That he co-sponsored McCain-Feingold, wrong, he wasn't even in the Senate then. That he had found that, for example, the U.S. military...

EVANS: All right.

CHENEY: ... was in good shape.

EVANS: Well, you got a list. You got a list here.

CHENEY: If you don't recognize the problems in the U.S. military and you're vice president of the United States, you've got a very serious credibility problem.

EVANS: All right, sir. Mr. Cheney, we have to take a break. And when we come back, in a minute, we will have the "Big Question" for Dick Cheney, vice presidential nominee of the Republican Party. In a moment.


EVANS: The "Big Question" for Dick Cheney.

On Thursday, an ebullient President Bill Clinton jumped into the presidential campaign with a sarcastic but rather funny attack on your presidential candidate, George W. Bush. Does this mean the Democrats have made a decision to use Bill Clinton in these last two weeks of the campaign? And does that make Clinton an open target for the Republican campaign?

CHENEY: Well, I think it's a sign of desperation on their part. I assume that since Al Gore has wanted to stay as far away from Bill Clinton as he could all through the campaign, the fact now that they're apparently talking about bringing him out is an indication that they think they're in big trouble.

He obviously carries a lot of baggage or Al Gore would have mentioned him. He went through three debates and his name never came up one time.

So I would guess they sort of have a love-hate kind of relationship now. They'd like to bring him out. On the other hand, they know that raises a lot of questions about the past conduct of the Clinton administration. So they're free to do whatever they want.

NOVAK: Desperate...

CHENEY: I think it's a sign that we're doing very well on the Republican side of this campaign.

NOVAK: Mr. Secretary, desperate they may be, but does it worry you at all that the politician that's considered by many Republicans as the greatest politician of our time is going to be traveling -- may be traveling the country? Does that worry you in these last two weeks of the campaign?

CHENEY: No, it doesn't, Bob. If he wants to jump into the arena, we would welcome him with both arms. He can certainly come out and talk all he wants.

I think Governor Bush and I are going to win this race because we clearly have been able to tap into the sentiment nationwide that the American people think it's time for a change in leadership in Washington and we represent that change.

NOVAK: Dick Cheney, thank you very much. My partner and I will be back with a comment.


EVANS: Bob, Dick Cheney isn't kidding when he says Al Gore ain't telling the truth about the state of American defense. Now, that is really quite a charge. But we know from this show today, he means it. He's going to repeat it, he said it three or four times: He thinks the vice president is a prevaricator.

NOVAK: Secretary Cheney said he didn't know whether George W. Bush wasn't telling the truth about Chernomyrdin of Russia getting IMF money. He changed the subject quickly, however, to this secret deal between Gore and Chernomyrdin over Russian arms to Iran. And I believe that's going to be a major Republican theme in the last two weeks of the campaign.

EVANS: And also a major theme may be the reentry, if it happens this way, of Bill Clinton into the Democratic campaign. But again, from the Republican vice presidential nominee, no problem. He says Bill Clinton carries a lot of baggage and we won't lose a nickel if he's going to travel this country for the Democratic candidate.

NOVAK: Rowlie, when the ticket was named and when Cheney started campaigning, I said that Dick Cheney had put on a lot of rust politically, being a big oil man in Dallas. The rust is off. He's very articulate, very quick, very fast. And he sure does know defense and foreign policy. I think he's a pretty impressive candidate now.

I'm Robert Novak.

EVANS: I'm Rowland Evans.

NOVAK: Coming up in one-half hour on "RELIABLE SOURCES," how are the media spinning the presidential debates? And obsession with New York's Subway Series.

And coming up at 7 p.m. Eastern on "CAPITAL GANG," post-debate analysis and what's ahead in the campaign's home stretch with Bush adviser Vin Weber as guest.

And tune in next week when we turn our attention to a fierce race for Florida's U.S. Senate seat between Republican Bill McCollum and Democrat Bill Nelson.

EVANS: And that's all for now. Thanks for watching.



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