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America's New War: Grading the Players

Aired November 2, 2001 - 19:30   ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Did Gray Davis go too far with his bridge warning? Is Dick Cheney too far away from the action? And did Tommy Thompson not go far enough in warning about anthrax?

Tonight, grading the leaders of America's new war. This is CROSSFIRE.

Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. When it comes to fighting terrorism, we have learned you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Earlier this week, Attorney General John Ashcroft caught some heat for putting out a national warning about terrorist attacks without telling us where, when or what to look out for.

Yesterday, California Governor Gray Davis was criticized for issuing a very specific warning about which of four bridges might be hit by terrorists, on what days of the week and at what time of day. So, which do you prefer, more information or less?

And while we are taking a critical look at John Ashcroft and Gray Davis, how well have all the other major players in the war against terrorism performed? People like Don Rumsfeld, Tommy Thompson and George Bush.

Well, tonight, two months into the war against terrorism, Tucker and I hand them all our report cards, A through F, with the totally biased assistance of two political pros, two former members of Congress, Republican Susan Molinari of New York and Democrat Tony Coelho of California.

Tucker, you are up first.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Oh, yes. Tony Coelho, good evening.


CARLSON: It must have driven Gray Davis totally bonkers to watch George Pataki and Rudy Giuliani get all this attention and all this adulation over the past seven weeks. So, here's the scenario. The federal government gets literally hundreds of threats every week. They are all compiled on a sheet, it goes to the White House and other people who need to know. Virtually none of them become public. Gray Davis gets wind of one of these the other day, a very non-specific threat. He's told explicitly not to reveal this to the public or to the media, and yet he does. Turns out he guesses that this threat has something to do with four bridges in California, he goes on television, makes the statement, scares the heck out of everyone in the state, gets on "LARRY KING" at the end of the evening, and, as we know, it turns out nothing happened.

Now the grade. This is Gray Davis' grade as judged by Bill Press and me. Gray Davis. Bill Press inexplicably gives Gray Davis a B+. I, restraining myself, give him a D. Don't you think I was generous to give him a D?

COELHO: You are (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I just can't believe it.

CARLSON: Oh, come on!

COELHO: Why would -- why would Gray Davis be jealous of George Pataki? We in California feel sorry for what happened in New York. We don't want that in California, and that's why Gray Davis acted the way he did. Gray Davis, if he hadn't done something, your friends on the right would have beat him up for not saying anything.

CARLSON: But wait a second, the feds told him not to say anything because...


COELHO: Oh yeah, and if he had followed what they had suggested and something had happened -- I'm a Californian, Tucker, I want to know. My family lives out in California. I want them to know. I have family lives around those bridges. I want them to know. We have millions of people out there, they should know the facts. These were facts that were given. I am glad...


COELHO: ... and I'll give him a grade of B+.

PRESS: Susan Molinari, it is damned if you do, damned if you don't, right?


PRESS: And so, here the FBI tells the governor -- I just want to read you just one little line. "Reportedly, this," quote/unquote from the FBI memo to the governor. "Reportedly, unspecified groups are targeting suspension bridges on the West Coast. Six incidents are to take place during rush hour beginning Friday, November 2 and continuing through November the 7th." Now, don't you think if he didn't say anything, he would have been slammed?

I hate to leave Tucker hanging here on this one.

PRESS: You can do it!

MOLINARI: I got to join my friend. And I think that -- and I hope you will all be... COELHO: We'll be just as generous.

MOLINARI: As generous when it comes to Attorney General Ashcroft. I mean, I think that we are now in a time -- and I'm the first one who wants to go under the covers when these terrorist warnings come out. I probably personally would rather not know.

However, I think that these guys, if I on September 12 we found out that anybody in government had any idea or any rumor that something was going to happen in New York and they didn't reveal it, that person would be out of office right now and condemned by every American. And so, I think that is something that Gray Davis and Attorney General Ashcroft and the president of the United States have to keep in mind.

Can they lower their rhetoric sometimes? I think so, but I do think that, you know, we are in a new world and we have got to give the benefit of the doubt to decision-makers.

PRESS: Well, just -- thank you for your generosity toward Gray Davis. And just to respond in kind, isn't the contrast with John Ashcroft, though, outstanding? I mean, John Ashcroft didn't tell us anything at all! I mean, he got on television and said, "watch out, guys." And he doesn't say what day, he doesn't say where it's coming from, he doesn't say anything. It was totally useless, wasn't it?

MOLINARI: No. The truth is, the attorney general has -- he's going to be out there all the time, and so this isn't an isolated incident for him. This is something he has got to talk about all the time. And he, I'm sure, gets 20 more warnings than he ever talks about during the course of a day.

So he has to use his discretion and the discretion around -- of the intelligence community around him in terms of how much information they give. And we don't want -- it is different when a governor gives the response, and it's different when an attorney general gives the warning, you know, based on the information we know they know.

PRESS: All right. As much as we like to beat up on Gray Davis all the rest of the evening, we can't, because we have a lot of other people...

CARLSON: I could go on and on and on.

PRESS: I know you could, but we're not going to give you the chance. We have a lot of other people we want to...

MOLINARI: I see you're not in as generous a mood as I am this evening, Bill.

PRESS: Well, Susan...

CARLSON: That's no surprise!

PRESS: This is CROSSFIRE! Tommy Thompson. Here's the point man on anthrax. It seems to me, I would suggest, that from the beginning in Florida, through New York, through New Jersey, through the District of Columbia, we got a man in charge who really doesn't know what he's doing. I give Tommy Thompson a D, and, Tucker, you -- gee, Tucker, you actually joined me in a D. Let's listen...

CARLSON: I'll explain that later.

MOLINARI: Yeah, I'm very curious.

PRESS: Just before you do, I would just like to remind you how much on the ball Tommy Thompson was right in the beginning when we found the first anthrax case in Florida. Here's Tommy Thompson's explanation.


TOMMY THOMPSON, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We do know that he drank water out of a stream when he was traveling to North Carolina last week.


PRESS: A little wanting, maybe, Susan?

MOLINARI: Well, in the retrospect, perhaps, but I don't think anybody on that day sat there and said, "oh, come on, secretary, you have got to be crazy." Nobody had any idea at that point in time. I mean -- and I know this is what CROSSFIRE is all about, but this is armchair quarter-backing. At a time when, you know, no one knew. Yes, he didn't know. He was not an expert.


CARLSON: I gave him, the secretary, a D, because that quote will live in infamy and when you screw up that badly you have to get dinged for it. On the other hand, consider the alternative. And that is to whip the public up into a frenzy. Now, Susan Molinari, you made a great point that if we found out a politician had known of a threat on September 10 and not reported, he would be in deep trouble.


CARLSON: But it's a completely different environment now, because there are, as I said, hundreds, thousands of threats reported to federal authorities since September 11. So, the trick, it seems to me, is (a) to tell the truth, as Thompson did, and (b) not to jump to conclusions and make people filled with terror. Isn't that true?

MOLINARI: So, why did you give him a D?

CARLSON: Because he screwed up, and you have to...


MOLINARI: But you would have done the same thing?


COELHO: But the problem is that Tommy Thompson has an obligation to be sort of the medical officer for this administration. He has not performed well. People expected him to be an A+ performer when he got appointed. He has not performed well. He made major mistakes here. And then, at the same time that he's trying to convince us that he can be a great HHS secretary, what does he say? He would rather be Department of Transportation secretary. And so, what type of confidence...


COELHO: Yeah, what kind of a confidence do you have in somebody who is supposed to know about medical intelligence? So, he deserves -- he deserves the D.

MOLINARI: Gentlemen, gentlemen...

COELHO: Let me finish, let me get my grade, Susan, now. He deserves the D that you gave him.

MOLINARI: No one new the extent of anthrax availability at the time that the secretary made that comment. I mean, anthrax has been found in various forms over the years at different points in time. This could have been as isolated an incident as those were. Now, in context...

COELHO: Susan, if you don't know what you're talking about, maybe you should let somebody get up and talk that knows what they are talking about.

MOLINARI: Who would have?

COELHO: Why not a medical doctor? Why not somebody from NIH?

MOLINARI: We have heard the medical doctors.


COELHO: ... somebody who has some authority and some knowledge.

CARLSON: OK. Let's segue seamlessly to another Republican, and I don't think anybody can find fault with his behavior, that's Rudy Giuliani. Did a remarkable thing today. It's one thing to stand at the bottom of a burning and then toppling building and show no fear as he did on September 11. It's quite another order of courage to take on firemen in your own city. You know, the kind of embodiment of heroism, and that's exactly what Rudy Giuliani did today. He had three of them arrested, firefighters, union officials. Doesn't this show that Rudy Giuliani really needs a place in this administration, a man of that profound courage? Tony Coelho.

(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: The grade? He gets from me a flat out A; and from Bill -- Bill is a little stingier -- he gives him an A- for reasons he'll explain later.


COELHO: I agree with you about Rudy Giuliani and his courage and the way he has provided leadership. He became, starting on September 11, became the father figure for this nation. Everybody felt good. He put his arms around all of us, and we felt good. We wanted to hear him on TV, as opposed to other people running around the country. We liked the fact that he was on the tube explaining what was going on.

I give him an A-, for one reason, and that is he believed his own rhetoric and tried to change the law so he could run for mayor again. Nobody should get -- have that much of an ego. And so I just give him an A- for that.

CARLSON: Well, megalomania is the flip side of courage, but yes.

PRESS: You and I haven't talked, but my A- is just for that same reason, that the ego kind of resurfaced, and said, give me, give me, give me.

But I have to ask you, Susan, you know Rudy better than anybody else at this table, being from New York. I mean, let's face it. For the last eight years, this guy has been a royal pain in the butt. Did you really ever think, knowing what a pest he was, that he had this leadership in him?

MOLINARI: Absolutely. Look at -- how do you think this city turned around? I mean, I don't want to get too partisan on this show. Far be it for me...



Do you remember what the city was like under David Dinkins, and how Rudy has turned this city around, and dealt with the mob, and dealt with the mob, and dealt with white collar crime when he was U.S. attorney, and dealt with the squeegee men, and had our kids, you know, with truant officers?

This is -- for those us who are from New York, I mean, we are very proud, but we are not surprised by the level of courage and control that this man exhibits. This is why New York City is the city that it is.

And I submit to you not the reason, megalomania, for why he wants to stick around. Politically, he knows this would be the worst thing that ever happened to him, would be to stick around, and deal with the budget deficits that are going to come and the problems of pulling this city back together. So this was not a smart political move for him, and he knew that.

It is in the best interest of the city to keep that team with him at the head together as long as possible.

PRESS: All right, we are saying too many nice thing about Rudy Giuliani. We can't stand it. We have to move on.

CARLSON: It's hurting your ears.

PRESS: You talked about control, about somebody who's really in charge. Well, we all know that Tom Ridge is in charge of homeland security.

Now, Susan, let's be really honest here. By the way, the new czar of homeland security gets a C- from me and a B from Tucker. But you have to admit, Susan, that Tom Ridge is a very nice guy, did a good job as governor of Pennsylvania. But he doesn't have any power and he doesn't have any authority, and nobody believes he's really in charge of anything.

MOLINARI: Well, let's see. He's been on the job for about -- what? -- three minutes, and already we're determining that he can't do this.

Look, there are some problems here -- to be serious for a minute -- and I think part of the problem is the predictability of who speaks to us when. And Tom is -- Governor Ridge is very new in this position, and so I think that we're not quite sure when we are supposed to hear from him.

Once that gets established, during the course of this long ordeal, I think that you're going to change your position on him. I think when he does stand up, he has been able to accomplish what I think few have been able to, and that is the combination of making people feel secure, giving information, and also, if you will, to borrow a trite phrase from a former president, "feeling our pain."

And I think Tom really deserves credit for being able to get all those emotions across. Those emotions are very important at this time.

CARLSON: So you think that's going to change Bill Press' mind. That's touching.

COELHO: I would give him a zero -- no grade for a non-show. He hasn't showed up. He hasn't been there. He hasn't provided the leadership that was promised.

There was a big hype about him coming in: He has not performed. And I'll tell you what, Susan, he's waited too long. You know Washington as well as I do: The vultures are out. They've got their own -- he can't get it back. It's all over with.

MOLINARI: All right. I think the American people are a lot kinder.

CARLSON: Well, let's, quickly, let's go to someone who sadly has shown up. You know, in the wake of September 11th, Washington came together. Partisanship was sublimated. It was pushed down. And I want to show you how Dick Gephardt, of course the leading Democrat in the House of Representatives, his response. This is Congressman Dick Gephardt.


REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: Well, they failed their contracts, and it's time to put them out of their contracts and get federal law enforcement to do this job.


CARLSON: I think, unfortunately, we mixed the Nikita Krushchev tape in there with Dick Gephardt. That, of course, was him talking about the airline safety bill. Our grades for Congressman Dick Gephardt, looks like Bill may have given him an A-. I gave him an F, because that's just not, that's not helpful rhetoric in a time like this. Is it?

COELHO: What -- what he just said?

CARLSON: Pounding your shoe on the table, accusing the other guys of bad motives. I mean, I thought we could just suspend that for a little bit.

COELHO: When you have a -- when you have a 100 to zero vote in the Senate, and the Republicans and the Democrats in the Senate were able to come together, based on what this country needs -- and then we had the right-wingers in the House decide that they have to make this an issue. And there was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at first, the president even said he would sign the Senate bill.

And because of the right wing, we decide that the people who work for the government in New York -- the firefighters, the police -- the people who work for us across this world in the Defense Department, federal employees are no good. And so we have to have contractors that are from corporations that make major contributions to political parties. Oh, that makes a lot of sense.

Dick Gephardt is right in attacking. He was right in going after this. I give him an A-.

MOLINARI: But what happened was majority rule.

PRESS: I'm sorry. We have to interrupt here just a second, because we have some breaking news. We want to go right now to CNN's Wolf Blitzer to find out what that's all about. Then we'll come back with more CROSSFIRE -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much. We're following this breaking news. A U.S. helicopter, a military helicopter is down in Afghanistan.

Jamie McIntyre, our military affairs correspondent, is over at the Pentagon. He joins us now with more with more details -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Wolf, it appears that all of the U.S. military personnel are safe, although four U.S. military personnel have been injured. According to the first official word we have gotten now from the Pentagon, this happened at about 10:30 at night tonight local time in Afghanistan. Two U.S. military helicopters were on an undisclosed mission flying over Afghan territory when severe weather, according to the Pentagon, caused one of the helicopters to have a crash landing.

The second helicopter was able to land and evacuate the four members of the crew. They were all injured, but we are told that none of the injuries were life-threatening.

All of the crew was moved out of Afghanistan, and they are all receiving medical attention. And we're also told that because this helicopter apparently went down in Taliban-controlled territory in Afghanistan, that F-14s from the U.S. Aircraft Carrier Theodore Roosevelt carried out air strikes to destroy the downed helicopter.

Again, the headline is that four U.S. military personnel were injured. None of the injuries believed to be life-threatening, and they were evacuated out of Afghanistan by a second helicopter after the first one was forced to crash land because of severe weather -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, thank you very much, and we'll continue to follow the story. More details at the top of the hour on "THE POINT WITH GRETA VAN SUSTEREN," but now back to "CROSSFIRE" and Bill Press -- Bill.

PRESS: All right, Wolf. Thanks very much. And while we're there, we'll take a break and continue to take a look at the leaders in our war against terrorism, starting with a head of the class, President Bush and Vice President Cheney, when we come right back.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We've been grading the top players in America's war on terrorism. Now it's time to go to the head of the class: President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Ari Fleischer, who sometimes speaks for all of them. How have they done? Have they passed, failed? Have they even been graded?

We'll tell you tonight. We're not afraid to tell you and neither are our guests, two former members of Congress who join us here in Washington. They're not -- they're not immune to passing judgments of the starkest kind.

On the left, Democratic strategist Tony Coelho. On the right, Republican strategist Susan Molinari. And from far, far out there, somewhere in between, Bill Press.


PRESS: No, you're not grading me tonight. I mean, that's...

CARLSON: I'm delighted to do that. MOLINARI: Well, that's why I showed up.


PRESS: Susan Molinari, you didn't have a chance to say anything about Dick Gephardt. Very, very quickly, before we move on, when the anthrax thing hit the Capitol, federal authorities were telling everybody, relax take a couple of aspirin, call me in the morning. Dick Gephardt said this is weapons-grade stuff, we better take it seriously. Since then, three people have died.

Who was right and who was wrong?

MOLINARI: Mr. Gephardt wasn't by himself. I believe he was standing there with a man called, oh, Speaker Dennis Hastert at the time.

PRESS: I agree. I agree.

MOLINARI: Oh, we forgot that little detail there.

PRESS: No, no, no.

MOLINARI: Listen, I think obviously the House -- you know, it was -- I think the Senate made a huge mistake in belittling the concerns of the House of Representatives. I thought it at that moment, and of course now we seem brilliant in retrospect, unfortunately. This is not a place to play machismo when it comes to anthrax. And I think Gephardt and Hastert standing together did a great job.

PRESS: All right, now...

COELHO: Dick is the one who got criticized, but you're right.

MOLINARI: No. Well, yes.


PRESS: All right. Now, I want to ask -- I have given an incomplete, too, and I have given an incomplete to a man I actually respect a lot and admire a lot, and that is Vice President Dick Cheney. I give him an incomplete because he's an MIA.

Now, I don't think it's his choice to be MIA. Tucker, by the way, gives the -- gives the vice president an A. I think the, Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, have put him in the bunker and kept him in the bunker to punish him for pretending to be in charge or maybe showing that he was in charge.

MOLINARI: They made up this whole little war thing just to get him out of the way, huh?


PRESS: Don't you think -- my question is, don't you think it's time to allow him out of the -- back out of the bunker?

MOLINARI: I think obviously they have some serious concerns about the safety of our national leaders. And they do let him out of the bunker.

I think I know Dick Cheney well enough to know that he would not allow himself to be used that way. I think I know Karen and Karl and George Bush enough to know that they respect loyalty 100 percent. And if this is being done, it's for safety and security reasons.

CARLSON: Well, of course it is. And Tony Coelho, isn't this -- I mean, even to call it analysis. It's sub-analysis. It's really like superstition. If you can't see it, it must not be there.

Just because we can't see Dick Cheney, just because he's not on CROSSFIRE, sadly, yet...


... doesn't mean he's not doing all the work he's been doing since the very beginning.

And shouldn't we give him credit -- by credit I mean an A or at least an A+ -- for being one of the few people, not just in this administration, but in all of American politics who took foreign policy really seriously last year, who showed up on the job with a complete foreign policy team intact, day one? Give him some credit for that.

COELHO: I think the problem with Dick Cheney -- and I happen to know him just as well as others on this panel -- is that he is extremely competent. And he came across as the adult. Unfortunately, he became the equal partner in this administration, and that caused a problem with the people at the White House, and that's his problem.

So he has -- he doesn't get an A from me, although I -- I think the world of Dick. He doesn't get an A from me because he didn't have the political sensitivity to understand who is in the chair at the White House.

CARLSON: Because his boss isn't insecure like the last president. It's not a big deal for him to admit that he plays a large role in running the government.

COELHO: No, but I think if there's...

MOLINARI: So, wait. Are you saying that you think this whole thing has been made up about national security and why we don't want the president and the vice president to be seen at the same place at the same time?

COELHO: I think -- I think the issue is this. The vice president (UNINTELLIGIBLE) vice president, no need to be seen together if that is the issue. But you can have the vice president and the president on different buildings in different cities.

MOLINARI: Which they are frequently.

COELHO: Oh, frequently, but very infrequently a lot. And I think the issue is more of we don't need equal partners. We need to have a president and a subordinate. And that's what's going on here.

MOLINARI: Well, I disagree.

PRESS: Time for one more.

CARLSON: Well, quickly, I just want to remind us how lucky we are to have President Bush in the White House.

MOLINARI: Amen to you, Tucker.

CARLSON: And I know, Tony...


CARLSON: ... you like most Democrats, according to "The New York Times," are grateful that he won rather than the man whose campaign you managed. I'm sorry to say that outloud. But I had to.

"The New York Post," a tip sheet for political insiders like us, has a remarkable story -- I'll summarize it in one sentence. It says Bill Clinton talking to Paul McCartney's girlfriend, somebody he hangs around a lot, about the condition today, he said he wished he was president. Quote: "I feel I'd be better trained for it, more prepared."

Here he is, still whining, sniping at the president. The only person in America to do so. Aren't we grateful, glad, lucky, fortunate to have Bush?

COELHO: Do you believe...

MOLINARI: Go ahead. Go ahead and say it.

COELHO: And you believe Paul McCartney's girlfriend and you believe "The New York Post"?


CARLSON: Because it fits...


COELHO: Come on, Tucker. I had a high regard for you. I was prepared to give you an A. Now I'm prepared to give you an F for who you believe in.

Now, come on, the issue is, is that George Bush has done a good job starting on September 12th and 13th. On September 11th, he gets an F, and before September 11th he gets maybe a D. But after September 11th he gets an A. He has done a tremendous job.

PRESS: And Tucker gives him an A, and I give President Bush a B. And there are others to talk about, but we're out of time. Susan Molinari, thank you very much for being here.

MOLINARI: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

PRESS: And Tony Coelho, thank you. Come back for more class and more report cards in a little while.

MOLINARI: Does that mean we get an A?


PRESS: You do. You both get an A.


PRESS: Tucker Carlson and I, we'll be right back, and I'll flunk Tucker in our closing comments.


CARLSON: Bill, this administration has been remarkable. And if you look at the line-up -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld -- you have to wonder why is Ari Fleischer taking their case to the public. A lot of Republicans are asking outloud this guy is snippy, he's off-putting, he's short with reporters. Can we get a better spokesman? Who do you think ought to be the spokesman?

PRESS: You -- I don't know about that. But you give him an F. I gave him a C, because, you know, I think Ari does a very good job in a position where nobody is supposed to believe anything you say anyhow. I mean, that's basically...

CARLSON: But people -- no, people believe...

PRESS: He's the spinmeister...

CARLSON: ... Donald Rumsfeld when he speaks. They don't believe him, because he's nasty.

PRESS: But I want to tell you who's the best in the administration, A+ to Paul O'Neill, the only who will speak the truth.

CARLSON: See, now you're making -- I liked him until now.

PRESS: Paul O'Neill, I love him.

CARLSON: You're making me suspicious.


PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Have a good weekend, everybody. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again Monday night for another edition of CROSSFIRE. See you then.




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