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CNN CROSSFIRE

Interview With Henry Waxman; Is It Time to Build More Memorials for Ronald Reagan?

Aired February 6, 2002 - 19:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... talk about people's financial security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Tonight, Democrat who's taking the lead on investigating Bush ties to Enron. Is there a connection?

And on Ronald Reagan's 91st birthday, is it time to put the former president on Mount Rushmore?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman of California, ranking member on the Government Reform Committee. And later, Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler from New York and in Arizona, former Republican Congressman Matt Salmon.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Good evening. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, California Congressman Henry Waxman, the man who since last April has been leading the fight to get the White House to release records of who met whom in putting together the administration's energy plan, a battle that took on added significance when Enron collapsed and Vice President Dick Cheney admitted six meetings with Enron executives.

Republicans dismiss Waxman as the new Dan Burton, but some Democrats fear Waxman's relentless pursuit of a popular president might backfire. So why does he keep at it and what does he hope to get out of it? Henry Waxman himself is here tonight to tell us -- Tucker.

CARLSON: Congressman, I hope you will. But let me ask you this. "The Wall Street Journal" had a -- posed a fascinating question the other day. Doubtless you saw it. Let me read it.

We have a deal for Congressman Henry Waxman. If Vice President Dick Cheney releases the list of everyone he ever discussed energy policy with, they want Mr. Waxman to disclose the name of every campaign donor he's ever met with. Strikes me as a good idea. Then we could connect the dots and see if there's a connection between people who have given you money and legislation you support. You going to do it? You going to release the names? REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA), GOVERNMENT REFORM CMTE.: Well, I'm willing to make that deal, but we're not asking the vice president to disclose every conversation he ever had with any lobbyist or anybody outside the White House, people that work at the White House.

We've only asked the vice president to disclose that which came before his energy task force that he chaired and to disclose who came to him as a special interest group or a lobbyist outside from the staff, and the subject matter and what they wanted.

It's the same kind of information that we got from the Clinton administration when President Clinton had a task force that discussed health policy. He put his wife in charge of it. The Republicans said they wanted to know what went on in that task force. And they asked the GAO to do the evaluation. And the GAO got all the information from the White House. We've asked the GAO to do the same thing for us. And we're waiting for the White House to respond.

CARLSON: But the key difference here, and you'll remember of course remember that Mrs. Clinton didn't give up those names when she first asked. But the key difference here is the implication you're making is that this administration was, in some sense, bought off or at least influenced by its contributors, specifically Enron.

And then I'd ask you this question. If this administration was the handmaiden to Enron, why did it have such a wildly divergent policy on global warming? Enron wanted the Kyoto Treaty because it would be profitable for our natural gas related company, correct? This administration was dead set against it: Beginning, middle and end. So clearly, they were not doing the work of Enron.

WAXMAN: You know, you've attributed a lot of things to me that I've never said.

CARLSON: But you imply them.

WAXMAN: Well, let me tell you what I have said and what I think is the proper thing to do. I think this administration ought to make public to the General Accounting Office who asked for what at their energy task force. I don't believe in making any accusations against anybody until we get the facts.

CARLSON: You don't need to. You were implying there was a quid pro quo.

WAXMAN: Let me finish. What the Republicans did during the Clinton years is they made an accusation and then they looked for facts to fit the accusation. I just want us to get the facts. And then we'll see where the facts lead us.

I haven't made any accusation against President Bush or Vice President Cheney or anyone else, but I think we ought to know who went before that committee. Now we do know certain facts. We know that Ken Lay, who is the head of the Enron, the CEO from Enron, had a lot of access to the vice president, to this energy task force, to this administration. He interviewed people to be appointed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He had pretty much the say over their choices. And it seems...

CARLSON: We know that? I don't think we know that at all.

WAXMAN: We do know that.

CARLSON: Well, I don't believe that's true. And I don't know why you're saying that.

WAXMAN: I do believe it's true. And we also know that he went before the vice president a number of occasions and urged certain policies for the energy task force to suggest. And when we evaluated what they proposed, there were 17 items that the administration proposed.

CARLSON: Well, this is an accusation right here. I don't know why you're saying you're not making accusations. You just made three of them.

WAXMAN: Let me finish my statement. There were 17 items that were proposed that we knew Enron wanted. Now other companies might have wanted as well. And they might have even been meritorious. That's why we want to get the facts that ought to be laid on the table.

PRESS: But let -- I believe in consistency, Republican, Democratic administration. And I remember when Boyden Gray, former White House counsel to President Bush, I believe, for White House counsel I mean, was sitting in that chair right where you are. And Bill Clinton is in the White House. And I'm arguing with Boyden Gray that meetings, notes of meetings between the president or the vice president and people in the White House making policy ought to be kept secret under executive privilege.

And Boyden Gray would say, "No." So I'm a Democrat arguing for executive privilege. Now the Republicans in the White House, we don't believe in executive privilege anymore?

WAXMAN: No, I believe in executive privilege. And if there's any discussion that the vice president had with his staff or the president has with people working for him, that ought to be kept confidential. They need -- be able...

PRESS: What's the difference?

WAXMAN: Because what we've asked for is not the staff, but the outside special interest groups, the lobbyists for the coal industry, the oil industry, whatever. They came in and argued for certain policies from this energy task force. That information ought to be made available to the Congress and to the American people.

PRESS: Now one point that the White House makes, which I think has some resonance, is that they knew what happened with Former First Lady Hillary Clinton. She was not an executive, really an officer of the government. She was the First Lady.

So this White House deliberately put the vice president, who is an officer elected in charge of this task force. Therefore, different rules apply to the Cheney task force than to the Hillary Clinton health care task force, no?

WAXMAN: No, different rules do not apply. Both were task forces. And the Clinton administration made the information available to the General Accounting Office. The vice president, under this circumstance, ought to make it available.

There was another task force that President Clinton had. It was a working task force on trade with China. And the General Accounting Office got all the information about that task force. And those were only government officials as far as I know on that task force. There was really no difference. And maybe the Clinton administration didn't give it over right away, but they gave it over. And this administration should do the same.

CARLSON: Now Mr. Waxman, I had another question for you, but I just want to back up here. You made a very serious I think newsworthy charge. And I want you to substantiate it. If I understood you correctly, you said you had evidence that Ken Lay had veto power over federal hiring in some way. What evidence do have that that's true?

WAXMAN Well, it's been reported in the press that Ken Lay had an enormous amount of say over who was going to be on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

CARLSON: You said he had veto power. You said he could have a person hired or fired.

WAXMAN: Well, I wouldn't doubt it. I wouldn't doubt it.

CARLSON: But you don't know it?

WAXMAN: Well, I think that the person who was selected to be chairman was his choice.

CARLSON: So you're just throwing the charge out there without any evidence of it. Because it's a serious charge that he's picking federal employees? I mean, come on.

WAXMAN: Oh, you doubt it?

CARLSON: I...

WAXMAN: Do you know how many people came out of Enron that worked in this administration?

CARLSON: Well, hold on. But you were just giving this speech about how we need evidence. We're not going to throw out charges. And you threw out a charge. And you've got no evidence to substantiate it.

WAXMAN: Well, I read it in the press. And no one has refuted it.

CARLSON: Are you a lawyer? I mean, is that how things work? No one refutes it, so it must be true?

WAXMAN: Are you a judge?

CARLSON: I'm not, but I'm not the one giving a speech about evidence. You are.

PRESS: The evidence is that his hand picked candidate is now chairman of the FRC. But I want to ask you, you know, there's been -- I think what the American people want to know, they people want to know from you tonight. It's been what, month, six weeks of all kinds of names thrown around of implications of wrongdoing.

Can you tell us tonight, I really want to know this, who are the bad guys? I mean, who are the guys that probably are guilty of criminal conduct? Is it Ken Lay? Is it Jeff Skilling of Enron? Is it this Andrew Fastow of Enron, who put together these deals? Is it Andersen Accounting? Is it Dick Cheney, George Bush? Where is the criminal wrongdoing? Name names.

WAXMAN: Well, let me tell you where there's wrongdoing. The Enron Corporation collapsed. It was the seventh largest corporation in the country.

PRESS: Right.

WAXMAN: And a small group of executives...

PRESS: Who?

WAXMAN: Ken Lay, Skilling, Fastow, others, and other names that have been reported in the press, and whether it's true or not, we'll find out more. But it has been reported that these executives, insiders, well connected insiders walked away with over a billion dollars. Meanwhile, their employees and their investors had their financial well being robbed from them.

PRESS: But the question is, was that clever or criminal?

WAXMAN: Well you know, I don't know the answer to that. And I'll tell you why I don't know the answer to that. Because some of the things that were done were clearly wrong. Now whether they're criminal or not might depend on how the law was written. And how the law was written had a lot to do with influence of Enron and the accounting professions.

For example, the -- Arthur Levitt at the Securities Exchange Commission recommended that we have as a law that if you're an accounting firm, you can't be the auditor and work as a consultant for the same firm. It's a conflict of interest. He proposed that as a regulation. People in Congress objected to it.

PRESS: Including Joe Lieberman, a Democrat.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... but when was that? Was that during the Bush administration?

WAXMAN: Wait a second. Wait a second. Enron...

CARLSON: It was during the Clinton administration.

WAXMAN: Enron and the accounting profession gave to everybody. They gave to Democrats and they gave to Republicans. I think there's an indictment of our political system because the political system allowed Enron to trade into revenues when they got an exception to the Commodities Future Trade Commission that said that they wouldn't have to be subject to oversight or regulation. They had a change in the accounting rules that wouldn't prevent them from being auditors and consultants at the same time.

There was even a change in the law that said if you're an investor and you have a lawsuit against an accounting firm and the corporate executives who have robbed you of your money, you can't sue them anymore. You have to go through a lot of hoops before you can get into court. These were based on the political pressure that money from these special interests...

CARLSON: Well OK, well we will see, much of which is unproven, but perhaps you'll prove it in your hearings. Thanks very much, Congressman Waxman for joining us. We appreciate it.

WAXMAN: I guess I didn't win you over.

CARLSON: You did not, in fact. Come back next time for another shot. Thanks for coming tonight.

PRESS: You got me.

WAXMAN: OK.

CARLSON: Next, there are 180 schools named for John F. Kennedy, 628 for Abraham Lincoln, but only 12 for Ronald Reagan. Reagan fans think that's unfair, but they'd settle for his face on the $10 bill. Should they get it? That's our debate. Back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back. Ronald Reagan celebrates his 91st birthday today. And around the country, the former president's many fans celebrate him. Reagan's legacy is profound, they argue, and widely under recognized. The solution, memorials.

Some Republicans propose honoring Reagan by naming things after him: Schools, office buildings, roads, bridges, currency, more airports. One effort, the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, suggests putting at least one Reagan structure in every county in the nation. Outrageous, say the critics, mostly Democrats. Memorials are for great presidents. Reagan wasn't.

The Reagan legacy, should it be carved in stone? Our debate commences. Joining us from Phoenix, former Congressman Matt Salmon, a Republican who has proposed putting Reagan's face on Mount Rushmore. Here in Washington, Jerrold Nadler, Democrat from New York, who finds his former colleague's suggestion ludicrous -- Bill Press.

PRESS: Congressman Salmon, we all join in wishing the former president a happy 91st birthday. But hasn't this naming thing gone too far? Let's review here quickly.

He's got an airport named after him. He has the second largest office building the world named after him. He's got an aircraft carrier named after him. Today his boyhood home in Dixon, Illinois was made a national monument. And now look at this. When you were in Congress, you honestly proposed putting Ronald Reagan on Mount Rushmore? I mean, how far can you go? Isn't enough, enough congressman? What more do you want?

MATT SALMON, FMR. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Bill, I'll tell you, I think that Ronald Reagan will go down as one of the finest presidents our country has ever seen. And not only that, I believe he will go down as one of the greatest world leaders.

You think about ever since I was born into the world in 1958, we lived under the threat of a nuclear holocaust, a Cold War that lasted most of my lifetime. And Ronald Reagan is the man who ended that Cold War when he said to Gorbachev, "Tear down the wall," it happened. And it happened because of his policies. And I think that alone befits a very, very generous type of edification for him.

PRESS: Yeah, but, congressman, wait. I mean, we can debate whether or not how good a president he was. But the question is how much more has to be named after him? I mean, here in Washington, now there are some members of Congress who are talking about building a memorial on the Capitol Mall to Ronald Reagan. And yet Ronald Reagan himself, when he was president, signed legislation saying there would be no memorials built on the Mall until someone had been dead at least 25 years. I mean, aren't you guys just gone overboard?

SALMON: Well, I'll tell you. The idea that I proposed several years ago, as far as the Rushmore idea, it proved out to be not feasible, because it would harm the structure. And so I want to put that one to rest. That's not going to happen.

PRESS: Thank God.

SALMON: In mine or your lifetime. But the idea of giving a fitting tribute to a president that I think rises up to the level of some of the greatest presidents of our country, I think is a good discussion to have.

When I suggested that idea several years ago, we were in a situation in our country that was very, very troubling. There was a lot of scandal coming out of the White House. A lot of the -- I was going around to different classrooms and speaking to children.

PRESS: OK.

SALMON: And there was a lot of children that were questioning whether or not...

PRESS: Let's get Congressman Nadler in here.

CARLSON: I'm going to cut you off here, because I want to savagely go after Mr. Nadler, if you don't mind, Mr. Nadler. Thanks for joining us. You say that Reagan doesn't deserve all sorts of memorials around the country. To which I say, compared to whom? Six hundred John F. Kennedy memorials. His brother, a one-term, mediocre senator, a former McCarthyite, Robert F. Kennedy, literally a McCarthyite, has the Justice Department building named after him. I mean...

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Wait a minute. I say two things. First of all, I don't have anything against Ronald Reagan having several memorials. He does. We named the airport after him. I thought that was wrong because the local people didn't want it, but he has an airport. He's got the federal building. That's fine. And a lot of presidents have.

But in terms of deifying him and having a campaign to put him on Mount Rushmore, to kick Alexander Hamilton, one of the real fathers of this country off the $10 bill, to put him -- to have a memorial in every county, it's an attempt to rewrite history at a time when this president is still quite controversial.

Now in 30 or 40 or 50 years, when we have some historical perspective, that is the time to make judgments. It took Congress 50 or 60 years after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated before they decided...

CARLSON: Controversial? I mean...

NADLER: Very controversial.

CARLSON: But compared to what? I mean, J. Edgar Hoover's name is on the FBI building. James Michael Curly.

NADLER: J. Edgar Hoover...

CARLSON: ...you know, has statues of him.

NADLER: If we had any honor in this country, J. Edgar Hoover's name would be taken off the FBI building.

CARLSON: What do you mean if we had any honor?

NADLER: If we had honor about that. We have plenty of honor in this country. There are certain things that aren't honorable and that's one of them.

But -- so I wouldn't compare it to that. But the fact of the matter is it took 60 years before Congress got around to saying let's have a memorial to Abraham Lincoln. We just, a few years ago, decided to have a memorial for Franklin Roosevelt. Now Ronald Reagan is still very controversial. Plenty of people, myself included, would tell you he was not a very good president. And we could debate that.

PRESS: Let me pick up on that, Congressman Salmon, because I mean, we're talking about how good a president Ronald Reagan is. The fact is, he came into office saying he was going to get rid of the deficit, balance the budget.

Actually, when he was president, the deficit went from about $50 billion to $150 billion. The national debt went from $900 billion to $2.9 trillion. And now people say they want to put Ronald Reagan -- kick Alexander Hamilton off and put Ronald Reagan on the $10 bill. I mean, Reaganomics were so phony. Maybe we ought to put him on a $3 bill. Phony Reaganomics.

SALMON: Bill, I'd like to go back to what I said before. I believe that the act of ending the Cold War earns him that kind of recognition alone. But when you -- hold on just a minute. You mentioned the notion or the fact that during the Reagan years, the deficit climbed substantially higher and the federal debt grew.

I, as a member of Congress, understand, as does my 16-year-old daughter from her Civics 101 class, that it is the legislature, it is the Congress that has the power of the purse strings. These are the guys out there buying the $500 toilet seats. And...

NADLER: Oh, come on, this is absurd in the extreme. The fact of the matter is the total amount of money appropriated by Congress when Reagan was president was less than the total amount of money requested by Reagan...

CARLSON: I know what this is about, Congressman Nadler.

NADLER: Wait a minute. But forget that point. Let's go back to the Cold War for the moment. The Cold War ended when -- shortly after Reagan left office.

CARLSON: Wait, I know. You're going to say he didn't win the Cold War.

NADLER: No, no, no, no.

CARLSON: You're just mad because Clinton will never get a memorial.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: And you don't know what I'm going to say. So let me say it. What I'm going to say is that a succession of American presidents, starting with Harry Truman and Eisenhower and Kennedy and going right through, for a 50-year period, opposed Communist expansion. And Communism fell of its own weight. And Mikhail Gorbachev probably more than any other individual...

CARLSON: No, that is a total specious (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and you know it.

(CROSSTALK)

SALMON: Jerry, I hope that you don't end up writing the history books for our children to read, because I don't think any historian will ever agree with what you just said.

NADLER: No, on the contrary, I just read books that say that. Read "Armageddon Averted" by Stephen Kotkin about how the Communist Empire fell.

SALMON: The fact is if we didn't have a strong president that was willing for us to ultimately win the arms race, which we did...

PRESS: Let's -- OK. Congressman, I hear where you're going. We're out of time.

CARLSON: We'd be eating potatoes right now, that's right.

PRESS: Let's end by saying happy birthday to Ronald Reagan. Thank you, congressman -- former Congressman Salmon for joining us. Congressman Jerry Nadler, thank you for being here. And we're in the spirit of things.

And I'm going to show you why, because when we come back, yes, we know it's not Friday, but the e-mails been so hot and heavy this week, we couldn't what wait until Friday for a round of fire back, which tonight only, in the spirit of today, we have renamed the Ronald Reagan memorial fire back. Nail one for the Gipper.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: OK, CROSSFIRE is a two-way street. Most of the time, we're on the giving end, but at least once a week, we're on the receiving end. Like tonight when you fire back at us. And here we go with a Ronald Reagan memorial CROSSFIRE Wednesday night fire back. Number one is for me.

This is from Anatoly Belagorsky, writing in from Moscow, I think. "I'm still waiting for somebody on CROSSFIRE to question this administration's approach to using the magic word "war" for excusing everything from national security failure to budget problems and the mushrooming of military spending."

Anatoly, my friend, I hope you're watching. Last night when I made that very point, the president's budget is used as an excuse for raising the amount of federal spending and stealing from Social Security. Shame, shame.

CARLSON: Funny. As it turns out, war is a pretty big deal, Bill. And it -- a lot of time it changes the way you run a government, weirdly enough. Anatoly, you should think about that.

OK, next e-mail. "During last night's show, Kermit the Frog made a surprise visit. Did I miss something," asked Paul Maduch. "Considering the topic of the your show, the budget wouldn't have been more appropriate to show Miss Piggy in fatigues?" That's a great question. It would take a long time to explain why Kermit the Frog made an appearance on last night's show. But let me just put it this way. The point is the president's budget makes sense. Even Kermit the Frog recognizes that. It was a powerful point and thanks for noticing it, Paul Maduch. PRESS: Ms. Piggy in fatigues. I wish I had thought of that. Describes the Pentagon project.

All right, here's another one for me. This is from Richard Roberts. "The anti-drug commercials are completely wrong. I smoke weed. I don't support terrorists. Just like the man from NORML said, weed don't come from Middle Eastern countries."

Richard, you're right, weed don't come from Middle Eastern countries, but other illegal drugs do. I just hope the war on terrorism is more successful than the lousy war on drugs.

CARLSON: Actually, weed does come from Middle Eastern countries, as millions of Middle Eastern hash smokers can tell you.

PRESS: But what he buys doesn't.

CARLSON: That is another show. Now to the economy. A lot of economy stories in the news recently. Enron, the budget, hard to know who's right. Tom Daschle, the president? This e-mailer gets right to the bottom of it. "Mr. Press, your howling over the budget indicated to me that President Bush has the budget priorities JUST RIGHT," says Susan Meltzen.

That's right. That's Susan Meltzen's handy guide to economic matters. Bill's for it, it's bad. Against it, good.

PRESS: Well, the budget is not just right. But there's one quick last e-mail, Tucker, you'll be interested in from George Quarles who said, "Could you please find out for me if Mr. Carlson of CROSSFIRE fame got his hair style from the old rock group Devo?"

George, no, I want you to know it's not from Devo. Actually, Tucker Carlson has the same hair stylist as James Traficant.

CARLSON: It's actually -- I think it is viewed as early Willie Nelson. Very, very early.

PRESS: OK. Hey, folks, more e-mails, please, to crossfire@cnn.com. And that's it for tonight. I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE. See you tomorrow night.

CARLSON: And I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE. See you then.

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