Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS



Is Bush in Trouble Over 9-11 Warnings?; Are Russians Becoming America's Allies?; Interview With Bernard Aronson

Aired May 18, 2002 - 19:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with the full CAPITAL GANG, Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and Margaret Carlson.

The release of intelligence documents revealed that President Bush was warned prior to September 11 of a possible airliner hijacking by Osama bin Laden.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people.


SHIELDS: Democrats reacted with calls for investigation, evoking Republican anger at the highest level.


REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D), MINORITY LEADER: What we have to do now is to find out what the president and what the White House knew about the events leading up to 9/11, and when they knew it, and most importantly, what was done about it.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I want to say to my Democratic friends in the Congress is that they need to be very cautious not to seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions as were made by some today that the White House had advance information that would have prevented the tragic attacks of 9/11.


SHIELDS: Meanwhile, the Republican vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee blamed the FBI.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I believe that the FBI has failed the American people. The FBI was either asleep or inept or both.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, is President Bush suddenly in serious trouble?

ROBERT NOVAK, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: I don't think so. Never has so much been made of so little, but because the Democrats have wanted to find something to attack this popular president on, particularly connected with 9/11, which is the source of his popularity, the way he handled it, and they -- they would have had a feeding frenzy by the media.

There's such little information that he is alleged to have had and withheld, almost everything that has been said was known before about the ineptitude of the FBI. And I really do believe (UNINTELLIGIBLE) some criticism, that Dick Cheney, along with Trent Lott and others, have taken a good political point in saying, We're not going to let the Democrats get away with this, because when Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle says, We have to find out what the president knew, they're implying that he was withholding information that could have saved lives.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, is that the implication that you get?

AL HUNT, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, look, anybody in their right mind knows that George Bush, if he had known they were going to do that, then of course he would have done everything in his power to prevent it. I mean, that's a total straw man.

Dick Shelby is absolutely right about the FBI, as Bob Novak and others had reported earlier. And I agree, that is not news.

However, they've got two problems, and they're quite serious problems, in this administration. One is what a low priority antiterrorism was pre-9/11.

Bart Gellman (ph) of "The Washington Post" reported that CIA director Tenet, Richard Clark of the NSC, could not arouse the interest of higher-ups with their warnings throughout the summer of 2001. First meeting, high-level meeting they ever held on terrorism in this administration was on 9/4, seven and a half months afterwards.

Don Rumsfeld threatened to veto a bill, have the president veto a bill, if they shifted money to antiterrorism from missile defense.

Second problem is, was there a cover-up, in the sense they're not telling us about some of these embarrassments like that memo? Tom DeFranco (ph), I think you admire, of "The New York Daily News," says the cardinal rule in Washington is that if you don't have anything to hide, don't act like you do. They're acting like they do. What else is there to hide? And finally, Dick Cheney, who does not have a very good relations with Tom Daschle, rather hostile, really put it on Daschle not to have a congressional inquiry, a full-scale congressional inquiry. It looks now maybe that was in order to avoid embarrassments.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne?

KATE O'BEIRNE, NATIONAL REVIEW: I don't know where to begin, there's so much -- let me try to connect the dots, as we're saying at the moment.

The August 6 briefing the president got was a speculative analysis. There was nothing really there. The Republicans ought to be so grateful that the Democrats could not resist the temptation to overreact, so they looked hungry and desperate, Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, they're both backing off on that now.

We all looked like geniuses after 9/11, because after 9/11, the dots of individual pieces of information all connected themselves.

I do think a relevant question might be -- rather than the ones Dick Gephardt posed -- was, why didn't the president know? And that does get to the kind of criticisms that have been leveled against the FBI by Dick -- Richard Shelby and others.

I don't think you're going to find it through a congressional investigation. What Dick Cheney was worried about, of course, was that the intelligence services fighting a worldwide war on terrorism, we'd prefer they'd be on the defense against al Qaeda, would be on the offense against al Qaeda, would be on the defense on Capitol Hill instead.

I think there ought to be an independent commission to look into if -- because we do -- we should know why not.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, who's right here?

MARGARET CARLSON, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, an independent commission would be a good idea, but the White House has been fighting the investigation that's going on so far, even Republicans on the committee have complained that the Bush White House has stonewalled on turning over information about what was available from the various intelligence agencies before September 11.

And when you put it all together, everything that was known, there's a lot of blame to go around. It's not that it was nothing. When you put it all together, finally, it looks like something. In particular, when the Philippines tortured Yousef, who was in custody for the World Trade Center bombing, he said that, you know, We're going to learn how to fly airplanes into buildings, in particular, into the CIA.

So it wasn't, like, a totally outrageous idea.

Republicans are saying some of the worst things about what was known and what was not done about it. Senator Shelby, who was on your program earlier, said that if -- I don't have his quote right here, but it was that if it had been acted on properly, September 11 would not have occurred.

Now, how much harsher can you get than having a Republican senator say that?

NOVAK: But Margaret, this stuff never got above the midlevel of the FBI. As Al was kind enough to mention...

CARLSON: And he says it's the FBI's fault.

NOVAK: Yes, as kind -- as Al was...

CARLSON: Among other things.

NOVAK: ... kind enough to mention, I wrote about that on September 22, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) September 26, 15 days after the event.

Now, the most interesting thing, I thought, that Senator Shelby said in the interview with Mark and me, was that he felt the FBI is leak -- he didn't feel, he accused them of leaking this information, of creating this firestorm, because the investigation being har -- being carried on very quietly by the Senate Intelligence Committee, they had been asking for this documents. The FBI had stonewalled, refused to give them the documents, and then suddenly it leaks out.

Now, I don't know if Senator Shelby can back that up. But I think the FBI's whole method of operation and their whole climate is in trouble.

CARLSON: Well, the FBI wanted to protect itself, because the fingers were beginning to point there. If the White House had turned over the August 6 memo itself...

O'BEIRNE: Look, maybe -- look, maybe...

CARLSON: ... there would be a better case.

O'BEIRNE: ... maybe more could have been done by the FBI. But in fairness to them, they were looking at flight schools, both in '96 in North Carolina and New York, they were looking at flight schools in Oklahoma. As I said, it's real easy for us now to connect these dots.

HUNT: But they totally ignored...

NOVAK: Well, I think...

HUNT: ... they totally ignored the directive that they got, the memo, rather, that they got from that agent in Phoenix about it. And Kate, I agree, Bush didn't know. That's not what I'm saying. But the question is, why was antiterrorism such a low priority? If it had been...

O'BEIRNE: Well, I don't think it was.

HUNT: ... a high -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE)... O'BEIRNE: I think the Bush administration...

HUNT: First meeting they ever had on it was...

O'BEIRNE: But the Bush administration...

HUNT: ... was...

O'BEIRNE: ... put together a plan to take out al Qaeda. They did more in eight months -- they even had military plan, plus the freezing assets, more in eight months to go against bin Laden than the Clinton administration had done in eight years.

HUNT: Miss O'Beirne, that is simply not true. They didn't even meet. They didn't even have a high-level meeting...

O'BEIRNE: They had a whole -- they developed...

HUNT: ... till the 4th, till the 4th of September...

O'BEIRNE: ... a plan, a plan was...

HUNT: ... Bush was, Bush was clueless about...

O'BEIRNE: Al, the plan was sitting on...

HUNT: ... about, about, about that.

O'BEIRNE: ... George Bush's desk to go against Osama bin Laden...

HUNT: It arrived on September 10. It was eight months...

O'BEIRNE: It took eight months -- yes...

HUNT: ... OK.

O'BEIRNE: ... eight months. It took Bill Clinton eight years, and he...


O'BEIRNE: ... ignored Osama bin Laden. He didn't have a plan for eight years...


HUNT: ... he went after him unsuccessfully.

SHIELDS: First of all, first of all, the Democrats made a serious mistake by using that old phrase, "What did the president know and when did he know it?" Because that just hearkens back, and it goes back...

NOVAK: Dick Gephardt used it. SHIELDS: ... to Watergate, and it, and it is, it is, all it does -- which suggested the president was part of a conspiracy, as he turned out to have been. That was, that was un -- and misleading, it was unhelpful, and it was unfair.

At the same time, nobody has accused George Bush of any sort of conspiracy here. The question is one of incompetence more than anything else, and I think that is -- I think that's what really is, is at the center part of this, Bob.

NOVAK: I tell you what, I'll tell you what their problem is, that in the Internet, they are accusing him of a conspiracy, that he knew about it. All right, Cynthia McKinney, a Democrat, a congresswoman from Georgia, said this was done to help the profits of the Carlyle Group. So there are accusations, and when, and when you come out with, as you correctly say, What did he know? they say, we were right.


HUNT: ... also, "The New York Post" ran that headline, Bob, which I'm sure you were...

SHIELDS: Let me just make, let me just make...


SHIELDS: ... one quick point.

NOVAK: Well, they -- if you read the small type underneath...

SHIELDS: You quote, you quote...


SHIELDS: ... you quote Cynthia McKinney, and I've never heard you quote Dana Rohrbacher (ph), or any of the other conservative...

NOVAK: Well, they've never said anything that (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

SHIELDS: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE). The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- no, the conservative chorus, as soon as it happened on September 11, the conservative chorus of pundits and politicians said, It was Bill Clinton's fault. They had no testimony, they had no investigation...


SHIELDS: ... that -- oh, it was -- you talk about the Internet. Bob, you heard it yourself...

O'BEIRNE: Look, if there was a...


HUNT: ... administration tried to leak that, that there was -- they were willing to blame it on Bill Clinton, and they held -- they withheld this information from us for seven and a half months.

O'BEIRNE: If there was a dysfunctional...

CARLSON: No Democrats...

O'BEIRNE: ... FBI, George Bush inherited it. He was only in office eight months, for gosh sakes.

SHIELDS: Only eight months (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Last word, Kate O'Beirne. THE GANG of five will be back to talk about a Republican political ad exploiting 9/11.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Republican fundraisers selling a photograph of President Bush on the telephone on September 11 were attacked by Democrats, including Al Gore. The former vice president said, quote, "I cannot imagine that the families of those who lost their lives September 11 condone this, and neither should the president of the United States," end quote.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's a event for the party committees to decide if they want to make those pictures available to their contributors. They have that right to do so. These pictures represent the president at work for the country.


SHIELDS: Margaret, Margaret Carlson, is this a lot of fuss over selling a picture of the president?

CARLSON: Well, like the August 6 memo, the Democrats made too much over it. But it's a little bit surprising that the president, who vowed not to use the Lincoln Bedroom and to bring dignity back to the Oval Office, would even get near using something sacred like September 11 for fundraising purposes. It goes -- it just goes to show how far both parties go to reward their donors and to raise new money.

It's not -- you know, it's not the end of the world, but neither is it a good thing that he did.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, cheap partisanship?

O'BEIRNE: He should have -- George Bush should just adopt lessons, it seems to me, we learned during the '90s, be like Al Gore, just say, That's not a photograph of me. Don't believe your lying eyes, that wasn't me at all.

I think the Democrats' orchestrated overreaction to the use of this picture is actually a greater exploitation of September 11 than the original use of the picture. SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: I'll tell you what this is all about. The president -- the Democrats just hate the idea of an -- a politically endangered president, who got counted in by the Supreme Court, being so popular. He's still over 70 percent. That's why they're making such a fuss over these fragmentary reports that came out. And that's why they're making so much fuss about a picture, a picture sold to the Republican faithful of him making a phone call. Please, give me a break! It's nothing.


HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), you don't think Al Gore was shocked at a fundraising (UNINTELLIGIBLE), shocked, shocked, shocked?

All right. Mark, look, of course it was tacky, and of course the Democrats would have done it too. That's how rotten the system is. George Bush is no worse nor any better when it comes to fundraising than his predecessor. I do find Dick Cheney a little bit interesting. As I understand, Mr. Cheney, it's irresponsible and maybe even unpatriotic to raise any questions about, you know, what happened on 9/11, but it's fine to hustle it for some campaign money.

SHIELDS: That's the thing that hit me. I mean, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), if the Republicans do it it's patriotic. If the Democrats raise it, it's cheap partisanship.

And I just have to say, Bob...

NOVAK: You're really upset by that picture.

SHIELDS: ... September -- no, September 11 was not a Republican day or a Democratic day...

NOVAK: Oh, come on.

SHIELDS: ... it was an American day. And nobody asked the 3,000 people whose lives ended their party affiliation...

NOVAK: I can't...

SHIELDS: ... in the World Trade Center.


NOVAK: ... I can't tell you how disappointed I am in you, Mark.

CARLSON: ... if this other thing -- if this other thing hadn't happened, I think the families might have begun to respond about this. But the August 6 memo came on top of it.

NOVAK: Oh, gee, come on!

CARLSON: But it does point out, point out one thing, which is that, as Bush 41 found out, your popularity from running a war is evanescent, and it can evaporate if you misuse it. And Bush is going to have to find a way, with the help of Karl Rove, to use this popularity and not to be seen to be using it, because that's when it disappears.

NOVAK: I just got to say, it's the silliest thing I ever -- it's too much fuss.

SHIELDS: Too much fuss, Bob?

NOVAK: It is.

CARLSON: You like a fuss, Bob. You live on fuss.

SHIELDS: Is there anything, is there anything he can do about September 11 you would (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on?

CARLSON: You thrive on fuss.

NOVAK: Well, that's a silly question.

SHIELDS: OK, all right. Next on -- That's a wonderful answer.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, the U.S. and Russia -- almost allies.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

President Bush announced that the U.S. and Russia will reduce their nuclear arsenals by two-thirds over a decade.


BUSH: This treaty will liquidate the legacy of the cold war. When I sign the treaty with President Putin in Russia, we will begin the new era of U.S.-Russian relationships.


SHIELDS: On the next day, the secretary general of NATO made another announcement.


LORD ROBERTSON, NATO COMPANY GENERAL: We'll be finalizing our work on the agreement between NATO and Russia to create in two weeks' time in Rome a new council where NATO member states and Russia can sit together as 20 equals to discuss and decide on issues of common concern.


SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, for the first time since 1945, are the Russians becoming an American ally?

O'BEIRNE: Mark, let me first point out how wrong the historical predictions were about a whole new arms race if we withdrew from the ABM treaty. We're racing now to reduce nuclear arsenals, so an awful lot of people were very wrong.

When it comes to being American allies, the Russians of late certainly look better than the French. But I think -- of late. But I think it would be naive to think that the Russians are going to adopt Western attitudes all that comfortably. There are a couple hundred years of history here.

But they certainly have been very cooperative lately on a number of different fronts. It's in their interest to be so. And both on terrorism and the -- is our immediate need for help from them, but their oil reserves could dramatically change the world oil market. So this is a relationship I think the Bush administration has been handling very well and shows great promise.

SHIELDS: A major achievement, Margaret Carlson...

CARLSON: Well...

SHIELDS: ... on the part of President George W. Bush, right?

CARLSON: ... the Russians have been awfully nice lately. Let us having the bases in the various 'stans, and they were going to be temporary, we're still there, they haven't kicked us out.

There's less than meets the eye on the sitting down at the NATO table. I mean, they're still not part of the mutual defense. They get to sit at a meeting. And so clearly they're not making any inroads there.

And, you know, Bush actually got something. I mean, he looked in and he found that this former KGB agent, Vladimir Putin, did have a soul, I guess, and they do get along...


CARLSON: ... yes. He found one. The only KGB agent ever to have a soul.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, your original employer in Washington, I think, was "The Wall Street Journal," and their editorial page said, "Arms control is dangerous between adversaries, and it is unnecessary between friends."

NOVAK: I could, I couldn't agree more. This is symbolic. I think relations between Moscow and Washington are better than they have been since 1945, but this is symbolic. Arms control agreements are ridiculous. I see all the arms control nuts were saying, They should have done more, they should have done more. It's a good symbol, though, and I approve of it.

The pro -- I am a -- I have trouble with NATO, though. NATO was formed at a time of peril with the West as a defensive military alliance against the Soviet Union. Now we're taking in all these countries. We're taking them in, I thought, to protect them against Russia. We're taking in three Baltic states to protect them now. The Soviet, now Russia wants to get in.

Is it just to protect the jobs of all the bureaucrats in Brussels and Lord Robertson? I -- has NATO outlived its usefulness? I think maybe it has.


HUNT: Good question, Bob.

Look, Mark, basically with this treaty, both -- it just codifies what both countries were going to pretty much do anyway, the Russians for economic reasons. Yes, I wish they would have done more with it, Bob.

NOVAK: Of course you did.

HUNT: I wish they would have destroyed some of these weapons rather than just store them. There are too many rogue Russians around. But it's a good achievement, and I think most sides deserve credit.

The Russians have been more cooperative and better, but, you know, they're still not great on some things, like the Iranians. And let's not forget, it's a country with nuclear capabilities, which is scary. It is a country with oil, as Kate said. But it's very weak country economically, politically, and socially. This is not a great power.

NOVAK: Well, I think, I think we, that's one reason why we ought to buddy up to them, because they have a lot of pressure...


NOVAK: ... from the Chinese too.

SHIELDS: Let me, let me just disagree with Robert Novak. I think that George W. Bush deserves credit, and I think it's a step in the right direction, and I think if somebody had predicted this a year and a half ago, that he was going to get cozy with, chummy with, and I think Kate is right in what she said, that the predictions that we're onto a new arms race at the time of his announcement, unilateral announcement about the Star Wars or whatever we want to call it...

NOVAK: So you're supporting missile defense now.

SHIELDS: I -- no, I'm not supporting missile defense.

NOVAK: Oh, you're not. Oh, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

SHIELDS: But I am commending the president. And I think it's a step in the right direction. Unlike Novak, I don't think it's namby- pamby...

NOVAK: I didn't say that...

(CROSSTALK) HUNT: You're being a statesman, Mark.



SHIELDS: Thank you, Al. And you don't -- I just try to rise above cheap political partisanship...


CARLSON: It was, it was a gesture, but not a cheap one.

SHIELDS: That's right.

NOVAK: It is symbolic, though, and I do commend the president. Symbols are part of the governing process. How's that?


SHIELDS: Thank you, Holy Roman Empire.

We'll be back with a CAPITAL GANG classic, U.S.-Soviet confrontation 13 years ago.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Thirteen years ago this week, James Baker made his first visit to Moscow as U.S. secretary of state and was surprised by President Gorbachev. The Soviet leader announced a unilateral reduction of 500 warheads.

CAPITAL GANG discussed this development on May 13, 1989. Our guest was Republican Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming, then the Senate minority whip.


PATRICK J. BUCHANAN, CAPITAL GANG: You were there, Bob. A clear win for Gorby?

NOVAK: Absolutely. They did to Jim Baker what he's been doing to people in the government for about eight years, and that is, hit them when they're not looking. He never expected this to happen. He didn't have a response to it.

SEN. ALAN SIMPSON (R-WY), MINORITY WHIP: You talk about Baker as if he left a load of punkins on the edge of town or something or got stripped at the poker game. That's not what happened to Baker in the Soviet Union. I don't know what we lost in that process. I don't see anything that dramatic about it all.

HUNT: Sure, I think Jim Baker got taken. I think Al's right that it's not the end of the world, however. But what I think the larger question is here, five years ago the Robert Novaks of the world told us that the Soviets had to cut their arms, they had to curb foreign adventures, they had to move toward the market system at home, they had to permit some dissent at home.

They've done all that (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BUCHANAN: Why are we losing in these little propaganda coups that Gorbachev (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? Why are we constantly losing, constantly on the defensive?

SHIELDS: We are reacting to them. We're responding to them, and slow and late and tardy.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, did Gorbachev look like he was winning the cold war at that point?

HUNT: You couldn't tell by that conversation, Mark. No, only the political right was into denial about the Soviets being in decline. And as we see why now, on this show, every week when we talk about Israel or Iraq or terrorism or China, you see this huge fight between Kate and Bob. They long for the good old days of that Soviet bear.

SHIELDS: The old Soviet bear, Kate, do you miss it?

HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) them together.

O'BEIRNE: Beyond pointing out to Al when he talks about the Robert Novaks of the world, there's only one Robert Novak in the world now.

CARLSON: Thank God.

O'BEIRNE: I -- I had difficulty following that conversation. I have no idea what you were all talking about, so I'll defer to Bob Novak, and he can defend himself.

NOVAK: I was there at -- in Moscow at -- covering that, and I will never forget the look of James Baker, a very confident man. When he walked out of there, he looked like his dog had died, because this -- Gorbachev completely surprised him, come up with this unilateral thing, got a vow of silence from him, and then the foreign secretary, Shevardnadze, starts explaining it after the -- Baker is up on the plane heading back, heading to Brussels.

The fact of the matter was, the Soviets had already lost the cold war at that point. But they -- but Gorbachev was so good and so clever that they looked like they were winning it.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, are you going to join Kate in condemning that all-exclusive, all-male club we had there?

CARLSON: That all-male panel? No, I don't want to do that. But I would say that it was just a one-minute story, it was a PR thing, which Jim Baker looked good for -- I mean, looked bad, and it was a lot of fuss over nothing. Now, if we didn't...

NOVAK: Seemed serious at the time.

CARLSON: ... make -- if we didn't make a lot of fuss over nothing, we wouldn't have a show, so...

O'BEIRNE: The days, the days were so clearly numbered. The days were close -- so clearly numbered, Mark.

SHIELDS: Thank you so much, thank you, Kate.


SHIELDS: ... thank you, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). My goodness, until -- you are prophetic.

CARLSON: You missed it. It was over.

SHIELDS: We'll be back with the second half of your CAPITAL GANG. Our newsmaker of the week is former Assistant Secretary of State Bernard Aronson, talking about Jimmy Carter's historic visit to Cuba. Beyond the Beltway looks at next Tuesday's Pennsylvania Democratic primary for governor with veteran political writer Larry Eichel and our Outrages of the week.

That's all after the news, following these important messages.


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG.

I'm Mark Shields, with the full CAPITAL GANG, Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and Margaret Carlson.

Jimmy Carter visited Cuba, calling for an end to the U.S. embargo. He met with Cuban dissidents and with Fidel Castro.


FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: He wants to retain complete control over the system and not take any chance that dissident or disagreeing groups could gain enough support to endanger his power as the undisputed leader of the Cuban government.


SHIELDS: As President Carter arrived in Cuba, the Bush administration raised the issue of Cuban biological weapons.


CARTER: No one ever raised any question to me about bioterrorism, knowing that I was coming here and the importance of my visit. COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We know that Cuba has been doing some research with respect to biological offensive weapons, possibly. And so we think it is appropriate for us to point out this kind of activity.


SHIELDS: President Bush did not appear ready to lift the embargo.


BUSH: Fidel Castro is a dictator, and he is repressive, and he ought to have free elections, and he ought to have a free press, and he ought to free his prisoners, and he ought to encourage free enterprise.


SHIELDS: Our newsmaker of the week is Bernard Aronson. Bernard W. Aronson, age 56, residence Tacoma Park, Maryland, religion Jewish, University of Notre Dame graduate -- University of Chicago graduate, I'm sorry. Assistant to the United Mine Workers president, 1972 to 1976, White House speech writer during President Jimmy Carter's administration, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs during the first Bush administration.

Our own Al Hunt sat down with Bernie Aronson earlier this week.


HUNT: You recommended that U.S. policy should look beyond Castro and focus on building bridges between the American and the Cuban people. Did President Carter's trip help or hurt that objective?

BERNARD ARONSON, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: I think it helped, and it also helped, I think, empower the dissident community in Cuba.

HUNT: So you reject criticism that the speech wasn't forceful enough on human or political rights?

ARONSON: I actually think it was pretty tough. I read the speech in total, and it was all about human rights. But he put it in a package that made it hard for the Castro regime to reject, because it didn't insult Cuban nationalism, it didn't appear to be interfering in internal affairs. But in fact, it laid the issue of democracy and human rights square on the agenda of the Cuban nation.

HUNT: It was televised live, first time many Cubans had even heard about things like the Varela Project, petitions that would seek broader political and economic reforms in Cuba. What effect do you think that had on the Cuban citizenry?

ARONSON: You know, we learned something watching the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe communist regimes collapse, and that is, when people lose fear of these regimes, the regimes implode. This government is very tough, it's very tight, it's a police state. It's not going to implode immediately. But I think it liberated and empowered the dissidents. I think it also made them a little bit bulletproof.

And so I think he put Castro in a bit of a box.

HUNT: Right before Carter left, Under Secretary of State John Bolton charged that Cuba was developing biological weapons and sharing them with other rogue nations. Timing coincidence, or intended to undercut the Carter trip?

ARONSON: Well, it's not an argument that should be dismissed. What they're saying is that Cuba has the technology to produce bioterrorism and that they share the technology with rogue states like Iran. Some legitimate question for us to debate, ought to be aired in a constructive way.

The timing, little bit suspicious.

HUNT: The other complaint of some critics was that it was simply bad form for the former president to go on foreign soil and criticize a U.S. policy, namely the embargo.

ARONSON: You know, Jimmy Carter's a citizen of this country. When he goes to Panama and blows the whistles on a crooked election and helps expose Noriega, everybody cheers. I think you have to give him the right to speak his mind.

I think the real question was, did Carter use this opportunity to deliver a tough and strong human rights message? And he did, and I think he deserves credit for that.

HUNT: "The Financial Times" wrote this week that opening Cuba to trade and exposing the Cubans to more ordinary Americans and American culture would do far more to weaken that repressive regime than to continue the long-standing trade embargo. Do you agree?

ARONSON: By and large, I do agree. I mean, certainly that's the approach we're taking to China, and ironically, many of those who say, Open up to China because it undermines authoritarianism, say, Sanction Cuba because it doesn't, and visa-versa. Many of those who want to desanction South Africa argue we shouldn't have sanctions on Cuba.

But we could promote trade and put principles attached, that if U.S. businesses invest in Cuba, they have to have the right to hire workers and pay them directly, like the Sullivan Principles which were used in South Africa.

HUNT: This week, the White House says President Bush next week is actually going to toughen some of the restrictions on Cuba. What effect is that going to have?

ARONSON: Well, it will be greeted politically warmly in some parts of Miami. The question both sides need to answer is, how are the policies they are promoting going to speed a rapid and peaceful transition to democracy?

HUNT: Given the -- both the power and the passions of the Cuban- American community in Florida, terribly important state in American elections, don't you think it's unlikely there'll be any major policy change until Castro dies?

ARONSON: I think it's unlikely there'll be a dramatic change. On the other hand, the Congress right now is deciding whether to vote again to restrict the use of funds to enforce the travel ban. They did so in the House last time. I think it's going to come back again.

The action really is in the Congress, not the executive branch. And I think piece by piece, the policy is being dismantled.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, how do you assess Jimmy Carter's visit to Cuba?

HUNT: Mark, more important than how I assess it, and maybe even more important than how some of the other people on this panel assessed it, is how the dissidents in Cuba themselves assess it, how people like Esualdo Payo (ph), who's the -- who is the guy who's in -- who's put these petitions out so courageously down there, or the novelist, Ramon Diaz Marzo (ph), who has been so tortured by this repressive regime.

And what they say, these people who put their lives on the line, they say this is maybe one of the most important things that's happened in Cuba in 43 years, and they give Carter great credit for it.

SHIELDS: Does he deserve credit, Kate O'Beirne?

O'BEIRNE: He deserves credit for speaking out on human rights, which was, of course, welcome to the human rights community. I do think it was a terribly embarrassing episode for him to side against the United States and take Cuba's word on the biological warfare front.

That was indefensible. There's a difference between exposing Noriega and having that kind of a public spat while you're in Cuba taking Castro's word against our own.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson?

CARLSON: But if the administration had that information, they should have told Carter ahead of time. I think they really sandbagged him. And it's so easy to pick on Carter. He's a do-gooder and he's for human rights, and the Bush people are so hard.

That speech was very tough and delivered to the people in real time, and they heard it. It was a good visit. The Bush people would have liked to have forbidden Carter to go. He went, and he did a good job. SHIELDS: When I think of all the millions of dollars were spent on Radio Marti and Television Marti, which is on from 3:30 in the morning till 8:00 in the morning, and all the mess, 43 years, this is the first time the Cuban people have been spoken to and -- by an American leader and told that they are not alone in their dissidence.

They are not alone, that they are, what -- and let's be very blunt, Bernie Aronson put it so well, is that we don't have, as Sam (UNINTELLIGIBLE) California, Democrat, says, we don't have a national policy toward Cuba, we have an electoral policy toward Dade County, Florida.

NOVAK: Can I, can I get in on this one a little bit, please? In the first place, Jimmy, Jimmy Carter is a national embarrassment. He was an embarrassment for four years as president when he dealt with foreign policy. When he went to Nicaragua, he said that the people of Nicaragua wouldn't overthrow the communist Sandanista regime.

His speech, I don't, I, my dear friend Bernie Aronson, I, he says he read the whole speech. I went through that speech four times trying to find where he asked for free elections. He didn't ask for free elections. It's embarrassing when the former president of the United States talks about human rights violations in the United States.

And Margaret, as far as the idea that he wasn't told about this, let me just read to you testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, March 19, by Carl Ford, assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research. Quote, "The U.S. believes that Cuba has at least a limited development of biological warfare research and development effort," unquote.

HUNT: Just a minute. The charge was that they were sharing with rogue nations.


HUNT: Mr. Ford did not testify to that effect.

CARLSON: Yes, yes.

HUNT: This -- and this administration...

CARLSON: And they...

HUNT: ... is now backtracking. Secondly...

CARLSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) say while he was in Cuba.

HUNT: ... Bob, I will go back to what I said in the beginning. Those dissidents down there who risk their lives, who don't have any political axe to grind...


HUNT: ... in America, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), they said, Bob, it was eloquent...


HUNT: Now, wait a second, Bob...


HUNT: ... apparently you don't have to repeat...


HUNT: ... you don't have to repeat yourself...

NOVAK: No, no, let me...

HUNT: ... but you didn't, you didn't read the same speech that they heard...

NOVAK: Let, let me, let me...

HUNT: ... because if they were so moved, I wonder why you were so unmoved.

NOVAK: Let me just, let me just repeat what Mr. Ford, Ford said they were sending it to rogue nations, and, and the -- Colin -- just a minute -- Colin Powell this week said they were sending this to rogue nations.

HUNT: No, he didn't.

NOVAK: And so just -- he said, he said absolutely (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

HUNT: He said they were developing it.

SHIELDS: I want to say, Jimmy Carter is not a politician, he wasn't a very good politician as president.

NOVAK: He's an embarrassment.

SHIELDS: He is a great statesman.


SHIELDS: He's a statesman, he is a statesman, and what he did...


SHIELDS: ... what he did was...

O'BEIRNE: Now you've gone too far.

SHIELDS: ... heroic, and it was heroic...


SHIELDS: ... he spoke, he spoke truth...

O'BEIRNE: Now you've gone too far.


SHIELDS: ... he spoke truth to power.

EICHEL: Bob, and Bob thought he was great when he was dealing with Iraq or Haiti...

NOVAK: I thought he was a, I thought he was a...


NOVAK: ... I thought he was embarrassing.

SHIELDS: Well...

CARLSON: Calling an ex-president an embarrassment, that's an embarrassment.

O'BEIRNE: Well, except when he embarrasses himself...


HUNT: ... he did not embarrass himself...


NOVAK: ... embarrassed by him.

HUNT: ... heard that, and Bernie Aronson was right, it was eloquent.

SHIELDS: Thank you very much, Al Hunt.


SHIELDS: Next on CAPITAL GANG, Beyond the Beltway looks at next week's Democratic primary for governor of Pennsylvania.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Beyond the Beltway looks at this week's -- at next Tuesday's Democratic primary for governor of Cal -- of Pennsylvania between former Philadelphia mayor Edward Rendell and state auditor general Bob Casey, Jr.


ANNOUNCER: on fighting crime, Rendell wins on experience. On creating jobs, Rendell. And on cutting property taxes and fighting for senior citizens, Ed Rendell. In the end, the comparison is easy.



ANNOUNCER: Ed Rendell says he turned around Philadelphia schools. What he doesn't tell you is that he left the schools in Philadelphia in such bad shape that the state of Pennsylvania has just been forced to take them over.


SHIELDS: Outside interest groups have also taken to the airwaves.


ANNOUNCER: Bob Casey would sign a law banning abortions. Casey even opposes abortion for victims of rape and incest. Ed Rendell will protect our right to choose. Get the facts at



ANNOUNCER: This is an urgent alert from the National Rifle Association for Pennsylvania gun owners and hunters. Ed Rendell is a big-city politician who believes your guns, not criminals, are the problem. That's why crime has skyrocketed in Philadelphia.


SHIELDS: The latest survey by Susquehannah (ph) Polling and Research, which polls for Republicans, shows a 10-point lead by Rendell.

Joining us now from Philadelphia is "Philadelphia Inquirer" political columnist Larry Eichel. Thanks for coming in, Larry.


SHIELDS: Larry, three days out, is it clear that Ed Rendell is going to win this next Tuesday?

EICHEL: Not quite. And here's why. The Rendell people are worried about voter turnout in, of all places, the city of Philadelphia. Philadelphians traditionally are not very excited about governors' races. There isn't much else going on here politically. And they're worried that not enough people are going to show up. If they get a decent turnout in the city, then he's in pretty good shape.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Larry, it was thought by a lot of people that Bobby Casey, who was, has got a good political name, he has won statewide, would have a really good prospect against a former mayor of Philadelphia. Is there a problem, do you think, in a pro-life, pro- gun Democrat winning in a primary in a, in eastern state? EICHEL: Well, I thought he would have a pretty good shot too. I'm not sure that's the problem. Casey has run a campaign that has been extremely negative and Rendell has exploited that very well and made the react -- made negative campaigning the big issue. But certainly the -- I think the abortion issue works to Rendell's benefit.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Larry, it appears to be in the last month that the race has opened up, and Casey's unfavorables nearly doubled, if I'm right on that. What happened in the last couple of weeks to make that happen?

EICHEL: Well, I'm not sure there's any one thing that happened. I think it was sort of a cumulative effect. Casey, I think, never really made a positive case for himself. I think he may have overestimated how much the familiar name was worth and how much the stigma of being from the city of Philadelphia would play in the rest of the state.

Rendell has emphasized his experience, and in the polls, that's what voters keep feeding back, experience, experience, experience.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Larry, either one of these candidates seen as having a clear edge in November over the Republican candidate, the current lieutenant governor? And -- attorney general? And this has been a really expensive primary. Is it clear there'll be plenty more money where that came from for the successful candidate on Tuesday?

EICHEL: That's not clear. But, I mean, it's been a primary in which over a third of a million dollars has been spent, which is an extraordinary amount for this state.

There's an odd pattern in Pennsylvania politics of eight-year swings. Each party has the governorship for eight years. So by that tradition, this ought to be the Democrats' turn. And I think most people would think the Democratic candidate would be a slight favorite in the fall.


HUNT: Larry, you talked about the negative campaign. We saw some of those ads, and certainly these two guys go at each other in some of the cultural issues, abortion and gun control. And there are stylistic differences. But substantively, when it comes to what a governor really does, the big issues of education, health care, is there really much difference between these two guys?

EICHEL: Well, I mean, they're both -- they both want to head in the same direction. I think the differences that has emerged is that Rendell is more of the risk taker.

I mean, he's proposing a sort of a dramatic tax reform plan to reduce property taxes, whereas Casey, perhaps more aware of state government, you know, he's been part of it for such a long time, through his own work and through his father, more cautious, more sort of saying, Let's do what we can. I mean, that's the real difference.

SHIELDS: Larry, the poll that -- the poll that I read said that the undecided voter lived in central and western Pennsylvania, was a senior -- more likely to be a senior citizen, and actually had been more turned off by the Rendell ads than by the Casey ads, the undecided

Is that a wild card on Tuesday?

EICHEL: Well, I'm not sure I understood what that poll meant about the Rendell and the Casey ads. But there's no question that the undecided vote in this race is largely outside of the Philadelphia media market. So the undecided vote figures to break for Casey. It's just a question of how much.

NOVAK: I just wanted to ask one more thing about that NRA ad. The gun issue has been a very difficult issue for rural Democrats and so on. Is that, is that cutting it all in this primary? Is that -- are the, are the gun owners going to come out in force for Casey, do you think, on election day?

EICHEL: Well, I think, I think it might. I mean, it, it, it, it's, it's been an odd issue here, and neither candidate has made too much of the gun, gun issue. Casey has hardly talked about it at all.

But the polls indicate that the voters are very aware of where these candidates stand, and if, if the race ends up being very tight, or if Casey pulls it out, I think people will be looking at the gun issue as the explanation.

SHIELDS: Larry, thank you very much for being with us. Larry Eichel of "Philadelphia Inquirer."

THE GANG will be back with the Out, Out, Outrages of the Week.


SHIELDS: And now for the Outrage of the Week.

Throughout its 2,000-year history, the Catholic Church has survived, in spite of occasional leaders who have been vain or greedy or stupid. The latest is the Vatican canon lawyer who writes in an influential church journal that Roman Catholic bishops should not turn over allegations or records of sexual abuse by priests to the civilian authorities.

I don't know canon law, but in criminal law, sexual abuse of a child is a crime, which is hurtful, harmful, and unacceptable. The child abuser is a criminal, and he must be prosecuted.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Gray Davis, the Democratic governor of California, is reputed to be the nation's best political fundraiser. A report in "The Los Angeles Times" show why. Wayne Johnson, president of the California Teachers Association, told the newspaper he was talking education policy in the governor's office in February when Davis requested a contribution for his reelection campaign this year. He asked for a cool $1 million.

That beats Bill Clinton's coffee sessions by far. Gray Davis seems to have mastered cash-and-carry politics.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, kindergartner Abby Silvas is being expelled from kindergarten from the Capital Christian School in Sacramento. For what, you might wonder, eating glue? Coloring outside the lines? No, because her mother is an exotic dancer. The pastor offered the part- time dancer help with tuition if she would find another line of work, which she's been unable to do.

Abby's mother, a Sunday School teacher, pays for private school because, she says, she wants her daughter to be a good Christian. She may be wasting her money. What's Christian about punishing a child for the mother's deeds?

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: It was bound to happen. A worker from Miami-Dade County was fired for failing to learn Spanish. Zita Welinsky (ph) had been a Florida county employee for 16 years when she was given 60 days to learn Spanish. The county admits that 64 languages are spoken there, so its Spanish-speaking employees can't handle every caller either.

The so-called civil rights groups don't care about this discrimination against a gringa, as her co-workers derisively called her, but the Department of Justice should.

SHIELDS: Albert Hunt.

HUNT: Mark, quote, "It's astonishing, a huge anomaly that we are talking about the need to increase the federal debt limit, we're uncertain about how to finance the war on terrorism. In the midst of this very severe set of critical demands on the national treasury, we're talking about permanently repealing the estate tax."

That's Bill Gates, Senior, who knows about entrepreneurialism and knows that a $53 billion giveaway to the richest Americans is bad social and bad economic policy, and it's very bad for charities.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG. If you missed any part of our show, you can catch the full replay at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and then again, think about it, at 4:00 a.m. Eastern.



Becoming America's Allies?; Interview With Bernard Aronson>



Back to the top