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"Esquire" Article on Bush White House Causes Furor

Aired June 7, 2002 - 19:00   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.
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson. In the "Crossfire" tonight, is he feeling any safer politically?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's going to be a lot of turf protection in the Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the politics of creating a Department of Homeland Security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems like an awful lot of things going in there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: We know what he said, but what was he thinking? In the "Crossfire," a real West Wing drama.

Star witnesses on Capitol Hill, Julia and Michael and Superman and more.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Day to day support ...

(END VIDEOCLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Playing the Capitol. Ahead on CROSSFIRE.

From the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. On tonight's program, nearly 27 years after the fact, a jury sends a Kennedy family cousin to jail.

Also, reaching for political stardom on Capitol Hill. But first, President Bush's opponents have started playing politics with his call for a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security.

The president's countering with a post-announcement media blitz. TV cameras were invited into the White House as he conferred with members of Congress. Later, in Iowa, George W. Bush continued his sales pitch ad at, ironically, a convention of pork producers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is going to be a tough battle because we're going to be stepping on some people's toes. I understand that. You see, when you take power away from one person in Washington, it tends to make them nervous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: In the "Crossfire" to talk about who's nervous and who's feeling safe -- politically, that is -- Democratic political consultant Bob Shrum and former Congresswoman Susan Molinari, Republican of New York.

SUSAN MOLINARI, FMR. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: How are you?

PAUL BEGALA, HOST: Thank you both for joining us. Susan, if I can start with you.

MOLINARI: Oh, good.

BEGALA: Our friends in the White House did a wonderful public service, not only in recognizing belatedly that we need to reorganize the federal government, but also telling us why. Let me put on the board a quote from a White House aide, the Associated Press, telling us why in fact they announced this when they did.

"Bush's announcement is designed in part to steal some attention from congressional hearings, White House officials say."

That's what they told the Associated Press. I think it's a noble cause to reorganize the government, but isn't doing it to try to preempt bad publicity from hearings a pretty cynical reason?

MOLINARI: Well, and I'd be surprised if that White House person was not named, were they?

BEGALA: You don't think the Associated Press made it up, do you?

MOLINARI: Well, I think they probably talked to some low level person who had no idea of why the president did this. Now ...

BEGALA: I thought you might say that, so let me read you another ...

MOLINARI: Well let me ...

BEGALA: ... quote from "The Wall Street Journal."

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: Let me just say something -- let me just say something. If there is a reason to try and preempt some of these hearings, maybe it is, for a noble reason, that people in America are getting a little nervous and a little shaky. And that if at the same time they can be reassured that there's a president of the United States who's taking decisive action to reassure and calm and change the way government is, as we know it, because the world has now changed, well, that's a good thing too, isn't it?

BEGALA: So let me get this straight. You're saying that it's OK for the White House to -- for eight months to fight against bipartisan efforts ...

MOLINARI: Oh, it's not fighting against.

BEGALA: In fact they did for eight months fight against bipartisan efforts ...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... led by senators ...

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: You can write for "Esquire" Magazine with that kind of reporting ...

BEGALA: We'll get to "Esquire" in a minute, believe me. Senator Lieberman, from my party, Senator Specter from your party, for eight months have been asking this president to reorganize the government alone much the same lines as he announced last night in a surprise announcement, and you think it's OK for him to switch gears like that only to forestall bad publicity about his own mismanagement ...

MOLINARI: Clearly he did not ...

BEGALA: ... of the executive branch.

MOLINARI: Clearly he said that he was going to take his time, and be thoughtful and have input from people like you just mentioned on the Hill, and determine that in fact the way he was trying to do things was not the best way. My gosh, we finally have a politician in Washington who says, you know what, maybe the other side was right. Maybe I should give this a second look and change my mind.

NOVAK: Mr. Shrum ...

MOLINARI: You should be applauding him for that flexibility, Bob -- Paul.

NOVAK: Mr. Shrum, you've been ...

MOLINARI: Bob. NOVAK: Bob, you've been explaining to me the strange thought processes of the Democratic Party for a long time so -- but I think you really have a challenge this time, because for months the Democrats are saying you must have a Cabinet-level ...

MOLINARI: Right.

NOVAK: ... department ...

MOLINARI: Exactly.

NOVAK: ... and obviously, he had very careful and lengthy consultations and they're secret - they love secrecy. They have it all in secret. They finally come out with a detailed proposal for a Cabinet level and you say no, it's a bad idea. You're bowing to pressure. Which -- can you explain to me what the thought process is?

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Bob, you're doing what you've been doing for a long time with me, distorting what Democrats said. Dick Gephardt said he doesn't want this passed by the end of the year. He wants it passed by September 11. There's almost universal support from Democrats who are not nay-sayers on this but yea-sayers on it, for months and months and months, and what I don't understand is why the administration can't do what Susan just did, which is admit that the president changed his mind.

Andy Card of "Esquire" ...

MOLINARI: Oh, I didn't say that.

SHRUM: No, no. Andy Card of "Esquire" ...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: Andy Card of "Esquire" fame was quoted today as saying the president was never against having this department.

MOLINARI: He said he wanted ...

SHRUM: He appointed Tom Ridge to think about the department. Well, Tom Ridge must think kind of slow. I mean this has taken a very, very long time in a real crisis.

MOLINARI: This is an amazing, massive reorganization of government. This is looking at history and saying for the first time after September 11, we've all acknowledged that the world has changed forever.

SHRUM: Joe ...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: ... Lieberman ...

MOLINARI: And you can't change ...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: Joe Lieberman and Arlen Specter ...

MOLINARI: ... government on a dime.

SHRUM: Joe Lieberman and Arlen -- well, they did change it on a dime.

MOLINARI: No, no ...

SHRUM: Joe Lieberman and Arlen -- they got four people in theory in this little room down in the White House. Karl Rove, of course, wasn't there, they tell us, even though he does run foreign policy in this administration.

NOVAK: All right.

SHRUM: And they suddenly come out with this. Now there was no wrong time to do it, because it's the right decision.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Bob. Bob Shrum, you know, there was -- one of the most remarkable minds of the Democratic Party is Dave Obey, Congressman Dave Obey of Wisconsin. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriation, where he wants to be chairman, and even before the president had released, had given his speech -- there had just been a few comments about it, he had totally analyzed the situation. I'd like to just read you a quote he sent us long before the president's speech, two pages single-spaced.

MOLINARI: Before the president even went on.

NOVAK: Yes, and we'll put it on the screen. Congressman Obey said, quote: "The proposal put out by the White House" -- this is two hours before the speech -- "was developed with little or no input from experts or federal agencies, with the result being a haphazard plan that would load the new department down with a huge bureaucracy and responsibilities that have nothing to do with preventing terrorism."

Now you know partisan politics because you play it. That's sheer partisan politics, isn't it?

SHRUM: No, actually, the first part of that is absolutely factually true, by the White House's own leak to the papers. They had four people in a little room sitting under the White House, in theory doing this in such a way that was -- it was going to prevent leaks.

The real problem here is that they should have just come out and said look, we tried it the other way. It doesn't work the other way. They should have -- Susan should have been there advising them -- said the president changed his mind and we're going to have a department.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: In fact Susan ... (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Go ahead.

MOLINARI: Now we are now arguing over did he change his mind or did he move too slow or did he -- I mean, everybody agrees with what the president did so, I mean, in a time of international crisis where we are responding productively and carefully, can't we just all sit back and say ...

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: ... bravo, President Bush.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: I was trying to agree ...

BEGALA: Here's my concern ...

SHRUM: Novak won't take yes for an answer ...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Here's my concern. We've had an international crisis for many months. It's only when it's become a political crisis for Bush does he act. Let me show you what our press secretary ...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... Ari Fleischer, told the country ...

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: If this had come out two weeks after wouldn't you say this has not been well thought out?

BEGALA: No, in fact, in February of 2001, a commissioner appointed by President Clinton, chaired by Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, two respected senators from each Party ...

MOLINARI: Right.

BEGALA: ... recommended this. Bush opposed it. In May of 2001, there were hearings on this. Bush opposed even the hearings. And now here's what his press secretary said about this just a few months ago. Here's Ari Fleischer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's no secret that there are a number of members of Congress, some of whom came down to the White House today, who believe that legislation is necessary to give Governor Ridge more power, the power that they think he may need. And they received a very strong message from the president today that no legislation is necessary, that Governor Ridge has all the power that he needs, that Governor Ridge by virtue of the fact that he is in such proximity to the president, has the ear of the president, has the respect of the president. Governor Ridge has everything he needs to be able to get his job done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOLINARI: Well let me talk about ...

BEGALA: Flip-flop flip.

MOLINARI: No, but let me just talk a little bit about the difference, because what that's talking about is just simply giving him budget authority. What President Bush talked about now, and it reminds me about -- I don't know if y'all saw the ...

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: ... if I'm allowed to talk about ...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: No legislation is necessary to give Ridge more power.

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: OK, but let me just finish ...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That's what Ari said.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: It's Joe Lieberman's plan.

MOLINARI: There was an HBO special where Bernie Kerik, the police commissioner of New York during September 11 talked about the fact that, you know, the sky was falling and that all this was happening, and he said the first thing he needed to do was figure out how to get the planes down, how to get, you know, military -- security over New York, all these things, and then he looked at the camera and said what number do I call to get that done?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But Bush has known at that all along.

NOVAK: I want a yes or no answer, Bob.

SHRUM: You probably won't get it.

NOVAK: Since it's Joe Lieberman's plan, I can assume that the Democrats won't be criticizing it?

SHRUM: Oh, I think Democrats in overwhelming numbers are going to support this plan. They have been calling for it for months and months and months.

NOVAK: You tell David Obey and John Conyers ...

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: It's nice that we can get along like this.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: And we will, believe me, we will stir the pot even more. Stay with us. We're going to take a quick break, but in a minute we're going to switch subjects and we're going to ask our guests about an extraordinary, jaw dropping, on the record glimpse of life inside the real George W. Bush inner circle of the White House.

And then later, celebrities descend on Capitol Hill in a Washington version of "Star Wars".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Still ahead, Capitol Hill gets the star treatment, but first, we're going inside the real West Wing. And if you believe a new article in "Esquire" magazine, there seems to be as much wheeling, dealing and back stabbing among president Bush's inner circle as there is on the popular TV drama.

"Esquire" quotes Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card as saying the president has a mystical bond with terror news. The magazine quotes Card as saying Bush is in denial over Hughes' decision to go back home to Texas.

In the "Crossfire," Democratic Political Consultant Bob Shrum and Republican New York former Congresswoman Susan Molinari.

BEGALA: Let me get right to it, Susan. Here's what Andy Card, the chief of staff to the president, has to say Karen Hughes' departure. Karen, of course being the counselor to the president, clearly the most powerful woman in the executive branch -- what I didn't know is she was the most powerful person.

Andrew Card, the chief of staff, says: "The president is in a state of denial. The whole balance of the place, the balance of what has worked up to now for George Bush is gone, simply gone."

The wheels have fallen off the wagon because one woman leaves. Why?

SHRUM: That's good. It's sort of nice for a change that it happens that way.

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: First of all, we would like all you Democrats to really believe that. But obviously, listen, Karen Hughes was a tremendous force and she will be very much missed in Washington. She's going to Texas to spend some time with her family, you know, reconnect with her Texas roots and also stay engaged very much in presidential politics.

BEGALA: But let me give you specific about what she does. Mark McKinnon, who I should disclose is a dear friend of mine, I went to college with him. He's a great buddy of mine, even though he's Bush's media advisor, he told "Esquire" this:

"President Bush often says the most striking difference between being governor and president is the volume of decision-making. There are 100 decisions he has to make every day, big decisions, with a lot riding on each one. So he'll give 20 of them to Karen to make. He trusts her completely. He trusts her like he trusts no one."

So sayeth Mark McKinnon -- my question is who makes the other four-fifths of the decisions that Karen doesn't make? It's clearly not Bush, right?

MOLINARI: Of course it's Bush. He's -- I mean you know ...

BEGALA: Why is he giving away one-fifth of his decisions to a staffer?

MOLINARI: Well, you don't know what those one fifth decisions are. Maybe...

BEGALA: They are big ones with a lot riding on them.

(CROSSTALK)

That's what the guy says.

MOLINARI: Maybe it has to do with communications. Maybe it has to do with the way we deal with the communications strategy post 9/11. That is a big decision with a lot riding on it, but someone that has the intuitive communication skills of Karen Hughes versus being president of the United States, that seems to be to me a legitimate exercise of division of power.

NOVAK: All Democrats like Begala are just so excited about this story There's something fishy going on here. And let me talk about Mark McKinnon, who's a liberal Democrat from Texas. He was caught giving contributions to Democratic candidates. He was so embarrassed the other day, and now, do you know who vouched for this Suskind, this reporter, to get him in the inner circle of the White House? It was Mark McKinnon. Is there a little plot going on here?

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: I'd say, Novak, you got a little witch-hunt going on.

NOVAK: I hope so.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: The fact -- yes, I know, you want to get rid of him. Look, the real question here is what were Andy Card and Mark McKinnon drinking or smoking when they gave these quotes and this interview. (CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: The truth is -- the truth is they did say these things. You can't deny they said them. Andy Card's non-denial is ridiculous. It is obvious that Bush does delegate a lot of big decisions. He delegates a lot to Karen Hughes. He delegates a lot to Karl Rove, who has enormous influence in foreign policy and on a whole series of decisions that he isn't necessarily prepared for, but the president trusts him.

Now in the end, the president's going to be judged by how the administration does. But to go out and do this right now, I think, is very disruptive inside the White House, and I got to say once again, they ought to bring Susan in there because she did a lot better job handling ...

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: This is killing me. You know this is killing me, right?

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: It's not good for you. It really isn't.

MOLINARI: That's it for me politically, ladies and gentlemen.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Mr. Shrum.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: But I mean it -- I mean it.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Mr. Shrum, you live in -- you live in the real world, and when this guy Suskind, he was on "INSIDE POLITICS" on CNN today and he was elaborating on his - on his ridiculous story even further, and he was saying that Karl Rove is a right-winger and he represented the right wing of the Republican Party and Karen represents the moderates. Now you know very well that Karl Rove is to the left of me and I'm not that conservative.

SHRUM: Bob, you admire Karl Rove so much and you've expressed the admiration so often that I think he may be one degree to the left of you.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: He's very close to you.

NOVAK: He's not a right-winger ...

(CROSSTALK) NOVAK: You know ...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: Look, there are -- look, there are a whole series of decisions here. For example, we don't even know in this new reorganization plan at this point whether or not they're going to use it as an excuse for union busting.

NOVAK: Now ...

SHRUM: Karl Rove would like to do that because he wants to pay back the right wing.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Do you consider him a right-winger?

SHRUM: Oh sure. Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Andy Card ...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Andy Card ...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: I consider you an extremist.

BEGALA: Let me read you one last quote.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Dan Bartlett is the communications director to the White House. This is what he said to "Esquire". Karen Hughes -- she can literally manufacture Bush, the only one who can do it. She knows how he talks, but also how he thinks. It's like they're one person. Over time people have better understood that if you had an idea, a proposal, Karen better like it or it won't have a chance in any event."

I used to work for a president. If anybody said that someone else manufactured him, they would have their ass fired. Why is that not happening in this White House?

MOLINARI: Well first of all -- first of all, let me -- let me just state that I think we know all Andy Card and we all know Dan Bartlett, and these are smart men.

BEGALA: And they've manufactured Bush, right?

(CROSSTALK)

MOLINARI: They have been very political. They are very loyal in a White House that respects and values loyalty.

SHRUM: Hard to tell that today from these quotes.

MOLINARI: It and so one cannot believe, I mean, and if anybody at this table says that they have never read anything about themselves or their candidates that have not been true or that their words taken out of context, then in fact they are stretching the truth a bit. These are intelligent men who are extremely loyal to the president of the United States, and gentlemen, I hate to break it to you, but you can't believe everything that you read.

BEGALA: Oh, this is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. But Susan Molinari, able defensive of our president. Robert Shrum of the Democratic party, thank you both very much.

MOLINARI: Thank you.

SHRUM: Thank you.

BEGALA: And next in our CROSSFIRE news alert, John Ashcroft cracks down on the press, all in the name of justice. And our quote of the day is from a crusader who has finally achieved her goal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's time for a look at those unusual and dare I say interesting stories you might not find anywhere else but our CROSSFIRE news alert.

An Air Force lieutenant colonel, a veteran of the Persian Gulf War at that, has been suspended for writing a letter calling President Bush, quote: "a joke," accusing Bush of, quote: "allowing the 9/11 terrorist attacks to happen because his presidency was going nowhere," and calling Bush's silence on the matter sleazy and contemptible.

Lieutenant Colonel Steve Butler is being suspended for violating a prohibition on military personnel using contemptuous words against the president. Apparently truth is not a defense, and when asked to comment on the contempt that at least some military officers hold him in, Bush said the comments didn't bother him until Dick Cheney told him when what the word contempt means.

NOVAK: You know, that's what happens in the military under Clinton, when you have jokers like that.

How do you get out of that annoying responsibility of a citizen -- jury duty? Easy, have an affair with the president of the United States. At least that was the experience of Monica Lewinsky. In New York City, when she showed up with other respective jurors in court yesterday, she was questioned by lawyers choosing a jury for a personal injury lawsuit filed against the city of New York.

Could she be fair, Monica was asked. No, she said, as she broke into tears. She just couldn't serve, too many bitter memories of testifying before grand juries and being taped for testimony in a presidential impeachment trial. Poor dear, she was excused from jury duty.

BEGALA: Anybody have to spend that much time with Ken Starr suffered enough in life. Monica, you go on with your life.

In apparent violation of its own guidelines, the Justice Department under John Ashcroft issued a subpoena to an MSNBC reporter, demanding the reporter's notes from a story on a computer hacker. Critics see a pattern.

Houston journalist Vanessa Leggett was jailed for five months for refusing to turn her notes over to Ashcroft's investigators in a murder case. And a Associated Press reporter John Solomon (ph) was notified last year that Ashcroft snoops had obtained his personal phone records after Solomon (ph) wrote about a federal wiretap of New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli.

Borrowing a phrase from the Vietnam War, in which they never served, Ashcroft and Bush apparently believe that sometimes liberty must be destroyed in order to be saved.

NOVAK: Paul, I guess that's not a problem to you, my friend, because nobody ever accused you of being a journalist.

BEGALA: Oh, I'm not a journalist. I'm a partisan, but I don't go snooping on reporters either.

NOVAK: There was a mini riot yesterday on Capitol Hill in the usually boring confines of the House Ways and Means Committee. The problem? Hard feelings about overtaxed American businessmen who try to escape their burden by reincorporating in tax havens like Bermuda.

Democrats are pushing legislation to prevent this and the controversies boiled up in a Ways and Means hearing on the subject. Two of the most volatile characters on Capitol Hill, the committee's Republican Chairman Bill Thomas and its number two Democrat, Pete Stark, both Californians, wouldn't you know, got into a shouting match, and the hearing was canceled.

Not very dignified, but not a bad idea if it kills the effort to stifle economic freedom. Just eliminate the corporate tax and you won't have this problem.

BEGALA: Yes, they're Benedict Arnolds, corporate Benedict Arnolds. They're traitors, economic traitors to our country.

NOVAK: OK, next in a CNN news alert, the space station gets some company.

Later, how many eggs can you pack into one hearing room? And do some of them really need to be there?

Also our quote of the day is a mother's prayer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE, coming to you live from the George Washington University in downtown Washington. D.C.

A Connecticut jury today found Michael Skakel guilty of murdering Martha Moxley. He is a relative by marriage of the Kennedy family, a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel. The crime happened back in 1975 when Moxley and Skakel were both teenagers. After today's verdict, Dorthy Moxley told reporters about a prayer she wrote for her daughter.

It is our quote of the day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DORTHY MOXLEY, MARTHA MOXLEY'S MOTHER: You know, this whole thing was about Martha. Anyway, and I just -- I just, I am so, I just feel so blessed and so overwhelmed that we've actually, we now, you know, this is Martha's day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: For more on the verdict in the Skakel trial, let's bring in CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. He joins us from New York.

Jeffrey, was the verdict a surprise?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It was to me, I have to say, Paul. I mean, this was a tough case for the prosecution. They had no forensic evidence. They had no eyewitnesses. It was 27 years ago that the crime took place. But I have seen a lot of trials, I've participated in a lot of trials, and I have never seen a case turned around more by a prosecution summation. It was the best summation I ever heard by Jonathan Benedict. And the way he connected the dots in this old and complex case made this case much more compelling than it seemed. And it won the case.

NOVAK: Jeffrey, explain something to me. You, as a legal expert, and other legal experts I've seen on television said they were surprised, yet everybody I know who followed the case thought this guy was guilty as hell. How -- there's a disconnect? Or was there a lack of faith on your part in the legal system? Because I don't think I know anyone who thought he was innocent.

TOOBIN: Bob, you know, I think you're on to something there. I think we may view the system perhaps with too much cynicism, because there was a lot of feeling that he did do it, but they couldn't prove it. In fairness, though, I mean, it is difficult to prove anything that took place 27 years ago. It is just simply memories fade, passage of time, that one key witness had died.

I mean, that's the kind of thing that happens. Also, there was no eyewitness. There was no forensic DNA fingerprint evidence. So yes, lot of us thought, well, who else could have done it? But I think the jury displayed a lot of common sense. They zeroed in on some of the best evidence the prosecution had when they asked for read backs, but I have no problem with the jury's verdict, but I think you are right that there is a disconnect there. BEGALA: Jeffrey, I want to ask you about the decision by Michael Skakel not to take the stand in his own defense. You know, I've never practiced law, but I'm burdened by a legal education. And I have to say, that's always a sign to me that the guy did it. If he doesn't feel like he's credible before a jury, maybe it's because he's got something to hide, maybe because he's guilty. What do you think?

TOOBIN: Yes, those of us who have been trial lawyers, that is always such a key decision in a criminal case, because even though judges always instruct the jury, don't conclude anything by the defendant's failure to testify, there is the feeling if he was innocent, he would have gotten up there and said it. But I can't second guess that decision by making Sherman the defense attorney.

Skakel had given lots of different statements over the years about this. He would have been cross-examined with all of those statements. I think it was the right call strategically. He just lost. The reason he lost, I think, is because he's guilty.

NOVAK: Jeffrey, making Sherman was out there right after the trial, and saying they're going to appeal this all the way. But what grounds is there to appeal, except the kind of arcane grounds that he was tried as an adult for a crime he committed as a juvenile? Is there any other grounds for appeal?

TOOBIN: Well, there's certainly lots of grounds for appeal, lots of issues that a lawyer can dredge up. But you know, it's important to remember the vast, vast majority of convictions are affirmed on appeal. This is an unusual situation, to say the least, because if Michael Skakel had been arrested six months or six days after this crime, he certainly would have been tried as a juvenile. 15-year olds under Connecticut law in 1975 were tried as juveniles, but there is something just ridiculous about trying a 40-year-old as a juvenile. And that's what the Connecticut court system held, which is why he was tried in superior court. So I think there are certainly grounds for appeal. It will be vigorously fought. But I think like most cases that go on appeal, it will be affirmed.

NOVAK: Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

There will be much more on the Skakel case tonight on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE.." Among Larry's guests will be Martha Moxley's mother, Dorthy, and her brother John, as well as Michael Skakel's attorney, Mickey Sherman. That's "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up, lawmakers complain about the recent galaxy of star witnesses on Capitol Hill. And in fireback, we have an e-mail from a viewer who seems to think I need to visit the Wizard of Oz.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. You know the bill of rights guarantees every citizen the right to petition our government for the redress of grievances. However, some lawmakers would not be bothered by certain members of the public, especially members of the public, who tend to generate a lot of publicity. Yesterday, Republican Senator George Voinovich of Ohio skipped a hearing by the Senate Environments and Public Works Committee because he didn't want to hear from Kevin Richardson. Mr. Richardson is a member of the Back Street Boys singing group.

The pop star, a native of coal country, was lobbying against mining company's plans to lop off the tops of mountains, take the coal, and dump all the waste in valleys below, choking off rivers and streams and lakes. Mr. Richardson has been active on the issue for some time in his home state of Kentucky, and has visited decapitated mountains, I should say, to see the damage first hand.

Apparently, that wasn't good enough for Senator Voinovich, who accused the committee of running a side show.

Joining us to discuss this now from Sacramento, California, is actor Robert Conrad, a certified celebrity. And with us here in Washington, Jonah Goldberg, editor of "The National Review Online," I suppose a certified celebrity critic. Thank you both for joining us.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Mr. Conrad, I want to read a little bit more what Senator Voinovich said. Senator Voinovich is a very serious person. He is not a joke. He's former governor of the state of Ohio, highly respected. He said, "I object to those that are brought in for show business. The witness was put in as an afterthought because someone thought it would add to the glamour of the hearing and attract media attention."

That's the only reason these people are brought in. Isn't it?

ROBERT CONRAD, ACTOR: No, not necessarily. I say maybe they're brought in, Bob, because they have a commitment. I don't think when Muhammad Ali was there, or when Michael J. Fox was talking about Parkinson's Disease that that was for glitz or show business. I think that was -- first of all, they both suffered from that. And I think they wanted to make the public more aware than they normally would be, if it were just a senator from Ohio.

And it's unfortunate, senator, that you're Republican. It's good for you that I don't live in Ohio. I am a Republican. But you wouldn't get my vote after that remark.

NOVAK: Well, Mr. Conrad, let me explain to you how far this thing can go. The other day, they brought in Elmo, who I'm told is a puppet, not a real human being on "SESAME STREET." I don't -- do you watch "SESAME STREET," gentlemen? I don't watch it much anymore. And they brought him in to testify for $2 million appropriation for children's books. Now hasn't the legislative process declined? To get attention, you have to bring in a puppet? CONRAD: Robert, let me say this here if I may. Please call me, you know, Bob or Robert, but led me read something to you. Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers said, if they get a celebrity in there, the cameras will follow. And what might have been a hidden or invisible issue will suddenly become a matter of public discussion. And that's what our elected officials are supposed to listen to, public discussion.

BEGALA: Yes, Mr. Goldberg, it sounds like Mr. Conrad, who's a Republican, makes a lot of sense to me. Let me first set the record straight on Elmogate. He did appear in Congress on April 24 of 2002. Three weeks before that, he appeared at the White House, I think. So let's take a look at the issue of hypocrisy. Bush had brought Elmo to the White House, which is fine with me.

CONRAD: I liked you up to then. Begala, you lost me, Begala. I'm sending you back to Texas.

BEGALA: George Voinovich, the senator we've been talking about, in fact, in April of 1997, as the governor of Ohio was trying to raise awareness of his own commitment to early childhood education, you know what he did? He reached out to celebrity. Rob Reiner, famous as an actor from "All in the Family," since then as a great director; "Stand By Me" and other films.

So isn't this really just about hypocrisy on the part of Voinovich? He's done the very same thing, having an actor come and promote one of his proposals. And now all of a sudden, he's whining about it, because he wants to hide from the fact that they're chopping the heads off of mountains.

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: Well, I don't think it's necessarily hypocritical to point out that this kid from the Backstreet Boys doesn't necessarily have any expertise. He claims his own expertise is that he's flown over a couple of mountains. I can guarantee you, there are a lot of experts who have flown over a bunch of mountains, who can give better and more serious testimony.

CONRAD: Hey, Goldberg, lighten up here. The kid's from that area. I love your mother. I think she's a fox, but don't talk that way. You don't know this kid's expertise.

GOLDBERG: Oh, come on.

CONRAD: He grew up there. Oh, please.

GOLDBERG: Look, he's essentially no different than Elmo.

CONRAD: Ooh.

GOLDBERG: Elmo had a script that was drafted for him, that he was basically a ventriloquist for. These celebrities, they come on these things, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, all these guys, they have someone else write their so-called expert testimony. And they just basically are mouth pieces for it. What do you think Bush does? Do you think he writes that stuff himself? CONRAD: Wait, not let me ask you -- let me ask you -- Goldberg, where are you right now?

NOVAK: There is no...

BEGALA: Yes, but same thing with Clinton, same thing with everybody.

GOLDBERG: There's a difference. These people are held up for public election. Meryl Streep, when she testified on ALR, it nearly ruined the apple industry in this country. She admitted that she was speaking, her constituency was for the uninformed American. That was her expertise.

CONRAD: Wait, wait.

GOLDBERG: Speaking for people who don't know anything.

CONRAD: No, wait just a minute here. I'm one of we, people, Goldberg. And the best president that ever served this country was an actor. And his name was Ron Reagan. And you lighten up. And you lighten up. Don't be directing that kind of hostility toward us. This is a political conversation. Lighten up.

NOVAK: I have to make a little explanation for -- people don't what -- in every segment of this show, every night, Paul Begala tries to take a whack at George W. Bush.

BEGALA: Yes, until he vacates Al Gore's house, you bet I will.

GOLDBERG: I would do the same thing if Bill Clinton was around. So that's fine.

NOVAK: Now, the other -- several years ago, Bob Conrad, they had a serious farm problem. And to testify, they brought in a bunch of female actors, we call them actresses, called Sissy Spacek, and then they brought in Jane Fonda. Jane Fonda grew up in Hollywood. The only farm she ever saw were the cotton farms around Hanoi when she was lollygaging with our communist enemies. Now isn't that a disgrace to bring in Jane Fonda to testify on a farm bill?

CONRAD: Well, I don't know if it's a disgrace or not. Jane was invited to come in by I guess someone in the congress. So I can't speak to that. I don't think Jane, whom I met, obviously we're politically diametrically opposed, but I think she's a bright woman, has a right to speak. I think her speaking in Hanoi was inappropriate.

BEGALA: Well, it's one thing to call attention to an issue. And I do think that's legitimate. Do you know what President Bush has done? This kills me. He has given top secret security clearance to a man to work on national missile defense. The man's name is Jeff Skunk Baxter, the guitar player for the Doobie Brothers. Do you think that's where we ought to be sending missile defense -- handing that over to Jeff Skunk Baxter?

GOLDBERG: No, I don't know anything about it, but my sense is...

BEGALA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I mean, I have a sense it's like a pot thing, isn't it?

GOLDBERG: Look, my point -- oh, look, if Grateful Dead came and testified before Congress about...

BEGALA: But to testify is one thing, but a national security clearance?

GOLDBERG: I agree with you. Look, Bob Conrad and I are both conservatives. And I think he's totally loopy on this. The idea -- I mean, he's proving my point by getting up there and talking in very dramatic, wonderful -- an actor's style, because he's a wonderful actor. And he's proving the point that these people are actors.

BEGALA: They're citizens, though.

NOVAK: Let me ask Robert Conrad a question. We just had an incredible exhibition of Bono -- Bono or Bono?

GOLDBERG: Bono.

NOVAK: Bono, Bono? I don't -- I had never heard of him before.

He was the guy, yes. But going around Africa, saying we've got to give all kinds of American taxpayers' money to these corrupt governments. Now what is he, a rock singer or something?

GOLDBERG: Lead singer for a band called U2, not the spy plane.

NOVAK: I mean, what in the world -- what does he know about foreign aid? What does he know about the terrible problems of the continent of Africa?

CONRAD: I think what he knows is that he has a passion for it. And he was trying to get -- not necessarily America's attention, but the world's attention on the problems there. And because of his high visibility, we're talking about him tonight.

GOLDBERG: Bob...

CONRAD: Now wait a minute, Goldberg, when we do celebrity boxing, I want you, Goldberg.

BEGALA: Whoa, I'm betting on (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

GOLDBERG: You talk about commitment and passion as being qualified. Would you rather a pilot be passionate about getting you across the country, or would you rather he know how to fly a plane?

NOVAK: That's going to be the last word.

CONRAD: Wait -- let me just...

NOVAK: That's going to be the last word. CONRAD: No, the last word, hell, I'm a pilot. I'll get you across. I'm an instrument pilot.

GOLDBERG: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) testify about planes, Bob.

CONRAD: Thanks.

NOVAK: Bob Conrad, thank you very much.

CONRAD: Thank you, sir.

NOVAK: Round six is coming up. Paul and I duke it out one-on- one. And one of our viewers has proposed a colorful addition to CROSSFIRE. It would be especially useful whenever Paul Begala and James Carville are talking.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Time now for round six. No guests, no gloves, just Novak and me. Bob, when we were talking about this "Esquire" article, and I read this quote from Mark McKinnon, a former Democratic pal of mine from college, now working for Bush...

NOVAK: That's one strike against him.

BEGALA: But he's a Bush loyalist. He left the Democrats, angered all of his friends, burned all of his bridges. And -- but he says that Karen Hughes actually makes the decisions for Bush. That's got to trouble you as an American, doesn't it?

NOVAK: No, what troubles me is what is going on here, because this article was a coolly crafted libel against Karl Rove. He is the most important person, most effective person in the White House. And this was an attempt to undermine him.

Now I don't know what Mark McKinnon is up to. He didn't burn all his bridges because he was caught giving political contributions to Texas Democrats. And he was the person who introduced this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) into the White House, giving him tremendous access. Something funny is going on there. I'm not terribly suspicious. Yes, I am. I am terribly suspicious.

BEGALA: I'm just curious, as an award winning journalist, and I have never held myself out as one, but you're an award...

NOVAK: Oh, award winning journalist?

BEGALA: No, you are. You're award winning. I was trying to suck up to you.

NOVAK: They don't give me awards.

BEGALA: I'm curious as to your view. This Ron Suskind, the man that wrote this, won a Pulitzer Prize. And now the White House has this whisper campaign attacking him. They won't say we didn't say those things, because they know they did, but they're attacking us. I think it's dirty. Don't you?

NOVAK: I don't know if you read the article. Did you read the article?

BEGALA: I read the article. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

NOVAK: The article is loopy and goofy.

BEGALA: It's -- the quotes from the White House guys are loopy and...

NOVAK: Oh, and it's just loopy and goofy. And what it is, it's not a question of he didn't say it. It's a question that something is going on against Karl Rove. And I think...

BEGALA: Why are these guys saying these things?

NOVAK: And I think people like you may be involved in it.

BEGALA: Involved? I didn't say these things. I've said a lot of dumb things to reporters in my life, but I never blamed the reporter. And that's the difference. That's called character. When you mess up, like Andy Card did, like Mark McKinnon did, you should take it like an adult.

NOVAK: Andy Card did mess up. I don't think he ever said he didn't say those things, but he shouldn't have said them.

BEGALA: I agree with that. We agree, ladies and gentlemen. That will never happen again, I promise.

And next in our fire back segment, a viewer's reasons why Bob Novak should be put in charge of the new Department of Homeland Security. Stay with us.

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BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It is our fireback segment, where you, the audience, gets to takes over the show. If you want to e-mail us, the address is crossfire@cnn.com. And let's see what you have to say tonight.

Laura Fernandez in New Haven, Connecticut writes, "Just after September 11, President Bush told us to go back to work, back to school, and back to New York, facing danger and fear because otherwise it would mean that the terrorists had won. But as the government moves toward eliminating privacy rights and embracing racial and religious profiling, we must ask ourselves, don't such affronts to the Constitution mean that the terrorists have won?" Laura, very good point.

NOVAK: They haven't eliminated any of my privacy rights.

BEGALA: Yet. NOVAK: Not at all.

BEGALA: Ashcroft coming after you next.

NOVAK: All right, this is from Erik Drury of San Diego, California. He says, "Bush needs a brain. Cheney needs a heart. Novak needs the courage to see the truth! We are not in Kansas anymore -- we are in the Crossfire and loving every minute of it." And Eric, let me tell you something. You're not Judy Garland.

BEGALA: This is from Katie Johnson in Tampa, Florida. She writes, "Do you think that Karen Hughes is going back to Austin to run the shadow government?" Well Katie, I don't know. Seemed to be running the government from here. She may as well do it from Austin. I hope she still stays involved in some way. She's a very able woman.

NOVAK: I think she's going to be involved in the campaign. That's going to be bad news for you. Our last e-mail is from Harry Tresslow of Shreveport, Louisiana. He said, "The set should be redesigned to include a visual truth meter that glows over the head of the co-anchor, green when they are telling the truth and red when they are not." It would always be green over my head, because I always tell the truth. How about you, Paul?

BEGALA: Oh, bright green, the whole time, kelly green in fact.

NOVAK: All right, there's a green lady there.

BEGALA: Yes, ma'am?

KATIE ANDERSON: Hi, I'm Katie Anderson. I'm from Defiance, Ohio. And I had a question for you, Mr. Begala. It seems before the elections when Bush was elected, you and all your Democrat friends were very critical of his supposed inability to execute the office of the president of the United States. And now that he has made a strong decision, you still seem to be very critical of him as well. And I was just curious if you're going to be satisfied ever?

BEGALA: That's a good point. Probably not. Until he's gone and we have a decent Democratic president here. That's a partisan point. But as an American, though, I think it's important that he's making this change. But I think it's obvious he's doing it just for political reasons. Democrats and Republicans asked him to do this nine months ago.

NOVAK: Just the opposite of LBJ. He's a Democrat first, and an American second.

BEGALA: No, I'm an American first. That's not fair. No, I'm not getting my patriotism impugned on the show, Bob. I'm an American, first, as you are.

NOVAK: All right. Sorry. Go ahead.

SHARIYA SEDAKER: Hello, I'm Shariya Sedaker (ph) from Chicago. My question is, considering Ronald Reagan and Sonny Bono were actors before their political career, what makes them different from current celebrities?

NOVAK: Well, they got elected, that's the difference. These guys couldn't get elected to anything. They don't want to. They're just celebrities, pure and simple. Next question?

BEGALA: The Republicans just don't like it because most of the creative community likes the Democrats. Although Bo Derek is Bush's appointee to the Kennedy board of trustees. I hope you feel better now.

NOVAK: Question, question, question.

BEGALA: Bo Derek.

BILL FORAKER: Hello. I'm Bill Foraker from Orlando, Florida. I'm a conservative and a strong supporter of President Bush, but I'm somewhat disappointed in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security as another step away from his conservative agenda.

NOVAK: I'm a little worried about it myself. I agree with you, Mr. Orlando.

BEGALA: Good points. Well, I like it. It's because it's more big government. I think big government does a good job. I think they do a good job with the highways, I think they do a good job with Social Security. And we just have a fundamental disagreement, but you're right.

NOVAK: I tell you what, Bob...

BEGALA: This is against Bush's philosophy of conservatives.

NOVAK: You know what bothers me? It's that schematic rule of this department, looks a lot like the Clinton health plan.

BEGALA: Which we'd all be a lot healthier if we didn't corporate healthcare and had Hillary care. From the left, I am Paul Begala. Good-night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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