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Congress Argues Over Who Takes Credit For Corporate Governance Bill; Bush Vacation Ignites Controversy

Aired July 25, 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: Congress is taking care of business.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a good piece of legislation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: But guess who's saying, I told you so?

They're getting ready for a cherished Washington tradition, the August escape. So, who is in charge until fall?

And we just had to say, thanks for the memories.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES TRAFICANT, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: And I'm going to try and kick their ass.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Tonight, a fond farewell to a memorable guest who is now a former member of Congress. Also, the great escape: what's wrong with President Bush getting away from Washington's heat and humidity?

But first, our daily downpour of information and hot air, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

President Bush is threatening to veto the Senate's version of a department of homeland security. He told a North Carolina audience the bill gives him too little flexibility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: I just want to make sure that Congress understands that when we do create this department, I've got to have the ability to manage the department in a way to make the homeland more secure. I readily can see that I didn't run office saying, vote for me, I promise to make government bigger. And so I'm not interested in something big. I'm interested in something that works.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Despite the veto threat, the Senate governmental affairs committee this afternoon voted 12-5 to report out its version of the bill anyhow. Maybe that's because the committee's chairman is none other than Democratic presidential wanna-be, good old Joe Lieberman.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: At least Lieberman is being consistent. He's been for this department when Bush was against it. Then Bush was for it. Now Bush is going to veto it. At least Joe knows what he's for.

NOVAK: He's consistent, consistently partisan, I would say that.

BEGALA: No, no. He's looking out for our interests.

Well, just hours ago, the United States Senate, by a 99-0 vote, passed a tough anti-corporate fraud bill. President Bush praised the legislation, although Bush had refused to endorse it only a few weeks ago. This new tough talk follows on the president's comments yesterday, praising the arrest of corporate officers accused of looting the Adelphia cable company.

And according to leaks in the press, the Justice Department is readying indictments of top officials at WorldCom. President Bush says this is proof his administration will pursue corporate wrongdoing with vigor, unless of course it was at Enron, or Bush's old oil company, or Dick Cheney's.

NOVAK: You know, I know you don't let the facts bother you, but there is an Enron task force, and there are going to be indictments and convictions.

BEGALA: There hasn't even been a speeding ticket yet though. I mean, they ought to be going after those guys harder.

NOVAK: Ask Arthur Andersen.

Here's a great example of your federal government at work. It has just been revealed by the Citizens Against Government Waste that buried in caves beneath Kansas City is a $1 billion stash of milk powder. Yes, it's the equivalent of 13 billion gallons of skim milk, enough to supply the whole USA for 16 months.

Why? Well, Depression-era legislation revived this boondoggle, pandering to the powerful dairy lobby. Now, you, the taxpayer are paying $20 million a year just to warehouse this milk powder that we'll never need. Good going, U.S. government. BEGALA: I think it's a great idea. I think also in Kansas city, we should have Arthur Bryant's (ph) Barbecue Reserve and I'll be willing to host American Strategic Beer Reserve. Maybe a few hundred million gallons...

NOVAK: As long as the government pays for it.

BEGALA: Excellent. Good idea.

Well, a Bush appointee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission by the name of Peter Kirsanow has caused a furor by saying that another terrorist attack might result in calls for detention of certain people based on their ethnicity. Perhaps, though, he was referring to right- wing white guys. After all, the terrorists who blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City were right-wing white guys, and the Olympic Park, abortion clinic and gay bar bomber is though to be a right-wing white guy.

And the anthrax attacks may be the work of right-wing white guys. So, maybe he's right. Why not send all of the right-wing white guys maybe to Utah where they could eat white bread and eat pork rinds and watch Fox News. Good idea. Why not?

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Let me see if I can get this straight, Paul. It's OK to be ethnic and biased and prejudiced as long as it's anti-white? Is that OK?

BEGALA: Yes, we can take on the white guys. Just the right-wing ones though.

NOVAK: As we first reported to you last night, Senator Tom Daschle represents the great state of South Dakota. And he's never been bashful about using his power as Senate majority leader to benefit that little state. Even fellow politicians, however, were stunned by his latest exploit.

Senator Daschle has added to a spending bill an unprecedented amendment exempting South Dakota and only South Dakota from environmental rules and lawsuits. Certain Republicans were first outraged, and then just like politicians, they said, me too. Thirty Republican members of Congress wrote the Senate majority leader asking that their states also be exempted from the environmental stormtroopers. I say, why not exempt all 50 states?

BEGALA: Tom Daschle is the greatest thing to happen to South Dakota and the United States. I think you are raising this because Bush is worried Daschle could beat him in the election.

NOVAK: What about the issue of the exemption, the little pork barrel politics.

BEGALA: I'm for pork. I'm pro-pork and I'm very, very pro- Daschle. He can do no wrong.

NOVAK: I know you are.

BEGALA: Well, Diogenes can put down his lantern. We may have found the one honest man in corporate America. Billionaire investor George Soros, who owned a one-third interest in Harken Energy company when Harken bought a failing oil company run by George W. Bush.

David Corn, the Washington editor of "The Nation," asked Soros why Harken would want to buy Bush's collapsing energy company. Soros replied, quote, "we were buying political influence. That was it. He was not much of a businessman." Bush denied political favoritism, claiming he received the same treatment as any other failed CEO whose dad happened to be vice president.

NOVAK: You know, of course, he never said that.

BEGALA: No, I made that Bush part of.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: It's hard to tell what you make up and what's real. But, you know, George Soros, just for the record, is a leftist. He is an extreme leftist, and he has no use for George W. Bush, opposed him for president. Just (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

BEGALA: He's a billionaire capitalist who Bush was willing to let him use to bail out his oil company.

NOVAK: He was anti-Bush all the way, and you know that.

BEGALA: Well, that thumping sound you hear up on Capitol Hill is members of Congress patting themselves on the back for passing that corporate reform bill we discussed a minute ago. The final vote in the House was a whopping 423-3. Well, that in turn stampeded the Senate to debating and passing the bill this afternoon 99-0.

And so the question is has Congress taken care of business? Well, in the CROSSFIRE tonight to debate that point, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, the honorable Michigan Democrat John Conyers; and with us, the equally honorable Republican congressman from Virginia Tom Davis, who is also the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. They're both on Capitol Hill. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.

NOVAK: John Conyers, now that the Republicans, out of either fear or panic or good sense or whatever you want to call it, have adopted the Democratic bill from the Senate, where is your issue? Your campaign issue is just gone, isn't it?

REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), MICHIGAN: Well, we didn't do it for campaign issue. We are trying to restore public confidence. And I'm happy that we had the kind of conference, Bob, that brought us both together in great numbers on this very important issue. This doesn't mean the job is done, but it's a darn good start.

NOVAK: So, Mr. Conyers, I commend your public spiritiveness (ph) and I have always considered you a public-spirited person. You would say that if you get a lot of flack from somebody sitting across from me on the table, it wasn't this a terrible retreat by the Republicans, just running in fear, you'd say that was mean-spirited, wouldn't you?

CONYERS: No. What I wanted to do, and I did, is commend the Republican leadership, including Tom Davis, for us coming together quickly, to put in many of the strong parts of the Senate version of the bill. And along with the House version, it gave us the toughest possible accounting bill that we could get.

BEGALA: Congressman Davis, let me bring you into this. First, thank you for joining us from Capitol Hill. I know how busy you are there, so thank you for your time.

The Democratic Party did, in fact, put out a statement this afternoon that said, "this agreement shows complete capitulation by House Republicans." If not complete capitulation, Congressman, it certainly is an election year conversion for a party that has always said it doesn't want more regulations on business. So, now you vote almost unanimously for strong, new regulations on business. Why?

REP. TOM DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: Well, first of all, I think the markets need it. It needs more transparency to restore confidence to the markets. You basically took the toughest parts of the House bill and the Senate bill and put them together. And I want to commend John, Senator Sarbanes and others who saw that we needed to put this above politics and restore some confidence in the markets.

But we're always hesitant to jump into it. But I think the situation demanded governmental action and decisive action, as did the arrests yesterday of the Adelphia executives.

BEGALA: Well, I always applaud Republicans for coming out for more corporate regulations, because I think that is the right thing to do. I salute you for that.

But now those regulations will be in large measure enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission, whose chairman, Harvey Pitt, helped lead the fight against other reforms when President Clinton called for them back in Congress, who called for a kinder, gentler SEC, sending a signal that they wouldn't be as tough on enforcement, who met several times with former clients in the accounting industry, causing a lot of embarrassment, and who even John McCain, a leading Republican and almost your presidential candidate, thinks should resign. Do you trust Harvey Pitt to enforce this tough new law that you just voted for?

DAVIS: You know, I do. And they put forward some other regulations that are going to require of corporations -- to executives to certify to the SEC their numbers by August 14, which should put a stop to all the numbers game up there and give us a time certain.

I think they've responded adequately to this, and I trust them to put new regulations. I'm sure if they don't that my friend John Conyers and others will be jumping all over them, but I think we're working together on this. NOVAK: You know, I consider myself a one-man (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with my good friend Paul Begala, because he makes so many distortions. Fact of the matter is that Harvey Pitt never, ever called for a kinder, gentler SEC.

I defy him to ever find...

(CROSSTALK)

Just a minute. If I could talk before you interrupt, I don't think there's -- you could ever find that quote. I'm sorry you don't read my column, because I show what he did say, and he didn't say that.

BEGALA: He said exactly that.

But what I would want to ask -- what I want to ask Mr. John Conyers is, Paul Sarbanes says we ought to give Harvey Pitt a chance. It would take too long to get a new SEC chairman. Do you agree with Paul Begala or Paul Sarbanes?

CONYERS: Well, I have unfortunately a call originally for Mr. Pitt's resignation. But on reflection, if it's going to be hard to replace him, the least he can do is recuse himself and appoint a special counsel. I think that we may...

NOVAK: Recuse himself...

CONYERS: Me may -- Tom and I may meet each other halfway on that. Why?

NOVAK: Recuse himself on what?

CONYERS: Recuse himself from the investigations that are going on that involve the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, the secretary of the army -- isn't that enough?

NOVAK: OK, we're going to -- we're going to talk a lot more about that a little bit later. But when we get back, we'll ask our guests if they really want to follow John Conyers down that grim path to look into the president and vice president's long-ago business dealings.

And later, is war any reason to put off a vacation that, after all, isn't really a vacation?

And our "Quote of the Day" doesn't come from a member of Congress, not a member anymore.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Still ahead, a special CROSSFIRE good-bye to one of our favorite guests. But right now, we're talking about Washington's newfound zeal, cracking down on corporate evildoers.

In the "Crossfire," Democratic congressman John Conyers of Michigan and Republican congressman Tom Davis of Virginia.

John Conyers, after all the agony that the country went through, all of the whining and bleeding by Democrats about the treatment of poor Bill Clinton, are you really saying you want a special prosecutor to look into the business proposition of a president long before he was president?

CONYERS: No, Bob, I am not calling for a special prosecutor. I am calling for a special counsel which can be appointed by any secretary or head of SEC, like Mr. Pitt. It's quite a difference.

NOVAK: What is the difference?

CONYERS: Well, the difference is that the special prosecutor operates independently from the Department of Justice, the special counsel is appointed by, for example, Director Pitt, and would work as a special deputy for him.

But it would relieve Mr. Pitt from the allegations of all the people he represented in the business world that would likely be coming up under review. It's a good way to get some of the partisanship out of the investigation.

BEGALA: Congressman Davis, let me suggest another way he could get the partisanship out of the investigation, at least so far as President Bush and his conduct at Harken Energy is concerned. He was as a director, supportive of what turned out to be a very controversial deal to spin off a subsidiary to insiders in the company in a way that hid the true losses of the company and the Securities and Exchange Commission later said that that was not appropriate.

But Bush won't release the Securities and Exchange Commission records. I think it's because Securities and Exchange Commission never interviewed Bush, never interviewed the CEO, never interviewed any officers or any directors of that firm. But why doesn't Bush just release them? What's the harm of calling on the SEC to release all the records of when Bush was investigated for insider trading?

DAVIS: You know, Paul, this was a long time ago. You had people at the SEC who were career investigators look at this. They found no wrongdoing at the time. Some of these documents have been -- the American people want to look ahead. They want a president that's going to solve their problems, not go digging into the past. We've had a lot of that over the previous years. It's really time...

BEGALA: And you supported it, sir!

DAVIS: No evidence of wrongdoing...

BEGALA: With respect, Congressman, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but with resect, as I said to you, the Securities and Exchange Commission never interviewed Bush, never interviewed the CEO, never interviewed any officers or directors. That's why Mr. Conyers thinks we need a special counsel, don't you?

DAVIS: No, they had career investigators look at this. I don't know what they did and what they didn't do, and neither do you...

BEGALA: Yes, I do, I know they never interviewed any of those people, because they admitted that to the "Dallas Morning News," sir. It's been in the newspapers.

DAVIS: But we don't know who they interviewed at this point, and there may not have been a need to interview him given the evidence that came forward at the time and the third parties they interviewed.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: The career -- the career person who was there was not a Republican, Mr. McClukus (ph) said that it was a perfectly good investigation and there was no need...

BEGALA: Maybe so. So release the records.

NOVAK: But Mr. Conyers, I want to quote something that you said. John Conyersm Jr., Democrat of Michigan. And I think this is a very interesting quote. We're going to put it up on the screen. You said -- Mr. Conyers said, quote: "I'm personally outraged that we would decapitate the commander in chief at a time when we are at war abroad. Republicans sacrificed the national security by doing so. To be spending time of this House to smear our commander in chief when brave men and women are risking their lives for their country shocks the conscience."

You said that on December 19, 1998, about Bill Clinton. Isn't that a little embarrassing now that you're going out for some kind of witch-hunt against George W. Bush?

CONYERS: Well, no, it's perfectly consistent, Bob. You see, what I'm trying to do is take it away from the partisanship and have a special council appointed by Mr. Pitt himself. Don't you see, that's not partisanship. That's ending partisanship.

NOVAK: Well, see I thought the...

CONYERS: Don't you think that helps?

NOVAK: I though the independent counsel they named against President Clinton was supposed to be outside the partisanship, outside of the Janet Reno partisanship and something that was independent. Wasn't that the idea?

CONYERS: Well, yes, sir, that was. But the way that happens is the attorney general goes to the court. The court appoints a three- judge court, appoints the special prosecutor, which happened, as it turned out, to be Kenneth Starr.

But what we do in this situation is much less dramatic. The director, Harvey Pitt, merely appoints a prominent attorney investigator to do these investigations for him so that we can't accuse anybody of partisanship. That, I think, is just the opposite of what you may be implying.

BEGALA: Mr. Conyers, I want to thank...

CONYERS: I'm a real nice guy that wants bipartisanship.

BEGALA: That you are. Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, a Democrat, thank you very much for joining us. And in the spirit of bipartisanship, Tom Davis, a Republican of Virginia, both distinguished leaders on Capitol Hill, thank you both for joining us.

In a matter of days, the top members of all three branches of our government will be on vacation. Coming up, is anybody going to miss them?

Up next, a "Quote of the Day" from someone we're all going to miss a lot. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Last night, the House of Representatives voted 422-1 to expel Ohio Democratic Congressman James Traficant, with a single vote against ticking out against him came from, guess who, California's Gary Condit, who, true to form, made no comment to reporters. That clears away the only possible competition for our "Quote of the Day." Who else could it possibly be?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRAFICANT: Am I different? Yes. Would I change my pants? No. Deep down, you know you want to wear wider bottoms, you're just not secure enough to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: You got to love the guy.

NOVAK: How can you kick a guy like that out when there are so many boring stoops in the House of Representatives.

BEGALA: He is very, very entertaining, but he is a convicted felon. And I think that's setting the bar a little bit low to say you can be a convicted felon and still serve in the House.

NOVAK: But all of the other convicted felons over the years they let stay in.

BEGALA: No. Ozzie Meyers, you remember him...

NOVAK: One. One. One, since the Civil War.

BEGALA: ... from ABSCAM back in the early '80s.

NOVAK: The reason they kicked him out, he's an embarrassment, because he says a lot of things they don't want to hear against big government, against the kind of things you like.

BEGALA: He's says things that I love to hear because he is so darn entertaining. Anyway, but coming up later, actually, a special segment you won't want to miss. If you find Traficant as entertaining as I do, we will bring you some of his most memorable appearances on this stage on CROSSFIRE.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRAFICANT: From one American to believe that we have got to take our government back. I'm not making a political statement here, waving the flag. I don't believe that Congress anymore makes any difference. They're background music in a doctor's office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: But next in the CROSSFIRE, you know, they say hard work never killed anyone. But W. is not taking any chances. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(INTERRUPTED FOR NEWS ALERT)

BEGALA: Connie, thanks. Before we let you go, what's on tap tonight on your show?

CONNIE CHUNG, HOST, "CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT": We're going to talk about fast food. There's a man who has filed a lawsuit against four fast food companies because he believes they are contributing to his growing waistline and his health. So you two, of course, never touch the stuff, right?

BEGALA: Never.

NOVAK: I gorge on it, Connie.

CHUNG: I know, I know. I love it. I always eat fast food. It's the best.

NOVAK: We'll be watching at the top of the hour. Connie Chung, ladies and gentlemen.

BEGALA: Thanks, Connie.

BEGALA: Oh, you can do better than that.

Ever since the nation's capital city began rising out of the Potomac River swamps right here in Foggy Bottom, generations of politicians have had only one thought when August rolls around -- leaving town.

This year the question is who is the most eager to get away? Members of the do-nothing nationally partisan Congress, or a president who has been fighting a non-stop war against non-stop political sniping? Next in the crossfire, Democratic consultant Steve McMahon and Republican consultant Ed Rogers.

(APPLAUSE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you. Thank you for coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to be here.

BEGALA: Ed Rogers, first let me go on record as being in favor of presidential vacations.

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Wow. I have a hard time being against it.

BEGALA: I worked for President Clinton, and there was a point at which he was ready to cancel his summer vacation. I went to him and said, sir, you need this vacation, and if you don't take it, people are going to think you are weird. And he said, Paulie, I am weird. I love this job. I don't want to quit doing it...

ROGERS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ...that was not an issue.

BEGALA: But the question with Bush is he does always seem to want to be on vacation. Is he lazy or just doesn't like the job?

ROGERS: Gee, what a journalistic question that was.

BEGALA: Well, which is it?

ROGERS: To even call it a vacation is a misnomer. As you know, as somebody who is accompanied presidents on these August outings, the institution of the presidency does in fact follow the president. The very fact a president has people like you and me accompany him makes it less of a vacation.

The daily briefings don't start, the plannings for when Congress returns don't start. Of course the crises and whatever world events that present themselves don't stop, so a president doesn't take a vacation in the traditional sense.

BEGALA: That is a very good point. You're right on every one of those points.

ROGERS: Wow.

BEGALA: Probably for the last time tonight, Ed. But Bush has a problem that President Bush Sr. didn't have, that President Clinton didn't have, and that is a lot of people don't think he's really running the show. And let me show you the poll from the "New York Times."

It's just not by partisan bent. The "New York Times" asked people who is in charge at the White House? It seems to be in evidence like who is buried in Grant's tomb? But no! Only 45 percent of our countrymen and women think Bush is in charge, and 45 think that other running things. Ten percent, I guess, were laughing so hard they couldn't answer.

(CROSSTALK)

But that is a special political problem for this president, is it not?

ROGERS: Well, the pedigree of a "New York Times" poll is suspect to any Republican, first of all.

BEGALA: But it showed him with very high approval ratings.

ROGERS: But also, I was going to say, by any standard, the president's job approval is very, very good. So to slice it and dice it and come up with some component that suggests that people aren't happy with him is ludicrous.

NOVAK: Steve McMahon, let me go on the question of job approval. Of course I have heard this about Republican presidents. I've been here 45 years. They said Eisenhower wasn't in charge. They said -- they never said Nixon wasn't in charge. They said Ford wasn't in charge, they said the senior, they said Reagan wasn't in charge. That's just a Democratic propaganda.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: Who is they? People who responded in this poll?

NOVAK: No, you. People like you.

MCMAHON: But we're just reporting the poll, aren't we, Paul?

We're talking about -- I'm sorry.

NOVAK: Well, let me give you the "New York Times"-CBS poll. Bush job approval rating, this is July 22nd, 23rd, after all of the battering he's been getting from the media, stock market falling. Approve, take a look at that. Approve, 65 percent approve. Disapprove, 27 percent.

ROGERS: There you go.

MCMAHON: That's pretty good.

(APPLAUSE)

I think -- I think if he can hold those numbers it will be remarkable. What's happening to President Bush is the internals are collapsing. If you ask people, do you think he's doing a good job on the economy, the answer is increasingly no. Do you think he's doing a good job on corporate accountability? The answer increasingly is no.

And what happens is your internals collapse first, your favorables collapse last. This is actually good timing for the Democrats, because as these issues engage, and they almost all favor Democratic candidates, the fall elections are going to come. And yes, maybe President Bush will be back from his vacation by then, but, you know, it's...

NOVAK: Let me go back to that. You know, Bill Clinton used to go mooch on the liberal rich people in Martha's Vineyard. That was a real vacation. He'd be out at different fancy places with a big old dinner every night, places that wouldn't invite people like Ed Rogers and me.

I mean, do you begrudge George W. Bush changing his venue from the beautiful mansion on Pennsylvania avenue, just, and that is a beautiful place down the street, or Camp David, which is a government place, and going to a dusty old ranch, near Waco, Texas, where my wife grew up and got out of as fast as she could? Do you begrudge him that?

MCMAHON: You mentioned President Clinton going and mooching off of his wealthy friends. That was probably because he didn't have the opportunity to huge, huge blocks of stock and make hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a great big ranch down in Texas.

(CROSSTALK)

He didn't have a place like that because he couldn't afford it.

ROGERS: Hillary did that with commodity trades. That was Hillary's job.

MCMAHON: She only made 100.

ROGERS: We don't know.

MCMAHON: I think this administration has made more money in the stock market -- if Hillary Clinton were half as successful as -- I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: This is not a free association thing. I want you to answer the question. Do you begrudge him doing his regular work? He's going to be -- only 18 working days he's going to be on the road. Eight of those days, there's going to be three days where there's events. do you begrudge -- that adds up to, by my calculation, about seven days of vacation.

MCMAHON: He was just on vacation three weeks ago up in Maine riding around in a boat. Now I didn't see any of Ed's people back there advising him on policy.

NOVAK: You begrudge him that.

MCMAHON: No, no, no. I think it's great, but you know this president has people wondering whether he's fully engaged. There's a prescription drug benefit that's languishing on the hill.

NOVAK: That's for Tom Daschle...

MCMAHON: There's a corporate accountability -- there's a corporate...

ROGERS: The House -- the Republican House passed a bill.

MCMAHON: I understand the Republican House has passed a bill. BEGALA: Let me ask Ed about this question about the economy, though, because as Steve pointed out, the president's sense that he's doing a good job on the economy has been eroding steadily in the poll.

I want to bring you back to the presidential debate, and Jim Lehrer asked a question of Governor Bush then that was prescient. Lehrer's question was this: "The stock market could take a tumble. There could be a failure of a major financial institution. What is your general attitude toward government intervention in such events?"

Here is Governor Bush's answer from that debate. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, GOVERNOR OF TEXAS: Well, it depends, obviously. But what I would do first and foremost is I would get in touch with the Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to find out all of the facts and all of the circumstances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Well, just as Lehrer predicted, the market has taken a tumble, financial institutions have collapsed, and so we called the White House press office today and said when was the last time the president met with Alan Greenspan? They said, January.

So we called back and said, well, that can't be. And they said, well, he saw him in May at a tribute to Arthur Feldstein (ph), the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan. I don't consider that a business meeting. But even if they...

NOVAK: Could you possibly mean Martin Feldstein (ph)?

BEGALA: Martin Feldstein (ph), excuse me. So, I got his name wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Well, you know, it might have been Arthur, the guy who runs a delicatessen in....

BEGALA: Marty, my old pal, Marty Feldstein. So, even if they did talk about the market on May 9, which I strongly doubt, we've lost 1851 points since then, why isn't he doing what he said he'd do and help Alan Greenspan run the economy?

ROGERS: Well, I think what the president is doing is not going half-cocked into the marketplace. By any standard, the economic vitality of the country is in good shape, when you look at productivity, when you look at inflation, when you look at interest rates. The macroeconomy is in good shape.

Hey, there's a lot of bad things happening in the stock market that may or may not have to do with macroeconomics. It may or may not have to do with some of the scandals that have been -- that were hatched during the Clinton era, not during the Bush era. BEGALA: So, it's Clinton's fault.

ROGERS: No, no, and it's not Clinton fault...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: So, even though he said he would meet with Greenspan, why didn't he do what he said?

ROGERS: Because there's no purpose in having a meeting. There hasn't been a macroeconomic shock to the system. The economy, the overall macroeconomy is not in bad shape.

BEGALA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) since Bush took office.

ROGERS: The stock market doesn't equal the overall economy. The stock market doesn't equal the economy.

NOVAK: Steve McMahon, with all due respect, you are not an economist. You are not a central banker. I don't think you know as much about the economy as even Ed Rogers does, but you are a politician.

ROGERS: He aspires to be.

And let's be really honest, and what it is is the Democrats were not in very good shape up until two or three weeks ago. And you saw the fall of these corporate entities, people getting laid off, corporate corruption. You say, oh, hallelujah, thank the Lord, we got some issue against George W. Bush. Isn't that the truth?

MCMAHON: No, no, no. We had many issues against George W. Bush. When you go out there and you talk to real voters, what they ask is what happened to the surplus? What are we doing to provide health security for people?

NOVAK: Voters ask you what happened to the surplus?

MCMAHON: What are we doing to provide economic security for people? What are we doing to replenish these 401(k)s? I mean, it was great that the president and vice president were able to get out with all of their money. I'm delighted they were able to do that. But let me tell you something, the American people didn't. And they are angry about it and they want someone held accountable. And they're going to hold accountable, frankly, probably not just not Republicans and not just the president and vice president who -- did I mentioned they cashed out early -- but perhaps to some degree incumbents.

BEGALA: That will have to be the last word. Steve McMahon, ace Democratic strategist, Ed Rogers, ace Republican strategist. Thank you all both for a terrific job and a good debate.

Coming up, your chance to "Fireback" at us, and one of our viewers has a suggestion for how either party could win his vote.

But first, the man who won Gary Condit's vote and our eternal gratitude, even if he is a convicted felon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRAFICANT: This was an unusual case, most unusual, and it's not over. And they do have the testicles of an ant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We are coming to you live from the George Washington University in Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.

You know, throughout CROSSFIRE's 20 years, one of our most frequent and most colorful guests has been Ohio Congressman James Traficant.

NOVAK: He is no longer in Congress. And after his sentencing next week, he may no longer be free. So here is our good-bye to a colorful guy who graced our set many times over the years.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEGALA: Senator James Traficant joins us now from Youngstown, Ohio. Congressman, good to be with you.

TRAFICANT: How are you doing, George Washington? I've spoken over there. Tucker, good to see you. Tucker, I hope there's no Freudian slips, you know. I've had enough of that. So, behave yourself.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: I bet you have.

TRAFICANT: That's another misrepresentation.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let him finish now, Congressman, all right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to cost the Pentagon $650 million when we've already cut defense...

TRAFICANT: That's crap.

Let me say this right here on CROSSFIRE. There's three things I may do. No. 1, go to the Democratic caucus and move to vacate their leadership and take them over by force myself. Now, second of all, Bob, if that doesn't work, I'll convene my own little caucus in a phone booth. Now, if that's not effective, I'll beg for some assignment from the Republicans. But I'm not going to let this stop me from voting for what I think is best for America. And I think we're too tied up with this party label. I didn't betray anybody.

BEGALA: Are you going to fight expulsion from the House? And if so, how? TRAFICANT: Well, No. 1, there is a process that goes into this, Tucker or Paul or whoever the hell I'm speaking to here.

BEGALA: This is Paul.

TRAFICANT: Paul. But I know you are a big Clinton man, and I know that the DNC covered up an awful lot of that money that came from China. And I predict...

BEGALA: I'm just curious if you are going to fight expulsion and, if so, how?

TRAFICANT: I predict that they will eventually attack America. Believe me when I tell you that.

BEGALA: Are you going to fight expulsion from the House, Congressman?

TRAFICANT: Yes, I'm going to fight it and I have an opportunity to bring a defense. I think that the House members are very concerned, and I don't blame them. There's a lot of great members of Congress. But the truth of the matter is, Congress has become an advisory board. The people who run America are the treasury department, the IRS, the FBI and everybody is afraid to death of them. And I think an America that fears their government is not a good America for the future. And i think it's time to pass a flat 15- percent national sales tax, abolish the 16th Amendment, throw the IRS the hell out. It'll bring down costs, bring jobs back to America. Why should we born into...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I want to come back to the question of your expulsion.

TRAFICANT: I know that's what you want to do. But I'm the guest, you understand?

CARLSON: And, Congressman, I hope you'll promise right here and now to appear first on CROSSFIRE. We'll welcome you as the congressman from prison.

TRAFICANT: Well, No. 1, I'm not going to appear on CROSSFIRE again because you promised me 30 minutes. You lied to me just like a lot of these witnesses did. And, Tucker, you're all right with me. But, Paul...

CARLSON: We're part of the conspiracy too, Congressman. We sure appreciate having you on tonight.

TRAFICANT: ... you let that Chinese money in and endanger Americans.

NOVAK: I didn't call you any names. That wasn't...

TRAFICANT: You called me congressman, didn't you?

NOVAK: Oh, congressman...

TRAFICANT: That's not like you, Novak.

BEGALA: He started his career as a sheriff. He may well end it as an inmate. Representative James Traficant is our guest tonight in Youngstown, Ohio...

TRAFICANT: I don't like that comment. I don't like that comment at all.

BEGALA: Congressman, well, you have the perfect opportunity to respond to it. You've been convicted of 10 felonies. That's generally what we do with felons is we make them inmates, Congressman.

TRAFICANT: Yes, I know, but I'm not a felon yet until I'm sentenced. There's still an appeals process. And, quite frankly, everybody's jealous of me because I'm a fashion leader.

CARLSON: Let me ask you a question, your critics, you made reference to the 1983 case against you, the federal case against you, you were a sheriff in Youngstown, Ohio at the time. And one of your deputies testified at that time that you tried to get him to shoot you and make it look like a mob hit. Now, A, is that true; and, B is that an example of pre-trial theatrics of the kind your critics accuse you of engaging in now?

TRAFICANT: Well, if that were true -- let me ask you, if that were true, why didn't the government just go ahead and subpoena those people and bring them forward and use it? I don't want to get into the back old (ph) trial. They got beat. They got their ass kicked.

They are very upset about it. They have a score to settle. And I'm going to face them again.

And I'm just going to work with the speaker and work with both Democrat and Republican leaders. If the Democrats have a good idea, Bill, I'm going to support it. And if they don't, I'm going to tell them it sucks. That's the way it is.

NOVAK: All right. I'll have to beam myself up over that. Thank you very much.

TRAFICANT: Beam me up.

I am not liked by the IRS. I am not liked by the FBI. I am not liked by the Treasury. I am not liked by the courts, and you know what? Quite frankly -- I don't give a damn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So are you going to run again?

CARLSON: Well, that's a lot of enemies, and it raises the question, Mr. Traficant, and be honest here, what do you think the odds are...

TRAFICANT: What do you mean, be honest? I talk to you, and if you are going to talk to me, you're gonna be honest. What the hell are you saying be honest for?

CARLSON: I want you to be candid in response to the following question.

TRAFICANT: I've been candid enough, quite frankly.

CARLSON: What do you think the odd are that you'll wind up in an orange jumpsuit behind bars? You think you're going to go to jail?

TRAFICANT: Well, most of the TV and analysts say I have about a one in 20 million shot.

CARLSON: What do you think?

TRAFICANT: I'll tell you what I think. I think my shot is better than that, and all I know is this. I'm going to get in their face. I don't like them. I don't like what they've done to our country. I don't like how they scare people. I don't like how they intimidate people.

Judges appointed to lifetime terms, scared to death of these people. These bureaucrats run America. And Congress better take America back for the American people. So I'm just a son of a truck driver and I'm going to try to kick their ass. That's candid as I can be.

CARLSON: Well, that is very candid.

TRAFICANT: That's candid.

CARLSON: And we wish you all the luck in your trial tomorrow, Congressman. Good luck. I hope you return to CROSSFIRE to tell us how it turns out.

TRAFICANT: Well, 10, 11 minutes isn't enough for me to return again. If you want me back, you better have me on for a half hour.

CARLSON: Call me at home, we'll talk about it. Thanks, Congressman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: ...congressman live from prison, any time he wants to come on CROSSFIRE, there's a home for you here, Jim.

NOVAK: I'll tell you what. He knows more about taxes and what's wrong with the tax system than you and all your leaders do.

BEGALA: Well, he'll be living off the taxpayers as he makes license plates the next few years. But we miss him.

NOVAK: Coming up, our viewers "Fireback" at former congressman Traficant and at us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) NOVAK: Time for "Fireback," when the viewers fire back at us. Our first e-mail tonight from Randy of Shaytown, Pennsylvania. He says, "Hey, Bob, you say that poor people don't need tax cuts because we would spend it on cigarettes and beer. Well, Bob, it's time to call Mr. Bush for another tax cut, because I just ran out of cigarettes and beer."

Well, let me tell you something. I never said you don't need tax cuts. I said you spent your tax cuts on cigarettes and beer while the rich people invest it, and that's why they're rich and you're poor.

BEGALA: No, the rich people spend it on caviar and champagne. I'd just assume -- not the cigarettes but I've the beer. Good for you.

Jose Penabella (ph) wrote about our debate last night about medical marijuana, "Let me be first to say, although I am not quite ready for Medicare, I am ready to change my political affiliation to the first party that adds medical marijuana as a prescription medication to Medicare. Talk about getting the youth of America to vote."

Oh, great. And he's from Miami, Jose. Hey, dudes, let's go vote Bush. I think that's how bush carried Florida, actually.

NOVAK: I think he wants to join the grass party.

All right. Philip Rauso (ph) of Gold Canyon, Arizona talks about our friend Traficant. "He remains the one person who stood up to the IRS and called them what they really are: thieves that reach into the American citizens' private life to destroy all we've worked for. Traficant has my vote no matter what jail they put him in."

Way to go, Philip.

BEGALA: Tony Daughtrey of Knoxville, Tennessee writes about the controversy surrounding Bush's vacation. "Bush announces he's taking a month-long vacation and the stock market rallies. Ari Fleischer announces Bush will keep an aggressive work schedule during that vacation and the markets tumble." Tony, you may be on to something. Let's keep him away from here.

NOVAK: First question from the audience.

PETER KINGSTON: My name is Peter Kingston (ph). I'm the captain of Princeton's chess team. Will extra regulations truly alter corporate behavior or will there simply be a few more unenforced laws for corporations to defy?

BEGALA: That's a great question. I think if we have the right leadership at the Securities and Exchange Commission, they'll enforce those new laws, which is why John McCain, a Republican, is right that Harvey Pitt has to go. Good question, and good luck in the chess tournament this year in the Ivy League.

NOVAK: It's all politics, Mr. Captain. Go ahead, next.

DAVE: I'm Dave from Kensington, Maryland. And I'm wondering what kind of sentences can we expect under the new Bush economic order for those CEOs and accountants that ran off with the 401(k) plans?

NOVAK: Well, I hope that don't we have a criminalization of accounting errors, because that isn't the way we want it. This is not the Soviet Union.

BEGALA: Well, Bush, who ripped off his shareholders, is in a federal institution surrounded by men with guns, but it's the White House, so I don't know how serious they are.

NOVAK: That's not even funny. Go ahead.

BEGALA: Sure it is.

PETER: My name is Peter (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I'm from Freeport, Illinois, and my question is are Democrats just very desperate for an election year issue or do they truly expect us to believe that the Republicans are the only party with ties to corporate donations?

NOVAK: You know how cynical and absolutely hypocritical that is that they are both into big money, and they should be, because much is at stake with the size of the government.

BEGALA: The November elections should be about who is tough enough to take on corporate criminals.

From the left, I'm Paul Begala. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

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

"CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT" begins immediately after a CNN "NEWS ALERT."

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