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CNN CROSSFIRE

Michael Moore Calls Upon Citizens to Overthrow Capitalism; Does Congress Treat its Own with Kid Gloves?; Is the U.S. Ready for Nuclear Attack?

Aired August 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, the questions keep coming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Editorial writers all over America poised to put pen to paper...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: And the scandals keep breaking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Raising the standards in corporate America, we're going to protect the jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Could they have been any lower? Tonight we're talking Greed Incorporated with Michael Moore, author of "Stupid White Men."

Traficant tossed out, Torricelli severely admonished. What about the rest of them? Is Congress still ethically challenged, and would they rather keep it that way?

It's everyone's worst nightmare, but if terrorists strike again, has the government done enough to make sure you're ready?

Ahead on CROSSFIRE.

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

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Tonight, which is scarier, a blue or orange terrorism alert, or what the government is not telling us about how to prepare for a terrorist attack?

Also, best-selling author and political gadfly Michael Moore. But first, as always, the political news with a little commentary, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

President Bush was in Mississippi today near the hometown of bankrupt WorldCom. He met with the laid off WorldCom employee and told Mississippians he would keep going after corporate abusers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The task force I put together is beginning to make progress. They're investigating, arresting and will soon be prosecuting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: But the president also took off after the trial lawyers, the benefactors of Democratic candidates, saying the lawyers are driving doctors out of their profession in Mississippi and elsewhere. It's about time shady shysters were put in the same category as corporate crooks.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: I'll tell you what. Lawyers have gotten Bush out of so much trouble. He skated so close to that legal line so much of his life. He ought to love lawyers. He ought not be banging on lawyers. He is the guy that needs them.

Speaking of a guy who needs a lawyer, our vice president Dick Cheney today told the Commonwealth Club in California that corporate wrongdoing is wrong. That's what he said. Apparently Cheney didn't realize that when he was praising Arthur Andersen when he was the CEO of Halliburton.

Andersen was allegedly cooking Halliburton's books. Back then he said, Andersen gives me advice over and above just sort of by the books auditing arrangement. Cheney also stressed that Saddam Hussein is evil. This, too, appears to be a revelation to Cheney, whose company was doing business with Iraq through subsidiaries just a few years ago.

Well, at least the good news is the vice president has surfaced again, and we know what that means. Cheney saw his shadow today, six more months of recession.

NOVAK: You know, you may not understand this but, Paul, but on Lou Dobb's program, Alan Dodds Frank, an excellent reporter, said that the accounting practices of Halliburton are just the normal accounting practices. There's nothing illegal about them. There's nothing fraudulent about them.

BEGALA: Even Cheney said he didn't -- he liked them because they didn't go by the books. That's what he said.

NOVAK: Robbins, a North Carolina town of 1,200 souls, is the hometown of a U.S. senator, Democrat John Edwards. That's no empty honor. Robbins is one of 20 North Carolina communities that appeal to the federal government for help in upgrading decrepit water and sewer systems. Robbins and only Robbins got the money, $500,000. Now Cohen, a Democratic mayor whose town of Morganton is eight times as large as Robbins, didn't get a cent. He describes Senator Edward's use of influence as, "gaudy." Presidential hopeful Edwards denied using any influence as he practiced the techniques of his mentor, Bill Clinton.

BEGALA: God bless John Edwards. If a man doesn't help his own hometown, what the heck good is he? I like a guy that helps his own hometown.

Well, while Dick Cheney was in San Francisco today, I wonder why he was avoiding the California gubernatorial nominee from the Republican Bill Simon.

Perhaps because Cheney has enough corporate scandals of his own to worry about. Simon, according to court records described today in the "Los Angeles Times," quote, "participated in every stage of the partnership," unquote, that was the subject of a $78 million judgment against Simon's investment firm.

If Cheney is avoiding everybody caught up in a corporate scandal, how he is going to have his weekly lunches with the president? Or even shave, for that matter?

NOVAK: You know what I call the very unpopular Democratic governor of California, Gray Davis?

BEGALA: What's that?

NOVAK: I call him lucky.

BEGALA: That's a good point.

NOVAK: Multi-millionaire stock market analyst Jack Grubman once was the toast of Wall Street but became a symbol of sleaze, continuing to recommend WorldCom stock long after investors sold down its price.

Democratic propagandists depict Grubman as part of the unholy alliance of corporate corrupters with Republicans.

Not exactly. CNN confirms that Grubman donated $100,000 to the Democratic senatorial campaign committee the same day, the very same day he was subpoenaed by congressional investigators about the WorldCom scandal. Grubman's lawyer says his client made out the check to the Democrats before he knew he would be testifying to Congress. I doubt even Paul Begala could believe that one.

BEGALA: I'd like Grubman to make out a check to me. I was one of those many investors who lost his hindquarters in WorldCom, so I'm no fan of Grubman's.

But I am a fan of Lajitas, Texas. It is my kind of town. It's a small town on the Rio Grande River in the Big Bend part of Texas, and folk there are friendly, they're fun-loving, they are great. But tragedy struck. The mayor of Lajitas, Clay Henry, was the subject of a sudden unprovoked knife attack that left him castrated. The mayor, you see, is a goat and a beer-drinking goat at that.

In that part of Texas everybody drinks beer all the time. Well, police have arrested a tourist in the case by the name Jim Bob Hargrove (ph), in whose refrigerator a key piece of anatomical evidence was found. The trial is set to start soon. It will be the talk of the town, I'm sure. No word yet as to whether Ken Starr will be defending Jim Bob.

NOVAK: Since my wife of nearly 40 years is a Texan, I will refrain making comments on that very unusual statement.

BEGALA: Thank you. And it was a very unusual story.

Well, today's corporate rap sheet so far, for those of you keeping score, looks like this. Ex-ImClone CEO Sam Waksal was indicted today for insider trading, obstruction of justice, perjury, and bank fraud. A federal bankruptcy court has approved former attorney general Dick Thornberg as the examiner in the WorldCom bankruptcy case.

Meanwhile, the "Wall Street Journal" says Tyco International let former chief executive officer Dennis Kozlowski spend more than $135 million of company money on himself, and they never told investors about it.

What better way to introduce our first guest? His name is Michael Moore. He is the author of "Stupid White Men, and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Union." He joins us from Lansing, Michigan. Mr. Moore, thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Mr. Moore, thank you for coming in. This book was written before any of the things that Paul mentioned were known, and I want to read from page 50 of the book.

Quote, "There is no recession, my friends. No downturn, no hard times. The rich are wallowing in the loot they've accumulated in the past two decades, and now they want to make sure you don't come a' lookin' for your piece of the pie."

Mr. Moore, quite frankly, you just don't like the capitalist system, do you, where there is losers and winners, where some people do better than other people.

MICHAEL MOORE, AUTHOR, "STUPID WHITE MEN": Listen, the only people who are not supportive of the American way, the only people who are not patriotic are the seven insurance companies that have set up their world headquarters in Bermuda to avoid paying any taxes here. They're people like the man who sits in the White House who took insider information when he was on the board of directors of Harken and used that to sell his shares of stock so he would not lose his money.

You go down the whole list. You know, it is these people who have destroyed the American dream for millions of people, and I got to say, Bob, you know, there are so many average Americans who have got hoodwinked into this system of Wall Street and the stock market in the 1990s, thinking that they were going to have their slice of the pie, and all that happened was their money was taken from them, and now they've lost their money.

The rich, you know, they've made sure that they're protected in this. And to me there's just a big, you know, shell game going on here, and there's a big distraction going on, where a few people are being led off in handcuffs, and Bush can stand there today and talk about we're going to arrest them, we're going to prosecute them, but what really is the problem here? The problem here is that we have, Bob, a system, a system that is sick at its core.

NOVAK: Yes, Mr. Moore, you're getting to the answer, but I'm going to push you a little closer to the answer. I have heard you many times, mildly enjoyed you, mostly not enjoyed you. But I have heard you over the years, and let's really be honest.

You don't like the capitalist system. You don't like the system where there are people who do better than other people. Sometimes there's a little bit of fraud -- but is -- just a minute -- but it is the greatest, most profitable country that anybody has seen. All Americans live better than they do anywhere in the world, and you don't like it because there are people who succeed more than others. Isn't that the fact?

MOORE: That is correct, Bob. I agree with Pope John Paul II when he said that capitalism is a sin. This is an evil system, Bob. We believe in democracy, most of us Americans. We have democracy in our political system, but we don't have democracy in the economy. The average American does not have an equal say in what goes on with the money and how it operates in our system.

And until we have a true democracy with our economic system, we're going to have a system where the top 10 percent are going to make off like bandits and everybody else is going to be scrambling for the crumbs, and that's the system we have. And it's an unfair system. It's unjust and it's immoral.

BEGALA: Michael, one of the guys in the top 10 percent -- top one percent -- is our vice president I mentioned earlier in the program. He spoke at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco today. During his remarks a man in the audience stood up and started shouting, "Corporate crook, corporate crook!" And he was led away for disrupting the meeting, but I'm curious, out in Flint, Michigan where you live, are people angry like that guy or is he an aberration?

MOORE: No, he's not an aberration. Look, first of all this book of mine would not be on the best seller list for six months now if it wasn't for the fact that there are literally millions of Americans who are fed up with this whole system. And that person who is screaming there in San Francisco, he's a representative of the majority of this country.

And I got to tell you, he may look like some weirdo out there in San Francisco screaming at Cheney. Come November you're going to see people, I think, revolt at the polls, and not because they love the Democrats, because it's going to be their only way to say, they've had it with two years of Bush under his watch. This is what's going on in this country, and they're not going to be fooled by just a few people led in -- being led off in handcuffs.

NOVAK: Well, you have been saying, Mr. Moore, for a long time about how unhappy the American people are. But I want to give you a different witness, and this witness again was our vice president, Mr. Cheney, who I think is one of the finest public servants I have met in 45 years of covering Washington, and I would like you to listen what he said at the Commonwealth Club today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: In the past 18 months, the U.S. has gone through a serious economic slowdown, a national emergency, a war abroad, and a series of scandals in corporate America here at home. Yet there is no doubt our nation's strength. This is a tribute above all to the American worker and entrepreneur.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Isn't it true that the American people really feel pretty good about this and there is a great -- contrary to all this socialistic blather you put out -- isn't it true that there is a great deal of support for the American worker and the American entrepreneur?

MOORE: Let me get this straight one more time, Bob. I support the American way, which is democracy, and these people like Cheney and the people that you there -- you sit there every night supporting them -- those people are the people who attack the average American by ripping them off so that the average person watching this show tonight, they don't know if their pension is going to be there in 10 years. They don't know if their money that they've socked into that 401(k) is going to be there.

These people have been ripped off so much. First they got downsized in the '80s, then they got sucked into the stock market in the '90s, and they've lost virtually everything in so many cases. When they see Cheney mouth those words, they know that it's a bunch of b.s., and I got to tell you, I just believe that sooner or later, they're going to stand up and say, we've had enough of this, and it's time to have a complete democracy in this country, not just by going to the polls and voting for people, but by how we handle this economy, how we handle the workplace, that's what's got to change.

NOVAK: OK, we're going to have to take a break, and in a minute we'll ask Michael Moore how he would handle all this corporate mess if, God forbid, he was president.

Later, James Traficant may be history, but why isn't Congress rushing to investigate other ethically challenged members?

And our "Quote of the Day" comes from a Washington regular whom we hardly ever see anymore, until today, that is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The man who first brought us "Roger and Me" has a new book satirizing President Bush and "Stupid White Men." Michael Moore is in the "Crossfire" from Lansing, Michigan -- Paul.

BEGALA: Michael, I enjoyed the parts of the book where you satirized Bush, but I got to take strong issue with some things that you said in "Stupid White Men," that were frankly stupid statements. You said on page 211, if I may quote, "Bill Clinton was one of the best Republican presidents we've ever had."

You may have missed it, but I was working for him. He vetoed a Republican bill that would have allowed these rip-off artists in corporations to continue to rip us off without being held accountable.

The Republicans overrode his veto, showing that he is a real Democrat. He tried to separate auditing and consulting firms from doing the same thing for the same company. The Republicans stopped him. He tried to increase disclosures of derivatives and regulate energy traders like Enron. He tried to protect 401(k)s. Down the line on these economic issues that you pretend to care about, Michael. Bill Clinton was there for working people. How do you defend these attacks on him?

MOORE: He was a nice guy. Yeah, he was. You know, he came from the working class. In that chapter that you cite, I list about five dozen other things he did that if I didn't tell you that he did them, you would think a Republican president did it. Look, most Americans don't consider themselves Democrats or Republicans anymore.

I don't think anybody really knows what those terms mean. Those two parties exist to do the bidding of the upper 10 percent, who pay them to be there, and the other 90 percent of the American public has no political party really that's a major party that's on the ballot, and I think the time is really ripe for independents, Greens and others to run for office and toss out these people who are just there passing laws to benefit wealthy people in this country.

BEGALA: Green, in fact, did run for president. You supported him. His name was Ralph Nader, and he allowed George W. Bush to become president despite that fact that the majority of Americans did not want him. I am sure Bush, if he were here, would want to thank you very much, Michael, for the role you played in allowing Bush to get in there. And it's just simply a crock, when you say there's not a difference. Do you think that Al Gore -- let me finish my question. Do you think Al Gore...

(CROSSTALK)

Believe me, he'd give you more than that.

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE: Bush hasn't called me or anything. Isn't that amazing? You know, I don't think any of us have been invited to the White House for making this happen. What an ingrate this guy is. This is the last time we help him.

BEGALA: And what a sap you are, Michael, for allowing this guy -- you played right into his hand by siphoning off votes from Al Gore.

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE: Hey, listen, Paul, the American public knows that the person who actually won the election is Al Gore. He got the most votes. Florida was stolen by Bush and his cronies. Everybody knows that. Bush will -- they'll get their comeuppance in November and in two years from now. Just calm down, you know?

NOVAK: I'm glad you've turned into such a good Democrat now, Mr. Moore.

MOORE: No, I'm not, I'm just telling you that's the truth.

NOVAK: But I'm not interested in Democrats and Republicans right now. What I am interested in -- you know what a socialist is. It is somebody who wants to divide the wealth, who wants to take money away from the successful people in the society. Are you a socialist?

MOORE: No, I just want to take money away from people like you, Bob.

NOVAK: That's what I mean. You are a socialist.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: That's what I mean. You are a socialist. What would be the first thing you would do...

BEGALA: What's the name -- I don't know, what's the political label for that?

NOVAK: Socialism.

BEGALA: All those who want to take money from people like Bob Novak, raise your hand.

There we go, audience.

NOVAK: Now very few.

(LAUGHTER)

See that is the thing, that is the thing that has failed all over the world. It failed in the Soviet Union. It failed in France. People like you are really a menace because you want the successful people to fail, don't you?

MOORE: You know, the only socialists, or whatever you want to call, whatever that word means, the only people in other words I guess who you believe that governments wants to take care of them are the Bushs and the Cheneys and the WorldComs and the Enrons. They are the peole who want the government to give them the tax breaks, to make sure they don't have to pay their taxes, to let them move their corporate headquarters to Bermuda or the Cayman Islands. They're the real...

NOVAK: Would you raise taxes? Would you raise taxes?

MOORE: Huh?

NOVAK: Would you raise taxes on people? Would you confiscate their wealth?

MOORE: I'm sorry, what did you say?

NOVAK: Would you confiscate the wealth of the people who have succeeded in America?

MOORE: No, I think I'd just confiscate your wealth, Bob.

BEGALA: Michael, we only have a few more seconds left. I want to ask you about a race that's on the ballot this year. Paul Wellstone, who is probably the most liberal and strong, strong member of the United States Senate, has a tough fight in Michigan. He may lose...

NOVAK: Minnesota.

BEGALA: He may lose in Minnesota, excuse me, he may lose because some Green loopy goofball is on the ballot. Are you going to endorse Paul Wellstone and tell all of those nutty Greens to support him?

MOORE: I think Paul Wellstone is a good guy. I haven't really looked into the situation in Minnesota yet. I think Paul Wellstone has made some mistakes, and that's why he's got Greens running against him.

You know, Democrats should beware because the Green Party is very active. They've got organizations on hundreds of campuses around the country. They're going to be on the ballot in November. They've already won close to 200 seats locally around the country, and they're going to win a lot more.

So when the Democrats start acting like Democrats and being for the working people and the poor of this country, they will get to save their seats.

When they start acting like Republicans, they're going to lose their seats, thanks to the Greens and the Independents out there.

BEGALA: Michael Moore, author of "Stupid White Men," thank you very much for being gracious enough to join us.

MOORE: Thank you for having me on.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Senator Robert Torricelli was investigated and cleared by the Bush-Ashcroft Justice Department. But that's enough for a few partisans. In a little bit, we'll ask if Congress is really is turning a blind eye to its own ethical problems.

Also, preparing the homeland for the worst. Does Washington think we can handle the truth?

Up next, in our quote of the day, a man who made millions sings the praises of his one-time employees who didn't.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back.

A former CEO who once sang the praises of the corrupt accounting firm Arthur Anderson, today put in a good word for his former employer. In doing so, Vice President Dick Cheney docked yet another chance to publicly explain his actions when he ran the oil fields services company, Halliburton.

He didn't say who cooked the books or whether they cooked the books or who's recipe they used, but Cheney did say this, and it's our quote of the day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: First of all have great affection and respect for Halliburton. It's a fine company, and I'm pleased that I was associated with the company and with the men and women of Halliburton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: It is a fine company, and it's people like you who have been attacking it for no reason. You have no idea whether it has bad or good accounting practices. And I'm glad that Dick Cheney stood up for it. He's a stand-up person.

BEGALA: As the CEO, of course he laid off thousands of Halliburton employees. He cut the health benefits for retirees. Now all of a sudden, it's lovey-dovey. I don't buy it.

NOVAK: Coming up next is a CNN News Alert. Pictures of Robert Blake in jail.

Later, have congressional ethics rules become a joke or just a subject of political horse-trading.

Also, getting the public ready for the next time, God forbid, a terrorist strikes.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS ALERT)

NOVAK: Connie, what do you have for us tonight? CONNIE CHUNG, CNN ANCHOR: We will talk about friends who let friends drive drunk, or allegedly do. One friend lets another take the highway after the drunk driving arrest. Now, the friend is charged as an accessory to murder.

It's the first case of it's kind, and if I can just speak, you will be able to understand this story. Whom is to blame when friend lets a friend drive drunk?

And there you go, Paul and Bob.

BEGALA: It's a fascinating story, Connie. We will be tuning in to watch it. Thank you very much.

Ladies and gentlemen, Connie Chung.

(APPLAUSE)

Is Congress ethically challenged? Well, today's "Washington Post" attributes a lack of ethics investigations to an unwritten detente, struck five years ago after a spate of partisan attacks threatened to turn the ethics process into just another weapon in the politics of personal destruction.

Next in the CROSSFIRE, Democratic strategist and former Congressman Tony Coelho and Ben Bycel. He's vice president of Common Cause and the former director of the L.A. Ethics Committee.

(APPLAUSE)

Good to see you, friend.

(APPLAUSE)

TONY COELHO, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Thanks a lot.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Tony, we have something that I believe is unique in American jurisprudence, at least outside of the state of Louisiana and...

(LAUGHTER)

... and that is that all sides have a balance of terror. They decided, "Listen, if you come after us, one party says, on an ethics violation, we'll come after you." And then so they say, "OK, unless we've got something that we just can't ignore like Traficant or Torricelli, we won't investigate anybody. We won't do anything."

Do you think that's a good system?

COELHO: Well, I think the whole system is good a system. Don't forget there are four parts to the system. We have the Justice Department that pursues so-called violations. You have the Ethics Committee. You have the journalists who sometimes do their job. And you have the voters who ultimately have a say.

The whole system, sometimes one part of it is very strong. And another time, another part of it is weak.

But basically, the whole system does succeed, does prevail.

I think one of the big mistakes is, is that people like you, Bob, want one of the systems to work all of the time, be the most aggressive, ignore the other three, and succeed.

I think that is wrong in the system.

NOVAK: Well, Mr. Coelho, you were an artful politician, and you're an artful guest. Because you completely evaded my question. But let me...

(LAUGHTER)

... let me, let me give you what Gary Ruskin (ph) of the Congressional Accountability Project said the other day. And we will put it up on the screen.

He said, "Democracy is not well served when allegations of corruption are not thoroughly investigated to determine what's true and what's not. Now we have a system where the Ethics Committee has locked the front doors to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the Congress where corruption is more likely."

I'm not asking you about the Justice Department. I'm not asking you about any kind of other system, the state courts. I'm talking about the congressional ethics process has got an agreement where they are not going to bother each other.

Isn't that the fact?

COELHO: Well, they may. I don't know. I'm not there. But the point is basically is that they want to make sure that they approach these things in a balanced way.

What happens is that nowadays we do not have a referee that in effect makes sure that the articles written by you are checked by other people. Now you guys write anything you want, make any accusations thou want. And those then have to be investigated and pursued and legitimately...

NOVAK: That's why I'm always accurate, aren't I?

COELHO: Ummm...

(LAUGHTER)

... and legitimate people get hurt in the process. The Ethics Committee should be there to make sure that those that are legitimately or not legitimately, that are illegitimately violating the system are pursued.

That's what it's about.

BEGALA: Ben, first thanks for joining us. Good to see you.

BEN BYCEL, FORMER DIR., LOS ANGELES ETHICS COMMITTEE: My pleasure.

BEGALA: Second, the story today was no the front page of the Washington Post. Forgive me if I won't take my ethics lectures from the Washington Post, a newspaper that was saved out of a multi-million defamation action by Ken Starr, defended Ken Starr when he was a prosecutor and never disclosed tht to its readers.

So I don't need to hear ethics lectures from the Post. But what they did tell us is that for five years there's been this detente. Hell, there hasn't been a detente for five weeks.

The House of Representatives for only the second time since Civil War, expelled a member. The Senate of the United States Ethics Committees has sanctioned a member, Bob Torricelli, just a weeks before his election. Could cost him a lot of votes.

So I think the system is perfectly aggressive.

BYCEL: The system is broken, Paul.

The two things you site came from external. When you look at what's come internally, and Mr. Novak is absolutely right, nothing has happened in the last five years. I think there's been three investigations.

It's only when it's thrown the Congress or thrown on the Senate from federal prosecutors or in this case, a conviction, that they do anything.

They do nothing. They cannot guard themselves. They cannot supervise themselves. It is absolutely a system that is completely broken.

BEGALA: Well, Ben, I don't mean to speak ill of the Congress where Tony served and I worked as a staffer...

NOVAK: Why not?

BEGALA: Congress don't to nothing until it's forced on them. They didn't do nothing about the deficit until they had to. They didn't do nothing about terrorism until they had to. That's the nature of politicians.

And my concern with some of the reformers is they want to take...

BYCEL: So that makes my argument. Are you making my -- you're making my argument, Paul.

BEGALA: They want to take the politics -- no, you want to take the...

BYCEL: You're making my argument.

BEGALA: ... the politics out of the system.

BYCEL: I want to take the politics out of the system? No, I want there to be ethical congressman. It is not difficult to abide by the rules. There are a lot of congressman who do it.

BEGALA: Maybe they're doing it.

BYCEL: Well, the question is the Ethics Committee wouldn't know whether they're doing it or not.

NOVAK: Because they don't investigate it.

BYCEL: That's correct.

NOVAK: Tony Coelho, let me -- let's get specific. Let's talk about Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia.

Jim Moran is a guy who unlike a rich guy like you, he's always in debt.

COELHO: Thank you.

NOVAK: He's always...

COELHO: Thank you, that's a great plug.

NOVAK: ... he's always short of money. And he's always having trouble where he gets the money.

And now just to sum it up as fast as I can, I want to read to you from a Washington Post editorial. And we will put it up on the screen.

"In 1999, he accepted," this is Moran, "an unsecured, open-ended $25,000 loan at the low market interest rates from Schering-Plough Corporation lobbyist Terry Lehrman (ph). And only five days later enlisted as a co-sponsor of a bill to help that company preserve its monopoly on an allergy drug.

"Last month Representative Moran reported acceptance of an January 2001 loan of $50,000 from James V. Kinsey (ph), chairman emeritus of AOL, which owns this network, one of Northern Virginia's major employers with more than a few interests before Congress."

Doesn't that deserve at least an investigation and a hearing by the Ethics Committee?

COELHO: Well, you used some words rather casually. An investigation and some hearings. I have no idea whether or not some of the staff of the Ethics Committee is doing any research on this or not. They may be. They don't have to tell you, thank God.

NOVAK: They're not doing anything.

COELHO: And how do you know? They don't tell...

NOVAK: Because it's all over the Hill.

COELHO: ... and they shouldn't tell you. Because if they say that they're doing something, then all of a sudden you want to write a big story and all of a sudden it destroys this guy's career.

He may be doing something wrong. I have no idea.

NOVAK: Maybe?

COELHO: Justice Department will pursue it and the Ethics Committee will look at it, but they're not going to tell you.

NOVAK: We're talking about the Ethics Committee.

COELHO: But they're not going to tell you.

NOVAK: Jim Moran, Jim Moran...

COELHO: I'm not Jim Moran...

NOVAK: Jim Moran, Jim Moran has been has -- the word has got out if you go after Jim Moran, if the Republicans, which now control the House, we're going to go after Republicans. That's the balance of terror (ph).

BYCEL: And you left off another $400,000 he took from MBNA right before he voted on the credit card bill.

NOVAK: It's an outrage.

BYCEL: The thing is ridiculous. Mark Twain, 100 years ago, looking at the Ethics Senate committee said, "Look, the thing is broken, but it's broken quite well."

Well, 100 years later, the same thing holds true. They just don't work. And you know why they don't work? It's human nature. You need someone outside of Congress.

Now under the Constitution as we know, they can't bring down penalties. But they can sure make recommendations. They can sure talk to the press. They can make suggestions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They do.

BEGALA: There are people outside of the Congress who do it. I mean, you have the Justice Department who has an ethics, a whole group of people, hundreds of people who sit there and look at nothing else but articles in the newspaper, look at your organizations, accusations. You guys do it every day, all the time. You're holier than though.

They do it, and so they look at it. So there are people in the Justice Department. That's all they do. You people in the press, that's all you do.

And then the voters ultimately have the say so. So to say that the system is broke, means that you don't understand the system.

BYCEL: Before we get on the argument...

BEGALA: You only want, you only want part of the system to be pure and to be consistent the way you want it, the way you define it as opposed to the way the system is really run.

BYCEL: Before I -- will you tell my mother that I'm holier than though? I need that.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: No, I won't.

BYCEL: You won't? OK, I needed that very, very...

BEGALA: Holier than though means something a little different.

BYCEL: I know that.

BEGALA: One of the problems is that when it quote, "works," sometimes it works only for partisan ends.

There's a journalist named John Berry (ph) who wrote a book, I think it's like "The Power and the Glory"...

(UNKNOWN): Right.

BEGALA: ... it followed the Jim Wright story. And you were not with Common Cause at the time so you weren't responsible. But Common Cause clearly in that book is shown to have been manipulated by a man named Newt Gingrich, who was going after Jim Wright for partisan reasons.

BYCEL: He did the right thing. He did the right thing.

BEGALA: No, he didn't. He chased off a good man who served our country, stopped the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Central America.

BYCEL: Oh, come on, come on. Newt did the right thing. But it...

BEGALA: No, Common Cause did the wrong thing.

BYCEL: No.

BEGALA: Joined in Common Cause, as it were, with Newt Gingrich. A more sensible independent analyst, a guy named Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, knows ethical sleaze. He is of very high standards.

Here's what he told the "Washington Post," though. "Abuses of the ethics process contributed to a criminalization of politics and I think created a very ugly form of warfare between the parties. Any easing of that is to be welcomed. Obviously, if it shuts down the process, then they've gone too far."

Well, they just expelled a congressman. I don't think they've gone too far.

BYCEL: Yes, but look what they got him for. I mean, literally, there are six other investigations. But Tony is right. We don't know whether they're investigating him. We presume they're not. And we'll soon see.

I mean, Moran has -- I mean, Mann has a point. If it doesn't shut down the system, then maybe we should look at it a different way.

Now I, Common Cause are not zealots. We do not go after people for no reason at all.

(LAUGHTER)

Well, now Tony, we don't want to get in your career.

COELHO: Oh, that's right.

BYCEL: Right, we're not going to get into your career.

COELHO: Oh, yeah, that's right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's...

COELHO: We can, we can.

BYCEL: Well, we want to get into your career? Well, I'm happy to do it.

COELHO: I don't care. We can go any time you want to. I'm open game and always have been.

(LAUGHTER)

BYCEL: Well, I'm happy to do that.

NOVAK: I'll tell you whose career I'd like to get into and that's Jim Wright. I happen to like Jim Wright. I thought he was a good speaker of the House. But surely, you're not going to stand there and look at me and the camera in the eye and say there weren't severe ethical problems with Jim Wright.

And you know, he wasn't kicked out of Congress. He resigned from Congress because -- and resigned the speakership because these problems were so dreadful. He made serious ethical transgressions, didn't he?

BYCEL: Well, the Ethics Committee went into that, Bob, as you well know. The Ethics Committee had hearings on that. You just imply all of these negatives. The Ethics Committee had extensive hearings on that and went into that. Was in the process of making some recommendations to the House when Jim resigned.

Jim made some mistakes, but he was a good man, but he made some mistakes.

The Ethics Committee...

NOVAK: So the system worked.

BYCEL: The Ethics Committees works, the system works. I was just intrigued with the comment that was made here that you know, we have no idea whether or not these things are being reviewed. Great admission.

NOVAK: Everybody knows they're not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, everybody.

NOVAK: But I want to thank you Tony Coelho...

COELHO: You're welcome.

NOVAK: ... and Mr. Bycel, thank you very much.

BYCEL: Thank you having me. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Still ahead, your chance to fire back at us.

A lot of today's e-mail has to do with vacations, presidential and otherwise.

But next, should the government give us specific instructions for handling terrorist attacks?

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're coming to you from the George Washington University in Foggy Bottom, D.C.

Nearly one year after the terrorist attack on America, are we prepared for a biological or chemical attack, much less an attack involving nuclear radiation?

Critics say the government could do a lot more to make sure the public is prepared for a terrorist attack, but is afraid of doing so because we would all panic.

However, is that kind of talk promoting panic?

In the CROSSFIRE, James Lee Witt, the former administrator of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. (APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: And James, welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Thank you for coming.

(APPLAUSE)

First let me brag on you because you're too modest. You have run the Arkansas emergency management agency, and then your governor became our president. He brought you up from Little Rock to come be the head of FEMA because this is actually something you had experience in, in emergency response.

In the prior Bush administration, FEMA was known as a backwater for political hacks. He wanted to make it a professional agency, and you did.

Here's my question. Our current president named as your successor, his campaign manager, an able guy, a smart guy, but a campaign manager, a political guy like me. And this is what he said on the day he nominated Joe Albaugh, our new FEMA director.

President Bush said, "The person who runs FEMA is someone who must have the trust of the president because the person who runs FEMA is the first voice oftentimes of someone whose life has been turned upside down here's from."

Now I don't really know exactly what he meant, but I think he meant...

(LAUGHTER)

... it's a big job. Is the current crop up to it? Are they doing a good job?

WITT: Well, I think they've gone a good job in responding to New York you know, and the 9/11 situation.

And FEMA is a good organization. It's got some very dedicated, very caring people, civil servants that work very hard. So I think they've done a pretty good job.

BEGALA: Well, more specifically, should part of their job be to tell us how to react?

For example, here in our nation's capital, if the bell rung right now, no one has told us whether we should hunker down, whether we should build bomb shelters like the '50s, whether we should have an evacuation plan. If so, do we go north or south of west?

Shouldn't FEMA be telling us that?

WITT: Well, I think it's very important. I think that you know, I support President Bush's Homeland Security Agency. I think it's a good thing. I think it's too big for right now, but I think it's a good thing. But I think that they should -- when they came out with a national strategy, I think that part of that national strategy should have had some component of an awareness for the American people and for all of the emergency managers out there across the country that have to do all of the planning and preparedness for this.

I've always found that if people know what to do, then it calms fears. You know, if you let people know what to do, then they will take responsibility themselves for their families and their communities and make sure that they are protected.

NOVAK: Well, right down that line, Mr. Witt, I want to give you a quotation from the mayor of Watertown, South Dakota. I'm sure you spent a lot of time in Watertown.

(LAUGHTER)

And her name is Brenda Barger (ph). And she said -- we'll see it up there. "A red box, blue box, yellow box is not going to tell us what we need to know. You know what people are doing, they're blowing it off. We need to know what to do."

Now I know -- I had some information. I can't tell you where it comes from -- that the terrorists are targeting Watertown, South Dakota...

(LAUGHTER)

... but do you believe that Brenda should be told what to do or do you think that's just a little bit unrealistic that every mayor and every wide space in the road has got to have some instructions from FEMA or from the federal government?

WITT: Well, I don't think they're expecting instructions, detailed instructions. But I think what they're looking for is for the federal government to come out with some guidelines and support saying, "Look, here's a plan that we think would work. You know, here's a plan if you took a roll of duct tape and some visqueen (Ph) that you could do some in place sheltering to help you in different situations. You could do a lot of things."

In the biological, chemical world and what we dealt with, even when I was in Arkansas, is that every house, every family had information on what to do if there was a chemical agent released off that arsenal.

NOVAK: The one thing they've told us to do is to be alert. And you now, I'm alert when I'm around Begala and that's...

(LAUGHTER)

... and that's another term (ph) I (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

But what I would really like to know is what does that mean, be alert, as you go about your business? I mean, I look both ways before I cross the street and things like that. But what does that mean to be alert? Can you explain that?

WITT: I haven't figured that out. You know, when they say we're in red alert or whatever, you know, well what does that mean? A lot of people have asked me across the United States in different states. "Well, James Lee, what does that mean? What do I do if we have an alert to be warned about what?"

BEGALA: Well, in fact, let me get a show of hands in the audience. Does any body here have any idea what color code warning we're on today?

This young man does. Yes, what it is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is orange.

BEGALA: It's an orange day. Thank you.

You get a toaster oven, but otherwise, what...

(LAUGHTER)

... do we do with that? I don't know what I would do on an orange day.

WITT: And a lot of people don't. But I think the administration has taken the right step right now because what they've done is they've got the National Ad Council and looking at putting together an awareness program for the American people. And I think it's a good thing.

NOVAK: Well, tell what (ph) it (ph) is when it's a yellow day.

BEGALA: The producer (ph) says widespread panic across America.

It might be orange. You man, I'm sorry you lose your toaster oven. It's a yellow day.

(LAUGHTER)

But thank you for playing.

(BELL)

(LAUGHTER)

But it's, you know, it's...

NOVAK: You're critical then of the -- this administration, your successors, have not told -- have not put out a plan for the American plan.

WITT: Well, let me address it this way. We have a national hurricane program where we tell people how to protect themselves and their homes and their business against a hurricane.

We have an actual earthquake program which give guidelines to peole and what to do in their home and business to minimize the risk of losing their home in an earthquake.

We have every single program -- we have tornado safe rooms for people in tornado risk areas. We have everything that is on not only FEMA's Web page, but everybody else's, NOA, the national weather service and what to do. Why do we not have the same thing yet, which we do need.

BEGALA: Amen. That will be the last word.

James Lee Witt, former director of FEMA, one of the great public servants I've ever known in my life.

(APPLAUSE)

Next in "Fireback," a viewer has been very busy with his calculator.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's time now for "Fireback" where you the viewer get to make fun of we, the hosts.

Let's begin. The first Fireback is a response to an argument Mr.Novak and I were having last night about the budget numbers and how much of the deficit is caused by Bush's tax cut. A friend of mine, who I worked with in the White House, wrote in, "Paul, last night Mr. Novak said you were lying when you cited OMB figure that the tax cut accounted for 40 percent of the change in the surplus estimates. You may want to show him that Table II of the OMB's mid-session review that the table shows that tax relief will cost $1.5 trillion between 2002 and 2011. That's almost 40 percent."

John Orsag (ph) is a former economic adviser to President Clinton.

NOVAK: Mr. Orzag (ph)...

BEGALA: It takes a big man to admit he's wrong, Bob.

Show me how big you are.

NOVAK: Mr. Orzag (ph) is another Clintonian who plays with numbers. The $40 billion -- the 40 percent, the tax was 40 percent of the total reduction in revenue, not of the budget surplus. That's an entirely different thing. The budget surplus -- let me repeat -- for the current year, the taxes only account for 14 percent, not 40 percent.

BEGALA: We're talking about 10 years.

NOVAK: All right, but...

BEGALA: No, Bob, the argument was about a 10 year number, not the current year. And it's actually... NOVAK: No, we're talking about the current year.

BEGALA: It's actually 38.

NOVAK: James from Alabama says, "Paul, you need to get off W's back. Clinton is the biggest crook that's ever been in office."

(LAUGHTER)

James, you get the e-mail of the year.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: I don't remember Clinton being investigated for insider trading and getting arrested for drunk driving or Halliburton or Harken Energy.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Just Enron (ph)...

BEGALA: He had a girlfriend, get over it.

NOVAK: Lying to a grand jury and (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

BEGALA: He had a girlfriend, get over it.

NOVAK: ... that's all.

BEGALA: He had a girlfriend, tough luck.

I think there's some jealousy out there by the way, on the girlfriend thing. I don't know, maybe it's just me.

NOVAK: That girlfriend?

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Fireback number three -- that was Mr. Novak, by the way.

Anne Curtley (ph) in Portland, Oregon writes, "Hey, Paul, I loved your pleasure outfit for fishing when you were debating mandatory vacation time. I think that every Friday should be casual day on Crossfire (smiley face). Keep up the good work."

Anne, thank you. I think it's a terrific idea. I'm going fishing.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: It's very attractive, isn't it.

BEGALA: That is a face only a mother could love.

NOVAK: OK, our last e-mail is from Rick Smulnicke (ph) of Griffith (ph), Indiana who says, "Hey, Bob, where were you Monday? I thought you didn't believe in taking time off?'

Rick, I was out of town debating James Carville. And if you think that's taking time off... (LAUGHTER)

... you've really got problems.

(LAUGHTER)

First audience question.

ANNE: Hi,I'm Anne from Chicago, Illinois.

NOVAK: Great (ph) Chicago?

ANNE: My question is about these awarding government contracts to companies with offshore locations. We're punishing companies fore doing exactly what capitalism dictates, which is to do what's best for themselves.

They moved off shore because we already are over regulated and overtaxed in the U.S. I think we should look at the problems in the existing tax code that's making these companies move offshore and treating only the symptoms.

NOVAK: Anne, I couldn't say it better myself.

BEGALA: I could. It's called greed and it's a lack of patriotism.

We need to change the law. Companies will always do everything they can until the laws are changed.

NOVAK: Let's...

BEGALA: We need to change the laws.

NOVAK: Squeeze in one...

BEGALA: We need to charge the laws so these Benedict Arnold companies don't get out of the fact that there's...

NOVAK: ... let's squeeze in one more question please.

BEGALA: No, I'm finishing my answer before we go to another question.

NOVAK: Go ahead. Let's get it.

STONEY BURKE (ph): Yes, Mr. Novak, I'm Stoney Burke (ph) from Texas. And I was just going to comment to say capitalism only works if people are able to win and lose both, because Republicans continue to protect these illegal acts. And it's had global repercussions. And investing is risky, but Republicans, quite frankly, make it unfair.

NOVAK: Listen, then the losers take over...

(APPLAUSE)

... when the losers take over, you have what happened in the Soviet Union.

BEGALA: The losers took over. They're running the country right now.

From the left, I'm Paul Begala.

Good night for Crossfire.

NOVAK: Good night, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of Crossfire.

(APPLAUSE)

Connie Chung Tonight begins immediately after a CNN News Alert.

(APPLAUSE)

END

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