The FBI Issues a Scary Warning, But is it Anything to Worry About?; Dean Barkley Discusses His Short Career in the Senate
Aired November 15, 2002 - 19:00 ET
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: Spectacular attacks, prominent targets, mass casualties, maximum trauma. The FBI issues a scary warning, but is it anything to worry about?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The threat level remains where it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Warnings that have gone out recently really are a summary of intelligence, not a new one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNER: He's the newest senator and will soon be the newest ex senator. Minnesota's Dean Barkley spends some of his short time in the limelight with us.
And we consult them, tell jokes about them, shovel tons of money to them. But do they do more harm than good? The case against lawyers.
Ahead on CROSSFIRE.
From the George Washington University: Paul Begala and Robert Novak.
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.
Tonight, a frightening terrorist warning from the FBI in the morning and then reassurances from the White House in the afternoon. Which side of the administration's mouth are we suppose to believe?
Also, we'll ask Dean Barkley about his short-term membership in the nation's most exclusive club. No, I'm not talking about Augusta National.
But first, the Friday edition of the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." That FBI terrorist alert I mentioned a minute ago is generating a good deal of unease. The bureau warns of spectacular attacks from al Qaeda, attacks that will cause mass casualties and severe damage to the American economy. Pretty serious stuff, or so you would think.
But wait, the Bush administration hasn't even changed the terror alert status. It is still yellow, whatever that means. And, more importantly, it has not initiated any known new military efforts to find and kill al Qaeda leaders thought to be hiding along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, including an apparently very much alive Osama bin Laden.
President Bush famously said he wanted Mr. bin Laden dead or alive. Now inexplicably he's planning a war in Iraq, 1,500 miles away from where our deadliest enemy is likely hiding. You figure it out. I can't.
ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Paul, not only is it not true that we're not looking for these al Qaeda leaders, but if you were watching CNN, CNN has reported that the government has captured a major al Qaeda leader, not giving his identity yet. After after that, it is just pure politics to say that they're not looking for these people.
BEGALA: I didn't say it. What I said was they haven't launched a new military offensive. We're going to attack Iraq 1,500 miles away, when we know -- at least our people tell us -- that the al Qaeda leadership is hiding on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. I don't know why we haven't finished the job in Afghanistan before we attack Iraq.
NOVAK: Well I surely assume you're not proposing a military attack on Pakistan. And don't answer that question.
Al Gore makes many more and considerably less successful comebacks than Michael Jordan. In the wake of Democratic losses in the midterm election, he has reappeared in multiple interviews. ABC's Barbara Walters says we'll see a different Gore in her interview tonight.
How many new Gores does that make? Nothing new, and Al's still whining in these interviews about the Florida recount. Americans, this side of Paul Begala, have gotten over Florida, but Gore can't. What's new about the latest Gore incarnation is that he boosts single payer government health care, that's socialized medicine, just what Al Gore, the Democratic Party and America want and need.
BEGALA: I think -- by the way, this is the first time he's answered any questions about Florida. It's not like he has obsessed on that for the last two years. He's been going on with his life, letting Bush do his job. And bush has done his job ruining the economy. And no I think it is only fair for Al Gore to be able to point out -- I mean you steal the presidency from a man and he's got a right to bitch.
NOVAK: Well, it is ridiculous to say he stole it, it is ridiculous to say that he ruined the economy. But I guarantee you that Al Gore, every day of his life, gets up and looks in mirror and says, oh they did me in. They're such bad fellows.
BEGALA: I'll tell you what. A whole lot of Americans get up, they turn on CNN, and they see George W. Bush being president and they cry, too. So what the heck.
The homeland security bill has in it a secret provision targeting a new enemy: kids with autism and their parents who want to sue drugmakers for allegedly causing their kids' autism. At the behest of the Bush administration, House Republicans slipped language protecting Eli Lilly and other pharmaceutical heavyweights into the homeland security bill.
Now Eli Lilly is a major league GOP donor and White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels is a former top Eli Lilly executive. Other dirt bags getting special assistance from congressional Republicans include the corporate traitors who go overseas to avoid their patriotic duty to pay taxes.
And there's also a bit of pork (ph) for Texas A&M University, courtesy of Tom DeLay, perhaps to make up for DeLay's recent trashing of Texas A&M, when he said he discovered in shock that college kids there actually have sex. Of course, that doesn't happen here at George Washington, does it, kids?
NOVAK: No. Paul, it is really ridiculous to call Eli Lilly a dirt bag. It is one of the great pharmaceutical companies. They've done so much research, saved so many lives. And what this provision is to protect America from the trial lawyers who are a great contributor to the Democratic Party from disrupting a company trying to have healthcare as a major factor. This is really something that saves lives instead of enriches fat lawyers.
BEGALA: That's at least an honest debate. We should have that in the light of day, though. Those are good points and there are good points against it. But let's have an honest debate instead of saying it's about homeland security, slipping it in at midnight and then leaving town, which is what the Republicans did. They did that because they're ashamed of themselves and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.
NOVAK: It is about homeland security. And I would tell you this. If your people kill the homeland security bill to satisfy the trial lawyers, they will suffer down the line politically.
Interviewed by ABC's Barbara Walters, Al Gore was asked whether he would consider Hillary Rodham Clinton as his vice presidential running mate in 2004. He didn't hesitate. "Sure," Gore replied, "I wouldn't rule anybody in or out." Boy, just imagine, another Clinton- Gore ticket in reverse order.
The trouble is that Senator Hillary says absolutely positively no to the national ticket for '04, while keeping her powder dry for '08. But I have a hunch that she really has no intention of a political marriage with a loser. Being married to Bill has been hardship enough. BEGALA: Hillary's not going to join the ticket. She is committed to serving as a senator from New York. She'll not going to join the ticket. But by god, it is nice to dream.
I would pay money to watch her debate Dick Cheney. Can you imagine? I would pay money to see that. She would beat him like a bad piece of meat.
NOVAK: She would do just as well as Joe Lieberman did against him. But I would tell you this, that we conservatives, we just dream of Hillary running, whether it is '04, '08, '12, even if she's an old hag, we want her to run.
BEGALA: That's what you all said when she ran for New York Senate. And now she's a U.S. senator. So go, Hillary, go.
Nine U.S. Army linguists, six of whom are trained to speak Arabic, have been fired by the Army, not because we don't need Arabic speakers. We do, desperately. Not because they were doing a bad job. They were not. They were fired because they're gay.
So despite the increased threat of terrorist attacks, despite the fact that we may be going to war in Iraq, despite the fact that we can't process vital intelligence fast enough because of a lack of Arabic translators, you can rest assured, Mr. and Mrs. America, that the only Arabic translators in the U.S. Army are red blooded hot blooded heterosexuals.
Because, of course, gay men don't have the capacity to translate, especially not a macho, macho language like Arabic. I've got a good idea. Let's tell the Bush administration that Osama bin Laden's gay. They'd hunt him down in a New York minute.
BEGALA: You know, Paul, the Army needs infantrymen just as much as they need linguists. And if they break the rules, "Don't ask, don't tell," they can't serve. The guy who put that rule in was William Jefferson Clinton. So it's your guy who made the rule. Don't knock it.
Maynard Jackson, the former mayor of Atlanta, was the losing candidate two years ago when Washington wheeler dealer Terry McAuliffe was elected Democratic National Chairman as the hand picked choice of the Clintons. This week, Mayor Jackson gave McAuliffe his report card. He called the midterm election a horror show and asked for a meeting of the party's executive committee to admit problems and change course.
But he did not actually call for McAuliffe's ouster. Democrats have grown too polite for that sort of thing. But they tell me in private they cringe when they hear Chairman Terry on TV. If they let McAauliffe speak for the party two more years, it would be just fine with the Republicans.
BEGALA: I love Maynard Jackson. He is a great American. But we don't need to change our chairman. And I'd give anything to have -- we'll have him back on CROSSFIRE. Let Terry McAuliffe debate the Enron lobbyist, Mark Racicot (ph), who is the chairman of the Republican Party. The perfect embodiment, they have a Repbulican chairman who is an Enron lobbyist.
NOVAK: He's a former Enron lobbyist.
BEGALA: Because Enron went broke, that's why. They didn't have any more money to pay him or he'd be there still.
NOVAK: Next, today's latest terror alert raises the question, how can ordinary people prepare for the possibility of spectacular terrorist attacks, especially with holiday shopping and travel seasons just around the corner.
And later, a U.S. senator whose term won't expire while he's on CROSSFIRE, but it won't last much longer than that either.
NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.
The FBI is warning that terrorists want to stage what it calls "spectacular attacks" on the U.S. But a Bush administration official tells CNN the national threat level has not been raised from yellow to orange because of the disruptive effect it would have on citizens and commerce. We're entering one of the busiest travel and shopping seasons of the year. What are ordinary Americans to do?
First, in the CROSSFIRE tonight, is CNN's security analyst, Kelly McCann.
BEGALA: Good to see you again, sir.
Thanks a lot. What are we to make of this, Kelly? We have the FBI telling us spectacular attacks. Very strong language for the FBI. The White House today says calm down, we're not changing the terror alert. What's up?
J. KELLY MCCANN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: It is not in law enforcement organization's lexicon to use a descriptive word like "spectacular." So, undoubtedly, that word came from intercepted communications or doctrinal kind of publications that were seized and reviewed.
But as far as what we're to make of it, Condoleezza Rice said earlier today that it's the result of cumulative intel reporting. In other words, we know the terrorist doctrine includes massive targets, biggest bang for the buck, if you will. And so there's nothing new about that.
NOVAK: Speaking of Condoleezza Rice, I'd like you to listen to something she said just today about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICE: It is important that Americans know when this is the sort of thing comes to the attention of the administration. We would ask Americans to do what the president has asked them a number of times to do, which is remain vigilant.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOVAK: Now, I have never understood yet what it is to be vigilant. Tell me what it is. Do you look at the guy who is walking behind you on the street and duck into a door? What is being vigilant mean?
MCCANN: That's a good question. And the answer is, you look for patterns of behavior that are consistent with being targeted for target value, looked at, surveiled. And also, the preincident indicators of an imminent attack. Now if you've never been trained in what they are, you shouldn't know what they are.
BEGALA: Let me give you an example. I came down the shuttle from New York. I was in New York (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I came down on the shuttle and there's a little guy sitting in the -- next to me. And he was reading the "Wall Street Journal" and had an expensive haircut.
And he kind of was looking at me out of the corner of his eye. And he looked sneaky to me. Should I have called the flight attendant?
BEGALA: He was reading the "Wall Street Journal," man. I don't like that. That's a bad sign.
MCCANN: He was looking at you like that because you're scary looking. No, really and truly, what it is, is if you're going to conduct a mission or operation, for instance, attack a landmark, it would be those things that must be done to evaluate it for its vulnerability. In other words, people who might return three times during the day to see when the most people are going there.
It might be a feigned heart attack that tests the response time of the emergency response teams and police. It could be people who are taking pictures not of the landmark itself but turned around backwards taking pictures of egress areas and ingress areas. Again, if you don't come from that operational background, you don't know what to be vigilant for.
NOVAK: That's a problem.
BEGALA: Let me read you a comment from today's "New York Times" from Tony Blair, who I think is the most remarkable leader in the world. And here's what he says about trying to balance vigilance with panic.
He says, "The dilemma is reconciling warning people with alarming them. Taking preventive measures without destroying normal life. If, on the basis of a general warning, we were to shut down all the places that al Qaeda terrorists might be considering for attack, we would be doing their job for them." Don't you think he's right?
MCCANN: Absolutely. I mean you've got to remember that there are immutable truths on the table now. And that's something that people wrestle with. You've seen politicians -- and you all know I'm pretty apolitical -- who stamp their feet, get red faced, flare their nostrils and demand an answer.
Well, you know what, if people have that answer, roll it out. Because I'm sure that there are a lot of people that would like to see that answer. The unspoken voice of all the operators, people in the special mission units, the special operation forces, the case officers, the analysts, the signals intelligence guys, they've not been heard from. They're overworked. They don't want to let anybody in this audience down.
NOVAK: We're almost out of time. But I just want to ask you if you think these warnings do any good or do any harm?
MCCANN: Unless it's better articulated what to look for, I think that they are of no value.
BEGALA: Kelly McCann, always telling it like it is. Thank you very much for joining us. As always, a great briefing from Kelly.
Coming up, we'll ask two very prominent attorneys why everybody hates lawyers until they get ripped off by a big corporation and need a lawyer to defend them? Of course, our next guest, though, has a new profession that's held in slightly higher esteem than lawyers. He's a United States senator. But look fast, because he won't be one for very long. Stay with us.
BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.
Last month's tragic death of Senator Paul Wellstone left a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. A vacancy Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura filled by appointing fellow Independent Dean Barkley. Senator Barkley was sworn in this week. And of course he's not going to be a senator for very long, but he's making the most of it by joining us in the CROSSFIRE. Senator Dean Barkley, ladies and gentlemen.
NOVAK: Senator, we've been tracking you and what you've been doing the last hour before coming down from Capitol Hill. And we're going to put on the screen right now. Now, that fellow sitting up there presiding over the United States Senate is you.
SEN. DEAN BARKLEY (I), MINNESOTA: Yes.
NOVAK: And you were doing this for an hour. And, as far as we can see, absolutely nothing was happening in the Senate. Nobody was talking. There was no voice. Would you say this was the culmination of your life's work?
BARKLEY: I think it was I got hoodwinked to go down there. They called and asked would I like to preside over the Senate for an hour. So I went down there and that was my job, I presided and just sat there.
BEGALA: It is a remarkable honor.
BARKLEY: I got to adjourn, though.
NOVAK: Did you enjoy it?
BARKLEY: Oh, it was just a ball. I never had more fun in my life.
BEGALA: You also paid tribute to Senator Wellstone by sponsoring an immigrant community center in St. Paul in his memory. And everybody I know appreciates that, and I want to particularly publicly thank you for that.
I'm wondering if you'll carry on a little further. There's a bill on homeland security, it has come to the Senate. The Senate had it in a Wellstone amendment. Let me read you what Paul Wellstone said when he added this amendment.
He said this, "I'll tell you this. We're not going to let these companies set up these dummy corporations and not pay their fair of share of taxes. We're going to shut the loophole. And as long as they do it, if they want to renounce their U.S. citizenship, they're not going to be eligible for government contracts. It's that simple.
House Republicans have taken the Wellstone amendment out of that homeland security bill. Will you stand with those who want to keep the Wellstone amendment in and protect us from these corporations that are trying to rip us off?
BARKLEY: Well, that's a very good argument. I wasn't happy with what was in that bill that came over. I called Andy Card myself. I said, you know, I've been supportive. I want to get the president a bill that he can sign. But what was in the bill today, I wasn't happy with.
Now I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm going to go home to Minnesota and think about it and come back here on Monday and cast a vote either for the Daschle amendment or not. But I've got a lot of thinking to do. I want a homeland security bill, but what the Republicans did today or last night in the House I'm not very happy with.
BEGALA: Now the Daschle amendment -- you're already speaking like a senator. That would have stripped all of the pork out.
NOVAK: But you're not happy with the letting corporations operate so they can find the best tax climate. You think that's being a traitor? BARKLEY: No. I mean, businesses are out to make money. But government has an obligation to not have to reward those who try to escape the taxes. I believe that Senator Wellstone's position was well founded. I believed in it.
I have got a tough decision to make. I know that. I might be the deciding vote on this if it goes down the party line. And I'm not taking it lightly.
And I'm going to go and do some heavy thinking. Maybe keep my phone off the hook so Andy Card can't find me this weekend. And come back and make a decision based on my own value system.
NOVAK: Andrew Card is the White House chief of staff.
BEGALA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Are you going to like talk to Minnesotans? How do you arrive at this decision?
BARKLEY: I've been getting feedback all day from Minnesota people. They find my phone finally works and they can get hold of me. And I will listen to people and I'll make a determination what I think is best for this country.
NOVAK: Senator, I'd like to put up on the screen a quote that you had in "The New York Times." It said, "I'm hearing they want to get out of here by Thanksgiving, so that gives me about 10 days of glory. Unless I decide I want to keep them here longer. I mean, I guess a U.S. senator has a lot of power. I could shut down the federal government with a filibuster, right? That's what my people tell me."
Are you seriously considering that? I tell you this. If you really want to shut down the government and shut it down for good, you might have an ally in me.
BARKLEY: I found in the Senate the magic word is "I object," which puts everything to disarray. And fortunately I got Lowell Weickers (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE), who knows the rules of the Senate better than anyone. She's going to be at my side.
I hope I don't have to do anything like that. There's some things I'm still trying to get done between now and Monday. Some things that Minnesota desperately needs that doesn't have anything to do with the money. It's called the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for a welfare program that I'm trying to get through, so I'm going to do it.
BEGALA: The governor needs to put his welfare program into place, right?
BARKLEY: To keep it into compliance. We've had a waiver for five years. For some reason, they don't want to give us an additional waiver, which would put our whole state into disarray.
BEGALA: Well given that you're the deciding vote on a couple of really big issues, I bet you both parties are kissing up to you -- I was about to say another phrase, but we're on TV. Kissing up to you pretty big time.
BARKLEY: Well, that's why I'm not going to tell them what I'm going to do. I'm going to make them worried about it.
BEGALA: Good for you.
NOVAK: Senator, I'm going to ask you three questions. And I'm going to ask you to do something that if you were a long serving senator you would never do. I want you to give a yes or no answer to them.
NOVAK: OK. Do you favor, as a general rule, lower taxes than we now have across the board?
NOVAK: Do you favor, as a general rule, an option for younger people, if they want to, to invest some of the money they pay for Social Security in a personal account that would be theirs?
NOVAK: Do you favor, generally speaking, a lid on government spending so that there are some restraints on how much the government spends?
NOVAK: Well, you know, you're a Republican. Why don't you go with the Republicans?
BARKLEY: Well, those are all fiscal issues. If Republicans would keep their nose out of people's individual lives, I could probably become one. But I'm half Republican, I'm half Democrat.
BEGALA: So you actually think that -- see, Novak thinks the government has no business in the boardroom, but the Republicans want to have a lot of business in our bedroom. Doesn't make any sense to me.
I was wondering, I was struck by that answer. I'm going to lobby you now. Why don't you sponsor the Barkley CROSSFIRE act that makes all of your colleagues answer straight questions and straight answers the way you just did?
BARKLEY: Well, write it up and I'll introduce it on Monday.
BEGALA: Here we go. We'll have the Barkley CROSSFIRE act. That would be great.
Well what is next? Are you going to write your memoirs on your Senate career? Do the talk shows?
BARKLEY: Actually, what's next is I've got to go back to Minnesota and open up a Minnesota office. I opened up the Washington office in about four days. That was warp speed. I mean, to get that done, to be up and able to actually function as a Senate office. I've got to go back and open a Minnesota office.
NOVAK: Now you're working very hard. Do you expect when you leave -- you leave the Senate by the end of the year.
BARKLEY: January, I think it is the third.
NOVAK: Now will you get a government pension for that?
NOVAK: You will not get a government...
BARKLEY: Five years. You need to be here five years before a pension.
NOVAK: OK. But will you have lifetime privileges to go on the Senate floor? Even if you're a lobbyist?
BARKLEY: Even if you're there just one day.
NOVAK: Now, is that your plan, to come back as a lobbyist and lobby these guys?
BARKLEY: No, I plan on going back to Minnesota and finding a job when I'm done with this. Because my job with the Ventura administration is done January 7th. So I'll be a private sector citizen again.
NOVAK: Senator Dean Barkley, thank you very much. We really appreciate it.
BARKLEY: Thank you.
NOVAK: Coming next is a CNN NEWS ALERT. Connie Chung has the latest on the sniper attack on Israelis in the West Bank. And later, two lawyers join us to debate the case against lawyers. Plus our quote of the day. Another celebrity and former CROSSFIRE guest could be contemplating a career in politics.
BEGALA: Coming up on CROSSFIRE, mamas don't let your babies grow up to be lawyers. Or at least that's what one lawyer, Catherine Crier says. She will debate a law professor who's also a top trial attorney.
But next, "Our Quote of the Day" will make you wonder if the man who gave us "Cat Scratch Fever" is itching to get into politics. Stay tuned.
BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're coming to you live from the George Washington University here in Downtown Washington, D.C.
The midterm elections were a whole ten days ago. Michigan governor-elect Jennifer Granholm, a terrific new Democrat, hasn't even taken office yet but politicos are already tossing around names of her possible opponents for 2006.
And one man who might consider doing the political "Wango Tango" is none other than gun nut and gonzo rocker and CROSSFIRE guest Ted Nugent. His response when approached about a possible run for governor is "Our Quote of the Day." Here's what The Nuge said: "There's no doubt the status quo needs to tipped on it bureaucratic ass. I'm definitely the guy for that job. The status quo system of politics sucks." So says The Nuge.
NOVAK: Paul, although Jennifer Granholm at one time was a contestant on "The Dating Game," which I'm sure is a good qualification to run for governor of a big state, she is a Canadian. She can never be President or Vice President. And at least Ted Nugent is, like I am and you are, a native American.
BEGALA: Well, is he Arapaho or Sioux? Because all of us are immigrants.
NOVAK: Those are Indians. I'm a native American.
BEGALA: All of us are immigrants unless were are real Native Americans.
NOVAK: I think you were born in this country, weren't you?
BEGALA: I was born in this country.
NOVAK: Then you're a native American.
BEGALA: My family came from oversees.
NOVAK: One of our Democratic viewers is close to tears. She'll explain why a little later in our "Fireback" segment.
But next, do you suppose anyone would notice if we took Shakespeare's advice and got rid of all the lawyers, killed all the lawyers? Our next guest might. Come to think of it, one of them would probably sue to stop us from doing it.
NOVAK: Now, what do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? a good start. That old joke, like countless others, expresses everyone's distaste for money grubbing, court clogging, fast talking sleazy lawyers. In the CROSSFIRE from New York is attorney, former judge, former CNN colleague and now the very able Court TV anchor Catherine Crier...
CATHERINE CRIER, COURT TV ANCHOR: Bob, you enjoyed that intro too much. NOVAK: She's the author of a new book called "The Case Against Lawyers." And with us to defend the honor of the legal profession, if there is such a thing, is George Washington University law professor and our frequent guest John Banzhaf.
BEGALA: Thank you both for joining us.
Catherine Crier, first, always good to have you back on CNN. I agree with your fundamental point that there are an awful lot of scummy lawyers out there. A whole lot of them defend really crummy corporations that rip us off, kill and maim us with their defective products. But there are some good guys and gals in the business who sue on behalf of consumers.
Let me read you a list of the products that you and I can use now that are safe because of lawsuits filed against these dirtbag corporations.
We now have safety belts, shatterproof glass, air bags, nonflammable pajamas, they stopped the Ford Pinto from blowing up and Firestone tires from exploding. Crawling up here -- airbags, we got the Dalkon shield was banned, asbestos, kid cribs are now safe, surgical ventilators...
JOHN BANZHAF, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: Did a hell of a job on cigarettes too.
BEGALA: We're going on and on. I'm not even going to read them all, Catherine. You should have a little chapter in your book, "Thank God for consumer lawyers," right?
CRIER: Oh my God. Well, I'm not -- the thing that's so funny people assume that we're talking about all lawyers here. There are some good lawyers; there are some good lawsuits. There are appropriate rules in certain situations. But the lawyers now have us so dominated by their ability to manipulate the laws, to selectively enforce the laws and even have them made for them on Capitol Hill, that we are no longer living in a democracy.
I submit to you, there are plenty of things when you look at -- the fatty food litigation is a brilliant example. Do we want the lawyers going to court to decide for the people of America whether we can have our french fries? Of course not.
BANZHAF: I've got to respond to that. But Paul, the problem is if I heard Catherine Crier's interviews correctly, she wants to change the system so these suits can no longer be brought. She wants to get rid of what we call a contingency fee, make the loser pay the winner's costs. I want to ask the audience for a minute. We can get the camera out there. If you or a breadwinner in your family
CRIER: You better say it right, though, because you know there's a caveat in there.
(CROSSTALK) BANZHAF: ... a car company. Could you afford to go out and spend $100,000 to litigate and possibly have to pay $200,000 or $300, 000 for the other side's legal fee, how many would be able to do that? Put up your hand. Let me see how many of you could do that.
At the moment, we have a system that allows people who are injured to go out and sue and they don't have to pay anything if they lose.
NOVAK: John Banzhaf, I just want to ask you -- give a taste of what the American people think of this. That list.
BANZHAF: All the American people? Go ahead, OK.
NOVAK: That was the American trial lawyers list. And...
BANZHAF: And you speak for the people. Go ahead.
NOVAK: I'll tell you who speaks for the people. The Harris poll of this year: prestige of occupations. It's something they do every year. Let's take a look at it. Scientist, 51 percent, doctor 50 percent, military officer 47 percent, lawyer 15 percent.
And those, I think, are mostly relatives.
NOVAK: Catherine, go ahead.
CRIER: Thank you very much because John was throwing out saying, We're going to eliminate all the poor people who can't take on the corporations. Contingency fees were created for that group.
Now the lawyers are partners in virtually every litigation down the pike in the civil courts. They're partners. What do partners want? They want to maximize their profits. They want push things as far as they can. Justice be damned. And, in fact, when they're in major business litigation or mass tort litigation, they're making millions of dollars. Oftentimes their clients come away with some coupon for a free drink on American Airlines. And they act like they're doing the American public a favor. This is absolutely absurd.
BANZHAF: But Catherine, let me read you your quote from CNN. Quote: "Get rid of those contingency fees and make the losers pay." The lawyers are making a hell of a lot of money. For every dollar they get, the clients get two or three dollars. You got to pay lawyers big if you want them to go after big tobacco,...
BANZHAF: ...if you want them to go after the Ford Pinto, if you want them to go after the giants. You take away the contingency fee and make the loser pay, there's nobody in this audience that's willing to put up their hand and say, Yeah, if I were injured even if my lawyer said I had an 75 percent chance of winning, 80 percent chance of willing, how many would be willing to risk a couple of hundred thousands dollars to sue?
CRIER: John, what you're doing is talking about a handful of cases when in fact the American people are having to pay through the nose because of a lot of frivolous litigation brought with contingency fees or minor litigation that didn't belong in the courts in the first place.
And if those contingency fees were removed in all but the cases of impoverishment, then the attorneys will not bring those.
BANZHAF: Well there's nobody in this audience that looks impoverish to me. This is not an impoverished audience out there, Catherine.
As a judge, you know that you and your fellow judges have a weapon against this. It is called the Rule 11 sanction which not only permits you but requires you to sanction people for frivolous lawsuits.
CRIER: As long as judges are elected in most jurisdictions those judges are being put in office, if you will, by the big trial lawyers of this country. And they are not going to exercise what you quoted as a federal court rule which may not always apply in the state courts that are certainly not utilized.
Secondarily, the loser -- let me finish, the loser pays -- let me finish. The loser pays again is a situation that if you bring a frivolous lawsuit, the judge that was put on the bench to make a reasoned decision, can assign court costs and attorney's fees to you.
NOVAK: Speaking of frivolous lawsuits, we're going to put up on the screen some of the people you sued.
Let's take a look at it. Hertz, Spiro Agnew.
BANZHAF: We won that one.
NOVAK: The Interstate Commerce Commission.
NOVAK: Dry cleaners, hair salons, male-only clubs, the National Park Service, Representative Barney Frank, Mrs. Simpson's dance classes, McDonald's, the University of Michigan, the Department of Justice and Victoria's Secret.
BANZHAF: You didn't tell people that we won every damn suit...
CRIER: And there's the problem. There's the problem.
BANZHAF: People have been calling our lawsuits have been called frivolous for years. Two of them experts said we'd never win a smokers suit. We've now won over $250 billion. So these are not frivolous.
CRIER: Just because he won the suits doesn't mean they're right. In fact, those lawsuits...
BANZHAF: But they're not frivolous. Frivolous mean no way in hell can you win. If we win the suits, they're not frivolous.
CRIER: No, that's not right. Because you have stretched the law beyond its breaking point. When you go to England and you get that hot coffee case, what did the judge do? He said most people realize when you get a cup of coffee, you want it hot. It is a hot liquid. If you spill it on yourself, it's called being a klutz.
The judge in England tossed it out.
BEGALA: Let me ask you, maybe it was in the heat of the moment, everybody's all age agitated here. You didn't really mean it when you said just because he won, that doesn't mean he was right? Because that's suggesting that you trust 12 old white men on a corporate board who have billions at stake...
CRIER: Oh God, No, Paul.
BEGALA: ...excuse me. More than 12 disinterested, ordinary Americans to rule justice. I have faith in juries. How about you?
CRIER: No, I get answer that. Hold on. Get to answer that. Get to answer that, John.
Now, Paul, how many of those cases are, in fact, dealing with the American people? You think that every tort case is against a big company. What about the little dry cleaner family operation? What about the National Park System that we're seeing lawsuits where some drunkard falls...
CRIER: Can I finish my sentence?
That in fact the thermal pool -- they fall in a thermal pool in Yellowstone, may well have to close down because they can't keep it open. Those aren't the big corporations. This is all of America getting hit by these disturbed lawsuits.
NOVAK: Do you trust the jury that gives a million dollar -- multi-million dollar verdict to somebody who got shot and gives it -- and makes the people who made the gun pay it because they didn't have a safety lock when there's no law for safety lock? That's a runaway jury, isn't it?
BANZHAF: Not if you understood anything about the law. I think you'd support the decision also. NOVAK: Think I don't understand anything about the law because that's highway robbery.
BANZHAF: That's you qualification to be out here guys. If you don't know the law, but you participate anyway. Good for you. All right.
CRIER: Now, John's been making it up with a lot of lawyers. Unfortunately, some judges are falling for it.
NOVAK: The last word, Catherine.
CRIER: I was going to say, that unfortunately they have stretched the law and created a lot of case precedent. But just because they've convinced one jury or one judge someplace does not make it right.
BANZHAF: Yes, but I'm winning all my lawsuits, Catherine. You haven't won any of yours.
CRIER: Oh, I haven't?
NOVAK: Catherine Crier, thank you.
CRIER: You got it.
NOVAK: Next it's your turn to "Fireback" at us. Thanks to the election, one of or Democratic viewers won't be in for any more close shaves.
BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time now for "Fireback." The time when you have the power. Boy, do you use it.
Here Don Bretthauer in Lawrence, Kansas writes, "I suppose now that the Republicans control the Senate and the House, we won't hear any more about the sweat deal George W. got on his Harken energy stock sale. We spent 50 million investigating Clinton on Whitewater. Now, we have a fat cat sitting in the White House keeping our minds on a war."
Good point, Don.
NOVAK: The Harken thing was a phony. Now Joe Lieberman won't have a platform to harass the president and the vice president of the United States.
BEGALA: The never investigated this. Inside...
NOVAK: Madeline Kelleher of Madison, New Jersey says, "I am so disgusted with my party I could cry. Voting Nancy Pelosi into office shows exactly how our of touch our party politics are. This was not the time to reward career politicians, but to try and save lifetime voters. The Dems need to commission a new focus group." Madeline, there's a lot of rank and file Democrats who feel that the House -- what they didn't need right now was a left wing fund- raiser which Nancy Pelosi is.
BEGALA: Nancy Pelosi became known -- first, she didn't start her career until her fifth child was already mostly grown.
NOVAK: So what?
BEGALA: Because that shows a lot of real family values. Contrast that, her first big issue was fighting for human rights in China. Contrast that with Tom DeLay who's a right-wing thug who called the EPA the of Gestapo of government, what a slur. I'll take Nancy Pelosi any day of the week over Tom DeLay. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to Republicanism.
Mike Callabrese of Manassas, Virginia writes, "Ever since the election I have stopped shaving. When people ask why, I tell them that because of the Bush economic polices, I can no longer afford to. If the Democrats make a stronger and louder statement about the state of economy (like the title of your book)," Paul, "It's Still the Economy, Stupid," thank you Mike. "...they can win back Congress and, maybe even the presidency by 2004."
NOVAK: Well, the trouble with the Democrats right now is that if they say what they believe, people won't vote for them. And if they go, Me, too, people won't vote for them. You got a problem in that party.
Now Phil Martin of Waterloo, Ontario says, "Please come back, Bob. Where have you been since Election Day? Did James and his trash can scare off?"
You know, Phil, you are like most Canadians. You don't have a clue about what's going on. I've been out making speeches in California, New York, visited the University of Kansas last night. But I'm back.
BEGALA: And I'm thrilled. I'm so glad to have Bob back tonight. Always happy to have him here.
BEGALA: Yes, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Evening. I'm Michael Strong (ph) if from Colonia (ph), New Jersey. And my question is how many times does the FBI have to cry wolf before we stop listening?
NOVAK: Well, I think the FBI is a screwed up organization. And it was screwed up in the Clinton administration, it is screwed up now. And what you really need is a strong hand to take charge of it.
Next question. BEGALA: Well, no, excuse me. It is CROSSFIRE, not unifier.
NOVAK: Oh it isn't? Oh.
BEGALA: Bob's right. It was screwed up in the Clinton administration because we put a guy named Louis Freeh in charge of it who was a total disaster. We should give Bush's guy a chance. It's a tough call, it is really a tough call to try to say when we should release this information. My own bias is tell us more, not less. My heart goes out...
NOVAK: I say tell us less not more.
BEGALA: Yes, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Timothy Zeis (ph) from San Antonio, Texas. I'd like to thank Mr. Barkley for coming on CROSSFIRE and answering those questions in a straight and honest manner. He certainly is a breath of fresh air from the typical politician who has to answer straight party line.
NOVAK: I couldn't agree with you more, Mr. San Antonio. And I will tell you this, that's why I'm for term limits. Most of these guys get worse the longer they're around. You know, let's have a one- year term limit. They just last one year. They can be straight and honest.
BEGALA: Let's have term limits for pundits then so we'll be straight and honest. No, people should be in office -- I'm an absolute term limit. Unless the voters send you back, you're gone in six years. That's what it ought to be.
NOVAK: That's the trouble with it.
BEGALA: We have the power. Don't let the power go to the lobbyists which is what would happen if we had term limits.
NOVAK: Sure, go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Mike Kazyiah (ph) from Manassas, Virginia. Aren't these lawyers just encouraging people not to take responsibility for what they do? If I don't want to be fat, I won't eat fast food.
NOVAK: Let me -- go ahead.
BEGALA: No. In fact, they're making corporations be responsible for what they do. If they make a Ford Pinto that explodes and torches your family you're damn right I want a lawyer to go and sue their butts off.
NOVAK: What they are doing is they are making millions for themselves and they're putting millions into the Democratic Party to protect them. What we need in this country is tort reform to protect the ordinary people.
BEGALA: 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 with Anderson Cooper.
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