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Insider's Account of the Clinton Wars

Aired May 26, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left: James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right: Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE, through impeachment and beyond, he's been one of the most steadfast defenders of Bill and Hillary. Today, an insider's account of the Clinton wars.

Plus, the commander-in-chief leads the Memorial Day tributes.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All Americans and every free nation on Earth can trace their liberty to the White markers, the places like Arlington National Cemetery.



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello everybody. Welcome to the Memorial Day edition of CROSSFIRE. Today, of course, is the day we honor all the American servicemen and women who have given their lives for the freedom to debate, discuss and dissent. Freedom we exercise every day here at CROSSFIRE.

In a moment, we will talk to a veteran of the political wars; the Clinton wars, to be specific. Former Clinton White House official Sidney Blumenthal will talk about his memoir. But first, the Memorial Day edition of the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE Political Alert.

There is tragedy on this Memorial Day. An American soldier was ambushed and killed in Iraq this morning. The 163rd American hero to die in our preemptive war in Iraq. Americans everywhere paused today at their barbecues and little league games to remember our fallen patriots.

President Bush, before the war, had told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that it would use against America if we did not attack, so we attacked and 163 of our finest are now dead. But no such weapons have been found. We owe it to our heroes to learn whether our president was badly misinformed and why it is we've lost 163 men to stop weapons that may not even have existed.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: The implication -- and I believe there was an implication in what you just said -- that those Americans died in vain I think is wrong and maybe something even more than wrong. The fact is they didn't. The president said that one of the reasons we were going in was to stop terrorism, this regime that abetted terrorism, had terrorists living in the country, this regime that tried to murder an American president, and it's gone thanks to the sacrifice of those soldiers. And I think all Americans...

BEGALA: They did not die in vain, but they died on the order of a president who sent them there to stop weapons of mass destruction. We owe it to ourselves and those troops to find out who told the president that they had them, how he was misinformed.

CARLSON: Nobody disagrees that the search for weapons of mass destruction is important. But it's not true. In fact, it's a lie to say this war was waged only too find weapons of mass destruction.

BEGALA: Principally, primarily. Not only, but principally.

CARLSON: U.S. forces made a significant arrest in Iraq today. Mohammed Hamun Abdul Jabar (ph), Saddam Hussein's brother-in-law, was taken into custody in Tikrit, which, of course, is Saddam's home town. Abdul Jabar (ph) was detained at 3:00 in the morning while driving a vehicle packed with automatic weapons, light artillery and $300,000 in American currency. His excuse, just headed to the store for a gallon of milk, did not pass muster with American troops. He remains in jail tonight. Amen.

And it's getting people like that off the streets -- I don't think that was the reason we went in there. It's an ancillary benefit and one I think we ought to celebrate.

BEGALA: I think we ought to celebrate that. But, as we just had this last debate, I think we ought to get to the bottom of -- the CIA has said that they're going to review all the intelligence that they provided to our president and I think they should. We need to know why it is the president was so convinced there were weapons there. And maybe they're somewhere hidden, but we know now he didn't use...

CARLSON: Nobody disagrees. This is...

BEGALA: ... them against them, which is because he didn't have them.

CARLSON: ... a regime. That's absolutely right. This is a regime, however, that literally harbored terrorists that had an agreement with al Qaeda that is verified now.

BEGALA: The links to al Qaeda was the most tenuous imaginable.

CARLSON: It's not tenuous at all. It's actually on paper. It was discovered three days after Baghdad fell. There's no arguing it now. Absolutely, it was in 1998, and we have concrete evidence of it.

BEGALA: Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. Al Qaeda did.

CARLSON: That's a different argument.

BEGALA: That's right. Our president has removed the tension away from al Qaeda toward Iraq. Some of us thought that was a mistake. He thinks that that will help limit al Qaeda's strength. I think so far he's been proved wrong.

Senator Joe Lieberman -- closer to home -- has called for a review of allegations that the federal government may have been used to spy on those runaway Democratic legislators in Texas. Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has admitted to calling both the FAA and the Justice Department, but he says his calls were innocent. Texas officials have already destroyed records of their contacts with the Department of Homeland Security.

Senator Lieberman is asking both the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to look into the matter and requesting that White House chief of staff Andy Card provide a list of all contacts by members of his staff and the Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile, sources thought they heard uncontrollable laughter coming from Card's office and someone roaring, you bet, Joe. I'll get right on it.

So good for Lieberman. He's showing some steel here. This is the only way to deal with this kind of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) abuse of power.

CARLSON: This is so dumb. I mean, I would never, and I will never, ever defend the use of the Department of Homeland Security to track some airplane. And it looks like it was done by a state employee in Texas and that's stupid and it's wrong. And again, I'll never defend it.

However, to allege or imply that there's some grand conspiracy, that Andy Card himself was calling the Department of Homeland Security to track some plane that wasn't even in the air, it's dumb. This is...

BEGALA: Nobody's accusing Andy Card of anything.

CARLSON: ... like talking about...


BEGALA: He is the White House chief of staff. Oh, I'm happy to talk about Cheney selling oilfield equipment to Saddam Hussein, who now we realize is a pig. But, no, we need to get to the bottom of whether the Homeland Security Department was used to spy on Democrats. And god bless Joe Lieberman for doing it.


CARLSON: Find a single American who cares. You can call me at home. I'd love to talk to you. The world welcomed a new oppressed minority group this week, the Celts. The United Nations panel has added the Celts of Ireland to its list of historically subjugated, indigenous people, alongside of American Indians, pygmies and, of course, the Laplanders.

There's only one problem. The Celts aren't a minority; at least in Ireland, where almost everyone has Celtish (ph) blood. How are they oppressed? Well, by alcohol, says the United Nations.

It turns out that being drunk all the time isn't a vice or a character flaw. It is indeed a sign you're being discriminated against and are therefore entitled to cash from international aid organizations. Not surprisingly, this news was met with joy and celebration in fraternity houses throughout the Western Hemisphere.

BEGALA: Yes, I, myself, have been viciously and horribly oppressed over the years. What is this about lap dancers being oppressed people?

CARLSON: If you've ever seen some of the patrons of those clubs, that's oppression, buddy. I guess my question is, A, how long is it until lap dancers are declared some (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

BEGALA: Wasn't that in the list there, the Celts and...

CARLSON: I think it was the Laplanders.

BEGALA: Laplanders. I'm sorry. I'm bad.

CARLSON: And for a liberal, I would think you would have a list of oppressed groups at your finger tips. Leave it to me, a conservative, to remind you the Laplanders are indeed oppressed.

BEGALA: Well I am trying to do my best to help the lap dancers. I'm sorry, it was a mistake. But I'll have to go and reclaim that money, won't I?

CARLSON": All in $1 bills.

Next, we revive the Clinton wars with vast right wing conspiracy theorist Sidney Blumenthal. Remember the late 1990s? We're about to remind you. So stay tuned.


BEGALA: Winston Churchill once said he thought history would be kind to him, because, he said, "I intend to write it." Some of my colleagues from the Clinton administration are beginning to weigh in with their own histories of that period. My friends who worked with me for the best president of my lifetime, one of them, former assistant to the president, Sidney Blumenthal, has a new book called "The Clinton Wars."

Still got a lot of fight in him. Ready to step into the CROSSFIRE with us is Sidney Blumenthal. Sid, good to see you, friend.


SIDNEY BLUMENTHAL, AUTHOR, "THE CLINTON WARS": Hey, Paul, how are you? Tucker?

CARLSON: Mr. Blumenthal, your book purports to be account of certain historical events, mostly surrounding the ideological battles over the Clinton presidency. Let's get specific about one of them.

In the summer of 1998, you were called in to a grand jury and subjected to a number of questions. After that, you went outside on the steps and gave an impromptu press conference in which you alleged you'd been asked questions about the president's religion.

Transcripts from that grand jury later showed that that's not true. You were not telling the truth. When you went back the next time before that grand jury, here's what the forewoman said to you: "We're very concerned about the fact that during your last visit that an inaccurate representation of the events that happened was retold on the steps of the courthouse."

In other words, you were lying. Given that, why should we believe anything that's in your book?

BLUMENTHAL: That's a completely confused account. It's jumbled up everything. You know, Paul may remember a time in the White House when "The New York Post" ran a headline. Things got so bad, I was a lightning rod standing next to the president that "The New York Post" ran a headline that said "Bill's a Dirtdevil".

CARLSON: Well, wait a second. Did the forewoman say this or not?

BLUMENTHAL: Not about anything that you said.

CARLSON: But she calls you a liar, why?

BLUMENTHAL: I was not the one who gave that speech. My lawyer gave the speech beforehand, and she was referring to my lawyer's statement. And his remarks were completely accurate. And the remarks that I made that you're referring to I made to reporters, and they were my recollection and they were very accurate about the questions that I was asked in the grand jury.

So I find that a jumbled and confused account. But Paul may remember the meeting that I went into when I said about all these kinds of smears that circled around me, swirled all over the place, quoting the immortal Mick Jagger from "Sympathy for the Devil," "Please allow me to introduce myself." And that was a lot about what went on.

BEGALA: Well let me ask you about something. I lived these with you. I love this book. We were obviously both working for President Clinton during the Clinton wars. But there's stuff in here that was utterly new to me.

You interviewed Sam Dash (ph), who was the top ethics advisor to Ken Starr, who was the prosecutor in the Clinton deal, and other members of Starr's legal team. I never, of course, got to exchange a word with them. We were on different sides of this war. What was it like after the war and what did you learn from the folks who were working for Ken Starr?

BLUMENTHAL: When I was writing this book, I had been a former journalist. I thought I'd exercise my journalistic skills.

So I picked up the telephone, made some calls. One of the people I called was Sam Dash (ph). Sam Dash (ph) had been a legal counselor to Ken Starr. I called him up and he was willing to speak on the record.

And what he told me was that he reviewed every single prosecution memo that Starr had on White Water, on the FBI files case, on the travel office, on Webb Hubbell, and what he told me on the record was they had nothing. And he also told me that he talked to Starr and the other prosecutors and told them that it was their responsibility, as professional prosecutors, when they found there was no evidence to wrap it up, write a report, and they had done their due diligence, but Starr refused to listen. Even though they had nothing, because they had faith, faith, but not facts that Clinton must be guilty.

CARLSON: Now you mentioned your very long career as a journalist. In the book, you show real contempt for a number of journalists: Mike Isikoff from "Newsweek," Chris (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from ABC, the late Mike Kelly of "The Atlantic."

I mean there's an issue here I want to ask you about. Peter Boyer (ph), who was your colleague at the "New Yorker," alleges that before you went to work for the White House, when you were still claiming to be a journalist, you called friends of the Clintons, the Thomasons (ph), and alerted them to a story he was going to do about them. In other words, that you were essentially working for the Clinton before you were really working for the Clintons. Do you regret now that you didn't just go political before you did?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, there were a lot of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) false stories that circulated around.

CARLSON: Is that a lie? Is that not true?

BLUMENTHAL: I would call it a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and false story. It never happened. And I don't -- you know, people -- you know, what that reveals -- and I reveal it in the book -- the frenzied atmosphere of the time, when hatred of the Clintons just completely consumed people, and people were swept into it and involved in all kinds of pseudo scandals.

CARLSON: But, wait. This has nothing to do with the Clintons. This has to do with you.

Now when you went to work at the White House, "The New Republic," which is a liberal magazine, said, "Maybe now he'll get his back pay." This is a critique of you and your journalistic ethics found wanting by many liberals who supported the Clintons. Why is that? BLUMENTHAL: Well, I think my book captures that sort of atmosphere, where people were not just back biting, but vicious and mean. And the first day I went into the White House, as you well know, Matt Drudge spread a vicious rumor on the Internet about my family and lied about it.

Paul and I started on the same day in the White House, and Matt Drudge did that. It was politically inspired, and he did it because he wanted to prevent me from being effective in my work for the president and his program. And you know, there's a story about you in this book about that. You know I think you're a pretty good guy about it in this story, because apparently, from what I heard, you looked into it.

CARLSON: Well, it's interesting, Sidney, because I asked you a fairly clear question about the perception that you, in fact, while pretending to be a journalist, were really doing the partisan bidding of Bill and Hillary Clinton. And you evaded it by going to Matt Drudge and your so-called enemies. But the fact is, people you worked with loathed you because they believe you sold them out for partisan political ends because you were essentially a throne sniffer. And you ignored the question.

BLUMENTHAL: No, I answered it twice and said it was false. But you've evaded my question, Tucker, about Matt Drudge and whether or not you wrote a story looking into it.

CARLSON: I had no role in that, as you know. You subpoenaed me I believe twice, or perhaps it was three times. Quite a low thing to do. Let's not bring that up.

BLUMENTHAL: But did you write a story for "The Weekly Standard"?

CARLSON: Of course I didn't. I think I told your attorneys this, but thanks for bringing it up on television.

BEGALA: Let me try to pull the lens back. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is, let me try to pull the lens back, because this happens a lot. And it's a striking thing.

Tucker's commented on the show a lot. He said that he knew a lot of good people, otherwise normal people who were driven insane by their hatred for Clinton because they were on the right. What was it about our boss -- I mean, knew him for years, you knew him for years. Some people support him and some don't. But why did the drive a few people completely insane?

BLUMENTHAL: Well I think that it was -- you know, we knew Bill Clinton. We knew that he was a moderate person, that he had a conciliatory personality and he was pulling the Democratic Party to the center. And it was precisely that that made him such a threat to Republicans and the right wing.

And because of that, they wanted to do anything to bring him down. And they were willing to do use any means necessary, including an unconstitutional impeachment. You know, if you're thinking about provide something perspective, I think you need to see Bill Clinton in the line of great progressive presidents who always aroused intense hostile opposition.

BEGALA: They didn't hate Roosevelt like this, did they?

BLUMENTHAL: They sure did. And I believe that if Ken Starr had been around, it's possible he would have been pursuing John F. Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis because of an intern.

CARLSON: OK. Well, there's a thought experiment for us.

When we return, we subject Sidney Blumenthal to Rapidfire, which is, of course, the fastest question-and-answer session on television. Stay with us.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time for Rapidfire with Sidney Blumenthal, author of "The Clinton Wars." Subjecting him to quick questions.

BEGALA: The hero of your book, Bill Clinton. The villain is Ken Starr. What would be the first sentence, historical summary of Ken Starr?

BLUMENTHAL: Ken Starr, who pursued an unsuccessful impeachment in which the president was acquitted.

CARLSON: OK. There are, I counted them, 19 photographs of you with Hillary and Bill Clinton in this book. Do you think the Clintons love you as much as you love them?

BLUMENTHAL: I'm looking forward to seeing Hillary at my book party tonight. So yes.

CARLSON: That's touching.

BEGALA: Rumor is Chief Justice Rehnquist -- thief Justice Rehnquist we call him in my household -- is stepping down this summer. Who do you think President Clinton or even a President Gore would have replaced Rehnquist with?

BLUMENTHAL: That's a really good question. I only wish that President Clinton had forced Mario Cuomo to take that Supreme Court nomination when he wanted him to take it.


BEGALA: That would have been wonderful.

CARLSON: The reviews of the book, with one or two exceptions, have been savage. You can't be happy with them, are you?

BLUMENTHAL: Robert Dallek, the great presidential historian, said this is the place to begin if you're studying the history of the Clinton administration. BEGALA: Which journalist got it right covering Clinton and White Water?

BLUMENTHAL: I think there were a lot of journalists who were independent and brave and got it right. Joe Connison (ph), Jean Lyons (ph), Anthony Lewis (ph) of "The New York Times." I think there were a whole host of journalists who -- Lars-Erik Nelson -- the late great Lars-Erik Nelson was a pillar of courage.

CARLSON: Well, speaking of journalists, it's our last question for you, you savaged the late Mike Kelly who was killed covering the war in Iraq in this book, saying mean things about it. Do you regret now writing those things about Mike Kelly?

BLUMENTHAL: What I relate is the historical record. It's completely true. There is no invective (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in here.

And Mike Kelly had written some reports about me that are important historically because they got me to be one of the plaintiffs in the leaks case against Ken Starr with the president and Bruce Lindsay. And what's important about it is that in the final judgment of the judge, that judgment stands against Ken Starr that he was in contempt of court for illegal leaking.

BEGALA: The author is Sid Blumenthal. The book "The Clinton Wars." I highly recommend it. Sid Blumenthal, thank you very much for joining us here on CROSSFIRE.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BEGALA: Time now for our audience question. This time, it's not a preference question, but instead a bit of a trivia question. Who declared Memorial Day to be a federal holiday? Was it, one, Richard Nixon; two, Dwight Eisenhower, or three, honest Abe Lincoln? The audience will vote on that and we'll see how many get it right when we return.

But in just a minute, one of our viewers fires back about one of President Bill Clinton's long lasting legacies. Stay with us.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's time for Fireback. But first, the results of today's trivia question.

The question was: Which American president was the first to make Memorial Day official? Was it Abraham Lincoln, was it Dwight Eisenhower or was it Richard Nixon?

Our audience got it overwhelmingly wrong. Seventy-eight percent said Dwight Eisenhower. Seven percent said Abraham Lincoln. Only 15 percent guessed correctly. It was, in fact, Richard M. Nixon.

BEGALA: Pardon me, as I guess Gerald Ford did for Richard Nixon, but the tradition goes way back. It's an honorable one, decoration day right after the Civil War. But the formal legislation... CARLSON: It took the man from California to do it. OK.

D. Ray from Alliance, Ohio writes "I'm a hard-nosed, bleeding heart liberal, and I am concerned as to why Paul spends so much time discrediting Al Sharpton." So am I. "Sharpton has so much legitimacy, as any other candidate. At least he's been on the ground fighting for people. Can the other candidates truly say they have?"

That's great question, D. Ray. There's nothing wrong with Al Sharpton. He's just a Democrat. More charming than most, in fact.

BEGALA: Very much more charming, but wholly unworthy of the nomination of my party. That's why Tucker supports him. That's why no sensible Democrat does.

CARLSON: Why? I mean that's not a reason. Just because I support him doesn't mean he's not a great guy.

BEGALA: He's a great guy, but you support him. That's a good enough reason for any sensible Democrat to oppose him.

Bill Golden in Binghamton, New York writes "George Bush is brilliant. I'm so grateful for the tax cut. With our checks, he's given us a way to finance Senator Clinton's campaign. Her election will surely stimulate the economy."

Go Bill in upstate Binghamton, New York. Run, Hillary, run.

CARLSON: I hope she runs. The sooner the better.

BEGALA: I want to see her debate Bush. That's what I would like.

CARLSON: Yes, ma'am?

JESSICA EASTMAN: I'm Jessica Eastman (ph) from Huntsville, Alabama. And my question, Paul, how will the infighting with the Democratic presidential candidates affect the chances for one of them to defeat President Bush in 2004?

BEGALA: It's a good question. Actually, my friend, Carl Rove, is President Bush's chief strategist, and he has observed that five times out of six, a contested primary helps the ultimate nominee. Bush was a better candidate in the general election because John McCain gave him the run for the money in the primary.

So very often it helps the candidate. It certainly helped Bush.

CARLSON: That's an excellent question. The Democratic Party has to decide, is it the party of Al Sharpton or is it the party of Dennis Kucinich? And I think it will choose -- yes.

MATT WEISS: Hi, I'm Matt Weiss (ph) from Roswell, Georgia. And I was wondering what both of you thought of the Bush administration's public support of regime change in Iran. BEGALA: Well, regime change is one thing. Another invasion is an entirely -- we should do an entire show about this. Iran, I think, is a greater threat than Iraq ever was. And I think the president is right to call attention to it.

The problem is, have we destroyed our credibility by saying there were weapons in Iraq when they there weren't any? I think we've damaged it, certainly.

CARLSON: So it's a greater threat but we shouldn't do anything about.

BEGALA: Well, I said we should have a whole show on it. We have limited our ability to act in Iran by the fact that we misled our country about Iraq. And so all of us...

CARLSON: He dislikes the president so much, he (ph) can't see clearly.

BEGALA: From the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE. Happy Memorial Day. Thanks to all of those who serve.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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