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Rudolph Captured; Bush Turns Attention to Iran; Zbigniew Brzezinski Discusses Middle East

Aired May 31, 2003 - 19:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak, and Kate O'Beirne.

Our guest is former assistant secretary of defense Richard Perle.

Thanks for coming in, Richard.


SHIELDS: Good to have you here.

Eric Rudolph, sought for the past five years as a domestic terrorist, was captured early Saturday by local police in Murphy, North Carolina. Attorney General John Ashcroft said, quote, "Working with law enforcement nationwide, the FBI always gets their man." Gets his man. Its man, should be. "This sends a clear message that we will never cease in our efforts to hunt down all terrorists, foreign or domestic, and stop them from harming the innocent," end quote.

Bob Novak, what does the capture of Eric Rudolph tell us about the capacity of the United States to stop terrorism at home?

ROBERT NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Well, nothing, absolutely nothing.

SHIELDS: Good, good, OK.

NOVAK: Absolutely nothing. The FBI didn't get its man, or, as it said in the statement, "their man."

SHIELDS: "Their man," that's right, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: It -- the -- a rookie cop, 21-year-old rookie cop from North Carolina, stumbled over him. He thought he was a vagrant.

I think John Ashcroft's a good man. I like John Ashcroft. But he is prone to make -- say silly things. That was one of his sillier statements, taking credit for that. He should have just shut up and say they had identified him, because it has nothing to do with the main task of the FBI today, which is protecting the American people from terrorists.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, you don't think that John Ashcroft's a silly -- says silly things.

AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: I think Bob Novak is absolutely right. Silly, been watching, I think Ashcroft's been watching too many of the old Elliott Ness movies.

SHIELDS: That's right.

NOVAK: "FBI in Peace and War."

HUNT: Exactly.

SHIELDS: Ephram Zimabalist, yes.

HUNT: This is, this has nothing to do with their real mission. I -- and I think they're disturbing him. It's been 621 days since someone sent anthrax and tried to kill television anchor people, tried to kill the Democratic leader of the Senate. I suspect if it were a Democratic Justice Department, John Ashcroft would say that's unacceptable.

SHIELDS: Richard Perle, does this tell us that we should sleep better tonight about terrorism?

PERLE: No, I don't think it does. But it should be an encouragement to the people who are looking for Osama bin Laden, the people who are looking for Saddam Hussein, and the people who are looking for weapons of mass destruction.

It took five years to find this guy right in our own backyard. We will eventually find bin Laden, we will eventually find Saddam, and we're certainly going to find weapons of mass destruction.

SHIELDS: That's taking it from the particular to the universal.


KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: As is so often the case, luck invariably has something to do with it, which, of course, was the case with Eric Roberts. It took 17 years to get the Unabomber. So it wasn't federal investigatory efforts, although they were massive, that found him.

But let me say this in favor of the G-men. They served on a thankless, for many years, fruitless task force searching for this guy. We have not -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not been an incident that he was involved in, apparently, in five years. So I guess we do learn this. These lone wolves are very hard to find, but the relentless tracking of them apparently kept him from any further attacks for a five-year period.

SHIELDS: Last word, Kate O'Beirne. Richard Perle and THE GANG will be back to ask whether President Bush is getting tough on Iran.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. President Bush turned his attention to Iran.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... we were nervous about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the reporting is now out that there's some al Qaeda inside of Iran. We just want the Iranians to understand that if there are al Qaeda loose in Iran, we expect them to be detained.

KAMAL KHARRAZI, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): If America cannot find the Taliban and the al Qaeda, it's America's fault, it's not our problem.


SHIELDS: U.S. officials also expressed concern about nuclear weapons in Iran.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think reasonable people assume that sometime in this decade the Iranians, if they continue to pursue this, which is unfortunate, that they will, in fact, have nuclear weapons.


SHIELDS: Does this signal a more confrontational U.S. policy toward Iran?


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm not aware of any changes in policy of the kind that have been speculated on.


SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, is Iran next in line on the axis of evil?

O'BEIRNE: Well, the regime in Tehran has certainly recently reminded us of how they earned their place among the axis of evil. It doesn't seem, though, that the administration yet has a clear policy on exactly how to deal with the challenge posed by Iran.

Deal with it we'll have to do, though, unfortunately. It won't be pleasant, it won't be easy. But if the end goal is to eliminate terrorism, we have to deal with the foremost state sponsor of terrorism. Now there's evidence, of course, they're harboring al Qaeda, and there's evidence they're seeking a nuclear weapon.

So they must be dealt with.

SHIELDS: Richard Perle, next? PERLE: They are exactly the case that the president has been talking about since September 11, when he is warned about the danger of the worst weapons in the hands of the worst regimes.

There's no doubt that they're trying to acquire nuclear weapons. There's little doubt that they will do so unless they're interfered with. And there's no doubt that they support terrorism. As Kate says, they are probably the single largest supporter of terrorism anywhere in the world.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, the 3rd Army division, Infantry Division of the United States Army was supposed to leave Iraq, it's now held there up to nine months, because of the restlessness there. Aren't we stretched really too thin, I mean, militarily, to even contemplate further action?

NOVAK: I don't think that's really the problem.


NOVAK: I think the problem is the American imperium that we -- a bunch of people in the Pentagon and in the think tanks of Washington think they're going to rule the world. And the striking military success in Iraq encourages them. I don't believe there's any evidence.

President said there may be al Qaeda in Iran. He doesn't know. Certainly the Iranians say that they're against the al Qaeda being there. The fact of the nuclear weapons, the shah of Iran started a nuclear weapon program in Iran.

So it's a -- as a matter of fact, I think that the United States ought to cool it a little bit. I don't think we can run the whole world. I don't think we can intervene in all these places all over the world.

And that is what's worrisome, not -- we got plenty of troops to do a lot of things, but we shouldn't do them.


HUNT: Well, Mark, one of the longest and most futile searches has been for Iranian moderates. We've been looking for 25 years and we haven't been able to find them yet. I think Richard is right, there's no question they are trying to develop a nuclear capacity, with the Russians' help, unfortunately, so far.

My guess is that the al Qaeda tie is a little bit more tenuous and we're hyping it a bit. There's al Qaeda in Detroit too.

The problem is, what do you do about it? And I think that most Iranian experts say there is no external force that's a real -- that's a horse that we could bet on, if you will. And so therefore I think all we can probably do is bring pressure.

And I think we better do it carefully, because otherwise one of two things will happen. Either they will go and the message will be, Let's develop those weapons quickly, because the one thing America doesn't do is attack a country that has weapons of mass destruction, or alternatively, if we want to go in using the Shinseki formula, maybe we'll have 400,000 or 500,000 troops stationed there for a while. I don't think that's a very attractive proposition.

SHIELDS: Out of total enlisted ranks of 1 million, that's really quite a commitment.

Richard, you wanted to say something.

PERLE: Yes, I think what we should not do is pretend that there is a moderate faction in Iran that we can work with, because there isn't. The Khatami government is so close to the Khamenei radical mullahs that there's not enough of a difference to base a policy on.

What we can do is make it clear to the people of Iran, who despise the mullahs, who dictate every aspect of their lives, that we're on their side, that we believe that they too are entitled to freedom and dignity.

And if we do that, I believe that we will accelerate the inevitable reaction against those mullahs. Iran is going to be free, not with the 4th Mechanized Division, or the 3rd, but because the people of Iran are going to take their country back.

NOVAK: I'll tell you what bothers me about the administration. Kate said there's some -- the administration hasn't got its act together on Iran. Boy, they sure don't. We had -- when all this started this week, there were some leaks coming out of the Pentagon that, boy, we're going to get -- we're changing the policy on Iran. We're not going to talk to the so-called moderates any more.

And then the secretary of state says that is absolutely wrong, there's no change in policy. The State Department briefer on his thing Friday was asked about a half a dozen times, is there a change in policy? He says no change in policy. The president's in Russia. He says we're not going to attack Iran.

Again, you have that disagreement and tension, and giving the impression we really don't know what we're doing.


HUNT: ... secretary of defense who doesn't recognize the secretary of state.

O'BEIRNE: No, no. They clearly don't...

HUNT: Donald Rumsfeld thinks he is the secretary of state, Bob.

O'BEIRNE: They clearly are...

SHIELDS: Let Kate -- yes.

O'BEIRNE: ... they clearly need to and are in the process of developing a clear policy on Iran. But their fundamental policy is not as you described it, Bob. Neither this administration nor the American public has any interest in going around the world toppling regimes in order to impose American empire. All we ask is something very fundamental and simple. We don't want to be threatened, and if we are threatened, we demand the right to remove the threat.

That's the foreign policy, Bob.

NOVAK: Why do they -- why do -- why do they class Iran, Iraq, and North Korea all together then? Was that just a rhetorical trick?

PERLE: Because they are all pursuing weapons of mass destruction, and they all hate the United States. And we don't want to learn after the fact that we had a problem.

NOVAK: Well, what is our policy? Is our policy to send in...


NOVAK: ... military forces on all these?

PERLE: No, no, it isn't. And what was wrong with the stories to which you were referring earlier is that they suggested that there was some policy for toppling the Iranian regime. And I know of no such policy.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt...

PERLE: It will topple of its own.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, you were in favor of Iraq and going to war against Iraq. Do you think the political consensus, political will is there, or could be activated in this country right now, to go to war, to invade Iran?

HUNT: No, definitely not.

SHIELDS: Do you, Bob?

NOVAK: No, that -- they can't -- but I'll tell you this, the president of the United States is powerful, and if he starts the same kind of campaign that he started on Iraq, they could turn that around.

HUNT: Yes, but Bob, you would agree that this, and I think Richard would know more than I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on this, but this would be a far tougher undertaking if we (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: Yes, but why was this leaked? I mean, it -- this wasn't made up by reporters.

PERLE: Yes, it was made up.

NOVAK: Oh, please.

PERLE: It was made up. And it's not the only example of stuff being made up. SHIELDS: Last word, Richard Perle. Fabrication, last word. Fabrication, Richard? Fabrication.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, what will President Bush accomplish on his current diplomatic mission?


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Before beginning his first postwar trip abroad, President Bush was asked whether he planned sanctions against France.


BUSH: No, no, no sanctions. I'm not mad. I mean, I'm disappointed, and the American people are disappointed. But now is the time to move forward.


SHIELDS: At his first stop in Poland, the president responded to French criticism of Poland for supporting the Iraq war.


BUSH: America will not forget that Poland rose to the moment.

This is no time to stir up divisions in a great alliance.


SHIELDS: President Bush also indicated he is serious about the road map for Middle East peace. Quote, "Hopefully by now people have learned that when George W. commits America to a project, we mean that we don't have idle chit-chat," end quote.

Al Hunt, what is the president's biggest challenge on this postwar trip?

HUNT: Well, in general, Mark, it's to restore relations that have been frayed over the past couple years with a number of other countries. We're into nation building in a big, big way, and we need friends and allies to help us.

Specifically, it's to, it's to, it's to convince everyone that he is seriously and will remain seriously engaged in the Middle East road map for peace, and he's willing over the next six months to offend both princes of darkness, Novak and Perle, who disagree so passionately about this issue.

SHIELDS: Richard Perle, on this -- on the issue, I mean, the president certainly has, critics aside, has said, This is my mission, this is my task. And, you know, I've got my trademark on it as far as Middle East peace is concerned. PERLE: Well, I think the president made a very important speech last June, June 24, in which he said to the Palestinians, We will support a Palestinian state. But it must be democratic, it mustn't be corrupt, and it must renounce the use of terrorism as an instrument of policy.

What we've had up until now on the Palestinian side is a corrupt, Arafat-led regime that resorted to violence whenever it was convenient. If the Palestinians reform, as the president has demanded, then I would certainly favor the creation of a Palestinian state.

So I'm entirely sympathetic to what the president's trying to accomplish.

The danger is that we will end up not paying sufficient attention to the reform process and allow a few symbolic gestures to substitute for real reform. But if the reform is real, we should move forward.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, I want to get your reaction. But the president certainly, whether Tony Blair exerted pressure on him or whatever, Ariel Sharon was pretty strong this week, this past week, I mean, in terms of talking about Israel was not created to be an occupying nation, that is not what we do.

NOVAK: Then he changed it, that, but the definition of the word "occupying," and then didn't really mean it. You see, I think that Ariel Sharon may rue the day when he brought George W. Bush into the Middle East process and egging him on to attack Iraq was part of bringing him into the Middle East process. He said that's going to solve a lot of things.

Because I think that Prime Minister Sharon is, in trying to divide Secretary of State Powell from the president, rebuffing him rudely went Powell went over there two weeks ago, I think he was depending on the president not to pursue this.

He may be wrong. And the one thing Sharon, who doesn't want -- I mean, Richard, you and I know, we can agree, we've known each other a long time, Sharon doesn't want a Palestinian state of any kind. And the one thing that he may be -- he may have missed his mark in judging George W. Bush. George W. Bush may be sincere. And that's his biggest challenge on this trip.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, one of the arguments, the premises, of going to war against Iraq was that the road to peace in Jerusalem, or the Middle -- in -- between the Israelis and the Palestinians lay through Baghdad. I mean, that...

O'BEIRNE: Well, the rationale for going to war with Iraq was because Iraq posed a threat to the United States. Now, a byproduct of toppling the Saddam Hussein regime was ending, hopefully, one of the sources of support for Palestinian terrorism. At least we can say this much. This much has improved. Families of so-called suicide bombers are no longer getting $25,000 checks from Saddam Hussein.

So that was a byproduct that begins reducing, at least, that level of support.

But the Arab leaders the president's going to be meeting with before he sits down with the principals representing the Palestinians and Sharon, they really have to step up to the plate too now. I mean, the president is determined that as long as terrorism is being used as an instrument, Israel cannot be expected to accept a base camp for terrorists as its neighbor.

NOVAK: That's the, that's the, that's the Sharon mantra. But, but, Kate, it's gone beyond that now. It -- he's, he's, he isn't, Sharon is in trouble right now because I think Bush is sincere. Don't you think he is?

O'BEIRNE: I think, I think Bush is terribly sincere, absolutely. But I think Bush is going to be, is going to stick to his speech of a year ago June. It cannot happen with Yasser Arafat, and it can't happen until terrorism is abandoned.

SHIELDS: Let me just ask one question, because it was raised earlier, and that is, the rationale for going to war. The president announced in Poland that we had found weapons of mass destruction. I mean, that was sort of rhetorical hyperbole, wasn't it, Al?

Go ahead, Richard, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

PERLE: No, it wasn't hyperbole at all. What we found were the mobile biological weapons production facilities that Secretary Powell referred to in his famous briefing at the United Nations. They were exactly as he described them. There's no question about what they were there for. They were there to produce biological weapons.

HUNT: Now, Richard, you would agree, as the top Marine in Iraq said yesterday, that it's been disappointing that we haven't found more, and he's perplexed by that.

PERLE: Well, he shouldn't be perplexed. The reason why we haven't found more is that everything was hidden in the four years when there were no inspectors present. Well hidden. And we are not going to find more until people who know where things are tell us where. Look, that's how we found these mobile laboratories. A defector told us where they were. And that's indeed where they were.

And when further interrogations produce current information about where things have been hidden, we will find additional weapons of mass destruction.

NOVAK: The hard-liners in this government, off the record, think they have to do a lot better than that, Richard, or we are going to be very much embarrassed by the whole situation.

PERLE: I don't believe we should be embarrassed at all. We know what was produced. The United Nations documented what was produced. Saddam never accounted for it, even though he was given ample opportunity to do so. We had to assume that what couldn't be accounted for had been hidden. And indeed, we heard Iraqis talking to each other about hiding. What more could you want?

SHIELDS: Richard, and I just have to say that two mobile vans do not rise to the level of an imminent threat to the continental United States. And as presented by the president and the secretary of state, the case was that they were, they were really right around the corner, they were just basically off Nantucket and about to land.

PERLE: I don't think the argument was that it was imminent in time. He...

SHIELDS: Imminent threat to the United States.

PERLE: Well, if you know that you have a Saddam Hussein who is building weapons of mass destruction, whether he's going to attack in a week or a month or a year is beside the point. You have a threat that has to be dealt with.


HUNT: But Paul Wolfowitz said in an interview out this weekend that it really was only a bureaucratic rationale.

PERLE: No, he didn't say that.

HUNT: Yes, he did. He said it was a...

PERLE: I've read the text of what he said.

HUNT: Well, I have too.

PERLE: And he was seriously misquoted in that article. And the misquotes in the wire service accounts are even worse than the misquotes...

HUNT: Those were direct quotes.

SHIELDS: It was a direct quote. He said, "A bureaucratic decision was made to go with weapons of mass destruction because there was a consensus on that."

PERLE: If you read...

SHIELDS: I read the article.

PERLE: ... the full quote, which is on the Defense Department Web site, precisely to counter the distortions, you will see that he said there were multiple reasons, all of which were stated by the president.

NOVAK: I just want to get back to the road map for just one minute...


NOVAK: ... and that is, I really believe that saying that the future of this proposal lies in the hands of whether some extremist terrorists who are opposed to any kind of Palestinian state that doesn't engulf Israel, that the -- that that has been the whole argument that Sharon (UNINTELLIGIBLE) lays it on their, on their shoulders, I don't think that that is what the president is saying, that boy, if we have a few suicide bombers, the whole deal is off.

SHIELDS: Last word, Bob Novak. Richard Perle, thank you very much for being with us.

Coming up on the second half of CAPITAL GANG, our "Newsmaker of the Week" is Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter. "Beyond the Beltway" looks at John Edwards, in political trouble at home, with "Raleigh News and Observer" political reporter John Wagner.

That and our "Outrage of the Week" all after the latest news headlines.



ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG.

I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak, and Kate O'Beirne.

Our "Newsmaker of the Week" is foreign affairs expert Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, age 75, residence McLean, Virginia, religion Roman Catholic. BA and Masters from McGill University, PhD in political science from Harvard.

Faculty member, Harvard and Columbia Universities. State Department policy planning in the Johnson administration, national security adviser in Carter administration.

Al Hunt sat down with Zbigniew Brzezinski in his Washington office earlier this week.


HUNT: Dr. Brzezinski, week 10, and we have not discovered any real weapons of mass destruction yet in Iraq. Does that matter?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It matters a lot. You know, the credibility of the United States worldwide rests on people trusting America. This is also terribly important in terms of the American political system.

The fact that there have been no weapons of mass destruction located in Iraq puts at issue the credibility of the executive branch, secondly of the Congress, and third, last but not least, of the mass media. HUNT: In a magazine interview out this weekend, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, however, says that the weapons of mass destruction was only a, quote, "bureaucratic," end quote, rationale for war.

BRZEZINSKI: That sounds to me like saying we have a license to lie, because the president, the secretary of state, and the secretary of defense and many others went to the people, went to the Congress, and said, We have to act because there is this massive menace.

I could give you quote after quote from the president and lots of other people in the top levels of the government to that effect.

So the issue arises, did they know this wasn't so? I assume the didn't. I want to assume they didn't. In which case, who misled them? There was a lot of false information pouring in. Did we generate it ourselves? Or did people who have an interest in the U.S. going to war with Iraq fed it to us?

Why didn't the mass media go after this? Why didn't they expose that fact?

HUNT: Is the greater danger that we get bogged down in a quagmire, or that we pull out too quickly?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, each represents a danger. I don't think we can pull out too quickly, because obviously the resulting vacuum would be filled by forces hostile to us. But we if we simply stay largely on our own, hostile forces to us will generate strength.

The shorthand formula I use for that is, the more we internationalize our presence, the longer we can stay.

HUNT: Is it better right now to have a policy that forcefully pressures Iran and supports resistance groups, or one that tries to engage with the present regime?

BRZEZINSKI: Whatever policy we adopt towards Iran has to be based on credibility. If we have had no credibility regarding Iraq, we wouldn't have been able to act. That credibility has been used up. It's like a credit. So we have to be very careful now, because otherwise the world will simply think that we're off on some crazy adventure.

If we have a case against Iran, we really have to document it in a way that undoes the damage that the assertions regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have done to U.S. credibility.

HUNT: Do you agree with the president that we have terrorists on the run?

BRZEZINSKI: I think terrorism is a pervasive but vague and loose phenomenon. It's not some sort of highly centralized world, effectively directed conspiracy. So we have neither than -- we have them neither on the run, nor are they organized really to strike over and over again against us. HUNT: In the Middle East road map, is President Bush on the right course? And what does he have to do to make it work?

BRZEZINSKI: He's on the right course if he's serious. And in a very interesting interview to the Egyptian television, he said he's dead serious. He really means it. And he even referred to himself in the third person. He says, "George W. means it. And when he says something, action follows."

If he's that serious, then things might move forward. But at some point, he will have to indicate both to the Israelis and to the Palestinians, at least the outlines of what is at the end of the road map. If he doesn't do that, then the road map will become increasingly a series of zigzags, and ultimately lead to nowhere.

HUNT: You've been in Washington for a long time, witnessed a lot of power struggles in this town, maybe participated in one or two. Powell versus Rumsfeld, who's winning, and what are the stakes?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think Rumsfeld has the upper hand right now, because he holds forth not only on defense policy but on foreign policy. The stakes are enormous. It's how America defines itself in relationship to the rest of the world.

And that requires serious attention and probably some rethinking, because otherwise we can become very isolated in the world and the object of global dislike.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, how significant it is when Zbigniew Brzezinski is that concerned about the failure of the United States to find weapons of mass destruction?

HUNT: Mark, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) who has this uncanny penchant for being right on things. I think we argue unless we find something that's a far graver threat than a couple, you know, mobile trailers over there, it's going to say one of two things, either we had terribly flawed intelligence, or that people were lied to about sending American men and women in harm's way. Both would be disturbing.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: You know, when you get a old-time hawk like Zbig, who was a Vietnam hawk, he was author, the Afghanistan CIA operation, he was for going into the Balkans, and he is a little worried about our overstretching, overdrawing on our credit. I think people who are sober conservatives should listen to him, because he's not just another silly dove.

O'BEIRNE: No, but he was a cold war hawk and has not been hawkish on the war on terrorism.

I agree with him. Of course I think they have to find our account for the weapons of mass destruction. But if the -- if we're concerned about credibility, he ought to take another careful look at Paul Wolfowitz's interview, because he didn't say it was only a bureaucratic reason. It's been completely misconstrued.

HUNT: Well, now, you know, in fairness to Zbig, that was my question.


HUNT: It was, it was my question. He did not, he did not bring that up.

SHIELDS: OK, last word, Al Hunt.

Coming up, THE CAPITAL GANG Classic. Was President Bill Clinton too soft on Russian nuclear aid and sales to Iran?


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Eight years ago, President Bill Clinton was in Moscow for the 50th anniversary of V-E Day, and to confer with Russian President Boris Yeltsin after failing to get the Russians to stop selling nuclear weapons technology to Iran. President Clinton was criticized by Senate Republican leader Bob Dole.

THE CAPITAL GANG discussed this on May 13, 1995. Our guest was Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, May 13, 1995)

SHIELDS: Is it dirty pool for Republicans to snipe at a Democratic president...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I'm not sure...

SHIELDS: ... in the midst of an overseas trip?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the biggest mistake about the president's trip to Russia was the fact that he went to Russia. To go there and celebrate V-E Day, which commemorates a war that the Soviets helped to start...

HUNT: He shouldn't have gone. I mean, if he could have gotten a deal on Iran, it was worth going. I'm told it was his stubborn insistence that he go. This administration has consistently misjudged Russia...

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Did it make sense to go? The argument that it was justifying the Soviet Union seems to me a little bizarre, since the people who are in power now were the ones who repudiated the Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin has a lot of problems, but I do not think he is morally responsible for the Hitler-Stalin pact.

NOVAK: I think it would have been a lot better over the years if we had criticized. There's been a lot of terrible summits, starting with Yalta, when Roosevelt gave away Eastern Europe and Poland to the communists.

The worst thing he did, Mark, was sitting there and listening to Yeltsin say, We are not fighting in Chechnya, this is an internal affair, and not turning to him and saying...


NOVAK: ... Mr. Yeltsin, you are wrong.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, should President Clinton have come down harder against President Yeltsin?

NOVAK: Sure. I don't think it was the end of the world, but what I said eight years ago sounds really good now, because I think we should have been tougher on these Russians, communist and post- communist.

SHIELDS: Including Putin.

NOVAK: Yes, Putin, including Putin.

SHIELDS: Yes. Kate?

O'BEIRNE: May I remind you of what President Clinton was saying eight years ago about this meeting was, it was a win-win. I mean, he was zero for three, he didn't get anything he wanted out of Yeltsin. But in the parallel universe he lived in, that was a win-win.


HUNT: I just think it's wrong to suggest that Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower were party to giving away Eastern Europe...



HUNT: ... Mark, because...

NOVAK: They were.


HUNT: ... they were not. You know, there was a war going on, and, you know, whatever we think of the awful regime in the Soviet Union, they lost about 20 million people.

SHIELDS: You make sense, Al Hunt.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, Beyond the Beltway asks whether Senator John Edwards, while running for president, is in political trouble back home in North Carolina. We'll be joined by John Wagner of "The Raleigh News and Observer."


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

The latest North Carolina poll by Research 2000 conducted for "The Raleigh News and Observer" shows Senator John Edwards slipping at home as he seeks the Democratic presidential nomination. Edwards has 44 percent favorable opinion and 41 percent unfavorable.

In a matchup against Republican Congressman Richard Burr, Senator Edwards leads 47 percent to 36 percent for reelection with 17 percent undecided.

Joining us now is John Wagner, "Raleigh News and Observer" Washington correspondent, who regularly covers Senator Edwards on the campaign trail.

Thanks for coming in, John.


SHIELDS: John, under North Carolina law, Senator Edwards can run for both senator and president on the same ballot. Is his presidential candidacy hurting in any way, in your judgment, his senatorial prospects for the election?

WAGNER: Well, there's certainly no evidence that it's helped at this point. You know, you said in a matchup with Burr, who is the White House anointed candidate at this point, and he's doing, you know, OK. Those aren't great numbers. But if you look more generically at his generic reelect numbers, those have slipped several points since January.

SHIELDS: Resentment, you think, about going national, getting too big for his breeches, or leaving his folks at home, or (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

WAGNER: There's some of that. It's been fueled, you know, largely by Republicans, but it's starting to catch on in some places.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: The story I hear, John, from some Democrats is that he may -- John Edwards may get out of the Senate picture entirely, concentrate on president, and that Erskine Bowles, who ran for the Senate against Elizabeth Dole, former White House chief of staff, well known around the state, better known that Richard Burr, would run against Burr. Do you hear that story?

WAGNER: Well, I think it's probably going to be fall before Edwards gets to the point where he feels like he has to go one way or another. It is true he can legally run for both, but the political reality is that that's unlikely.

If he thinks it's worth the gamble in the fall, yes, it's a very credible scenario that Bowles would get in.

NOVAK: Bowles will be a strong candidate, you think, the second time around?

WAGNER: Well, I mean, the conventional wisdom was, he ran a good race, and that, you know, Richard Burr would be an easier candidate to take on than Elizabeth Dole, who started out with, you know, close to 100 percent name recognition.

SHIELDS: She's got a lot better hair.

Go ahead, Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Speaking of better hair.

Given that John Edwards was only elected with 51 percent of the vote in '98, and now that he's been auditioning for the Democratic nomination, obviously, appealing to liberal voters, even if he were to decide to stay in the Senate, might he have trouble in a seat that does not -- where a senator hasn't been reelected in years and years, holding onto that Senate seat in any event?

WAGNER: That's possible. And, you know, in fact, since 1974, I think, the seat has turned over six times. No one has held it for more than a single term.

The bigger rap on him right now from the Republican side is that he's just not there enough, that he's gone AWOL. He started in '98 being in the state just about every weekend, and that's just not logistically possible when you're running for president.


HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) North Carolina last week and heard the same things that Bob talked about earlier. What do you think is the litmus test that John Edwards is going to apply for himself? Does he have to be at a certain place in the polls to stay in the presidential race? Does he have to be -- is it now continuing success with money raising? Do you have any sense of whether he's 100 percent in this thing, at least through next February, or not?

WAGNER: Well, his heart certainly seems to be in the presidential race right now, and not the Senate race. And I -- you know, I think there will be a crucial moment come fall, and I think you look at money, you look to see if there's -- you know, is any movement in the polls. Right now he's very low. But that's not unexpected given...

HUNT: Including in the early contest (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WAGNER: Right, right, which I don't think is shocking, given most people there don't know who he is. And he's kind of approaching it fairly methodically. And, I mean, he's doing OK in terms of courting the activists. He's actually holding his own in the early states.

So it's a process, and I think he'll see where he is at that point.

SHIELDS: John, I never heard Republicans in 2000 in even North Carolina or Texas complain about George W. Bush not being home enough as he traipsed around the country in pursuit of the nomination. But maybe I missed something there, Bob.

NOVAK: Can I explain it to you?

SHIELDS: You -- I'm sure you will. But tell me this, Lloyd Bentsen ran 1988 and was on the ticket with Michael Dukakis, was reelected to the Senate that year. Lyndon Johnson in 1960. Is there something special about...

HUNT: Joe Lieberman.

SHIELDS: Joe Lieberman in -- that's right, Joe Lieberman, absolutely, in 2000 in Connecticut. Is there something special about North Carolina, you think, for this to be foreclosed as an option for John Edwards if he were the Democratic nominee, or nominee for vice president, to run for the Senate as well?

WAGNER: Well, I mean, he's someone who's actually very new to North Carolina politics, and not just national politics. Voters don't have a deep reservoir of trust, as they did in some of the cases you cited. And also, I think North Carolina's traditionally been a Republican state at the presidential level. It's -- in '76, when Jimmy Carter carried it, that any Democratic has prevailed there.


NOVAK: The thing that I just don't quite understand, maybe you can -- you know Senator Edwards a lot better than I do. But here is a guy who is a multimillionaire trial lawyer, an accident lawyer, and he never ran for anything. He barely beats a guy who is one of the worst candidates I've ever seen in my life, a Republican...


NOVAK: Yes. And, you know, not the swiftest guy in the world. And he's barely been in the Senate for two years and his campaign consultant, Bob Shrum, starts pushing him for vice president, and that, that, I think, is when he became (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- What went on in his head, do you think, that he just decided, Boy, I'm -- now is my time to run for president? I haven't been around very long.

WAGNER: Well, I do think the vice presidential selection process was a fairly pivotal moment, where he got an incredible string of media after that. There was one hot candidate story after another in magazines.

NOVAK: "Vanity Fair" had one (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

WAGNER: "Vanity Fair," "Elle," two women's magazine. And, you know...

HUNT: Bob's a subscriber. (CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Never, never, never miss it.

WAGNER: I figured. So, I mean, I think, you know, there was a very steady stream of buzz about him, and, you know, number of factors coincided, and he decided to go for it.

NOVAK: Does he like the Senate?

WAGNER: I -- you know, I don't know. I mean, I think he likes the give and take of debate. But that's a good question.

SHIELDS: He wouldn't be the first vice presidential -- the first who has flirted with the vice president, to say, Next time I'll, I'm going to, I'm going to run myself, rather than be at, you know, be waiting for that call at midnight to come in.

O'BEIRNE: Yes, John, it wouldn't seem, given what a novice he is to politics, wouldn't seem, and some new to Washington, wouldn't seem that give a national security informed policy thing at the top of the agenda favors John Edwards. Does he think that being a Southerner sort of trumps that, given that the public tends to, in recent memory, only vote for Southern Democrats?

WAGNER: Yes, I mean, that's a large part of the rationale for his candidacy, that he -- I mean, he argues he can carry states in the South, which obviously the Democrats have had a problem with.

HUNT: John, what does he think? How do you get there from here? He obviously thinks South Carolina, where he's -- he was actually born in South Carolina...


HUNT: ... but he's first, the Iowa and New Hampshire come first. What does the Edwards campaign say they think they can and they have to do in those two (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

WAGNER: Well, I -- South Carolina really is the linchpin, and...

HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) now is if they don't do something, and don't win, show, or place, in the first two?

WAGNER: Well, certainly they have to exceed expectations, whatever those are at that point, in Iowa, probably, and then, you know, carry that through in New Hampshire and get to South Carolina still standing.

One advantage he may have, if he continues fund raising at this clip, is with a front-loaded calendar. He's going to have the money to start, you know, playing in the next round of states. So if he can, you know, win South Carolina and still be alive after that, he may actually be in better shape than some of the others.

NOVAK: He hasn't tapped out the trial lawyers yet for contributions?

WAGNER: Well, we'll see in the next fund raising report.

SHIELDS: One -- well, Bush certainly hasn't (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ended up tapping out the oil committee. But what about in the fact, I mean, this is a guy who's an enormously gifted candidate, though. I mean, he's -- I mean, he's got great political gifts, I think we'd all acknowledge that.

WAGNER: Yes. And, I mean, he's great in a small room. He's very good at retail politics. And was just up in New Hampshire last week, and he lights up a room.

NOVAK: It's a wholesale world, though.

SHIELDS: Listen to it, the original retailer.

John Wagner, thank you very much for being with us.

THE GANG will be back with the Outrages of the Week.


SHIELDS: Now for the Outrage of the Week.

President Bush proudly signed the final Republican tax bill, which eliminated the child tax credit for 12 million children in low- income working families that make up to $26,000 a year.

These folks do pay federal excise, payroll taxes, Social Security, and Medicare taxes. But no child tax credits for the brave young Americans who fought in Iraq, the staff sergeants, the sergeants, the corporals, the PFCs in the Marine Corps and the Army, even though they are mothers and fathers. They do not get paid enough to qualify for the Bush child tax credit.

So much for all the flag-waving and national gratitude.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Liberals in politics and the media had a fit when they discovered that the new tax cut does not provide extra children's tax credits for families with less than $26,000 income. These people don't pay federal income taxes. So they can't have a tax cut. The liberals want a federal handout, which is definitely not a tax cut.

What about the payroll tax that everybody pays for Social Security? Let them keep that money and invest it. But Social Security is another outrage for another time.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: The latest judicial nominee to face vehement opposition from Senate Democrats is Judge Carolyn Kuhl of California Superior Court, nominated to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Threatening another filibuster raises the question of whether Democrats are holding women and minorities, like Priscilla Owen and Miguel Estrada, and now Kuhl, to a double standard. The complaint against Judge Kuhl, about an abortion case she worked on 17 years ago, was never raised about a male nominee who worked with her on the case.

Women and minorities need not apply?


HUNT: Good debate, guys, but I got to give the edge to Mark. I mean, it was close.

NOVAK: Gee, what a surprise.

HUNT: The Bush administration is proposing to dismantle Head Start, the highly effective 38-year-old federal program that helps at- risk young kids. They want to turn it over to the states. Dr. Edward Ziegler (ph), the renowned Yale pediatrician and father of Head Start, says this is, quote, "ill conceived," end quote, and would hurt those kids.

But it might save the feds a few bucks. In today's -- that's money that could be used by the wealthiest Americans. Disadvantaged kids simply aren't in vogue.

SHIELDS: Bob, you know, they say that Bill Clinton and Bob Dole's option's not going to be picked up by the "60 Minutes." Do you think maybe you and I could apply for that?

NOVAK: Not a chance, not a chance, buddy.


HUNT: Was that, was that...

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying goodbye for THE CAPITAL GANG.

Coming up next, "CNN PRESENTS: The Hunt for Eric Rudolph." At 9:00 p.m., "LARRY KING WEEKEND," Carol Channing the guest. And at 10:00, the latest on the capture of Eric Rudolph on "CNN SATURDAY NIGHT."


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