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Democrats Step-Up Attacks on Bush's Post-War Policy in Iraq

Aired July 10, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Like the rhinos he saw in Africa, President Bush may need a tough hide as Democrats step-up their attacks on his post-war policy in Iraq.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MS), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now clearly, it's time for the president to step forward and tell the truth that the war is continuing, and so are the casualties.

ANNOUNCER: We'll talk to another critic, presidential candidate Bob Graham.

Keeping the faith in Republicans. Are Christian conservatives having second thoughts about President Bush?

California or bust? Governor Gray Davis tries to convince voters that driving him out of office will cost them big-time.

Now live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us I'm Candy Crowley.

President Bush says the United States needs to remain tough in Iraq. His defenders are having to hang tough, too. Less than two hours ago in Africa, Secretary of State Colin Powell was grilled about the credibility of the president's pre-war claims about weapons of mass destruction. Powell called the controversy overwrought and overblown.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: And if there's anybody who thinks that Saddam Hussein ever lost the intent to have such weapons, then I think that is the most naive view imaginable. And he had the chance to come clean to the international community. He did not take that chance. He did not take that opportunity. And the war followed.


CROWLEY: Back here in Washington, Democrats are trying to turn up the heat on the president and his Iraq policy. Let's go to our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl. Jon, is that the politics I smell in the air?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, if there was ever a time when Democrats thought that the president was untouchable on national security that time is clearly over. Democrats, especially those who want to be president, have been increasingly critical of the president's approach to Iraq. Most recent today was John Kerry who held a press conference up here on Capitol Hill on the issue.


KERRY: We now know that the administration went to war without a thorough plan to win the peace. It is time to face that truth and to change course, to share the post-war burden internationally for the sake of our country, for our standing in the world, and most of all, for the young Americans in uniform who cannot be protected from an enemy attack by an announcement, no matter how well staged.


KERRY: As the president faces questions over the continuing casualties in Iraq, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and that faulty intelligence that made it into his State of the Union Address, Democrats are sensing that national security could be turned from the president's greatest asset to a political liability.

Again today, John Kerry in his press conference said it was one of the central reasons behind his campaign.


KERRY: And one of the reasons I'm running for president of the was United States is to hold this president accountable for the lack of planning, the lack of diplomacy, the lack of strategy and the lack of commitment for the multi-lateral institutions that have helped America to be strong and provide a safe -- a safety and security to the American people. That's the job of the president.


KARL: Now, Kerry supported the war. Howard Dean, who did not, came out swinging today on the issue that information that was false and the president's State of the Union Address. He said in a statement, "What is now clear is that there are those in this administration that mislead the president, mislead the nation and mislead the world in making the case for war in Iraq They know who they are and they should resign today."

So Howard Dean says that those that were responsible for getting that information into the president's state of the union address should lose their jobs.

Now, as for Republicans, they're looking at this and saying that this is politics, this is has a lot to do with the success of Howard Dean. The chairman of the RNC, Ed Gillespie, said in a statement, "Democrats are tripping over themselves to get to the left of Howard Dean when it comes to Iraq in order to appeal to the anti-war activists and their party" -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill. Getting rough out there. Thanks, Jonathan.

KARL: Sure.

CROWLEY: Critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy also are taking their message to the air waves and online. The Democratic National Committee is launching a new ad on its Web site today hitting the administration on its claims about weapons of mass destruction.

And the anti-war group behind earlier star-studded ads plans to launch a tough new TV spot tomorrow. says the new ad will accuse the president of misleading the nation to build up support for the Iraq war.

I want to talk more about Iraq and pre-war intelligence with Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bob Graham. Senator, thanks so much for joining us from New York.


CROWLEY: It's good to see you.

Look, I just want to ask you some the questions. Did the president lie knowingly to the American people?

GRAHAM: There has been a pattern of deception throughout this administration, Candy. It's not just limited to Iraq or national security issue. It goes all the way back to the development of the First Energy Policy where the public was largely shut out.

I think that the president selectively used intelligence in order to validate a decision that he had already made rather than the purpose of intelligence which is to inform the decision-maker so that they can make a better judgment.

CROWLEY: Well, Senator, as you know, the president scores fairly high among the public for being trustworthy and honest. This, obviously, is an attempt to say, Wait a second. But when you say misleading and his administration is misleading, aren't we talking about the president? And is this an actual accusation from Democrats, yourself included, that the president deliberately lied? I mean, isn't that what everybody is sort of dancing around?

GRAHAM: Well, I believe in the old admonition if you're the captain of the ship and the ship goes aground, you're responsible.

The administration, President Bush appointed all of the key people who are running our intelligence agencies. He appointed the people in the Department of Defense and the Department of State which reviewed the information. And in spite of all that, in his State of the State Union -- message, he had a statement that was clearly untrue. And that is that Niger had supplied nuclear materials to Iraq. CROWLEY: Senator, let me ask you on the general question of weapons of mass destruction, I want to -- we found something that you said in December on the CBS program, and I want you to put it in context for me. As we all know, Bush's move into Iraq, you have been opposed to and voted against.

Here's what you said in December. "We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein has a developing capacity for the production and storage of weapons for mass destruction.

How does that square with saying, Look, you know, the president, you know, made this up?

GRAHAM: Well, that statement was based on the briefings that we had had just a few weeks earlier by the CIA and other intelligence agencies in which they made such a case. Apparently we were not getting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in terms of what they knew or what they knew was dramatically at variance with the facts.

CROWLEY: So you were misled as well as the president?

GRAHAM: Yes. And I think the other members of Congress who heard what we had every right to assume was an accurate, balanced, taking into account all the information that which supported weapons of mass destruction and that which contradicted that, that we were led to believe that there was compelling evidence to believe that there were such weapons in Iraq.

Frankly, I hope, even at this late date, that we find those weapons because if we don't, the credibility of the United States around the world, the credibility of the United States government with the people of America, will be substantially eroded.

CROWLEY: Senator Graham, let me turn to your campaign specifically. You got a late start because of some health problems that have been, obviously, corrected with surgery. But it's been a rough go out there. And, you know, on paper, you're the candidate with the resume. What do you think's going on?

GRAHAM: Well, we've made great progress, Candy. In the last month, there have been three national polls. In each of them, we were either in fourth position or tied for fourth among the nine candidates. Now, we don't plan on ending up fourth, but it represents a substantial forward move since we entered the campaign.

We've got a good message. We have an electability that I think no other candidate can bring to the Democratic nomination, strong citizens and organizational support. I am more confident today than I have been since we started this campaign of our victory in November of 2004.

CROWLEY: Presidential candidate Senator Bob Graham from the all- important state of Florida. Thank you so much, Senator. We'll see you out there. GRAHAM: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: And this note, Judy Woodruff will interview Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt tomorrow on INSIDE POLITICS.

Still ahead, a conservative view of the presidential race. I'll ask GOP strategist Ralph Reed how secure President Bush is with his base.

Plus, the final word from talk show host Jerry Springer. Will he run for the Senate?

And later, they may be the mascot of the GOP, but did elephants make President Bush blush anyway?


CROWLEY: Locking up the conservative vote is a must before President Bush can even think about winning election in 204. Earlier I spoke with GOP strategist and long-time conservative leader Ralph Reed. I asked him about the president's current standing on the right, especially given recent not-so-conservative White House stand on issues such as Medicare and affirmative action.


RALPH REED, BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, I think, in fact, if you look at the polling data the president has an extraordinary job approval rating and personal approval rating among grassroots conservatives. It's -- 96 percent of grassroots conservatives in the Republican party have an approval of the job the president is doing.

And the reason why is he's given us the deepest, broadest tax cuts since the Reagan era, he's given us the most modern effect we've seen since the end of Cold War. He's leading the way on restoring our economy's strength through lowered taxes, through historically low interest rates, through expanding trade.

And he's remained true on his commitment to values, through things like the faith-based initiative to help those that have been left behind, and other conservative positions.

So the thing you have to remember about this president is he is true to the core conservative principles of our party, but he's also compassionate. He's principled, but he also wants to build bridges and expand our party and make it bigger. So I think that's a good thing, and I think most conservatives understand that.

CROWLEY: And by understanding that, you mean that conservatives need to understand that the party needs to be bigger than they are and therefore, half a loaf is going to be more what they're going to get?

REED: Well, the truth is our vision for America embraces every one of our citizens. So why wouldn't we open the door to other party wide, lay out a welcome mat and say, We want you to be a part of our vision for the future? CROWLEY: But let me read you a couple quotes I pulled out. Kato: "his fiscal record is appalling." from the Club For Growth: "one of the biggest spending presidents we've had in years."

At some level, doesn't that say that conservatives are a little shaken by some of this stuff?

REED: I don't think so. I think that 96 percent job approval among grassroots conservatives really speaks for where people are.


REED: There's extraordinary enthusiasm out there for this president.

And I will just tell you this, just to speak to those two issues. If you take out the increase in military spending that has been necessary for purposes of winning this global war against terrorism, our spending at the federal level is growing at its most historically low rates in over 20 years, lower than it did under Ronald Reagan.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you. There's a MacInturf (ph) about a memo out recently that said, Boy, Republicans really ought to run against Howard Dean. He'd be the perfect candidate to run against. Do you agree?

REED: Well, I don't really think that way. I really...

CROWLEY: There's nobody you'd rather run against than...

REED: Not really. I think you can get in a lot of trouble in politics trying to pick your opponents.

CROWLEY: I think you can, too, but we wanted to try anyway.

REED: I can remember when the Democrats were sort of, you know wrapping their hands together in anticipation of running against Ronald Reagan, and then they lost 43 states, as I recall.

CROWLEY: You just got Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. So do you kiss off everything else and go sit in Florida and try to move that state or what?

REED: No, I think we need to make sure that we carry that entire region for the president. And I believe we will. Florida will, of course, be -- I think, the eyes of the nation will on that state. I think we're going to win it. We're going to carry it for the president as we did last time. But we're not taking any vote for granted.


CROWLEY: We will check back on that.

But right now, checking the headlines in "Campaign News Daily." Presidential hopeful and North Carolina Senator John Edwards and former Tarheel Senate candidate Erskine Bowles are keeping quiet after their one-on-one meeting yesterday. Edwards is up for re-election next year and he has not said if he will give up his Senate seat to concentrate on his run for the White House. Bowles is widely expected to run for the Edwards seat if the senator step as side.

Senator Edwards' wife Elizabeth has written a letter to the editor that was published in Iowa. The letter to "The Des Moines Register" mentions her husband's support for the AmeriCorps program.

Quote, "I believe Americans would rather see more resources given to programs like AmeriCorps," she wrote, "as opposed to tax cuts benefiting only the wealthiest Americans." Mrs. Edwards goes on to say, "We need to send President Bush a message that those are America's values."

And in South Dakota, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle has an early start on his re-election fund-raising. Daschle's campaign manager reports the senator has about $2.9 million in the bank, a strong start towards his goal of raising $10 million.

Talk show host and former Cincinnati Mayor Jerry Springer is to officially file papers for a U.S. Senate run as early as tomorrow. His political adviser says the filing is necessary to avoid legal problems that may arise from a scheduled 30-minute infomercial. The adviser says Springer will still make the final decision on whether to run by the end of the month.

Just ahead, the signature collection efforts are over, let the battle begin. We consider the political strategy for California Governor Gray Davis and his opponents in the possible recall referendum.


CROWLEY: California recall organizers have entered a new phase in their attempt to drive Governor Gray Davis from office. Organizers say they've turned in more than 1.3 million signatures to county election officials. Far more than the almost 900,000 required. The next official tally there the secretary of state is it expected July 23.

Assuming an election is held, indications are that Davis opponents plan two lines of attack: highlighting what they describe as the governor's failed track record in office and peeling way support from blue collar Democrats.

The governor, meantime, is looking at a three-prong strategy: attacking his attackers, the way President Clinton fought impeachment, arguing that a recall will overturn the results of the last election and labeling the recall a waste of taxpayer money.

With me now to talk more about this is Michael Finnegan of "The Los Angeles Times." Michael, thanks for joining us. From afar, this looks like a mess. I know that you had some big wigs out there yesterday arguing that this would be very costly to California. Would it really be? Moneywise? MICHAEL FINNEGAN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Nobody -- the election would cost about $30 to $35 million, if it occurs in the fall when there's no stated with election otherwise scheduled. And Davis has made a big point of pointing out that this costs a lot of money at a time when California doesn't have very much money to spare.

CROWLEY: You know, we also know that they're talking about right-wing conspiracies and this is all an attack from the right. But wouldn't that amount of signatures say that it's more than just the right that is dissatisfied with Davis?

FINNEGAN: Well, here's a huge number of California voters who have dissatisfied with Davis. We did a poll last week that found nearly seven out of ten Californians disapproved of his job performance. The actual supporters of the recall, generally speaking, have been conservative Republicans.

CROWLEY: So but if they collected all those signatures, are those largely Republicans, or are those -- are there -- is there a chance for those blue-collar Democrats that the Republicans would like?

FINNEGAN: They're not entirely Republicans. The discontent with Davis spreads across the political spectrum in California. And there are many Democrats who disapprove of the way he's handled his job. But the actual support for the recall itself is not as strong as the disapproval of Davis generally.

CROWLEY: So do you think this is, in the end, when we look back on it going to be more theater than reality? I mean I get the sense from you that you think as bad as they think Davis is, most Californians probably would keep him instead of going through another election?

FINNEGAN: Not necessarily. Nobody really knows what might happen here because California's never had this kind of an election before. Nobody's ever succeeded in getting a state-wide recall election on the ballot.

So nobody could really tell you whether this might happen or not. There's a perfectly reasonable chance that the governor will be recalled. There's also a perfectly reasonable chance that he will survive this.

CROWLEY: So next step?

FINNEGAN: Well, the next step will be the actual qualification for the ballot, the official certification that an election is going to occur. And possibly legal challenges.

For Davis, he's in which better shape if this is delayed until the March presidential primary when a lot of Democrats will be coming out, and it will be easier for him to fight the thing. But the supporters of the recall want it in November, and it's a possibility at this point that there will be a court fight on when the election will actually occur. CROWLEY: Michael Finnegan of "The L.A. Times," we will, as always, keep reading. Thanks a lot for joining us.

Coming up, President Bush sees the sights in Africa and gets more than he bargained for.


CROWLEY: When President Bush set out on a mini safari in Africa today spokesman Ari Fleischer joked that the Bush team would be vigilant in making sure none of the rhinos charged the leader of the free world.

Clearly Fleischer didn't realize that elephants would provide the real action. With Mr. And Mrs. Bush a pair of pachyderms displayed their love for one another, a friendly-family way of putting that. On the tape, we could not hear the president's response, but we knew for sure the camera crew was cracking up.

We'll be right back.


CROWLEY: Harry Truman fans and historians got a real thrill today when the National Archives released transcripts of the former president's long-lost diary. Our Bruce Morton got new insights from the 56-year-old book.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In July 1947, Truman met with Dwight Eisenhower about to take over as president of Columbia University. Truman wrote that he and Ike both thought Douglas MacArthur would run as a Republican, adding...

RAY GESELBRACHT, TRUMAN LIBRARY: "I told Ike, " Truman records, "that if MacArthur did that, he, Ike, should announce for the nomination for president on the Democratic ticket and that I'd be glad to be in second place, or vice president. I like the Senate anyway. Icon Ike could be elected and my family and myself would be happy outside this great while jail, known as the White House."

MORTON: General MacArthur didn't run that year, so nothing came of it.

But Mr. Truman, are you happy in the White House? Oh, yes. January 6...

GESELBRACHT: "Anyone with imagination can see ol' Jim Buchanan walking up and down, worrying about conditions not of his making. Then there's Van Buren who inherited a terrible mess from his predecessor as did poor old James Madison. Of course Andrew Johnson was the worst mistreated of them all.

"But they all walk up and down the halls of this please and moan about what they should have done and didn't. So the tortured souls who were and are misrepresented in history are the ones who come back. It's a hell of a place."

MORTON: President Harry Truman, in 1947, talking about the ghosts, who shared his house.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


CROWLEY: That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Candy Crowley. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.



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