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Washington Goes Nuclear Over State of the Union Address

Aired July 11, 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: Washington goes nuclear over a line from the State of the Union.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

ANNOUNCER: He was wrong. Who's to blame?

BUSH: I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services.

ANNOUNCER: Plus: the shocking revelations from "Give 'em hell" Harry's private diary -- today on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.


One single line in President Bush's State of the Union speech has created a political firestorm. In a little bit, we'll ask whether this is a scandal or political fun and games by the Democrats.

But we're starting with the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Ralph Nader has put in a new twist on the game of whether he will be the Green Party's candidate for president again next year. Democrats blame Nader for taking away enough of their voters to elect George W. Bush. So Democrats were delighted when he indicated to reporters he might not run if -- if -- it looks like the Democrats are going to nominate Howard Dean or Dennis Kucinich. That means Democrats better start rooting for Dean or Kucinich to prevent another Nader disaster. Or is that just too high a price to pay?

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: As we say in Texas, that's chutzpah. The notion that Ralph Nader is going to the Democrats -- the reason George Bush is in the White House is because Ralph Nader made the election close enough for him to steal. Ralph Nader ought to be ashamed of himself. He ought to be out there trying to get people to vote Democrat to make up for this incredible debacle that he has visited on the country in the Bush presidency.

NOVAK: Paul, one question for you. Would you be willing to take Howard Dean, a very attractive guy, to get rid of Ralph Nader?

BEGALA: Howard Dean can win or lose on his own merits. I just don't like Ralph Nader trying to dictate anything to the Democratic Party. He ought to come crawling on his knees to the Democrats in the country, saying: I'm sorry. Everything I have worked for has been tainted because George Bush is now president. Shame on Ralph Nader.

NOVAK: Pride goes before a fall, Paul.

BEGALA: He's got the pride and the ego.

NOVAK: It really does.

BEGALA: The arrogance of Ralph Nader has no bounds.

Well, President Bush today insisted that his now discredited false claim about Saddam Hussein trying to buy uranium in Africa had been approved by his intelligence officials.


BUSH: I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services. And it was a speech that detailed to the American people the dangers posed by the Saddam Hussein regime.


BEGALA: But CBS News reports that the CIA, in fact, did warn Mr. Bush's National Security Council before the speech that the allegation was false. And "The Washington Post" today reveals, the CIA even told our allies in Britain that the claim was false. So it's the Bush administration's word against the Bush administration's word. Either way, we know this, the Bush administration did not tell the truth.

NOVAK: Paul, I think you've been around long enough to know mistakes are made. Goodness, the Clinton administration, your pals, make mistakes every hour on the hour. And the mistake -- a mistake was made by this. They have admitted it. But what you're trying to do is milk it for political advance, because you don't have anything positive going for you.

BEGALA: When Bill Clinton made a mistake, he had an affair with a young girl. It was tawdry. When George Bush makes a mistake, we go to war halfway around the world and 200 Americans get killed. That's not the same, Bob Novak.


NOVAK: You don't think it was a mistake when they bombed the hell out of a dairy plant?

BEGALA: No, that was al Qaeda spin.

NOVAK: Historians were delighted by discovering a 1947 diary kept by Harry S. Truman as president, hoping to learn about serious affairs of state. Instead, this is what they found written by Truman -- quote -- "The Jews, I find, are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated, as long as the Jews get special treatment. When they have power, physical, financial or political, neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog" -- end quote.

After all the revisionist biographies, was Harry Truman really the uneducated bigot many of us suspected?

BEGALA: That is shocking. It really is.

NOVAK: It doesn't shock me.

BEGALA: Well, this from a man who recognized the state of Israel on the first day of its existence, which was one of the great triumphs of Truman's presidency. It's a wonderful thing. But it stands now with Richard Nixon's savaging of Jews behind closed doors in the Oval Office with Billy Graham and others. It's a sad and tawdry piece of history.

NOVAK: So you want to put Truman and Nixon together? I'll buy that, if you want to say they're both two of a kind who had bigoted feelings.

BEGALA: About the Jews. If that's true -- and I trust your reporting Bob, that that is true -- that that's shocking.


NOVAK: It also said in this diary that George Marshall was the greatest American. He was an anti-Semite, too, George Marshall.

BEGALA: But also even wanted Dwight Eisenhower to be president, even though Ike wound up being a Republican.

Well, the House of Representatives last night approved National Institutes of Health grants to research topics including mood arousal and sexual risk-taking, the sexual habits of older men, Asian prostitutes in San Francisco, and American Indian and Alaskan native, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and two-spirited individuals, whatever that means.

Right-wingers in the House had tried to defund those studies, which they thought were icky and dirty. But moderates and liberals carried the day, arguing that scientists and not politicians should be making decisions about scientific studies.

Of course, as you can see here, President Bush was busy conducting some research of his own while on his African tour. Perhaps next, conservatives will want him to propose a massive new program of abstinence education for elephants. NOVAK: I'm not quite sure what all of that was about, Paul. Maybe you can explain it to me after the show.


BEGALA: Well, when a mommy and a daddy love each other very much, Bob, they...

NOVAK: I think the president could say the elephants you go to are


BEGALA: That is the symbol of the Republican Party. It is in many ways what Mr. Bush is doing to the whole country, though, and I don't support it at all.

NOVAK: How do the jackasses


NOVAK: That's a good question. Isn't that the symbol of the Democratic Party, the jackass?

BEGALA: It's a very good question.

Well, next, I'll stop blushing and ask the question, did the president of the United States, in a more serious matter, mislead us into war, or did his staff allow him to say something that the staff knew was not true? We'll ask two members of Congress whether and when we will ever get to the bottom of who misled us about Iraq and uranium, when CROSSFIRE returns.


NOVAK: Democrats are accusing President Bush of deliberately misleading the country to gain support for the war in Iraq. All week, they've been harping on the president's single statement in his State of the Union speech attributed to the British government that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium in Africa.

In the CROSSFIRE are District of Columbia Democratic delegate to Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton and Congressman David Dreier, Republican of California, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee.

BEGALA: Thank you both very much.

REP. DAVID DREIER (R), CALIFORNIA: Always great to be with you.

BEGALA: Thanks, Dave.

Congressman Dreier, back on the 23rd of November in 1996, you appeared on Bob Novak's very fine program, "THE CAPITAL GANG." And here's a statement that you made on that program back in 1996.

You said -- and I quote.


DREIER: I don't remember. I have to tell you right now.

BEGALA: Well, here it is. You said: "I want an outside counsel to investigate the president on campaign financing. That's what I want."

I want to ask you if you'll be consistent now and support an independent counsel investigation of whether or not President Bush misled us about going to war.

DREIER: We right now have two very able committees, Paul, the Intelligence Committee in the House that's chaired by my colleague Porter Goss, who's vice chairman of the Rules Committee, and Pat Roberts in the Senate, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee there. They're already in the midst of looking at this.

And I'll tell you, there is no one who is more angry about this than George W. Bush. I met him 25 years ago this summer. I've gotten to know him quite well and have been privileged to work very closely with him. And he'll want to get to the bottom of this.

But I think Bob is right on target when he raises this issue of politicization, which is very really troubling. There was an attempt made to say that President Bush knew all about what was going to happen before September 11 of 2001. That obviously fell flat on its face. Most everyone, save that foreign policy guru Sean Penn, has acknowledged that we are in a position where getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do. So the president stood by what it is that he's done.

But he said this was a mistake. And I think he was very bold and courageous to come forward and acknowledge that it was a mistake and he does want to get to the bottom of it.

BEGALA: Let me get you on record. Help me to understand why. We had congressional committees investigating Bill Clinton's campaign financing. But you wanted an independent counsel then. You do not want an independent counsel now, when the question is whether the president misled us into war. Isn't that playing partisan politics, Congressman?

DREIER: Well, I don't think anyone believes that the president misled us into war. I think that there's clearly an understanding of the fact that...

BEGALA: A lot of people think that, Congressman.


DREIER: Well, you know what? I think you're just plain wrong.

NOVAK: Eleanor Holmes Norton, I think you and I can agree on one thing. And that's the integrity of our secretary of state, Colin Powell. We may not agree with him on everything, different things.


NOVAK: But he's an honest man.

Let's listen to what he says about this issue.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: To think that somehow we went out of our way to insert this single sentence into the State of the Union address for the purpose of deceiving and misleading the American people is an overdrawn, overblown, overwrought conclusion.


NOVAK: You're not saying that the president put that in, saying, I want to really deceive and mislead the American people? You don't think that, do you?


In fact, I don't think that any Democrat is saying that the president deliberately misled us. We are saying that the president did mislead us and that it took him an awfully long time to come forward. Indeed, it looks like he came forward now -- and, by the way, he didn't come forward -- the White House said this was a false statement -- interestingly, when he was out of the country. And why did they do so?

I think that the British had just finished their investigation. And they were spilling the beans, so we had to come forward and say, by the way, something we should have told you long ago. We have known for months now that the statement on uranium was false. And we can't tell you why we didn't tell you months ago. What happened to transparency? What happened to disclosure?


NOVAK: But isn't it a fact, Ms. Norton, that there are many other reasons for going to war against Iraq?

NORTON: Not for this administration. Not for this administration.

NOVAK: Oh, yes, for this administration.


NORTON: No, no, just a moment. On that, I want to be clear. First of all, this administration came forward with regime change. That didn't make it. Then the second rationale were weapons of mass destruction. And for a long time, that didn't make it. Finally, now that we've gone in and won, everybody of course concedes that getting rid of a tyrant was a good thing to do. But I don't think for a moment that, if the president had come forward a year and a half ago and said, I want to get rid of Saddam Hussein because he is a tyrant, the American people would have said: Go ahead. Go ahead. That's exactly what we want to hear.


DREIER: Eleanor, all three of those reasons are why we did this.

Very little attention has been focused on the fact that, June 25, there was a discovery in a barrel in a garden -- in a garden -- in Iraq of the material that is used for the nuclear program that, clearly, Saddam Hussein would have wanted to pursue. And it went back to 1991.


BEGALA: How long had that been buried in that garden? Twelve years it had buried under a rose bush. That's not a threat to the United States of America, Congressman, a garbage can that's been buried for 12 years.

DREIER: Yes, the whole point is, is, they have that capability. And they would have done everything possible to vigorously pursue that, Paul.

And so, Eleanor, on every single one of these points, we were correct in pursuing this. The American people understand it. The world understands this. It was the right policy to pursue. And people are trying to undermine the goals that we've had.


BEGALA: Well, Congressman, you're suggesting that the ends justify the means, that getting rid of a tyrant is OK -- it's OK to mislead people because he really was a bad guy.

DREIER: No, I'm not, Paul. I'm not at all.

BEGALA: This is becoming a political issue.

DREIER: That's crazy to say that I'm a proponent of any way being misleading to the American people. That is wrong. That's just not true.

NOVAK: Now, if you watch television, if you watch the members of your party talking about this single sentence in the State of the Union, is there a question, perhaps, of the disproportionality?

I'd like to have you listen to what the national security adviser said, not Condoleezza Rice, but Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger. Let's listen to him.


SAMUEL BERGER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I do think the larger issue now is, however, how we move forward to -- in a very difficult situation, to create a stable, peaceful Iraq and achieve our mission there.


NOVAK: Isn't that the real issue, not whether there was a mistake? They admit there was a mistake made.

NORTON: Look, the American people want to go forward. I'll grant you that in a moment.

What we have here is a kind of cumulative effect. We've got weapons of mass destruction we can't find. We've got a war that won't end. And people are getting very uneasy with the policies of this administration.

NOVAK: People want to play politics with it.


NORTON: In a democracy, we have a right to criticize our president.


DREIER: And you should raise questions. And I think it's very fair to raise questions.


BEGALA: Let me let our folks at home take a look at this ad. Here's the ad the Democratic Party has made on this.

Take a look.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.


BEGALA: When we get rid of Bush, that's when it's going to end, Bob, yes. That's when it's going to end. Every word on there is true, straight out of news reports. The president said it is false.

DREIER: It's fair to raise questions. It's just interesting to me that the questions that are being raised are, in many ways, specious questions. And, frankly, I'll tell you that it's grasping for straws.

We have done the right thing. The world has acknowledged that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the right thing. The president made a mistake. The president said that he made a mistake.

NORTON: No, he didn't. No, he didn't. DREIER: Yes, he did. Yes, he did. The president made it very clear that he made a mistake.

NORTON: No, excuse me. The president said: The devil made me do it. The CIA made me do it.

DREIER: The president acknowledged that he made a mistake. The president acknowledged that.


BEGALA: Keep your seats.

Congresswoman Norton, we'll be right back. We'll be right back. We're going to take a quick break.

And then Wolf Blitzer will bring you all the latest news and headlines. Then we will come back for "Rapid Fire," where we like to say there's only two kind of guests, the quick and the dead, two very quick ones here today. Later, one of our viewers wants to know where the buck stops in the Bush administration.

Stay with us.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Time now for the segment we call "Rapid Fire," where the questions and answers come faster than the Bush administration making up excuses for their misstatements in the president's State of the Union address.

With us are California Republican David Dreier and Washington, D.C.'s Democratic delegate to the Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton.

NOVAK: Ms. Norton, if you were president, would you pull the troops out of Iraq right now?

NORTON: No. Indeed, I would make sure that we had the place stabilized, as this administration is not yet doing.

DREIER: Well, we're working on it. We're working on it.

BEGALA: Congressman Dreier, you voted for the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, which puts a CEO in prison if he knowingly misleads people in his financial statements or if his staff does because he doesn't have them under control. Will you hold the president to the same standard that you held businessmen to?

DREIER: The president obviously shouldn't go to prison. It's not a business, and we're talking about a much different situation here. NOVAK: Do you think, Ms. Norton, that this issue of a mistake in the State of the Union should be an issue that your party hammers all the way to Election Day?

NORTON: Well, we should hammer it until the American people understand exactly what happened and until the Republicans come clean.

DREIER: The president has come clean. The president came clean. That's the great difference between this and past administrations.

BEGALA: You in fact voted to impeach Clinton because he lied to us about his girlfriend. If an investigation proves that President Bush did lie to us about war, what will you do?

DREIER: Well, I'll tell you, the president did not lie to us about war.


DREIER: The president did the absolute right thing by coming forward. It's not even a question.

NOVAK: Ms. Norton, who will win the illegal District of Columbia primary?


NORTON: Well, I'll tell you who I want to win, whoever can beat George Bush.

NOVAK: Who will win it, though?

BEGALA: You said in our last segment that President Bush was very, very angry about this. "The Washington Post" says that Bush aides -- Dan Bartlett, the communications director, says he wasn't angry at all. Why is that?

DREIER: Well, I'm sure -- I'm just saying that, based on the fact that I've known George Bush for a long period of time, I know that he does not tolerate this kind of thing. And that's why he's come forward and he very much wants to get to the bottom of it. I'm convinced he wants to do it. He made a mistake. And he


NORTON: Why doesn't he call for an investigation?


NOVAK: Eleanor Holmes Norton, thank you very much. David Dreier, you're going to go visit the christening of the commissioning...

DREIER: Yes, the commissioning of the USS Ronald Reagan tomorrow down in Norfolk. We're looking forward to it.

NOVAK: Good luck to you.


NOVAK: Now that our audience has heard both sides of the debate, we want to know whose side you're on. Take out your voting devices and answer this question: Did President Bush deliberately mislead the public on the Iraq-Africa uranium issue? Press one for yes, you think the president was being deceptive. Or press two for no, the president was telling what we assumed was the truth, based on the best intelligence anyone had at the time. We'll check the results right after the break.

And in "Fireback," one of our viewers wonders whose side the Democrats are really on.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Just before the break, we asked our studio audience if they believe that President Bush was deliberately misleading us or was he just acting on the best intelligence he had at the time. Here are the results. Look at this, three-fourths of the Democrats, most of the Democrats, said, yes, they think Bush deliberately misled us. But guess what? Ninety-six percent of Republicans say no. The country is as deeply divided on this as they are in everything else.

NOVAK: OK. I think the 24 percent of the Democrats is more interesting than 4 percent of the Republicans. But who knows.

BEGALA: You're right. I think you're right.

NOVAK: OK. Curt Echols says in our first "Fireback": "Here we go again, Democrats realizing they have no positive agenda for America, so let's bash the Republicans again and see how many people we can scare into voting for us. The 2004 election should be entertaining, to say the least" -- maybe depressing.

BEGALA: I'll tell you what. The Democrats have a positive agenda. It's peace and prosperity. That's what we had with the last Democratic president. We have neither peace nor prosperity with this Republican. So, yes, I think it's a petty good election.

Pearlene Scott of Las Vegas, Nevada, writes: "Paul, can you ask any Republican why it's OK to spend $40 million on an affair that only hurt a wife and a daughter and not OK to at least investigate a lie that has cost 200 U.S. lives?"

NOVAK: It looks like you write all those "Fireback"s for all these people.

BEGALA: That's just the real America.

NOVAK: Question, please.

BEGALA: Yes, sir. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, my name's Dan O'Brien (ph) from Milford, Michigan.

And my question is, are the Democrats going to be able to exploit President Bush with this false intelligence information on weapons of mass destruction?

NOVAK: Well, they're going to try anything, because they don't have any other issues and they got crummy candidates.

BEGALA: When George Bush ran for president, his biggest applause line on the stump was: I will restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office. I know what the meaning of is is.

NOVAK: And he has. Next question.

BEGALA: If we find out -- if we find out that he lied about a war, he's through.

NOVAK: Next question. Next question.

BEGALA: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, I'm John Mahoney (ph) from Sharon, Massachusetts.

My question is, do you think that the Democrats should nominate a more liberal candidate to appeal to Green Party voters or do you think they should pursue a more centrist platform, which I feel...

NOVAK: I think the first. I think they should nominate Al Sharpton. Sharpton would be a terrific candidate.

BEGALA: No, I think the arrogance -- as I said at the beginning of the show, the arrogance of Ralph Nader, who made the election close enough for Bush to steal, has no bounds. Greens should vote Democrat to keep Bush out of office. And if they vote for Nader again, then we deserve Bush again.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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