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CNN CROSSFIRE

Intelligence Blame Game

Aired February 5, 2004 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: Who was right or wrong about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If some politicians in Washington had their way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power.

ANNOUNCER: The CIA's top boss talks about prewar Iraqi intelligence and what the president knew.

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR: He's wanted it straight, and he's wanted it honest, and he's never wanted the facts shaded.

ANNOUNCER: Political intelligence -- today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

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

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Well, James Carville and Paul Begala are off today. They're strategizing with Dennis Kucinich at the Streisand compound in Malibu.

(LAUGHTER)

T. CARLSON: So, sitting opposite me today is one of America's foremost journalists, "TIME" and "GQ" magazine contributor Margaret Carlson. She's also a member of CNN's "CAPITAL GANG," as most of you doubtless know.

Well, the question in Washington today, where are those promised weapons of mass destruction? And, more to the point, how could the CIA have been so completely wrong? We'll cast the scolding finger of blame in just a moment, right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Yesterday, Howard Dean woke up and realized he was dead. After promising to take his campaign all the way to the March primaries, Dean conceded that he must win the Wisconsin primary just 12 days from now. If he loses Wisconsin, Dean admitted, the jig is up. As "The Washington Post" put it, Dean is making a last stand in cheese land.

Roy Neel, Dean's latest and final campaign chairman, fired off an e-mail this afternoon hoping to rally the few remaining troops. Neel ended his letter with a two-paragraph quote from CNN's own Jeff Greenfield, noting that there are, in fact, quite a few left-wingers still in Wisconsin. It was sad, but also apparently persuasive.

The Dean campaign claims to have raised more than 100 grand today, $55,000 of that just in the hour between noon and 1:00, all of which raises the important question, who in his right mind would give money to Howard Dean at this point? Well, if you're one of those who did, we want to hear from you. Explain yourself to CROSSFIRE@CNN.com. I'm fascinated by that.

MARGARET CARLSON, GUEST HOST: Some people in our audience said they'd given money to Dean. This is the ultimate in picking the place where you think you might win, no matter how far out it is.

T. CARLSON: Yes. It's sad.

(CROSSTALK)

M. CARLSON: There's precedent for skipping Iowa. But is there precedent for skipping the nine races?

T. CARLSON: The 15 -- right.

M. CARLSON: Yes.

T. CARLSON: Skipping 15 contests? I'm all for a Democratic candidate with limited self-control.

(BELL RINGING)

T. CARLSON: So I was always for Dean.

M. CARLSON: Right.

T. CARLSON: It's too late now.

M. CARLSON: Yes.

Tucker, now, say what you will about the Democrats, they've dominated the headlines for the past six weeks. Could the president be a teeny bit worried about those polls showing him losing in November? That might be why he's embarked on his own parallel primaries, oddly showing up places Democrats have just gone before.

He was in New Hampshire visiting a candy shop two days after the New Hampshire primary. Today, he was in South Carolina, two days after that state's primary, standing in front of a Coast Guard cutter, apparently, the next best thing to an aircraft carrier.

(LAUGHTER) M. CARLSON: And this weekend, the president makes the ultimate candidate turn, an appearance on a Sunday talk show. Not since Jerry Ford or President Clinton has a president campaigned there. Although he has about 100 million stashed away, do you know who's paying for his campaign swings? Do you know, Tucker? The American taxpayer.

T. CARLSON: Yes, that's true, something I complained about during the Clinton administration fairly assiduously.

I will say I think it's time for President Bush to come on CNN. I mean, I don't think there's any way to reach not simply America, but the world. And I hope that this will be a precedent. And he'll continue, come on CNN and state their case. They're starting to campaign early. I think they should. I think they take John Kerry pretty seriously. I think they should. Good for him for getting out there.

(CROSSTALK)

M. CARLSON: Yes, a weekday talk show for President Bush.

T. CARLSON: A weekday talk show.

M. CARLSON: Yes. I'll be here.

T. CARLSON: Say an afternoon talk show, America's foremost political debate show, yes.

Well, at some point in the last few weeks, the Wes Clark for president campaign turned into a kamikaze mission. Not content merely to attack and degrade others, Clark now seems determined to humiliate himself, before going down to inevitable and much deserved defeat. After his slim, not yet certified win in Oklahoma Tuesday night, Clark promptly accused President Bush of waging war in Iraq for political gain.

That's a charge that not even Howard Dean has made, though he may. Well, now Clark has turned his sights on fellow Democrats, accusing Senator John Kerry and John Edwards of being dishonest hypocrites. It's all pretty amusing if you think about it. The candidate hand-picked by the Democratic establishment to save the party becomes the loosest cannon on deck, firing indiscriminately into the wheelhouse. Oh, the irony. Let's hope it continues.

M. CARLSON: Tucker, don't you people think that this is all a Machiavellian part on the part of the Clintons to put out losing Democrats, so that Hillary looks all the better?

T. CARLSON: That is the Dick -- that is the Dick Morris line. Actually, I just think they screwed up. I think their political judgment -- I mean, Clinton is a great politician. His political judgment, not so good. If it's great, where's the evidence?

Second, the Clinton people are contending they never heard of Wes Clark now.

(LAUGHTER)

M. CARLSON: Yes. Yes.

T. CARLSON: He's turned out to be the loosest cannon to run for office since Ross Perot.

M. CARLSON: Yes, what general?

T. CARLSON: Yes. No, call him up. Ask, you know, how is your Wes Clark for president campaign going?

M. CARLSON: Yes. Yes. Right.

T. CARLSON: And they'll say, huh, yes, I think I heard of him.

M. CARLSON: Do we have one more second for another one?

(BELL RINGING)

M. CARLSON: Whenever Dick Cheney's old company gets in trouble, say, for overcharging us taxpayers for delivering gasoline in Iraq, the Republicans circle the wagons and say, it happened after Cheney left to become vice president.

But now, the U.S. Justice Department, as well as France, is investigating allegations that a Halliburton subsidiary paid out $180 million in bribes or kickbacks as part of a gas plant deal in Nigeria. And it happened when? When Cheney headed the company. Halliburton is cooperating with the investigation. But it's also running TV commercials to try to polish its image, like all those people on Super Bowls.

A spokeswoman says -- quote -- "We are clearing up the record. That might be easier if Halliburton cleaned up its act."

(APPLAUSE)

T. CARLSON: Well, I'm just glad to know that France is in on the act.

M. CARLSON: Yes. That's right.

(CROSSTALK)

T. CARLSON: France is out there doing an investigation, because, you know, the French government never engaged in bribery.

M. CARLSON: Yes.

T. CARLSON: Look, you need to bribe officials to use the men's room in Nigeria. If this is true, I'm not surprised at all. Companies, American companies, French companies, all companies resort to bribery when they do business abroad, particularly in Africa and particularly in Nigeria. It doesn't bother me one bit. Sorry to admit that, even if it's true.

M. CARLSON: I'm shocked, Tucker. Shocked you would condone such things.

(CROSSTALK)

T. CARLSON: It's just the way it gas. And Halliburton -- I don't have strong feelings for Halliburton one way or the other. But I think it's not much of a political tactic. Halliburton -- no one's going to be elected president or lose office over Halliburton.

(BELL RINGING)

M. CARLSON: And they had to pay $6.3 million back for overcharging us for gasoline.

T. CARLSON: I'm sure that Halliburton is probably doing a pretty good job in Iraq.

Well, the blame game heats up over who knew what when about Iraq's WMD. Will politics overshadow the search for truth? We'll try to get some answers from two members of Congress next.

We'll be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Get ahead of the CROSSFIRE. Sign up for CROSSFIRE's daily "Political Alert" e-mail. You'll get a preview of each day's show, plus an inside look at the day's political headlines. Just go to CNN.com/CROSSFIRE and sign up today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

T. CARLSON: Welcome back.

CIA Director George Tenet today gave a speech defending his agency, his job and the quality of U.S. intelligence before the Iraq war. Questions about all three of these things surfaced after former chief weapons inspector David Kay told Congress, Iraq may not have had stockpiles of illegal weapons after all.

Will questions about the quality of U.S. intelligence hurt President Bush? Or will they help any of his Democratic opponents? That's our debate.

In the CROSSFIRE, California Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Indiana Republican Congressman Mike Pence.

Welcome.

(APPLAUSE)

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you.

M. CARLSON: Congressman Pence, the intelligence community and the Bush White House keep telling us, but, you know, Bush did not say there was an imminent threat from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in the State of the Union and other things. But if you take the totality of what Bush said, certainly, some of the things he said would lead you to believe it was an imminent threat. For instance, in the Rose Garden on September 26, he said, "According to the British, the Iraq regime could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order was given."

And then he said, in Cincinnati, not far from Indianapolis, "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun, that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

Doesn't mushroom cloud conjure up all these visions of a nuclear attack? Now, members of Congress say, there was a lot more to what was being put out there than simply Bush saying -- never saying there was an imminent threat.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: There was, Margaret. And I think the president -- my -- my best recollection was of the president's phrase and in our briefings on Capitol Hill of a gathering threat, a threat where the evidence that even David Kay conceded today at the Carnegie Foundation, there was evidence pointing to the development of a WMD program, particularly biological and chemical.

And we also know that, early on, Saddam Hussein did pursue a nuclear weapons program and had nuclear ambitions. And as the president said, in a post 9/11 world, we can't wait until a gathering threat becomes an actual threat, with clouds rising from our largest cities.

(APPLAUSE)

T. CARLSON: Now, Congresswoman Waters, it seems clear to me that there was likely a massive intelligence failure. I think everyone agrees with that. What bothers me is the irresponsible way in which Democrats have used this as a partisan cudgel, as if the Bush administration was the only party at fault here.

I want to read you something I think you'll find interesting. This is from the prime minister of Portugal, talking about a conversation he had with former President Bill Clinton this October. That is after the invasion of Iraq -- quote -- "When Clinton was here in Portugal, he told me he was absolutely convinced, given his years in the White House and the access to information he had, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction until the end of the Saddam regime."

The point, obviously, is, if the Bush administration was wrong, everybody was wrong, including Clinton, no?

WATERS: It doesn't matter.

Clinton did not create a preemptive strike on Iraq. The fact of the matter is, this administration has no credibility. What they did was, they said and did everything to lead us to believe that they knew there were weapons of mass destruction. You even had Colin Powell going up before the U.N. with some aerial view of some sheds supposedly where chemical and biological weapons were being developed. None of it turns out to be true.

T. CARLSON: Well, but wait, you're not addressing what I just said.

WATERS: We have spent $157 billion; 526 American soldiers have been killed.

T. CARLSON: Congresswoman, with all due...

WATERS: It's not good enough to say that we thought, they intended to, we suspected. The fact of the matter is, they didn't have the weapons. And they ought to just say it. We made a mistake.

(CROSSTALK)

T. CARLSON: Well, wait a second. I think, clearly...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

T. CARLSON: ... they did make a mistake, if it turns out there were no WMD in Iraq.

My only point is, isn't it a bit much of you to pretend that it was only the Bush White House that made a mistake? Didn't everybody, including the former president, make a mistake? Why is that hard to admit?

(CROSSTALK)

WATERS: No. No.

I can't do anything about the congress person before me who made a mistake about something in my district. I accept full responsibility for what goes on in my district now.

(APPLAUSE)

WATERS: The president of the United States must accept full responsibility.

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE: But, Maxine, Maxine, you will grant the point that Operation Desert Fox in 1998, when the president -- then-President Bill Clinton fired hundreds of cruise missiles into Iraq, he did so to neutralize, in his words, the weapons of mass destruction program of Saddam Hussein.

This was the conclusion. If it was an intelligence failure -- and I think -- I think Director Tenet today made it very clear, Tucker, that we -- we don't have all the evidence in. We don't have even the 85 percent of the evidence that David Kay said we had in. But, at the end of the day, if it was an intelligence failure, it was a world intelligence failure. France, Germany and Russia came to the same conclusion, as did the Clinton administration, Maxine.

M. CARLSON: But...

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

M. CARLSON: But, Congressman Pence, you make a point, which is, what Bill Clinton did was not what President Bush did based on the same information. It was a containment policy.

And, in fact, Secretary of State Colin Powell said in February of '01 that Iraq was being contained and did not threaten the United States. He said on Tuesday that, now that he's learned that there was no stockpile, it changes the political calculus. Now, what do you make of that? Where does Secretary of State Colin Powell...

(CROSSTALK)

M. CARLSON: Is he speaking truth to power at the moment?

PENCE: Well, I have great admiration for the secretary of state.

But let me say that, from my seat on the International Relations Committee, Margaret, this was never about an imminent threat of weapons of mass destruction. That was a piece of the equation. The largest piece of this was the ignoral by a brutal dictator, who filled the outlying areas with the bodies of men, women and children that he murdered, the outlying areas of his country, a Stalin-like record on human rights, but a brutal dictator who had flouted international convention and rejected over a dozen U.N. resolutions over a decade.

(CROSSTALK)

M. CARLSON: Let me interrupt you for a moment. I agree with you.

(APPLAUSE)

M. CARLSON: Saddam Hussein was a...

(CROSSTALK)

M. CARLSON: Saddam Hussein was a bad guy. Good that he's gone. But that's not the reason the United States was giving for going to war. It was the presence of weapons of mass destruction.

WATERS: That's absolutely true. And that's the difference. That's the difference.

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE: It wasn't just the presence of weapons of mass destruction, though, Maxine.

WATERS: Well, but he didn't say that.

And the administration ought to came out and say, well, listen, we made a mistake. They didn't have the weapons of mass destruction, but we still think that we had reason to go in and to have this war and to do what we have done. But what's interesting about what the administration is doing now is this.

They're asking for more time. We asked for more time before we had the preemptive strike. We said, please let the U.N. continue to have the inspections. President Bush thumbed his nose at the U.N., and he said no. And now they're saying, not only, give us more time. We think they're still there. We can find them.

And then the president starts to put together this phony commission that won't report until after he's elected. Give me a break.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

T. CARLSON: Congresswoman, Congresswoman...

WATERS: Give me a break!

T. CARLSON: Before the commission has issued a single piece of paper, for you to call it phony, I must say, seems a bit much. But let me just ask you this.

(CROSSTALK)

WATERS: Why doesn't it report until after the election?

T. CARLSON: Hold on. Let me just finish my question here.

WATERS: Yes.

T. CARLSON: And here it is.

If the CIA made a mistake and other intelligence agencies made a mistake in their assessment of the weapons Iraq possessed, kind of a big deal, given that there are still a lot of people around the world trying to kill us. I'm interested in very specific recommendations that you might have, as a member of Congress, for what our intelligence agencies ought to do to get better.

WATERS: No.

T. CARLSON: Because the threat has not gone away, has it?

WATERS: No. You're not going to deter me from pointing the...

T. CARLSON: Away from your partisan crusade?

(CROSSTALK)

WATERS: ... the finger at the president of the United States, who must accept responsibility.

T. CARLSON: Oh.

WATERS: Just yesterday, Rumsfeld was up on the Hill literally lying to the Senate committee.

T. CARLSON: Well, wait a second. Wait.

WATERS: Just a moment. Just a moment.

(CROSSTALK)

T. CARLSON: You accused him of lying. Tell me how he lied.

WATERS: Just a moment.

He said -- they pointed to the fact that he said he knew where the weapons were. And he said, well, no, I kind of said they were up north, and maybe I had a bad description of where they were. He lied. That's what he did.

T. CARLSON: Well, how did he lie?

WATERS: He did.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

WATERS: He did not know where there were weapons of mass destruction. He should not have said, we know where there are weapons of mass destruction.

PENCE: But, Maxine, Maxine....

WATERS: They're up north, he said.

PENCE: You and I were both in the very same briefing.

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE: There was never specifics presented to us on Capitol Hill. From the secretary of defense or anyone else.

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE: That's the very nature of intelligence.

M. CARLSON: That's a very lawyerly -- that's a very lawyerly way of looking at it now.

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE: It is, Margaret.

But the director said today that, in criticizing indirectly Dr. Kay's report and statements in the last two weeks, he said, you can't say that we were all wrong, because intelligence is never all right or all wrong. You accumulate evidence and information without the advantage of human intelligence, which we know we lacked there.

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE: ... within the circle of Saddam Hussein.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

M. CARLSON: You also ignored Hans Blix. You also ignored -- you ignored the most recent information coming from Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei.

PENCE: Not necessarily.

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE: We recognized that Hans Blix was being frustrated, that there was evidence that the director of the CIA

(CROSSTALK)

T. CARLSON: OK. I'm sorry, I'm going to have to -- I'm going to have to cut it right here. I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

T. CARLSON: We're going to go right now to Senator Jay Rockefeller, who is the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He's giving a briefing on the committee's WMD report.

Here he is, Senator Rockefeller.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: ... that are not in the report as of this point, not the classified report, because nobody's read that except the chairman and myself.

But there are some things that need to be discussed that aren't being discussed. And the chairman indicated he was open to me in a conversation outside that we might be able to look at those.

So what I'm saying with as little articulation as I can remember in 40 years in public life is that we had a meeting. We did our duty. There's hope for the future. And perhaps next week will tell another story. We shall see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the process is very important, because I have made it very clear that this is a week for member input.

T. CARLSON: Welcome back. That was Senator Jay Rockefeller, of course, of West Virginia, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Right after the break, the latest on a search for an abducted Florida girl.

We'll be right back.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to the live Washington audience, call 202-994-8CNN or e-mail us at CNN@gwu.edu. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. CARLSON: Welcome back.

It's time for "Rapid Fire," where we expect short answers and questions. Tucker, that means you.

(LAUGHTER)

M. CARLSON: So we can ask more questions.

We're talking about Washington's latest reality show -- quote -- the intelligence blame game. In the CROSSFIRE are Indian Republican Congressman Mike Pence and California Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

T. CARLSON: Congresswoman, recently, Wes Clark alleged that the Bush administration took us to war for political reasons. That's absurd. They had no political gain. Wouldn't you refute what he said?

(CROSSTALK)

WATERS: It's not absurd. Absolutely, I think you must consider that Dick Cheney and Halliburton got a big no-bid contract. They're stealing from the American public.

T. CARLSON: So Cheney did it -- did it for money?

WATERS: You know, it is alleged that we did it for reasons of wanting to control those oil fields. And, of course, there's a little bit about the revenge, because Saddam threatened to kill the president's daddy. So I think there's something to that.

M. CARLSON: OK, Congressman, if the president had said, as he did in the State of the Union just a few weeks ago, weapons of mass destruction program-related activities, that's why we're going to war, what would you have said?

PENCE: I would have recognized that Saddam Hussein had used biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction against two of his neighbors, if you include the Kurdish population. I would have recognized that he had nuclear ambitions, that he had a Stalin-like record on human rights, and was, as the president said, a gathering threat in the region and in the world.

M. CARLSON: Program...

(BELL RINGING)

M. CARLSON: Program-related activities. We went to war.

T. CARLSON: I'm afraid we are completely out of time.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California, thank you very much. Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

(APPLAUSE)

T. CARLSON: Well, you might call it the late-night primary. If you're running for president, it is a test you have to pass. We'll show you the latest candidate's effort when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

T. CARLSON: Welcome back. Well, presidential candidate John Edwards has truly arrived, not because he won the South Carolina primary this week, but because he's been allowed to read a top 10 list on David Letterman's CBS "LATE SHOW."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: No. 3.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Lady, that is one ugly baby.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN: All right. No. 2.

EDWARDS: When I'm president, I'm putting Regis on Mount Rushmore.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN: There you go. And the No. 1 thing never before said by a presidential candidate.

EDWARDS: Read my lips, no new wardrobe malfunctions.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

M. CARLSON: Tucker, it's usually when a candidate's in trouble that they do the top 10 list, the way Howard Dean went on after the "I have a scream" speech.

T. CARLSON: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

M. CARLSON: And, remember, Hillary Clinton went on to kind of soften her image. And I don't think any of them write those lists.

T. CARLSON: No, one suspects not.

And I think they probably don't like it, deep down. It's like the White House correspondents dinner when they get up and tell jokes and you know they're just seething with resentment towards the press.

M. CARLSON: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. They're trying to be a good sport, but it shows through, they're not.

(CROSSTALK)

T. CARLSON: However, I actually think he's probably best suited to pull it off.

M. CARLSON: Yes. He's good at it.

From Washington, I'm Margaret Carlson. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now. Have a great night.

(APPLAUSE)

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