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CNN CROSSFIRE

Presidential Campaign Going Negative?

Aired March 11, 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: Making an issue of September 11.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will continue to speak about the effects of 9/11 on our country and my presidency.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of us in our party have always tried to keep September 11 and the aftermath out of politics. And it's been put back in politics.

ANNOUNCER: Where do both parties go from here? It looks like in a negative direction.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I've ever seen.

ANNOUNCER: Today on CROSSFIRE .

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

This afternoon, John Kerry claims he had nothing to apologize for, even as simultaneously his campaign was desperately trying to spin his recent slurs as somehow legitimate.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Of course, President Bush is spending the afternoon politicizing 9/11, while his campaign trumpets its newest attack ads and the Enron lobbyist he put in charge of the GOP is attacking the families from 9/11.

But first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Six months ago, President Bush promised to fight the collapse of manufacturing jobs in America by appointing a so-called manufacturing czar. According to today's "Washington Post," though, as of last night, Mr. Bush had finally selected someone for that job. Good news. The man, Anthony Raimondo, runs a Nebraska-based manufacturing company. And sure enough, he is busy creating new manufacturing jobs. The trouble is, he's creating manufacturing jobs in China.

That's right. Mr. Bush's American manufacturing czar has built a 150,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in communist China. The plant employs 180 Chinese people and Mr. Raimondo subsequently laid off 75 American workers a few months after the project in China was announced. Mr. Raimondo's appointment was suddenly postponed today by the White House.

But, in his economic report, Mr. Bush praised the outsourcing of American jobs and even suggested that burger-flipping and taco-making be reclassified as manufacturing. Now that's what I call thinking outside the bun.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: The problem here, as you're fully aware, is free trade. When you lower trade barriers, manufacturing, low-paying manufacturing jobs go abroad. It started under Clinton. Good for Clinton. It has continued under Bush. Good for Bush. The policies are good.

(BELL RINGING)

CARLSON: But they have sad effects

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: This is hypocrisy to put a guy shipping jobs to China in charge of manufacturing jobs.

CARLSON: It's a pretty amusing story, but it's irrelevant.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Well, for a guy who changes opinion fairly regularly, John Kerry doesn't have much patience for people who disagree with him. At an event last night, Kerry described his opponents, all of them, as crooked liars.

Notice that Kerry didn't attack their ideas or even their tactics. He simply dismissed them as people as corrupt and dishonest. Kerry often talks this way. If you disagree with his economic policy, John Kerry will gladly inform you, you're a -- quote -- "Benedict Arnold," a traitor. Got that? Not just wrong, not just confused or mistaken or even dumb. You're evil. You're guilty of a crime. You've betrayed our country, put yourself beyond the pale of civilized men.

In other words, you don't count. We don't have to listen to a word you say. You are a nonperson. This, of course, is the language of totalitarianism. John Kerry may not know that, but it is. And he ought to knock it off.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: The language of totalitarianism.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: I'll tell you what. Like my friend Zell Miller says, a hit dog barks. This is a crooked group. Look at what they did to Valerie Plame, a CIA agent. They liked her name illegally.

(CROSSTALK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Look what they're doing in the Senate right now.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Wait a minute. Republican staffers -- Republican staffers hacking into Democratic computers.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: You can outshout me, but, as usual, you're not even addressing what I said.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Kerry said that they were a crooked bunch. I think he's right. There's criminality alleged in the White House.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: It's riddled with felons.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He's just saying they are a bunch of crooks, and they are. Halliburton, anyone?

CARLSON: Then why doesn't he attack the specifics? He dismisses them as people. And that's wrong.

BEGALA: He should attack the rampant criminality, and I think he will.

CARLSON: Rampant criminality?

BEGALA: Speaking of which, "The Wall Street Journal" today reports on the rampant criminality, saying that the Pentagon has asked the Justice Department to join in its investigation of Halliburton.

It seems Dick Cheney's old firm, which traded with Iran, Iraq and Syria while Cheney was at the helm, is now suspected of overcharging American taxpayers under one of its lucrative no-bid contracts in Iraq, this on top of an ongoing investigation into alleged kickbacks totalling $6.3 million for food services that Halliburton is supposed to be providing to our troops.

Now, Dick Cheney made $34 million in the five years that he ran Halliburton. He still receives deferred compensation from Halliburton. And he still has 433,000 stock options in Halliburton. "The Wall Street Journal" estimates that the Bush-Cheney administration has given Halliburton contracts totalling $18 billion, billion with a B, for its work in Iraq.

So, as Dave Letterman famously said, when you're writing your check to the federal government at tax time, remember, there's two L's in Halliburton.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: I love this. Democrats who say they care about jobs attacking an American company that does honest work. Most Democrats don't even know what Halliburton does.

There is no -- Halliburton is actually losing money on its Iraqi contracts. And the implication that you just made that somehow...

(BELL RINGING)

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... we went to war because of Halliburton is so dumb.

BEGALA: I never made any such claim at all. I'm saying Halliburton is ripping us off. And I don't trust George Bush to dig into it or Dick Cheney. We need a new regime in there to clean out the site.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: OK.

Well, on a remarkable and serious note, an American woman was arrested by federal agents today on charges she worked as an agent for Saddam Hussein's intelligence service; 41-year-old Susan Lindauer of Tacoma Park, Maryland, is accused of taking thousands of dollars payoffs from the ISS, the branch of Saddam's government responsible for terrorism against U.S. citizens.

As recently as last summer, Lindauer is said to have worked to help the insurgency now killing Americans inside Iraq. Lindauer reportedly traveled to Baghdad to see her handlers at least twice in the year 2002. As it happened, during that same period, Lindauer was also a paid staffer on Capitol Hill working for liberal Democrat Zoe Lofgren of California.

Over the years, Lindauer also held high-level positions with Democrats Ron Wyden, Peter DeFazio and Senator Carol Moseley Braun. Here are the countries. Did Lindauer's employers have any idea she might be too close to Saddam's government? What exactly did Zoe Lofgren think when her aide left for Baghdad twice? And did Lindauer's relationship with the fascist regime in Iraq influence her employers' positions on the war? Let's hope we get the answers immediately. This is a big deal. Let's not blow it off.

BEGALA: Speaking about the language of totalitarianism, this is guilt by association.

CARLSON: No, it's not.

BEGALA: Anybody who helps...

CARLSON: I'm not accusing anybody of anything.

BEGALA: Let me make my point. Anybody who helps those pigs who are killing our troops ought to get the worst punishment that our law allows.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: But don't tar anybody she used to work with based on that.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: We have no idea if she's guilty, but if she is, highest penalties under the law.

CARLSON: Then I want to know what the members of Congress who employed her thought when she went to Baghdad. I want to know the answer.

BEGALA: You can't smear the people who she used to work with.

CARLSON: What do you mean? This was last year?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That's guilt by association.

CARLSON: Well, it's a valid question.

Well, that ding you heard was the beginning of the first round of what may turn out to be the longest, maybe the bloodiest presidential campaign on record. As President Bush and Senator John Kerry square off on the campaign trail, is it inevitable that their campaigns go harshly negative? We hope so. You can find the most amazing things on the Internet. For instance, we found this on the Bush-Cheney campaign Web site. We'll have more later.

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)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Welcome back.

President George W. Bush doing his best to talk about issues he believes are important for America, the recovering economy, 9/11, the war on terrorism. John Kerry, meanwhile, is calling people names, even as his Democratic friends whine about the supposed negativity of this campaign so far. Well, how negative can it all get?

In the CROSSFIRE to debate that, New York Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler, along with U.S. Senator John Ensign, Republican from the great state of Nevada -- not Nevada, Nevada.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Thank you both very much. It's good to see you again.

Senator Ensign, let's sort of get the state of play here. Nine million of our country men and women are out of work; 43 million Americans have no health insurance; 100,000 brave Americans are stationed in Iraq without enough armor, without enough allies, without a clear exit strategy. And here's what our president is doing. Well, he's running negative political ads.

Here's what one of them says starting tonight: "John Kerry's plan: to pay for new government spending, raise taxes by at least $900 million, on the war on terror, weaken the Patriot Act used to arrest terrorists and protect America."

Isn't it kind of unseemly that our president would rather attack John Kerry than attack problems?

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: Well, Paul you know that the Democrats, including John Kerry, have been attacking the president for months and months and months. The president is now responding. It is time to learn about Senator Kerry's record.

You mentioned the not being prepared or not having the armor that they need over in Iraq. Senator Kerry last weekend said that our military went to Iraq not prepared, that our president sent them there not prepared, completely outrageous statement. The best prepared military in the history of the world went to Iraq.

I had -- I'm the chairman of the Armed Service Readiness Committee. We had four-star generals in front of us, in front of me the other day. I asked them the question. I said, were you prepared? Read them John Kerry's statement. They were outraged by the statement. They said, we were not only prepared, the best prepared we've ever been, and that we did better than we expected. We got there faster, fewer casualties than we expected. And it's outrageous for John Kerry to be, you know, making a statement like this.

CARLSON: I think that's an excellent point, Senator. Congressman, let me contrast what Paul's description of the president's new ad, which does attack Senator John Kerry on specific points. I want to contrast that with what Senator Kerry himself said last night about his opponents. Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep smiling.

KERRY: Oh, yes, don't worry, man.

Thank you. We're going to keep pounding, let me tell you. We're just beginning to fight here. These guys are -- these guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I've ever seen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: So, to recap, Bush attacks Kerry on his record.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Kerry attacks Bush and all Republicans as crooked liars. Do you see the distinction? One is legitimate. The other is ludicrous.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: I see a -- no, I see a distinction certainly between paid political ads designed to be seen by millions of people and an offhand comment when he probably didn't realize the mike was on, No. 1, that he's not saying that in his political ads.

But second of all, you know, President Bush in 2000, during the campaign, he was, again in an unguarded moment -- he didn't realize his mike was on -- he called Adam Clymer, a respected reporter for "The New York Times," a major-league -- and I can't say the next word.

CARLSON: Oh, go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

NADLER: It's a slang word for a posterior part of the human anatomy.

(LAUGHTER)

ENSIGN: And also the symbol of your party. Sorry.

CARLSON: But he didn't call all "New York Times" reporters that. That's the point.

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER: He called a major "New York Times" reporter -- but let me say this.

CARLSON: Major-league "New York Times" reporter. NADLER: Well, he called him a major league -- yes.

CARLSON: All right.

NADLER: But, you know, I think unguarded comments like that, to a couple of people, when you don't realize the mike is on, I mean, I think there's a lot of truth, by the way, to what Kerry said.

BEGALA: Amen.

NADLER: There's a lot of truth to what he said.

(APPLAUSE)

NADLER: When you talk about -- when you talk about the fact that the Bush administration obviously deliberately lied to this country about the intelligence we were getting going into Iraq...

ENSIGN: That's outrageous.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: And leaked the name of a CIA agent to the public.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Speaking of lies

(CROSSTALK)

ENSIGN: That is outrageous. That is outrageous. This is absolutely outrageous.

(CROSSTALK)

ENSIGN: That is -- it is outrageous to make accusations like that that are unfounded accusations, calling them crooks, calling them liars.

NADLER: Unless they're truthful.

ENSIGN: It isn't truthful.

The intelligence -- let's just talk intelligence, for instance. The Intelligence Committee, both parties, Intelligence Committee were completely briefed. I'm on the Armed Services Committee. We were briefed on all of the intelligence. Every intelligence agency in the world thought, including your boss, President Clinton when he was in office -- for years and years and years, we thought Saddam Hussein had these weapons of mass destruction.

There was no question in anybody's mind across the world. That's what he said. That is what he said to the American people, that the best consensus of that intelligence...

(CROSSTALK) ENSIGN: And so he did not lie to the American people. And that is wrong.

BEGALA: Yes, he did, when he said it was an urgent threat, a unique threat, an imminent threat. Those were false.

NADLER: An imminent mushroom cloud threat.

BEGALA: Those were false. He was not a threat to us. We know that now. As a matter of fact, he was no threat to America.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

ENSIGN: He did not say -- he did not say it was an imminent threat.

BEGALA: His aides did. The White House said it was an imminent threat.

ENSIGN: He did not say it was an imminent threat.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He said it was urgent.

ENSIGN: It was.

BEGALA: What's the difference between urgent and imminent? He said it was a mortal threat.

(CROSSTALK)

ENSIGN: It is a threat to the United States. Would you rather wait for another 9/11 to happen?

BEGALA: He had nothing to do with 9/11, Senator.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: That's the big myth. That's the big falsehood.

(CROSSTALK)

ENSIGN: But the point of using 9/11 in that context is this, is that 9/11 happened because we waited to act. We had attack after attack after attack. We did nothing.

BEGALA: After George Bush was told that al Qaeda had a plan to hijack airplanes, he did nothing. That's true.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Excuse me. We're almost out of time. I just want to ask you a quick question. Do you think anybody's going to get elected calling people names like liar and un-American and unpatriotic, like the Democrats have done?

NADLER: I hope -- I certainly -- and the Republicans have also done.

I certainly hope that the issues will be debated. And the issues should be, I'd like to know why the...

CARLSON: But shouldn't he stop calling the president a liar, then?

NADLER: ... why the president is stiff-arming the 9/11 Commission that would look into what he knew before 9/11 and trying to put conditions on his going there. That tells us something.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: We're going to tell you. We're going to come back to this topic of 9/11 after the break.

President Bush, of course, is determined to make that tragic day a centerpiece of his partisan campaign. Next, shouldn't the loss of so many be better off not used in a campaign as a cheap prop?

And, right after the break, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on today's deadly terror attacks in Spain.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, terror on the Madrid commuter line, almost 200 people dead, more than 1,000 injured, from a series of nearly simultaneous bomb blasts. We'll take you live to the scene and show you what experts say about the possibility similar attacks right here in the U.S.

Startling new information on Saddam Hussein's two notorious sons and their attempt to escape Iraq before being tracked down by U.S. forces.

Plus, inside information on the hunt for Osama bin Laden and much more in my conversation with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss.

Those stories, much more only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf, from here at CROSSFIRE. President Bush promised, of course, he would not politicize the tragedy of 9/11, but in the first days of his campaign, his campaign commercials showed images of the tragedy. This afternoon, he sandwiched a stop at a 9/11 memorial in between a political forum and a political fund-raiser.

So, should 9/11 be off limits for politicians?

In the CROSSFIRE, U.S. Senator John Ensign, a Republican from Nevada, along with Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler, whose district, of course, includes the site of the World Trade Center bombing.

CARLSON: Congressman Nadler, I'm sure you've seen the 9/11 ad in dispute here. It's not offensive. Democrats are screaming about it, that he's politicizing 9/11.

Let me show you why Democrats are so mad. This is our latest poll in the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, asked people, which guy does a better job on terrorism? Bush creams John Kerry 60 percent to 33 percent. You know as well as I do, Democrats are terrified of this number right here and that's why they're complaining about the ad.

NADLER: Well, I think the Republican Party for the last 25 years has had the advantage politically in terms of warfare, basically, the war on terrorism, the war against the Cold War and so forth. I think that's continuing right now. And that's clearly a major problem for the Democratic Party.

I think it's perfectly legitimate for Bush to debate what he did before and after 9/11, what he did after 9/11 and so forth. It's perfectly legitimate for the Democrats to say, it was wrong or inadequate or whatever.

What's not legitimate is to use images of 9/11 not to illustrate a point about what he's doing or has done, but to make an emotional appeal, which is what that ad does, an emotional appeal based on the tragedy of 9/11. The victims were victimized as Americans, not as Republicans, not as supporters of Bush. The attack was on the United States, not on Bush.

And that's what's wrong with that ad. Now, if Bush wants to run ads about, I did this, I attacked Afghanistan, I did that, fair game, legitimate comment. But those ads are not.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Senator Ensign, in fact, good people, reasonable people can disagree about the appropriateness, the tastefulness. I don't approve of it. I'm sure you do.

But nobody can dispute that the president broke his word. He promised us. Let me read you the words of our president, who many of us foolishly believed to be true when he said them. He said -- quote -- "I have no ambition whatsoever to use this 9/11 attacks as a political issue." Now, as an American, I feel like I've been lied to. But, as a strategist, what was he going to do, run on the jobless economy and the endless occupation? He had to do something, right?

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: I mean...

ENSIGN: Paul, first of all, it's a chronology.

If you look at the ad, it's a simple chronology of what happened during his presidency, and that he talks about the steady leadership that he has shown during times of change. This is exactly what the ad -- it's very fair. It just shows kind of the things that happened during his presidency.

BEGALA: Sir, but he did promise that. He did promise not to use it.

(CROSSTALK)

ENSIGN: That's not politicizing 9/11. That's not politicizing...

BEGALA: To put it in a political ad? What would be?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: If it's not over the top to show a dead body dragged out of a building in a political ad, what would be?

ENSIGN: This is not showing a dead body dragged out of a building.

This is showing a brief image of 9/11. I mean, it's a casket draped in a flag. It's a brief image. It's part of the history of when George Bush, his first four years in the White House.

It showed a very turbulent time. And then it shows how -- what a strong, steady leader he was during this time. And I think that's a legitimate point. It's -- whether FDR was -- during World War II, he was strong, steady leadership during that time. And he used that during his reelection.

It is something that happens -- when things happen in a major proportion when you're in office that you're responsible for, whether we're running for reelection, Republican or Democrat, it is fair to talk about what happens while you are in office and then talk about how you handled it.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: I mean, that isn't -- it's sort of hard to argue with that, isn't it, Congressman Nadler?

And it seems to me that people we know have politicized 9/11 are those Democrats who've use the outrage of some families, a small percentage of the 9/11 victims' families, who have leveraged their anger for political gain.

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER: I don't think the families have leveraged their anger for political gain.

CARLSON: No, no, I think Democratic operatives have leveraged their anger for political gain. And I wish they'd knock it off, don't you?

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER: No, Democrats have objected, along with many of the families, to the use of the images of 9/11 for political game, in the way that I said, for an emotional thing.

And I think the president would have more sympathy, frankly, from Democrats, from families using images of 9/11 -- and, by the way, FDR never used news reel of Pearl Harbor for political gain. But they would have a lot more

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Actually, FDR refused to go to the convention in 1944. He was on a military base, because was running a war.

NADLER: They would have -- they would have a lot more sympathy if the president would were not refusing to fund medical services for the first-responders who come have down with respiratory ailments as a result of their work on the pile after 9/11.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Hey, why should the president -- I think that New York state paying for its own first-responders, can it not? Isn't that sort of a state issue?

NADLER: No, no.

(CROSSTALK)

ENSIGN: ... $20 billion to New York City.

NADLER: We haven't gotten the $20 billion.

ENSIGN: It's all there.

(CROSSTALK)

NADLER: No, first of all, many of those first-responders are not from New York City. They're from all over the country. Many of them -- the majority of them at this point, because of a lack of proper work by the federal agencies, have come down and give -- in using proper protective gear when they were working on the pile, a majority of first-responders have come down with respiratory ailments. We can't get the funding for monitoring them and giving them medical services.

The president and -- the president, we now know -- not the president, the White House -- the White House, we now know, directed the EPA to lie to the people of New York about the condition of the environment after 9/11, so the people were being poisoned.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That's going to have to be -- I'm sorry, Congressman Nadler.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: The man is poisoning people and lying. OK.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Congressman Jerry Nadler, thank you very much. And, Senator John Ensign from Nevada, appreciate both of you being here.

ENSIGN: Thank you.

BEGALA: Thank you for that debate.

Well, the old saying in the bar was, hey, what's your sign? Well, we'll show you what happened when the Bush-Cheney campaign allowed us to create our own signs for the campaign. You won't want to miss it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Well, among the many interesting things you can find on the Bush- Cheney campaign's Web site is a little device that allows you to create your own sign for the Bush/Cheney '04 posters.

Now, I took the opportunity to go on there myself, Tucker, and make one: "Bush and Cheney: Fighting for Their Jobs, Not Yours."

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: I think that would be a good slogan for them.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: You know, that's -- that's pretty clever. And I suppose (CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I'm not surprised.

I got right to it. I sum up the difference, I think, in only four words: "Bush-Cheney '04: Not At All French."

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: That is true. There is nothing French about these guys. And if that appeals to you, vote for them.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: It appeals to me.

BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala, not at all French. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson, even less French.

Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE.

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

(APPLAUSE)

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