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Al Qaeda Threat Ignored?

Aired March 22, 2004 - 16:30   ET


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

In the CROSSFIRE: A new book by the former White House counterterrorism chief raises disturbing questions about both the Clinton and Bush administrations. What did they know about al Qaeda's plots? When did they know it? And what did they do about it?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction, and he chose not to.




ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM the George Washington University, James Carville and Tucker Carlson.


Well, as you probably know by now, a disgruntled partisan former bureaucrat is trying to sell his book by making completely over-the- top claims that the White House correctly calls deeply irresponsible and flat-out wrong.

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: Actually, Richard Clarke says the Bush administration has done a terrible job on the war against terrorism. They've done a terrible job on everything else. Why should we be surprised?


CARVILLE: We'll debate it right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

For weeks, George W. Bush has been blanketing America with negative attacks on John Kerry. In fact, the attacks have been so out of bounds that Republicans like Chuck Hagel and John McCain have come to defend John Kerry's record on national security. Today, John Kerry has released a television ad that does something George W. Bush is unwilling to do. That is, be positive and talk about the challenges facing America.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to get some things done in this country, affordable health care, rolling back tax cuts for the wealthy, really investing in our kids. That's why I'm running for president.


CARVILLE: This is the type of positive, issues-based campaign America need and Americans deserve, not the daily mud-slinging coming out of the White House.

CARLSON: I can't believe you of all people are whining about the negative quality of the Bush campaign. Why, he's being mean to me.



CARLSON: I must say, that's, a, going to get you nowhere. B, I would like to know what John Kerry thinks about Iraq.


CARLSON: What are we going to do there? He has no idea.

CARVILLE: Let me tell you. We now know. We now know what happened.


CARVILLE: And they have been lying about John Kerry's record because they knew the truth was coming out about them.


CARVILLE: The truth came out last night. The truth is coming out Wednesday. The truth is there. These people lied to get us into a war they had no plan to get us out of it. They caused the deficit to go up.


CARLSON: Oh, they're mean. They're mean.

CARVILLE: And the truth will set them free from Washington. They'll go back to Crawford or wherever they come from.


CARLSON: Why doesn't John Kerry get up there and say, stop lying about my record?


CARLSON: Come on, James. Give me a break.

CARVILLE: They lied about John Kerry because the truth was coming about them.

CARLSON: Right. They're anti-truth.

OK, well, during his second inaugural address, Bill Clinton referred to the United States as -- quote -- "the indispensable nation." It was less a boast than a statement of fact. America was and is the sole superpower. Despite its mistakes, the U.S. is also the world's main force for progress on this planet. No other country in history has done so much for so many.

Clinton had made a correct and perfectly obvious observation. And yet John Kerry was deeply offended by it. According to a recent "Washington Post" account, Kerry turned to an aide and said -- quote -- "Why are we adopting such an arrogant, obnoxious tone?" -- end quote. Why would John Kerry say something like this? Because arrogant and obnoxious is how John Kerry sees the United States, no matter who the president happens to be, even if he's a Democrat, which explains why John Kerry opposed the first Gulf War and also why he sided with a series of anti-American thugs, including deposed Haitian despot Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the murderous Sandinista regime of Nicaragua.

John Kerry's problem is not that he has a weak foreign policy or that he's too liberal. It is that he has a deep distrust of American power. That's his problem.

CARVILLE: Let me get this straight.


CARLSON: Why is he attacking Clinton for saying the obvious?

CARVILLE: I'm trying to get this straight. A man gets three Purple Hearts...

CARLSON: Oh, give me a break, James.


CARVILLE: ... a Silver Star and a Bronze Star fighting for a country that he doesn't like.


CARVILLE: That man says that


CARLSON: I said he has a distrust


CARVILLE: ... is defended by Chuck Hagel and John McCain for a country that he doesn't like.


CARLSON: Right. Why is he attacking...

CARVILLE: A man is getting some of the most thoughtful critiques of this administration for a country he doesn't like.


CARLSON: Very thoughtful. Very thoughtful.


CARVILLE: Calling George W. Bush on all of his blatantly false statements is like being mosquito at a nudist colony. You just don't know where to start.



CARVILLE: Today, we can add another to his growing list of Bush's misstatements.

At least twice, President Bush said on September 11, he personally gave the order to raise our country's military alert status. In December 2001, he said that, after the attacks -- quote -- "One of the first acts I did is put our military on alert" -- unquote. It turns out even that's not true.

Today's "Wall Street Journal" reports shortly after that passenger jet hit the Pentagon, it was actually Air Force General Richard Myers, the person who is the acting head of Joint Chiefs of Staff that day, who raised our alert status. In fact, General Myers had to go back to the Pentagon and fight through smoke-filled hallways to do his job. The question is, why can't George W. Bush seem to tell the truth about doing his? I mean, I don't understand.

CARLSON: You know what? I must say, James, I'm not in a position to give the Democratic Party advice on how to run a campaign.


CARLSON: But I think if you continue with the personal attacks against Bush -- he's a liar. He's a coward.

CARVILLE: It's "The Wall Street Journal."


CARVILLE: ... a pro-Democratic newspaper, the left-leaning "Wall Street Journal," in the hip of the liberal media elite? (APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: I'm saying, if it's true -- I'm saying, if it's true, if General Myers did that, so what? What does that have to do with anything? The question is...

CARVILLE: Why did Bush say he did it?

CARLSON: No. The question is, what are we going to do in Iraq? And the Democrats have no answer.


CARVILLE: Why would the president of the United States...


CARVILLE: Why would he lie about something like that? Why can't he tell the truth, man?

CARLSON: Speaking of unserious, OK, well, the Republican Party has a huge fund-raising advantage among middle-class donors, who by the thousands have sent relatively small checks to President Bush. This is a fact.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has George Soros. Soros, a Hungarian-born financier who made billions speculating on other people's financial disasters, told "The Boston Globe" today that he will spend millions to defeat Bush. In another interview with "The Washington Post," Soros described beating Bush as -- quote -- "the focus of my life."


CARLSON: He went on to compare the president to Hitler. Two points.

First, campaign finance reform is a sick joke that Democrats have never taken seriously. It's time for everyone to admit this and stop pretending otherwise. Second, George Soros is an irresponsible extremist who would be ignored or institution institutionalized if he weren't so rich.


CARLSON: It's fine to disagree with Bush. Its not fine to compare the president of the United States to Adolf Hitler. Democrats should know this. Apparently, they don't. That's an outrageous


CARVILLE: Do you know who is the biggest -- do you know who is the biggest contributor to Bush's political -- Bush's political life?


CARLSON: No, no, why don't you address what I -- why don't you address what I said?

CARVILLE: Do you know who his biggest contributor was? Let me tell you. Try this name. Potato chips. What are they called? Lay -- oh, Ken Lay is the biggest.


CARVILLE: He rifled an entire American corporation. And now they want to attack George Soros.


CARVILLE: Mr. Soros, give all the money you want. You're not Ken Lay no matter what you do. You never rifled the environment.

CARLSON: The rhetoric on your side, James...


CARLSON: ... has gotten so out of control, so outrageous, you really need to rein it in. Comparing him to Hitler, that is too much.

CARVILLE: Ken Lay, the biggest contributor in history to George W. Bush.

CARLSON: All right.

President Bush is being accused of ignoring the terror threat from al Qaeda. We'll debate that accusation and just what motivated it.

And celebrities are pulling out their checkbooks as the presidential campaign heats up. Some of their donation decisions may surprise you, though most won't. Here's a hint. Most actors are lefties.

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 Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.



CARLSON: Welcome back.

Well, in his almost unbelievably partisan new book "Against All Enemies," former White House cyberterrorism chief Richard Clarke says, among other things, that the Bush White House ignored repeated warnings about the threat posed by al Qaeda. And having worked for the Clinton administration, Clarke knows a few things about ignoring al Qaeda.

To debate Dick Clarke's version of history, we are joined by former National Security County spokesman P.J. Crowley, who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He is joined by former U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency director Ken Adelman, the host of


CARVILLE: Ken, Mr. Clarke was brought in the government by President Reagan. He served President Bush I, President Clinton, and this President Bush.

According to "The Washington Post" -- and I want to show you -- I want to read this, exactly what they had to say about Mr. Clarke's government service.

"According to available records and memories, no one has served longer continuously on the senior White House staff" than Richard Clarke." And so this man is being savaged by Dick Cheney on Rush Limbaugh's show, by Condoleezza Rice on "Good Morning America," by Tucker Carlson here. What's wrong with this guy?

KEN ADELMAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. ARMS CONTROL & DISARMAMENT AGENCY: Well, two things. One is integrity and the other is the policy.

Integrity -- I think it's very unseemly, James, to serve a president, to have the biggest job of your life and the most responsibility, and then to sell a book, or whatever his motives, to go and turn on that president. I think that kind of disloyalty is appalling. And people who serve in government should realize this is a sacred trust. This is an important thing to do.

This is an honor to walk in the White House every day. And to go and to cheapen yourself and to have a lack of character like that...

CARVILLE: Well, why did four presidents hire this guy?

ADELMAN: Because...

CARVILLE: What -- he's the longest serving senior staff member in the history of the White House.

ADELMAN: I'm not saying he wasn't the longest serving. I'm saying he's a man without character.


CARLSON: P.J., I'm going to have to jump in here.


CARLSON: I think it's nobody


CROWLEY: It's nothing you would do? It's nothing you would do?


CARLSON: I want to ask you -- I want to ask you about -- I want to ask you about the book itself, though. I think a debate on our response to terrorism is absolutely valid.


CARLSON: I wanted to read a book on it. I actually read a fair amount of this book. And it undermines itself with its partisanship.

I just -- I want to read you from the introduction Dick Clarke's assessment of the last four presidents. I think it makes the point pretty well. It's comic, actually: "Ronald Reagan didn't retaliate for the murder of 278 U.S. Marines in Beirut. George Bush didn't retaliate for the Libyan murder of 259 passengers Pan Am Flight 103. George W. Bush failed to act prior to September 11 on the al Qaeda threat. Bill Clinton identified terrorism as the major post-Cold War threat and acted to improve our counterterrorism capabilities."

Now, come on.


CARLSON: This is a caricature, just like this book. Come on. This is not a serious book.

CROWLEY: First of all, you're talking about a man who worked for the government for 30 years. He was squarely -- spoke squarely and exclusively on the security of the United States of America.

But, look, I can't do better than what the White House itself has done today. In a press release today, it said quote -- because we're talking about Clarke's admonitions to the president, to Condi Rice that there was a threat out there, and they had other things on their agenda: "NSC principals did not need to have a formal meeting to discuss the threat because the threat was already well understood."

So, not only did they ignore it. They understood that we were...

CARLSON: Wait. Wait. OK.

CROWLEY: ... that we were vulnerable to an attack, and they still did nothing for nine months. Then Dick Clarke's primary point is, after 9/11...

CARLSON: I'm glad you brought that up.

CROWLEY: ... we go to Iraq, rather than


CARLSON: I'm glad you brought that up because Condi Rice particularly -- in this book, Mr. Clarke makes the allegation that Condoleezza Rice had never heard of al Qaeda. Now, you know that's a compete crock. That's not credible. Doesn't that claim undermine everything else he says in here? That's a joke.


CROWLEY: Well, wait a second. Condi Rice this morning said, Dick Clarke didn't tell us we had a problem. Come on.


CARLSON: No, no, but let's get back to what I said.


CARVILLE: He said she looked as though she didn't know it. That's what he said in the book.


CROWLEY: This is about the president of the United States understanding the world in which he's living in and then making sure that the American people are properly protected from the threats that we face.

For nine months, they wanted to focus on national missile defense. They wanted to focus on other things. They were asleep at the switch on 9/11. There's no getting around it.


CROWLEY: And they're blaming everybody else. And they'll keep throwing people overboard, good Republicans like Dick Clarke, by the way, because


CARLSON: Oh, he's actually a Republican?

CROWLEY: They're not willing to less up to their responsibility in the world.


CARVILLE: Ken, let me ask you something. Vice President Cheney was sent out today on Rush Limbaugh's show. That was a nice pair. And Vice President Cheney was given two task forces, one on energy and one on terrorism.

Why did Vice President Cheney meet so much with Ken Lay and never with Dick Clarke and never call a meeting on advertise terrorism task force


ADELMAN: I don't know who he met with. I don't know who he met with.


ADELMAN: I find it very surprising. No, I don't know who he met with in the White House.

CARVILLE: Why don't you know who he met with?

ADELMAN: Because he meets with White House staff all the time.

CARVILLE: He'll tell you. His energy task force never held a meeting -- I mean, his terrorism task force. Why -- why -- why have all the energy meetings and not terrorism?

ADELMAN: This is just chatter. This is not something serious.


CARVILLE: Why? It's not -- terrorism is not serious?

ADELMAN: No, I'm saying the subject, the way you're discussing it is not very serious.


ADELMAN: What is serious is that Clarke was for eight years the terrorism czar, whatever, in the Clinton administration. We had incidents of terrorism during that time, OK?

We treated them as a law enforcement problem. We did not treat it as a war. We did absolutely nothing after the '93 World Trade Center blowup that almost brought town down the towers.


CARLSON: Let him


CROWLEY: We found the perpetrators and locked them up, in direct comparison to today, where we're releasing known terrorists to the British.


CARVILLE: If everything that you say it true and this guy is the most incompetent person to ever serve, why did Bush hire him? If he was so bad, why did they keep him over?


ADELMAN: I don't he this should have. If you saying, was it a mistake?


CARVILLE: Why did Reagan bring him in and Bush


CARLSON: It is an interesting question, actually. And Dick Cheney brought this up today.


CARLSON: Obviously, it was a mistake to keep this guy.

ADELMAN: It was a mistake to keep him on.

CARLSON: However, this is a guy who was head of the antiterrorism


CARLSON: ... as you know...

CROWLEY: For eight years, absolutely.

CARLSON: During the cold, during the assassination attempt on the first president, etcetera, etcetera.


CARLSON: His advice, apparently, was to bomb an aspirin factory in the Sudan and blow up an empty village in Afghanistan. This guy has no...

ADELMAN: At night. At night.

CARLSON: So that is his advice?


ADELMAN: Retaliation during the Clinton administration is to blow up the headquarters during the night so that you'd clean -- you kill the cleaning ladies, but you don't kill any professionals who worked on terrorism.

CROWLEY: You want to compare track records, this is fine.

ADELMAN: I do want to compare track records.


CROWLEY: Let's understand, this is not about the Clinton administration. This is about





CARLSON: I can see now.


ADELMAN: The book is about both.

CROWLEY: This is about the choices made by the Bush administration since they came to office...

ADELMAN: The book is about both.


CROWLEY: ... to ignore a threat and then to go on the side visit to Iraq, rather than finishing the job with Afghanistan first. However, let's go through it.

ADELMAN: The big point is...



CROWLEY: Look, let's go through it, all right; 1993, bombing of the World Trade Center.

ADELMAN: Right. There's a big point there. For eight years in the Clinton administration, there was lots of terrorism.


CROWLEY: The perpetrators found, convicted, thrown in jail.

CARVILLE: I want to show you something. I want to show you this other Hollywood left-winger here, this General Kerrick quote from "The Washington Post," and I want to show that.

"Lieutenant General Don Kerrick, who served both President Clinton and President Bush noticed a difference on terrorism, Clinton's Cabinet advisers burning with the urgency of their losses to bin Laden and the African embassies bombings in 1998 and the USS Cole in 2000, had met nearly weekly to direct the fight. Kerrick said, among Bush's first line advisers, 'Candidly speaking, I didn't detect that kind of focus,'" he said.

Now you had General Kerrick


ADELMAN: James, you're talking about meetings. You're not talking about results.

CARLSON: Exactly.

ADELMAN: You're talking about meetings. (CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Saying the Clinton people were more focused on terrorism than the Bush people. These are not left-wingers.

ADELMAN: James...

CARVILLE: This is a lieutenant general of the United States Army and a Reagan appointee.

ADELMAN: James, let me just tell you something. Throwing a meeting -- James, throwing a meeting at a problem is not going to scare al Qaeda.

CARVILLE: It's not?

ADELMAN: It's not going to deter al Qaeda.


ADELMAN: It's not going to defeat al Qaeda. You're talking about meetings, James. Who cares who has meetings? And you want to talk about Cheney's meetings.


ADELMAN: ... about action.


CARVILLE: We had a lot of action in energy. Let me tell you. The coal companies got action.


CROWLEY: The most precious commodity that any president has is time and resources.


CROWLEY: The Clinton administration devoted a great deal of time and resource...

ADELMAN: But there was lots of terrorism during the eight years.

CROWLEY: ... to terrorism. The Bush administration did not.


CROWLEY: You are not getting the pull of information up from Coleen Rowley or other sources that could have put all the thoughts in a single room.


CROWLEY: Here's the deal ADELMAN: No, you're talking about meetings.


CROWLEY: In January, 2001...


CROWLEY: In January, 2001, the Clinton administration turned over to the Bush administration an active investigation of USS Cole. Within weeks of the administration...

ADELMAN: Meetings and report. That's all we're talking about.


ADELMAN: You guys are a bunch of bureaucrats, you know that? You should be clerks. You're a bunch of little bureaucrats.


CROWLEY: The FBI told the president of the United States that al Qaeda was responsible.


CROWLEY: And he didn't do anything about it until September.

CARVILLE: You want a meeting out of this administration, send them a check. You'll get it. I'll guarantee you that. Show up at a fund-raiser.


CARLSON: Let the record reflect, that was


ADELMAN: If you want action against terrorism, don't throw a meeting at the problem.

CARLSON: When we return, we'll put our guests through the "Rapid Fire" and ask why Richard Clarke looked for a job promotion in an administration he considered evil. Why would he do that? We'll find out.

Right after the break, Wolf Blitzer has the latest fallout from Israel's assassination of the leader of Hamas.

We'll be right back.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, a former White House aide accuses the Bush administration of ignoring the al Qaeda threat. The White House launches a major counterattack.

Has Israel's assassination of Ahmed Yassin put Americans at risk? What the experts think.

And the government has a warning for anyone who takes antidepressant drugs. This is information you need to know.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARVILLE: It's time for "Rapid Fire," where we ask questions even faster than the Bush administration can attack anyone who dares to speak the truth.



CARVILLE: Our guest, the former U.S. arms disarmament director Ken Adelman and former National Security Council spokesman P.J. Crowley.

CARLSON: P.J., if the Bush administration is so darn evil -- and that's the claim in this book by Dick Clarke -- why did Clarke himself agitate for a promotion while he was working for the Bush administration?

CROWLEY: Dick Clarke's focus for 30 years in any capacity was to serve the American people and secure the country. He's upset because the Bush administration has led us astray.

CARVILLE: Dick Clarke, patriot, not a patriot?

ADELMAN: I think he shows lack of character by doing this. I think it's an act of betrayal.

CARVILLE: Then he's not a patriot, you would say?

ADELMAN: I would say -- let me use my word, a lack of character, a lack of integrity, and it's kind of a betrayal of the man who gave him the biggest honor of his life.

CARLSON: In this book, P.J., Clarke alleges that the Bush administration focused on Saddam Hussein to the exclusion of al Qaeda. Joe Lieberman came out recently and said that's an outrage and a rewriting of history. You agree, don't you?

CROWLEY: Well, no.

In fact, in the book, Paul Wolfowitz, in March or April of 2001, said, why are we focusing all this attention on bin Laden and not Saddam Hussein? And the answer is obviously bin Laden is the one guy that could hurt us and he proved it on September 11. CARVILLE: Do you have any idea why the White House sent Stephen Hadley, or whatever his name is, out to make a fool of himself on television last night?

ADELMAN: No, but I like Stephen Hadley.

CARVILLE: He might be a good guy, but he didn't have a good night.

ADELMAN: He is a good guy.


CARLSON: P.J., a number of Democrats have suggested that in going after Iraq, the Bush administration is doing the bidding of Israel. A, do you agree? And, B, if not, what is the motive for


CARLSON: ... Iraq?

CROWLEY: Well, I actually think that's an accusation that Pat Buchanan has made.

CARLSON: Actually, no, I believe the congressman from Virginia, Jim Moran, said that out loud.

CROWLEY: But I also know that Pat Buchanan has said the same thing. I mean, look...

CARLSON: Then what is the motive, then? I don't understand.

CROWLEY: I mean, I mean, as I have said on this program several times, doing Iraq is the right thing to do at the right time in the right way.

ADELMAN: Like never.

CROWLEY: But the fact is, right now, as Madrid proved, the administration tries to claim that we're fighting in Baghdad so we don't have to fight in Boston. Madrid blew up that argument.

CARVILLE: All right, Ken, are you going to watch Mr. Clarke's testimony before the 9/11 Commission under oath on Wednesday?



CARLSON: P.J., you weren't in any way endorsing the vote in Madrid, which is a retreat from the war against terror, wasn't it?

CROWLEY: Well, last I checked, Tucker, it was a peaceful...


CROWLEY: ... democratic expression of...

CARLSON: But that doesn't make it right, does it?

CROWLEY: That governments that deceive their people will be voted out of office.

CARLSON: Whoa, heavy.


CARLSON: OK, P.J. Crowley, Ken Adelman, thank you very much.


CARLSON: Well, next, celebrity donations and the race for president. Which celebrity decided to send checks to both President Bush and Ralph Nader? What a pair. We'll tell you when we return.

ANNOUNCER: If you would like to "Fireback" at CROSSFIRE, e-mail us at Make sure to include your name and hometown.



CARLSON: We'll be right back.

Well, it's widely known that candidates for president like to reach for the stars, or at least for their money. Reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission show, among other things, that, in February, actor, economist and game show host Ben Stein contributed to both the Bush and the Ralph Nader for president campaigns. John Kerry's February contributors include REM front man Michael Stipe and Eagles drummer Don Henley. Whatever happened to him?

Kerry also received contributions from actress Gwyneth Paltrow and Christie Hefner, the CEO and chairwoman of Playboy Enterprises.

And I have to say, good for Ben Stein, a very smart man, giving money to Ralph Nader. Ralph Nader is one of those voices the Democrats try to squelch: You're illegitimate. You don't have a right to speak. Your views don't count. You just ought to shut up and be quiet. But this is a man of principle. This is a guy who says what he thinks. He doesn't care what the polls say. He's in it because he really, really believes it. And yet you try and make him be quiet.


CARVILLE: If you give to Bush, give to Nader, it's one thing. A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.


CARLSON: Actually...

CARVILLE: From the left, I'm James Carville. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right and the Ralph Nader for president campaign, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE.

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



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