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CNN CROSSFIRE

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Aired March 25, 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: In the CROSSFIRE, the fallout from the 9/11 Commission hearings.

RICHARD CLARKE, FRM. COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: By invading Iraq, the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.

ANNOUNCER: Is Richard Clarke's criticism believable?

JOHN F. LEHMAN, COMMISSION MEMBER: You've got a real credibility problem. I hope you'll resolve that credibility problem.

BOB KERREY, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: Everything that you've said today, and done has not damaged my view of the integrity.

ANNOUNCER: Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, James Carville and Robert Novak.

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. The Bush administration is sure trying hard to discredit Richard Clarke. Too bad they don't put as much effort into fighting al Qaeda before 9/11.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Richard Clarke's allegations are not credible, but since when have the Democrats cared about credibility? We'll get to that debate right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOVAK: It was weeks ago that John Kerry clinched the presidential nomination, but Howard Dean is just getting around to endorsing Kerry. That must be hard, considering the nasty things Dean said about Kerry during the campaign. Paul Maslin (ph), Dean's former pollster writes in the "Atlantic Monthly" that Dean really disliked Kerry, that the two were like oil and water. Maslin also says Dean was ready to give up the nomination rather than release personal correspondence where he (UNINTELLIGIBLE) his nasty thoughts about fellow Democrats. Pollster Maslin says on Dean, quote, "he's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) judgment, loose tongue, and overall stubborness wore our spirits down. He refused to be scripted, to be discipline or to discipline himself," end quote. Only Howard Dean could make John Kerry look good.

CARVILLE: Bob, you're a very experienced reporter. You know a lot about politics. Tell me how much does -- do George Bush and John McCain, how much do they really like each other?

NOVAK: I thought we're talking about...

CARVILLE: I know but you were saying it's unusual that Dean doesn't like Kerry. I'm asking you as a seasoned journalist, how much affection is there between George W. Bush and John McCain?

NOVAK: You're going to change the subject.

CARVILLE: No, I'm not.

NOVAK: I thought you were changing the subject.

CARVILLE: No, I'm just saying it's not unusual that people -- I know you won't answer the question because you're too honest a man to answer because you know the answer is none.

White House -- White House spokesman Scott McClellan this weekend defended the administration against charges of negligence before 9/11 saying, fighting al Qaeda was, quote, "top priority before the attacks." Well, my good friends over at the Center for American Progress have done a little research and they can't find one example of President Bush, Vice President Cheney, or National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice ever speaking the words al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden between the time they took office and 9/11.

So they're holding a contest. Anyone that can find an example of Bush, Cheney or Condi saying the words al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden before 9/11 gets a prize. In fact, I'll throw in a copy of my book, "Had Enough," to the first person who can prove they're wrong. Just log on to Progressreport.org for more information. These guys say that they're such great terror fighters but prior to September 11 they didn't hear any evil, they didn't see any evil, and they sure in hell didn't speak any evil.

NOVAK: Matter of fact, James, having to get your book is not a prize, I would say.

CARVILLE: I'll throw in something else.

NOVAK: I would hope so.

I would think that you were not present at the meetings of the administration where they talked about Osama bin Laden. They talked about al Qaeda. That is really...

CARVILLE: Why didn't he say anything publicly?

NOVAK: Wait a minute, let me finish my sentence. That is really stupid to say that because those things go on behind closed doors.

CARVILLE: I said if they'd have wanted al Qaeda they should have sent them a check.

NOVAK: If you have $1,000 to waste on Democrats, you might still get a ticket for tonight's party unity dinner in Washington. What a band of brothers. Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, who detest each other, will be at the same head table. They last saw each other just after 9/11. President Clinton also will be back with his estranged running mate, Al Gore. They haven't even seen each other for months. But Congressman Dennis Kucinich was kept out because he has not yet endorsed Kerry. He'll have to -- Dennis will have to miss going with Clinton, Carter and Gore, nightclubbing in Washington, to hear Outcast, Ginuwine, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmunds and Q-Tip. That should distract the feuding Democrats.

CARVILLE: What -- what feuding Democrats? I don't know how to tell you this, Bob, but this party is the most united that I've ever seen it. I don't know -- what's so unusual about Democrats getting together and having a fund-raiser? Good God, that's all the White House does. They have ten a day. I tell you what, there are not going to be many people in the pollution industry at a Republican fund-raiser, if we get the people at the...

NOVAK: You used to have a sense of humor.

CARVILLE: I've got one.

NOVAK: Maybe. But I think it's really funny that Clinton and Carter, who have even each other once in ten years have to go to a nightclub together. If that isn't funny, I don't know what is.

CARVILLE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with Jimmy Carter in 1992. What are you talking about? President Clinton went down there and helped build houses. Today George W. Bush released two new television advertisements. The first says that John Kerry's economic record is, quote, "troubling." And that ad doesn't mention George Bush's economic plan has turned up a $5.6 trillion surplus into a $4 trillion deficit.

To me that's kind of...troubling. The second ad says Bush's tax cut helped the economy. What it doesn't say is President Bush promises tax cuts would create 4 million jobs. So far he's lost 3 million. By my math, 7 million short. When you look at what these ads say compared to what President Bush has done, I've got three pieces of advice for our president, stop lying, stop digging and for God's sake's stop bragging. It's troubling.

NOVAK: I'll tell you what's troubling for me and it better be troubling for John Kerry and they're nervous as hell because they're telling the truth about the fact that Democrats have their own disease, attacks tax increase disease. He is coming out to talk about increasing taxes, he's way...

CARVILLE: Sure is. He's going to raise taxes on the top 1 percent to pay for health care for middle Americans. And middle America, you've got a choice. Vote me a tax cut or you health care. You want me to get a tax cut, vote for Bush. You want health care vote for Kerry. NOVAK: That is the line that is matter of fact when he rolls back these taxes, he rolls back the marriage penalty thing, the children's credit, all of that and a big gas tax on top of it.

CARVILLE: That's not true.

NOVAK: Investigating the 9/11 attacks. Is it all strictly politics? and can anybody in Washington ask that question with a straight face?

And why is President Bush making such a face? We'll let the president himself answer that a little later.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARVILLE: Richard Clarke says the Bush administration blew its chance to take down al Qaeda by going after Iraq. And so just today in a newly released audiotape we've got al Qaeda's No. 2 guy supposedly calling for the overthrow of Pakistan's government.

To debate the extent of the Bush administration's incompetence we're joined from Capitol Hill by Democratic Congressman and my dear friend and general pain in the behind Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois. And one of my favorite Republicans, Congressman Peter King of New York. Thank you all for coming.

MESERVE: Congressman Emmanuel, let me read to you from Richard Clarke's resignation letter to President Bush just about a year ago. Said, "It has been an enormous privilege to serve you these last 24 months. I will always the courage, determination, calm and leadership you demonstrated on September 11."

And then at yesterday's hearing, Mr. Emmanuel, when Mr. Clarke was challenged why besides that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) language and a briefing with the press he had been even more supportive of the president. Why did he say that? Here's what his answer was. Let's listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARKE: I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done, and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: In other words, this guy is a spin artist. You know, how can you tell he's telling the truth now when he says he wasn't telling the truth a year ago when he was briefing the press?

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: Bob, I think I know something about spin. Dick Clarke is not a spin artist. And the fact is, look, when I worked with him, you had good days and bad days. He was a tough guy to work with. He worked for Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton and this president. Three Republicans, one Democrat. But nobody ever questions his patriotism. You may not like the way he forcefully -- I'm like a dog with a bone. He's like a dog with a bone. He was tough. But he always did it because he thought of protecting America. He thought what he wanted to do was right for America.

To question his patriotism or to somehow what he's doing is political you're missing the point. This guy is a true patriot. You may not agree with him.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Congressman, I am so sick of every time I criticize one of the Bush bashers, they say you're questioning his patriotism. I didn't say a damn thing about patriotism.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Let me repeat -- let me repeat what my question was. And don't give me this patriotism baloney. I'm asking you, how can you tell...

EMANUEL: Bob, it's great to be on the show.

NOVAK: Wait a minute, let me ask the question. How can you tell when he's telling the truth when he says I was just giving a lot of baloney before? How do you know he's telling the truth now?

EMANUEL: Because he was there. That was a different question than what you asked, Bob.

But what you said to me, he was just a spin artist. I said no he's not a spin artist. He happens to be a patriot. I didn't say you questioned his patriotism, No. 1.

No. 2, as Dick Clarke oversaw -- the war on terrorism. He has a very particular point that's worth debating if you want to have a debate, which is by going to war in Iraq we diverted resources from the war on terrorism in Afghanistan.

Recently we just sent some resources to Afghanistan we couldn't have sent because we had them tied down in Iraq. That is a legitimate policy discussion. And he made that claim. I happen to think it's right. And that is a legitimate -- being held in this country. That doesn't make him a spin artist. Happens to make him a person who has a view on foreign policy.

CARVILLE: Congressman King?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Yes, sir.

CARVILLE: Today Senator Zell Miller said that these hearings were detrimental to America. Do you agree with him?

KING: I think the hearings served a purpose. But I have to say that I think Dick Clarke's conduct over the past week has been shameful. And I have to question his integrity, not his patriotism.

The reason I'm saying that is what he's saying today is so different from what he said a year and a half ago. And the facts don't back up what he is saying.

Listen, I was not one of those people who attacked Bill Clinton for everything he did. I think he did not get enough credit for going into Bosnia. That did stop al Qaeda from moving more into Europe.

In 1998, I did support the attacks in the camps. I think he could have done more. There's also a lot there to criticize. But I realize what a tough issue it is.

And for Dick Clarke to be saying what George Bush did from January 20 to September 4th of 2001, that he was not paying attention to terrorism, was not important, I think that's shameful.

Nothing he said in that -- in the previous three years backs up anything he's saying today.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Can you point to anything, can you help my friends help me out and point to any time that President Bush or Vice President Cheney or Condoleezza Rice ever mentioned the words "Osama bin Laden" or "al Qaeda" or talked about what they were going to do? Can you help us out? You'll get a free copy of my book.

KING: First of all...

NOVAK: He doesn't want a free copy.

KING: I don't want any copy. Give me the book anyway.

CARVILLE: OK, I'll be glad to.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: James, be serious about this.

CARVILLE: I'm very serious.

KING: So am I.

CARVILLE: How many times you think they mentioned tax cuts for oil companies?

KING: James, this is a very serious issue. The fact is from January 20 through September 4 there were any number of meetings held, as Dick Clarke himself said a year and a half ago.

The Bush administration continued everything the Clinton administration is doing, plus they increased spending 500 percent for covert activities, starting dealing with Pakistan and Uzbekistan and turned around their policies. There were real, substantive steps. Would that have been enough? I don't know. But to say they're ignoring terrorism is absolutely untrue. It's disgraceful. It's shameful. People like you are perverting this issue.

NOVAK: Congressman Emanuel, the height of this controversy and the most outrageous thing that Dick Clarke said was that the attack on Iraq was hurting the war on terrorism. And I would like to get the response to that by the Democratic vice presidential nominee of the year 2000, your man, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and let's listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: I just can't believe it. There's no evidence of it.

I know that the administration after September 11 was very focused on uniting the country and then going on to strike back at al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

And we had some very important, and constructive moments of non- partisan, national unity after September 11. And I don't want to rewrite that history. That was important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Now, is that -- is that honesty and patriotism? Why Joe Lieberman didn't do well in the primary elections?

EMANUEL: Joe is entitled to his view. I happen to think that a lot of people in the military and in our national foreign policy establishment to this country, both in government and out of government, happen to agree with Dick Clark's position.

It is Dick Clarke's view that the war in Iraq diverted resources right at the crucial time when we had al Qaeda and specifically Osama bin Laden on the run.

And if you don't think that, then your subscription to the newspapers has ended about a year ago. We've had this debate in the country, and a lot of people believe that. In fact, many men and women in the leadership, the military believe because we were tied down in Iraq, we couldn't keep the resources...

(CROSSTALK)

EMANUEL: That's right. And General Shinseki told you it's going to take 200,000, was fired for telling his view. The fact is, we just recently sent troops over to Afghanistan that had prior to that been in Iraq and tied down. That is a dedication of resources.

CARVILLE: Congressman King, Vice President Cheney, the president's No. 1 go-to guy was placed in charge of two task forces. One on energy and one on terrorism. Just guessing, which one do you think met more often, the one to give tax breaks to oil companies or the one to try to stop al Qaeda? KING: The fact is when it comes to terrorism it was President Bush that met every day with the director of Central Intelligence who he kept on from the Clinton administration, which I think showed his interest in the issue and his bipartisanship.

Now listen, I could take a cheap shot by saying that Bill Clinton never met with his own CIA director. But he had a different way of doing things. President Bush did meet with George Tenet every day. If that doesn't show a commitment to countering terrorism, I don't know what does.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Congressman, I asked a question. What met more, Dick Cheney's task force on tax breaks for the energy companies or the one on terrorism?

KING: James, that is a stupid question. The fact is...

CARVILLE: Why is it a stupid question? I don't understand why it's stupid.

KING: Because it took the Clinton administration eight years to come up with an anti-terrorism policy. Within seven months, the Bush administration came up with a policy.

But let me say something about Iraq, if I could. I agree with Rahm. I think we can't have a legitimate debate about Iraq. But what's wrong for Dick Clarke to do is say that it was wrong for Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz to bring this up after September 11.

I remember meeting with Jim Woolsey three days after September 11 and he thought Iraq was involved.

NOVAK: OK, next in "RapidFire" we'll ask our guests if the 9/11 hearings are helping or hurting the war on terrorism.

And right after the break, a tape said to come from an al Qaeda leader threatens a key player in the fight against terrorism.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARVILLE: It's time for "Rapidfire." So you can't blame us for asking short questions and expecting short answers. We're talking about the 9/11 blame game with Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois and Republican Congressman Peter King of the great state of New York.

NOVAK: Rahm Emanuel, what about your old friend Zell Miller saying that these hearings and all this abuse of the president hurts America around the world in the war on terrorism?

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: Every hearing we've ever had to evaluate a national crisis in America has strengthened America for the future and I disagree. CARVILLE: Congressman, do you think that Condoleezza rice should testify publicly so the families can understand what she was doing or not doing at this time?

REP. PETER KING (R) NEW YORK: She's a great public servant. I believe in the separation of powers. She's testified for four hours. She'll testify as long as she has to in private. Again, remember all the times executive privilege was claimed during the Clinton administration and seriously there's a constitutional basis for it. I support it. She will cooperate completely. You cannot have a presidential adviser testifying before a congressionally mandated commission.

NOVAK: Congressman, do you believe, you're a sophisticated guy, do you believe watching these hearings that Dick Clarke has a problem with this African-American woman Condoleezza Rice?

EMANUEL: Say that again?

NOVAK: Do you believe that Dick Clarke has a problem with this African-American woman Condoleezza Rice?

EMANUEL: No, no. Bob, give me a break. No. No.

CARVILLE: Congressman King, give us three factual errors contained in the Clarke book.

KING: Well, actually, the main one is first of all saying that there was a Clinton plan. There was no Clinton plan.

CARVILLE: Factual error in the book.

NOVAK: That's a factual error.

CARVILLE: No, that's a conclusion. Factual error in this book.

KING: I would say it's wrong for him to say that it was inappropriate for the president to raise Iraq. Let me ask you. You tell me one thing...

CARVILLE: That's an opinion.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Wait a minute. This is "Rapidfire."

CARVILLE: I think it was stupid to go into Iraq. That's my opinion. That's my opinion. It's the stupidest thing we ever did.

NOVAK: Congressman Emanuel, why didn't President Clinton, when he had the gunsights of the country on Osama bin Laden, pull the trigger?

EMANUEL: Well...

NOVAK: After the Cole incident. EMANUEL: Bob, he did as Peter mentioned earlier, he threw cruise missiles at him when we thought we had him. We had him a couple of times. One of the things that hasn't been said in this show, on 12/31/99 we stopped the terrorist act here in America.

NOVAK: We're out of time. I'll have to brief you on it sometime. Rahm Emanuel, thank you very much. Peter King. Next, just who was President Bush calling in this picture?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARVILLE: We have our political differences but I'll say this for President George W. Bush, once he leaves government he might find a future as a comedian. Here's a snippet of his slide show at last night's White House -- excuse me, Radio and Television Correspondents dinner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This one was taken a couple of months ago. I had just gotten word that Howard Dean had lost Iowa.

CARVILLE: Here's another. The president said when he was impersonating North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, calling John Kerry to say, you're my guy.

NOVAK: As a matter of fact, Kim Jong-Il, they're very close. He's very close to Kerry.

CARVILLE: Yes, absolutely. You've got to believe it. Terribly close to him, just like a whole kind of other people are close. From the left, I'm James Carville, that's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Bob Novak, join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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