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CNN CROSSFIRE

Was Memo a Warning of 9/11?

Aired April 12, 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: What did the president know and when did he know it?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was nothing in there that said, there's an imminent attack.

ANNOUNCER: Will the release of a secret memo he received before 9/11 help or hurt his administration's credibility?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would think that that would raise enough caution flags that you would haul in the FBI, that you'd put out an all-points bulletin.

ANNOUNCER: Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

(APPLAUSE)

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

This afternoon, President Bush is claiming once again that a memo he read back on August 6, 2001, was too vague for anyone to have guessed what was coming on September 11.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, I have to admit it. The president's got a points. Of course, it would have been better if the memo had had a clear and unambiguous title like, say, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Within the United States."

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: We will debate that presidential daily briefing right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

President Bush announced today that he will hold a rare news conference tomorrow evening. CNN, of course, will bring it to you live. Now, we don't know if the White House press corps will repeat its lapdog performance the way they did before the Iraq war in the press conference President Bush had then.

But, look, when I was a White House aide, we used to hold practice sessions for the president before a major press conference. So just to help Mr. Bush out, let's do one now.

Mr. President who, are we going to transfer sovereignty to in Iraq on June 30?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The United Nations is over there now. The United Nations representative is there now to work on the -- on a -- on to whom we transfer sovereignty. In other words, it's one thing to decide it's a transfer. We're now in the process of deciding what the entity will look like to whom we will transfer sovereignty. But, no, the date remains firm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Mr. President, if I may be permitted a follow-up, you don't know what the hell you're talking about, do you?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: That's embarrassing.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: You know what, Paul?

BEGALA: It's embarrassing.

First of all, that wasn't the question he was asked. Second, John Kerry hasn't even decided whether we should transfer it at all on June 30. In other words, you can't defeat a plan with no plan at all. And criticizing the president's ability or not ability to speak

(CROSSTALK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: We can have a show about John Kerry. He's the president of the United States. He has -- he says he's going to turn over sovereignty.

CARLSON: That's not question he was asked.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: He can't even say to whom or when or why.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Well, he did when. He did when, June 30, but to whom and why...

CARLSON: Well, no one ever accused Howard Dean of being a deep thinker. But, even by the very low standards of left-wing intellectuals, Dean's op-ed in this morning's "New York Times" may constitute a new low point in public debate or a new high point in silliness.

Either way, it is remarkable. Here is what Howard Dean says: Ralph Nader is a great American. His ideas have made this country a better place. Nader is running for president on those very ideas, the good ideas, the ones that I agree, Howard Dean, with, espouse and even ran on in my own campaign. Therefore, Mr. And Mrs. America, whatever you do, do not vote for Ralph Nader.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: That's right, because although his ideas are the right ideas that will make America better, most Americans don't actually agree with those ideas, so Nader can't win. So, instead, vote for someone with less good ideas. Got all that?

Now, see if you can remember back to a time, and there was one, when Howard Dean used to pretend to believe in something. It seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?

BEGALA: No, he believes in those same ideas as Ralph Nader.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: If you want to destroy everything Nader stood for, vote Nader. That's exactly right.

CARLSON: You know what? That is so...

BEGALA: Because Bush will come in, just like he did in 2000.

CARLSON: You know what that is?

BEGALA: That's reality.

CARLSON: That's an admission that Democrats don't stand for anything, don't believe in anything.

BEGALA: No, Democrats stand for the same thing as Nader. We want to actually stand up to corporate power. But instead of just yapping about it and throwing the election to Bush, we want to get in office and actually something about it.

CARLSON: No, no. Then why not...

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Here's an idea, Paul. This may shock you.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Why not vote for someone you believe in?

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: Like John Kerry, who actually can do what Nader talks about doing, which is defeat George W. Bush.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: That's so...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, our president's Stepford national security adviser was certainly very well programmed when she testified before the 9/11 Commission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We were in office 233 days.

Two hundred and thirty-three days.

Two hundred and thirty-three days.

Two hundred and thirty-three days.

Two hundred and thirty-three days.

Two hundred and thirty-three days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Ironically this weekend marked -- get this -- the 233rd day Mr. Bush has spent on his Texas ranch since becoming president.

Now, look...

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: I was one of the few Democrats to support Mr. Bush when he took that vacation, the longest in recent presidential history, in the summer of 2001.

But now we learn that when the terror threat chatter increased that summer, White House aides canceled their vacations. We know of no alteration in the president's schedule after being told that bin Laden was determined to attack within the United States.

Now, look, there's no doubt that Mr. Bush would have cut his vacation short if he had heard about a more credible and imminent threat, like Iraq.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE) CARLSON: You know what? We knew that Osama bin Laden was determined to attack in 1997, when he told CNN so on the air. And, in that time, the Clinton gave up three opportunities to take him into custody.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: So, to blame the president for going on vacation, when you know full well the presidents do work on vacation, what a lame attack. Come on. Think of a better one.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: No, he didn't do anything in response to that. We don't know yet. I can't wait until he's at the commission holding hands with Dick Cheney.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: He should be alone and under oath and tell us what he did when they came to and said that bin Laden wants to attack in our country.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That's what he should do.

CARLSON: Really? Because we knew that. I knew that in 1997.

BEGALA: So it's just all wasted effort, right?

CARLSON: Well, a year and a half ago, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney made headlines by accusing President Bush of being responsible for September 11. Bush knew about the attacks, the Georgia Democrat claimed, but didn't do anything about it because his friends and contributors in big business stood to profit from the murders of 3,000 Americans. That's what she said.

McKinney, of course, was not drummed out of the Democratic Party. After all, she hadn't said anything truly outrageous or controversial, like suggesting that, say, abortion might be wrong. Still, many Democrats were privately embarrassed by her remarks. No longer. These days, mainstream Democrats routinely accuse Bush of being responsible for 9/11. McKinney suddenly looks like a moderate, at least by the standards of her party.

And so she's running again, trying to regain her seat in Congress. Good luck, Cynthia McKinney. While you're at it, here's a campaign slogan you can use: Cynthia McKinney, the party follows her lead. It's true.

BEGALA: No, first, the party did drum her out. She was defeated in the Democratic primary for Congress.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: No, it didn't. She was not -- name a party leader who denounced her. Name one.

BEGALA: Zell Miller.

CARLSON: He's not a party leader.

BEGALA: Of course he is.

CARLSON: No, he's not.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He's the senator from Georgia of my party.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: More importantly, name a main...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: You just said mainstream Democrats

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... blame Bush for 9/11. Name a mainstream Democrat who blames Bush for 9/11.

CARLSON: The implication of everything of today's

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Name one, Tucker.

CARLSON: I would say Ted Kennedy. I would say any implication....

BEGALA: Ted never blamed Bush for 9/11.

CARLSON: Yes, that the president is asleep at the switch and that he allowed this to happen. That's a complete lie.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: Those are two very different things.

CARLSON: No, it's the same thing.

BEGALA: Bush was plainly asleep at the switch.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: But responsibility for 9/11 lies with the terrorists.

CARLSON: Really? That's not what I hear Democrats saying. BEGALA: Not with Bush or anybody else.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: But Bush was asleep at the switch.

CARLSON: That's not at all what I hear.

BEGALA: He was. That's the reality.

CARLSON: It's a distinction without a difference.

BEGALA: It's a huge distinction.

CARLSON: Well, a memo to the president before 9/11 warned that Osama bin Laden was a threat. But was there anything in that memo that wasn't already in the newspapers or here on CNN? And more to the point, is George W. Bush really responsible for 9/11? That is the claim.

And it's lights, cameras, action for a recent political best- seller. You won't believe who's gone Hollywood. Or maybe you will believe it. We'll show you who it is.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back.

Over the weekend, the White House released the contents of President Bush's August 6, 2001, daily briefing memo. It said that Osama bin Laden had wanted to attack the United States since 1977. It also referred to a 1988 uncorroborated report that said bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft. Is that a specific warning about September 11? Some say it is. Most say it's not.

Here to debate that of the memo, or at least the contents, are Maryland Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen and also Tony Blankley, who is the editorial page editor of "The Washington Times."

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Tony, first, no one suggests this is a specific warning of 9/11, at least no one with any sense.

But here's what the White House has said. This is their spin on this homo. Dr. Condoleezza Rice, in her testimony, called it an historical memo, not a warning. Those are her words. Scott McClellan, great guy, White House press secretary, says the intelligence pointed to attacks overseas. And our president himself said just yesterday, "I'm satisfied that I never saw any intelligence that indicated there was going to be an attack on America."

Now, here's the title of the intelligence he saw, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." Why don't they just tell us the truth? TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": Well, I think they did.

But, first of all, I think what's interesting -- I actually brought along a copy of it just to see what was in the memo. And the first thing to remember is that the D in PDB means daily. So your President Clinton, who you served so well...

BEGALA: And yours.

BLANKLEY: You served him well. I opposed him well.

(LAUGHTER)

BLANKLEY: I hope.

BEGALA: But the president served us all.

BLANKLEY: Had received 2,912 of those in his presidency. And Bush had probably seen about 200 up until August 6.

So almost my guess is probably in every single one the word terrorist appeared. The name I think al Qaeda appeared in 40 just for Bush. So they were seeing these words all the time. But what I found most interesting about this was that, if he had followed the warnings in there, such as they were, he wouldn't have accomplished anything, because they warned about American Muslims being recruited to do this and they warned about explosives, both wrong.

They were Saudi and Yemeni and they used box-cutters.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Those are important points and they're smart points.

BLANKLEY: So not only was there no specific point to make...

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: But if he had followed it, it would have been wrong. Should he have rounded up every American Muslim, Paul?

BEGALA: Let's get to that in a minute.

BLANKLEY: Well, why not now?

BEGALA: But the question was, why didn't they tell the truth? It may well be they could have done more. Maybe not.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But why did they say it was historical? Why did they say it wasn't a warning? Why did they say it was overseas? Why did the president say it didn't indicate an attack on America?

BLANKLEY: I read it. BEGALA: When all of those things are false? Why don't they just tell us the truth?

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: The here it is. Here's the whole memo. It's about the size of my small hand.

And the first three-quarters of it is all this historical stuff. And then, at the end, they say, correctly, that the FBI has currently got so many operations, investigations going on. But when you read it, all of this information, there's nothing new.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: There's nothing that says, suddenly, we've got something to

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: They are lying when they say that it wasn't a warning. They are lying when they say it was overseas.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: To use the word lying all the time.

BEGALA: Fibbing, fabricating.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: OK, I'm sorry to interrupt you guys. I want to -- that's right. I want to get the congressman in here.

Congressman, this is almost comic, the attempt by some Democrats to paint this PDB as somehow brand new information. We knew that Osama bin Laden was targeting the United States if we turned on the television set. I want to read you an interview with Osama bin Laden, ran on ABC News in May of 1998. One ran the previous year on CNN, where he said essentially the same thing.

Here's Osama himself: "We tell the Americans as people and we tell the mothers of soldiers and American mothers in general, if they value their lives and those of their children, find a nationalistic government that will look after their interests and not the interests of the Jews. The continuation of tyranny will bring the fighting to America."

Well, he said it on television. So the notion that Bush somehow learned for the first time a month before 9/11 in this little briefing, it's ludicrous.

(APPLAUSE)

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: No, I don't think anyone has said that Bush learned for the -- no one has said that Bush learned for the first time in this memo...

BEGALA: What's the point of this, then? I'm totally confused.

VAN HOLLEN: No, the whole point of this memo, this memo comes after a summer of high alert warnings. Richard Clarke, former antiterrorism czar, someone who served in Republican and Democratic administrations, has said that that summer, we saw a heightened number of alerts.

And here we have on August 6, a memo from the CIA and FBI, who we all know tend to qualify their memos and hedge and this, with a screaming headline, it can only be a screaming headline, "Osama bin Laden Determined to Attack in the United States." And in it he says they picked up a pattern of suspicious behavior that suggests that they're going to attack in the United States.

It seems to me that, after you get that memo, following on a whole summer of alerts and notices, that you would say, hey, guys, let's at least up -- let's up the level of alert.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN HOLLEN: Let's do something about it. Let's put somebody on alert.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Hold on. Osama bin Laden had already blown -- just to remind you -- had already up two American embassies in East Africa, in Tanzania and Kenya. He had already blown up the USS Cole. And so it's not as if we didn't think he would act. We knew he would. And so my question is, we'd known that for five years previous to September 11. Why didn't we kill him before that?

VAN HOLLEN: Look, you've got -- and this -- and this...

(APPLAUSE)

VAN HOLLEN: And this has -- this has been -- this has been Richard Clarke's point all along. And I think it's important for people to understand that he was in Republican and Democratic administrations, a registered Republican. And he said the reason...

CARLSON: And a Gore voter.

VAN HOLLEN: The reason he's determined to get the story out is, here you had the summer of 2001, where had you all these alerts coming in and the president was not doing anything. They try and say they were manning the battle stations.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN HOLLEN: The fact of the matter is, the only battle station that was being manned right there in August was the golf cart down on the ranch in Texas.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN HOLLEN: And the fact of the matter is...

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

BLANKLEY: That's so silly.

BEGALA: Go ahead, Tony.

BLANKLEY: The memo -- the memo goes all through the historical stuff. Then they say, nevertheless, FBI informants since that time indicate suspicious activity. And then the next paragraph is, the FBI is conducting...

BEGALA: Finish the sentence, Mr. Blankley, because we're going to put it on the screen.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: Suspicious activity in this country consistent with the preparations for hijackings

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Hijackings and other types of attacks.

BLANKLEY: Including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: So how can they say that's not a warning, Tony?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: How can they say under oath that's not a warning?

BLANKLEY: Let me finish. Let me finish my

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Is it a recipe?

(LAUGHTER)

BLANKLEY: The next sentence... BEGALA: It's a bloody warning.

BLANKLEY: The next sentence says, the FBI is conducting approximately 74 full field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers -- so what the FBI says is, we found these things that are suspicious. We've now got 70 investigations going. Now, if you're president of the United States at that point, what do you do, say, look real hard at those 70, rather than just -- do you close down our airlines?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: We can get to the question of what

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... failed to do. But the question is not that.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: My question is not what he failed to do on August 6.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: My question is why, as recent as yesterday, he continues to mislead us about it.

BLANKLEY: I understand that

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Why do they say it's history and not a threat? The sentences you read are plainly neither historical and they were a warning.

BLANKLEY: I was trying to respond to -- I was trying to respond to the congressman who said that, after that warning, why didn't he do anything? What he did was, great, the FBI is now doing 70 investigations. The next step up would have been closing down the airlines. Do you think that

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: No, Dr. Rice actually suggested the next step, which was hardening the cockpits.

But let me ask just you for the sixth time

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Wait.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Did they tell the truth when they said it was not a warning? Did they tell the truth when they said it was historical?

BLANKLEY: I'll leave it to the American people to decide that.

BEGALA: You're on here for your opinion, Tony.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN HOLLEN: But don't you think the head of the Department of Transportation, the head of the FAA should have known about this information? Should they have known about it?

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: That's a great question.

VAN HOLLEN: Should they have known something about it?

CARLSON: And that's the question I was going to ask you. I'm so glad you asked that, Congressman. I'm so glad, because, as it turns out, as I tried to point out a minute ago, and I think I'll prove it with this, that information was not confined to the president and those immediately around him.

Virtually everyone new, including members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Bob Graham, senator from Florida. Here's what he said in June of 2002 on "Meet the Press": "What President Bush received was essentially a historic presentation of a development of al Qaeda, what they had done in the past and then some speculations on what they might do in the future. The specific reference that related to hijackers was based on foreign intelligence sources that were two or three years old.

"I don't think it's fair to expect the president to see that kind of information and immediately spring into operational mode."

So here you have, first of all, Graham describing it as historic, just as the White House did -- and Paul called that a lie -- and, second, you have him admitting

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: No, he did not describe the whole memo that way, Tucker. That's not true.

CARLSON: He has seen -- he has seen this information, that it was widely disseminated. Everyone knew it. You're only blaming the president because you want to beat him for political reasons.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

VAN HOLLEN: No. The point isn't what the president knew. The point is, what did the president do about it?

CARLSON: Well, what should he have done? Give me two sentences. What should he have done?

VAN HOLLEN: No one has said that this was a specific threat. He knew exactly

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: What should he have done?

VAN HOLLEN: He should have said to head of the FAA, by the way, we're getting these warnings all summer and we got a warming on August 6 about a potential hijacking.

CARLSON: So the FAA does what?

(CROSSTALK)

VAN HOLLEN: Hardened the alerts at all the airports.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Dr. Rice said that in her testimony, Tony. Wouldn't that at least have been a prudent thing?

(CROSSTALK)

VAN HOLLEN: And I want to make clear, no one is saying that, if you had done those things, that you would have stopped September 11.

CARLSON: I think people are saying...

VAN HOLLEN: No, I don't think they're saying that. I think they're saying, if you had taken greater action, you'd have a greater probability of stopping something like September 11. And there's a big difference between the two. They could have done more.

BLANKLEY: Let me respond to Paul, when you said, what -- should they have hardened the cockpit doors?

BEGALA: I said Dr. Rice suggested that in her testimony, that that would have been a good thing to have done.

BLANKLEY: There were a lot of things that needed to be done. There are a lot things that still need to be do -- to do.

It's taken us from September 11 until fairly recently to get the cockpit doors secured, to have the...

BEGALA: It was about 30 days.

BLANKLEY: What?

BEGALA: It was about 30 days. It was quick.

BLANKLEY: Oh, no. No, it wasn't. It took us months and months.

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: Maybe. Maybe.

BLANKLEY: It's taken us a couple of years to get the new inspection regimen in at the airports. It's still not that good.

The fundamental truth is that, prior to September 11, Republicans and Democrats, Bush and Clinton, Congress and the presidency, all of us, the media were not seized of a sense of urgency and the whole system did not address it. There was no "Newsweek" cover. There was no CROSSFIRE show.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Why don't they just say that? Why don't they just tell the truth and say that? That's not what they say. That's not what they say.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN HOLLEN: They say they were on full battle station alert.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: That's right. There was no CROSSFIRE show. There was no "McLaughlin Group" show. There was "Newsweek" show screaming, why don't we invade Afghanistan? We know about the Taliban. None of us were on alert.

BEGALA: You're right. Tony Blankley speaks the truth. God, I wish President Bush would.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, when we come back, what was President Bush talking about right he got that famous August 6 briefing? That is next in the "Rapid Fire."

And right after the break, more kidnappings in Iraq. We'll tell you about the newest victims right after the break.

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)

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan at CNN Center in Atlanta.

Coming up at the top of hour, new reports of more kidnappings in Iraq, this time, a group of Russian civilians. Details just coming into CNN; 11 employees working with an electric power company were abducted in Baghdad. Their two armed Iraq guards were killed. We'll have that story coming up. We're also profiling one American now being held hostage. And three sisters all serving in Iraq, the fate of one creates a dilemma for the other two.

And the 9/11 Commission set to take on U.S. law enforcement. What did the FBI know about the al Qaeda threat in the U.S. before the attacks?

I'll speak with a former FBI insider. Those stories and much more just minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Right now, back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Time now for "Rapid Fire," where things move even faster than George W. Bush can pass the buck.

In the CROSSFIRE, "Washington Times" editorial page editor Tony Blankley and Maryland Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen.

CARLSON: Congressman Van Hollen, Cynthia McKinney, as you probably know, is running again in Georgia, someone who accused the president of being behind September 11 for the profit of his contributors. Don't you think you might take like five minutes out of your day, you and some other Democrats on the Hill, to denounce her and suggest that she not run again?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, what she said was obviously outrageous. And Denise Majette, who beat her...

CARLSON: Yes.

VAN HOLLEN: ... has said that she's -- no one is supporting Cynthia McKinney. She didn't say nobody, but certainly her comments should be denounced, her earlier comments. They were outrageous. And I think we should -- bad, absolutely.

CARLSON: All right.

BEGALA: Tony, just days after receiving that August 6 briefing about bin Laden wanting to attack within the United States, the president was talking to reporters about the menace of Iraq. Doesn't that indicate a tragic obsession on the part of George W. Bush?

BLANKLEY: No, it recognizes the fact that Iraq has been a danger. That's why President Clinton recommended regime change. Iraq has been a central danger to America now for over 15 years. And every president, Clinton, Bush, and if there's another one, if it's Kerry, he's going to end finding that he's got to focus on Iraq as well.

BEGALA: Now.

CARLSON: Don't you think...

BLANKLEY: The same way Clinton did before him.

CARLSON: Congressman Van Hollen, that, in fact, all this focus on 9/11, the implication the president was asleep at the wheel, no one's going to buy that. The real story here is Iraq. And, in fact, it helps the president, your arch nemesis, by focusing on all this attention on 9/11 during this week when Iraq is actually -- well, it looks like it's getting out of control.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I think Iraq is the major story going forward.

And there's a connection. If you look at the 9/11 Commission, what was the president's first response when he was told of the bombings? He thought it was Iraq. The fact of the matter is, it was Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, which is where we should have put all our resources until we completely got the job done.

(BELL RINGING)

VAN HOLLEN: Unfortunately, the president went into Iraq. He said, we're going to find weapons of mass destruction, said it was an imminent threat. It turns out just not to have been the case. And so now we have a very serious situation in Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: Can you find any resources that haven't been applied to al Qaeda because of the Iraq intervention?

VAN HOLLEN: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Gentlemen, I'm sorry. That's going to have to be another show, unfortunately. It sounds like a pretty good show.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Congressman Van Hollen from Capitol Hill, Tony Blankley from "The Washington Times," thank you very much. Appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Up next, you won't believe what recent book may be coming soon to a theater near you. You might not want to buy tickets. We'll tell you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Dick Clarke's retirement from government service is getting all the more lucrative every day. Not only is his book, "Against All Enemies," atop the best-seller list. Reports say, Sony Pictures has purchase the rights to turn it into a feature film. An executive who worked on the movie version of "All the President's Men" will produce it, but officials say it's way too soon who will be in the cast, much less who would watch actually a movie like that.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: But my first nominee for the cast, though, Tim Matheson, the guy, the actor who played Otter in "Animal House," he should play Bush because of his famous line: "You screwed up. You trusted me." That's a great

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Nobody is going to watch a movie like that. I mean, it's...

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

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

Join us again tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE. Have a great night.

(APPLAUSE)

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