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Aired April 20, 2004 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.
In the CROSSFIRE: As Bob Woodward's "Plan of Attack" hits bookstores, what role it will play in the race for president?
Can John Kerry turn the inside story of going to war with Iraq into a campaign victory? And why does the Bush campaign think it's a must-read?
Today on CROSSFIRE.
ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.
It's been a tough couple of weeks for President Bush. The situation in Iraq has taken a turn for the worse, with the casualties mounting and the deadline for turning over sovereignty approaching.
TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: And now a new book from Bob Woodward helps explain how we wound up in Iraq in the first place. Some say the book hurts Bush. Others say it helps. We'll put both of those sides in the CROSSFIRE momentarily.
But, first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."
Well, for weeks, John Kerry has been loudly demanding that President Bush ask the Saudi government to lower oil prices. Two days ago, Bob Woodward's latest book apparently revealed that President Bush had already done just that, spoken to the Saudi government about lowering oil prices, just as President Carter had done, just as Bill Clinton did. You'd think Kerry would be pleased.
But, no, he alleged a conspiracy, a secret plot, a sweetheart relationship with sponsors of terrorism. Can Kerry win on the grassy knoll theory, Paul? I don't think so.
BEGALA: Here's the difference. President Bush campaigned saying he would his influence on the Saudis to keep oil prices low. He has steadfastly refused to do so as the Saudis have jacked up the price, but now we learned they are going to cut the price right before the election. That is corrupt. If that is true, that is a corrupt, sweetheart deal.
CARLSON: Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. First of all...
BEGALA: That's the difference.
CARLSON: First of all, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton did exactly the same thing in election years. But the question is about John Kerry. He has asked President Bush to talk to the Saudis about lowering oil prices.
BEGALA: Now, not right before the election.
BEGALA: Lower them now, for goodness sakes.
CARLSON: The book was written over the last year, before oil prices went up. So this is not in
BEGALA: But Bush did not talk to them, then. He still has not talked to them. There is a tacit agreement...
CARLSON: What are you talking about? Bandar just got on television on CNN yesterday and said that he talked to Bush about lowering oil prices.
BEGALA: Bandar talked to Bush and pledged he would lower them right before the election.
CARLSON: I'm missing this
BEGALA: So the Saudis can gouge us to the tune of $20 billion between January and today.
CARLSON: But Bush did exactly what Kerry wanted him to do.
BEGALA: No, he set it up for the election, Tucker. They should cut the prices now when we're heading into the driving season, not wait for the election.
(APPLAUSE) BEGALA: Well, anyway, just in case you have not been totally creeped out yet today, let me read you this from "New York" magazine columnist Deborah Schoeneman.
This is a quote from her column in "New York" magazine quote -- "At a recent dinner party hosted by 'New York Times' D.C. bureau chief Philip Taubman and his wife, 'times' reporter Felicity Barringer, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was reportedly overheard saying -- quote -- 'As I was telling my husband' and then stopping herself abruptly before saying, as I was telling President Bush."
BEGALA: "Jaws dropped," the piece continues in "New York" magazine, but a guess says the slip by the unnamed politician -- by the unmarried, I should say, politician who spends weekends with the president and his wife seemed more psychologically telling than incriminating."
Now, look, I understand being married to your work, but if I called Tucker my husband, John Ashcroft would have us both in the same jail and not in the same cell either, by the way.
BEGALA: It's just creepy.
CARLSON: Well, I'm totally missing this, Paul? What's the implication here?
BEGALA: I have no implication. I'm reading an article.
CARLSON: No, you said it was psychologically telling.
BEGALA: No, I didn't. "New York" magazine said it.
CARLSON: OK, you said someone else said it was psychologically telling.
CARLSON: But you find it significant enough to repeat. What does it tell?
BEGALA: It tells me I want to throw up, is what it tells me.
BEGALA: I don't know. I'm just reporting the news here. I'm a neutral
CARLSON: No, no. You're reporting this out of all of the news available today. You're reporting this. So tell me, what do you think it means.
CARLSON: Creepy in what way?
BEGALA: Spooky, weird. She needs a vacation.
BEGALA: She should go bomb the Bahamas or something. This is a woman who is working too hard. I don't know. It's weird.
CARLSON: I think you may be reading a little too deeply into her personal life.
BEGALA: Don't you think it's weird? Have you ever called me your husband? I hope not.
CARLSON: I honestly think it's a little weird, honestly.
CARLSON: Well, one of the overlooked but more interesting exchanges reproduced in Bob Woodward's new book, "Plan of Attack," takes place between President Bush and the head of central intelligence, George Tenet.
The CIA director has just finished making the case for why Iraq does indeed have weapons of mass destruction. Bush's response to the presentation -- quote -- "This is the best we've got?" To which Tenet replies, "It's a slam-dunk case." And then again he says -- quote -- "Don't worry. It's a slam dunk." George Tenet, of course, turned out to be completely wrong, but somehow, nobody seems to notice this, perhaps because George Tenet was a Clinton appointee.
And that's too bad, because, as fun as it may be to score partisan points in an election year, we're still under attack by terrorists in this country. Our intelligence service failed in a very bipartisan way. Let's find out why.
BEGALA: I think the problem was not -- I have said this from the beginning. I said it before the war. I said it after the war. A reasonable person would have concluded that Saddam did have weapons of mass destruction, even though that was not true.
CARLSON: Paul, you spent the last six months calling the president a liar on this show.
BEGALA: The president lied when he said they were a threat.
CARLSON: This is so ridiculous.
BEGALA: The president lied. Let me make my point. The president lied when he said that they were a threat. If they had weapons, why didn't they use them against us? Because we deterred them.
CARLSON: Paul, all the left cares about is scoring these ridiculous and dumb political points, when our intelligence services are in trouble.
BEGALA: No. We have 700 hundred men and some women dead because this president said they were a threat to us.
CARLSON: Now you're back to just calling him a liar and a murderer and whatever you want.
BEGALA: They were not a threat. And Bush knew or should have known that they were no threat to America. Shame on him.
BEGALA: Well, Tom Bihn, a manufacturer of backpacks and briefcases in Port Angeles, Washington, has seen his sales double since he started adding this sentence in French to the care instructions label.
Now, mind you, my French is about as good as George W. Bush's English, but here's what it says.
BEGALA: (SPEAKING IN FRENCH) In English, apparently that means: "We are sorry our president is an idiot. We didn't vote for him."
BEGALA: Mr. Bihn says that the message was intended to poke fun at himself. He is the president of the company that makes the briefcases. Funny, somehow, everyone else who read it thought that the idiot president referred to in the tag was George W. Bush.
BEGALA: The response has been so favorable that Mr. Bihn has started selling T-shirts featuring an oversized reproduction of the disclaimer. They're available at TomBihn.com. Proceeds will benefit homeless veterans in Seattle.
Now, for his part, of course, Mr. Bush claims he has nothing against the French. "I've been to Paris," he said, "and some of my best friends are parasites." He actually didn't say that.
BEGALA: I made it up. That was a joke.
CARLSON: I have to say -- I'm going to make a -- I'm going to make a I'll make a confession here. There are a lot of things about this president that I don't care for, politically, some of his ideas I don't agree with. But when I hear people day after day slam the guy personally as an idiot, a moron, a liar, a murderer, involved in these conspiracies...
CARLSON: ... it makes me feel sympathetic for him. I don't think attacking the guy personally is going to work. I really don't.
BEGALA: I think it's a funny story, Tucker.
CARLSON: I don't.
BEGALA: Climb off your high horse.
CARLSON: My high horse? I'm not the one calling him a liar.
BEGALA: Have a little fun. Have a little fun.
Anyway, Bob Woodward's new book, "Plan of Attack," is raising a lot of questions. Does President Bush cozy up to the Saudis, even sharing top-secret documents with them? Was there a secret deal to manipulate oil prices just before the election? And did the president divert $700 million of your money intended to attack Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and use it to prepare for a war against Iraq?
We'll debate those questions and more next.
(APPLAUSE) CARLSON: Welcome back.
"Washington Post" reporter Bob Woodward has a new book out. It is called "Plan of Attack" and it is in stores now. Among other things, Woodward says President Bush did what every wartime president has done and ordered invasion plans well before publicly announcing the invasion? Duh.
In the CROSSFIRE today, Cliff May, who is with the Foundation For the Defense of Democracies, and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.
BEGALA: Guys, good to see you again.
CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Good to see you.
BEGALA: Cliff, let me plug your group again. Your organization is called the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
MAY: Yes, sir.
MAY: Yes, absolutely. You got it.
BEGALA: One of which is not Saudi Arabia.
BEGALA: The thing that bothers me most about this book is the remarkable relationship that apparently our president has with the dictators of this Arab kingdom, an anti-Israel, anti-American, anti- freedom dictatorship.
Here's what a principal conservative had to say about them. Don't take it from me as a liberal: "Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on September 11 were Saudis. Osama bin Laden is a Saudi. Most of the suspects held in Guantanamo Bay are Saudi. We have the Wahabi sect in Saudi Arabia publishing around the world the worst sort of hatred against not just Jews, but against Christians, against Shiites, against traditional Muslims."
You know who said that? Cliff May, you said that. Why doesn't our president talk that way instead of cutting corrupt want deals on oil prices with those Saudi leaders?
MAY: I think you are absolutely right, but I'm not convinced that what you've charged the president with and what Bob Woodward has suggested is necessarily true.
First of all, if you look at Bob Woodward's book, what he says a little bit different than how you're explaining it. What Woodward said is that Bandar, Prince Bandar, the ambassador, knows very well what you can do with price manipulation, particularly before an election. He does not say that there was any deal or conspiracy between Bush and Bandar. He does not say that.
BEGALA: It does say, I believe, that he informed the president of the United States that he would manipulate oil prices to benefit his election.
BEGALA: Why doesn't the president read him the riot act?
BEGALA: Why doesn't he say the things to him that you have said about the Saudis?
MAY: Let me agree with you on this.
BEGALA: I wish you were his speechwriter.
MAY: I think that we need a tougher policy toward Saudi Arabia than we have in this administration. If you're telling me that Kerry will have a tougher policy toward Saudi Arabia, I'll say that's right, but I don't think if you look at the book and what he said the charges being made is accurate.
Look, we know that gas prices went up. They often do before Memorial Day. They usually go down after Memorial Day. We know that Kerry did say why doesn't Bush talk to Saudis and say this is not good for the economy? Bush probably did. We do not know...
BEGALA: No, no.
BEGALA: It's clear that he hasn't.
MAY: I don't think a deal has
PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I thought we were going to get Cliff to endorse John Kerry there a minute ago. I didn't know where he was going.
CARLSON: No, but I think Cliff makes a really good point, Peter. And that is that, for weeks, John Kerry has been calling on President Bush to talk to the Saudis about oil prices. And it turns out that whatever the form of the conversation or the details of the conversation, he generally, it turns out he did. And yet, John Kerry's response is his -- what his response always is. His default position is to allege a conspiracy, a secret deal, a sweetheart deal. What is this attraction to the Democrats and conspiracy theories?
FENN: This is not John Kerry saying this.
CARLSON: Actually, it is. You want to hear his quote?
FENN: No. You know who it is saying it? It's Bob Woodward saying it. And one of the things
CARLSON: No, no, I'm talking about Kerry's reaction: It's a secret deal. Bob Woodward did not say that, by the way.
FENN: It sure looks like a secret deal to me. If we're going to bring down oil prices, let's bring them down now. Let's not bring them down in September and October.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
CARLSON: Peter, here -- this is what I'm so interested in. You're a political consultant. You're a political consultant, so you know
FENN: Do you buy it in the summer? You take your kids on vacations in the summer?
CARLSON: Hold on. If gas prices -- if oil prices actually went down, say, this summer, it would take a long time to affect the gasoline market in this country, A.
B, if gas prices went down in, say, September or October, you know there's a long lag between actual economic changes and public perception of them. It would not affect the election. You know that.
FENN: The other thing we have is, we have a petroleum reserve which you could take out of and bring those prices down.
CARLSON: Oh, that's irresponsible.
FENN: Which this president will not do.
FENN: And this is costing the American people. Tax cut, schmax cut.
The American people, the middle class is taking it in the chops because of the policies of this administration. (APPLAUSE)
MAY: Two things. Two things. One is, we should agree on an energy policy that makes us less dependent on Saudi and foreign oil. I think everyone should agree upon that.
FENN: Energy conservation.
MAY: Two, there's something that doesn't make sense here.
If the Saudis want to help Bush and they were going to do it by lowering oil prices at the right moment, why would they tell Bob Woodward, which would then damage Bush? And if woo didn't get it from Bandar, who did he get it from? Bush? It doesn't make any sense.
CARLSON: Excellent point. That's a great point, actually.
BEGALA: I can't parse the conspiracy. I just -- I do trust Bob Woodward more than I
MAY: But you can promote the conspiracy.
BEGALA: I trust Woodward more than I trust Bush, yes. That's true.
MAY: But look at what Woodward said. He didn't say what you're saying.
BEGALA: Let me show you. This is a larger thing. The Bush administration, without denial, showed top-secret documents that said no foreign, which means don't show to any foreigner, to Prince Bandar, before perhaps even Secretary of State Powell, maybe just after, but before the American people knew.
And here's what Bush said, our president, President Bush -- I don't want to be disrespectful -- when he hosted Crown Prince Abdullah, not a leader of a democracy, at his ranch, sort of the highest honor that President Bush can bestow, showed him around the ranch. And here's what he said about him: "I had the honor of showing him," this man who funds terrorists, "my ranch. He's a man who's got a farm and he understands the land, and I really took great delight in being able to drive him around in a pickup truck and showing him the trees and my favorite spots. And we saw a wild turkey, which was good."
BEGALA: You know...
BEGALA: By the way, here's Bush. And, by the way, Crown Prince Abdullah saw a pigeon, which was good for the Saudis, but bad for the Americans. Here's our president walking around holding hands with him an a economic summit. Have we got that picture?
Here's the president of the United States. And look -- now, I know he's against same-sex relationships. But, apparently, this one, he's holding hands with this guy.
Cliff, why is this man so in bed
BEGALA: A man who plainly loves freedom, as George Bush does...
BEGALA: Why is he in bed
MAY: I make no brief for the Saudis whatsoever. Among people who know the Saudis well, the general feeling is that Prince Abdullah is on the reform side in that family and others in the family are Wahabi side.
In other words, he is on the side that wants to make things better. So we have a relationship. Look, this relationship goes back a lot of years. I think we've got problems with this relationship. I think we have got problems with the Saudis. I think they're sitting on both sides of the fence. They are both supporting us and they're attacking us. And it's a problem.
BEGALA: But I thought Bush said you're either for us or against us.
(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: Peter, speaking of foreign leaders, as you know, a lot of foreign leaders have endorsed John Kerry, by his own account. He won't tell us which ones. But he was asked...
FENN: You'll find out next November, Tucker.
CARLSON: That may be right, but, in the meantime, I'd still like to know.
So he was asked directly by Tim Russert the other day on "Meet the Press," who are these people? And this was his response. I think we can put up part of it here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEET THE PRESS")
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can go to New York City and you can be in a restaurant and you can meet a foreign leader. There are plenty of places to meet people without traveling abroad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: OK. So there's John Kerry saying that he didn't go abroad to meet the foreign leaders. He met them in New York restaurants. He won't tell us who the foreign leaders are.
My question is, what were the restaurants, Peter?
FENN: Oh, I haven't the slightest idea what the restaurants were.
FENN: But they also have telephones. It's funny. People talk over the telephone.
CARLSON: Do you think it's good for America in the middle of a war for Kerry to be saying actually he has the support of foreign countries
FENN: One of the interesting things, Tucker, is
CARLSON: It's an honest question. Do you think it's good? Maybe it is a good thing.
FENN: We now have the Spanish who are taking out their troops, the Hondurans who are taking out the troops, Poland who is taking out the troops.
FENN: We have got a situation right now which is going down the shoot in Iraq.
CARLSON: I agree.
FENN: And we have got to pull that coalition together. We have to have people
CARLSON: Do you think this helps John Kerry? Do you think it is helping him?
FENN: Listen, you know what I think? I think the only way that we're going to change Iraq policy is if we change the president of the United States. I think that's the only way that this is going to change.
BEGALA: Cliff, there's another blockbuster revelation in the book. And that is an allegation that the president of the United States diverted $700 million of our money that we told him, we the people told him to use to kill Osama bin Laden and the terrorists who attacked us, and he diverted it secretly to his war in Iraq. Isn't that potentially a crime, but certainly a sin and an outrage?
MAY: You're misrepresenting the situation entirely. This was money for defense and the president had discretion.
BEGALA: No, it was money for Afghanistan
BEGALA: ... the Taliban and bin Laden.
MAY: It was not. And even Democrats have backed off saying that, because it was money that he had discretion on for terrorism and to use as he preferred.
By the way, how come people like you are not -- I encourage everybody who is watching this to read this book, because they're going to see that you're seeing it only through a partisan prism. You're missing some very important points. You're missing, for example
BEGALA: Like diverting $700 million? (CROSSTALK)
MAY: How about this point? You have said on this program and so many others have that the president misled, he lied, he exaggerated CIA estimates of weapons of mass destruction.
MAY: What do we know from this book? That the president was the most skeptical and he only came around when George Tenet, who was also President Clinton's CIA director, said, you know what, Mr. President? It's a slam dunk. There's no question. It's a slam dunk.
MAY: Weapons of mass destruction in Saddam's hands is a threat.
CARLSON: OK, I'm sorry. I think we're very close to solving this debate. Sadly, commercials intervene.
Next, in "Rapid Fire," who would do a better job fighting terrorism, George W. Bush or John Kerry?
Right after the break, what right should detainees at Guantanamo Bay have? Wolf Blitzer has the latest from the Supreme Court of the United States.
We'll be right back.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Coming up at the top of the hour, word coming out right now that a tribunal has been set to try Saddam Hussein, this as President Bush's team is out in force defending the Iraq war and the Pentagon weighing the possibility of sending yet additional forces there.
John Kerry's old feud with a fellow Vietnam vet. We'll look back at Kerry's actions during and after the war and I'll speak live with that same vet.
And should foreign detainees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have access to the American justice system? The debate hits the Supreme Court.
Those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."
Now back to CROSSFIRE. BEGALA: Time now for "Rapid Fire," where the questions and answers come faster than George W. Bush can cut his corrupt deal with the Saudi oil sheiks.
In the CROSSFIRE, Cliff May with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.
CARLSON: Peter Fenn, the latest Gallup poll shows that by 20 points, more than 20 points, people think Bush does a better job fighting terrorism than John Kerry. Kerry can't win unless he closes that gap, can he?
FENN: I think the economy is a big issue, too. But I think he will close that gap.
Listen, the biggest thing about that poll is that the right direction, wrong direction have gone 11 points against Bush, wrong track, America on the wrong track. And, you know, this Iraq policy and this terrorism policy is hurting him. He's not listening to his generals. He's not listening to his secretary of state and he certainly isn't listening to a solution to the problem.
BEGALA: Cliff May, the White House disputes the allegation that the president diverted $700 million. They dispute that he cut an oil deal with Prince Bandar. They dispute that Secretary Powell and Vice President Cheney don't speak. Why then are they recommending the book if it's full of lies?
MAY: Because what you just said is in the book is not in the book. What they said...
BEGALA: Surely it is.
MAY: Read the book, fellows.
For example, they said that Cheney and Powell on one or two subjects don't bother to discuss. It doesn't say they don't speak anymore. As far as them not consulting, there is in the book a description of a two-hour meeting between Secretary Powell and the president to talk about Iraq and the difficulties there would be after, a two-hour meeting described in the book.
FENN: Was that after the 12-minute meeting that he had with him after he met with Bandar? Is that what that was?
MAY: Look, you guys are spinning this book and to make it say what it doesn't say.
CARLSON: Quickly. Hold on here. Wait.
CARLSON: Mrs. Kerry has helped finance John Kerry's campaign. Why not just release her financial records?
FENN: First of all, two things.
One, the holdings of Mrs. Kerry are part of the Senate disclosure statements.
FENN: You can go look at them.
FENN: You've disclosed that. If there's anything more to disclose, you ask for it. We'll decide on it.
CARLSON: Those are so undetailed.
FENN: Oh, come on. It tells every investment she has.
CARLSON: Peter Fenn, Cliff May, thank you both very much.
CARLSON: To be continued. Thank you.
When we come back, one of our viewers thinks Paul and I should take on Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. We'll explain next. First, we'll explain who they are and then what the viewer meant.
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAYNE NEWTON, ENTERTAINER (singing): Danke Schoen, darling Danke Schoen. Come on. Thank you for all the joy and pain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: During our visit to Las Vegas yesterday, we had the pleasure of being entertained by Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton, to which we said, danke schoen. As you heard, so did he.
Here's some of what our viewers had to say about the first what will no doubt be many Wayne Newton appearances on CROSSFIRE.
Well, first up, John Miller from San Francisco writes: "Jessica and Nick better watch out. After yesterday with Wayne Newton, I think you guys might have a shot at the CROSSFIRE variety hour."
CARLSON: You know, I like that, plate spinners, magicians.
BEGALA: Well, Tucker's a great dancer. You guys haven't seen that.
"Paul, are you sure your party is up to take on the power of Wayne Newton?" writes Chris Schulier of Saint Louis.
No, but next to Wayne Newton's star power, President Bush is a 40-watt bulb. So I don't worry about that.
CARLSON: Yes, he's no Barbra Streisand.
BEGALA: That's right.
CARLSON: Next up, Layna Jan Wilson of Vancouver writes: "Wayne has got a new fan. Man, that guy has some smarts. He may be the only sane, decent and balanced American now living in Las Vegas."
Let the record reflect that Layna Jan lives in Canada, which is a foreign country.
BEGALA: No, Oscar Goodman, the mayor of Las Vegas, sane, balanced, wonderful. Elvis Presley, by the way, is still alive and he is in Las Vegas.
CARLSON: That's right.
BEGALA: I saw him all over.
CARLSON: We had a terrific blackjack dealer last night who seemed sane, decent and balanced to me.
Craig Boyer in Blue Point, New York, writes: "It was great to hear how Wayne Newton has aided the troops with his efforts and visits."
Yes, USO.org. Wayne is the celebrity leader of the USO, which helps our soldiers. No matter how you feel about the war, support the USO, support the troops. God bless Wayne.
CARLSON: I suspect Wayne Newton will be on our set at some point soon.
BEGALA: I can't wait to have him back.
Wayne, come back soon.
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.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
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