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President Bush Meets With 9/11 Commission
Aired April 29, 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: the Bush-Cheney session with the 9/11 Commission.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Glad I took the time. This is an important commission.
ANNOUNCER: Will today's extraordinary meeting make America safer or the 9/11 investigation more political?
Plus, Ben Affleck comes to Washington. Who he is teaming up with now?
Today on CROSSFIRE.
ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.
CARLSON: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.
Today, President Bush and Vice President Cheney spent three hours answering questions from members of the 9/11 Commission.
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Of course the president and vice president were not under oath, so there's no risk of perjury. No tape was made, nor even a transcript. So why was George W. Bush so afraid of testifying that he insisted on being the first president in history to testify while holding hands with his vice president?
BEGALA: We will ask our guests after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."
Today was one of the bloodiest days of the bloodiest month of President Bush's war in Iraq, with 10 Americans losing their lives; 126 Americans have died in Iraq this month. That is more deaths than in the entire war to liberate Iraq last year. On the Senate floor today, Edward Kennedy, a man who lost has three brothers in service to our country, one in World War II and two to assassins, spoke with wisdom and passion of Mr. Bush's tragic folly. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Iraq has become a quagmire. It may well go down as the worst blunder in the entire history of American foreign policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BEGALA: Senator Kennedy is, of course, right. George W. Bush's name will go down in history as one of the greatest failures of the American presidency, while Edward Kennedy will join Webster and Clay as one of the greatest senators in American history. Thank God for Senator Kerry.
CARLSON: I think it's wrong for you to call this President Bush's war in Iraq. It's being fought by soldiers who are Republicans and Democrats.
BEGALA: Sent there by the president.
CARLSON: This is America's war.
BEGALA: Of course it is.
CARLSON: And it was a bipartisan vote to get there. I think it's wrong of you to say that.
CARLSON: And, moreover, I think it's beyond the pale that you would hold it up Ted Kennedy, who accused President Bush of waging this war for political reasons to win a midterm election, the most irresponsible thing said on the Senate floor this year...
CARLSON: ... as some sort of moral example. I think it's bizarre.
BEGALA: Ted Kennedy is morally right on the war. President Bush is morally wrong. It is his war. He's our president and our commander in chief. Every one of those soldiers is there at his orders.
CARLSON: His war.
BEGALA: He's our president.
CARLSON: Well, those of you who don't live in the state of Massachusetts may have missed a recent issue of "The Daily Collegian," the newspaper of UMass Amherst.
Yesterday's edition included a column by a left-wing graduate student named Rene Gonzalez. The column was entitled: "Pat Tillman Is Not a Hero. He Got What Was Coming to Him." Yes, that Pat Tillman, the professional football player who left behind his wife and a multimillion dollar contract to fight America's war on terrorism. He was killed in action in Afghanistan last week.
His death, Rene Gonzalez writes, was well deserved. Tillman died in the service of -- quote -- "America is No. 1, frat boy, propaganda bull, just another instrument of the Bush-led U.S. imperialism." Well, that's the view from the liberal left in Massachusetts. Maybe you agree with it. Maybe you don't. Either way, feel free to e-mail "The Daily Collegian" to express how you do feel. Get a pen. Here's their address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
BEGALA: What's that address again?
BEGALA: I'm glad you raised this. It's an outrage. Pat Tillman was a hero. He was serving America. He was fighting terrorists. That's not the view of the left. You know that. It's the view of one crackpot, who by the way has the freedom to speak because heroes like Pat Tillman fought for
CARLSON: You know what? Don't give me the free speech thing, Paul. I support free speech as a lifelong journalist more than anybody I know.
CARLSON: You have discretion about what you print in your newspaper.
BEGALA: Of course. Of course.
CARLSON: And that's disgusting. And I'm saying, the lunacy on the left right now, blaming everything on Bush...
BEGALA: There's just as much as lunacy on the right.
CARLSON: No, there's not, actually. That's not true and you know it's not true.
BEGALA: It's not true. There's more lunacy on the right.
BEGALA: Well, when it comes to keeping up with the fibs, falsehoods and fabrications of the fanatical right, there are times I feel a little like a mosquito in a nudist colony. Everywhere you look, there's a juicy target.
But now the Center For American Progress has collected hundreds of the biggest whoppers from President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other right-wingers into one searchable database. It's online at Claimvfact.org.
You can see for yourself where Dick Cheney said we would be greeted as liberators, where Mr. Bush declared that we have found weapons of mass destruction. Readers are urged to contribute to the page. Here's one I would like to contribute from today. The White House today claimed the 9/11 Commission's interviews with former President Clinton and Vice President Gore were not transcribed.
But CBS News reports the sessions were indeed recorded and will in fact be transcribed. At this rate, it will be breaking news when Mr. Bush tells the truth about something. So, good for the Center For American Progress.
CARLSON: Actually, you know what? I know you think that serves your purposes, serves the Kerry campaign. But ultimately Bush is not a liar. He may have some faults as president, maybe many faults.
BEGALA: He's a massive lair.
CARLSON: But he's not a liar, actually. And people understand that in the scope of politics, he actually lies a lot less than most presidents, in fact.
CARLSON: I'm serious. He may have weaknesses. That's not one of them. And it's just not plausible.
BEGALA: He said Saddam Hussein had nuclear programs, had biological weapons.
BEGALA: And was a massive threat to America.
BEGALA: That he was a massive threat to America. We had to go to war. He misled us into this war.
CARLSON: So that was a lie. BEGALA: Look it, claimvfact.org. You can see for yourself.
CARLSON: It's unrooted from reality.
BEGALA: It's the truth.
CARLSON: Well, John Kerry is a war hero. You probably knew that already. But John Kerry wants to make certain you absolutely, positively know that and never, ever forget.
Almost every word John Kerry utters either touches on, relates to or elicits memories of his four months in Vietnam 35 years ago. This week, it went beyond parody. On Tuesday, "The L.A. Times" reports, Kerry invoked Vietnam while discussing a whole range of unrelated topics, including George W. Bush, Iraq and health care, finally, Kerry's response to why he eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You guessed it, Vietnam, where apparently PB&Js were highly popular with some of the more impressive war heroes.
Of course, it would be tempting to make fun of Kerry for bragging about himself nonstop, but unless you happen to be a war hero, too, that is not allowed.
BEGALA: Let me get this straight. A moment ago, you're savaging some goofball correctly, correctly savaging him because he criticized Pat Tillman's death.
BEGALA: Now you're attacking John Kerry because he refers to his own
BEGALA: It was seminal experience of his life, Tucker. He has a perfect right to talk about it.
BEGALA: George Bush should talk about where he was when he was supposed to be in the National Guard.
CARLSON: Paul, this is all lies. I am attacking John Kerry for telling people that they can't criticize him if they're not war heroes.
BEGALA: No, you're attacking him because he makes reference to his heroism. And you don't like it. And I do. And it should be something that John Kerry
CARLSON: I totally give up, Paul. I totally give up.
CARLSON: This is a campaign slogan you're repeating.
BEGALA: No, it isn't a campaign slogan.
CARLSON: He ought to follow the example of Bob Dole and John McCain and wear it lightly. That's all I'm saying.
BEGALA: He should consult with you to decide what he says before he speaks.
Coming up next on CROSSFIRE, Abraham Lincoln did it alone, so did Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. But today, President Bush broke with precedent and insisted that he would only testify if he could be accompanied by his good bestest buddy and good luck charm Dick Cheney.
BEGALA: Why is our president behaving like a 3-year-old with a nighttime blanket?
Later on CROSSFIRE, he's no longer with J.Lo. So who's Ben Affleck been hanging out with lately and what's the political connection? Stay with us to find out.
ANNOUNCER: Get ahead of the CROSSFIRE. Sign up for CROSSFIRE's daily "Political Alert" e-mail. You'll get a preview of each day's show, plus an inside look at the day's political headlines. Just go to CNN.com/CROSSFIRE and sign up today.
CARLSON: Welcome back.
President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney spent more than three hours today meeting with the 9/11 Commission. This afternoon, the commission issued a written statement calling the session extraordinary and describing the president and vice president as forthcoming and candid.
In the CROSSFIRE, former National Security Council spokesman P.J. Crowley now with the Center For American Progress, also former Governor Jim Gilmore, who chaired an advisory panel to assess domestic response capabilities for terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction.
BEGALA: Thank you both, guys. Good to see you again.
BEGALA: Governor, our president -- I'm from Texas. He was my governor. I have to confess, I like him. One of the things I like about him as a human being. I don't support
JAMES GILMORE (R), FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: And you're going to vote for him.
BEGALA: Never. No.
BEGALA: One of the things I've always liked about him is, he's a Texan. He's kind of rough and tough and he believes in that sort of John Wayne myth. Why, oh, why, then today did he only meet with the commission if he had Dick Cheney, Al Gonzales, the White House counsel, and two other staffers there? He looks like a wimp, doesn't he?
GILMORE: No, he looks like he's in charge of the executive branch. The vice president works for him. The executive branch works for him. He's entitled to set those rules when he's dealing with some type of advisory commission. I think he showed leadership.
BEGALA: Well, so did Ronald Reagan show a lack of leadership when he met with the Tower Commission alone? Ronald Reagan was 76. He'd been shot. He had cancer. His memory was failing. And George Bush knew a lot about Iran Contra, but Ronald Reagan stood alone, like a man.
BEGALA: Isn't that would George Bush should be?
BEGALA: Is be a man like Ronald Reagan?
GILMORE: That's the
BEGALA: Be a man.
GILMORE: That's the great thing about being the national leader and making a decision on behalf of the executive branch. Reagan was entitled to do it his way and George Bush is entitled to do it his way.
BEGALA: Which was better? Which was better? I think Reagan was better. Which was better?
P.J., here's the problem I have with the whole 9/11 Commission. I don't think it's been conducted with the seriousness and dignity required to commemorate and to investigate the events itself, 9/11. I'm going to give you a great example, I think. Bob Kerrey, whom I like and respect, and I think most people here do, nevertheless made a big mistake I think in going on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" the other night to talk about his work on the commission.
Here's a partial transcript of what was said. Bob Kerrey says to Jon Stewart: "Is there a question that you want me to ask?" to ask George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Jon Stewart: "Yes, I got one. What the 'blank' is wrong with you people? Bob Kerrey: "Yes, we'll do it."
Now, look, he's making a joke out of it. There's a lot of things you could joke about. This doesn't strike me as a joke.
P.J. CROWLEY, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, wait a second.
The only reason that this meeting happened today is because all of the commissioners, all 10 of them, from Governor Kean on down, have had to press and push and prod for everything they've gotten. Today was about the White House playing four corners defense. They figure, if they've got two of them together, they can pass the buck and chew up a lot of clock, you know, but
CARLSON: You may be right. I'm not even contesting that.
CROWLEY: ... the backdrop here of a lack of cooperation from the outset, which is certainly different than how the government's treated
CARLSON: You're missing it. I'll concede that.
CARLSON: I'm not asking about that.
CROWLEY: I acknowledge to you that the commissioners have had to be very vocal, very aggressive publicly...
CARLSON: Oh, really, really? Is that what this is about?
CROWLEY: Because they haven't gotten any cooperation from the White House.
CARLSON: In fact, keep in mind, these comments were made after the White House had agreed to send the president and vice president before the commission. So it wasn't to get them to do anything.
And this is what Bob Kerrey said again on "The Daily Show." And I just think this is outrageous, considering the context.
CARLSON: Quote: "He, Bush, is bringing his buddy, that's exactly right, for safety." In other words, he's mocking, as Paul Begala does, President Bush before even hearing from him.
CROWLEY: But it's very simple. The White House from the outset has been playing politics, not principles, about this commission. They are interested in getting reelected. They're not interested in getting to the bottom of 9/11.
CARLSON: Can you comment on what Bob Kerrey said for a second?
CROWLEY: Bob Kerrey -- I think Bob Kerrey has distinguished himself and he's been hard or harder on Democrats' witnesses than he has on Republican witnesses.
BEGALA: Governor, let me suggest a reason why I think, because I can't think of a good one. You were a prosecutor. I doubt you ever interrogated anybody in tandem in any investigation.
I think it's because of this. Our president, while a lovely man, is wholly incapable of introspection or answering any questions relative to the mistakes that all of us make. And here's the example. Here's what he told the whole country when he was asked that very simple question in his press conference recently.
Here's the president of the United States answering a question about whether he ever made a mistake.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it? BUSH: I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BEGALA: That's painfully embarrassing. It's painfully embarrassing, isn't it? That's why he wants Dick Cheney standing there with him, isn't it?
GILMORE: No, no, not at all. No, this is a president who has acted decisively ever since the 9/11 attack.
And I remind you, I was governor of Virginia during that 9/11 attack. I acted decisively and the president sure acted decisively. He sent the military out to go after these people that killed all those Americans. He's been decisive ever since. He's been a strong leader. And he continues to be.
BEGALA: I understand you feel that way. But why does he have to sit with Dick Cheney? Why does it serve America's interests? I understand why it serves the president's political interests to be able to pass the ball, or pass the buck, as Colonel Crowley suggests. Why does it serve America's interests?
GILMORE: Because if you're in charge of the executive branch, you're responsive to the executive branch's answer to those kinds of questions. You can't have a commission going up here and cherry- picking people all up and down the executive branch and asking them to come in.
BEGALA: Why not?
GILMORE: No, because he is the head of the executive branch.
CARLSON: P.J., I don't think -- I think you'll agree with me.
CROWLEY: It remains one of the burning questions.
CARLSON: But here's I think a deeper question. Does it serve anyone's interests, Republican, Democrat, or make to the point, America's interests to make this into some sort of circus? I think you would agree no.
And yet, members of the commission on both sides, I would say mostly Democrats, but still Republicans, too, have been relentlessly flogging their own views on TV. Look at this. This is a list, a very partial list of some of the media availabilities Richard Ben-Veniste, one of the commissioners, a Democrat, very partisan Democrat, has had just in the last month. Here they are: "News Hour," "PAULA ZAHN," "LARRY KING," CNBC. It could go on. That's wallpaper, basically.
CARLSON: That detracts from the commission and its credibility, doesn't it?
CROWLEY: I think that same list is the list that Condi Rice was working off of before...
CARLSON: Is she a commissioner?
CROWLEY: No, but...
CARLSON: These are supposed to be people who are doing America's work in the most important issue of our age.
CROWLEY: But, look, the reason we're having this discussion is because this is the Pinocchio president who has no credibility on these issues.
CARLSON: Oh, come on.
CROWLEY: No, he said from the outset that terrorism was a priority.
CARLSON: What does that have to with the question I asked?
CROWLEY: I wish he had written -- he had read and heeded Governor Gilmore's outstanding work on how to best prepare for future attacks. If he had, we wouldn't be where we are today.
CARLSON: But answer the question. Is this good or bad?
CARLSON: You're not going to answer it, are you? That it's bad for America to have the commissioners all over cable yapping about their partisan
CROWLEY: But, again, if the White House was really interested in getting to the bottom of 9/11, rather than getting reelected, we wouldn't be having this discussion.
CARLSON: All right, I give up.
CROWLEY: And they wouldn't be suffering such a credibility problem that they're suffering. BEGALA: Let me suggest that Colonel Crowley is right, that, in fact, the reason why the commissioners have had to go to the public is because people who have tried to go privately to the White House and to the Congress for that matter have failed. The politicians only respond when there's public pressure.
Case in point, your service, Governor Gilmore. You're a Republican. You chaired your national party. I'm a Democrat. But I salute and honor the service that you did to warn our country about a terrorist attack. And here's the report that the press ran on MSNBC about your report and how you tried to sound the alarm to the Bush administration.
"In May of 2001, Governor Jim Gilmore won an audience with the new vice president, Dick Cheney." Quoting you, MSNBC says: "'He, Cheney, took notes and I had a follow-up with one of his aides a few months later," Gilmore says, 'but nothing really happened. In the end, we didn't see any evidence of any interest at all. No one called us to Congress and no one called us to the executive branch.'"
Shouldn't the president just own up to what you saw firsthand, that they were not listening to you when you were warning about terrorism?
GILMORE: You know, I don't think I said it that way.
BEGALA: It's a verbatim quote.
GILMORE: No, hey, listen, if we believed everything that was on TV, we'd all be in trouble.
BEGALA: Did you ever follow up with MSNBC and tell them that they misquoted you?
GILMORE: You just don't get to do that with the press. You understand that.
BEGALA: ... they're going to listen to you.
GILMORE: Let me answer it straight. We didn't win any audience with the vice president. We asked for an opportunity to come over and see the vice president. He welcomed us over to the White House.
He referred us back to his staff people. And they were in the process of beginning to deal something which quite frankly had not been really addressed in the early-going of our commission. But this administration took the ball and began to run with it. And that's the case. But then the 9/11 attacks occurred.
CROWLEY: Unfortunately, they weren't listening, because the first priority that Governor Gilmore listed in his most recent report was protecting individual freedoms.
Yesterday, the Bush administration is before the Supreme Court saying that they have the right, the president has the right to lock up every American citizen for any reason they want.
CARLSON: And it's going to happen soon in your neighborhood, I'm sure.
But, no, P.J., let me ask you just one question. I was struck today...
CROWLEY: And the second thing that Governor Gilmore said
CARLSON: I know. They're evils. They're liars, whatever.
CARLSON: Hold on. Let me ask you a question, please, P.J.
CROWLEY: And the second thing Governor Gilmore said was that we need to commit sustainable resources over the long term.
I'm sure Governor Gilmore would love to be able to defend Virginia on the amount of money that we're giving to Halliburton right now. The fact is, Paul Bremer
CARLSON: I want to bring you back to reality here.
CROWLEY: Paul Bremer has three times the budget that Tom Ridge does to defend the whole country.
GILMORE: Well, and I might say that Paul Bremer was actually on our commission for
CARLSON: OK, we're going to have to take a quick break. In that break, we're all going to try to decide what does Halliburton have to do with the war in Iraq? We have no idea. We'll try and figure it out when we return.
And we're going to make our guests face the "Rapid Fire."
And right after the break, ambushed in Najaf. Wolf Blitzer has a close-up look at what U.S. soldiers and journalists are facing on the ground in Iraq.
We'll be right back.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Coming up at the top of the hour, President Bush says he had nothing to hide in today's historic meeting with the 9/11 Commission. What does the panel say? I'll have a live interview with one of the commission members.
Intense scenes from a confrontation near Najaf. We'll take you there and the other flash points in Iraq as U.S. casualties pile up in the war's deadliest month.
L.a. police on alert follow an uncorroborated terrorist threat on a shopping mall. I'll speak with the city's police chief, William Bratton.
Those stories, much more minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."
Now back to CROSSFIRE.
BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf.
Time now for "Rapid Fire," where we actually require our guests to answer questions without the help of Vice President Dick Cheney.
BEGALA: Our guests are former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore and Colonel P.J. Crowley of the Center For American Progress.
CARLSON: P.J., you often hear liberals say and I think you just said or implied that somehow Halliburton had something to do with our going to war in Iraq. Do you believe that?
CROWLEY: No, I don't. But there is a major concern that right now Halliburton and other defense contractors are the third largest military on the ground in Iraq, and we don't know what they're doing.
BEGALA: Governor Gilmore, Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton, was ordered by our president to chair two task forces, one on energy, one on terrorism. He met eight times for 90 minutes each with the energy task force, never once with the terrorism task force. What does that tell you about our priorities, our vice president's priorities?
GILMORE: Well, I think that task force was working and I think both task forces were working. And I think that the vice president has a lot of duties that he's doing. And he's doing that, too. And I think that's just fine. And, furthermore, you've got to be in a position to do this kind of work at the pace that you decide to do it and the way that you decide to do it. And if you're having to expose everything, then, at that point, you can't really do your work confidentially and effectively as an executive branch person would do.
CARLSON: P.J., Cheryl Mills, former Clinton deputy White House counsel, I'm sure you know her.
CARLSON: Said recently that she thought that Bush and Cheney were testifying together simply in an effort to make their testimony more accurate. Is she naive or just dumb or what? Why would she say something like that?
CROWLEY: Well, why would that be necessary. Admittedly, the two have had trouble getting their stories straight, particularly on Iraq.
And then -- I mean, the burning question of the day is, the president had two more weeks to try to figure out if he made a mistake. You know the two of them together probably will never admit they made a mistake. So they probably just scratched their heads in tandem.
BEGALA: Well, why didn't Dick Cheney sit in on President Bush's interview with Bob Woodward, if that's so useful?
GILMORE: I don't understand the question.
BEGALA: No, if Bush needs Mr. Cheney to speak to the 9/11 Commission, why didn't he need him to speak to Mr. Woodward?
GILMORE: No, that was basically a communication with a private journalist. And that was fine. But this is an official communication on an official inquiry. And I've explained why I think that's appropriate.
CARLSON: All right, Governor Jim Gilmore, Colonel P.J. Crowley, thank you both very much. We appreciate it.
CARLSON: Well, Ben and Ted got together today on Capitol Hill. It wasn't exactly the same as Bennifer, but we'll show you why the cameras turned out anyway.
We'll be right back. (APPLAUSE)
CARLSON: Welcome back.
Well, first, there was Ben and Gwyneth. Then it was Ben and J.Lo, better known as Bennifer. Today, actor Ben Affleck teamed up with Senator Ted Kennedy. You could call did Bennedy. It was a sure bet to attract attention on Capitol Hill, which of course was precisely the point. Affleck's visit was part of Senator Kennedy's effort to win passage of a $1.85 cent to the minimum wage. That would increase it to $7 an hour.
And when you want to do something like that, Paul, you bring in the actors. It makes total sense.
BEGALA: I'll tell you what. A millionaire actor who cares about people making seven bucks an hour is a good guy in my book.
CARLSON: Which is why I'm telling you next time there's any kind of labor dispute in Hollywood, I'm going to get on a plane and head there immediately to weigh in on it, because I've got strong feelings about things I don't fully understand.
BEGALA: He understands fully because he's at the top end of the economic scale. Some people who have actually got it made care about people who are still working to make it. God bless Ben Affleck.
CARLSON: But the rest of us are just mean and heartless. OK.
BEGALA: God bless Ted Kennedy.
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 yet more CROSSFIRE. Have a great night.
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