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Former President Clinton's Book Set For Release

Aired June 21, 2004 - 16:30   ET


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

In the CROSSFIRE: It goes on sale at midnight and he's talking about it everywhere. Will it be a political classic or in the bargain bin by Labor Day? Clinton by the book -- today on CROSSFIRE.


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


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

In a mere, oh, 7 1/2 hours, you'll finally be able to go out and buy a copy of "My Life," the memoir penned by the greatest president of my lifetime and feared by right-wingers everywhere, lest the American people be reminded of what an engaged, caring and articulate president is actually like.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Yes, it's a very frightening book.

Actually, it's ironic that the book goes on sale at midnight, because what could be a better cure for insomnia than 957 pages of Bill Clinton bragging about himself and his insignificant presidency? We'll ask that question.

Before we do, we will bring you the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

First up, we bring you major news from the political left. Ralph Nader has chosen a running mate for his latest presidential campaign. The man's name is Peter Camejo. He's a 63-year-old investment adviser from the Bay area. You may recognize Camejo's name from his run for governor during the California recall, or even from his 1976 race for president on the Socialist Workers Party ticket. Camejo is for marijuana and solar power.

He is against war and meanness. In other words, he's almost as perfect as Nader's running mate in 2000, Winona LaDuke. It was LaDuke of course who promised, if elected, to remove the paintings of white people from the White House.


CARLSON: Unfortunately, LaDuke's campaign was overshadowed by her husband's many legal problems. So she had to sit this one out. Hence, Nader-Camejo 2004. They're not likely to win, but they will be amusing. The next time you hear Ralph Nader speak, remember, that's what John Kerry would be saying if he didn't think anyone was listening.



BEGALA: I somehow missed that announcement. I have said before, we have a saying in Texas about cockroaches. It's not what they carry off that you worry about. It's what they fall into and mess up. And that's what Ralph is doing with this election. He's falling into a whole bunch of states. He ain't going to win. But he wants to draw away enough votes to let George Bush either win or steal it, the way he did in 2000.


CARLSON: His principles are incredibly inconvenient.


CARLSON: He ought to be silenced. You shouldn't be able to believe things in American politics.



BEGALA: If he actually believes in a progressive agenda, he should support John Kerry.


BEGALA: Well, "The New York Times" today documents how, for 2 1/2 years, the Bush administration has been misleading us about the detainees in Guantanamo Bay.

Vice President Cheney called the men being held there -- quote -- "the worst of a very bad lot" -- unquote. We were told that they were hardened, committed terrorists. And, no doubt, some of them are. But, after reviewing a secret CIA report and interviewing dozens of government officials, "The New York Times" concludes that -- quote -- "Government and military officials have repeatedly exaggerated both the danger the detainees posed and the intelligence they have provided" -- unquote.

The experts told "The Times" that, of the hundreds of detainees, perhaps as few as a dozen are actually sworn al Qaeda members or terrorists able to help us attack the terrorist organization. So, for those of you scoring at home, here's how to tell when the Bush administration is misleading you. Their lips move. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Yes, I see your point.

Actually, some of what you said is true, Paul, that maybe only a dozen of them are al Qaeda members. The question is, which dozen? And we don't know. And the notion that George W. Bush's problem is that he's too mean to captured Taliban soldiers from Afghanistan, which is your point...


CARLSON: Actually, Paul, the truth isn't known. And what you said itself


BEGALA: ... because he won't tell us. He knows the truth.


BEGALA: He's controlling them. He's holding these guys.

CARLSON: Oh, you're being -- now we're stepping into conspiracy land. We're not sure...



CARLSON: I'm serious. It's not clear who the al Qaeda members are. When we find out, we'll all feel better. But, until we know, we should keep them.

BEGALA: They should just tell the truth.

CARLSON: Well, the Democratic Convention in Boston next month is set to open with a tribute to Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, a key Kerry ally and backer.

The date of that will be July 25 or 26. There's only one problem. As "The New York Post" points out, that is almost precisely the 35th anniversary of the Chappaquiddick scandal in which Kennedy pleaded guilty to failing to report the accident that killed his aide, Mary Jo Kopechne. You won't hear a word about Chappaquiddick at the convention.

Partisan Democrats tend to get absolutely red-in-the-face furious if you bring it up, like somehow it's outrageous to mention that this liberal hero once left a girl to drown, like it's unfair to remember that Mary Jo Kopechne ever even existed. But she did exist. And this July, at least a few people will remember her.

BEGALA: I do think it's reprehensible to go back 35 years to try to dredge up scandal.

CARLSON: Why is it reprehensible?

BEGALA: Because if you want to fight Teddy Kennedy


BEGALA: ... you will lose. But fight him fair and square on the issues.


BEGALA: And for somebody who supports George W. Bush to talk about driving, I mean, by the way, who is not a guy with a perfect driving record himself...

CARLSON: OK, that's fine.


BEGALA: It's really -- it is low.

CARLSON: He left that girl to die in the car. It's not


BEGALA: Thirty-five years ago, he had a car accident and someone died.

CARLSON: So I mention it and you freak out.

BEGALA: People die in car accidents every day, tragically.

CARLSON: Just as I suspected. I attack his ideas every day of the week. And, today, I think it's fair to remember her name.

BEGALA: To attack him personally.

CARLSON: No, to remember that she existed.


BEGALA: ... attack one of our finest senators in the last 100 years personally.

CARLSON: You can't even mention her name, can you? What's her name?

BEGALA: That's very low.

Connecticut Governor James Rowland will reportedly announce his resignation tonight. The Republican governor has been accused of lying about who paid for renovation on a small vacation he owns. Governor Rowland was rumored to have been a potential running mate for George W. Bush back in 2000.

And, of course, the Bushies would never want someone who lied about repairs on a cabin on their ticket, not when they have men of real mendacity, men capable of fudging, fibbing and fabricating about big things, like Iraq being in league with al Qaeda on September 11 or Saddam Hussein trying to buy uranium for a nuclear bomb or -- and I love this one -- that Saddam had an unmanned vehicle that somehow could spray poison on Americans' homes.

No wonder Mr. Bush didn't put Rowland on the ticket. He's just a minor league liar.


CARLSON: You mock Bush for hyping the threat of terrorism. And, unfortunately, I think we're going to learn that the threat of terror is real and that the Democrats' attempt to make fun of it is probably going to be politically counterproductive.

I will say that Rowland is a very, very liberal Republican. I'm glad he's resigning.


CARLSON: No, I'm serious. I'm glad he's resigning. That's why he wasn't on the ticket, because he's too liberal. And I'm glad that he's resigning, because what he did was absolutely wrong. And he's doing the manful thing by resigning. And good for him.

And I must say, Democrats could learn a lesson from that. I don't know why you would defend John Rowland.



BEGALA: ... lying about a war. You lie about a cabin. George W. Bush misled us about a war, Tucker.




BEGALA: The terrorist threat is real. He just attacked the wrong country.

CARLSON: Don't you get it, Paul?

BEGALA: He didn't attack where the terrorists are.


CARLSON: The war may have been a colossal mistake.

BEGALA: It was. It was.

CARLSON: It may have been. It may have been.

BEGALA: He misled us to that.

CARLSON: He did not lie about it.

BEGALA: He absolutely lied.


CARLSON: I think the war was a mistake. But for you to call him a liar is just pure partisan electoral politics.

BEGALA: I try not to use that word. He's a fibber, a fudger, a fabricator.

CARLSON: You just used it four times.

BEGALA: A fabricator.


CARLSON: Six times.

Anyway, as his book hits store shelves tomorrow, Bill Clinton is back. He is talking about himself, and talking and talking and talking and talking. Will he ever stop? We'll debate the Bill Clinton story with those who know him well next.

And what if the newest icebreaker on the bar scene becomes, what is your party affiliation? Like that's ever going to happen. We'll tell you about a new voter drive where voters probably shouldn't drive. We'll explain.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Former President Bill Clinton's book, "My Life," goes on sale Tuesday. Of course if everyone who got a good job under Clinton buys it, it will sell 22 million copies.

That of course is unlikely in the stagnant Bush economy. But right-wingers are plainly worried. That's why they're whining about the reemergence of a president who actually balanced the budget, cut welfare by 60 percent, reduced crime, created AmeriCorps, signed family medical leave, led a world in a successful war and a successful occupation, and did it all while a pathetic band of right-wing hate- mongers were trying their best to destroy him.


BEGALA: Not a bad story, all in all.

The unavoidable comparisons, of course, to our current president might make Mr. Bush look a little like, oh, say, Mini-Me going one-on- one with Shaquille O'Neal.

In the CROSSFIRE to debate the Clinton strategy, Republican strategist Charlie Black, along with President Clinton's former chief of staff, my former boss in the White House, John Podesta.

Thank you both.


CARLSON: Thanks for joining us.

Mr. Podesta, one of the reasons I have wanted to buy the book is, I want to know why former President Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, who stole millions from the American taxpayer, fled the country rather than face trial. And the president pardoned him.

Well, this is what he said to "TIME" magazine. This is what President Clinton said -- quote -- "I may have made a mistake, at least in the way I allowed the case to come to my attention, that is, through the pleadings of Richard's wife and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. But I made the decision based on the merits."

Two questions. First, why is he blaming Israel for something that he did? And, two, what exactly are the merits of pardoning Marc Rich? I missed that part.

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I think we don't have enough time to go through that, Tucker.


PODESTA: But I think that he goes through it in the book and he lays out the case. I disagreed with it. I thought it was mistake.

But he did it on the merits. He was -- he had a brief presented to him by Jack Quinn, who was his former counsel, who he trusted. I think he made a mistake in doing it. And he goes through that in some detail. But Prime Minister Barak did call him and ask him to pardon him. And he listened to that. That was one of the factors.

CARLSON: But why is his first...

PODESTA: But he did it quite late. And I think that you shouldn't do anything that late. And I think he made the call. And, as he says in his book, maybe it was the wrong call.

CARLSON: No, actually, he said it was the right call, but he went about it in the wrong way.

But I will say, why is his first instinct to blame Israel? I think it's sort of telling.


PODESTA: He didn't blame Israel.

CARLSON: Actually, he does. He says, oh, Barak told me to do it.

PODESTA: He said Barak -- he stated a fact, Tucker. Do you know the difference between fact and opinion? He said a fact, which is, Prime Minister Barak asked him to do it.


PODESTA: Which is true. He called him three times and asked him to do it.

BEGALA: Well, Charlie, the president candidly -- President Clinton, that is, did candidly say that, in some respects, that was a mistake.

On "60 Minutes" last night, he said, our former president: "Only a fool does not look to explain his mistakes. People should try to understand why they did the things that they did."

I think that is a statement of great wisdom. Our current president was asked a similar question about his mistakes recently. Let's take a look at how President Bush described his mistakes.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the mist of this press conference, all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hasn't yet.



BEGALA: Now, I will grant you, President Clinton in his private life made a number of mistakes.


BEGALA: But, as you know, you served Ronald Reagan, who was a very successful president. It's the hardest job in the whole wide world. Isn't there something odd a man who has held it for 1,000 days and can't think of a single mistake he's made?

CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, most presidents explain their mistakes after they've left office or certainly after they've been reelected.

But I wonder, in the context of President Clinton's mistakes, how in this book did he talk about lying to a federal court and obstructing justice, committing a couple of felonies? I don't know he talked about Monica Lewinsky, but did he talk about the real reason he was impeached?

BEGALA: Well, by the way, that was all litigated by a Republican Senate. And how did they find him? Not guilty. Even a Republican Senate couldn't pull it off. It was just the most extreme fringes of the lunatic right that hijacked your party for a year or two. And I think it's wonderful if you guys want to make that the face of your party, Charlie.

PODESTA: It took the votes of some Democrats, too, who decided to make it a partisan issue, rather than studying the facts of the law.

CARLSON: Now, John Podesta, I was amazed to read again in "TIME" magazine in an interview with Bill Clinton what this book will accomplish, because, really, according to the former president, it's more than a book. It's a movement.

But don't believe me. Here's what President Clinton says -- quote -- "I hope this book will free other people to talk more openly about their mistakes and their problems and their fears." This is an exact quote: "I'm trying to liberate people."


CARLSON: So, he's, what, like Vaclav Havel and the pope now?


CARLSON: What is this? It's a presidential memoir, right?

PODESTA: Tucker, I think that people will actually find this book interesting, because what they are going to see in there is a guy who talks about people that he's met along the way.

And it is going to remind them of their brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts. And I think that he does -- he's -- he's got a very interesting life, a very interesting story. He is going to tell the stories about the people he has met along the way and about what he was trying to do as president, which is to help people, which is, I think, in sharp distinction to the current occupant


CARLSON: Then, do you think this book will liberate people, and, if so, how many?


PODESTA: I think this book -- I think this book will be -- I will tell you what.


PODESTA: I will tell you what, Tucker. I think this book will sell a lot of copies. And I think people will be very interested in it. And they will see a side of Bill Clinton, about his life growing up in Arkansas, about what he tried to accomplish in the White House.

And I think they are going to be really quite fascinated by it and interested in it.

BEGALA: I certainly hope it liberates George W. Bush from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when people find out what a real president can do.



BLACK: It will not liberate John Kerry, because Clinton is going to suck up all the attention this summer. And Kerry, who needs exposure and needs to increase his favorables, is not going to get any coverage at all this summer, because Clinton is out on a book tour.

BEGALA: Well, "TIME" magazine took a look at some of the things you mentioned before, these allegations against Bill Clinton. And here's what they report in the cold light of history now, after several years.

"In retrospect, it's clear that there was no substance to the Whitewater allegations and the other White House scandalettes -- the travel office firings, the FBI files, the death of Vince Foster, except of course Lewinsky."

So your party spent $80 million of these people's money to find out Bill Clinton liked girls. Hell, I could have told you that for free, Charlie.



BLACK: It's been -- everybody knows -- everybody knows for free that he lied to a federal court and obstructed justice.

BEGALA: That's simply not true.

BLACK: It is true.

BEGALA: That's not true.

BLACK: It is true. It is true. He settled the case in the end.

BEGALA: So why was the lawsuit thrown out? Why was he found not guilty by a Republican Senate?

BLACK: Well, he also had to settle the case. He had to cop a plea on the Paula Jones case.


BEGALA: The case was thrown out by the court.

CARLSON: John, it's very clear, from everyone I have talked to -- I know you talk to the former president frequently -- that he is -- still carries some anger about the impeachment and toward Judge Kenneth Starr.

He was asked by "The Guardian" in England, how did you learn to forgive Judge Starr to the extent you've been able to? And he gave two examples. He said, you know, I talked to Nelson Mandela, who spent 20-odd years on Robben Island in South Africa, and I talked to a Rwanda woman whose family had been slaughtered during the massacre in 1994 -- which he neglected to stop, incidentally. And through talking to them, I realized I, too, could forgive.

What level of megalomania do you have to have to compare yourself to Nelson Mandela when talking about impeachment, do you think?


PODESTA: Look...


PODESTA: You know, it's -- I think that one of the things that haters on the other side of the political spectrum will never understand about Bill Clinton is that he has tried to actually understand what went on, what happened.

And I think he actually is quite generous to his political opponents. I often said about him that one of his faults was that he didn't know how to hold a grudge. And I think this is another indication.


PODESTA: He was pretty generous to his political opponents during the context of this.

CARLSON: Well, that may be true, but he also...

PODESTA: And I think that he had -- if you want to see what -- if you want to think about Nelson Mandela, see what Nelson Mandela had to say about Bill Clinton, who he called a great president.


CARLSON: Right. I know Nelson Mandela likes him very much. But I'm just saying in the


PODESTA: Well, he's a source. You're citing Nelson Mandela.

CARLSON: Hold on. No, Clinton is comparing himself to Nelson Mandela, which is different.

But in the book, he says -- he says...

PODESTA: No, he's not. He said that he learned something from Nelson Mandela.


PODESTA: And if you learned a little bit from Nelson Mandela, it might help you, too.



CARLSON: Well, I'll just say my -- I'll say my prayers, John.

But here's what he does say about his enemies. He says: "The right wing hated me." And this is a quote from the book that I read in "The New York Times." It must be true. He said: "The right-wing hated me because the Berlin Wall fell, the commies disappeared. They needed an enemy. So they sort of picked me at random."

He says that in his book. He does not give his enemies credit for honest disagreements, does he?

PODESTA: I don't think it was random.

I think there's no -- Bill Clinton, when he was at the White House with George W. Bush, and George W. Bush was actually rather generous to him at that time and talked about hits accomplishments -- he said, it's time we get politics back to what's right and wrong and not who's good and bad. It's pretty good advice. And maybe we should all take it.


BEGALA: All right, Charlie, let me give you one review of the Clinton presidency, see if you agree with it: "Bill Clinton could always see a better day ahead. And Americans knew he was working hard to bring that day closer. Over eight years, it was clear that Bill Clinton loved the job of the presidency and he filled the White House with energy and joy." Do you agree with that?

BLACK: The president said that. I therefore agree with it, of course.

BEGALA: George W. Bush said that.

BLACK: Yes. Yes.

BEGALA: Why don't the rest of the Republicans follow this gracious leader that you have, instead of this -- these kind of hateful right-wing kooks? Bill Clinton -- they come up with all these crazy conspiracy theories. Why don't you just follow Bush's lead here?

BLACK: I'm trying to be gracious. Let's see if you can be.

In your intro there, you talked about Clinton balancing the budget, signing welfare reform. BEGALA: Did he?

BLACK: All things that Dick Morris got him to do to get reelected.


BLACK: Dick Morris had to outshout you liberals in the White House in order to get Clinton reelected. I wonder how much credit he gets in the book.

BEGALA: Did Bill Clinton balance the budget?

BLACK: The Republican Congress balanced the budget before he could sign it.


BEGALA: Oh, sure, OK. Did he sign the



CARLSON: We're going to take a quick break.

A quick programming note. Bill Clinton will take your calls on "LARRY KING LIVE" this Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Next, in "Rapid Fire," who called Bill Clinton's book -- quote -- "sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull"? I wish it had been me, but it wasn't. We'll tell you who it was.

And will Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld be put on the stand to answer questions about the Iraq prison abuse scandal? Wolf Blitzer has the latest right after this.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, four American Marines are found dead in Iraq, while three British navy patrol boats are seized in a waterway between Iraq and Iran.

A U.S. military judge declares the Abu Ghraib prison of a crime scene. Could Donald Rumsfeld and other top U.S. officials be compelled to testify about prisoner abuse?

And a major milestone in the history of space flight. We'll tell you why this 62-mile trip was oh so very special.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Welcome back.


CARLSON: It is time for "Rapid Fire," where we guarantee in writing that neither the questions, nor the answers will be 957 pages long. We're talking about former President Clinton's supersized tribute to himself with Center For American Progress president and CEO John Podesta -- he's the former president's chief of staff -- and Republican strategist Charlie Black.

BEGALA: Charlie, if Ken Starr did such a great job, shouldn't George W. Bush nominate him for the Supreme Court?

BLACK: I don't think he's interested in the Supreme Court. I think he's headed for the West Coast and Pepperdine, is the last I heard. But he would be a great justice, better than some of the ones we have on there.


CARLSON: John, "The New York Times" ran this Sunday an almost unprecedented front-page review attacking the former president's book as boorish, long-winded and really pretty stupid. How do he feel about the review?

PODESTA: Well, I haven't talked to him about it. But I think that woman gave about the same review to Hillary Clinton's book and she sold three million copies. So, if you want me to hand my shoe over right now...



PODESTA: I'm happy to do it.

BEGALA: Charlie, what did President Clinton do that you agreed with?

BLACK: Well, President Clinton was very good on trade. He stood up to the unions in his own party and was for free trade for NAFTA and GATT and got it passed. I give him great credit for his efforts on Middle East peace. He came very, very close. The Taba agreement in September of 2000 that Arafat walked away from is the best deal the Palestinians are ever going to get. And it's a real shame that they didn't sign it.

CARLSON: John, it turns out that Bill Clinton, had he been a senator, he tells "The Guardian" in England, he, too, would have voted for the Iraq war. He's the leader of your party, except for John Kerry. Why don't more Democrats agree with Bill Clinton on Iraq?

PODESTA: Well, John Kerry voted for it.

CARLSON: I know, but he pretends he didn't.



PODESTA: He didn't say he'd vote for the Iraq war. He said he'd vote for the resolution giving the president the authority.


CARLSON: "I would have voted for the authority to attack Iraq." That's about as straightforward as you get.

PODESTA: That's something different. And I think what the president also said was that he thought that the weapons inspectors should have had more time to finish the job.

CARLSON: That's pretty hawkish.

PODESTA: And I think that he would have had -- he is hawkish on this. And I think he would have -- if he had done -- if they had followed President Clinton's advice, we might have had an international coalition go in there and we would have done some planning...


PODESTA: ... in -- in the wake of going into Iraq that would have led to a better result today.

BEGALA: John Podesta, former chief of staff for President Clinton, now the leader of the Center For American Progress, which is, and Charlie Black, Republican strategist


CARLSON: What's his Web site?

BEGALA: Do you have your own Web site? We'll plug it.

BLACK: Well, it's

BEGALA: There we go.


BEGALA: Thank you both very much for the discussion.

Well, what happens when you mix alcohol and politics? Well, we're not talking about any current occupant of the White House, of course. But we will let you know the unlikely results right after this.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Some New York Democrats and Republicans have come up with a bipartisan idea to motivate young people to register and vote: free beer. The two parties teamed up with a local brewery to offer two free ounces of beer to anyone over 21 to register to vote during a weekend street festival. Newly registered voters also got to vote on which of two different beers they preferred, an amber lager or a pale ale.

CARLSON: Do you know that if you eliminated drunk voting, do you know how well Republicans would do? They should sweep, literally.



BEGALA: You know, lips that touch liquor will never touch mine. I've never had a beer. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm 975 -- I'm sorry. I am Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE. See you then.


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