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CNN CROSSFIRE

Clinton Memoir Worth the Wait?

Aired June 22, 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: the lines, the media, the publicity. Is Bill Clinton's new book really worth all the attention it's getting?

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

From coast to coast, Americans are lining up, some waiting for hours to buy a copy of President Bill Clinton's memoir. It is, of course, the story of a child born to a widowed mother who grew up in poverty, rose to the White House and lifted other Americans out of poverty as he led our nation to record prosperity.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: A far cry from some of my friends who were born on third base and think they hit a triple.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Some people may be lining up, but the really lucky ones are avoiding the bookstores altogether.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: We aren't so lucky. We have to deal with this boring and dishonest tome. But at least we can put off the inevitable discussion about Bill's big book for long enough to give you the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

BEGALA: More tragic news from Iraq today, another hostage savagely murdered, a South Korean national who had been held by insurgents in Iraq. It is only the latest brutal act of terrorism in the region.

Now, back in April, the Bush administration issued a report saying that terrorism had declined sharply, to the lowest level in 30 years. But today, under pressure, Mr. Bush's administration revised that report, slightly. It turns out that, instead of going down, terrorism in fact has increased sharply. Deaths are way up, injuries way up. Incidences are also on the rise. The only thing decreasing in the war on terror is Mr. Bush's credibility.

A new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll today shows Mr. Bush's approval rating for handling terrorism is in a freefall. John Kerry has wiped out Mr. Bush's 21-point advantage on terrorism. And today, more Americans trust the former war hero to handle terrorism than the former cheerleader.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Mr. Bush is simply no longer trusted by the American people. No wonder the president's hometown paper, the conservative "Dallas Morning News," which endorsed Mr. Bush and supported the war, writes today -- quote -- "You've got a credibility problem, Mr. President."

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: You know, Paul, let me give you some of the other polling results from that "Washington Post" poll. Which president would you feel safer under? President Bush, 54 percent, Kerry, 40. Which one is a stronger president in dealing with the world? Bush, 51 percent, Kerry, 43 percent.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: Which president is better off to deal with Iraq? Bush, 50 percent, Kerry, 45 percent. Give all the facts, buddy.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: You've got a credibility problem, Mr. President.

NOVAK: They were -- they were polishing the U.S. Senate chamber today for a distinguished visitor. It was John Forbes Kerry of Massachusetts. Wait, isn't he a senator? Yes. But he's been away campaigning for president.

What brought Senator Kerry back today was a vote on mandatory health care funding for military veterans. He said that issue is -- quote -- "very critical to me." Does that mean the 118 votes he missed this year are not important to him?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Since January, Senator Kerry made just 17 out of 135 votes, leading the Republican governor and lieutenant governor of Massachusetts to demand his resignation from the Senate.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Actually, John Kerry being away saved the country from a lot of bad votes. BEGALA: Well, if Kerry has to resign from the Senate, why doesn't Bush resign from the White House? He's distracted campaigning. It's part of our process.

Bush is out -- President Bush is out there campaigning. He goes to fund-raisers, doesn't have time to go to a single funeral for any of the soldiers who died in Iraq, but he's got time to go to special interest fund-raisers every day of the week, Bob Novak. So why is it fair for George W. Bush to be going out there doing that?

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Since we're calling each other down, Paul Begala, let me tell you what a senator does. I know you don't know much about the Senate. They vote. That's what they're supposed to do.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... instead of raising money from oil companies and special interests...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... like Halliburton.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He ought to be doing his job.

NOVAK: If I could finish.

All they do is vote. And the last senator who was nominated, as a gentleman, Bob Dole, resigned from the Senate.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Bush should resign from the White House.

Well, Senate Republicans today, on the other side of the aisle, held a hearing on what they called, quote, "traditional marriage," unquote. So it's somewhat inconvenient what we learned today about Jack Ryan, the Republican Senate candidate in Illinois. In court documents, his wife, actress Jeri Lee -- Jeri Lynn Ryan -- alleged that her husband took her to sex clubs and asked her to engage in sexual activity in front of other patrons, quote, "It was a bizarre club," Ms. Ryan wrote, "with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling" unquote.

She claimed her husband, quote, "wanted me to have sex with him there, with another couple watching" unquote. Mr. Ryan denies the allegations.

Two weeks ago, Vice President Cheney piously praised Ryan's family values, referring to him as, quote, "this good man."

(LAUGHTER) BEGALA: Cheney said -- quote -- "Jack's vision is for a freer, better, safer America. And that's a goal the president and I share as well," a freer America indeed, Mr. Vice President.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Let me give you a few facts. In the first place, the judge allowed joint custody of their now 9-year-old son to the two parents. Number two, it was Mrs. Ryan, not Jack Ryan, who was guilty of adultery. Secondly, thirdly, Jack...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Just wait a minute. Let me finish -- let me...

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: Jack Ryan, unlike Bill Clinton, did not commit adultery and did not lie! He did not lie!

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Yes, he did. Why do they want to lecture us about our marriage? They ought to fix their own marriage instead of lecturing the rest of us about our marriage.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: John Kerry just can't -- John Kerry just can't get away from Bill Clinton. Not only is the former president's book tour sucking all the oxygen out of the Democratic presidential candidate's face. Kerry has just named Clinton buddy Vernon Jordan to head his negotiations for presidential debates.

That came after the Kerry campaign returned a $2,000 donation from Chun Jae Yong, who awaits trial in South Carolina on tax evasion charges. He allegedly did not pay taxes on millions inherited from his father, the former South Korean president convicted of bribery. Does all this sound familiar?

Eight years ago, the Clinton campaign returned $600,000 from Asians. John, you've got a way to go to catch up with Bill.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: OK, if we're going to start looking at contributions, $2,000 out of, what, $100 million that John Kerry has raised, mostly from ordinary citizens? Why doesn't Bush should give the money back he got from Halliburton? Why doesn't he give the money back to Enron? Why doesn't he give the money back to Ken Lay?

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Why doesn't he give the money back to Exxon? Why doesn't he give the money back to Shell and all the corporate polluters who he lets run our country, Bob? NOVAK: I say, he's got a long way to catch up with Bill Clinton.

(CROSSTALK)

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: If I could finish one sentence.

BEGALA: Go ahead.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: He's got a long way to catch up with Bill Clinton as a four-flusher and a conniver, a long way.

BEGALA: As opposed to Mr. Bush, who rents our government out to...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Bill Clinton is spending today peddling his book. Next, we're going to spend a little time debating whether his effort was worth the wait. I think I know the answer to that.

And later, what brought some lawmakers to tears on Capitol Hill today?

(APPLAUSE)

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.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Thousands of Americans are lining up to buy copies of Bill Clinton's memoir, "My Life." Some of the biggest crowds were in New York, where the former president is signing copies of his book this afternoon. Worldly, cynical New Yorkers have been transformed into eager, idealistic true believers, some waiting for as long as 15 hours to see their hero. Elvis has most definitely reentered the building.

In the CROSSFIRE today, "Washington Times" editorial page editor Tony Blankley. He's former press secretary to Speaker Newt Gingrich, who's written about in this book we'll talk about in a minute. And Steve Ricchetti, he was an adviser to President Clinton and a deputy chief of staff in the White House.

Good to see you both.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK) NOVAK: Mr. Ricchetti, in this huge book, there are so many outrageous things to pick from, I'm stumped what to do. But I picked one from page 862. That's about halfway through the book.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: And the president says, "I will go to my grave being proud of what I fought for in the impeachment battle, my last great showdown with the forces I had opposed all my life, those who had defended the old order of racial discrimination and segregation in the South and played on the insecurities and fears of the white working class, in which I grew up."

What segregation is he talking about? Henry Hyde? This is sheer demagoguery, isn't it? There's no segregationists. That fight is over.

STEVE RICCHETTI, POLITICAL ADVISER TO FORMER PRESIDENT CLINTON: Look, I think Bill Clinton talked about -- in his book, his whole life fighting the forces of segregation in the South over the years, the things that inspired his participation in public life really directly from his childhood. And he has a lifetime commitment to civil rights, a lifetime commitment to working on the causes of minorities in this country.

And he feels very, very deeply about it. And, by the way, he thinks some of those forces coalesced throughout his political career to try to defeat him and to interrupt the initiatives he was taking. And that's a fact.

NOVAK: Now, "The New York Times" front-page book review on Sunday -- I've never seen a front-page book review before in "The New York Times" -- calls it, calls this book, "My Life" -- quote -- "sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull, the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history."

I think, going through this book, this is a damn near unreadable book. Have you read it?

RICCHETTI: I have, in fact.

NOVAK: You've read it all?

RICCHETTI: An earlier draft. Read the whole thing. About a month ago, I read an earlier draft of it. But I have looked at it. And it's great.

NOVAK: Looked at it. You haven't read it, though, have you?

RICCHETTI: No, no, I read it. I read this a month ago. I mean, it's a different book today.

NOVAK: Do you think any human being can go through this boredom, this document dump of, then we went here and then we went there?

RICCHETTI: Bob, I said -- it sounds like writer's envy.

(CROSSTALK)

RICCHETTI: Look, Tony, one second.

Bob wrote -- Bob wrote four books. Bill Clinton sold as many books in four hours as I think you sold in your entire career.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Five books.

RICCHETTI: And I said -- five books. I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

RICCHETTI: I just was reading from your bio.

NOVAK: Five books.

RICCHETTI: But my point is this. My point is this. This is a comprehensive book and a great look at the Clinton presidency and his life and a compelling story.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: There's a lot of dirty books written, too, that sell more than me.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Mr. Blankley, first, good to see you again.

TONY BLANKLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": Good to see you.

BEGALA: We first got to know each other, I think, when you were working for Newt Gingrich, who was not yet speaker of the House on Capitol Hill.

BLANKLEY: Arguing over the same issues eight years ago that we're now going to be chatting about again.

BEGALA: For many years.

But my former boss writes about your former boss in the book on page 631. He says this: "Newt Gingrich had proven to be a better politician than I was. He understood that he could nationalize a midterm election with the contract" -- Contract for America, that is -- "with incessant attacks on the Democrats with the argument that all the conflicts and bitter partisanship in Washington that the Republicans had generated was the Democrats' fault, since we controlled both the Congress and the White House."

Now, that's a fairly generous and big-hearted view of your former boss, isn't it?

BLANKLEY: Yes, I think it's very generous.

I think -- look, I watched them, as you did, work together when they were fighting over the budget. And they did enjoy each other's mental company. They're both very smart guys who enjoyed getting into the policy debate. Whether he actually liked him or not is beside the point. I think it was magnanimous for him to say that at this point. It doesn't cost him anything to be generous.

I don't think that's what this book or that is what the '90s was about, was whether the two guys liked each other. And I must say that the line that you quoted, the answer to your question was, it's a non sequitur. Newt Gingrich was not proud of the racist South. None of our leaders were part of that. And for Clinton to tie that to impeachment, which had to do, of course...

NOVAK: Gingrich was an integrationist.

BLANKLEY: He was an integrationist. He was a Rockefeller Republican. He was from Pennsylvania.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Newt Gingrich was a Rockefeller Republican. Then he flip-flopped.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Then he became a Newt Gingrich Republican, right?

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: During the integration period, that's why he became a Rockefeller Republican, was in order to fight for integration.

And the idea that the impeachment was about that, rather than about perjury, I think is a non sequitur.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Steve, in the current "New Yorker" -- this came out today -- on the back page, there's a picture by -- a painting by Barry Blitt. I want you to take a look at it, if we can show it up there. And now, there is a Kerry rally going on. And Kerry is hidden. Who is the guy hiding Kerry there? If that isn't Bill Clinton, if I'm not mistaken.

And isn't that what's happening? His campaign is just being submerged and eclipsed by this self-indulgent rant by Bill Clinton?

RICCHETTI: Nothing could be further from the truth.

The truth is, John Kerry is the most important political figure in America to Bill Clinton and to everyone else whose interests are in defining how we're going to combat this stagnating economy, how we're going to turn deficits into...

BLANKLEY: Stagnating economy?

(APPLAUSE)

BLANKLEY: With 300,000 jobs a month?

(CROSSTALK)

RICCHETTI: Absolutely. You're catching -- you're still a million jobs under...

(CROSSTALK)

RICCHETTI: Try 22 million jobs, Tony, 22 million jobs versus...

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: How can you call this a stagnant -- how can you call this a stagnant -- we're trying to be honest on the show. Why can you call it a stagnating economy with 4.5 percent growth and 300,000 new jobs being created?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RICCHETTI: Because -- because...

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: It's just nuts. Do you want to talk about the past or do you want to talk about the current economy, which Bush and Republicans want to talk about a lot?

(CROSSTALK)

RICCHETTI: Actually, we want to talk about reality. We want to talk about reality.

BEGALA: We'll do a lot of shows on this. I hope the Republicans run on this economy, because it stinks.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: You think it's great -- good for the rich, but it stinks for the middle class.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But let me go back to the book. (APPLAUSE)

BLANKLEY: Yes.

BEGALA: The president talks about a remarkable conversation that he had on the day that his successor, Mr. Bush, was sworn into office.

There is a meeting that each outgoing president has with each incoming president. And here's some of what they talked about. "I told him" -- that is, President Clinton talking about President Bush -- "that, based on the last eight years, I thought the biggest security problems in order would be Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, the absence of peace in the Middle East, the standoff between the nuclear powers in India and Pakistan, the ties of the Pakistanis to the Taliban and al Qaeda, North Korea, and then Iraq. I said that my biggest disappointment was not getting bin Laden. He listened to what I had to say without much comment, then changed the subject to how I did the job."

Isn't it a sin that President Bush did not take the counsel of President Clinton to focus on al Qaeda and terrorism?

BLANKLEY: Well, let's...

(APPLAUSE)

BLANKLEY: Let's not talk about sin.

But that is the theme of my column tomorrow, syndicated by Creators and in "The Washington Times."

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: A wonderfully written column, I will say. We don't agree on much, but you're a terrific writer.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: Because...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But shouldn't the president of the United States listen to his predecessor?

BLANKLEY: Let me just finish a thought.

Because I think Clinton, both in his book and in his out- statement to the president-elect, Bush, hit on the key element of the Clinton legacy, which is his failure -- as he said, one of my greatest disappointments was my failure to get bin Laden.

BEGALA: Bush still hasn't got it. We've had two wars, Tony.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: Let me just finish.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He was given a warning and he did nothing.

BLANKLEY: Let me just finish.

The fact that, in the '90s, when bin Laden and al Qaeda got started, that Clinton didn't nip it in the bud, and now it's become the malignancy that it is, is going to be the biggest weight to bear on his legacy throughout history.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: And the fact that Bush didn't listen to him. What about the fact that Bush wouldn't listen?

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Bill Clinton last week said: "When the Berlin Wall fell, the perpetual right in America, which always needs an enemy, didn't have an enemy anymore. So I had to serve as the next best thing."

Now, can you keep a straight face in believing that he replaced the Soviet Union as the enemy of conservatives in America?

RICCHETTI: I don't think there's an objective person in America who doesn't think Bill Clinton was victimized and dogged by conservative right-wing attacks throughout the term of his presidency.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RICCHETTI: There's just no one who feels that way.

NOVAK: All right. All right.

This program -- we're going to take a break -- this programming note. Bill Clinton's first live prime-time interview since the release of his book will be on "LARRY KING LIVE" Thursday at 9:00 p.m. He'll take your calls during the hour.

When we come back, we'll put our guests into the "Rapid Fire" and ask whether we can believe anything, anything, Bill Clinton says in his book.

And how is the world responding to the killing of another hostage in Iraq? Wolf Blitzer has the story just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour, a South Korean hostage beheaded in Iraq. Will South Korean troops pull out? We'll have a live report from Seoul.

Congress hears testimony on international child abductions, 16,000 cases over the past two decades. We'll talk with one of the witnesses on Capitol Hill today, "America's Most Wanted" host, John Walsh.

And Michael Moore's new movie coming out this week, it's very critical, to say the least, of the Bush administration. Is the timing just a coincidence or is it preelection propaganda? We'll hash it out with Democrat Mario Cuomo and Republican David Dreier.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: It's time for "Rapid Fire," when we try to keep it short. Now, you won't find anything short in Bill Clinton's 957-page tome. Our guests, Clinton adviser, former deputy chief of staff Steve Ricchetti, along with former Newt Gingrich Tony Blankley, editorial page editor for "The Washington Times."

BEGALA: Tony, in my entire lifetime, there have only been two men who have held the White House for eight years, your former boss, Ronald Reagan, my former boss, Bill Clinton. Why do you suppose that is?

BLANKLEY: Well, obviously, they were two very good politicians. I think, as the AP poll showed this week, nonetheless, three out of four Americans, I think, think that Reagan was the better president than Clinton. But were they both spectacular...

BEGALA: Interesting time to take the poll, of course.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Steve, the president in the book admitted that he lied about having sex with Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky because he was caught up. Why should we believe him when he says in regard to other women who accuse him that he didn't do it because they don't have the goods on him? Why should we believe him on anything?

RICCHETTI: Look, he's told the truth about all the issues that are important to people in America. He's told the truth in this book about his life, his experiences, the influences on his life. This is a compelling story because it is so open and so candid about this exceptional life.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Tony, this fixation on Clinton's sex life, Republicans are just a little bit jealous, aren't they? They're a little jealous of the big dog, aren't they, huh?

BLANKLEY: Who's talking about sex? You're the one who's talking about sex.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Novak just asked straight out, straight out.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: I was always more interested in the perjury, but I'm a lawyer, so...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: They're a little jealous.

NOVAK: He said he was tempted to punch Steve Croft of CBS in the nose when he was interviewing him, once threatened to punch Bill Safire of "The New York Times" in the nose. Do you know if Bill Clinton ever got in a fight with anybody?

(LAUGHTER)

(BELL RINGING)

RICCHETTI: I doubt he has. He's also a gentleman as well. I doubt he punched anybody in the nose.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Steve Ricchetti, former chief -- deputy chief of staff for President Clinton.

RICCHETTI: Nice to see you, Paul.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Tony Blankley, currently the editorial page editor of "The Washington Times," former aide to Speaker Newt Gingrich, thank you both for a fun debate.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: By the way, President Clinton will come on CROSSFIRE to discuss the book with us coming up soon. We are looking forward to scheduling that.

But, meanwhile, our nation's capital is no place for a politician with a weak stomach. Coming up next, we will show you why that has never been more true than today. Hot news on CROSSFIRE.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Finally on CROSSFIRE, lawmakers on Capitol Hill had a hot, hot time this afternoon. Actually, it's a safe bet that they're a little hot still. Today was the third annual congressional jalapeno pepper-eating contest sponsored by "Chile Pepper" magazine. Republicans Pete Sessions of Texas and Darrell Issa of California will share the title of Congress' zestiest lawmakers. They tied for first place by eating nine of these spicy dogs in just five minutes.

Bob, it sounds like a good time.

NOVAK: Do you think, if you eat that, it will shut you up a little bit?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

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

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

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


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