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CNN CROSSFIRE

Did John Kerry Misrepresent Vietnam Record?

Aired August 12, 2004 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Coming up, a debate on the controversial new book about John Kerry's service in Vietnam. But first, an update on the story you just heard reported during "INSIDE POLITICS." New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey has dropped a bomb on the state. He announced his resignation and came out of the closet.
With his wife by his side, the twice-married father of two went public, declaring his homosexuality. He also admitted to an extramarital affair with another man. The state's 51 st governor stepped down, saying, he is doing what it right for his family. And the state of New Jersey says he will leave office November 15.

James, what is not made clear, because there were no questions asked, is he resigning because of an extramarital affair or because he's gay? Obviously a lot of governors have extramarital affairs, some of them become public and they don't resign. He's resigning because it's going to come out that he's a homosexual.

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: Presumably I suspect that we don't know everything now. My only thought was watching that is I have two daughters and I can't imagine the pain that this man's two children are going through right now. Again, he chose to run for governor. He knew what his sexual orientation was.

I don't think it -- in my own personal view, it shouldn't matter. But I just -- my heart goes out to that man's daughters. I can't imagine the angst that they're going through.

NOVAK: You know, I think a rather tricky thing here was saying he's going to resign on November 15 because if he resigned earlier, if he resigned immediately, the people of New Jersey would have a chance to elect a governor, it probably would be a Democrat, for the next two years. Instead they're stuck with a state senate president they don't really know. I think that's unfortunate that he chose to take that route.

CARVILLE: I don't -- again, I think we're going to find out, but what we know now is not going to be what we know 48 hours from now. I think probably to be fair, I think more and more stuff -- we'll probably be aware of more stuff and I think we can render judgment then. But suffice to say that there is more to be found out and I think we can all agree to feel sorry for those two children.

NOVAK: Let me say something, I hope you don't think it's too harsh, James. But I believe if a man is a homosexual he has to make a decision if he's going to be in public life and run for public office that the exposure -- if he is going to say, I'll take the exposure and I'll put it before the people of New Jersey, or else not run for office. If he feels that he cannot go before the people with this, he shouldn't have run for governor.

CARVILLE: You know what? I disagree. I think a person's sexual orientation should not -- I don't think anybody has the obligation to come forward and tell people. I don't think it has anything to do with the job that you do as governor, whether you're homosexual or heterosexual, but you know, he did -- apparently there is a lawsuit or something coming, and for whatever reasons, I think we're going to find out more, but I think it would be a shame if homosexuals didn't serve. I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) serving.

NOVAK: Obviously, it does matter, or he wouldn't be resigning.

CARVILLE: Well, something he -- it was something he did, apparently there was something else besides -- there's something extra here that we don't know. I don't, again, I think that homosexuals ought to be able to serve in the military, I think they ought to be able to serve in politics, I think they ought to be neurosurgeons, and everything else.

NOVAK: John Kerry makes a lot out of his four months spent in Vietnam. There are a lot of questions about just what he did while he was there. The book "Unfit for Command" examines Kerry's war record. The author joins us next to tell us the truth about Lieutenant jg. Kerry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Among the real patriots to rise to the surface this election year may very well be the guys who stuck their necks out to tell the true story behind John Kerry's acts of so-called heroism in Vietnam. In his book, "Unfit for Command," former swift boat commander John O'Neill shares his and others' versions of events that led to Kerry's Silver Star and three Purple Hearts, and they are very different from the story perpetrated by the Democratic presidential candidate.

Joining us in the CROSSFIRE, former White House counsel and Kerry adviser, Lanny Davis. And John O'Neill, co-author of "Unfit for Command."

CARVILLE: Mr. O'Neill, you have been slurred by the Kerry- Edwards campaign. They sent me a thing. I got on their stationary right here, and I can't believe that they put their name on something like this, because they make accusations against you that I want to give you a chance to refute, because they just can't be true. They say you never met John Kerry in Vietnam. They say in your book, they actually say you never spoke to anyone on the two boats when he was awarded three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star. Not -- and they actually say for 35 years after -- you never said anything until he won the Democratic presidential nomination about this. Now, I'm -- this can't be true, America. I want to give you every opportunity to tell us when you saw John Kerry in Vietnam, that led you to do this? JOHN O'NEILL, AUTHOR, "UNFIT FOR COMMAND": If you let me, I'll be happy, and you're right, it's not true.

CARVILLE: It's not?

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Let him answer. James, you asked him the question...

(CROSSTALK)

O'NEILL: I'm the guy that took over John Kerry's boat in Vietnam, PCF94. There are 60 people of the people that were in our unit who contributed to this deal, including most of the officers who served with John Kerry no further away than that camera is from me right now. I met and debated John Kerry in 1971. I didn't wait for 35 years.

CARVILLE: Did you wait -- did you meet him in Vietnam?

O'NEILL: No.

CARVILLE: You mean you never met him in Vietnam?

O'NEILL: No.

CARVILLE: Come on. You're writing a book on the -- oh, come on, man.

O'NEILL: He was only there three months, James.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Let me -- let me...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Let me show you something else, let me show you something else, you've been caught. This is a book written by John O'Neill and Jerome Corsi. And if you can judge a book by its cover, it says, this stunning new book, John O'Neill and his co-author, Dr. Jerome Corsi.

Then you've got Dr. Jerome Corsi, this distinguished American's picture right here. In the book it says you and Corsi have been friends for 30 years. Jerome Corsi has called Hillary Clinton a fat hog and a lesbo. Jerome Corsi has called Tim Russert, Peter Jennings and Katie Couric communists.

And I want to be sure we have it in context, this is what he said about the Catholic Church: "So this is what the last days of the Catholic Church are going to look like, buggering boys, undermining the moral base and lawyers rip the gold off the Vatican altars. We may get one more pope when this senile one dies, but that's probably about it."

Now, I can judge a book...

JOHN O'NEILL, CO-AUTHOR, "UNFIT FOR COMMAND": Wait, do you want a monologue or do you want a response? I can see why you don't want a response.

CARVILLE: Go ahead.

O'NEILL: Because most -- a good deal of what you're saying is not the truth.

CARVILLE: Oh, it's not?

O'NEILL: With respect to my involvement with John Kerry, there are more than 60 people that served with John Kerry that contributed to this book. There are 250...

CARVILLE: I'm talking about Corsi...

O'NEILL: Just a second here.

CARVILLE: I didn't ask you about that.

NOVAK: Let him answer.

CARVILLE: He won't answer the question because he can't. He comes on here (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a presidential candidate, he can't answer the question. What about Mr. Corsi? What about Corsi, Mr. O'Neill, answer for your co-author and your friend of 30 years?

O'NEILL: I understand why you're screaming, you're screaming...

CARVILLE: I want you to answer for it.

O'NEILL: You're screaming because you can't afford the truth, that's why you're screaming...

CARVILLE: You can't afford -- and you can't answer for Corsi. You never met John Kerry. You never met him. I've got no use for this man.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Lanny Davis...

CARVILLE: Take over, Lanny. Man can't answer a question.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Lanny -- Lanny Davis...

CARVILLE: Take over, Lanny. The man can't answer a question.

NOVAK: If you will shut up, I will ask him a question.

CARVILLE: Answer a question. The man can't answer a question.

(CROSSTALK)

A man can't answer a question when you shout me down.

CARVILLE: You never met

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN O'NEILL, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH: And you shouted me down because you don't want to hear the answer. You can't survive the answers.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: ... about Corsi? How long have you known Corsi? How long have you known Corsi?

O'NEILL: You cannot survive the questions in this book.

(CROSSTALK)

O'NEILL: Not one of them.

(CROSSTALK)

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: You just heard Mr. O'Neill.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I'm going to ask you a question, Mr. Davis.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: ... refusing to answer these questions.

NOVAK: I'm going to ask you a question.

The whole answer to this book -- I've seen you shouting on other shows. I've seen James shouting disgracefully. And this is James' most disgraceful performance on this show.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: And I say that to my co-host.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Just a minute. Just a minute, Mr. Davis.

DAVIS: Go ahead. Go ahead.

NOVAK: And you shout and you yell because you cannot answer the allegations in this book.

Now, I want to ask you a question. Why are you, a big-time Washington lawyer, going from television station to television station to answer these allegations, instead of the swift boat veterans who appeared at the Democratic Convention in Boston?

DAVIS: Well, they are answering.

In fact, Jim Rassmann wrote a column in "The Wall Street Journal." And Mr. O'Neill is saying that Mr. Rassmann is lying. On page 91 of his book, he says that Mr. Rassmann did not receive -- and I'm quoting directly -- "any hostile fire."

I'm not shouting. I'm answering your questions, that Mr. Rassmann is either telling the truth or Mr. O'Neill is telling the truth. And I believe that Mr. Rassmann is.

And let me tell you one other fact that you cannot dispute. And I invite Mr. O'Neill to tell me whether this is a fact. Every man on the three boats -- on the two boats that were involved in three Purple Hearts, one Silver Star and one Bronze Star, every man supports John Kerry's version.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

DAVIS: And -- and every man -- tell me if this is untrue.

NOVAK: Let him respond. Let him respond to that.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Wait a minute. Let him respond to that.

DAVIS: And every single person, every single person in the numbers that you quote was not on those boats during the incidents that led to the stars. Yes or no?

O'NEILL: No. It's lie. It's a total lie.

DAVIS: Name me a man who was on the boats. Name me a man who was on the boats.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Let him answer, Lanny, please.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Let him answer.

O'NEILL: This is the shout-down, because they can't afford the truth. In the first Purple Heart incident, Lieutenant William Schachte, now a rear admiral in the United States Navy, was on the small whaler with Kerry. He witnessed Kerry with an M-79 fire it and wound himself. He was directly on the boat. He's right here. It was small whaler. And he was right there. And he said -- you know what he said? John, you could have put our eyes out.

They then claimed a Purple Heart for it. In the third incident

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Just a second.

O'NEILL: In the third...

DAVIS: That was a false statement.

O'NEILL: Can I finish? Do you want the complete answer?

NOVAK: Let him finish.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: He's lying. Let the man tell you how he's lying.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: He has got to have a chance.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: We had Carville going crazy. I want him to have a chance.

(CROSSTALK)

O'NEILL: Do you want to talk or just shout?

NOVAK: Let him have a chance.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Wait a minute, Lanny. Let him have a chance.

O'NEILL: Lanny, I know why you don't want me to talk. And I know why you don't want any of our guys to talk.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: Were there three men on that whaler or four men?

O'NEILL: There were at least three and possibly four men on the whaler.

DAVIS: Possibly. You just said yes.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: Schachte was not on that boat. What he said was false. (CROSSTALK)

O'NEILL: This is the problem

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: More with our guests on whether John Kerry is unfit for command right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARVILLE: Our guests are John O'Neill, co-author of the book "Unfit For Command," and Lanny Davis, adviser to the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry.

Did you meet John Kerry in Vietnam?

O'NEILL: No. I took over John Kerry's boat when he left.

CARVILLE: Appreciate it.

O'NEILL: May I finish?

CARVILLE: No. It's "Rapid Fire."

(CROSSTALK)

O'NEILL: There's 60 people that met him. Now, listen, James.

DAVIS: Were they on his boat?

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: Were the 60 people on his boat, just yes or no?

O'NEILL: Oh, sure, some of them definitely were.

NOVAK: Why don't you let him finish a sentence, Lanny?

DAVIS: Which one?

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: What do you think, you're in court?

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Let him answer a question.

(APPLAUSE)

DAVIS: Bob, the answer -- the only question I'm asking, was anybody -- is anybody -- and I'll do it respectfully and quietly. Was anybody on the boat during the three incidents that led to the Purple Hearts cited in your book? Name one person.

O'NEILL: I gave you, first of all, Lieutenant William Schachte, now an admiral. See, the theory of these guys...

DAVIS: And did you say possibly or definitely? Because that's false. You made a false statement.

(CROSSTALK)

O'NEILL: Their problem is, they have got to get 60 people -- claim that all 60 people are liars. And that's why the only response is to shout me down. That's why they're afraid of the truth.

DAVIS: Name another one.

O'NEILL: And that's why there are the personal attacks. They can't live with the truth.

DAVIS: Name one other one.

O'NEILL: They think people are stupid.

CARVILLE: What personal attack did I make on you?

DAVIS: Name one other one.

O'NEILL: Oh, you made a heinous attack on

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I want to ask you a question.

O'NEILL: Go ahead.

NOVAK: You've been accused of being a Republican shill. Do you have any connection with the Republican Party?

O'NEILL: I've had no serious involvement in politics of any kind in over 32 years. Every Kerry campaign, people have called me, whether they're Democrats or Republicans, to get involved in the campaign. I've always refused. I got involved here because it's commander in chief.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Why would all these people, decorated veterans, some of them very senior officers, interrupt their lives to make this testimony against John Kerry?

DAVIS: May I answer your question?

NOVAK: No, I'm asking him a question.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: You ask him the questions, Bob. You know what? You don't want him, because you don't want the truth. You don't want the truth.

(APPLAUSE)

DAVIS: Can I answer your question?

CARVILLE: The truth is, this man never met John Kerry.

NOVAK: You just yelled.

DAVIS: Can I answer your question?

NOVAK: No, I think

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: They don't want the truth. He's not interested in the truth.

NOVAK: We're out of time.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: The reason is that they weren't on the boat. They were observers. And their perceptions could be wrong. Everyone who was on the boat, everyone, supports John Kerry's

(CROSSTALK)

O'NEILL: That's not true either.

DAVIS: Every single one. That's a fact.

CARVILLE: All right.

NOVAK: How about gunner's mate Gardner?

DAVIS: Gunner's mate Gardner was not on the boat when the three Purple Hearts occurred. You don't know the facts, Bob.

NOVAK: He was behind...

DAVIS: He was on PCF 44, not PCF 94. You don't know the facts. You need to know the truth.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: All right, Mr. O'Neill.

O'NEILL: Yes. With respect to -- there's a real reason -- there's a reason why we were shouted down.

And the reason we were shouted down, we deserve something better. There were 60 winners of the Purple Heart that contributed to this book. And they came forward. None of us are making a dime off of it.

CARVILLE: Right.

O'NEILL: They came forward because it's really important for the country. That's the only reason.

CARVILLE: He never met John Kerry in Vietnam or anybody on the boat.

NOVAK: John O'Neill, thank you very much.

Lanny Davis, thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: From the left, I'm James Carville. 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.

(APPLAUSE)

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