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Attacks Renewed on President Bush's Guard Service

Aired September 9, 2004 - 16:30   ET


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


RET. LT. COL. BOB MINTZ, ALABAMA AIR NATIONAL GUARD: I was there in Montgomery doing my duties during the period of time there. And I never met Lieutenant Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their strategy is now that President Bush is ahead in the polls and we're going to try to bring him down. So let's recycle old charges.

ANNOUNCER: President Bush's National Guard service is challenged again, while a new film raises new questions about John Kerry's anti- war activities. The '04 campaign in early '70s black and white. Is the race for the White House spending too much time on the past?



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



Supporters calling themselves Texans For truths are trying desperately to trump up a bogus case against George W. Bush's military record, imitating the swift boat veterans. This effort comes at no surprise since polls show the president is beginning to break away from Senator Kerry, taking a good lead. The Democrats are recycling rumors we've heard before. They were weak then. They're weaker now.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Of course, it's not old rumors, but newly discovered records, Bob, that have ignited this story, records that experts say prove that then Lieutenant Bush shirked his Guard duties and that President Bush hasn't leveled with us about the issue.

More about that, though, later. First, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant today, appeared in a videotape taunting the United States and boasting that large sections of Afghanistan are now under control of bin Laden's terrorist. Zawahiri's rant of course is a lie, although terrorism experts are worried that he al Qaeda is regrouping for another attack. But the mere fact that Zawahiri is making videotapes instead of burning in hell could be because the Bush administration refused to send the 10th Mountain Division, the finest force in the world, to hunt and kill al Qaeda's leaders.

Instead, they sent a ragtag band of local Northern Alliance mercenaries. Then they shifted our forces and resources away from Afghanistan and into Iraq. Perhaps Zawahiri's taunt explains why Vice President Dick Cheney said recently that voting for John Kerry would lead to America getting hit again. In his heart, perhaps Mr. Cheney knows it is Mr. Bush who let the terrorists who caused 9/11 literally get away with murder.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, I know you will say anything to denigrate President Bush.

And I'm very happy at least you don't take at face value the lying terrorist who was broadcast by Al-Jazeera. But, surely, you must know that all that stuff about him sending wrong the troops is just strictly propaganda.


BEGALA: No, it's not.

NOVAK: Just a minute.

And, in fact, Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan. He's nowhere near Afghanistan.

BEGALA: He should be dead and rotting in hell. That's where he should be.


NOVAK: Bob Dole is one American war hero who is not taking at face value John Kerry's self-portrait. Senator Dole was present today at the unveiling of the video "Stolen Honor." Kerry's performance when he returned home is described by the documentary's producer, a well-decorated veteran himself.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't believe that the American people were going to fall for what he was saying. They couldn't. They had sons, brothers, husbands over there fighting. They were war criminals coming back? They weren't. They were good men who, because of John Kerry's testimony, came back spat upon. They couldn't even wear their uniforms in the streets.


NOVAK: Well, that wasn't the video I asked for, but everything at CNN doesn't always go like you want it to.


NOVAK: Let me just tell you that the video features former Vietnam prisoners of war describing their brutal treatment by the communist captors and how it got worse because of Senator Kerry's shameful testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Changing the subject to George W. Bush's National Guard duty is no answer to that.


BEGALA: Well, Bob, I will take the word of a highly decorated, very heroic POW, John McCain...


BEGALA: ... who says in fact none of this ought to be debated today and that John Kerry served with honor and distinction. And I think it was great that he opposed that war and helped to end it, so that more young Americans didn't die.


NOVAK: You know, this video -- I hope you will watch this video, but what we have are the POWs saying that their treatment got worse. These are the POWs talking.


NOVAK: Just a minute.

They're not politicians. It got worse because of what Senator Kerry said.

BEGALA: That's not what Senator McCain said, who was a POW.

Well, last night on "60 MINUTES," never-before-seen documents from George W. Bush's National Guard duty seemed to prove that Mr. Bush was not telling the truth about his service in the Air National Guard. One document is a direct order to Lieutenant Bush to report for a flight physical. He never did so, but suffered no penalty for disobeying the order.

Another memo documents the pressure his superior officer felt to sugarcoat Lieutenant Bush's record. And another shows that Mr. Bush signed a pledge to serve in the Reserves when he went to business school at Harvard. His spokesman had claimed Mr. Bush fulfilled that duty. He now admits he did not. Mr. Bush's defenders claim that the fact he was honorably discharged is proof that he fulfilled his dispute, despite the records that prove he did not.

Of course, an honorable discharge proves nothing of the kind. It only proves that Mr. Bush got away with it.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, all of this was brought up at the 2000 campaign. It got nowhere.

I don't know. You're a young fellow. You probably weren't around at the time. But all those guys in Vietnam were trying to find ways to get out. There was a fellow in Arkansas who was trying to get in the ROTC Band, I think, playing the saxophone by the name of Bill Clinton to try to get out of this.

And so the whole notion that this is an issue...


NOVAK: ... pales when you talk about John Kerry accusing his buddies, his comrades of being war criminals.


NOVAK: Lately, Kerry campaign strategists have been telling us to ignore the national polls. But look what's happening in the battleground states. The CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll has come out with new polls in two crucial states. And it's not good news for the Democrats.

In Missouri, Bush 55 percent, Kerry 41 percent. In Ohio, Bush 52 percent, Kerry 44 percent. Is it possible for John Kerry to win these two states? Possible, but not likely. Is it possible for John Kerry to be elected president without winning Missouri and Ohio? Possible, but not at all likely. No wonder Democrats are so desperate, rehashing the story of how many National Guard drills George Bush attended 30 years ago.

BEGALA: Gosh. I was with you actually all the way up until the end. Democrats aren't rehashing this. Reporters are and former generals are.

What Senator Kerry was talking about today, for example, is health care, where President Bush has allowed costs to go out of control, while he feeds his friends in the big pharmaceutical industry. Those are the kinds of issues we ought to be talking about, how he has made a hash of jobs and of the health care system, our environment. Those are the issues I think we ought to talk about.


BEGALA: That's why Mr. Bush wants to try to rehash fights from the past.


NOVAK: How about these polls that show Kerry in such bad shape?

BEGALA: Oh, I said, I agree with that. That's bad news for...

NOVAK: How do you explain them?

BEGALA: That's bad news for John Kerry. Bush had a very effective attack on Kerry. Let's see if Kerry can counterattack. Well, up next in the CROSSFIRE, the campaign issue that just won't go away, a candidate's Vietnam War record. But this time, the candidate in question is the sitting president. And also, he is a Democrat with opinions. She is a reality TV queen. Later, we'll tell you why my pal James Carville and Paris Hilton were together today. You don't want to miss this.


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.


NOVAK: Here we go again. It's not enough that John Kerry builds his campaign on his Vietnam War record, because he has so little to show for the 30 years that followed. It's not enough that he can't or won't adequately answer big questions about his four-month tour in Vietnam. Now supporters are trying to deflect attention from Kerry by recycling unfounded charges against President Bush's National Guard record. Isn't it time we brought the presidential election back into the 21st century?

Joining us today in the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Strategist Steve McMahon and Republican strategist Charlie Black.

BEGALA: Guys, good to see you again.



BEGALA: Charlie, I guess I've been doing this show now 2 1/2, almost three years. This is a sentence I've never uttered before. I think Bob is right. And I promise to never say that again. But Novak is right. This should be...


BEGALA: Now he's decided he must be wrong if I'm agreeing.

This debate should be about the 21st century. So let me read you a quote from our president in the Oval Office on "Meet the Press" with my friend Tim Russert. He was asked about this question of his Guard duty. And here's what he told Mr. Russert: "I'm just telling you, I did my duty."

That's the president of the United States in the Oval Office on "Meet the Press" just a few months back. But here's what a brigadier general says who reviewed all the records this week for "The Boston Globe." He said, these documents represent strong evidence that Lieutenant Bush did not perform after April 1972, regardless of whether he received a paycheck. That's Brigadier General David L. McGinnis. Why doesn't the president just level with us and tell us the truth now, today? It's no great sin if he missed his Guard duty back then.


CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He didn't miss his Guard duty, Paul.

If you go back and look at the records, it requires a certain number of hours served, a points system for each year. You have to put a certain number of points in. It's a been well documented that he did all of that. In fact, he got the six years done a little bit early and was given permission to go ahead and go to Harvard Business School. He served honorably. He was honorably discharged. John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam.

One reason Kerry is losing is, he wants to talk about the past. And politics is always about the future. The president is talking about the future of this country.


BEGALA: Let me talk about the president.

The president's big argument is that he's a truth teller. and I gather the Bush campaign position is that -- don't believe your lying eyes. Believe me, even though his records say he didn't show up. You raised this question of the Reserves in Boston. The president signed a commitment to serve in the Reserves in Boston when he went to Harvard Business School. His spokesman, Dan Bartlett, who was 1-year- old at the time, says, oh, he served in the Reserves.

BLACK: He missed all his drills.

BEGALA: He did. He missed all of them. He was only 1. So they shift poor Dan Bartlett out there. And he says, gee, the president served in Boston. Now even Bartlett, even the president's spokesman had to admit, that's not true. The president did not serve in Boston. Why don't they just tell the truth?


BLACK: He did not need to serve in Boston.

BEGALA: Well, why did they say he did?


BLACK: He had already -- he had completed the requirements of the six years before he ever went to Boston. And he asked permission of the Guard to go to Boston and go to school, and they gave it to him. And he was honorably discharged. There's nothing new about this.

Every -- each of the four times George W. Bush has run for office, in September of the election year, you guys dredge this up. There's nothing new about it. It's not true. You're not going to get anywhere with it. John Kerry is losing because he's talking about stuff that happened 35 years ago. Bush is talking about the future.

NOVAK: Steve McMahon, this really remarkable documentary, 45- minute documentary, that Bob Dole unveiled today, "Stolen Honor," I just want to show you a little sound bite we tried to get before about the producer of the show, who is a decorated Vietnam veteran.

I want to show you something he said about what Senator Kerry had done after he came back from the war. Let's look at it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Intended or not, Lieutenant Kerry painted a depraved portrait of Vietnam veterans, literally creating the image of those who served in combat as deranged, drug-addicted psychopaths.


NOVAK: You know, the Republicans didn't bring up Senator Kerry's service. He brought it up at the convention in Boston. That's a damning portrayal, isn't it?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's the Republicans, though, Bob, who are trashing Senator Kerry's service in Vietnam and trashing Senator Kerry's actions after he got home.

The one thing we know about Senator Kerry is that he actually went to Vietnam. He actually fulfilled his commitment. There are people who were in Vietnam with him who can actually place him in their unit completing his duty. There's nobody...


MCMAHON: There's nobody in Alabama who can place the president there, nobody.



MCMAHON: In fact, there's a $10,000 reward that a cartoonist put out for anybody -- and, by the way, if there's anybody out there watching who can place George Bush in Alabama completing his National Guard service, there's $10,000 waiting for you. But so far, nobody's come forward. And you know why, Bob? Because there isn't anybody.


BLACK: There's official government files that show he got enough hours and enough


BLACK: ... to complete his retirements. MCMAHON: Charlie, the files actually put him some place undetermined. The files actually say that he ignored a direct order from his commanding officer to take a physical.


BLACK: Well, how did he get his hours? How did he get his points?


BLACK: Now, it is true in Alabama he didn't serve -- he was not flying in Alabama. He was serving in a nonflying capacity, but he got the hours and the points you need to fulfill a six-year retirement.

NOVAK: Steve, Steve...

BLACK: He got discharged honorably. This is not new. This is not going to work.

I stipulate that Kerry served honorably in Vietnam. So does the president. Let's talk about health care or some other futuristic issue.

NOVAK: We're not going to do that tonight, Charlie.


NOVAK: Steve, Steve, the problem is, you're a reasonable, intelligent person.


NOVAK: And I asked you a question about the problems -- don't forget, this door was opened at the convention in Boston by your candidate. The question of veterans saying -- this wasn't Republicans who made these. This was an independent video, totally financed by contributions from Pennsylvania veterans. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party.

When they're saying these things about the senator undermining the POWs, what this is answer to that? And don't say it's because George Bush missed his Guard duty.


MCMAHON: Well, first of all, Bob, it's not clear where the money came from and that they're not associated with the Republicans or the president.

Remember, the same people who rolled out the swift boat stuff were the people who rolled out the John McCain stuff some time ago. Senator Kerry has said, you're right, that some of the things that he said when he came back from Vietnam were perhaps over the top. They were things he regretted saying. But, you know...


NOVAK: I haven't heard that.


NOVAK: When did he say that?

MCMAHON: He said it on "MEET THE PRESS."


NOVAK: He didn't say it there. He sure didn't say it there.


MCMAHON: You're sitting here today, Bob -- you're sitting here today saying that we should be talking about the future and not the past. And yet you're dwelling on the past. Charlie's dwelling on the past.

And it's not John Kerry who is talking about the president's lack of military record. It's reporters. It's journalists. It's other folks. And they're responding to, frankly, the people who are so close to the president who have been challenging John Kerry's record.

BEGALA: In fact, Charlie, one of the people who is talking about it Lieutenant Colonel Robert Mintz, who actually did serve in the Alabama Air National Guard. Here is what he says in a new ad for a group called Texans For Truth.

Here's a piece of that ad.


RET. LT. COL. BOB MINTZ, ALABAMA AIR NATIONAL GUARD: I heard George Bush get up and say I served in the 187 Air National Guard in Montgomery, Alabama. Really? That was my unit. And I don't remember seeing you there. So I called, friends, you know. Did you know that George served in our unit? I never saw him there.


BEGALA: So his colleagues say he never showed up. The records say he didn't show up and serve. You still believe that he did, based on what, the Tooth Fairy?



BLACK: You have got one colleague there who said he didn't show up. You've Texans For Truth run by your good running buddy from Austin, Glenn Smith, who is a real a smart guy.

BEGALA: Great patriot.

BLACK: But the members of Texans For Truth are all dead people or known liars.


BEGALA: Wait a minute.

BLACK: The Ben Barnes sources are all dead.

But, look, the fact is that he served. It had to go through a lot more people in the chain of command than one person here. He served in Alabama in a nonflying capacity. He got the hours in. He got the points he needed. He met his retirement. He was honorably discharged, as was John Kerry, who served honorably in Vietnam.


BLACK: This stuff, this is not going to move any votes, and your guy's losing. You better get off of it.

NOVAK: We're going to honorably end this segment.


NOVAK: Up next in "Rapid Fire," do all Democrats share John Kerry's view that war crimes were common in Vietnam?

And just two days before the September 11 anniversary, Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, or was it his left-hand man, appears on Arab- language TV with new lies about the progress of the U.S. war on terror. Wolf Blitzer has the latest after this break.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, just before Saturday's third anniversary of 9/11, Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant surfaces on videotape. We'll show it to you and report on the hunt for Osama bin Laden himself.

Hurricane Ivan continues along its deadly path. There are now warnings in Jamaica and already evacuations in Florida. And this is first time anybody remembers anything like this happening. Meet an entire family, yes, an entire family that has joined the Navy.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf.

Time now for "Rapid Fire," where we ask questions even faster than President Bush can come up with excuses for why he missed his National Guard service.

(LAUGHTER) BEGALA: Our guests, Republican strategist Charlie Black and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon.

NOVAK: You think Democrats agree with John Kerry that most of the -- that most of the Americans in Vietnam were war criminals?

MCMAHON: No. I don't believe John Kerry thinks that either.

BEGALA: Charlie, was it a mistake -- is it a mistake for Republicans to be raising John Kerry's war heroism when they have the vulnerability of their own with Bush's service?

BLACK: No Republicans are authorized to raise it, Paul. The president is against it. The president has filed suit to get all these 527s on both sides off the air.

NOVAK: John Kerry in 1992 said that your Vietnam record shouldn't matter if you didn't serve with regard to Bill Clinton. Was he right then?

MCMAHON: Yes, he probably was right then. But that was before these sleazebags came out from underneath the...


MCMAHON: Well, out of the gutter and challenged his.

BEGALA: Charlie, Colin Powell wrote in his book that he was angry that so many sons of the powerful and well-placed wrangled slots in the Guard and Reserve. He called it a tragedy. Do you agree with General Powell?

BLACK: Well, I don't know about that, but I don't know who he could have been talking about. It certainly wasn't anybody that has been a subject of this show.

BEGALA: A certain unnamed president?


NOVAK: Steve, this week, I have talked to two swift boat commanders, highly decorated, both winners of the Silver Star, who are very tough on Senator Kerry. Do you think they're sleazebags?

MCMAHON: No, but I think their group is telling lies. And I think they're peddling lies. And I think Senator Kerry responded as -- or others responded on his behalf as they should have.


BEGALA: Charlie, do you think the president should sit down with journalists and answer each and every question about this to clear the air once and for all and tell us the truth about it?

BLACK: He has done it ever time he has run for office. This is the fourth time. He doesn't need to do it again. We've said enough. He was discharged honorably. Let's get off Vietnam and go to the future.


BEGALA: Charlie Black, that will be the last word, strategic advice rendered to President Bush through the CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: Thank you, Charlie, my friend. Good to see you again.

BLACK: Thank you, Paul.


BEGALA: Steve McMahon, good to see you, sir. Thanks for a good debate.

Well, you know, you never know when our buddy James Carville might turn up. And it turns out he turned up this afternoon with Paris Hilton. You're not going to want to miss this video.

Stay with us.



NOVAK: You may have seen my other greatly misguided sparring partner, James Carville, on another show today. He showed up on the syndicated talk show "The View," right after Paris Hilton. I wonder what they talked about in the green room.

He was there to promote his new children's book, "Lu and the Swamp Ghost." If you have trouble swallowing that the Ragin' Cajun wrote a children's book, he went even further, admitting that he's a sucker when it comes to his own little girls.


JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: I'm a total pushover. I'm just -- I'm probably the world's -- I'm as bad a disciplinarian with my children as I was a lawyer. And that's saying a lot.



NOVAK: Amazing, but there is a softer side of our James Carville.

BEGALA: "Lu and the Swamp Ghost."

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. (APPLAUSE)


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