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9/11 and the Presidential Election

Aired September 10, 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: President Bush's National Guard documents. Some experts are questioning whether documents that surfaced this week might be fake. What impact could this have on the presidential race?

Bush and Kerry barreling down the homestretch in the first presidential election since 9/11. Three years after being attacked, which candidate is more capable of leading the war on terror?



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


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

There is a bizarre new twist in that controversy over whether George W. Bush fulfilled obligations in the Texas Air National Guard. Some experts now suggest that documents first reported by "60 Minutes" which impugn Mr. Bush's service record are fake. But, of course, nobody yet has been able to conjure up anyone who actually served with Lieutenant Bush in the Alabama Air National Guard.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: That raises a big question. Is somebody forging documents to impugn the president? If so, who?

We'll debate this new campaign development presently. But first up, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Only 24 hours ago, George W. Bush's opponents were delirious about newly discovered documents from 1972 and '73 about Lieutenant Bush's Air National Guard duties. They could raise questions about the president's credibility. But smiles have faded from the faces of the Bush bashers. The documents look like they're phony. They may have been forged.

Experts consulted by "The Washington Post" and other media say the documents were generated by a computer or a word processor not available during the Vietnam War. The widow of the colonel supposed to have authored the document called them a farce. CBS, which broke the story, should reveal where it got the documents, to be blunt, who forged these documents.

BEGALA: Well, in fact, CBS stands by their sources. They say that these things are not forged. I'm certainly not an expert.

But you don't even need these documents to know that there's not a living soul who will come forward and say, yes, I served with Bush in the Air National Guard Alabama. I remember him. Yes, he's a charming guy. He's a nice guy. He's an impressive guy. Nobody can remember him ever showing up for duty. Doesn't that tell you something? He didn't show up.

NOVAK: That's your old story, but we've got a new story and there are these documents. All I say is, all CBS has to say is where do these documents come from. They sure didn't come from the colonel's family.


BEGALA: Very interesting.

Well, in an interview published today, Vice President Dick Cheney admirably walked back from his charge that electing John Kerry would bring another terrorist attack.

But Mr. Cheney has not retracted his unfounded, unfair charge that Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton didn't do enough to fight terror. Of course, both Reagan and Clinton bombed terrorist camps, which is far more than Bush/Cheney ever did before 9/11. And Republican Senate candidate Alan Keyes has not retreated from his charge that gays and lesbians, including Dick Cheney's daughter, are -- quote -- "selfish hedonists" -- unquote -- nor, sadly, has right-wing talk show host Michael Savage retracted this comment about President Clinton's recovery from heart surgery -- quote -- "He will be with us a little longer, because we understand that hell was full" -- unquote.


BEGALA: Mr. Savage, whose real name is Michael Weiner demonstrates an enduring truth about right-wing bullies. They may pretend to be big savages, but deep down inside, they're just little wieners.


NOVAK: There was so much you said in that, I don't know where to begin.

But what I will say is that I've been covering candidates a long time. And candidates say strange things during campaigns. I think Dick Cheney was wrong in what he said about Senator Kerry. And I'm very happy that instead of going on saying I meant what I meant, that he said, I was wrong.


BEGALA: I agree.

NOVAK: Al Gore probably lost the presidency four years ago by advocating gun control. And John Kerry couldn't resist the liberal disease today. He attacked the NRA and gun owners.

There goes West Virginia, Missouri and a lot else. Last night, addressing a black audience, Senator Kerry compared President Bush's tax policies to racist Jim Crow laws. But the billionaire Teresa Heinz Kerry beat all when she said of her husband's health program -- quote -- "Only an idiot wouldn't like this. Of course, there are idiots" -- unquote.

That's the liberal formula. If you aren't smart enough to agree with rich elitist liberals, you are an idiot. Take that, America.


BEGALA: Well, first off, I completely agree with Teresa Heinz. Senator Kerry has a great health plan that will reduce costs for Americans, reduce costs for small businesses. There are some idiots. Many of them are running the Republican Congress.


BEGALA: But I think that John Kerry was wrong. And I need to say that.

Jim Crow and segregation was a unique and despicable chapter in American history. And while I deeply oppose Bush's efforts to divide America, they're nothing like Jim Crow. And he should not have made that comparison.

NOVAK: If you were, God forbid, running Teresa's whatever she is doing, would you ask her to tell people who don't agree with her that they're idiots? Would you say that?


BEGALA: I love when she speaks her mind. I love Teresa. And she's right about that health plan.


BEGALA: It's a great plan.

Well, the Bush administration has a novel strategy for unemployed Americans. Sell your possessions on eBay. That's right. Vice President Dick Cheney told voters in Ohio yesterday that 400,000 Americans make some money on eBay. Well, perhaps Cheney, who made millions from Halliburton and still receives a six-figure annual payment from the government contractor, is making a few bucks on eBay on the side.

I don't know. After all, somebody is selling a signed photo of Mr. Cheney on eBay. Top bid so far, $3.



BEGALA: There's also a Bush/Cheney poker chip going for $1.50. And today, inspired by Dick Cheney, I purchased my first ever item on eBay, the "Reading Mastery II" second grade storybook, which contains the classic story "The Pet Goat," which President Bush spent seven minutes reading after being told America was under attack. Perhaps I'll give the book to Mr. Bush to read on the flight back to Crawford after the Kerry inaugural.


NOVAK: You know, I have to be -- I have to be very blunt with you, Paul. You're the only person I know who still tells that "Pet Goat" story. You've told it about 100 times.


NOVAK: And nobody pays attention to it. If you look at the polls, the American people still think they prefer President Bush in dealing with terrorism.


NOVAK: The "Pet Goat" story isn't working.

BEGALA: Goat story, goat story, goat story, goat story.

NOVAK: Give it a rest. Give it a rest.



NOVAK: Next on CROSSFIRE, the documents used to attack the president look forged. If so, who forged them? And is John Kerry, who is still not sure what he would have done about Saddam Hussein, the right man to lead America's war against terrorism?

And later, girly men of the world unite -- why we may soon see Governor Schwarzenegger all dolled up in a hot pink dress and matching pumps.





BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. CBS News today is standing by its story that memos indicating George W. Bush failed to fulfill his obligations to the Texas Air National Guard are indeed authentic. This comes as some experts suggest the documents were produced by a computer or a word processor and not by the kind of typewriters in use during the Vietnam War.

Also up for debate today, on the eve of the third anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, which presidential candidate is most capable of leading the nation in the war against terror, war hero John Kerry or former Andover cheerleader George W. Bush?

In the CROSSFIRE, former Republican Governor of Virginia James Gilmore, who chaired the Gilmore Commission Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities For Terrorism, and Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel, soon to be the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He's from New York.


NOVAK: Congressman Rangel, in regard to these documents supposedly from the late Colonel Killian, who has been dead for 20 years, let me just read you some of the comments by members of his family.

His widow: "The wording in these documents is very suspect to me. I just can't believe those were his words." Again the widow: "I know for a fact that this young man, Bush, was an excellent aviator, an excellent person to be in the Guard. He was very happy to have him become a member of the 111th."

His daughter about her father: "He admired George Bush and was proud of the fact that he pinned his wings on him."

And his son: "It was not the nature of my father to keep private files like this."

This is a phony story, isn't it?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I think it's a phony issue, really. I don't see anything wrong with George Bush avoiding combat in Vietnam.

And you may call it preferential treatment, but if politicians had one dollar for every person that was avoiding going to Vietnam, everyone would be rich. And they say, well, his father, the president, didn't do it. You know, you don't have to have his father, the president, said, what's your name? George Bush. Oh, go ahead. Where do you want to go?

So, I think that the fact that we invested a lot of money in this man to become a flyer and he didn't take his physical, he didn't take the urine test and he lost his ability to fly, I think that's more important. Obviously, the man was there. Whether or not we can find somebody who was there at the same time, I don't know. But I don't think that's an issue. Many, many good Americans avoided combat in Vietnam. NOVAK: Well, I'm glad you say -- you know, 12 years ago, Congressman, you were on another fine program, "CAPITAL GANG," with me.


NOVAK: And we were talking about Bill Clinton, who tried to get into the University of Arkansas ROTC Band to avoid the war. And he couldn't quite qualify for that. But, anyway, you said -- you were a hero in the Korean War. You're a Bronze Star winner. You said, "I was volunteering to get off the streets because times were rough. And it's hard for me to think of anyone who had the resources to avoid the draft who didn't try to do it."

Do you still adhere to those thoughts?

RANGEL: Well, yes. That's exactly what I just told you.

NOVAK: Yes. I just want to see if you -- you just go with that. All right.


BEGALA: A consistent view about Bill Clinton.

Well, Governor, I'm struck, as Bob was reading those comments from the widow of Lieutenant Bush's colonel from Texas 32 years ago, from the widow's daughter, from her son, this is 32 years ago. And they remember him. They remember him as a bright guy, a nice guy. And I don't doubt it. I've met him. Everybody who has met him remembers him as a nice guy. Why is it, then, that nobody from Alabama, where says he served can remember ever serving with him? Why do you suppose that is? Could it be because he never served in Alabama?

JAMES GILMORE (R), FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: You know, Charlie Rangel a few minutes ago said it was a nonissue and then proceeded to put the knife in the president by suggesting he avoided something.

Here's the facts. He served faithfully and loyally in the National Guard. He was a flyer. He did his training for many, many weeks. He was there in proper service. I was in the regular Army. Senator Kerry was in the Navy. During that period of time, a lot of people served in a lot of ways and were faithful to their country. Frankly, it is a nonissue.

What is important is this. We have seen that the president has been a faithful, loyal, solid, steady commander in chief as president of the United States for the last four years. And that's why he's going to get reelected, because of the current service that he has had.


(APPLAUSE) BEGALA: I'm sorry to interrupt. He's lucky to have an advocate like you, but I need you to answer the question. Those are all important points that Bush supporters need to hear. But the question was, why do you suppose it is that this remarkable, personable young man who is remembered by everybody who met him says he served in Alabama, and not a single soul has come forward and said he served with him? I think it's a pretty conclusive proof that he didn't serve there, did he?

GILMORE: The fact is that all the records show that he served faithfully in the Guard. He was honorably discharged.

BEGALA: I just wonder why it is


GILMORE: It isn't important. What is important is the war on terror and the opportunity for the future of this country. That's what is important.


NOVAK: Let's go on to that.

You know, Vice President Cheney was very much criticized. And I was even critical of him for saying that, boy, oh, boy, if we elect John Kerry, we may have another terrorist incident. But to my amazement, Congressman Rangel, you appointed a political neophyte, an old pro like you, General Wesley Clark, as -- for president of the United States.

On January 9, General Clark, who had never run for dog catcher before, said, if I'm president of the United States, I'm going to take care of the American people. We are not going to have one of these terrorist incidents.

Isn't he saying the same thing as Cheney said, that, if you elect me, you get it, if you elect somebody else, you get a terrorist incident?

RANGEL: First of all, I wasn't critical of the vice president. I think what he was saying is that the terrorists don't want any part of John Kerry and that's why they would bomb us and make certain the Republicans, who Rumsfeld said that we're creating more terrorists than we're killing.

And as it relates to my candidate Wes Clark and my candidate John Kerry, it just appeared to me that those people who served our country, those people who didn't have to serve, but chose to serve, those who have been wounded, those who have been in combat, said these things, never even thinking that a man who lost his right to fly in the Texas National Guard would even challenge those things.

We were wrong. We had no idea that people with no service would support those who attack those who fought for our country.

NOVAK: I thought we had left that issue behind.



NOVAK: That's the only thing you got to talk -- let me ask you this. If what you say is true, why is it -- I think you believe in democracy. I know I do.

RANGEL: All the way. If it wasn't for democracy, I wouldn't be here and neither would you.

NOVAK: That's right. And neither would I.


NOVAK: In today's paper, in the ABC/"Washington Post" poll in the paper today, which candidate will make the country safer? Bush, 54 percent, Kerry, 35 percent, not close. Are the American people just dumb? Is that like Teresa Heinz says that they're idiots because they think that he would make the country safer? Is that right?

RANGEL: You know, the difference that you and I, Bob, is that I never for once thought that polls was what democracy was all about.


RANGEL: I had thought that votes was what it was all about.

This president, whether you're for him or against him, it cannot be challenged, Governor, has polarized this country as it has never been since the Civil War. People are just frozen blindly into their support or being against this president. So it just seems to me, if we're for democracy, maybe this time the Supreme Court won't select our president. Maybe this time, we will allow all of the voters not to forgot Florida and to get out and vote.

And, at the end of the day, it won't be the polls that would describe democracy. It would be the voters and their concern about



BEGALA: Congressman Gilmore -- Governor Gilmore -- Congressman Rangel, of course, his hometown in New York City. Your party chose to have its convention in New York City, one of the most Democratic cities in America.


GILMORE: They did a good job, too.

BEGALA: They did a fine job.

RANGEL: It was a great convention. (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: It was. It was wonderful. I enjoyed it, too.

GILMORE: Thank you.

BEGALA: One of the reasons I suspect they chose it, though, was to associate the president with 9/11.

And if you look at the president's speech, the vice president's speech, Mayor Giuliani's speech, Governor Pataki's speech, they all tried to do that. And so I want to continue that, because the 9/11 Commission, a bipartisan panel, took a look at what the real Bush record was before 9/11. And here is what they really wrote, according to the commission here.

"The domestic agencies never mobilized in response to the threat. They did not have direction, and did not have a plan to institute. The borders were not hardened. Transportation systems were not fortified. Electronic surveillance was not targeted against a domestic threat. State and local law enforcement were not marshaled. The public was not warned," this, after the president was warned by his predecessor, by Sandy Berger, by his own counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, by the Hart-Rudman Commission, by your commission, and by the CIA itself in a briefing. How can he run on a record like that after being warned like that?

GILMORE: You know, I chaired the national commission for the Congress not for one year, but for five years.

And the simple fact is that this goes back a long way in terms of a lot of people who should have seen some of these things coming, but not just this president, everybody. But here's the truth. The truth is that what has happened since then. After 9/11, this president has disrupted al Qaeda. He's gone overseas and conquered and taken over their base in Afghanistan. He has passed legislation to make sure that their finances are disrupted. He's established the Department of Homeland Security. His record has been great and solid and aggressive and forthcoming. And that's why we're safer today then we were years ago.

NOVAK: OK, we're going to have to take a break.

Next in "Rapid Fire," I'll ask if all Democrats agree with billionaire Teresa Heinz Kerry in calling those who don't agree with them idiots, idiots.


NOVAK: And Hurricane Ivan, a deadly Category 4, takes aim at Jamaica. Is the U.S. in the line of fire? Now the Florida Keys are being told to empty out. Wolf Blitzer has the latest track after the break.

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.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, more on the Bush National Guard controversy. Was CBS News and "60 Minutes" duped by a forged document? We'll hear what Dan Rather has to say.

Jamaica braces for a killer hurricane. Is Florida next on its path of destruction? The Florida Keys already under a mandatory evacuation.

And coping with pain three years after 9/11. We'll talk with families who lost loved ones.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: Time now for "Rapid Fire," where the questions come faster than the Democrats can make up new charges about Bush's National Guard service.

With us today, Congressman Charlie Rangel, Democrat of New York, and former Governor of Virginia, Republican Jim Gilmore.

BEGALA: Governor, the last time George W. Bush was the victim of a political dirty trick, it was from his own staff. Who do you think did this one?

GILMORE: What are you talking about?

BEGALA: In the debates against Al Gore, someone on his own staff sent the Gore campaign all of Bush's briefing materials. It was a dirty trick. It was against Bush by his own team. Who do you suppose did this to him?

GILMORE: What, are you talking about this thing


BEGALA: If these are forged documents.


GILMORE: Forged documents or something like that?

Well, I just think we have to wait and see what the truth is on something like this. But all I know is that the background shows that the president served honorably, received an honorable discharge, received wonderful training and served faithfully in the National Guard. And, frankly, to all the Guardsmen out there, that is great service for this country.

NOVAK: Charlie Rangel, do you agree with billionaire Teresa Heinz Kerry that anybody who doesn't agree with you is an idiot?

RANGEL: No, because they may want equal time with me, and I don't do that.


BEGALA: Well, Governor, if he served with such distinction in the Alabama Guard, even though there's no record he showed up, why doesn't he do like Kerry and campaign with a band of brothers? John Kerry goes around the country with the men he served with. Why doesn't George Bush show up with even one person who he served with in Alabama?




GILMORE: Because he is commander in chief.

And the fact of the matter is that, if you look at everything that he has done and the faithful way he served in the last four years in charge of this military and faithfully protecting the people against terrorism and the attacks on this country, which are real, then I think that he deserves


NOVAK: Congressman Rangel...


RANGEL: ... pay tribute to our National Guard people, because they do a fantastic job.

But the National Guard that was existing at the time that the president was in was a country club by anybody's standards.


GILMORE: That is not true.

RANGEL: That is not today's National Guard.


GILMORE: That is not true. That is not true.

I trained with Guardsmen. I was regular Army, but I trained with Guardsmen during that exact same period of time. And they were faithful servants


BEGALA: That will have to be the last word. I'm sorry (CROSSTALK)

RANGEL: When I was in Korea, they sent them over.


BEGALA: Governor Jim Gilmore of Virginia, Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York, I'm sorry to cut you guys off. We'll have to maybe continue it in the back room there.


BEGALA: But up next, girly men politics. California is known for its cutting-edge fashion, but Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's new fashion statement will definitely be turning some heads.

Stay tuned for that.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Remember when California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger blasted Democratic lawmakers as -- quote -- "girly men" during a recent budget battle? Well, a Democratic lobbyist is getting back at the Republican governor. He's coming out with an Arnold girly man bobblehead doll decked out in fetching hot pink dress and matching pumps.


BEGALA: The purpose, says lobbyist John Edgell, is to drive home the point that the public has the right to poke fun at politicians.

Well, good, John. We already have a bobblehead of President Bush in a flight suit. How long until we get one of him in a cheerleader's outfit? I think that would be kind of cute. Rah-rah.

NOVAK: I think -- I think the lobbyists ought to be very careful. That's the Terminator. You know about the Terminator. He might be back and take care of them.


BEGALA: That's a very good point. That's good advice. That's one politician I wouldn't want to make angry.

Governor Schwarzenegger, I don't like the girly man thing anymore. I'm very sorry. Don't crush me like a bug.


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.



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