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Campaigns on Guard

Aired September 14, 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: As controversy rages over his own military record, President Bush takes his campaign message directly to the National Guard.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nineteen individuals have served both in the Guard and as president of the United States, and I'm proud to be one of them.

ANNOUNCER: Are attacks on the president's Guard record making an impact or have the Democrats gotten sidetracked?



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


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

Three decades after failing to report for duty in the Alabama National Guard, George W. Bush finally showed up at the Guard to give a political speech at the National Guard conference today. It just goes to show you Joe Friday was right. They always return to the scene of the crime.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Before the president spoke, the Democratic attack machine was in high gear. A nasty new video accuses Bush of using family connections to get into the Guard. That's really discussing current issues.

We'll debate this just ahead, after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

The CBS case against Lieutenant George W. Bush continues to collapse. It turns out Marcel Matley, the expert hired by the network to authenticate disputed Air National Guard documents, examined only Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian's signature, not the actual documents. Matley told "The Washington Post" there was no way he could authenticate the documents because they're copies, far removed from the originals.

Meanwhile, another expert, Joseph Newcomer, told "The Post" -- quote -- "I am personally 100 percent sure they are fake" -- end quote.

And CBS and Dan Rather say, maybe we were hoodwinked? No. He said the network vouches for their authenticity. Being a network anchorman means never having to say you're sorry.


BEGALA: But, Bob, being a president means -- apparently, to George W. Bush, it means never having to say the truth. He was ordered to report to Alabama. He didn't do so. He was ordered to take a flight physical. He didn't do so. He claimed that he reported even in Massachusetts as well, and now even his spokesman admits he didn't do it. Why doesn't he just tell the truth about his record?


NOVAK: Calling George Bush a liar is not the answer to every question. And I'd like you to address.


NOVAK: Do you think those are authentic documents?


BEGALA: I'm not an expert on this.


NOVAK: You sure aren't. I agree with that.

BEGALA: Well, on a more serious note, 59 people were killed in Iraq today, 47 as a car bomb exploded at a police recruiting line, 12 more in a drive-by shooting at a police station. The attacks were plainly the work of Islamofascist terrorists, and yet America has become so hated in the eyes of some Iraqis, the crowds were actually blaming the United States for the attacks.

Meanwhile, a Jordanian truck driver who has been taken hostage, hostage takers are threatening to kill him. Many Iraqis have lost electrical power, as the sabotage of an oil pipeline melted power lines. And, most tragically for Americans, another U.S. soldier was killed today, bringing the American death toll in that war to 1,015. Now, President Bush talks endlessly about the progress we're making in Iraq. I just don't know how much more of Mr. Bush's brand of progress America can take.


NOVAK: You know, Paul, you like to read all the bad news coming out of Iraq every day. But, as a matter of fact we are there, and Senator Kerry voted to be there. Senator Edwards to be there. Senator Kerry says if he knew then what he knows now, he would still vote to be there. What kind of issue is that for the Democratic nominee to take?

BEGALA: The president misled us into this war. He has no plan to get us out of this war. For that reason alone, he should be fired.


BEGALA: And get a competent commander in chief in there.


NOVAK: The battalion of Democratic lawyers found a cooperative judge in Florida last week who kicked Ralph Nader off the state ballot on the dubious grounds that the Reform Party is no longer viable in the state.

Now the Republican secretary of state has put him back on the Florida ballot. If that decision sticks, Nader will be taking votes from John Kerry in a crucial state. The irony is that Kerry's trial lawyers have managed to exclude Nader from noncontested states, like California, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey and others. This frees Nader to campaign in battleground states like Florida and Ohio. That means the Democrats are not only mean. They are really stupid.



BEGALA: No, I think what's stupid is for anybody to imagine that there's not an enormous choice here between President Bush and John Kerry. And for all of us who believe in the issues that Ralph Nader say he believes in, to see him running in the same party as my friend and yours Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader should not be with Pat Buchanan's party. He should be with John Kerry's party, helping us get rid of George W. Bush. That's where he should be.

NOVAK: You know, Paul -- you know, Paul, you're a smart political operator. I'd like you to tell me, isn't that interesting, though, that they have knocked Nader off the ballot in the states that are not closely contested?


NOVAK: He's in the battleground states. Isn't that dumb?

BEGALA: It is -- it's very interesting, certainly.



BEGALA: Well, one of the Bush campaign's central attacks on John Kerry is their accusation that his proposals would cost $2 trillion.

Well, in today's "Washington Post," experts tried to cost out Mr. Bush's proposals, and guess what? President Bush has promised $3 trillion in new spending. The biggest promises he's made so far are to partially privatize Social Security, which would cost $2 trillion alone, as much as Mr. Bush claims the entire Kerry agenda would cost. And Mr. Bush wants to further shift taxes off of the rich and on to the middle class, which would cost another $1 trillion.

And that doesn't even count the 16 other spending promises which would cost hundreds of billions that Mr. Bush made in his speech in New York. Look, President Bush should simply tell the truth about his $3 trillion-plus in promises. Look, I've heard of pie in the sky, but, Mr. President, this is a whole floating bakery.


NOVAK: You know, Paul, let me try to clarify some of the things you have said. What the president is proposing is that young Americans will be able, instead of giving their tax money to the government, that they will be able to contribute it to private Social Security accounts. That's what the cost is. It's a paper cost. It isn't a real cost. The wealth, instead of going to the government, goes to the ordinary people.

But you can't stand to see ordinary Americans have stock, because they may end voting Republican.


BEGALA: It will cost $2 trillion., Where's the money going to come from?


NOVAK: While Democrats attack the president for his service in the National Guard, President Bush is honoring the Guard for its contributions.

Just ahead, the impact the Guard debate is having on the campaign. Is there any? And which candidate will voters pick to be their commander in chief?

Later, it worked for Oprah. Find out if we have the key to a happy audience right here at CROSSFIRE. Don't hold your breath.





BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Our president addressed the National Guard Association this afternoon, but it was his service that's in the CROSSFIRE today. No one has yet stepped forward to claim the $50,000 reward offered to anyone who can prove that they actually served with young Lieutenant Bush back in the Alabama Guard. Look, give them a break. Perhaps Mr. Bush was wearing his secret cloak of invisibility back then in the Guard.


BEGALA: As our president was praising the Guard today, though, Democrats were claiming that he has turned his back on their pay and benefits.

In the CROSSFIRE to debate all of this, former Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania Bob Walker and Howard Wolfson. He's a senior communications adviser to the Democratic National Committee.


NOVAK: Mr. Wolfson, the Democratic National Committee has put out a video attacking President Bush on these allegations of his nonperformance in the National Guard, and that I thought one of the great quotes was put out today by one of your counterparts at the RNC, the Republican National Committee, Jim Dyke.

Mr. Dyke said, "The video the Democrats released today is as creative and accurate as the memos they gave CBS."

What do you think of that?

HOWARD WOLFSON, DNC SR. COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER: I think that's as accurate as the talk about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before we went in there.


NOVAK: Did you give the memos to CBS?

WOLFSON: Of course not. I think it's more likely that it came from someone like Karl Rove than it came from someone on our side.



NOVAK: That's ridiculous. I want to quote you from the house organ of the John Kerry campaign, "The Boston Globe." Naturally, my column is in "The Boston Herald."

WOLFSON: That would be news to some people there, but go ahead.

NOVAK: But, anyway, "The Boston Globe" reported yesterday: "Advisers to Democratic nominee John F. Kerry said they helped craft the battle plan with the Democratic National Committee but were leaving it to the DNC to execute to keep Kerry publicly above the fray and focused on criticizing the incumbent's leadership" -- unquote.

Isn't that smarmy, that you work behind the scenes with the Kerry campaign and you're -- the Terry McAuliffe, who nobody likes anybody, is the front guy in


WOLFSON: Stop the presses. The DNC and the Kerry campaign do occasionally speak to one another. Of course we're talking, and, of course, John Kerry is talking about his positive agenda for the future of this country, and we're talking about holding George Bush accountable for his failed record.



BEGALA: Now, Bob, there's a new group out of patriotic Americans called Texans For Truth. I'm a Texan. I'm for the truth. I'm not part of the group, though. But they put out today a $50,000 reward. And, of course, nobody has claimed it, because nobody can prove that they served with President then Lieutenant Bush in the Alabama Guard.

So why doesn't he just tell the truth? Why doesn't he say, look, it was a troubled time in my life, a troubled time for our country, I didn't fulfill my obligations 30 years ago, but, you know, judge me on what I've done today? I think the country would forgive him if we would just tell us the truth? Why won't he do that?

BOB WALKER (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Paul, isn't it a new low point in American politics that we now have cash for trash as a part


BEGALA: It's cash for truth.

WALKER: No, no. It's cash for trash in this particular case. It's out trolling for garbage.


BEGALA: Wait a minute. Wait a minute.


NOVAK: Let him answer your question.


WALKER: They're not trying to exonerate the president. This is a group that is a pro-Kerry group that thinks that this is a way of trying to again hammer the president's National Guard service.

Look, I served in the National Guard. I think what I did was honorable service. I think


WOLFSON: Did you show you up all the time when you were supposed to?

WALKER: Yes, I did.


WOLFSON: Well, George Bush didn't.


WALKER: I don't think you have any proof of that. I think that -- I think that distortion


WOLFSON: We have absolute proof that he missed his physical and he was grounded.


WALKER: I think that is as much of a distortion as the distorted documents that CBS is trying to peddle to talk about his National Guard service.

WOLFSON: Absolutely not.

WALKER: The fact is that because you haven't been able to prove anything, you are now relying upon distorted documents as the way in which you're going to show that George Bush didn't show up for duty.


WALKER: Why don't we talk about the real issues before this country, rather than doing all of this talk about whether or not somebody served in the National Guard or whether or not somebody served honorably in Vietnam?


WALKER: The fact is, there are issues the American people care about, and they don't care very much about this one.

BEGALA: The theory that Democrats have that I subscribe to is that if he will mislead us about his past, he may be misleading us about the present.

The problem the president has, Senator Kerry campaigns with his band of brothers. Why doesn't George Bush campaign with the people he served with? Because no one remembers him showing up for duty. That's his problem and he just tell us the truth, right?


WALKER: And he does tell the truth, and he's told the truth over and over again about his Guard service.

(CROSSTALK) WALKER: And the fact is, he got an honorable discharge. Honorable discharges are not given to people who didn't perform their duties.

NOVAK: Mr. Wolfson, these memos by CBS, this is -- I've been around here a long time. I have never quite seen a story like this, where now everybody has abandoned CBS on it.

Let me just read you a couple quotes. Marcel Matley, the leading expert retained by CBS to examine the disputed memos, in today's "Washington Post": "There's no way that I as a document expert can authenticate them. I know I could not prove them authentic just from my expertise. I can't say either way from my expertise, the narrow little field of my expertise."

And they got another programming expert on Windows, "The Washington Post." And he said: "If I was looking for a da Vinci" -- he called them a fake. He said: "If I was looking for a da Vinci, I would look for characteristic brush strokes. If I found something that was painted with a modern synthetic brush, I would know that I have a forgery."

Can't we say now that the new development in the very old George Bush National Guard story is a fake and a forgery?

WOLFSON: Well, Dan Rather disagrees with you.

Let's talk about what's not in dispute.

WALKER: We'll call it Rather-gate.

WOLFSON: Strings were pulled to get him in the Guard. When he was in the Guard, he missed significant amount of time. He didn't show up for a physical and he was grounded. Is that honorable service? And then what's worse...


WALKER: He was discharged -- he was discharged honorable from the United States military.


WOLFSON: He's lying about it. He says that he did serve honorably. He said that there were no special privileges. And of course there were.


WOLFSON: And of course there were.


WALKER: Honorable service is honorable service and you guys should stop attacking him for


WOLFSON: They were going to dishonorably discharge somebody whose father was a congressman? Come on.


WOLFSON: He has been a son of privilege. He's been a fortunate son. And that's the way he succeeded his whole life. Absolutely.


WALKER: That is the most distorted record that you can come up with, and it has absolutely no bearing on the truth whatsoever.

NOVAK: Of course, in the Texas National Guard, he flew for many months as a pilot learning to fly one of those...


WALKER: One of most dangerous planes that we ever had in the inventory.

WOLFSON: Very dangerous over the skies of Texas. You're absolutely right.



WALKER: Look, that was a very dangerous plane to learn how to fly.

NOVAK: I don't know if you know how to fly a jet. I admire anybody that can fly a jet.

WALKER: I do, too. I do, too. I've been in one, and they're very dangerous


NOVAK: But I just want to say that the only thing new on this, Howard -- in every campaign he's been in, this has been brought up. The only thing new are these documents. And if they are -- there is nobody now. There is no expert that says they're authentic, none, absolutely none. Don't you think...

WOLFSON: The CBS experts seem to.

NOVAK: No, the expert says they don't -- they have backed away from it.

WOLFSON: Dan Rather disagrees with you.

NOVAK: He's an expert, Dan Rather is?

WOLFSON: He's a pretty respected newsman. (CROSSTALK)

WALKER: I think that respect is steadily declining as a result of his protecting this, and it should.


BEGALA: Today, our president spoke to the National Guard, talked about his commitment to the Guard. The Democrats answered with a new ad. I want to play you a piece of that and then ask you about the current issues affecting the Guard.

Here it the Democrats' ad.


NARRATOR: The Republicans in Washington are letting you down, sending troops into battle without protective equipment, involuntary extensions of duty, even pushing a veto on health care benefits for National Guard families. The men and women of the National Guard, you've honored your commitments. Why won't the Republicans honor you?


BEGALA: Pretty good point, isn't it? Why don't they walk the walk, as well as talk the talk?

WALKER: Well, the fact is that, for years, the United States Congress has failed to fund adequately some of the things that the Guard equipment should have had.


BEGALA: Help me out here, the party?


BEGALA: Republicans.


WALKER: The fact is that most of this happened -- most of this happened back during the 1980s, when we failed to sufficiently protect the troops by giving them the adequate equipment.

When I was in the Guard, we had old equipment. And this has been a long pattern. The fact is that George Bush sought to correct a lot of that with the supplemental bill that John Kerry voted against.

BEGALA: He cut their combat pay.

WALKER: That John Kerry voted against.

NOVAK: We have to take a break.

And when we come back, "Rapid Fire" will be on. And we'll ask the question, should CBS agree to an independent investigation to determine if this Bush National Guard documents are phonies, if they're forged?

And right after the break, where is Hurricane Ivan headed? Wolf Blitzer has the latest.



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

Coming up at the top of the hour, evacuations begin along the Gulf coast. New hurricane warnings have just come out. We'll have an update on Hurricane Ivan.

A car bombing in Baghdad. The situation there seems to be getting worse, and some Iraqis are blaming the United States.

And there's a brand new movie out about Adolf Hitler's final days. We'll tell you why it's become so controversial.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: "Rapid Fire," where the questions are faster than all of John Kerry's flip-flops.


NOVAK: Today, we're talking about the attempt to make a campaign issue out of George W. Bush's National Guard service in the CROSSFIRE.

Howard Wolfson, senior communications adviser to the Democratic National Committee, and former Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania Bob Walker.

BEGALA: Bob, do you think John Kerry's right when he calls for taking some of the burden off our Guard and Reserve by adding two more divisions, 40,000 more troops, to the U.S. Army? Is that a good idea?

WALKER: Well, I think, if we can afford it, that that probably is a good idea, that we can expand the service. But the fact is that when we went to the volunteer military, one of the things we decided to do was integrate the Reserves and the Guard into the overall military.

And so what you're seeing today is the result of a decision made to have an integrated military framework.

NOVAK: Howard, do you think CBS should agree to have a nonpartisan, nonpolitical investigation on whether these documents are authentic?

WOLFSON: I think you should start focusing on the issues of George Bush's lies about his service.


BEGALA: The last time George W. Bush was a victim of a political dirty trick, it did come from within his own campaign, a disgruntled employee who sent his debate materials to Al Gore's campaign. If these are forged documents, who do you suppose are behind them this time?

WALKER: Well, I don't know who is behind them. I'm not going to speculate, because I think that we have too many people out calling other people liars at the present time.

What we do know is that we have got forged documents and that CBS attempted to destroy the president of the United States based upon forged documents.


NOVAK: Since the DNC has decided to put so much of its time and effort looking into President Bush's National Guard record, is it fair game now to continue the investigation of the somewhat dubious war records of Senator Kerry?

WOLFSON: Not at all dubious. Look, we're going after facts. They're spreading lies. That's the big difference.


BEGALA: Bob, what is the Silver Star awarded for?

WALKER: The Silver Star is awarded for heroism.


BEGALA: ... irrespective of his political views, he's a hero, right?

WALKER: Sure, that's absolutely right. And I would never contend anything else.

What I have a problem with is what John Kerry did when he came back to this country and turned on the people who he was fighting with in Vietnam. And I think that that's a part of the record that deserves examination, because he used that as a basis on which to run his first congressional campaign.


NOVAK: In that connection, do you think Senator Kerry was right in blaming the whole U.S. government for war crimes, as the communists...


WOLFSON: I think John Kerry was a war hero when he was in Vietnam. And I think that he was courageous when he came home and tried to get us out of there.


BEGALA: Howard Wolfson from the Democratic Party, Bob Walker from the Republican Party, thank you both very much for a lively debate.

Well, Oprah Winfrey took her audience on the ultimate ride yesterday. Move over, Oprah. You don't have anything on CROSSFIRE.

Stay tuned to find out what we're giving out.


BEGALA: Well, never let it be said that CROSSFIRE plays second fiddle to anyone, not even the queen the talk, Oprah herself.

Get a load of this. When Oprah opened her new season yesterday, you may have heard, she had a special surprise for everyone in the audience.


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: All right. Open your boxes. Open your boxes. One, two, three.



BEGALA: All 276 people in Oprah's audience got a new car. General Motors provided the cars as part of a promotional deal with Oprah.

So, of course, not to be outdone, here's our answer to Oprah's giveaway. Everyone in the studio audience gets one of these great CNN campaign buttons.


BEGALA: You get a button! You get a button! You get a button! There we go. I don't want to throw them out there like that.


NOVAK: Well, tomorrow night, I understand that everybody in the audience who is here tomorrow night will get a Chrysler CROSSFIRE sports car. Is that correct?


BEGALA: Carville and Tucker are on tomorrow. Yes, they're going to give everybody one.

NOVAK: This is a beautiful button, isn't it, a gorgeous button?


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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