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Political Storms

Aired September 16, 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: Democrat John Kerry takes his turn before the National Guard and says things have to change in Iraq.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Last week, we reached a tragic milestone in Iraq. More than 1,000 American service men and women have been killed in the line of duty. And more than 100 of them were members of the National Guard.

ANNOUNCER: Now even Dan Rather says there's a possibility documents aired on CBS regarding President Bush's service record may be fake. But despite the questions, he's still defending their content. What impact is all this having on the campaign?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just hard to imagine this could happen. I've been here all my life and seen several hurricanes, but nothing like this.

ANNOUNCER: The wrath of Ivan unveiled, and it's not over yet. Where will the storm hit next? We go live just ahead today on CROSSFIRE.


ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.



Storms are kicking up a huge fuss everywhere. First off, there's Ivan, which hit the Gulf Coast hard overnight as a Category 3 hurricane. We still have the gale force political storm surrounding CBS News and the apparently phony documents Dan Rather used for a report on President Bush's National Guard service.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, first, of course, there was -- we're going to cover Ivan the terrible, because the remnants of that storm are sweeping inland after it slammed ashore early this morning, killing at least seven people in northwestern Florida.

CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is at CNN Center in Atlanta, where she's tracking Ivan's progress.

Jacqui, what's the latest?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, the center of Ivan right now is across central parts of Alabama. But the worst of the weather has been hitting parts of Georgia over the last couple of hours as this outer band begins to move in across the Atlanta metro area.

We have numerous tornado warnings in effect right now. Clayton and Fayette counties, also Crawford and Eastern Upson counties, they are expected to expire here at the bottom of the hour. But they could likely be reissued because there are numerous cells showing areas of rotation as this line pushes on up to the north and on up the west.

We're going to zoom in a little bit closer and show you in detail one of the storms that we're particularly concerned about, because it is getting very close to downtown Atlanta and getting very close also to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. There you can see the line and we'll fade that off for you and show you. Here's Interstate 20. Here's I-85. And this is Hartsfield-Jackson Airport at this time.

And we're going to go ahead and put on the statistics right now out of Hartsfield-Jackson and show you how bad the winds are right now. They're really beginning to pick up, sustained winds at 24 miles per hour, gusting up to 36 miles per hour. And take a look also here, the ceiling, only 900-foot ceilings. And right now there's a ground stop in effect. So nobody is moving in or out of Atlanta at this time.

We do also want to keep you up to date on what's going on elsewhere tropically, but we do not just have Ivan to worry about as that continues to move to the north and east and cause flooding problems, likely into the Appalachians. We have Jeanne, which could be on its way by early next week. And right here on the way corner of our map, we have potentially another tropical depression before all is said and done before the day is over -- Tucker, back to you.

CARLSON: Jacqui Jeras in CNN Center, thank you.

Well, you've got to feel for the people of Florida, who have taken their third hurricane hit in less than five weeks. Hurricane Ivan was certainly felt in coastal Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama when it came ashore. But it was the Florida Panhandle that took the brunt of the storm overnight, up to and including a portion of the bridge on Interstate 10 over Escambia Bay at Pensacola. Also taking a deadly hit, Panama City Beach over to the east.

That's where we find CNN's Rick Sanchez -- Rick.


This is one of the strangest hurricanes that I've ever covered. It's in the outer bands that it's been the deadliest. Consider this. Where we're standing right now, we're probably about 110, to 120 miles from where the eye wall actually made landfall. And yet this is the area where we've gotten the most effect, at least as far as the people who've been affected here, two people killed here in the area of Panama City Beach last night. And then we got that horrible report of people in a place called Blountstown. It's in Calhoun County.

We've been in touch with the folks over in Calhoun County and in Marianna County throughout the course of the early morning to try and get a feel for what was going on there. Here's what they described to us. They say that a large tornado that may have run a span of about a mile long, which may be categorized as an F-2 or an F-3, which makes it a very significant tornado, suddenly went through both Marianna and Calhoun counties. It hit that one little community in Blountstown and just took out a trailer park. And that's where those four people died.

Luckily, in Marianna County, we're not getting any reports of serious injuries. But needless to say, it's been a very, very difficult storm for the people in this particular region. And, interestingly enough, we're in the eastern-most part of that cone that you often see when you get to watch hurricane coverage. And yet this is where it's been the deadliest in terms of the tornadoes or tornadic activity.

As far as water and that storm surge you always hear about, that's further down toward Mobile and around a place called Gulf Shore. There, they're saying they have got nine feet of water in those city streets -- back to you, Tucker.

BEGALA: Amazing.

Rick, it's Paul Begala. If I could hold you for just another minute, you have covered a lot of killer storms in your career.

SANCHEZ: Hi, Paul.


And I've been following your coverage. You remind me of that Bob Dylan song "Blowing in the Wind." Man, you've been hanging on for dear life. But how does this compare or contrast with some of the other storms that you have covered? You mentioned that sometimes the storm surge and the tornadic activity is closer together. This has been different, you say?

SANCHEZ: They're all extremely different.

Andrew, for example, which I was in the thick of for quite a while, was a very small hurricane, tiny compared to most other hurricanes. And yet it's one of the most powerful Category 5 hurricanes that we've ever had. Hurricanes are an awful lot like politicians. They all blow hard and they're tough to pin down.


CARLSON: That is fantastic. We're going to steal that, Rick. Thank you.


CARLSON: Come back safe, Rick Sanchez. Thanks.

SANCHEZ: Thank you.

CARLSON: John Kerry spoke a little while ago at the National Guard conference in Las Vegas. This is two days after President Bush's warm reception at the same event. Our thoughts on that in the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Well, until recently, John Kerry seemed to have nothing but contempt for the National Guard. Just this past February, Kerry likened Guard service to draft dodging. His tune has changed. This afternoon, Kerry gave a speech to the conference of the National Guard in Las Vegas in which he, of course, heaped praise on the audience. And then, needless to say, he attacked President Bush, which is his default position on every subject.

Bush has lied to us about Iraq, Kerry barked, lied, lied, lied, because he's evil, evil, evil, blah, blah, blah. You've heard it all before. But here's what you've never heard before, what Kerry himself would do to improve the mess in Iraq. He still hasn't said. Maybe he doesn't want to tell you. Maybe he has no idea. Either way, don't even consider voting for him until John Kerry tells you what he plans to do in Iraq.



BEGALA: First off, there's a huge difference between the Guard today and the Guard 30 years ago. Colin Powell in his autobiography wrote how repulsed he was by people who dodged their duty to get into these champagne units, the way that Bush did.

CARLSON: You've got to be kidding.

BEGALA: That was 30 years ago.


CARLSON: So it's not serving your country, being in the National Guard? Do you really want to say that?

BEGALA: I'm just telling you what Colin Powell wrote.


CARLSON: I don't care what Colin Powell says. I want to know what you think. Do you think it was not serving your country to being in the National Guard?


BEGALA: I think it's not serving your country to not show up. Now let me make my point.


BEGALA: The Guard today is a very different place than it was 30 years ago.

But George W. Bush, the first thing John Kerry will change is, he will actually tell us the truth.


BEGALA: The president has been misleading us about Iraq from the beginning. And he's doing it again today.


BEGALA: And let me explain to you why. In today's "New York Times," for example, there is a report that President Bush has been briefed on an exhaustive national intelligence estimate of what is really happening in Iraq. The estimate was completed back in July. And it is unrelentingly pessimistic, likely outcomes reportedly ranging from a best-case scenario of a shaky security, economic and political climate, to the worst case, civil war.

But that is not what Mr. Bush told us in his September convention address. Then, he spoke of -- quote -- "a vibrant, successful democracy at the heart of the Middle East" -- unquote. And he told the National Guard earlier this week -- quote -- "The world is changing for the better" -- unquote.

Well, one former Army colonel bluntly tells "USA Today" -- quote -- "The bottom line is, at this moment, we are losing the war" -- unquote. Too bad our commander in chief is not as honest as that Army colonel.


CARLSON: Look, look, the idea that Bush is lying -- anybody who watches television, anyone who reads the newspapers, anyone who bothers to go to Iraq knows what's obvious. It's a bit of a mess in Iraq. Everyone knows that, Paul.


BEGALA: Except George W. Bush, who knows it and won't tell us. He keeps telling us, oh, it's great, it's wonderful. Things are terrific.


CARLSON: You know what? You know what? The idea that this is somehow an example of Bush lying. The point is, Bush has a plan. You may not agree with it.

BEGALA: He doesn't have a plan. CARLSON: Yes, he does.

BEGALA: He doesn't have a clue.



CARLSON: OK, whatever. Bush is evil. He's dumb, blah, blah, blah.


CARLSON: But, honestly, everybody knows it's a mess. The question is, what do we do next? And I wish Kerry would answer that.


BEGALA: We get rid of George W. Bush and get somebody in there who will tell us the truth about the real situation over there.


CARLSON: Right. Oh, yes.

Well, Kerry used his speech in front of the National Guard to hammer the president on Iraq. But when is Kerry going to explain how he plans to solve the problems there?

And actor George Clooney is hitting the campaign trail. We'll tell you who he's supporting later on CROSSFIRE. You won't believe it.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The political season is bursting with storms, and not just those over the Atlantic Ocean. John Kerry today jumped on the newly released -- revealed, rather -- intelligence report that paints a gloomy picture of Iraq, telling the National Guard Association that President Bush has been playing politics with national security and ignoring his own intelligence while living in a fantasy world of spin.

Meanwhile, Republicans are jumping ugly with CBS, alleging that shoddy journalism led the network to use forged documents. Well, maybe someone should tell them Dan Rather's not on the ballot.

Joining us today in the CROSSFIRE, Republican Representative Tom Davis of Virginia and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democratic delegate for the District of Columbia.

Good to see you both.


CARLSON: Miss Norton, thanks for joining us.

As Paul correctly points out, Dan Rather is not on the ballot. But, of course, John Kerry is. And the Kerry campaign has used this National Guard story in hoping -- in hopes of helping John Kerry's chances of being elected. Do you think it hurts John Kerry that these documents are likely forged?

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON, D.C. DELEGATE: You know, I didn't need Dan Rather or CBS to tell me that George Bush didn't do his service in the National Guard.


NORTON: When he went -- when he went before the National Guard, he should have started with an apology, an apology for that serving the way they served, an apology for not, in fact, doing anything to make sure that our Guardsmen would be adequately fit; 20 percent of them don't have health care.


CARLSON: Let me ask you -- let me ask you...

NORTON: The Republicans won't even bring to the floor...

CARLSON: I understand, that Bush didn't kill enough communists in Vietnam, and that's bad.


CARLSON: But let me ask you this simple question.

Do you think, as a political matter, when Terry McAuliffe gets out and says, as he did two days ago, we're going to talk about this National Guard stuff every single day, do you honestly believe, as a political analyst, that's going to move a single vote into Kerry's column?

NORTON: Kerry isn't talking about the National Guard.

CARLSON: Oh, come on.

And that's what's going to move votes. Who is talking about the National Guard and who hopes we'll talk more about the National Guard is Bush. And the reason he hopes it is because he wants to change the subject from, for example, the national intelligence report that came out today.

CARLSON: Bush wants to talk about his National Guard record?


NORTON: He wants to talk about -- he wants to talk about anything except his record in Iraq. He doesn't want to talk about the intelligence report that came out today that painted a civil war scenario. So you can talk about anything except that, because that's talking about his record.

BEGALA: Let's take a look at exactly what our president did tell the National Guard Association about the war in Iraq and then what honest journalists tell us.

Here first is the president.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Despite ongoing violence in Iraq, that country now has a strong prime minister, a national council, and national elections are scheduled in January. The world is changing for the better.


BEGALA: He paints a very rosy picture, which contrasts with the report filed today by Steve Komarow of "USA Today," a reporter who's been there, spent a lot of time on the ground, knows the country quite well.

And here's what he reports: "U.S. plans had called for Iraq's new government and prime minister, Iyad Allawi, to be gaining respect and organizing for the national elections now. But instead, insurgents appear to be more powerful than ever. By some counts, more than three dozen Iraqi cities and towns are in the hands of hostile leaders, leaders hostile to the government of the United States. The resistance that was spotty a year ago now launches an average of more than 50 attacks against U.S. or coalition forces a day."

Why doesn't the president tell us the truth the way that this reporter, Steve Komarow, does in "USA Today." He should just tell us the truth.


REP. TOM DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: Well, you have to understand what's going on. I've been over in Iraq on a couple of occasions, too. And we are winning the war over there. There are a couple towns right now, Fallujah being one, where we've turned it over to the Iraqis and that are trouble issues.

BEGALA: Three dozen.

DAVIS: No, there aren't three dozen. They can hold elections in almost all the towns now.

What the strategy is -- and this was outlined in the Zarqawi memo -- is, we may not be able to get the Americans out of Iraq. We can get Bush out of the White House. And so what they are doing is, they're doing these insurgencies, hitting and running and not staying. And we're doing very well in Iraq right now.

BEGALA: So you think the president's right when he says -- now, average of 50 attacks a day. There's 200 people have been killed in the last four days. That doesn't count today. We haven't gotten the reports from today.

DAVIS: That's right. But they're not gaining ground. They're hit-and-run attacks. They're car bombs. They're doing those kinds of things.

BEGALA: Three dozen towns are under enemy control.


DAVIS: And it is all tempered on going after...

BEGALA: I don't know what it is you all are drinking, but I want a case of it.




DAVIS: They hope that we can lose our resolve. They hope we lose our resolve and pull out. It's all focused on that. They're not winning the majority of the hearts and minds of Iraqis. They're scared to death of elections, where you legitimize the government. They want to do everything they can to defeat that.

And they want to defeat it through you, through the newsrooms of America. They may not be able to win the war in Iraq, but they want to win it at CNN and win it at CBS. And I think some of the journalists end up, by carrying this, do us a disservice.


DAVIS: We need to keep our resolve.


DAVIS: If you remember, after World War II, the communists started winning elections in France and Italy. And people said, well, we've got to pull out of Europe. This is bad.


DAVIS: ... going to be fine.

BEGALA: So your position, the Republican position is that when journalists tell the truth about how bad things are in Iraq, how we need a new strategy to win, they're undermining the war, but when President Bush lies about it, that's good? Is that the Republican position?


DAVIS: Are you talking about journalists like Dan Rather? Is that what we're talking about?

BEGALA: I'm talking about Steve Komarow, who's been over there in Iraq.


CARLSON: This has got to be the world's longest question. I'm sorry. I want to get Mrs. Norton in.

Thanks for joining us again.


CARLSON: I have really one question in this election. What does John Kerry think about Iraq? Was he for the war or against it? What is he going to do next? Don Imus at MSNBC had the exact same question.


CARLSON: And he asked Mr. Kerry yesterday. And Mr. Kerry gave a very long answer.

Here was Mr. Imus' answer -- quote -- "I was just back in my office banging my head on the jukebox. This is my candidate and I don't know what he's talking about."

I think Don Imus speaks for just about everyone else I know, right, left, Democrat and Republican, in saying, what's this guy's position?

Do you know? Can you tell us?

NORTON: I think we all know what his position is.

CARLSON: I don't, honestly.


NORTON: His position is -- his position is pretty clear.

CARLSON: Was he for the war or against it?

NORTON: His position is pretty clear, that this president was wrong on the war from the way he went in to the way he has conducted the war. And in order to do anything right in Iraq, you've got to have a new start with a fresh president.

CARLSON: Right. I know that Bush is evil.

But aside from that...


CARLSON: ... what is Kerry's position? Was he simply -- quite simply -- easy question. Was he for the war or against the war? He's been asked that. I've never understood his answer. Perhaps you do. Was he for or against it?

NORTON: The -- look...


NORTON: This man, who had been a senator, who had been a senator, voted to give this president the right to go get allies to go to war. He didn't do that. He was wrong on the war.

CARLSON: What does that mean? Was he for it or against it? I don't understand.


NORTON: Today, Annan said that, when pressed by the BBC, that the war was illegal, in violation of the United States charter, because we went in unilaterally without getting our allies to go in with this.

CARLSON: Well, then someone...


NORTON: Kofi Annan, who cares what he thinks?

OK, we're going to take a quick break. We've got a commercial break.

Next in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask Eleanor Holmes Norton what she thinks about Marion Barry's comeback here in the District of Columbia.

And right after the break, who's going to feel Ivan's impact next? We'll be right back.


JERAS: I'm meteorologist Jacqui Jeras.

Tropical Storm Ivan is now pounding northern parts of Georgia with severe weather and damage reports now. We're going to zoom in and show you the Toccoa area. You're under a tornado warning for Stephens and Northern Franklin County. We just had a report of our affiliate, WSB-TV, OF some tornado damage around the Toccoa area.

There you can see that cell that just moved through. And there are two more which could potentially be moving through and possibly having more rotation on it. We also have some significant problems across the Atlanta area right now. We're going to zoom on over towards Atlanta and show you those storms. Lamar and Eastern Spalding County also under a tornado warning at this hour. This line is pushing up to the north and to the north and west. And so the severe weather is likely going to continue here over the next couple of hours.

We have a live picture to show you out of Atlanta right now. And it is difficult to see those planes. There's a ground stop right now in effect for Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport at least until 5:30. And delays will be likely throughout the rest of the evening. There are tornado watches in effect throughout much of Georgia, also into South Carolina and eastern parts of Alabama.

We'll have a complete update on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Time for "Rapid Fire," where we fire off questions or attempt to anyway faster than hurricanes can whip up the Atlantic Ocean.

With us today, Democratic Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia, also Congressman Tom Davis, a Republican of Virginia.

BEGALA: Congressman Davis, in July, the president said -- and I quote -- "I'm pleased with the progress being made in Iraq." in August, he said, "We're making progress on the ground." In September, he says, "We're making progress there."

How much more of this progress can we stand?

DAVIS: Well, we are making progress in terms of building...

BEGALA: We are?

DAVIS: In terms of building infrastructure, in terms of getting the Iraqis back to school, doing some of those things. Where the insurgency is, is where, every day, there's an incident here or there, similar to the Tet Offensive.

BEGALA: Do we need to get you a subscription to CNN?

CARLSON: Now, hold on. Hold on.

BEGALA: You haven't figured out what's going on over there.

CARLSON: Ms. Norton, you're a big advocate of D.C. statehood. You say the city is ready for self-government. And yet the city, some city residents just elected Marion Barry, effectively, to the city council. If D.C. becomes a state, he will be a senator or a member of Congress?

NORTON: What an outrage for the press


CARLSON: I didn't elect him.

NORTON: For the press to focus on the election of Marion Barry as one member of the city council and cast aspersion on our right to full democracy in the District of Columbia.

CARLSON: On your judgment, not right, on judgment.

NORTON: Look...

CARLSON: Bad judgment to elect Marion Barry, don't you think?

NORTON: You know what? We may not have a vote in Congress. We may not have a vote in Congress, but we do have democracy in our local elections. You don't like it.


CARLSON: And look what happens! You elect Marion Barry! Come on! Be real!


NORTON: No, wait a minute. You don't like it -- look, we do have local democracy. If you don't like it, take a ride over to Ward 8 and have it out with my constituents over there. It's not your business.

BEGALA: There you go.


CARLSON: I work here.

BEGALA: I happen to come from a state that actually made George W. Bush the governor, so I'm not going to complain about anybody else's judgment. I mean, I'm a Texan.

Would you support declassifying the national intelligence estimate that "The New York Times" says shows just how terrible things are going and how much Bush is misleading us?


DAVIS: Well, that's what the press...

BEGALA: Should we declassify it?

DAVIS: I think you just go through your regular procedures. You have the people review this and the parts that can be declassified ought to be. The parts that are going to be aid and comfort to the enemy, give them information they shouldn't have, obviously not.

BEGALA: It's only fair.

DAVIS: I think we just go through the book.

BEGALA: Excellent. We agree.

Congressman Tom Davis from Virginia.

DAVIS: Thank you.

BEGALA: Good to see you again.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton from the District of Columbia, which ought to have full voting rights.

CARLSON: Home to Marion Barry! Yes!


BEGALA: God bless him.

Just ahead, the last time we saw actor George Clooney here in Washington, he was starring with our pal James Carville in "K Street." Single women all around the Beltway are about to start screaming again. Find out why next in the CROSSFIRE.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Democratic congressional candidate Nick Clooney getting some high-profile help with his campaign from his famous offspring. Actor George Clooney will attend events in New York and Washington this weekend to help his dad raise money for his campaign. Clooney the elder is seeking Kentucky's 4th District congressional seat. Republicans there bristle that he's going out of state to raise campaign funds.

Well, look, I think they're just jealous that Nick's got such a good-looking well-known son to help him out. And, look, I don't care what your politics are. You could be from Paris or Paducah. There's nothing that says your son can't pitch in and help you out when you're running for public office. It's kind of nice to see.

So here's to George's dad, Nick. Good luck, Nick. I hope he does well.

CARLSON: I agree. I like George Clooney. I'm not going to say a bad word about him.

I do think Barbra Streisand's mom, though, has some interesting ideas. And I don't know why she wouldn't be a great senator.

BEGALA: I thought it was wonderful when the president had his daughters up there at the convention.

CARLSON: I agree. I was like the only...

BEGALA: I thought they were delightful.

CARLSON: I thought they were charming. I think you and I were the only ones who did. I thought they were excellent.

BEGALA: It's one of the few things we agree on. I'm not going to vote for him. The closest I ever came to voting for him was when I saw how great his kids are.

CARLSON: Really? I thought that, too. BEGALA: I thought, he can't be a bad guy if he has such nice kids. We have to stop agreeing.


BEGALA: All right, well, from the left, that's it for CROSSFIRE. I am Paul Begala.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE.

If you're in the path of the hurricane, good luck. We'll see you tomorrow.



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