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CNN CROSSFIRE

Campaigns Talk Tough

Aired September 28, 2004 - 16:30   ET

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


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

In the CROSSFIRE: Setting the stage. Both candidates are staking out their positions on foreign policy, ahead of Thursday's debate. Both campaigns are talking tough.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When John Kerry is president of the United States, we'll find these terrorists where they are and we will crush them.

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: The American people know that President Bush is going to stand firm. He's going to win this war against terror.

ANNOUNCER: So who holds the better hands heading into Thursday night's showdown? New polls shows a tight race in some key swing states. But national numbers show voters more comfortable with Bush as commander in chief. Can the president solidify that edge or is the debate Kerry's chance to gain traction?

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

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

The topic for Thursday's presidential debate is of course foreign policy. And I bet the candidates will most definitely be discussing Bob Novak's scoop about a recently revealed intelligence report that warned President Bush before the war that an invasion of Iraq could bring violence, terrorism and more support for radical Islam. We may have to wait for the debate to learn why Mr. Bush didn't share those warnings with the American people or our troops before rushing off to war.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Meanwhile, John Kerry is in a freefall. New polls show the president building his lead. We'll talk about that.

But, first, the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." Question, how can you tell when the Kerry-Edwards ticket is in trouble? Answer, when you have to campaign in New Jersey. Yes, the polls show Bush and Kerry running about even in what they call the Garden State. And so Democrats hastily arranged a rally in Newark about an hour and half from now featuring John Edwards.

Not invited, the state's gay governor, Jim McGreevey, who has announced his resignation. Senator Edwards was in New Hampshire yesterday calling his Republican opponents liars. Remember when little Johnny Edwards used to brag about never being negative? He's not as young as he looks and he's certainly not as nice as he looks.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, let me tell you something. Dick Cheney is as nice as he looks. He looks like a poster boy for grumpy old men.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: I can't wait to get him out of them. John Edwards will be a breath of fresh air in that vice president's mansion.

NOVAK: Well, I just love the idea of -- at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark at 6:00. When you have to send your vice president to New Jersey -- you used to spend a lot in New Jersey, I do believe, Paul -- you're in big trouble.

BEGALA: It should be a solidly Democratic state.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: And I think it will be in November. But you have got to also tend to your base.

Well, in a story reported first by our own Bob Novak and now in today's "New York Times," we have learned that President Bush received dire warnings about attacking Iraq two months before he launched his invasion. U.S. intelligence warned Mr. Bush that an attacking Iraq would inflame the Muslim world and turn Muslims against America. He was warned his invasion would divide Iraq. He was warned that his invasion would lead to violence and instability in the country he was about to conquer.

George W. Bush ignored those warnings. And, worse, he didn't pass them on to our troops or to the American people. George W. Bush misled this country into war. He knew it could cost hundreds of American lives, hundreds of billions of dollars, increase terrorism and alienate the entire Muslim world, but he didn't tell you that. He didn't level with us. For that reason alone, he should be fired.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Let me tell you something else about another person who would be fired. The reason we know about this, the author of this national intelligence estimate is a man named Paul Pillar, who is head of the South Asia and Near East division of the CIA.

And he went out to a secret meeting with big businessmen in a West Coast city. I learned about it.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: If somebody in the CIA had done that to Bill Clinton, he would have fired him like that. And I think this guy has no business -- he's supposed to advise the president, not criticize him.

BEGALA: Well, I'm glad he's speaking the truth. I'm glad you're reporting the truth about what's going on there.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Left-wing billionaire George Soros came to Washington today to campaign for John Kerry. The Hungarian refugee who got rich in currency speculation never has a good word to say about his adoptive country, and he didn't disappoint today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE SOROS, JOHN KERRY SUPPORTER: President Bush likes to insist that the terrorists hate us for what we are, a freedom-loving people, not about what we do. Well, he's wrong no that. The more innocent civilians we kill, the more we reinforce the terrorists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Just criticize America, not a word about fighting terrorists. Why do Democrats pander to this guy? Why did General Wesley Clark, introducing him today, call him a great American? The answer is M-O-N-E-Y, money. Soros is spending millions to shape America in his own image.

BEGALA: I think he is a great American. I've never met the guy. I don't know him. But he also said today -- I read his speech -- "I chose America as my home because I value freedom and democracy, civil liberties and an open society."

He deeply loves this country, but he opposes our president, just like millions of patriotic Americans. I don't understand why the right wing attacks him. House Speaker Dennis Hastert even accused him of getting money from drug gangs, which is an incredible smear.

NOVAK: He is for drug legalization.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: That doesn't mean that -- so's William F. Buckley. That doesn't mean he's on the take of the drug lords. Hastert ought to be ashamed of him.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, President Bush, of course, has not given our brave fighting men enough allies. He has not given them enough armor. He has not given them an exit strategy. He certainly has not given them a plan for victory.

So, with all that our soldiers lack, why is Mr. Bush taking away one from them of the few things they do have? Hookers.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: The very word, students of history, will know, hookers, is in honor of Civil War General Joseph Hooker, who encouraged prostitutes to consort his troops, because he knew that an Army travels on more than its stomach.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: But it will soon be a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for a soldier to pay for sex.

In Germany, where prostitution is legal and hookers receive medical checkups, the troops are reportedly none too happy. But maybe they shouldn't complain. They may be denied sex in Germany. But once President Bush sends them to Iraq, they'll really be screwed.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: You know, Paul, I'm going to leave the hooker beat to you on this program.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: You probably know more about it than I do.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: But I do believe, in all seriousness, that telling American boys when they are going off to fight for their country to be in harm's way they're going to get screwed is not helpful. And I don't think you meant it in that way.

BEGALA: I meant it in a lighthearted way.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: But they are in trouble because they don't have a president who knows what the heck he's doing in Iraq. That is a serious point.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, up next, both candidates cram for Thursday's showdown in Miami. The focus is foreign policy. President Bush keeps telling us things are going great in Iraq. Will the debates be a session of unreality TV? And then later, one candidate is left wondering why President Bush's personal endorsement didn't seem to help.

Stay with us.

ANNOUNCER: Get ahead of the CROSSFIRE. Sign up for CROSSFIRE's daily "Political Alert" e-mail. You'll get a preview of each day's show, plus an inside look at the day's political headlines. Just go to CNN.com/CROSSFIRE and sign up today.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The presidential candidates are spending the day preparing for Thursday's face-to-face meeting in Miami. New polls show people think things are getting worse in Iraq, but President Bush remains in the lead in the race for the presidency.

Today in the CROSSFIRE, Terry Holt, Republican National Committee senior adviser, and Tad Devine. He is the Kerry campaign's senior adviser -- a lot of senior advisers.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Mr. Devine, in case you haven't seen the new Bush ad, I want to show you part of it right now.

TAD DEVINE, SENIOR JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Thank you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was the right decision to disarm Saddam. And when the president made the decision, I supported him.

I don't believe the president took us to war as he should have.

The winning of the war was brilliant.

It's the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I have always said we may yet even find weapons of mass destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: You know, isn't it a case that, when the opposition doesn't even have to comment, guys like Holt don't have to do any writing, you just take your guy and put him out there unedited, that's a real problem for you? You have got a candidate that's a liability for the campaign, isn't he?

DEVINE: Bob, every one of those quotes was taken out of complex. And it's part of a big campaign on the part of the president to mislead America, OK? And let me tell you why he is misleading America. Because we're spending $200 billion in Iraq right now, because over 1,000 American lives have been lost, because this president rushed to war without a plan to win the peace. That's why he has to lie to people in ads like that.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: You know, when we talked a long time ago, it seems years ago in Boston, the whole idea of that convention was to introduce Senator Kerry to America.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: They took a look at him and they said, hey, we don't like this guy. How do you make him likable in a debate, when to be in a debate, he has got to be pounding on George Bush?

DEVINE: Bob, I think this debate is about real issues. Four years ago, I think style prevailed over substance in the debate. And that's because America was still in the effect of the Clinton economy, 23 million jobs created. We weren't at war.

Now this nation is at war because this president made such wrong choices. Now this nation is suffering the economic catastrophe of his policies and choices. There are big issues on the table. And I think the American people want a debate on this issue. And they want to know John Kerry's position to take this nation in a new direction. And that's what they're going to hear from him beginning Thursday night.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Terry, in the spirit of turnabout being fair play, let me play for you the latest ad that my friend Tad Devine and his firm made on behalf of Senator Kerry and then get you to respond. Here's the Kerry ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: There he goes again. George Bush said Iraq was mission accomplished. Sixteen months later, he still doesn't get it, today, over 1,000 U.S. soldiers dead, kidnappings, even beheadings of Americans. Still, Bush has no plan for what to do in Iraq. How can you solve a problem when you can't see it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Terry, not a bad point. Why did the president say he was -- the mission is accomplished

(CROSSTALK)

TERRY HOLT, BUSH CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: And I saw that the backup on this ad was that Kerry has a plan and it calls for training troops and bringing the international world community into Iraq and a whole range of other things that the president is already doing.

Like Bob said, what we have is an attack ad, more negativity from the Kerry campaign. Our ads are simply playing John Kerry's words that are totally contradictory. I can't imagine how this guy is preparing for a debate. He has got to have two lecterns and switch back and forth every time he has got to answer a question. I don't know how he's going to do it.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, let me suggest one way he might, which is to go to the facts.

You mentioned training troops. The Bush administration has told us they have trained 210,000 Iraqi troops. But reporters have actually looked into this and studied it, finds out it's not 210,000. It's 5,000 troops that have gone through the full course of training. Why is the president misleading us?

HOLT: Well, this is -- oh, my goodness. What a loaded question.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: It's CROSSFIRE, dude.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

HOLT: I love this show, though.

The fact is, it is going to take a long time for the Iraqi people to bring their country back into the nation of communities and to be fully capable...

BEGALA: But he shouldn't have said 210,000 are trained when only 5,000 are trained, right?

HOLT: We're training people.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That is not true. It's false, right?

HOLT: Well, but we also have militia and police forces. And we have people trying to secure the borders. Just today, we're talking about border security in that country.

There's a lot of work to be done. And the last thing we should do is give up on them before they've finished the job, before we've finished the job.

NOVAK: Tad Devine, I want to show you some polls. And I know that you're very nasty about the polls that... DEVINE: Bob, I'm never nasty, OK? Come on.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: That CNN pays so much money for from Gallup. So I'm not going debate that with you.

We're not going to look at the Gallup poll.

(CROSSTALK)

DEVINE: It's 12 percent more Republican than Democrats. So I wouldn't look at it if I were you.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. We're not going to do that.

DEVINE: Good. Good.

NOVAK: We're going to look at "The Washington Post"/ABC News poll.

DEVINE: Right.

NOVAK: Matchup, Bush is over 50 percent, 51-44. Poll favorability, Bush is 52 percent, Kerry, 37 percent, 37 percent. That's like a bad baseball team. And who will make the country safer and more secure, which is really what the campaign is about? Bush 54, Kerry 37. Friend, you're in big trouble, aren't you?

DEVINE: Hardly, Bob. Do you know what else that poll says?

(APPLAUSE)

DEVINE: That poll says 49 percent of the people in that poll you cited say that the country is going in the wrong direction. The same amount say it's going in the right direction, a deeply divide nation.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: They said that in '96 against -- with Clinton, that we're going in the wrong direction.

DEVINE: Well, there's a big difference. At this point in the first term of the Clinton presidency, he had created 10 million jobs, instead of losing over one million, which is our record with Bush. People, we're in a very different place, we are today in 2004, than in 1996.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Guys like you like to set these precedents. Can you give me an example where an incumbent president at this stage was over 50 percent and lost? Can you name one? DEVINE: Bob, I'll tell you, an incumbent president at this stage...

NOVAK: Name one. Can you name one?

DEVINE: ... at this stage -- in some polls, Jimmy Carter was.

NOVAK: Oh, no. Oh, no.

DEVINE: Yes, sure they were. In some polls, Jimmy Carter was.

And at this stage, an incumbent president who wins is well ahead. An incumbent president who wins has the right track number higher than the wrong track. An incumbent president who wins has a job approval in the mid-50s.

(CROSSTALK)

DEVINE: And let me tell something. This president is in deep trouble. Why? Because his policies have hurt this nation. That's why.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Terry, let me bring up today -- actually, last week, I was sitting at this desk. And my friend Bob Novak let loose that intelligence sources were releasing reports showing that President Bush had been warned about the mayhem and chaos that would come about if he invaded Iraq before he invaded. Sure enough, Bob was right. He reported about it this weekend. "The New York Times" picked it up today.

And here's how "The Times" reported it: "The same intelligence unit that produced a gloomy report in July about the prospect of growing instability in Iraq warned the Bush administration about the potential costly consequences of an American-led invasion two months before the war began, government officials said on Monday. The assessments predicted that an American-led invasion of Iraq would increase support for political Islam and would result in a deeply divided Iraqi society prone to violent internal conflict."

Why didn't the president level with us and tell us what the intelligence agencies told him before the war?

HOLT: Going to war is never without risk. And, in fact, we know and have known for a long time it was going to be a hard slog. But Saddam Hussein still needed to be taken out.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Why didn't the president tell us these things? Why did he mislead us?

HOLT: It presented an absolutely clear danger.

BEGALA: He told us we would be greeted as liberators. He told us it would cost $1.7 billion.

HOLT: I don't recall that ever coming out of his mouth.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Oh, Dick Cheney, OK. Forgive me. He also speaks for George Bush, doesn't he? Give me a break.

(APPLAUSE)

HOLT: It is clear, consistent leadership by the president taking on a hard decision. He didn't go to war because it was politically popular. He went to war because it was the right thing to do to protect this country. He made a commitment on 9/11 to protect this country. And that's what he is going to do.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Tad Devine, I want you to listen to something that Johnny Edwards said the other day. Just listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS: When you listen to our opponents as they engage in some of their fear-mongering...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: I hate fear-mongering, too, so I...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Just a minute. Just a minute. Just a minute.

DEVINE: Why do you guys always cut us in the middle?

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Fear-mongering. He talked about fear-mongering.

DEVINE: OK.

NOVAK: I would like you to listen to the senior senator from Massachusetts, Senator Kennedy, right in this auditorium yesterday. Listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The greatest danger we face in the days, weeks and months ahead is a nuclear 9/11. We hope and pray that it's not already too late to prevent. The war in Iraq has made the mushroom cloud more likely, not less likely, and it never should have happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: If that isn't fear-mongering -- that's big-time fear- mongering, isn't it? Tell the truth.

DEVINE: I remember when Condoleezza Rice said we have to act quickly before we turn a smoking gun into a mushroom cloud. She was talking about invading Iraq.

Let me tell you what Ted Kennedy did.

NOVAK: Isn't that fear-mongering?

DEVINE: That's truth-telling, OK? And America needs some more truth-telling, because they haven't had enough of it.

NOVAK: Oh.

(APPLAUSE)

DEVINE: Because we haven't had enough of it in the last four years.

NOVAK: I was wrong.

DEVINE: That's what it is.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Terry, my favorite newspaper in my home state of Texas is now "The Lone Star Iconoclast," the hometown paper in Crawford, Texas, of George W. Bush. They endorsed Governor Bush for election in 2000, strongly supported his war. They came out today and endorsed John Kerry.

Here's what they wrote, people who know him best: "In those dark hours after the World Trade Center attacks, Americans rallied together with a new sense of patriotism. We were ready to follow Bush's lead through any travail. He let us down. When he finally emerged from his hideouts on remote military bases, well after the first crucial hours following the attack, he gave sound bites instead of solutions. 'The Iconoclast," the president's hometown paper, took Bush on his word and editorialized in favor of the invasion of Iraq. Again, he let us down. 'The Iconoclast" wholeheartedly endorses John Kerry."

That's got to hurt, doesn't it? That's got to hurt?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HOLT: God bless the free press. The editorial pages -- if the editorial pages of the United States of America were going to decide this election, it would have been over. They wouldn't have even bothered to go march past March.

NOVAK: OK.

(CROSSTALK) NOVAK: We're going to have to take a break, because next up in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask whether New Jersey's gay American governor was asked to stay away from a John Edwards event today.

(APPLAUSE)

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.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Coming up at the top of the hour, hostages are released in the Middle East, two Italian women and a CNN producer. We'll have details. A 6.0 earthquake jolts central California. A live report, that's coming up. And the entertainment world wants to know, did Jay Leno jump or was he pushed? I'll speak with Pat O'Brien. He has some answer.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: Time for "Rapid Fire," where the questions come faster than John Kerry changes his mind on the war.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: And joining us, Kerry campaign senior adviser Tad Devine, Republican National Committee senior adviser Terry Holt.

BEGALA: Terry, speaking of changing his mind, the president opposed the Homeland Security Department. Then he supported it. He opposed the 9/11 Commission. Then he supported it. He said we couldn't lose the war on terror. Then he said we wouldn't win. He was against nation building and for it. Is he ready to defend his own flip-flops in the debates on Thursday?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

HOLT: He's ready to defend the policies that he has put in place since 9/11 and to put together the Department of Homeland Security.

But look at John Kerry. John Kerry didn't even show up to vote to fund the Department of Homeland Security last summer.

NOVAK: Tad Devine, in just about an hour from now, Johnny Edwards will be at a Democratic rally at the Robert Treat Hotel in Newark, New Jersey. Has the campaign invited the state's gay American governor, Jim McGreevey, to attend? DEVINE: Bob, I don't know if we invited him. But I'm sure he's more than welcome. We would love to see him there and we welcome his support, absolutely.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Terry, the president once said the most important thing is to get Osama bin Laden -- I'm quoting here -- "dead or alive." Did we get him dead or alive?

HOLT: We're looking for him.

(APPLAUSE)

HOLT: You know, it's never been about one man. It's been about a global war or terror, about rooting out al Qaeda and the hi allies wherever they are. And Osama is important, but so are the rest of these killers and thugs.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: George Soros was at the National Press Club today, Tad. Do you feel any uneasiness in accepting money from this guy, who wants drug legalization and has nothing but criticism for his adopted country, America?

DEVINE: I didn't know we were accepting money. I mean, I thought he was doing what you Republicans love to do, go out and have some free speech that is paid for, OK? That's what you guys are always defending. And he's doing it. You should defend his right to do it.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Terry, a few seconds left. What is your biggest worry about the president's performance Thursday night?

HOLT: I don't have a worry. I feel like he'll be good. He'll be confident. And he'll put his program out there for people to see.

BEGALA: A confident Terry Holt from the Republican National Committee, thank you for joining us in the CROSSFIRE -- Tad Devine from the Kerry campaign.

Thank you both very much.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, could it be that an endorsement from President Bush is an electoral kiss of death? Well, we'll have an example of presidential coattails in reverse next in the CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BEGALA: Well, political endorsements certainly come with lots of fanfare, but how much influence do they really have? Well, Dylan MacDonald, a freshman at Wheelersburg High School in Ohio, scored some very high-profile support in his bid to become class president earlier this month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Man, you're headed in the right direction. I assure you, when I was 14, I couldn't have stood up in front of all these cameras. And, yes, you can have my support.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: President Bush went on to say he would be watching the results like a hawk. Well, watch this, Mr. President. A few days after you endorsed young Dylan, he lost.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: But, Dylan, cheer up. Maybe next year, you can get an endorsement from President John Kerry. Maybe it will do more good.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: You know, Paul, when I went to high school, I was actually elected to the student government. So that just shows you how much high school politics is worth.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again tomorrow as CROSSFIRE and the CNN Election Express roll into Miami, site of Thursday's exciting presidential debate.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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