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CNN CROSSFIRE

Negroponte Chosen as Intelligence Czar

Aired February 17, 2005 - 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, Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE: President Bush names U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte as the country's first director of national intelligence.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The director's responsibility is straightforward and demanding. John will make sure that those whose duty it is to defend America have the information they need to make the right decisions.

ANNOUNCER: Is this career diplomat the right man to lead what he calls a critical national task?

JOHN NEGROPONTE, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR NOMINEE: Critical to our international posture, critical to the prevention of international terrorism and critical to our homeland security.

ANNOUNCER: With the director's job filled, are we safer now from terrorism?

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Are you feeling a little safer today? President Bush this morning tapped U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte, an experienced diplomat who has won praise wherever he went, to take the new post of director of national intelligence. It's hard to find even the famously partisan Democrats to complain, but I bet my friend Paul Begala will whine.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, no, I'll leave the whining to the Republicans, but some very nonpartisan families of 9/11 victims are worried that, while Mr. Negroponte has strong experience in diplomacy, the good ambassador has little or no experience in intelligence.

And why President Bush taps a new star for his Cabinet, the GOP's biggest star, at least in terms of biceps, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, comes to Washington looking for cash. We'll discuss Arnold's -- Arnold's political future with his political mentor here on stage in just a moment.

But, first, let's begin with the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

NOVAK: Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose most recent motion picture was as the Terminator, has taken to calling himself the collectinator. That is the California politician who comes east to fill his bags with federal money.

It hasn't quite worked that way. President Bush included California in his quite modest cuts in federal spending. The governor had a full day of meetings with congressional contacts and leading lobbyists. Does he have a wish list for the visit? Governor Schwarzenegger was asked, oh, yes, he said, have it here in my pocket.

Furthermore, the collectinator title, I can report, hit some very important Republican members of Congress the wrong way. "At least," said one such Republican, "Arnold isn't a Democrat."

BEGALA: He's actually to the left a lot of Democrats on social issues, but this is what galls me. On fiscal issues, he's for tax cuts for the rich, but he wants more money for his state. Well, guess what? He can't get the money unless we collect the money in taxes from rich millionaire movie stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Maybe he and his pals should pay their fair share of taxes before they start claiming more federal revenue.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Well -- well, I will tell you what it is. I think he's half right. I think he's trying to cut taxes for everybody, which he does, but I do believe there is something...

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: ... about these governors coming to Washington with their hand out.

BEGALA: Well, we'll talk to his political mentor in just a moment. He'll be out here.

Meanwhile, "The Washington Post"'s Dana Milbank reports today that Donald Rumsfeld gave the following answers about American troops under fire in Iraq while testifying before the House of Representatives yesterday. Quoting from Milbank's story now: "Asked about the number of insurgents in Iraq, Rumsfeld replied, 'I'm not going to give you a number.' Did he care to voice an on efforts by U.S. pilots to seek damages from their imprisonment in Iraq? 'I don't.' Could he comment on what basing agreements he might seek in Iraq? 'I can't.' How long will the war last? 'There's never been a war that was predictable as to length, casualty or cost in the history of mankind.'" -- unquote.

And, then, with two dozen members of Congress waiting to ask him their questions, Mr. Rumsfeld walked out, saying he had to do lunch and then testify at the Senate. Mr. Rumsfeld's performance was so strikingly arrogant that veteran Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, was forced to apologize to his colleagues. But, of course, it is Mr. Rumsfeld who ought to apologize.

NOVAK: Of course, you're having this tirade against Mr. Rumsfeld. I thought those were all reasonable answers to these nagging questions.

And you know, you know, Paul, what the Democrats are up to. They try to get him on record on saying something and then they try to use that as a political thing. I thought Mr. Rumsfeld was...

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: ... was giving exactly the response those kind of questions deserve.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Alan -- Alan Greenspan, Alan Greenspan is the modern oracle of Delphi, whose words are not always deciphered, but are always scrutinized.

Everybody understood, however, what the Federal Reserve chairman said today, appealing to Democrats to support President Bush's personal Social Security accounts. Said the great central banker -- quote -- "These accounts, properly constructed and managed, will create a sense of increased wealth" -- end quote -- wealth for middle- and lower-income workers.

"It makes me nauseas," said Democratic Congressman Melvin Watt of North Carolina. Money in the hands of his constituents makes him nauseas? Mel went to Yale Law School, but he should look up what nauseas means. He is saying he makes other people nauseated, and that may be the real truth.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: I will tell you what makes me sick, is when President Bush says there's a crisis in Social Security and there's not. Chairman Greenspan said, there's no crisis in Social Security. He said there's a bigger crisis in Medicare, which President Bush is not addressing, but making worse -- my characterization, not his. He said there's a bigger crisis in Medicare.

But I don't think the solution is to borrow $2 trillion more to the national debt and end the guaranteed benefit with a guaranteed fee for stockbrokers.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: That's what the Bush plan does. And I think it's nonsense. (APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, speaking of nonsense, National Hockey League owners could not get players to agree to a salary cap, and so they have canceled the hockey season.

Now, here's the owners' argument: We have to be protected from ourselves. We need something to restrain us from paying players market-based salaries, so we need an artificial cap on what we can pay our players. OK, so how about this? My friend Eric Berm (ph), he is a big hockey fan. He has a great idea. Hey, owners, Berm says, if it's a good idea to cap salaries for players, why not cap profits for owners?

You see, according to Berm, he tells me, I can't restrain myself, there is so much competition for good seats that my fellow friends and I just bid up the price of seats. So, if you can cap how much you pay, say, the Rangers' Mark Messier, why can't I cap what I pay for a decent seat? It is always amusing to watch capitalists undermining capitalism.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: It sounds like your friend, Mr. Berm, is a socialist, which does not surprise me considering he's your friend.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: No, he's a Wall Street capitalist, actually.

NOVAK: But I would say this, that the owners are going to get along fine. They will probably save money by not having the season.

The guys who are hurt are the self-inflicted wounds damaged on themselves by the players.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: Because if they had agreed to a better salary cap, they would be playing for big money, instead of not having a job at all.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But you don't want to cap people's salaries, though, do you? Certainly not talk show hosts' salaries. We don't want to cap them.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: We should live so long.

BEGALA: I believe in freedom.

Well, anyway, President Bush names his choice to be America's first director of national intelligence. Is Ambassador John Negroponte the best person for the job? And will his new position make a difference in America's war on terror? We'll debate all of that next.

And then, Arnold Schwarzenegger may have been attracting the cameras today on Capitol Hill, by why were some of the biggest powerhouses in the Congress ignoring the Terminator in order to spend time with a small-town Chamber of Commerce? We'll tell you why in just a moment.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala 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)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Ambassador John Negroponte has his work cut out for him as the new U.S. director of national intelligence. Can he successfully unify all arms of the country's intel community?

Joining us today in the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Representative David Dreier, a Republican from California who is the powerful chairman of the House Rules Committee.

BEGALA: He certainly is.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Guys, good to see you again.

Not only that, but so powerful, you could even get me tickets to me the Rose Bowl in your district. And I want to thank you for that.

REP. DAVID DREIER (R), CALIFORNIA: Yes. And congratulations again on that great Longhorn victory.

BEGALA: That was great. And just for the record, it's not some Armstrong Williams deal. I paid full price for the tickets.

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER: You paid full price. Yes, I'm not going to give you anything, Begala.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Well, let me ask you a more serious thing about Ambassador Negroponte, frankly, mixed reviews.

One statement I found compelling, a question, actually, I want to direct to you is from the September 11 Advocates, which is a group of families who have lost loved ones in the September 11 attacks. And they asked a very simple question today. "What actual recent intelligence experience does Mr. Negroponte have?"

DREIER: You know, it's a fair question to raise. And I will tell you that it is very important that expertise be brought to this job. I've known and worked with John Negroponte for two decades.

And if one can hearken back to the 1980s and remember one of the most difficult struggles that we had in Central America, John Negroponte served as ambassador to Honduras. And I will tell you that he worked very closely on intelligence gathering when we were working on that issue there. He also served as ambassador to Mexico.

And there -- every single ambassador, Paul, as you well know, works with the CIA station chief in those countries. And so he's been involved in working with intelligence. But I think the president's point here, Paul, was very important in noting that, in trying to break down this decades-old structure that has been there, it is going to be critical to have diplomatic skills. And we all know that John Negroponte brings that to the table extraordinarily well.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Let me beg to differ. I think, actually, it takes undiplomatic skills. I would like to see someone like, for example, Barry McCaffrey, a four-star general who President Clinton put in charge of the drug war, because what General McCaffrey did was attack entrenched bureaucracies, break down barriers and make them work, instead of sitting on diplomatic...

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER: Paul, you're not going to be making that appointment. The president of the United States...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I wish.

DREIER: Yes. I'm glad you're not...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But why not a tough guy, instead a of a diplomat?

DREIER: You know what? Let me just tell you. He's diplomatic. But don't -- don't for one moment believe that John Negroponte is anything other than tough.

I have seen him deal in Honduras and Mexico as ambassador to the United Nations. He has been very, very strong and tough. And the president would not have considered appointing someone who would not be tough.

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER: Being tough does not mean that one does not have diplomatic skills in dealing with a difficult problem. (APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Congressman Markey, let me just -- let me just read you some of the reviews of John Negroponte. Just today, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, who are the chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, who I think know a little bit more about this perhaps some the relatives of the victims.

They said: "Ambassador Negroponte is a highly respected diplomat with a deep understanding of the world. His extraordinary knowledge of foreign policy and intelligence issues, intelligence issues, will serve him well in his new capacity." In the past, Clinton adviser Nancy Soderberg said of Negroponte, "He's one of the most talented diplomats in the U.S. system." And Senator Christopher Dodd, former chairman of the Democratic Party, said, "I have happen to feel he's a very fine foreign service officer and has done a tremendous job in many places."

He doesn't have enemies. He doesn't have critics, does he, except partisans like Paul Begala?

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Not at all.

In fact, he was the ambassador to the United Nations when we were about to invade Iraq. He actually testified that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency told him it did not exist, even though there were hundreds of inspectors on the ground that could not find a nuclear weapons program, even though the intelligence departments of the State and Energy Departments told them there was no nuclear weapons program.

He was dead wrong and we started a war with Iraq over nuclear weapons that did not exist.

NOVAK: Well...

MARKEY: And ignored North Korea and Iran's active nuclear weapons program, creating the beginning of a mess, which we have here today in the world that...

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

MARKEY: That Ambassador Negroponte is largely responsible for.

NOVAK: I think that -- I think that is sheer nonsense. I know he never testified (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to that.

MARKEY: Oh -- oh, Bob, there, you're wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: What he talked about was weapons of mass destruction.

MARKEY: No, he said that the aluminum tubing that had been found was...

NOVAK: He said it could be.

MARKEY: No. Was indubitably going to be used for an active nuclear weapons program.

(CROSSTALK)

MARKEY: I did not interrupt you, David. I did not interrupt you.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Well, you're filibustering. That's why he's interrupting you.

(CROSSTALK)

MARKEY: No. You came back and once again used -- you have a remarkable ability to harness voluminous amounts of information to defend knowingly erroneous premises. And that is an erroneous premise.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: If, God forbid, you were a senator, you would vote against the confirmation of Ambassador Negroponte for this new post, yes or no?

MARKEY: I would ask him...

NOVAK: Yes or no.

MARKEY: ... if he regretted his testimony that there was an active nuclear weapons program.

DREIER: But you would vote for him at the end of the day, and you know it, Ed, because he is going to be a great, he is going to be a great director of national intelligence.

MARKEY: If he said, I made a mistake in Iraq and I pledge not to make a mistake again in the future on nuclear weapons, because that's the most important issue.

BEGALA: Let me press that point. This question of aluminum tubes, a year before the Bush administration told us that they were really only suitable for a nuclear weapons program, the Energy Department was telling the Bush White House, no, in fact, they're most likely being used for rockets, not for nuclear weapons. If someone gets the intelligence that wrong, as Ambassador Negroponte did, why should we put him in charge of intelligence?

DREIER: Well, let me just tell you that if you look at the wide range of intelligence that we had, not just from U.S. sources, but from the French, from the United Nations, from the Russians, from the Germans, it clearly indicated that the prospect of weapons of mass destruction was there.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I'm being specific about aluminum tubes, where the experts...

DREIER: I know you're being specific about.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Where the experts told us, the experts told the White House that they were not suitable for a nuclear program. And yet, the White House, including Ambassador Negroponte, told us they were. Isn't that misleading the country?

DREIER: There was no misleading the country.

We obviously know that we have yet to find weapons of mass destruction. But there are still many indications, Paul, that the prospect of those kinds of weapons, which Saddam Hussein did use against his own people, are on the horizon. And we see, obviously, the threat of nuclear buildup with the threat of North Korea and in other spots.

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER: And so being vigilant was the right thing to do.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: One last question on this subject. You Democrats, you like to tear down people with tremendous records, like Negroponte, like Condoleezza Rice, like Gonzales. That's your game, isn't it?

MARKEY: President Bush said that nuclear nonproliferation was the most important issue. He is now putting in charge of all intelligence for the United States a man who was dead wrong on the issue of nuclear weapons in Iraq with hundreds of inspectors on the ground.

NOVAK: Well, you didn't answer my question.

MARKEY: Well, it's not...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Do you like to -- do you like to tear down these people?

MARKEY: He's very smart, but it's wisdom that we're looking for.

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER: And he said this as ambassador to the United Nations.

MARKEY: We should have gone after North Korea and Iran three years ago.

(APPLAUSE)

MARKEY: That is where the nuclear weapons were. And he missed it.

NOVAK: All right.

Just ahead, what one of our guests was doing with Arnold Schwarzenegger today. My goodness. We'll ask our guests what it is like when Hollywood comes to Capitol Hill.

And right after the break, Wolf Blitzer tells us how groundbreaking surgery may have saved the life of this baby.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Coming up at the top of the hour, President Bush nominates John Negroponte to be the first national intelligence director. We'll get reaction from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and from former acting CIA Director John McLaughlin.

Now that the Iraqi election results have been certified, who is going to get the top post in the new Iraqi government?

BLITZER: And look at this. This tiny baby had open heart surgery. We'll talk to his mother and doctor.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you for that update, Wolf. We look forward to your report at the top of the hour.

Meanwhile, here in Washington, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made an appearance on Capitol Hill today. Well, why was he there and what did he accomplish? Our guests are uniquely suited to tell us.

On the right is Republican Congressman David Dreier, the unofficial campaign guru and Svengali to the California governor.

DREIER: Oh, yes, right.

BEGALA: And Representative Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts.

Congressman Dreier...

DREIER: By the way, I should tell you how I got into that.

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: You are. You're his closest political adviser.

DREIER: Arnold called me from the set of "The Tonight Show" just after he announced and he days, "David, I need your help." How do you say no to the Terminator? That's how it happened.

BEGALA: Well, let me ask you about that. There is an ad -- he was greeted today in "Roll Call," the Capitol Hill newspaper, with an ad from the nurses of his state. "California nurses take 'special interest' in their patients. Is that what he meant?"

The governor attacked nurses in his state, pointed them, called them special interests. What kind of a tough guy beats up nurses?

DREIER: Let me tell you, Arnold Schwarzenegger is not beating up nurses. I will tell you...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Nurses think so.

DREIER: Let me -- he -- the term special interest is there. And the fact of the matter is, Arnold Schwarzenegger is committed completely to children, to the elderly, to education. Those are top priorities for him. Those are the issues that led him to run for governor of California.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He's not changing bed pans. The nurses are. And why is he beating up on them?

DREIER: Are you familiar -- are you familiar with the term U-N- I-O-N? He has dealt with union challenges out in California. It's been amazing how they have stood up. We had a great California congressional delegation meeting today in which we came together to talk about many areas of agreement that we're going to be dealing on -- with in our state.

BEGALA: Between both parties?

DREIER: And Arnold Schwarzenegger -- yes, both, a bipartisan gathering. And Arnold has done a phenomenal job as governor. And I'm very proud that he's there.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Congressman Markey, there's a big movement going on in the country to repeal the constitutional prohibition against a foreign-born American citizen running for president. It's sort of an anachronism. Would you support that amendment? Do you think it ought to be passed, which would permit Arnold Schwarzenegger to run for president?

MARKEY: I'll be back to you on that, Bob, later. No...

(LAUGHTER)

DREIER: A Boston impression of Arnold. That's pretty pathetic.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

DREIER: Don't give up your day job, Markey.

MARKEY: Arnold should continue to work out every day because he'll be an octogenarian before the Constitution is changed.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: You have a governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, one of the real superstars, rising superstars of the Democrats, who was born in Canada. She ought to be able to run for president. She might the first woman president. So it's not just a partisan thing. Wouldn't you be in favor of that as a reasonable change in the Constitution?

MARKEY: I think that it really does deserve to be debated inside the United States Constitution. I was just trying to realistically outline how long it takes to change the Constitution and what the qualifications should be for a naturalized citizen. But I have absolutely no problem with opening it up as a debatable issue.

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER: Well, we would love to have you co-sponsor legislation..

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... your legislation. What are the chances?

DREIER: Yes. Paul Begala and I, interestingly enough, have been working on this.

BEGALA: I do support it.

DREIER: Because the whole focus should be the issue of expanding choices for the American people. Right now, the Constitution limits the American people. There are 12 million Americans who are citizens who were not born here. And the Constitution prevents them. Also...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I'm with you and so is Paul.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: ... we agree on. But you know what? Time is up.

Thank you very much, David Dreier.

DREIER: We also want to repeal the 22nd Amendment, so that someone...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Congressman Ed Markey.

BEGALA: Perfect. Excellent.

DREIER: OK.

NOVAK: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: And if you think Arnold Schwarzenegger attracts a lot of attention here in Washington, you're not running for president. We'll show you who is really drawing a crowd next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Who do you suppose had some senators almost tripping over themselves on Capitol Hill yesterday? You probably didn't guess a Chamber of Commerce delegation from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, population 23,000.

But Republican Senators Bill Frist, John McCain, Chuck Hagel and Democratic Senator, yes, Hillary Clinton, each met behind closed doors with the New Hampshire group. What's the big deal? You know. All four lawmakers are considered early contenders for the '08 presidential election.

And, remember, New Hampshire hosts the first primary of the presidential campaign every four years. The senators insist they were invited by their New York -- by their New Hampshire counterpart, Senator John Sununu. And they insist politics wasn't on the agenda. Yes, right. And I'm about to become a vegetarian.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Yes. You know, they ought to just tell the truth, change the name to "Pork"-smouth. And they hosted us on CROSSFIRE. They were very nice to us. Thanks, Portsmouth.

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.

(APPLAUSE)

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