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Secret Bush Tapes Revealed

Aired February 21, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE: President Bush heads to Europe on a mission to mend fences. He urged allies and opponents alike to stand behind Iraq's rebuilding and called on Europe to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the sake of peace, the Iranian regime must end its support for terrorism and must not develop nuclear weapons.

ANNOUNCER: And secret Bush tapes, personal conversations recorded by a friend before Bush went to the White House. What did he say about drug use?

DOUG WEAD, AUTHOR: It's an irrelevant point to me.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Why is that irrelevant?

WEAD: Because he's already said he was young and irresponsible.

ANNOUNCER: Why are the tapes coming out now?



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

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: President Bush is on the road in Europe this week. In Brussels this morning, he called on European leaders who did not like his Iraq policies to unite around the new Iraq as a country working to rebuild itself. It's a profile in courage for the president to go to a region of the world, most of whose citizens would qualify as the left-wing host on CROSSFIRE. The citizens of this country last November showed what side they are on.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, merci, Bob.

But although presidents from JFK to Reagan to Clinton were beloved around the world, our current president inspires, to quote the late, lamented and great Hunter S. Thompson, fear and loathing throughout the world. (LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: And, on another matter, won earth was a so-called friend of George W. Bush secretly taping him as he prepared to run for president?

We'll discuss all of that today in the CROSSFIRE. But, first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE political alert.

Top officials say the Army is falling dangerously behind its recruiting goals. The National Guard and Reserve are below strength, too. And the Pentagon is offering bonuses of, get this, up to $150,000 for young heroes who commit to six years in special forces, like the Green Berets and Navy SEALs.

President Bush just doesn't get it. It's not money that these young people want, just a competent commander in chief. The three- star general in charge of manpower for the Army says this -- quote -- "We're hearing things like, we'll -- well, let's wait and see how this thing settles out in Iraq" -- unquote.

Soldiers just don't want to follow an incompetent and dishonest leader into a war against a country that never posed a threat to America, a leader who asks them to fight without enough allies, without enough armor, without a plan for victory and without an exit strategy.


BEGALA: That's what they need, not money.

NOVAK: Well, I have to tell you, Paul, that the election is over. I have to remind you of that almost every night.

BEGALA: But the war is not.

NOVAK: But I will tell you this, these -- $500,000, $400,000, $600,000, it doesn't matter to me. I think these -- anybody who will be in the Green Berets and the special forces deserve it.

And I will tell you something else, if you would pay attention. These soldiers in the absentee ballots, the polls showed they voted overwhelmingly for the commander in chief who you denigrate.


BEGALA: I don't...

NOVAK: John -- John Edwards is a thoroughly modern man, because he does not believe in loyalty or gratitude.

He is nationally known only because John Kerry picked him as his vice president. But Edwards says he will not pledge to hold back from a run for president if Kerry tries again next time, as Joe Lieberman pledged to do for Al Gore four years. Now, Kerry picked Edwards to help in the South, and Edwards could not even carry his own state of North Carolina.

Voters rank faith and values as the main reason they went Republican last year. And so, this week, John Edwards rules out invoking God's name on the campaign trail. Johnny, you're a real asset for your party.

BEGALA: I think he's a terrific asset to the party. And I can't wait until, later in the show, we discuss these tapes, because unlike John Edwards, who seems I think to be respectful of his religion and wanting to keep it close to his heart, the president is very careful in these tapes of talking about how he can manipulate religious people and how he can use his religion as a crutch or a shield. It's very interesting.


NOVAK: Don't you think he owes something that, if Kerry wants to run again...

BEGALA: No. No, I don't.

NOVAK: Doesn't owe him a thing?


NOVAK: I guess -- I guess...


BEGALA: He has a perfect right to run. John Kerry tried and lost. If he wants to try again, God bless him. But John Edwards has a perfect right, too.

NOVAK: I guess loyalty and gratitude for liberals are not important.



BEGALA: Why is that loyalty and gratitude? He has a perfect right to run, if he wants to. And I hope he does.

Well, once again, the right wing has got its panties in a wad about gays. And, once again, it's about a cartoon. Brent Bozell, a CROSSFIRE fave, is also the president of the Parents Television Council. And he has attacked "The Simpsons," because last night's episode featured a gay marriage -- quote -- "Do children need to have gay marriage thrust in their faces as an issue?" Bozell asks.

Well, apparently the kook right thinks so. They're the ones running around the country passing anti-gay ballot initiatives, which puts the issue before every child in America.

(APPLAUSE) BEGALA: And, by the way, why is it that the right is so concerned about imaginary gays in cartoons, but silent about the revelation that the Bush White House allowed a right-wing propagandist whose naked pictures appeared on a number of gay escort sites and who has advertised himself as a $200-an-hour gay escort to roam the White House press room for two years? Where are the morality police of the right now, Bob?


NOVAK: You know, Paul, you make -- you make fun of the gay -- anti-gay marriage, anti-same-sex marriage initiatives. But in state after state, states that probably Kerry thought he was going to carry, and he didn't, it was carried by Bush, those -- those initiatives issues have passed.


NOVAK: You just don't agree with the American people on this or hardly anything else.

BEGALA: I just don't agree with Bush letting this guy from the gay escort service into the press room.

NOVAK: The -- the AARP is riding high, collecting millions of dollars from old people like me to fight President Bush's Social Security reform.

But it better watch out. USA Next says it will spend up to $10 million attacking AARP. What's more, USA Next has hired the same consultant who mobilized the brilliantly effective and honest Swift Boat Veterans For Truth ads against John Kerry last year.

There's a lot to attack here, such as the AARP making big money selling mutual funds to its own senior citizen members that involved much more -- much worse risks than would be permitted under the Nixon Social Security -- I mean -- that the Nixon, how that's for a Freudian -- under the Bush Social Security reform. The AARP ought to be nervous, because its hypocrisy is going to be exposed in this ad campaign.

BEGALA: Well, let me tell you, the people who made those swift boat ads, I think about them like something I would scrape off my boot when I'm walking through the cow pasture at my farm. They are the lowest form of scum.



BEGALA: They say that John Kerry did not earn his medals. John Kerry fought for my country. He bled for my country. He killed for my country. And he deserves honor. He may not have to get everybody's vote, but he did not -- he did not deserve the kind of smear that that swift boat thugs did in their first ad.




NOVAK: You can shout and use bad language and make faces at me. But that was an accurate book. It was meticulously researched. And the ads were all exactly correct.


BEGALA: No, it was not true.

NOVAK: President Bush is in Europe. His message is, it's time to look ahead and work together. But is anybody in Europe listening? And, later, is it possible there is a Republican, a Republican, who says Senator Hillary Clinton would make a good president? President of the United States, I guess.

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.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

President Bush is meeting with European leaders this week. He's in Belgium today meeting with the Belch. Next is Germany, where he'll meet with the Germs. And then Bratislava, presumably to eat some brats.


BEGALA: Too bad the president is not going to Paris, because he says he has always loved the parasites.


BEGALA: But can our president really restore the American presidency to its former luster, when it was known as the leader of free world?

In the CROSSFIRE, Cliff May. He's the president of the Foundation the Defense of Democracies. And Democratic strategist, former CROSSFIRE host who -- Bill Press, who ran the show before late- night comics said we hurt America.


BEGALA: Back when it was a great show, Bill.

Thank you very much for coming back. It's really an honor to have back in the CROSSFIRE.


NOVAK: I can't tell you how great it is to have you back, Bill. I'll see you...

BILL PRESS, BILLPRESS.COM: Bob, I can't tell you how good it is to see you.


NOVAK: I see you haven't any more sense now than you had before.


PRESS: Here I am.

NOVAK: I hear you're -- I hear you're going around saying that the president, your president, our president, should go wringing his hands to Washington -- to Paris, to -- and all over Europe, saying, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

But let me tell you what he did say today. And let's listen to him.


BUSH: All nations now have an interest in the success of a free and democratic Iraq, which will fight terror, which will be a bacon of freedom, and which will be a true -- a source of true stability in the region.


NOVAK: Isn't that -- isn't that the message that's proper? Whatever has been in the past, these people ought to step up to the line and help the United States develop a free Iraq?

PRESS: I think the message that's proper over there is, Bush -- George Bush should say, I was wrong and you were right. We should not have gone into Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction.

If we had listened to the French and the Germans, there would have been -- Saddam Hussein, I'm convinced, would have been out of power one way or the other. There would have been a smooth transition. Iraq would not be a new breeding ground for terrorism. And 1,500 Americans would be alive today that were killed in Iraq.



BEGALA: Here's what President Chirac said. President Chirac was right, Cliff. Here's President Chirac, the president of France. He was interviewed by the British back in November of '04. Here' what he said about our occupation and what it's doing to hurt the war on terror -- quote -- "To a certain extent, Saddam Hussein's departure was a positive thing. But it also provoked reactions, such as the mobilization in a number of countries of men and women of Islam, which has made the world more dangerous."

Now, I think he's right. But it doesn't matter what I think. Porter Goss, the president's choice to run the CIA, just last week said Chirac was right. Here's Porter Goss saying the same thing that Chirac was trying to tell us months ago. Here's Porter Goss.


PORTER GOSS, CIA DIRECTOR: Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists. Those jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced and focused on acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries.


BEGALA: Isn't Bill Press right? Shouldn't the president say, Mr. -- President Chirac, you were right and I was wrong?


First of all, I don't think the president shouldn't apologize for liberating millions of people in Afghanistan, in Iraq.


BEGALA: Chirac was right that...


BEGALA: ... our invasion helped the terrorists.

MAY: I don't think he should apologize for wanting liberty and democracy for people, rather than stability.



BEGALA: ... answer the question.

MAY: The question is what again?

BEGALA: Chirac was right. Our engagement of Iraq has helped the terrorists, and the says so.

MAY: He doesn't actually say so. You're misinterpreting what he said. First of all, two things. One is, during the 1990s, there were terrorists who were trained and who mobilized against us. Or have you forgotten 9/11? Second, he said those that survived...

BEGALA: Were they from Iraq?

MAY: Those that survived, enough -- yes, some of them may have been from Salman Pak.

You guys can say what you want. But we know that Salman Pak was a terrorist training camp. Look, those that survived, the terrorists who are in Iraq right now, if we were to leave there, would not go back to Karachi and open up an aerobics studio. They are there to fight us. Do they use Iraq as a mobilization tool? Yes. What did they use as a mobilization tool during the 1990s? They had plenty.

NOVAK: Bill Press, there's another view of Chirac, and it's by the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden. He met with Chirac on February 9. And here's what Senator Biden said.

He said: " I think he," Chirac, "was saying, I'm not ready to step in and do the heavy lifting with boots on the ground. But you might make it, so I want to get in on the deal." He's calculating. This is what Joe Biden says. "He wants to keep one foot on the platform and one foot on the train because the train might leave."

Now, why don't you be a patriot and say, what -- the president shouldn't got hat in hand to Chirac, but should say, hey, man, if you want to make a deal, you got to be a little more forthcoming?

PRESS: Look, Bob, as you know, I'm a native of Delaware. Joe Biden's a good friend. He's a good senator. I disagree with him at times.

I think Chirac again was right about not rushing into Iraq. We should have given the inspectors more time. And I think the president could get Chirac's cooperation if we just show a little humility, which he said, remember, I'm going to have a humble foreign policy.


PRESS: This is the most arrogant foreign policy we've seen.

The French are helping us out on Pakistan. They're helping us out in Kosovo. They would help us out on Iraq if George Bush would just say, you know, Jacques, right, I was wrong then. I'm right now. I need your help. How about it, buddy?

He'd get it.

BEGALA: OK, we're going to have to take a quick break. Bill Press, Cliff May, hang on just a second.

When we come back, as they used to say on "Monty Python," something completely different, the secret tapes of private conversations with George W. Bush before he became president. Do they show a man conniving to hide prior drug use and using his religious faith as a prop? We'll discuss that next.

And then, right after the break, a 7-year-old boy and his pregnant mother are missing in Texas. Wolf Blitzer has the latest on the search.

Stay with us.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, President Bush starts his European tour with a speech stressing unity. But thousands of Europeans stage a protest.

A pregnant woman and her son are missing in Texas. And now their SUV has been found in a creek.

And how do you communicate with a gorilla? Two women who used to work as caretakers say the instructions they got went way too far.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

A man named Doug Wead has released secretly-recorded tapes with then-Texas Governor George W. Bush. On them, George W. Bush talks about his faith, running for president and why he wouldn't answer questions about drug use. Is this a smarmy invasion of privacy and trust by somebody the president considered a friend?

Still with us, the old Democratic boss from California, my former CROSSFIRE co-host Bill Press.


NOVAK: And former Republican National Committee communications director Cliff May.

BEGALA: Cliff, not to do your job for you, but of course it's a smarmy invasion of privacy by a loathsome person. It is horrible. Now, I thought that when Linda Tripp was taping her friends, President Bush's friend taping him. I'm at least consistent on that.

I will also say, I went on national television in 1999 and excoriated journalists who were trying to ask Mr. Bush about prior drug use. I thought he had a right to refuse those questions.

NOVAK: But. I'm waiting for the but.

(LAUGHTER) MAY: Yes, right.


MAY: We agree.

BEGALA: And so, it's really interesting how he talked about it on this tape to the -- the aptly-named Mr. Wead. Here's the president talking with -- on the Wead tapes, we should call them, I guess.


BUSH: Well, Doug, but it's not -- it doesn't matter, cocaine. It'd be the same with marijuana. I wouldn't answer the marijuana question. You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried.

WEAD: Yes, and it never stops, of course.

BUSH: But you got to understand, I want to be president. I want to lead. I want to set -- Do you want your little kid say, Hey, Daddy, President Bush tried marijuana; I think I will?



BEGALA: What's really astonishing of that is just how completely phony that excuse is. The president decided -- governor then -- decided not to talk about alleged prior drug use because he didn't want to, because he couldn't. And I respect that. It wasn't for the children, or he wouldn't talk about how he was drunk for half his life, would he?



MAY: First, I got to say, I agree with you that what this guy Wead did was absolutely deceptive and duplicitous and is awful.

Second, there is nothing surprising about this. He suggested he tried marijuana. We don't know if he inhaled.



BEGALA: I don't want to know. I'm just saying, isn't...

MAY: We just don't know.

BEGALA: Isn't he full of beans when he says it's for the children?

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: Does he want children to get drunk?

MAY: I think...


BEGALA: Because he talks about being a drunk every time he opens his fool mouth.

MAY: He's agreeing with you that, when you answer too many of these questions, people say, you know what? If the president tried it, it's OK for me to try it.

I mean, would you be -- how would you like it if your kids came to you and asked you about all the things you did as a youth?


BEGALA: They can, actually. I never used drugs.


PRESS: Wait a minute. My kids know that -- my kids know I smoked pot, and they still love me.

NOVAK: You still smoke it, don't you?



NOVAK: Bill, Bill, Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, said that these were casual conversations that then- Governor Bush was having with someone he thought was a friend. Now, I've had some casual conversations with you.


PRESS: And I taped every one of them.


NOVAK: But I don't worry about anything I said. But you said some things that were really outrageous.


NOVAK: Would you like -- would you like it? Seriously...


NOVAK: I'm being very serious. How would you feel about having -- when you thought you were speaking in confidence, and I'd been taping it, and I said, gee, what did Bill Press say about so and so, about this person, about that person? Isn't that just the worst thing you can do? PRESS: Look, Bob, I think all of us agree that Doug Wead is scum. It was totally unethical for him to tape those conversations.

NOVAK: Then why are talking about this?


PRESS: I'll tell you why -- no, no. I'll tell you why, because, look, it's like when a guy goes to a house of prostitution. She may be a whore, but that doesn't make him a paragon of virtue. And I think these...

NOVAK: Wait. I got to figure that analogy out. Do you understand that?

MAY: I'm taking notes here.


PRESS: I think these tapes say something about George Bush that we didn't know before.

NOVAK: What?

PRESS: I think it shows that he is very cold, very calculating about everything, including his religion.


PRESS: It says on the tape that he would practice his phrases. He would practice his buzz words. He would rehearse his lines before he met with religious conservatives. Bob, that's not a man of faith. That's of cold, political calculation.



MAY: Excuse me. Excuse me. We're all...

BEGALA: Here's the president on those tapes.

MAY: We're all shocked, political consultants, hearing about a politician rehearsing. I never heard of such a thing.


PRESS: ... about religion.


BEGALA: Let me read you -- we don't have it on the audiotape, but we do have transcripts from "The New York Times." This is the president talking about how he's going to manipulate people to -- about his faith. "There are some code words," Mr. Bush. "There are -- there are some proper ways to say things and some improper ways. And I am going to say that I've accepted Christ into my life. And that's a true statement."

NOVAK: What's wrong with that? What's wrong with that?

BEGALA: It's calculating, isn't it, Cliff?

MAY: It's calculating. Politicians might be calculating. This is said by a political handler. I can't believe this.

Look, what you find on these tapes is that Bush is not very different on tape, on background, in private conversation or in public. Actually, I'm amazed how much it's the same guy.


MAY: That you discuss how you're going to phrase things on the stump? Come on. Of course you do.


MAY: And you made hundreds of thousands of dollars telling people how to phrase things on the stump.


MAY: Millions. Millions. I know you have.

NOVAK: Bill, when you were the Democratic state chairman of California, you lost every race you ever managed. But...



PRESS: He always says that, even though it's not true. Go ahead.


NOVAK: But would you -- would -- you think this would have hurt George W. Bush last fall, if they had known this last fall?

PRESS: I think, if this had come out before the election, it would have hurt George W. Bush, because, it shows -- again, I come back, you have to question whether his faith is sincere or purely political.

NOVAK: Cliff May, thank you. Bill Press, thank you.

PRESS: Thank you, Robert.

NOVAK: What if you want to be president and you're asked on national television what you think of one of your biggest potential rivals? What if that rival is sitting right next to you? Find out next in the nice -- next exciting segment of CROSSFIRE.



NOVAK: There was an early view this past weekend of what potential 2008 presidential candidates really think of each other. Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican John McCain were on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.

During the interview, host Tom (sic) Russert looked ahead to 2008.


TIM RUSSERT, NBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Senator McCain, a serious question: Do you think the lady to your right would make a good president?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Oh, we can't hear you, Tim. We can't hear you.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: You're breaking up.


MCCAIN: I am sure that Senator Clinton would make a good president. I happen to be a Republican and would support, obviously, a Republican nominee.


NOVAK: Senator Clinton said exactly the same thing of John McCain. And both thanked Tim Russert for getting them into trouble by even asking the question.

BEGALA: Didn't Hemingway say courage was grace under pressure? They both showed great grace under real pressure. And good for Tim for asking the question. But I thought McCain and Hillary both were very gracious.

NOVAK: Graciousness doesn't have any place in politics. You know that.



NOVAK: And you're exhibit No. 1.

BEGALA: I hope to exemplify that.

From the left, lacking grace, 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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