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War on Terror Closer to Home?

Aired March 1, 2005 - 16:30   ET


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

In the CROSSFIRE: dangerous communications. U.S. intelligence intercepts a message from Osama bin Laden. He's calling on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to move beyond spreading terror in Iraq. Is the war on terror about to hit closer to home?

Plus, are recent changes in Lebanon, Egypt and the rest of the Middle East proof that the Bush administration's efforts to spread democracy are beginning to pay off?



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



Is Osama bin Laden in contact with Iraqi terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi? A new report says yes. Three and a half years after President Bush promised to get Osama bin Laden -- quote -- "dead or alive," he's still planning attacks on America. So, has Mr. Bush's war in Iraq actually helped bin Laden to buy time?

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: President Bush has made the point that a number of al Qaeda operatives and leaders have been caught or killed. And polls continue to show that a majority of Americans, 60 percent, remain in favor of the president's policy on Iraq.

But before we get into that, here's the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Like the movie "Groundhog Day," when the same day is repeated over and over, the judgeship confirmation dance resumed today on Capitol Hill. Senate Democrats announced they again will filibuster former Interior Department lawyer William Myers of Boise, Idaho, as a judge on the overwhelmingly liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Myers was filibustered in the last Congress, along with another 15 of President Bush's judicial nominees. Nobody disputes Myers' qualifications or his character. Along with the other filibustered nominees, Myers has been rejected for being too conservative. Myers has 58 votes, when he needs 60 to break a filibuster in the 100-member Senate. What a travesty of democracy it will be if he doesn't get them.

BEGALA: No. It will be democracy working. The Senate works its will. We have a democracy still. The president can propose judges, but only the Senate can confirm them. If Mr. Bush can't get the votes, he doesn't deserve to have those people on the bench.


BEGALA: That's democracy.


NOVAK: Because you're a college professor in the off hours.


NOVAK: You ought to read some history and know that this is unprecedented. Never before have they said that 60 votes are needed to confirm a judge in the United States Senate.


NOVAK: That's against the Constitution.


BEGALA: Well, we'll have plenty more debates about that in the future.

But, on another matter, in 1999, the holy father, Pope John Paul II, came to Saint Louis to plead with Americans to adopt what he called a culture of life. In addition to strongly opposing abortion and euthanasia, the holy father said this -- quote -- "I renew the appeal I made, most recently at Christmas, for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary" -- unquote.

Then Governor of Missouri Mel Carnahan was so moved by the pope's appeal, he commuted the death sentence of a man who was about to be executed. Today, the culture of life won another victory when the Supreme Court outlawed the barbaric practice of executing children. But one justice was outraged. He called the decision a mockery, implausible with no foundation in law or logic. "The court," he said, "crowns arbitrariness with chaos."

This bitter spokesman for the culture of death, Justice Antonin Scalia, was in the minority, thank God.

NOVAK: You know, you're a very clever fellow, Paul, because you make it seem there was only one justice against this decision. This was a 5-4 decision. And one of the dissenters, wrote a brilliant dissent, was Sandra Day O'Connor. Also, I think Justice Scalia is a very good Catholic. I try to be a good Catholic. Being for capital punishment is not a sin. Being for abortion is a sin.

BEGALA: Well, first off, Justice Scalia trusts the government...


BEGALA: ... to execute a 16-year-old, but not to count votes in Florida? That's incoherent.



NOVAK: Newly Democratic national chairman Howard Dean is continuing his tour of Republican red states. Tonight, he will be in Jackson, Mississippi, to keynote a state Democratic Party fund-raising dinner. Now, Mississippi is the reddest of the red states, solidly Republican.

CNN asked a Mississippi Democratic operative what Howard was doing down there. Asking not to be quoted, this Democrat replied -- quote -- "It's a waste of money for Democrats to spend any of it down here. As long as national Democrats have the positions they have on religion, gun control, abortion and gay marriage, you just can't reach the average white voter down here" -- end quote.

This fellow must have realized that chairman Dean is just on an ego trip. Agree?

BEGALA: No. I think it's great that Howard Dean is going into red state America. Now, wait a minute, pro-choice on abortion, pro- gay rights, pro-gun control. That's Rudy Giuliani. That's Arnold Schwarzenegger. That's all the stars of the Republican Party, too.

NOVAK: I don't see them in Mississippi.

BEGALA: All the -- well, all the energy in the Republican Party is now on the left, isn't it?

NOVAK: Let me...

BEGALA: And I think Howard Dean going to Mississippi is great.

NOVAK: Well, we're talking about Democrats for the moment. Do you think he is going to get any -- any -- any support from Mississippi?


NOVAK: You think Mississippi...


BEGALA: He's hosting a big -- he's headlining a big fund-raiser tonight. I think it's great for the Democrats.

NOVAK: Do you think Mississippi will ever go for a Democrat for president?


BEGALA: We will not write off any more states. And God bless Howard Dean for doing that.


BEGALA: I think it's right.

Well, when the Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said -- quote -- "We now learn that Saddam's chambers reopened under new management, U.S. management" -- unquote. Right-wingers went batty.

In the pages of "The Weekly Standard," Senator Kennedy was accused of slandering our troops. Another right-winger called Senator Kennedy anti-American. The State Department report on the human rights record of the American-installed government of Iraq finds -- quoting the report here -- -- quote -- "arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, impunity, poor prison conditions, arbitrary arrest" -- unquote -- and more.

Keep in mind, this is under the American-installed government in Iraq. Now, we went to war because of claims of weapons of mass destruction. They didn't exist. Then it was links to al Qaeda. Well, they didn't exist either. Then it was to stop the torture and the human right abuses under Saddam Hussein. Sadly, though, the torture continues. Senator Kennedy was right. He's a great American patriot. And he deserves an apology from the far right.

NOVAK: Again, you're very clever. You call it an American- installed government, but it's an Iraqi government. It's not an American government that was doing this.

And what other government, except our own, that you should be proud of, would put out a report which is self-critical of our allies and the people we put in there? I guarantee you, no other government in the world, including the French people that you love so much, would do something like that.


BEGALA: Actually, the British would. And we should. And that's good for us. But this is an American-installed government.

Well, according to U.S. intelligence, Osama bin Laden wants Iraqi terrorist kingpin Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to plan new attacks, perhaps inside the United States. We'll ask two congressmen whether America is facing another 9/11.

And how much would you pay to have lunch with Arnold Schwarzenegger? It looks like the man who promised to shake up state government may instead be shaking down the special interests here in Washington.

Stay with us.


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.



NOVAK: An intercepted communication between al Qaeda's leader and the terrorist responsible for masterminding attacks across Iraq. What does a call for attacks on the homeland mean?

In the CROSSFIRE today, two members of Congress, New York Democrat Charlie Rangel and California Dana Rohrabacher.


BEGALA: Gentlemen, good to see you both.

Congressman Rohrabacher, here's the story that CNN is reporting. "U.S. intelligence has intercepted a communication from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to his top adherent in Iraq that reiterates the desire by al Qaeda to target the homeland, U.S. officials said Monday. A classified bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security issued Friday warned state homeland security advisers and other authorities of credible, but non-specific threat information, reaffirming al Qaeda's intent to strike the United States."

My first question, and it's actually not tendentious, which mine usually are, is, why was this leaked? Why would we want to tip off the enemy that we're listening in on him?

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: You know, I have no idea, but I will say that it shouldn't surprise anyone that we have communication between people like this. Would it be surprising to hear that Hitler called Mussolini in the middle of World War II?

No, what's important is, we have a strategy at play. And perhaps leaking this lets them know we know everything they're saying.

BEGALA: Why would we want to let them know? You worked for President Reagan.


BEGALA: Before you joined the Congress, you worked in the White House. I've worked in the White House. No sensible president wants his intelligence secrets and particularly sources and methods, which this seems to suggest.


ROHRABACHER: Perhaps this is an effort to psych out the enemy.

BEGALA: Why don't we just kill him, instead of psyching him out?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I know the answer.

BEGALA: Why don't we will kill...


NOVAK: Go ahead. What's the answer, Charlie?

RANGEL: The answer is, the last time they gave intelligence to President Bush on the farm, he said, the hell with it. Now they're saying they want the whole world to know what's going on or we'll never know. That's the answer.

NOVAK: You know, Congressman Rangel, there's a lot of naysayers -- I hope you're not a naysayer, but I have my suspicions -- who want to look at the very sorry side of the situation, when, in fact, the big story in the war on terrorism is the vote in Iraq.

You know, it has really changed a lot of people's mind. And I would like to quote Walid Jumblatt, who is the leader of the Lebanese intifada. He said: "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."

Can you see, Charlie?

RANGEL: Why don't you ask the families of the 1,500 men and women who died over there or the 12,000 that got wounded or the 100,000 Iraqis that are dead today? Sure, it makes you feel good when you see democracy and elections in any country.

But I ask this question. If we knew we had to pay that type of a price to get that type of a election, would we do it again? Would we do it again?


ROHRABACHER: Yes, we would do it. We would do it again.

RANGEL: With someone else's kids, sure.


ROHRABACHER: No, no. If it changes history...


ROHRABACHER: If it changed history, so that, in the future, our children can leave in peace, so in the future, the young Muslims who are growing up will know that democracy is an alternative, yes, Americans would give their lives for that. (CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Do you know that it's changed history, Congressman?


RANGEL: I know -- I know it doesn't appear to have changed history in North Korea.


RANGEL: Hold it. Hold it.


NOVAK: ... North Korea?


RANGEL: What about in Egypt?


NOVAK: Did you flunk geography?

BEGALA: Let him answer.

Go ahead, Congressman Rangel.

RANGEL: You know, if you're talking about Egypt and the other countries that appear to be moving, I think it shows that you can do more diplomatic than running in there and invading a country to bring about these type of elections.

ROHRABACHER: Unless -- unless President Bush would have demonstrated the strength that he has demonstrated, what's happening in Lebanon, what's happening in Egypt, what happened in Libya wouldn't happen. And then the future would be a lot bleaker for the United States of America.



RANGEL: You know what this is? This really...


BEGALA: We don't know whether the happy ending you foresee will come about. We all pray that it will.

But we do know what is going on in the present. And this is according to Porter Goss, your former colleague, the House chairman of the Intelligence Committee, now the head of America's intelligence as the head of the CIA. Here's what he says the war in Iraq has done in terms of emboldening and helping terrorists. This is Porter Goss. "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."

The CIA says Mr. Bush's war is spreading terrorism.

ROHRABACHER: Well, first of all, let me note, because you're confronting evil people, and that may anger other evil people, doesn't mean you should not confront evil. And that's as simple as that.


RANGEL: But it was Secretary Rumsfeld...


ROHRABACHER: Should we never have confronted Adolf Hitler because the German people would unite against us and back Hitler? No.


BEGALA: You don't think Iraq was -- you don't think Iraq was a threat to America on the level of Hitler? it wasn't a threat at all, we know now.

ROHRABACHER: I think Iraq was...

BEGALA: So we attacked a country that was no threat to us.

ROHRABACHER: I think Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was a murderous, monstrous regime, murdered thousands of their own people and threatened their neighbors.


BEGALA: Were they while Ronald Reagan was helping them?

NOVAK: Congressman, Congressman Rangel...


ROHRABACHER: ... had threatened us as well.

NOVAK: Congressman Rangel, you know, you're a politician and a very good one.


RANGEL: ... good.



NOVAK: Excellent one. And you're interested in how the people feel.

Now, the latest poll, just taken this last week by CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, do you approve or disapprove of how President Bush is handling terrorism? Approve, 60 percent, disapprove, 37 percent. A previous poll said that confidence in the Bush administration's ability to protect the U.S. citizens from terrorism, yes, 73 percent, no, 26 percent. Are the American people dumb? Is that what you're saying, dumb?

RANGEL: No. I think that Bush has done a fantastic con job on the American people.

NOVAK: You're saying they're dumb, then.


RANGEL: No, I don't.

I say this. I say this. When we were attacked -- and I was there in New York -- all of America, including me, we were frightened to death. We didn't know how -- how long this would go on. And when the president implied that he knew who had done this and that there was some kind of a connection with this evil man who had abused his people and the evil people from Saudi Arabia that attacked us there in New York, and I mean all of America, there was an assumption with most Americans that he knew was going after. He's honest enough to say he was just going after an evil person.

But right now we find out...

NOVAK: You're talking about three years ago. I'm talking about February 25-27, 2005. People say they approve of what -- he is doing it.

RANGEL: And they keep saying that there is terrorism out there. And the president says he knows what he's doing. And yet, we never hear about Osama bin Laden. Whatever happened to the guy that harmed us?


NOVAK: I want you to say that you think the American people are stupid, though.


RANGEL: I really think that Bush has done a heck of a job at letting them think that, when a man and a man gets married or a woman and woman get married, that that is more important than our national security.


BEGALA: Let me come back to question that Charlie Rangel raised, Congressman Rohrabacher. Whatever happened to Osama bin Laden? Now we learned, according to this astonishing leak, which I hope somebody is prosecuted for, by the way, that he is in league trying to bring more terrorists to attack America.

Three and a half years ago, on September 17, six days after the attacks in Mr. Rangel's home state, Mr. Bush promised he would get Osama bin Laden dead or alive. Has he kept that promise?

ROHRABACHER: I am certain that he has kept that promise.

BEGALA: So we got him? I just missed it.

ROHRABACHER: No. No. It doesn't mean...



ROHRABACHER: I have no doubt that President Bush is doing a much better job at accomplishing that goal than any Democrat that would offer an alternative.

BEGALA: Who could do worse? Three and a half years, the guy is planning new attacks on America.

ROHRABACHER: Let me tell you who could do worse. I don't know...

NOVAK: I can think of a lot of people.

ROHRABACHER: I can think of a lot of people, too.

BEGALA: The CIA says that it's helping the terrorists.


BEGALA: He's done nothing to catch the guy. It's three and a half years later. He's planning new attacks.

NOVAK: We've got to take -- we've got to take a -- we've got to take a break.

And just ahead, you won't believe who's giving President Bush rave reviews, rave reviews, for his handling of the Middle East.

And who killed the husband and mother of a federal judge in Chicago? Wolf Blitzer has the latest on the investigation right after the break.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, the United States steps up the diplomatic pressure on Syria. Is the Syrian President, Assad, ready to pull his troops out of Lebanon? There's been a dramatic development.

A Chicago judge's husband and mother are murdered. Is a white supremacist to blame?

And the defense makes its opening statements in the Michael Jackson trial. The entertainer's lawyer hints that Jackson will testify in his own defense.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: Wolf, thank you for that report. We look forward to "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" at the top of the hour.

Meanwhile, here at CROSSFIRE, we're discussing the war on terror. President Bush argues that war in Iraq is now the front line in the war on terror. Critics say that the war has been a deadly and dangerous distraction from hunting down and killing Osama bin Laden and the rest of al Qaeda. And now comes word that Mr. Bin Laden has contacted Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, asking him to launch attacks, perhaps even here inside the United States.

Discussing this issue with us in the CROSSFIRE, California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. He is a Republican. And New York Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel.

NOVAK: Mr. Rangel, you don't seem to understand the importance of the vote in Iraq on the war on terror. I just want to quote a couple of Democrats.

Marc Ginsburg, the former Clinton ambassador to Morocco: "That vote had enormous emotional ramifications for the people in the region, who were taken aback by what they saw. Every Arab newspaper that I'm reading now uses the phrase, why there and not here?"

And then Dennis Ross, President Clinton's envoy to the Middle East -- you know him -- he said: "Something profound's going on right now. And what it is really, more than anything else, is a loss of fear. Every Arab regime is ruled basically through coercion and intimidation. And suddenly the fear factor is eroding."

Can't you concede that this is a grave victory for the United States and that the Iraqi election is changing the climate in the Middle East?

RANGEL: I was brought on this program under false pretenses. You didn't tell me that you wanted to talk about good and bad elections. You wanted to talk about terrorism.

NOVAK: That's what this is.

RANGEL: And I'm asking, there's more damn terrorists right now in Iraq than there was before we invaded. Rumsfeld says he does not know whether we created more terrorists. Porter Goss is saying that this is the training ground for terrorists. So, if you want a course in elections 101, hey, you want it. I don't want Americans to die just for elections. I want to get the terrorists. And the president knows where they are. You know why? They came out of Saudi Arabia. He entertains the chiefs of Saudi Arabia at the ranch. They visit the White House. None of them came from Iraq. So, the president ought to tell us where the terrorists are and not where the election consultants are.


NOVAK: You know you're being -- you're being -- you're being sardonic.


RANGEL: Get out of here.


ROHRABACHER: Listen, the Democrats are going to keep losing over and over again until they can give the United States credit when it does something good overseas, instead of always having to be cynical and back-biting of everything we try to do that's good...


RANGEL: If you were so good at elections, you would have done better in Florida than you did.


BEGALA: Let me ask Congressman Rohrabacher about what your colleagues and you in the Congress are doing. With reports that the American homeland could be under attack, can you explain to me why the Republican budget has $41 billion for the Department of Homeland Security and $1 trillion for tax cuts mostly for the rich? What, are you people crazy? Why don't you defend the country first and help the rich later?


BEGALA: That's insane, isn't it?

ROHRABACHER: First of all, first of all, let us note that every time I hear this taxing for the rich, it's so way out of line. We're not talking about tax cuts for the rich. We're talking about people...

BEGALA: Just tax cuts for anybody. Why $1 trillion in tax cuts and only $41 billion to protect us from these animals who want to kill us?


ROHRABACHER: Maybe we believe that two people who are married shouldn't pay higher taxes than two people who are single who... (CROSSTALK)


BEGALA: They're both going to be dead if you don't protect the homeland.

ROHRABACHER: No, that's -- that's not -- but that's not tax cuts for the rich.

There are inequities in our tax system and it wasn't tax cuts for the rich, just like I just mentioned.


RANGEL: Why don't you let the rich speak for themselves?

Bob, what do you say?


ROHRABACHER: But, but, there's no reason not to have a situation where we...

NOVAK: You can't be tough on me and...


BEGALA: Let Mr. Rohrabacher finish. Go ahead.


BEGALA: We're almost out of time.

ROHRABACHER: Let me just note that we believe that making sure that some of these inequities in our system, which we believe we corrected for that, not tax cuts for the rich, would help keep our economy strong and, thus, give us more of a tax base.


BEGALA: That has to be the last word, I'm sorry. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California...

RANGEL: We had to borrow you money to give you the tax cut.

BEGALA: Congressman Charles Rangel from New York.

I'm sorry to cut you guys off. I wish we had an hour, but we don't.

Coming up next, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has a very unusual lunch plan in Washington, D.C. We'll tell you all about it next.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.


BEGALA: For his Washington lobbyist lunch coming up to raise money, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is charging $5,000 if you just want one seat at the luncheon. But if you contribute $11,150, you get two seats at the luncheon and a photo with the Terminator. But for $22,300, you hit the jackpot. That's the maximum California law allows from individuals. You'll get four seats at lunch. And two people get to pose for a photo with the governor, presumably one on each bicep.

So much for special interests.

NOVAK: Paul, didn't we -- don't we have a president who, for $10,000, you could sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom? Who was that guy?


BEGALA: Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger says he is going to take on the special interests. He's shaking them down instead. Shame on you, Arnold.

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

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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