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CNN CROSSFIRE

Deep Throat: Hero or Villain?

Aired June 2, 2005 - 16:30   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE: on the left, Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, now that we know Deep Throat's identity, a debate has broken out over whether he did the right thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that Mark Felt was an American hero, trying to make sure that this government would continue.

ANNOUNCER: A Watergate burglar sees it differently.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The man has no honor. I think he is a crumb and I think that -- I don't see how he can live with himself.

ANNOUNCER: The last chapter of the Watergate saga turns out to be just as controversial as the rest of the story. Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

PAUL BEGALA, ON THE LEFT: Hello, and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Of course, by now everyone knows the answer to Washington's best- kept political secret. Deep Throat has been revealed and many people believe that former FBI official Mark Felt is a hero.

ROBERT NOVAK, ON THE RIGHT: But others are not quite so sure. Did he betray Richard Nixon? If so, why? His unveiling surely has reopened old wounds. We'll get to that in just a moment, but first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

What's this about Hillary Rodham Clinton moving toward the center to run for president? Don't believe it. In a new fundraising e-mail, Senator Clinton mimics the heated left-wing rhetoric of MoveOn.org. She talks about, quote, "Fighting every day to prevent attempts to remake America in their image," end quote. She adds, "I need your help to fight back," fight back being an old-left wing slogan.

Tonight in Los Angeles, Hillary taps the usual show business leftist suspects in a big Hollywood fund raiser: Norman Lear, Rob Reiner, Frank Biondi. All this for reelection to the Senate next year when Republicans don't even have a candidate? No, she is mobilizing the far left for her presidential run.

BEGALA: Well, I'm sure you're much closer to Hillary than I am, but I happen to know, having talked to her, she's actually running for reelection, and she'll let the future take care of itself. But, I would love to see the Hillary-bashing from the right. It tells me that she is probably the most powerful and effective progressive on the Democratic side, and I have three words for you: God bless Hillary.

NOVAK: Well, see, I don't...

BEGALA: God bless her.

NOVAK: I don't -- I don't bash Hillary because I think she's weak. I don't bash her because I think she is strong. I bash her because I like to.

BEGALA: Well, now , here's four words to leave you with: President Hillary Clinton. Hillary Rodham Clinton. That would be it, right? Those are my four-words -- prediction. You write -- one day. She's got to get re-elected first, though.

NOVAK: Like President John Kerry? Wasn't that the...

BEGALA: Well, I don't know about that one.

Well, speaking of John Kerry's campaign, throughout the reelection campaign against Mr. Kerry, President Bush used the 9/11 attack as a political issue, pulling it out like a cheap handgun in a bar fight. America lost jobs under Bush? 9/11. The deficit? 9/11. Not enough rain in the Midwest? 9/11.

But now that the campaign is over, Mr. Bush's message is, to paraphrase the "New York Daily News" headline from another era, Bush to city, drop dead. His administration is demanding that New York City return $125 million that Congress appropriated for injured victims of the 9/11 attack. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York is fighting for the victims of the attack, noting that some of the heroic workers at ground zero were exposed to hazards that might not affect them for years.

So, I've got an idea how the cops and firefighters can get their money from Mr. Bush: pretend they are Washington lobbyists or lazy, good-for-nothing heiresses. Republicans love to throw money at them. Too bad there's not enough left over for the heroes of 9/11

NOVAK: Let me make a response to that demagoguery, Paul. Of the $125 million, only 9 million has been spent. They have been after the city to spend more and more. Only 6 million has been spent in the last few years -- in the last year. And what do they want the extra money for? Long-term health hazards. They don't even know if they'll be there. I tell you what they need it for. They need it because they want to have it for the fat government in New York City.

BEGALA: Ha. Ha. Ha.

NOVAK: The Supreme Court has handed down a ruling drenched in irony. A unanimous court overturned the conviction of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, so justice finally was done or was it? The government put Andersen out of business, and deprived 20,000 employees of their jobs, all because they did routine destruction of documents. Arthur Andersen was ruined, not because of corporate greed, but of prosecuting excess.

Its twin brother is regulatory excess which may be eased now that overzealous William Donaldson has resigned in Securities and Exchange Commission chairman to be replaced by the sensible congressman Chris Cox of California. Enough liberal colleagues are willing to destroy corporate America without a Republican administration joining them.

BEGALA: Well, it's a shame that Mr. Donaldson is leaving. He is a Republican, but he seemed to be...

NOVAK: He voted with the Democrats on...

BEGALA: ...tough on corporate crime and that's why the business lobbyists in Washington who control the Bush administration have forced him out. By the way, Congressman Cox, while a nice man, has taken a quarter of a million dollars from the very industries he's now going to have to regulate. I guess Ken Lay was busy. They couldn't put him in charge, but it's the next best thing. I think this is not a wise choice.

NOVAK: I'd like you to tell me what you think of this Andersen thing, of putting a firm out of business and they say, oh, we're sorry now. How about those 20,000 people that lost their jobs?

BEGALA: Oh, well, not all of them were crooks but some of them were and they got in trouble. Good for them.

Well, two new studies indicate that limiting awards in medical malpractice cases has no affect on insurance premiums. Back in January 16 of 2003, though, President Bush said the jury awards -- quoting our president now -- quote, "drive up insurance costs, that's a fact," unquote. But, like so much of what Mr. Bush says, it is not a fact. It is a fib.

The study published in academic journal "Health Affairs," and a second independent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation released this week, found that jury awards have gone up only about 2 percent a year lately, while premiums have gone through the roof. Turns out that instead of limiting people's rights to compensation after they've been injured, it's a lot more effective to regulate the insurance companies that are jacking up premiums.

Don't hold your breath for Mr. Bush to take on big insurance companies, though, he would rather beat up on injured patients and their attorneys.

NOVAK: You know, that's a standard propaganda from the trial lawyers. I've heard it on the floor of the Senate, floor of the House. I'm not going to quote the trial -- the insurance companies. I'm going to quote the drivers, the AMA, who says that there are a dozen states where you're just not having any kind of medical service because of these high premiums. Some of the -- several others are threatened. It -- and just the threat of these lawsuits is driving up the premiums. You know, the -- I really, as we end up CROSSFIRE, I hate you -- I hate to see you...

BEGALA: I know you hate me.

NOVAK: I don't hate you. I hate to see you -- because I respect you -- swallowing the trial (ph) and the propaganda.

BEGALA: This -- these were two independent studies. These were independent studies.

NOVAK: Deep Throat, finally revealed. Is he a hero or something else? A debate has broken out over what Mark Felt did more than 30 years ago. It helped the bring down the Nixon presidency. We'll talk to two people who were there coming up next on CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

"Deep Throat" revealed. Now that we know the identity of Washington's most closely guarded secret source, another debate has broken out. That being did that source, Mark Felt, do the right thing?

In the CROSSFIRE today to debate it David Keene. He is, today, the chairman of the American Conservative Union. And a Washington powerhouse. He was in that day an aide to Vice President Spiro Agnew.

And, joining us from New York City, Congressman Charlie Rangel. He was then a member of the House Judiciary Committee that investigated President Nixon's criminality in impeachment hearings. He is now about to become the chairman of the House Weighs and Means Committee when Democrats take back the congress in the next election. Thank you both very much for joining us.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Congressman Rangel, thanks for coming in.

Six years ago, Mark Felt was interviewed by "Slate" magazine and asked is -- was "Deep Throat" a hero? This was his answer. "He said that's not my view at all. It would be contrary to my responsibility as a loyal employee of the FBI to leak information." End quote. So, he not only was deceiving, he was plain out lying and deceptive. Is this a guy who really we should put heroic standard on when he can't tell the truth and he really obfuscates on purpose?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL, (D) NEW YORK: I don't think he can be elevated to the role as a hero, because everybody in the White House, the FBI, the CIA, were trying to protect their backs knowing that President Nixon was such a crook that when he came down, they didn't want to come down with him. But I can tell you this, as a result of us being in this war in Iraq, I wish we had a "Deep Throat" in the Pentagon.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE) NOVAK: Well, Charlie Rangel, I want you to listen -- I want you to listen to what our mutual friend, Chuck Colson, who was a -- went to prison on Watergate and now is a born again Christian, does a lot of good work. I want you to see what he says about Mark Felt. And tell me what you think of this. Let's listen to Chuck Colson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK COLSON, BREAKPOINT FOUNDER: To think that he was out going around in back allies at night looking for flowerpots, passing information to someone is just so demeaning. It's terribly disappointing. It's not the image of the professional FBI that you would expect.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVAK: You agree with that, Charlie?

RANGEL: I wish you wouldn't throw me a softball like that. Here the guy found Jesus, but he just got out of jail. And he's working for a crooked president that left the office in disgrace. I don't think everyone has clean hands in this whole thing. But you can't put down a guy that is saying that, the nation deserved better than Richard Nixon.

BEGALA: David Keene, first, good to see you again. "The Washington Post" I think did a great service in the way it covered Watergate and in this week in the way it's telling us about what had happened, and particularly for younger people.

Let me read you one paragraph that "The Post" ran yesterday summarizing what exactly happened in Watergate.

"A secret investigative unit," the "Post" reports was run from the White House, supported by the CIA and financed by campaign funds to spy on enemies and to break into a psychiatrists office in a search for a confidential files. 21 participants in what came to be known as the Watergate scandal, including the president's counsel, chief domestic adviser, attorney general, campaign finance director, pleaded guilty or were convicted of crimes documented by the FBI and brought to light with Felt's help."

Massive criminality. And I know some conservatives who said Clinton was worse than Nixon. I know some liberals who say Bush is worse. This was a uniquely criminal enterprise, the Nixon White House, wasn't it?

DAVID KEENE, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: I hold no grief for Richard Nixon, but that's really not the question here.

BEGALA: But he was a crook. And Felt blew the whistle on a crook, right?

KEENE: He did the same sorts of things Mark Felt did. Mark Felt, after all, was indicted in 1978 and convicted in 1980 of authorizing illegal wiretaps and break ins. So, Felt was not up on a moral high horse himself.

BEGALA: Felt was a criminal as well, but he was not our president.

KEENE: Let's look at the context of the times. Take Nixon out of this.

BEGALA: God, I wish we -- I guess we did.

KEENE: No, no. Take Nixon out of this, and ask what would be going on. If this was some other case in which the No. 2 man in the federal investigative agency was out to unhorse a political official by leaking raw data from federal investigatory materials. We would be outraged.

What we have here, however, Paul, is the premiere example of the ends justify the means. It's politically correct to hate Richard Nixon for good or ill reason. And because it's politically correct, he therefore should have been taken down, and anything that was done to take him down was therefore justified.

In fact, let's look at the time. Mark Felt had various options. He was the No. 2 man. And in fact, the operating head of the FBI.

BEGALA: What is he going to do, call the police?

(CROSSTALK)

KEENE: Well, first of all.

NOVAK: Let me -- wait a minute.

KEENE: He could have gone to Mr. Gray. He could have resigned and gone to the Congress.

BEGALA: Mr. Gray was corrupted by the process.

KEENE: Or he could have gone to Earl Silver (ph), the prosecutor at the time, who was straight. And the result might have been the same, but he would not have done what did he. If this was a communist country, we would be reporting on the organs of state security taking out the civilian government, because they didn't like it. This was a purse theft.

NOVAK: On that line, Congressman Rangel, G. Gordon Liddy, who is a smart lawyer, who went to prison over Watergate. He said -- let's say what he says that Mark Felt could have done. "If he had evidence that a crime had been committed, and there was some evidence as to who had committed it, he was duty bound to think -- to convey that to the Grand Jury. That's what he should have done, rather than leak it selectively to a single news source. What he did was wrong and he knew it was wrong. That's why he did not want to go public."

Why couldn't he have gone to the grand jury. And that is sacrosanct testimony. RANGEL: Bob, they have given you the shortened of the debate tonight. They have given you two convicts for you to ask me to respond to. And I have to agree that even Mark Felt was a convict. But you know it was all a part of the Nixon administration. So, I don't know why anyone is surprised.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: David, let me tease that out. You say and...

KEENE: Your saying the ends justify the means.

BEGALA: No, no. I'm not. I'm saying the Mr. Liddy is wrong and you are wrong when you say that he had other options. That he could have gone to the cops or to the president or to the head of the FBI, because they were all corrupted.

The attorney general wound up going to prison. The president's chief lawyer wound up going to prison. His boss at the FBI was destroying documents trying to cover up the crime at that time. Who could he have gone to? What was he going to do, call the cops?

KEENE: He could have done three things. One, he could have resigned and gone to the Congress. Secondly, he could have gone to the prosecutor Earl Silver, who was straight and gone to the grand jury. The result might have been the same. Nixon might have been brought down. It might have happened a lot faster if he had done that.

The fact of the matter is that Mark -- again, look at the times. One thing we know about the FBI from time and memorial is it defends its own territory and its own turf.

BEGALA: Boy, is that true.

KEENE: It's done it all through.

Hoover has just died. For the first time, an outsider is brought in to be the director. They pass over Mark Felt who admits he was outraged by the fact that he didn't get the job.

NOVAK: Passed over him twice.

KEENE: Yes.

He had been -- let's look at the times again. He had been the head of the inspection director at a time when, for example, the FBI allowed four innocent men in Boston to go to prison for a murder they knew they didn't commit. He was in line. He was right there at that time and...

BEGALA: Sorry to do this. We're going to have to take a break right now. But when we come back, we're going to ask our guests whether the lessons of "Deep Throat" and Watergate applies to today's scandals and some scandals involving the press.

And the latest on that massive mud slide in Laguna Beach, California. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Coming up at the top of the hour, there's been another murder in Lebanon. This time, the victim an anti-Syrian journalist. Will today's death cause more political upheaval?

One day after the Laguna Beach landslides, it's still too dangerous to re-enter many homes. We'll go there.

And he fought the enemy and he fought the brass -- remembering Colonel David Hackworth, the decorated but controversial soldier.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: The revelation of Deep Throat's identity has raised a firestorm. Is former G-man, Mark Felt, a hero or scoundrel? Even Felt reportedly wrestled with the morality of what he was doing as Deep Throat and we're wrestling with it as well.

Still in the CROSSFIRE, Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York, he was a member of the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon impeachment proceedings. He joins us from New York.

And David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, who was an aide to Nixon vice president Spiro Agnew.

BEGALA: David, let me fast forward the tape just a bit. You made the argument and I think in a compelling way, that it's dangerous for law enforcement to take matters into their own hands -- go outside of law enforcement and leak to the press.

I happen to agree with that point because I saw it happen when Ken Starr was given absolute prosecutorial power over President Clinton and his aides and he went and leaked to the press repeatedly.

Where were you then?

Why didn't the American Conservative Union stand up and say Ken Starr has run amok? Because he had.

KEENE: In each case it's a question of whether it in fact happened. One thing we do know is that Mark Felt did it. That's a fact because he admitted it. But we don't know whether or not you're right.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: You don't think Starr's shop was leaking.

KEENE: You know, Washington leaks. NOVAK: They didn't leak to me.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Believe me, they leaked repeatedly and it was the same sort of subversion of the prosecutorial process, because he didn't have a case.

KEENE: In a free society it is very dangerous because we invest law enforcement with certain power.

BEGALA: Well, Ken Starr is as big a bum...

(CROSSTALK)

KEENE: Whether or not Nixon was guilty is irrelevant to the misuse of those powers.

RANGEL: Whether Mark Felt is a sinner or a saint is not the point.

As a federal prosecutor when you are dealing with a criminal conspiracy, you can't select the best witnesses that you want. Here's a man that came forward.

It was abundantly clear during the hearing that Nixon was in complete charge of the FBI when he appointed a new director. So how could this guy possibly report it to him?

And so we had the information, I had no idea it was Mark Felt, but certainly if this was really going to lead to the truth, why can't we say the guy did a good deed?

NOVAK: No, because the point was not reporting it to Pat Gray, who was a Nixon...

(CROSSTALK)

RANGEL: He couldn't have gone to Pat Gray.

NOVAK: But he could have gone to the prosecutor, Earl Silber, who was straight or he could have gone to Charlie Rangel; he could have gone to the House Judiciary Committee...

RANGEL: Let me -- Charlie Rangel was on the enemies list by Hoover that was controlled by Nixon.

The truth of the matter is if this this guy gave the evidence...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Do you think you were less of -- you were more of an enemy than Woodward and Bernstein?

RANGEL: I'm saying that I think he did the right thing. He may have done it for the wrong reasons, but if it wasn't for him, you have no idea on those tapes that Nixon may have been good in foreign policy, but he lied to us about Cambodia, he lied to us about Vietnam, and I'm telling you it was a great thing for the nation and the world that we got rid of the guy.

NOVAK: There's nothing like bashing Richard Nixon, we can all get together in that.

(LAUGHTER)

Charlie Rangel, thank you very much.

David Keene, thank you.

We're celebrating CNN's 25th anniversary this week with a trip down memory lane of our own.

Up next, Paul Begala's first ever appearance as a guest on CROSSFIRE -- when I say appearance, you will want to stay tuned to see how Paul has grown up over the years.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: All this week we have been celebrating CNN's 25th anniversary.

Today we look back on Paul Begala's first appearance on CROSSFIRE, January 7, 1994. He was an adviser to the Clinton White House, fielding questions by CROSSFIRE host John Sununu about that pesky Arkansas land deal, Whitewater.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN SUNUNU, HOST: The most important issue is to deal with the problem of perception that is...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Here we go. That's the last resort of the scoundrel in Washington.

(CROSSTALK)

SUNUNU: You have a real problem and if you don't think have you a problem, you ought to read the front page of all the newspapers today.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: What I'm trying to tell you is there's no there, there. That's why I'm here on the show tonight. I'm trying to explain to people that there's no there. There's no allegation. People always start by saying, well, I'm not saying that the president did anything wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

SUNUNU: Put the papers on the table instead of hiding them under a subpoena.

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: What makes you happier, that you are no longer a guest or a host, or that you got rid of that beard?

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: You know, that beard I shaved in 1999. And I was on Don Imus' radio show, he asked me why and I said, "I figure somebody in the Clinton White House ought to come clean with the American people."

(LAUGHTER)

Got me in a lot of trouble.

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

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us tomorrow for our very special edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

END

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