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CNN CROSSFIRE

President Bush Battles Back

Aired October 28, 2003 - 16:30   ET

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

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

In the CROSSFIRE: another bombing.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know it's a dangerous place.

ANNOUNCER: Continuing U.S. debts.

BUSH: We're not leaving.

ANNOUNCER: But no doubts at the White House.

BUSH: The strategy remains the same.

ANNOUNCER: President Bush battles back -- today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

(APPLAUSE)

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

President Bush himself answered critics today. His message: We are fixing Iraq. We're fixing the economy. Some things are hard, but be patient.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: And that is exactly why Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle points out -- I'm quoting Daschle here -- "There's a growing credibility gap between what is said and what's being done" -- unquote.

We'll explore that gap after the best political briefing in television, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

BEGALA: Well, the news from Baghdad is unrelentingly bad, dozens killed, hundreds injured, 30 or more attacks against Americans each day. What we have here is a failure of intelligence. And I don't mean the president. Citing a senior intelligence official, today's "Washington Post" reports: "The United States has not devoted enough attention to understanding the anti-American groups in Iraq because intelligence resources have been devoted to locating weapons of mass destruction. As a result," "The Post" continues, "the intelligence community and the military have little precise information about the resistance" -- unquote.

So, the Bush administration was so intent on tracking down a false threat that it failed to protect our troops from a real threat. This is, of course, just one more example of the Bush administration's faith-based national security policy.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Paul, I can't believe that someone as sophisticated as you buying that spin. I have no trouble believing we don't have enough information on the resistance on the ground in Iraq. However, the idea that it's the White House's fault, when there's this battle, as you know, right now between the CIA and the White House -- and this is an unnamed intelligence officer saying this. It's clearly a way of shifting the blame from the CIA to the White House. Seriously, Paul.

BEGALA: No. The president directs these assets. He wanted them to -- he wanted to believe there were weapons of mass destruction that threatened America. There was never any threat...

(BELL RINGING)

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: There was never any threat to America. But there is now a threat to our troops. And he should be defending them.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Everybody believed that.

Well, and now for an update on the condition of "New York Times" columnist Paul Krugman. Krugman, as we've reported before, has been diagnosed with the classic symptoms of acute political obsession, including outbursts of rage, profoundly distorted judgment and uncontrolled foaming at the mouth.

Just last week, Krugman's hatred of the Bush administration caused him literally to blame the United States government for anti- Semitism in Malaysia, if you can imagine. This week, it's driven him to imagine a vast conspiracy of enemies plotting against him. In a rambling column in today's "Times," Krugman accuses his critics -- or, as he refers to them, his attackers -- of being pawns in a -- quote -- "domestic political struggle" that amounts to -- quote -- "a religious war."

In other words, if you disagree with Paul Krugman, you're not simply confused or wrong. You're an enemy combatant. Well, if you have ever wondered what it looks like when a man loses his grip on reality, you're watching it. Somebody please help Paul Krugman.

BEGALA: Tucker, this is a sure sign that he's being effective. I'm going to read every one of Krugman's columns. And I'm going to go buy Paul Krugman's book. He is a brilliant economist.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Excuse me for talking while you're interrupting. He's a gifted economist. And he has told the truth about the president and his economic policy, something the president has yet to do. So God bless Paul Krugman.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: OK, whatever. That's most -- so people who are conservative hate him and he must be great? That's infantile. Literally, when the guy gets on politics, he's a

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: He's insane.

BEGALA: His columns are brilliant. His columns are flat-out brilliant.

CARLSON: He's consumed with hatred. And people laugh at him. Why do they give him that space?

BEGALA: You know what? People -- people should judge for themselves. Read his column. Read his book. I know I did.

CARLSON: Oh, my gosh.

BEGALA: Well, when President Bush played dress-up on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, the White House Web site declared -- quote -- "President Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended" -- unquote. Of course, later, that was changed to "major combat operations have ended." In a similar vein, "Education Week" has reported that the Department of Education is stripping from its Web site thousands of files that dispute or contradict the Bush administration's political stance on education issues.

And now, according to "The Progress Report," which is a new daily update from the Center For American Progress -- I've already found this update to be indispensable -- the Bush White House is altering its Web site so that Internet certain engines like Google cannot be used to archive White House content on Iraq.

Now, I guess I understated our president. I never thought of him as a serious reader, but, apparently, he spent a lot of time reading George Orwell.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I have nothing against the Center For American Progress, which is created by a lot of smart people. I have a friend, at least one, who works there.

But it's an organization to think through what the Democratic Party stands for in the future, how it's going to get some ideas behind it to win elections. And, instead, if they're wasting their time playing around with Google, that's pathetic. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Democrats should stand for openness and honesty in government. The Center For American Progress does.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: This president is hiding information from us every day. He's doctoring Web sites.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: It is Orwellian, Tucker.

CARLSON: Doctoring Web sites.

BEGALA: It is Orwellian.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: If I see any evidence of that, I'll be the first to denounce it.

BEGALA: Go check out the progress report. And it's right there.

CARLSON: Well, if you're a regular watcher of this show, you're aware that liberals have finally located the center of evil in the universe. It's not Iran or North Korea. Needless to say, it's not Castro's Cuba. It's instead an obscure oil services company called Halliburton.

Why is Halliburton so darn bad? Well, that's a long story, a conspiracy theory, really, too complicated to explain here, or, for that matter, anywhere. Nevertheless, it's our duty to inform you that Howard Dean may now be part of the conspiracy. According to data gathered by crack CNN sleuth Chris Rogers (ph), Howard Dean has received campaign contributions from one Robert Crandall of Dallas, Texas.

That may be the same Robert Crandall who once ran American Airlines and who -- and here's the juicy conspiracy part -- currently sits on the board of, yes, Halliburton. Understand the connection? See how the threads intertwine? Dean, Crandall, Halliburton, Bush, the trilateral commission all together on the grassy knoll. Get it? Then you must be a liberal.

BEGALA: Tucker, it's actually very simple.

CARLSON: It's so crazy. I can't understand it.

BEGALA: Again, excuse me, excuse me for responding while you're interrupting.

CARLSON: OK. OK.

BEGALA: Halliburton has over $1 billion in no-bid contracts. That's the absolute antithesis of capitalism. They don't compete for it. It's crony capitalism. They get $1 billion of our money and they're ripping us off.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: It's very simple. Some of us are tough on crime, Tucker. And all the sudden, the right wants to cover up corporate criminality.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: They're stealing us blind.

CARLSON: OK, but you make these ludicrous allegations of crimes with no evidence. If they're stealing money, prove it.

BEGALA: There's enormous evidence showing from congressional investigations already that shows they're ripping us off on the price of gas.

CARLSON: Bring some to our show. I'd love to talk about it.

BEGALA: We need to do a whole show on Halliburton.

Well, speaking of Halliburton, they're close personal friends with President Bush. And he had a rather rare event today. He held his first official news conference since July. Reporters, of course, had a lot of questions to ask about how the administration is handling Iraq, and so do Tucker and I.

So, just ahead, we'll ask, did our president make his case?

And later, you can join Tucker and myself on Paula Zahn's program, as we put the results of a new poll of young voters and their attitudes into the CROSSFIRE at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Welcome back. Well, declaring that Iraq is still a dangerous place, President Bush today told reporters the U.S. and its coalition allies really have no choice but to -- quote -- "stand our ground." Those are hardly controversial statements, and yet the whining began almost immediately. What exactly is the Democratic plan for Iraq? We've asked that question several hundred times, to no avail. We'll ask it again today.

In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic strategist Lynn Cutler and Republican strategist Charlie Black.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Thank you for both joining us.

Charlie, our president was asked today about why he stood on that aircraft carrier under a sign that said "Mission Accomplished." Tucker mentioned whining. This is where the whining began. Here's the president of the United States, the commander-in-chief, the leader of the most powerful fighting force in the world, blaming his troops. Here's the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The "Mission Accomplished" sign, of course, was put up by the members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, saying that their mission was accomplished. I know it was attributed somehow to some ingenious advance man from my staff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: How does a man who was AWOL from the National Guard blame heroic sailors for his mistake? Isn't that cowardly? Isn't that shameful? Shouldn't he apologize to those sailors?

(APPLAUSE)

CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It wasn't a mistake.

BEGALA: He owes those sailors an apology, doesn't he?

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK: The Abraham Lincoln had accomplished its mission, so it wasn't a mistake, No. 1. No. 2, he also said in that speech, Iraq is still a dangerous place and we have a lot of work left to do there.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: We can dispute that.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But isn't it unseemly for a president of the United States to be passing the buck to soldiers, heroic sailors in this case, rather, who he sent away from home to risk their lives for him? (CROSSTALK)

BLACK: So you don't think they should be complimented for doing a good job.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I don't think he should blame them for his mistakes.

BLACK: He didn't blame -- he didn't blame anybody for anything.

LYNN CUTLER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, he did. No, he did. He said the banner came from the soldiers and sailors on the ship and that it was about their mission.

And the fact is, it doesn't work that way. Paul knows, I know, anyone who ever worked in the White House knows, the president doesn't go into a setting that wasn't set up by his own people.

CARLSON: Well, Lynn, listen to yourself. Here, the president gives his first press conference in a number of months and you and other Democrats are focusing in on some dumb sign. I want to get right to the heart of

(CROSSTALK)

CUTLER: I didn't ask that question.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: I want to get right to the heart of what the president said. Here's the essence of what he said today. This is President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Iraq is a dangerous place. That's leveling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: Iraq's a dangerous place. Now that we're there, we've got to win the battle. I know a lot of people hate Bush for living. But those who don't are going to look at that and they're going to say, there's no arguing with that, is there?

CUTLER: Oh, I wouldn't argue with it. We're there. That's the first mistake. But we're there. And now we have, every day, more and more of our young men and women being killed or wounded. They don't talk about the numbers with terrible, lifelong wounds that are trying

(CROSSTALK)

CUTLER: Now, wait a minute. They don't bring the dead back to Dover Air Force Base. There is no respect, no closure that begins to happen in any public way.

CARLSON: Well, that's actually -- that's an incorrect statement. Just to correct you, they do bring the dead back.

(CROSSTALK)

CUTLER: But in public. No camera allowed, no camera allowed, so the American people focus on what is actually happening.

CARLSON: Well, you're making the Republican case right there. What you're saying is essentially what the president said. We're facing terrorists not simply killing American soldiers. They're killing Iraqi citizens. They're killing Red Cross workers. They're killing U.N. workers. And we have to defeat them. Do you disagree with that, as Howard Dean does?

CUTLER: I don't disagree with it. And I don't think Dr. Dean disagrees with it either.

Here's what's I -- what's critical about what's happening with this package that he has up right now. First of all, the World Bank says they can only spend $6 billion in the next year. So why are we asking for 20? Secondly, we have a piece that was offered up and passed by the Senate that would give health care coverage to reservists and National Guard. We should look at what's happened to the reserve troops that have been sent over there. It was going to be a few months, six months. Now it's a year. Now it's more.

Their families are literally going hungry in many cases.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: What about the terrorists?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Let me bring Charlie -- I'm sorry to interrupt, Lynn, but I want to give Charlie a chance to defend his man again.

CUTLER: Go ahead.

BEGALA: The president was asked today, the day six months after major combat has concluded by his declaration, now, today, he discovers that Iraq is a dangerous place. Good for him. I'm not going to argue with that. He's a little late to the party, but I'm glad that he's observed that Iraq is a dangerous place.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He was asked, though, about that danger. He was asked about the nature of that danger today and who these folks are who are attacking us. Here's what our president said to the press.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We're trying to determine the nature of who these people were. But I will tell you, I would assume that they're either, or, and probably both Baathists and foreign terrorists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Now, the reason the president has no idea who they are and is reduced to guessing is, according to "The Washington Post," his own intelligence officials told "The Washington Post" that they had moved assets to try to find these weapons of mass destruction, which don't exist, and thereby abandoning our troops. Isn't that dangerous? Isn't that absurd? Isn't that dereliction of duty?

BLACK: Well, in the first place, the sainted Bill Clinton said they did exist. So I'd like to know what happened to them, since Saddam Hussein never accounted for them. Everybody knows...

BEGALA: But this shift of intelligence resources is really outrageous, isn't it?

BLACK: Everybody knows -- everybody knows they existed, No. 1.

No. 2, the remnants of the Baathists are attacking. Terrorists have come from out of the country. You know, we've killed or detained about two-thirds of all the al Qaeda leaders in the world in the last two years.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But the question is about this shift of intelligence resources, Charlie. I'm going to try to get you to respond to the question.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK: But there are still bad guys, there are still terrorists coming in there. And we'd much rather be fighting them there, than here in Washington or in Iowa or in Austin, Texas.

BEGALA: I'm going to try a third time. Was it wise to have moved intelligence resources to the search for weapons that don't exist or terrorists who do?

BLACK: Well, I think, since the Democrats on the Hill were all for that and were demanding that we account for the weapons

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: It's the Democrats. The sailors' fault for the sign, the Democrats' fault for the intelligence failure. This is the Republican line.

(APPLAUSE)

BLACK: It doesn't matter who they are. We're fighting them. We're training Iraqis to fight them. There are over 50,000 Iraqis already trained as soldiers and police to help fight them; 85 percent of the country is secure. We'll eventually get the rest of it right. The American people want us to finish this job. And these Democratic candidates who were against this package to support the troops are wrong. They're out of step.

CARLSON: Now, Lynn, I just attempted to make the point that when you talk to Democrats about what we ought to do to fight terrorism in Iraq, they bring up arguments that were current six month ago. But don't just listen to me. Listen to Al Gore's former campaign manager, Donna Brazile. She said to this to the AP just the other day.

I'm quoting -- "There's a huge credibility gap our party has on national security, not because we don't have enough military medals, but because we have no plan of action." Now, you can hardly assail her bona fides as a Democrat. That's Donna Brazile speaking. If she is wrong -- A, is she wrong? B, if she is, what is the plan to defeat terrorism in Iraq?

CUTLER: There's a very clear plan, in terms of how we should be conducting our foreign policy and putting together a unified team. It is not only our job to be defeating terrorism and rooting out these people all over the world.

What this president has done is to so alienate our traditional friends and allies, that it's now very difficult to go to them and say...

(APPLAUSE)

CUTLER: ... we need money. We need troops. Why should it just be our young...

CARLSON: So, in other words...

CUTLER: Wait. No, let me finish. You asked me -- these young men and women on the ground. We have got to rebuild our relationships in this world with our former allies and bring them to the table.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: In the meantime. Until Belgium comes around and sees the light.

CUTLER: Belgium? How about France, Germany? Come on.

CARLSON: OK, but I'm actually mocking your argument. I want to know, right now, what should we do to fight terrorism? What -- right now. We don't have Belgium. We don't have France. What do we do?

CUTLER: Well, we continue with trying to root it out. We certainly don't abandon Afghanistan, which we've done for the second time. We got the Taliban out. And then we took a walk. And these warlords are rearming, reasserting their power and their strength. And we are creating a new danger

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK: ... a lot of them in Afghanistan.

(CROSSTALK)

CUTLER: Yes, but al Qaeda is not the only terrorist threat.

BEGALA: President Bush's father, who succeeded in a war in the Gulf War, had dozens of allies. In fact, he had about 130,000 Arab troops. Now, people like Tucker like to make fun of having allies, the way that President Bush Sr. had in the Gulf or President Clinton had in Kosovo. But those were successful wars.

Don't you think that our current president should and must do better about getting some other boys -- and girls, I suppose -- over there to bear that burden? Or should we just abandon our troops there, the way the current president's plan seems to be?

(APPLAUSE)

BLACK: We had 30 nations participating in the war. We have another 10 or 15 countries that have come on, including some significant ones like Japan, that are aiding in reconstruction.

You cannot put the defense of the United States against terrorism at the mercy of one country in the U.N. vetoing it. Do you want us to say that the whole world has to be unanimous before we defend ourselves?

BEGALA: No, but America shouldn't be alone either. I'm for the Bush Sr. position.

BLACK: That's a ridiculous policy.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Hold that thought, Charlie. You're going to be able to respond in just a minute.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK: The United States shouldn't defend its own land unless France is with us? Nonsense. Put that to a vote of the American people.

BEGALA: Lynn Cutler, hang on just a second. Nobody is saying that the United States should give France a veto.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: We'll let you respond in just a minute.

When our guests return, I'm going to ask my friend Charlie Black why the Bush administration is stonewalling efforts by the bipartisan independent commission investigating the 9/11 tragedy.

And then, right after the break, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on which communities are threatened at this hour by California's devastating wildfires.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BEGALA: Now, we're here on CROSSFIRE digesting all the sound bites from our president's news conference this afternoon.

Joining us are Republican strategist Charlie Black and Democratic strategist Lynn Cutler.

CARLSON: Lynn, Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy of New York recently went to Iraq. Here's what she told "The New York Times" today -- I'm quoting now -- "I'll say that what's going on, on the ground in Iraq is a lot better than I thought." Is she part of the right-wing conspiracy or is she just dumb?

CUTLER: She's not either one.

CARLSON: Oh. Then why would she say that?

CUTLER: Don't be ridiculous. What a silly accusation, Tucker.

CARLSON: Well, I'm asking you.

CUTLER: No, you're interpreting.

BEGALA: Charlie, the president today praised the integrity of the bipartisan commission looking at 9/11, but stiffed them on the most important security data that they're looking for. Shouldn't he come clean? Doesn't he owe the country a full explanation of what happened on 9/11?

BLACK: Well, actually, what he said today was, he was going to reach an accommodation with the bipartisan commission to see the presidential briefings. And, as you well know, the most classified of all material is the daily briefing to the president by the CIA. Bill Clinton wouldn't have just handed them over willy-nilly to any commission.

BEGALA: He wouldn't have leaked the name of a CIA agent either, but somebody in the Bush administration apparently did.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK: The president said today he was going to accommodate them and let Kean and Hamilton see the documents. So it's a nonissue.

CUTLER: But they've been asking for them for months.

CARLSON: Now, Lynn, also for months, Howard Dean has been running for president. I notice you're wearing a Howard Dean pin. Good for you. "The doctor is in." I'm a supporter.

(CROSSTALK)

CUTLER: What happened to Al Sharpton?

CARLSON: Well, Al Sharpton and Howard Dean, they can run together.

But a lot of your friends, Democratic insiders from Washington, smart Democrats, hate Howard Dean and don't want to see him get the nomination. Why is that?

CUTLER: Well, I don't agree with that premise.

CARLSON: Oh, you know that that's true.

CUTLER: They may be afraid of him and they may not like the idea of an outsider.

CARLSON: Why? Why are they afraid of Howard Dean, the doctor?

CUTLER: Well, every president who has run...

(BELL RINGING)

CUTLER: ... from the -- quote -- "outside of Washington," Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, somehow has had their detractors.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: We're out of time. Howard Dean, thank you. Lynn Cutler, very much we appreciate your coming.

Charlie Black, thank you.

BLACK: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: Today's news conference by President Bush got us wondering, which president held the first formal press conference? Was it Teddy Roosevelt? Was it Woodrow Wilson? Or was it John F. Kennedy? We'll bring you the results when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Before the break, we asked you, which president held the first formal presidential news conference? And we asked our audience here to take a vote. And you know, it's almost a third, a third, and a third. The answer is Woodrow Wilson, 1913.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: So 35 percent of our audience got it right. The rest of you will have to come back tomorrow.

CARLSON: For our makeup test.

OK, Christopher Jenkins of Dracut, Mass., writes: "Tucker, what did Senator John Kerry ever do to you? Could it be that he is the Democratic candidate you most fear can beat President Bush?"

Yes, I think he is the Democratic candidate most likely to beat Bush if he were to run. And, actually, I like him. I respect him as much as anybody else running. I think he's been campaigning beneath himself. This business about, "I'm a war hero, shut up, you can't disagree with me because I'm a war hero," it's repugnant. And I think he's better than that.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That's not what he said, anymore than Bush is saying, "I was AWOL, so you should vote for me."

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: No, no, that actually is what he's saying. He said that to Joe Lieberman Sunday night.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I heard Kerry on the "Imus in the Morning" radio show this morning. He did a good job for himself. He's in this hunt.

Roland Hoeffener of Webster Groves, Missouri, writes: "Is it my imagination or are Bush, Rice, Rumsfeld and Powell starting to sound more like Baghdad Bob? 'We've got them on the run. We've made good progress. Iraq is more secure.' Let's call it what it is, a mess, just like the economy."

Well, that would be honest.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: It's just striking to me how much, psychologically, liberals have bought into the idea that only disaster can get them elected. I think it's not going to work in the general election. People want a candidate who's hopeful.

BEGALA: Well, Mr. Bush seems to think only dishonesty can get him elected -- so disaster vs. dishonesty.

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

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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