Did Walker Lindh Get a Sweet Deal?; Can Bush Help the Ailing Economy?; How Much Longer Will Traficant Last on Capitol Hill?
Aired July 15, 2002 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson (sic).
In the CROSSFIRE tonight:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was a soldier in the Taliban.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: But it wasn't treason. John Walker Lindh plays let's make a deal.
He's taking another shot at curing the economy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America must get rid of the hangover that we now have as a result of the binge -- the economic binge we just went through.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: And look who's back on Capitol Hill. But for how much longer?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JAMES TRAFICANT (D), OHIO: Yes, I am giving you some room. I mean, this is disgusting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Ahead on CROSSFIRE.
From the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.
Tonight, W. goes to Dixie and the market goes south. Also, a "Quote of the Day" jackpot from CROSSFIRE's favorite felonious Congressman.
But first, we invest the time, you get the dividends. Here comes our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."
President Bush took the bully pulpit to Birmingham, Alabama today to use his brilliance, eloquence and business savvy to reassure investors. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell steadily as he spoke, eventually dropping more than 400 points before a last-minute rally. For those of you scoring at home, this little chart will tell you how our president is doing as an economic steward.
On Tuesday of last week, Bush spoke out against corporate abuses. The speech was panned and the Dow fell. On Friday, Bush had a photo- op to boost investor confidence, and the Dow kept falling. And today, more losses. So far, the Dow dropped 634 points, seven percent of its total value, since our president began trying to reassure us.
ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Paul, I know that your life's work is to try to undermine our president. But did you ever entertain the thought that there is no connection between what the president said and the falling of the Dow Jones.
BEGALA: That's not what the White House is telling us. He's supposed to be our MBA president, leading us.
NOVAK: On the contrary, they're telling you there is no connection.
You'd have to call it brazen in the current political climate. U.S. senators climbing aboard corporate jets in Washington last Friday, taking them to the ritzy Nantucket resort for a secret weekend with corporate bosses and lobbyists. Oh, those Republicans. Have they no shame?
But wait! All these senators were Democrats, every last one, led by Mr. Liberal himself, Teddy Kennedy, and including Tom Daschle and Paul's favorite, Hillary Clinton. No little commuter planes for these limousine liberals. They went straight to Nantucket via executive jets of Federal Express, BellSouth, Eli Lilly, AFLAC. Hypocrisy, anybody?
BEGALA: Hey, at least they're voting against the corporate special interests in the Senate. The Republicans get bought and stay bought. The Democrats may be ride on their planes, but at least they vote for us in the Senate.
NOVAK: So, they can take their money and not be compromised by it? You believe that?
BEGALA: They're clearly not. Look what they did today. They passed that big Paul Sarbanes bill today.
NOVAK: Seventy-four to nothing.
BEGALA: The "Miami Herald" reports that at least 50 right- wingers who had played key roles in the notorious Florida recount have been rewarded by President Bush with powerful government jobs. John Bolton, now our undersecretary of state for arms control, was the man who famously burst into the room, where the Miami-Dade ballots were being counted, cited the just released Supreme Court stay and declared, quote, "I'm with the Bush-Cheney team and I'm here to stop the count." Others who had received paybacks include frogs (ph) who participated in a window-pounding near riot that first stop the count in Miami, and Republican operatives who now have plum ambassadorial posts, where they lecture foreign governments on the virtues of democracy.
NOVAK: I would like to quote a famous Democrat, Andrew Jackson, who said, "to the victors belong the spoils."
BEGALA: But they didn't win. Gore was the victor.
NOVAK: I think the electoral college decides who wins.
Robert Byrd of West Virginia is the senior Democrat in the U.S. Senate. He's been there 43 years, nearly as long as I've been in Washington. And it hasn't improved his manners or his behavior one bit. He took the Senate floor Friday to attack federal budget director Mitch Daniels. Byrd declaimed, "upon meet does this our literal Caesar plea." He added the adjective literal to Shakespeare because Daniels, a respected businessman and Republican leader, happens to be short. Daniels, it seems, has been interfering with Bob Byrd's free spending ways and that's intolerable to the Senate's king of pork.
BEGALA: He's not a respected businessman. Mitch Daniels was a lobbyist for pharmaceutical firms before he became...
NOVAK: No, he wasn't. He worked in Indianapolis. He wasn't even in Washington. Here, you've got your facts wrong as usual.
BEGALA: We'll double-check that. But he's also the guy who has overturned the Clinton surplus, turned it into a deficit.
NOVAK: Bob Byrd is the best argument for term limits I've seen yet.
BEGALA: There is no argument for term limits.
Johnny Taliban is going to spend as much as 20 years behind bars. This morning, John Walker Lindh shocked a Virginia courtroom by pleading guilty to aiding the Taliban and possessing explosives in the commission of a crime. When he was first captured in Afghanistan last year, there was talk of charging Walker Lindh with treason and demanding the death penalty. Well, what has changed?
In the CROSSFIRE, defense attorney Stanley Cohen, he's in New York; and former federal prosecutor Joe diGenova here on our set. Gentlemen, both thank you for joining us.
NOVAK: Mr. diGenova, I would like to have you listen to something that was said today by the U.S. attorney prosecuting this case, Paul McNulty. Let's listen to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL MCNULTY, U.S. ATTORNEY: We stand strongly behind the original indictment. And, again, if we were to have gone to trial, we're confident that we would have prevailed on all counts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOVAK: Now, Mr. diGenova, you're a former U.S. attorney, so you can decode this for me, because it is very confusing to me. If they would have prevailed on all counts, why didn't they go to trial?
JOE DIGENOVA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Because they didn't need to. Mr. Abdul Hamid, also known as John Walker Lindh -- he adopted the name Abdul Hamid two years ago -- decided to plead guilty because he was going to lose the motion to suppress his statements. He approached the government, indicated he would plead to these two felonies. He is going to serve 20 years in prison. And the United States government got a very good deal. They didn't have to try to protect classified information, the identities of sources and methods. And they have 20 years in prison. That's the minimum he must serve, mandatory.
BEGALA: Mr. Cohen, if I can bring you into this, it seems to me this is a defense lawyer's dream. It seemed to me their strategy was to try to convince the public, or a jury if they faced it, that this was a misguided young man.
And guess who they had on their side? None other than President Bush who said in the "L.A. Times," and I quote, "we're just trying to learn the facts about this poor fellow. Obviously, he has been misled, it appears to me." It seems to me that he committed treason and he's getting away with it. That's what it seems to me. Yet Bush personally signed off on this deal. That's a huge win for defense lawyers, isn't it?
STANLEY COHEN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It is a huge win for Mr. Lindh. You know, I debated Joe several months ago where he was telling the whole world this was treason, he was going to get indicted for treason, he should get the death penalty.
The fact of the matter is it's a 20-year...
COHEN: ... the fact of the matter is it's a 20-year cap. And under the sentencing guidelines, he could get far less than that. Essentially, what happened is they're about to go to trial in the next several months. The case was all prepared. It was an easy case to try. And they realized other than his own statements from a young guy who once made believe he was a black rap star, they really couldn't connect him to any overt acts against the United States government. The government cut its losses. The attorney general and the president would have been aghast if they went down on some of the more serious charges. Case closed. Once again, the government starts with a lot of fanfare and at the end of the day -- at the end of the day, there is little meat in this particular burger.
DIGENOVA: I must say that if Stanley is correct, I can't imagine why Mr. Abdul Hamid pleaded guilty today. It sounds like he was going to win an acquittal.
COHEN: No, no, no. He would have clearly been convicted of certain offenses. And it made good sense for him...
DIGENOVA: Ah, I see.
COHEN: ... because under the guidelines, he probably is going to end up doing about eight years, just about eight years, and not the 20. And by the way, Mr. President, you may tell Americans that you're going to make sure he can't get parole. But no one has gotten parole in the federal system since 1987. So, it is a public relations ploy by the government.
NOVAK: You know, it's very interesting. I didn't know how Paul was going to turn this into an anti-Bush tirade, because he turns every segment into an anti-Bush...
BEGALA: I just quoted our president, who seems to have a lot of sympathy for this traitor, Bob.
NOVAK: If I could talk while you are interrupting me...
BEGALA: If I could respond when you attack me.
NOVAK: I'll give you a chance after I finish.
BEGALA: Yes, sir.
NOVAK: I said I didn't know how you could turn every single segment into an anti-Bush tirade, but you did this one.
Now, Mr. Cohen, just as a factual matter, sir, this is supposed to be a straight 20 years? You think that the government is lying, that it is not going to be 20 years? It is going to be three years or five years?
COHEN: The way it works is it is a 20-year maximum, and that's the statute. Now, the guidelines control what the sentence will actually be. The guidelines could go anywhere in this particular case, six, eight, 10, 12 years. But the 20 years that the president is selling to America right now is the statute, not the guidelines. And Joe knows the guidelines control, so he may very well get less than the 20 years we're talking about.
DIGENOVA: It is technically possible for him to do less than 20, but he agreed in the plea agreement to serve...
COHEN: Significantly less than 20.
DIGENOVA: He agreed to actually serve the 20 years in the plea bargain.
NOVAK: So, he can't appeal for it then.
DIGENOVA: He doesn't have the right of appeal. It is still going to be ultimately up to the judge. The judge could give him less than 20 years, but he has agreed that he will serve 20 years. And I doubt that this judge is going to give him anything less than 20 years.
COHEN: Now, my understanding is he has agreed that he will not appeal anything above the guidelines. And the guideline range in this particular case could be less than 20 years in this particular matter. In any event, the bottom line is that certainly not the sentence you were touting months ago, Joe, when you said this guy is guilty of treason and will be sentenced accordingly.
NOVAK: All right. Well, you've said that, Mr. Cohen. So, we're going to have to take a break.
And in just a minute, we'll continue to ponder if John Walker Lindh's sentence is tough enough.
Also ahead, what is really going on behind the scenes, despite the Democratic whining about President Bush's handling of the economy?
And our "Quote of the Day" comes from a convicted felon who would sure like to keep his day job.
NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.
Taliban-American John Walker Lindh cops a plea today. Did the U.S. government cop out?
We're talking about the case with former federal prosecutor Joe diGenova and defense attorney Stanley Cohen -- Paul.
BEGALA: Joe, one of the things I find outrageous about this is why I raise the fact that Bush called this guy a poor fellow who had been misled. I call him a traitor.
This is one of the rare areas where you and I agree.
The Constitution is very clear. Article III, section 3 says: "levying war, adhering to our enemies or giving them aid and comfort," three different things, can be treason.
He did all three. Other traitors -- Jonathan Pollard, who (UNINTELLIGIBLE) spy for Israel, at least our ally, got a life sentence. This guy get 20 years.
How do you justify that?
DIGENOVA: Well, first of all, let me agree with you, Paul. I would have charged Abdul Hamid Lindh with treason and I would have gone to trial on it if I would have had the evidence.
But what happened here was Lindh realized that he was facing two consecutive life terms, that his statements were never going to be suppressed, especially the ones he gave to CNN interviewers, at the same time he claimed he was being involuntarily forced to give statements to the FBI and the Army.
The defense made a decision here that they just couldn't afford to risk two consecutive life sentences, and they decided to cut a deal. And they did a very good job, and I think the government did a terrific job, because they avoided having to compromise sources and methods.
But I would have charged him with treason, and I would have gladly gone to trial on it.
NOVAK: Mr. Cohen, I know that defense lawyers are supposed to have no heart for the victims of these crimes. But I'd like to read to you a quote by Johnny Spann. He is the father of the CIA Officer Mike Spann, who was killed in the prison revolt in Afghanistan in which John Walker Lindh was captured.
And Johnny Spann said, quote: "I am very disappointed. My son and all those who are serving overseas have been let down by this decision," end quote.
Does that bother you at all?
COHEN: No, it really doesn't bother me.
NOVAK: I bet not.
COHEN: The fact of the matter is if the government had any evidence connecting Mr. Lindh to the murder, the unfortunate killing of this CIA agent, they would have never cut this deal. If the government had any agent connecting him to any overt, any attacks on any Americans, they would have never cut the deal.
At the end of the day what they did was -- and Joe is right, it basically is a compromise. They had evidence that he went to war against those great freedom fighters, the Northern Alliance, but they had no evidence connecting him directly to acts against the U.S. If they did, Joe is right, they would have gone to trial.
But once again, we started out with a lot of fanfare, saying we got this guy cold. And at the end of the day, the government looked at the case and said, you know what, he's made statements, but we don't have any independent, objective corroboration. Let's negotiate this case away.
And I think Joe's right: Both sides got something out of it.
DIGENOVA: I don't know. I must say, I think 20 years in prison is a pretty tough time for a young man who says he didn't do anything wrong, and whose father said he is the equivalent of Nelson Mandela. Talk about an insult to a great public figure, comparing him to Nelson Madela, in terms of serving prison time. I must say, that was one of the more nauseating statements by the Abdul Hamid Lindh defense team today.
BEGALA: Again, akin to calling him a poor fellow who had been misled, which I think just sounds outrageous. If a Democratic president had cut this deal, Joe, you would not be sitting here saying, I would have taken it to treason, but, yes, it was a good deal. You would be hammering him. I'm surprised that you're being a partisan...
DIGENOVA: Actually, Paul, the truth is I've always been a real prosecutor ever since I've been in government. And I've supported decisions made by the Clinton Justice Department and supported them publicly. And I'll support this one by the Bush Justice Department because this was the right decision.
I don't think this gentleman deserved any worse than he got today. That doesn't mean that I wouldn't have tried to try him for treason if I had been the U.S. attorney.
But the point is, the government was spared risking disclosing sources and methods by taking this deal, and I think it was an excellent deal for both sides.
BEGALA: That's going to have to be the last word.
I'm sorry Mr. Cohen, that's going to have to be the last word. I don't mean to cut you off, but we have to move on.
Joe diGenova in Washington...
DIGENOVA: Thank you Paul. Thank you Bob.
BEGALA: Mr. Cohen in New York City, thank you as well.
And still ahead, Dr. Bush peddles his prescription for what's ailing our economy. Funny, Wall Street is acting like it's snake oil.
And our "Quote of the Day" comes from one of the most colorful members, and soon to be ex-members of Congress.
NOVAK: Convicted felon James Traficant returned to Capitol Hill today, despite being found guilty of fraud, bribery and tax evasion last spring. Democrat Traficant is still a Congressman from Ohio. But probably not for much longer. The House says its committee today held hearings on whether to expel Traficant from Congress. The session was so full of quotable minds, we couldn't just pick out one quote of our "Quote of the Day." So here is the best of Traficant. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
TRAFICANT: I'm glad to be here. I'm glad to be anywhere. My throat is sore. I'm having some rectal disorders, as a matter of fact, as a result of this. My stomach is upset. And I am hard to live with.
I love America, but hate the government. I love elected members. I've met many of you and love you all. And I mean that. That's not patronizing to get your vote. I didn't come down here to make friends. I sure as hell didn't and you know that.
One committee aide told "Roll Call," this is not good for the constitution. Well, this certainly isn't a walk in the park for me.
I'll be damned if I'll be targeted. FBI can go to hell.
Excuse my mouth, I'd like to kick his ass. Janet Reno is a traitor. They put me in jail in Ohio. I might just be the first American to win a congressional seat while incarcerated. Other than that, I'm feeling fine.
BEGALA: Stepping into the CROSSFIRE now to join us is Loretta Sanchez, the Congresswomen and Democrat from California who is the author of a resolution to expel Congressman Traficant. Congresswoman, thank you for joining us.
REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you for having me.
BEGALA: Congresswoman, let me ask you, why bother? Doesn't he -- isn't his term expire in December and then he'll be replaced in January?
SANCHEZ: Well, it does, but what are we saying to American people who pay their taxes and want their government to stand up and be good for them if we still have a Congress member on the payroll earning a pay -- not earning a paycheck, getting one and yet being a convicted felon. One, a felon because he used this particular position improperly. I think it is time we get him out.
NOVAK: Miss Sanchez, I don't know, did you ever hear of Charlie Diggs?
SANCHEZ: No, I haven't, Bob.
NOVAK: I bet you didn't. OK. Well, Congressman Charles Diggs of Michigan was the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. He was convicted of 29 corruption charges, which are almost identical to Traficant's, kickbacks and that sort of thing. A young Congressman Republican from Georgia named Newt Gingrich put in a resolution to kick him out. He was just ridiculed by Speaker O'Neill.
And, in fact, there has only been one man -- out of all the dozens of Congressmen convicted of corruption, there has only been one ever kicked out in the history of the republic. Isn't this really the fact that you just don't like Jim Traficant because the president is against kicking him out?
SANCHEZ: Bob, it is not about my not liking Traficant. In fact, I've spent many mornings at first minutes with Jim sitting right next to me. And I get along with Jim Traficant. It is not about that. It is about his being convicted by a jury of his peers and it is about getting him out so that we can concentrate on important business for America.
NOVAK: What about all those others, those dozens in the history of the House who were convicted and sat there voting while their appeals were pending? What about those?
NOVAK: Don't you care about precedent?
SANCHEZ: I can't account for what happened before I got to this Congress. I only know one thing. My dad and mom taught me what is right and what is wrong. And Traficant, getting money, not doing anything, not being in the House, being a crook, is wrong. And I want him out.
BEGALA: Congresswoman, Traficant has left the Democratic party. He's buddy-buddy with Speaker Hastert and the Republicans. Are there any Republicans who are maybe a little shy about taking on somebody who has come to help them so much?
SANCHEZ: Well, if I were a Republican sitting in this House, I would feel the same way. We work too hard to go out to our districts to work with people, to try to instill in Americans that we are above, that we are straight, that we are not on the take, and then we have someone like Traficant who makes all of us look bad. And the longer we harbor him and we don't take him out, the worse we look.
NOVAK: Isn't he still identified as a Democrat, Miss Sanchez? I get mixed up sometimes when Paul gets things wrong. But isn't he -- he's still a Democrat...
BEGALA: But that's not what he's saying.
NOVAK: He still calls himself a Democrat.
SANCHEZ: I believe that he's on the ballot running as an Independent right now in Ohio.
BEGALA: Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez from California, thank you very much for joining us tonight.
SANCHEZ: Thank you, Paul. Thank you, Bob.
BEGALA: A sentence handed down in the so-called dog mauling trial. Connie Chung will have details next in a CNN "News Alert."
Also, your 401(k) may be turning into a 201(k). After W. is done, will it even be a 101(k)? Stay with us.
NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're coming to you from the George Washington University in Foggy Bottom, D.C.
Despite plenty of hand-wringing in the media and crocodile tears from Democrats, today's economic news isn't all that bad. There was a big late afternoon rally on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrials, which had been down by more than 400 points, gained back nearly all the lost ground. President Bush gave a speech in Alabama reassuring the country that the economy is fundamentally sound. And less than an hour ago, the Senate passed a bipartisan accounting reform bill, the vote, 97 to nothing. That hardly adds up to the end of the world, so what are the Democrats going to scream about next?
In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida and Republican Congressman Roy Blunt of Missouri.
BEGALA: Thank both of you all for coming out. It's a busy day on Capitol Hill. Congressman Blunt, let me start with you. Bob said things are not so bad in the economy. I beg to differ: 1.8 million of our fellow Americans who had jobs under President Clinton have lost them under President Bush. The largest surplus in American economic history is now back to $160 billion deficit and climbing. The president in the last five trading days has tried to reassure us about the strength of the economy as the Dow fell 635 points. Now this is proof that your party, the Republicans, are not competent economic stewards, isn't it?
REP. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: Well, of course, the stock market doesn't measure the economy. And in terms of the budget, the challenges we face, what we did have, we have a down turn in the economy, it occurred before the president took office. It has gone on now for about a year-and-a-half, after he took office. We're going to -- we need to continue to work on that.
Obviously what happened on 9/11 has made a big difference in the money we spend. I think our economy has turned around. I think the tax cut that we passed a year ago made a big difference in getting this economy headed back in the right direction. The Dow has fallen dramatically since the House dealt with the corporate issues that the president challenged us to deal with in March. We passed legislation in April. And since we passed that legislation in April, we've been waiting for the Senate to act. We've been seeing the Dow go down ever since.
BEGALA: Well, in fact, I think part of it is the lack of faith in the people who are supposed to be guarding our free markets and protecting our business. Let me give you the particulars. Let me put them up on the screen. Our president is compromised by the conduct that he had as a corporate officer at Harken Energy. Our vice president was the CEO of Halliburton, which is now being investigated for alleged accounting wrongdoing. The head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Harvey Pitt, has been criticized for having meetings with his former clients in the accounting industry who he used to lobby for. Larry Thompson, the head of this strike force, the SWAT team that President Bush put in force, was the subject of a front page story in "The Washington Post" about his business dealings at a company that had ripped off people on sub prime loans. And Thomas White, the secretary of the Army, was a chief executive at Enron Corporation. Tell me why these foxes are doing a good job of guarding the henhouse?
BLUNT: Well, I think what you see when you look at the confidence that the American people have in the president, the vice president, they continue to display that. I just don't think that dog is going to hunt. I don't believe people are going to believe after they've watched this president do what he's done in office, after they've watched him stand up, make the tough decisions, stand for what he stands for, clearly in terms of integrity, of personal honesty, I just don't think they're going to believe that.
Now if we really want to solve these problems, we'll meet the president's challenges rather than begin to talk about why these challenges come from the wrong source. I think the American people know the source is right. The Senate passed legislation finally today. The House is going to step up tomorrow and pass an even tougher bill, responding to what the president asked us to do.
BEGALA: Tougher than the Sarbanes bill? I'm sorry to interrupt.
BLUNT: Tougher than the Sarbanes bill. We already passed some legislation tougher than the Sarbanes bill and tomorrow we come up with tougher penalties on our penalty bill that maybe you've thought about.
NOVAK: Congressman Wexler, I've talked to a lot of Democrats in the last week off the record, absolutely giddy at the decline of the stock market. They see -- they've been very gloomy as you know about the prospects in this year's Congressional elections with the president so popular. And they're saying, boy, oh, boy with this market going down, we can win. Did you just have a terrible spell when you thought the market was down 400 pounds and there was this tremendous rebound that maybe you hadn't died and gone to heaven after all?
REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: I hoped the stock market goes to 15,000, Bob. But we should not minimize the pain that the American people are suffering. People have watched their 401(k)s, their pension plans, their college savings accounts being decimated. And what they're looking for is leadership from the president. And that's where the president and the vice president have failed. The president went to Wall Street and it wasn't Democrats that said he didn't do the right thing or enough, it was Wall Street.
It was the business community that said in effect along with investors we have no confidence in the president. Why? because the president hasn't released his own records relating to his SEC problems. He hasn't even begun to address the inability of his SEC chairman to address the issues. And, maybe even more importantly, the American people have concluded that this president gave a big wink to the big CEOs that he has linked with at the hip. And they say this president is not going to support the Sarbanes bill.
It is a joke, quite frankly, to say that the Senate passed the bill and now things are going to be getting better. The president has rejected the Senate bill. He's refused to say that accountants, big accounting firms, should separate their auditing functions from their counseling functions.
BLUNT: But when you look at when some of these auditing problems occurred, they occurred before this president became president. He has stepped out consistently and said let's solve this problem. The president, in March, challenged the Congress to do that. We passed a bill to protect people's pensions, the Senate hasn't done that yet. We passed a bill that would establish auditing standards and disclosure. The Senate finally responded today, part of our bill is stronger than their bill. We're going to come out tomorrow.
NOVAK: Congressman Wexler, by your comments you have made my point that this is all politics, that you think that the way the to win the Congress is to get the president down. And the way to get the president down is to tie this economy and the stock market to him. I would like to give you some bad news for you. The Gallup poll, how Bush is handling his job as president, approves, 73 percent, disapprove, 21 percent. That's after all the media bashing and Democratic bashing. That's bad news for you, isn't it?
WEXLER: Bob, why hasn't the president come forth and said, you know what? I need to have credibility on the issue of the day and that is accounting fraud. And I'm going to make certain that my misbehavior or non-misbehavior when I was an auditing committee member at a big oil company comes out to the public.
Why didn't he support the Sarbanes bill? Why doesn't he ask to have a real regulator at the SEC? Why do we have somebody -- Harvey Pitt -- whose first and most famous line is, a kinder, gentler SEC for big accounting firms? That's Harvey Pitt. That's the president's man.
The American people, unfortunately, understand where this president is, and he has no credibility when it comes to cleaning up the accounting mess.
He could, though. He could come out for the Sarbanes bill. He could clean up the SEC...
NOVAK: All right, you've...
BEGALA: Let me ask you about the SEC. The Securities and Exchange Commission, when George W. Bush's father was president, investigated him for -- and his firm -- for alleged accounting misconduct and alleged insider trading.
BEGALA: Just a minute. He has refused to release those records. Harvey Pitt says, I'll release them if the president tells me to. Frank Keating, the conservative Republican of Oklahoma says he should do so.
What's the harm? What would be the harm of releasing those records?
BLUNT: I think the harm is it's a diversion. It's a diversion from...
BEGALA: Only because he won't release them.
BLUNT: No, it's a diversion from what we're really all about.
We are not -- there are people who don't want to talk about solving this problem.
BEGALA: So releasing them would be a diversion?
BLUNT: They want to make politics out of it.
BLUNT: You know, the fact is that what those records were were not -- the initial record was a request to the SEC by George W. Bush at that time, is is it OK to sell this stock because I'm on the board?
In fact, after he sold the stock, the stock doubled in value within the next year. The idea that he sold the stock at some sweetheart time is absolutely wrong. This is an old story...
BEGALA: Then why not release the records?
BEGALA: To clear his good name. If you're right and he's an honest businessman -- and I think it smells -- but if you're right, why not come clean like Frank Keating says?
BLUNT: My guess is the president's view of this is that once again what you have here is a diversion into an old story rather than trying to solve a current problem.
WEXLER: What we have here is a president and a vice president that, unfortunately, just like the Enron executives and the MCI WorldCom executives, they're basically -- they've got the hand up in the air, and they said, I'm pleading the Fifth. I'm not coming clean with the American people.
WEXLER: And that is not...
NOVAK: If so, Mr. Wexler...
BLUNT: ... believe that the president and the vice president are like the Enron executives, you just cannot believe that after seeing the kind of men these are and the kind of performance that they have given the country over and over again.
WEXLER: The president's activity as a member of the auditing committee of that oil company is exactly like the actions of the Enron committee. If they're not, then have him come forth with the records.
BLUNT: ... and that's why he asked the corporate counsel if it's OK to make this sale.
NOVAK: You know, this is just amazing to me that we have so much difficulty in the stock market, so much difficulty with companies, and we're talking about this 10-year-old proposition. And, of course, you'Re mistaken, Harvey Pitt never said, I'll turn them over if he asks me to turn them over. He never said that...
WEXLER: He said it yesterday.
NOVAK: ... there was -- he couldn't turn over that material, that is not permitted.
But I want to give you what was said yesterday by Richard Breeden. He was the -- in the first Bush administration -- he was the Republican chairman of the SEC. And he was asked about this Harken investigation 10 years ago.
Let's look and see what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD BREEDEN, FORMER SEC CHAIRMAN: That entire investigation was turned over to Bill McLucas, who was the head of enforcement. And the instructions were very simple: that it should be handled the way any other investigation would be handled, and that the staff needed to recommend whatever needed to be done. And that's what the commission would have done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOVAK: Now, you know I...
NOVAK: ... considered a Democrat in town. He's actually registered Independent, but he's certainly no Republican. And he said there was absolutely nothing there, and there's a lot of documents that have been put out on it.
WEXLER: All the more reason for the president to have full disclosure, because if everything you say is so, Bob, then that would end the case.
If the president would come out and say, you know what, these stock options that are going to the biggest executives, they should count as expenses...
NOVAK: Have you seen those documents?
WEXLER: ... they should count as expenses, then you know what? He would end the game for a lot of the problems.
NOVAK: Have you seen those documents? Have you seen the documents in this case? Have you looked at them?
WEXLER: I've seen those that are public, but I haven't seen the ones that are not.
NOVAK: It cleans the whole thing up.
WEXLER: Cleans the whole thing up?
What I understand is that the president was on an auditing committee...
NOVAK: Well, you said that a minute ago. Let's not...
WEXLER: He sold 200,000 shares. He made a significant amount of money. Nothing illegal about that.
But then the stock...
BLUNT: The stock dipped, but it doubled within the next year.
WEXLER: What did the company do? The company sold itself an asset which it was inflated, and then the SEC said, oh, can't do that, sorry.
BEGALA: Congressman Blunt, you took great umbrage when Congressman Wexler compared what President Bush did to what Enron did. He is not alone.
There's a man named Alfred King, who is an adviser to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, the independent board that's a watchdog over accounting.
And this is what he told the "Los Angeles Times": "The people at Enron could have gone to school on this thing" -- this insider deal that Bush did when he was an oil executive. "They sold to themselves and recorded a profit. That's exactly what Enron did on a number of those off-balance-sheet transactions. On this one transaction, at least, it is almost identical."
BLUNT: Paul, I don't have any idea who that is, but I do know...
BEGALA: He's Alfred King, he's adviser to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, and is not a partisan Democrat.
BLUNT: ... I do know that the editorial page of the "Washington Post," which is certainly not partisan Republican, said last week that this is an old issue, and it's not worth the time...
BEGALA: And Bush said it's not always black and white. Where is the gray here?
They sold to themselves, to insiders, an asset. They inflated the balance sheet. Even Bush's daddy's SEC said it was wrong. Bush said it was not a black and white issue.
Where is the gray for Bush?
NOVAK: Let me raise one more thing about this...
BLUNT: I think the "Post" was clear on that...
NOVAK: ... If I can get the Begala speech to terminate, I just want to ask you a question about Harvey Pitt.
Harvey Pitt was not, Paul, a lobbyist. He was never a registered lobbyist in his life. He was a lawyer.
And let's see what he said on "Meet the Press" yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "Meet the Press, NBC")
HARVEY PITT, SEC CHAIRMAN: I represented people when I was in private practice. I gave that up a very long time ago represent to represent the American public.
This guilt by occupation is really a needless diversion. I'm here to do a job for the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOVAK: The only criticism you have is he was a lawyer who represented clients before the SEC.
WEXLER: No, the criticism I have is that we have a president, a vice president and the chairman of the SEC that do not have the confidence of the American markets or the American investors.
Why doesn't the president come out and say, I support the Sarbanes bill? Why doesn't the president come out and say, we need to end this accounting fraudulent game and stop using stock options as anything other than what they are?
Because the president is tied at the hip, Bob, to those that are...
NOVAK: Well, that's the Democratic spin.
WEXLER: No, the Democratic spin is, it's time to look out for the little guy, Bob. The little guy is getting creamed.
BEGALA: Congressman Wexler, thank you very much. Congressman Blunt, always available with the Republican spin as well. Thank you both. Good (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for debating this tonight.
And coming up on "Round 6", Novak and I will take off the gloves and go at each other one on one. We'll let the Congressmen go home, and then tear into each other.
Then it will be your turn to "Fireback" at us. One viewer has a depleted retirement account, and an interesting way for Bob Novak to help him replenish it.
NOVAK: Time for "Round 6," Novak versus Begala.
Paul, it is so pathetic that you Democrats, the only thing you can bring against the president is this 10-year-old proposition that has no substance to it whatever. The thing that should worry you as an American and it worries me is this bipartisan hysteria on Capitol Hill, this witch-hunt against corporate business. That is the real threat to the economy.
BEGALA: Roy Blunt made some news tonight saying that they wanted to go farther than the very tough Democratic bill. If that's true, if the Republicans want to join the Democrats being for reform, that is great.
NOVAK: Well, I hope it is not true.
BEGALA: But it won't be credible until Bush come clean. There is no reason not to release all the records of when he was investigated for insider trading and phony accounting gimmicks.
NOVAK: Can you consider any issue outside of an attack on George W. Bush?
BEGALA: It's not an attacks. In fact, it's -- let him release it.
NOVAK: It's a yes or no question.
BEGALA: As long as he is lying to us about how -- and stonewalling us the way those Fifth Amendment corporate executives do, I'm going to continue to press him to come clean to the American people. Yes, sir, I plead guilty.
NOVAK: I'll tell you that if you compare the president of the United States to those Fifth Amendment corporate executives...
BEGALA: What has he done that's different?
NOVAK: Wait a minute. Let me finish what I'm saying -- then you are going to have as much trouble trying to elect him as you did electing George -- Albert Gore last time.
BEGALA: I didn't work for Gore. I worked for Clinton. And he beat the last Bush like a bad piece of meat, like we're going to beat this next Bush. You watch. I guarantee.
NOVAK: OK. Next, your turn to "Fireback" at us. One viewer says he voted for Al Gore and got just what his friends predicted.
NOVAK: Time for "Fireback," when the viewers fire back as us. The first e-mail from Jim Phelps of Alma, Arkansas (sic) -- Arkansas, Paul: "Paul, the pit bull of the liberals, since you blame him for everything else, I want to see how you blame Bush for Johnny Taliban's guilty plea?" He already has, Jim.
BEGALA: I already did. You saw, he called him a misguided youth.
NOVAK: I'm sorry. That isn't Arkansas. It's Arizona. I'm sorry.
BEGALA: Arizona. Well, I wouldn't have called him a misguided youth. I would have called him a traitor. Bush should have been tougher on that guy.
Our next e-mail is from Bob Davis in Westport, Connecticut who says: "With every passing day, I'm more convinced than ever that my Republican friends were right when they told me that if I voted for Al Gore in the last election, the economy would be a disaster. I did vote for Al Gore, and by golly, the economy is a disaster."
NOVAK: It is an old -- that's an old Barry Goldwater joke from 1964.
BEGALA: But a good one.
NOVAK: OK. Richard Nuez from, Bloomington, Indiana -- and I fear the worst from any college town -- "how far will the markets fall before Mr. Bush wakes up? He will destroy our economy to protect his friends." He is the only hope you have, Richard. If you had the Democrats in there, it would really be going down.
BEGALA: Oh, it was terrible under Clinton, wasn't it? Twenty- three million new jobs, Americans richer than ever before. Bring Clinton back.
NOVAK: It wasn't the economy, it wasn't the markets going down in the year 2000 under Richard -- under Mr. Clinton?
BEGALA: People were worried Bush was going to get in. That's exactly what...
NOVAK: Wasn't the markets going down?
BEGALA: ... was going to happen. They're scared about Bush.
"Hey, Paul," writes Jody Hill of Hampton, Virginia, "thanks to George and his corporate thugs, I'm out of money. How about every time Novak says demagoguery, you make him drop a buck in a jar. I'll be retired in Key West in no time at all."
NOVAK: Question from the audience.
BEGALA: Yes, ma'am.
NOVAK: Go ahead, ma'am.
BEGALA: What's your name and where are you from?
CHRISTINA: My name is Christina (ph) and I'm from Tempe, Arizona. My question is actually for you, Mr. Begala. I was wondering how come if this mess on Wall Street developed during the Clinton years, you can now blame the Bush administration for just catching a problem that developed during the Clinton -- on Clinton's watch?
NOVAK: That's a terrific question.
BEGALA: It is a terrific question. Let me tell you, when I worked for President Clinton, he went to Congress and asked for authority to separate accounting and consulting. Republicans turned him down. He asked for greater disclosure of derivatives. The Republicans turned him down. He asked for legislation to protect 401(k)s. The Republicans turned him down. Again and again and again, the Republicans -- it stopped him from passing reforms that could have prevented this.
NOVAK: If you believe Bill Clinton was interested in any of that, I've got a bridge to sell you. Next question.
RAMIT: Hi, my name is Ramit Misrahi (ph) from New Haven, Connecticut. In the Traficant case, Novak speaks of precedent as if having a lot of crooks to stay in the Congress in the past excuses the current ones. Do two wrongs make a right?
NOVAK: Well, no. I'm just saying that the reason that they didn't kick the other ones out, that they were popular. Like Frank Thompson of New Jersey, who was one of the most popular congressman, was convicted, spent three years in prison. They never kicked him out. It's just they don't like Traficant, mainly because he's a conservative on some issues. BEGALA: Well, we'll watch and see how the Republicans vote on this. They may protect him because he's been helping them out on a lot of votes. He attacked the Democrats today in his testimony.
NOVAK: You know, I have to correct you so much. The House majority leader, Dick Armey, is for kicking him out. He's the Republican leader.
BEGALA: Well, God bless Dick Armey. He's going to be tough on one crook anyway. Yes, sir.
JOHN: Hi. My name is John Bolz (ph). I'm from West Palm Beach, Florida. And my question is for Paul. If President Bush is trying to assume the role of moral authority when it comes to business and still there is no increase in our stocks, then what alternative does he have to let these crimes slide by, cover them up?
BEGALA: That's a good question. What he needs to have is a Securities and Exchange commissioner who can actually be tough on them instead of promising to be kinder and gentler. He needs to himself be cleared of the ethical taint. Look, the reason he was credible leading us in the war on terrorism is he hadn't served in the Taliban, OK? He's not credible leading in a war on corporate fraud because he participated in corporate fraud.
NOVAK: They were looking for something to attack him on and that is just absolutely incomprehensible that you can blame the president of the United States for these corporate corruptionists. Last question.
BROOKE: Hi. My name is Brooke Manning (ph). I'm from Washington, D.C. This question is for Mr. Begala. Since you believe that the president's rhetoric is responsible for the decline in the stock markets recently, I want to know how you believe Dick Gephardt and the other Democrats' pessimistic view of the economy has helped?
BEGALA: I don't think people watch what Dick Gephardt says like they do what the president says. His policies have tanked us, not just his rhetoric.
From the left, I'm Paul Begala. Good night for CROSSFIRE.
NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE. "CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT" begins immediately after a CNN "News Alert."
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Ailing Economy?; How Much Longer Will Traficant Last on Capitol Hill?>