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Democrats Question Bush's Pre-War Knowledge; Bush Promotes African AIDS, Poverty Program; Bob Kerrey Rates Democratic Presidential Hopefuls

Aired July 9, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Iraq as a political weapon: the president keeps defending his reasons for war, while Democrats demand answers.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: There's going to be, you know a lot of attempts to try to rewrite history.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: I think as we write history, we want to make sure we have the facts.

ANNOUNCER: Protests in Pretoria against the African Bush. Are political motives driving his trip to the continent he once saw as a low priority?

He's been there and done that. Former Senator Bob Kerrey rates the '04 Democrats from front runners to wildcards.

BOB KERREY, FORMER SENATOR: This is not somebody who I think the party has to be afraid of by any stretch of the imagination.

ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.


JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

Well, Republicans have been counting on the war in Iraq to help give President Bush the advantage in election 2004.

Now some Democrats seem to be trying to turn Iraq into their issue. Specifically, the president's prewar statements about weapons of mass destruction.

As CNN's Jonathan Karl reports, congressional Democrats dived into the controversy today, while Mr. Bush tried not to be drawn in.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The White House may have admitted false information made it in to the president's State of the Union speech, but the president, traveling in Africa, is firmly defending his decision to wage war in Iraq. BUSH: There's going to be a lot of attempts to try to rewrite history and, you know, I can understand that. But I'm absolutely confident in the decision I made.

KARL: Dozens of miles away in Washington, Tom Daschle rebuffed the president's charges of revisionist history.

DASCHLE: Well, history hasn't been written yet. In fact, it's being written as we speak. And I think as we write history, we want to make sure we have the facts.

KARL: House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi chimed in with her own call for a full investigation.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: It's about the confidence that the American people have in what their leaders tell them. It's about the confidence that we have in the decision making based on what information. And it's about protecting the American people into the future. We have a right to know.

KARL: Emboldened difficulties the administration is having in post-war Iraq, Democrats are now hitting the president hard where he has been seen as virtually invincible, national security.

On the campaign trail, the Democratic presidential candidates freely attack the president on Iraq, deploring, in Dick Gephardt's words, "a failure of presidential leadership."

On the Hill, the president's defense secretary took hostile fire from Democrats who demanded to know how the inaccurate information on Iraq's weapon program made it into the president's speech, even after the intelligence community determined that it was wrong.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Have you determined how it happened that that information about the forgery stayed for so long in the, to quote Condi Rice, "the bowels of the agency."

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The fact that the facts change from time to time with respect to specifics does not surprise me or shock me at all. It's to be expected. It's part of the intelligence world that we live with, is uncertainty and less than perfect knowledge.


KARL: Democrats also peppered Rumsfeld with questions on the ground in Iraq. Specifically, how much is the occupation costing? Rumsfeld did not provide exact figures.

And why isn't NATO doing more to contribute to the rebuilding and peacekeeping on the ground in Iraq? Rumsfeld said he would welcome support from other countries.

But Judy, these questions are not likely to go away as the occupation of Iraq continues and we approach the political campaign season -- Judy. WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Karl at the capital, thanks very much.

Well, the mission in Iraq still is unfolding, as Jon just suggested. Who knows what will happen by November of next year? For now, voters are trying to sort out the president's statements and make judgments about his policy.

So is our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Here's what President Bush said in his State of the Union address.

BUSH: The British government learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

SCHNEIDER: The White House now says that statement was based on unreliable information.

The admission may not cause the president great political damage. Most Americans have always given President Bush high ratings for honesty and trustworthiness.

While criticism has crept up a bit since the war, the public still has confidence in President Bush's credibility by two to one. And the public shares the president's conviction when he says about Saddam Hussein...

BUSH: There's no doubt in my mind the United States, along with allies and friends, did the right thing in removing him from power.

SCHNEIDER: The basic principal is don't quarrel with success.

BUSH: One thing is for certain, he's not trying to buy anything right now. If he's alive, he's on the run.

SCHNEIDER: But what if the public no longer sees the war as a success? That's the real political danger.

If Americans begin to have doubts about the war, it will not be because they think the intelligence was flawed, it will be for another reason. In fact, it has already been happening, before the credibility issue arose.

The percentage of Americans who say Iraq was not worth going to war over more than doubled between the end of the war and late June. Those numbers have gone up far faster than doubts about President Bush's credibility.

Why? Look at the total number of Americans killed in Iraq. Losses nearly doubled from the end of the war to late June. Roughly one American killed every day. Criticism of the war has increased at about the same rate as the number of Americans killed.

The issue that's gaining attraction isn't, was the intelligence misleading? It's, why are Americans still getting killed?


SCHNEIDER: Americans will quarrel with success only if they no longer see the policy as a success. If the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, then the public will ask, how did we get into this mess in the first place? And the issue of flawed intelligence could suddenly matter -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider, thank you.

With American lives at stake, not to mention the political ramifications, it is no wonder that even some top Republicans are asking the Pentagon for specifics about when U.S. troops will come home from Iraq.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This whole issue of how long they're going to be there, the uncertainty and seeing the pictures of the wounded or dead American soldiers, are leading to this unease, and I emphasize, that's the word. Unease, not disaffection, not anger but unease on the part of the American people.


WOODRUFF: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the senators today that elements of the 3rd Infantry Division are scheduled to be home by September. Military sources tell CNN that the Pentagon is also working on a rotation policy to bring back the troops who have served the longest in Iraq.

While President Bush faced questions about Iraq today, he tried to stay on message in Africa, touting his multibillion dollar package to fight AIDS and poverty there.

Senior political correspondent Candy Crowley has more on the president's trip and the motives behind it.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Maybe it's not an incredible journey, but when the president was candidate it did seem unlikely.

BUSH: It's an important continent, but there's got to be priorities and Middle East is a priority for a lot of reasons. As is Europe. And the Far East and our own hemisphere.

CROWLEY: "While Africa may be important," Bush told a reporter in early 2000, "it doesn't fit into the national strategic interests, as far as I can see them."

But he sees things differently now, partly because he was persuaded by Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and partly because the world changed. Consider that Osama bin Laden lived in Sudan before Afghanistan.

The sub-Sahara teams with poverty. It's estimated more than half the population there lives on less than $1 a day. It is plagued with AIDS and rocked by political instability. The region has the kind of fertile soil that gives root to terrorism.

BUSH: In this decade Africa's sun will shine over a continent that is renewed by freedom and successfully fights disease and it grows in peace.

CROWLEY: A $15 billion AIDS package, $1 billion in food aid and another $5 billion to African countries that show progress toward democracy looks like a pretty strategic investment.

The beauty of it, if one were, for instance, running for president next year, is the potential for political dividends. The AIDS package, triple what it is now, will help a continent in desperate need and buff up that conservative image at home.

BUSH: America is now undertaking a major new effort to help governments and private groups combat AIDS.

CROWLEY: Good stuff at many levels, but Bush has to put up or hand another issue to the '04 Democrats. So far the AIDS package is unfunded.

There is political and policy promise, as well, in the U.S. package to encourage governments to go after corruption and move toward democracy. It may draw some of the sting from Democrats' criticism that Bush is too quick on the trigger.

It is in sum a trip for all reasons, humanitarian, political, strategic and oh, yes, economic. Nigeria, where the president will visit, and Angola have large deposits of oil.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: As Candy says, a trip with many reasons.

Coming up, former presidential candidate Bob Kerrey's take on the current field of Democratic contenders.

Plus, the interesting cast of characters marching in step with one of the '04 Democrats.

And later, did the president's aids wish he and they were out of Africa? Bob Novak will have the inside buzz.


WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines in our campaign news daily.

Fresh off his weekend appearances with singer Willie Nelson, Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich has picked up even more endorsements from the political left.

The woman known as Granny D, who once walked cross country at age 89 to promote campaign financial reform has endorsed the Ohio congressman. Longtime California activist Tom Hayden and peace activist Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, also are backing Kucinich.

Democratic hopeful Bob Graham plans to beef up his campaign efforts in Iowa. Senator Graham told Iowa reporters that he soon will open eight new field offices around the Hawkeye State. He also said he plans to load up his extended family next month for a week-long driving tour of Iowa in a caravan of recreational vehicles. Maybe some press coverage of that.

I discussed Bob Graham, Dennis Kucinich and the other Democratic hopefuls yesterday with former Democratic senator and presidential candidate Bob Kerrey. I began by asking Kerrey how he thinks the current Democratic field shapes up.


KERREY: I think it's a good field. You know, there's, I would say, six of them that one day could end up being the nominee of the party. I think it's going to be a close election in '04. I mean, the general election's going to be close.

WOODRUFF: Is there a tier? I mean, would you put some of the six in the top tier and some...?

KERREY: Well, yes, I would, but it will change on the 30th of June. The reporting showing that Governor Dean raised not just $7.5 million but almost $7.5 million on soliciting, coming from individuals who just turned onto his web site.

And all of a sudden he's gone from, gee, I don't think there's anyway possible for him to get 2,161 delegates, which is what you have to have to have the majority -- that's the definition of success -- to it's interesting, he just might do it.

I would think, you know, I can make a strong case for six of the candidates, at least, that they've got a fighting chance to get to the majority of the delegates.

WOODRUFF: But what about Howard Dean? I mean, there are two very different views of him. One is that he's this flaming left- winger, liberal who is going to destroy the Democratic Party. Another view is that, no, he's somebody who can energize the party and carry the party to victory in November.

KERREY: Well, he's not a left-winger, for God's sakes. I mean, certainly, he's energized not just the liberal, but the professional part of the Democratic Party base.

His views on gun control has got my wife mad at him. So you know, it's -- he's out there talking about a balanced budget. This is not somebody who, I think, the party has to be afraid of by any stretch of the imagination. So yes, and if you can sustain that, not only is it possible for him to be the nominee, but hopefully whoever the nominee is does it smart, he can continue that energy and hopefully energize people to get them out to vote in the general election.

WOODRUFF: Based on what you were just saying, you're convinced President Bush is vulnerable and can be beaten?

KERREY: Totally. I mean, look, it's 270 electoral votes, that's what matters. I think we'll win New York. I think we'll win California, even though Governor Gray Davis is having trouble out there. I don't think there's any way that George Bush is going to win the electoral votes of California.

And if Bob Graham can win Florida for once, and the state's shifting Democratic anyway, if we can hold Florida, we get three of the top four.

So I think it's -- I don't think this is a 300 electoral vote victory for George Bush. I think it's going to be exceptionally close and I think any one of six, as I said, as I've identified them, has the stature, if they're the nominee, to carry this thing all the way to victory.

WOODRUFF: Spoken like a true Democrat. One quick last question...

KERREY: Well, actually spoken like a mathematician in a way. On one level, it's not romance. It's not about trying to make a Democratic case or a Republican case, it's trying to answer the question, how do you get 270 electoral votes, Mr. Bush?


WOODRUFF: All right. Bob Kerrey, former senator, former presidential candidate, now president of the New School University in New York.

More U.S. military assessment teams are headed to Africa. Just ahead, comments by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and the warning against a U.S. troop deployment from a political ally of the White House.


WOODRUFF: Kentucky Governor Paul Patton's former mistress has been indicted on federal mail fraud charges. Tina Conner is accused of trying to get the company, run by her former husband, certified under a program that favors companies operated primarily by women and minorities.

Conner claims the governor used the power of his office to aid and then to ruin her nursing home business. Patton has acknowledged the affair but he denied the misuse of power.

INSIDE POLITICS continues in a moment.



BUSH: In Liberia, the United States strongly supports the cease- fire agreement signed last month. President Taylor needs to leave Liberia so that his country can be spared further grief and bloodshed.


WOODRUFF: A second 10-man U.S. military assessment team has now arrived in Africa to help determine how the U.S. might assist in efforts at bringing peace to Liberia.

Another assessment team is already on the ground in Liberia.

White House consideration of a larger U.S. troop deployment to West Africa is a non-starter with at least one of the president's usual political allies. The American Conservative Union is advising its members to write President Bush and to urge him not to send U.S. troops.

The letter goes on to say, quote, "Sending troops to Liberia would divert American military resources away from more critical matters."

Donald Rumsfeld said today that no decision will be made until the assessment teams have done their jobs.


RUMSFELD: The United States and Great Britain and several other countries have been in the process for many months now, training forces and some have been used in Sierra Leone and some are currently committed.

So until the assessment teams come back, it seems to me that we will not have a good grip on what we would propose to the president.


WOODRUFF: The latest U.S. assessment team is in Ghana meeting with representatives of the Economic Community of West African States, also known as ECOWAS.

Well, Bob Novak is here with some inside buzz.

All right, Bob, what is this, first of all, about the president's trip? You're hearing there are some staff members that aren't very happy?

BOB NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, they're phoning in from the dark continent of Africa, saying they're very unhappy. Usually, it's a plum assignment to travel with the president abroad.

They said Africa is really terrible. The accommodations are bad, the sheets have holes in them, they can't get on the Internet. Those of us who have covered West Africa know what they're talking about. And some of the old Washington reporters who went to Africa with President Clinton made sure they didn't get on this assignment.

WOODRUFF: So they're used to nice accommodations?

NOVAK: Oh, yes.

WOODRUFF: All right. In Florida, Republicans now saying they are worried about Bob Graham ending up on the Democratic ticket.

NOVAK: Yes, some of the president's supporters in South Florida have advised his team that if Graham is vice president and they had reasonable candidate for president, talking abut Gephardt, Lieberman or Kerry, they think that the Democrats will carry Florida. And that is really bad news because any plan for the president's re-election always includes Florida.

WOODRUFF: And we heard that from Bob Kerrey just a minute ago, saying if the Democrats get Florida, it's a problem.

Bill Simon, formerly a candidate for governor in California but now is trying to hire some political offers?

NOVAK: That's right. He is off trying to hire people. Does that mean he is running, he is going to be on the ticket on this recall of Democratic Governor Gray Davis? Not necessarily. Some people want him to be chairman of the recall, but not run for governor and then run against Senator Barbara Boxer for the Senate in 2004.

WOODRUFF: We're always on top of it when we talk to Bob Novak. Thanks for being here.

NOVAK: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: "Inside Buzz." Thanks very much.

Still ahead, how will the feds make sure the '04 political conventions will be secure? We'll have that story from New York.


WOODRUFF: At the Republican National Convention in New York next year many people, no doubt, will be thinking about the September 11 attacks, especially since it begins just a week before the third anniversary of 9/11.

In New York today Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced his agency has designated the convention as a national special security event. Ridge and New York's top Republicans say that the Secret Service will oversee a security plan to, quote, "prevent terrorist attacks and criminal acts."


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: Nobody can ever be completely ahead of the curve on terrorism because what we really fear is the unanticipated that can happen to any of us. So, the joint efforts will be very, very important in making certain it's a safe convention.


WOODRUFF: Officials said that security at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July will also be led by the Secret Service.

Well, that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. The word: one of our guests tomorrow, Senator Bob Graham of Florida, the man Bob Novak said Republicans are worried about being on the ticket.

I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


African AIDS, Poverty Program; Bob Kerrey Rates Democratic Presidential Hopefuls>

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