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White House, Congress Continue Fight Over Probe Into CIA Leak; Interview With Senator Joe Biden

Aired October 1, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Behind the image of business as usual, how far will the president go to help investigators find the source of a controversial leak?

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has directed the White House to cooperate fully.

ANNOUNCER: The Senate debates the $87 billion question. Should U.S. taxpayers foot the bill for rebuilding Iraq, or should the Iraqis?

DANA CARVEY, ENTERTAINER: Let me tell you something. Something's going up in the polls. Oh!

ANNOUNCER: Governor Schwarzenegger? Arnold plans for his first 100 days as another poll suggests he's up and Gray Davis may soon be out.

Live from Los Angeles, this is JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm Candy Crowley. Judy is off today.

White House staffers today began a process more familiar to their predecessors in the Clinton administration. They're going through back records and phone logs in search of any information relevant to a criminal investigation. It's the latest twist in the growing flap over the leak of a CIA operative's identity.

We begin with our White House correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, I've got to believe it's not a great mood over there right now.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly probably isn't. But, Candy, as you can imagine, a number of people we've spoken to today have sworn up and down that things are going smoothly here, business as usual, that this is a very business-like administration, a very buttoned-up administration. As one said to me, certainly no one's going down the hall with their hair on fire. Everybody's trying to do their job and keep their head down and continue on with their work. And publicly, as you can imagine the press office and the spokesman was very much on message today, making it clear that the president, as he said yesterday, wants everybody in his White House to fully cooperate with the investigation. And even saying it was a hypothetical, but not ruling out the idea that if asked, White House staffers would be expected to take polygraph tests.

But that is something that is down the pike. No FBI agents have been here yet. That is premature. And nobody as far as the White House officials has given over any information, any kind of documents, e-mails, phone records that might be relevant to this leaks investigation, not yet.

But the White House is trying to frame this, Candy, as a legal issue deflecting any questions about the political, or even ethical ramifications, trying not to contradict anything that President Bush said as a candidate, that he wants to change the tone in Washington.

CROWLEY: Dana, let me ask you something about how they're handling the issue of Joe Wilson himself, who is the husband of the wife of the CIA operative. What can you tell us about how they're handling him on a personal level?

BASH: It's very interesting. They're being very careful not to go after him explicitly. But they are suggesting that he's changed his story, specifically Scott McClellan. The spokesman today talked about the fact that initially Joe Wilson said this was Karl Rove. He went after -- he was the one who was responsible for the leak. And now he has backed away from it.

Let's listen to what McClellan said earlier today.


MCCLELLAN: I have seen comments from Mr. Wilson, and I have seen him back away from those comments later. It seems to be -- he said one thing previously about Karl Rove and then he backed away from it and now he's saying other things. I mean, there's a changing of the issue here all of a sudden.


BASH: But privately, Candy, they're being much more forceful here at the White House about the fact that they believe this is political opportunism not just by Ambassador Wilson, but by Democrats in general. Pointing out the fact that Ambassador Wilson was supposed to be appearing today with House Democrats. That of course was canceled.

But all in all, they're allowing their surrogates in the political roles and on Capitol Hill to do the bashing. Back to you.

CROWLEY: Thanks very much, CNN's Dana Bash at the White House.

With the leak investigation under way, and accusations of partisan politics flying, Democrats are trying to keep the issue alive. Our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl has more on Capitol Hill.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, the very latest is that Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader here in the Senate, and three other top Democratic senators have written a letter to the president saying, quote, "We continue to be deeply concerned about the failure of the administration to treat this matter with the seriousness it demands."

The letter goes on to make a series of demands on the White House, including a demand that the White House compile a list of all senior staff who would have had access to the information that was leaked. And to have all those staff sign a statement saying that they did not leak it, and they will cooperate with the investigation. And finally, to investigate whether any potentially related materials, such as e-mails or phone records, were destroyed.

But this is a letter. There's no enforcement power behind this letter. The Democrats really have no recourse but to come out and make the issue publicly, and that they did as well here on Capitol Hill today.


REP. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: I was told that, you know, he's a contributor to Senator Kerry's campaign, that he's been invited to the House Democrat Caucus. I don't think he came this morning. But it seems to me that that is evidence that there may be some motives on their side that are not, again, entirely pure. That, rather, this is being viewed as a political opportunity.


KARL: Now, that was Rob Portman, Republican congressman, somebody very close to the White House, talking about Ambassador Joe Wilson. You heard Dana Bash talk about how the White House is reluctant to directly attack Wilson. There is no such reluctance here among Republicans and on the president's allies. They're questioning his credibility, questioning his ties to Democrats as a way to question, really, what he is up to here. Is this really all about politics or is it an effort to get at a serious matter.

Now Democrats went to the floor of the Senate today to continue the drum beat against the White House to say that a special counsel must appointed to investigate this, because Attorney General John Ashcroft as a Republican appointed by the president cannot be trusted to do so.


SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: Well, now I see the justice department is now starting to investigate. Now, isn't that a sweetheart deal? Attorney General John Ashcroft appointed by this president investigating the president. If a situation ever cried out for a special counsel, this is it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KARL: But, Candy, Democrats are frankly a little confused about what to do next on this. They don't have any enforcement power. There's nothing they can do in terms of having an investigation themselves. All they can do is try to raise the issue as loudly as they possibly can, and that they are doing.

CROWLEY: Certainly we can hear them. Thanks a lot. CNN's Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill.

Listening to all of this go on, we have a sense you may have a sense of deja vu in reverse.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: If there was ever a case for an appointment of a special counsel, this is it.

CROWLEY (voice-over): You are listening to the noise of tables turning.

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The prosecutors and agents who are and will be handling this investigation are career professionals with extensive experience.

CROWLEY: Flashback, 1997, and then-Attorney General Janet Reno resisting calls for an independent counsel to investigate the Clinton White House.

JANET RENO, PRES. CLINTON'S ATTORNEY GENERAL: So I'm not ducking anything. I'm not trying to protect anybody. I'm trying to do the job of conducting an investigation in the right way.

CROWLEY: Republicans didn't buy it then...

REP. DAN BURTON (R), INDIANA: This has all the appearances of an attorney general protecting the president.

CROWLEY: ... and Democrats don't buy it now. They don't want John Ashcroft's Justice Department to investigate who leaked the identity of a CIA operative. They want an independent counsel.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is the only way that I think the American people have confidence that the Justice Department is not somehow engaged in political choices.

CROWLEY: Back when inquiries into Clinton world were all the rage, Democrats said it was all politics.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: It lends itself to a Salem Witch Hunt. It does not lend itself to an orderly process.

CROWLEY: There it goes again. Hear that table turning?

ED GILLESPIE, RNC CHAIRMAN: We've seen many of the same Democratic members of Congress who have talked about we don't need outside counsels, we don't need special counsels and in fact opposed any extension of an independent counsel act, all of a sudden now saying we ought to have one of those. And it's pure politics.


CROWLEY: A certain New York senator with first hand knowledge of the Clinton-era investigations has an opinion about what's happening. In a conference call, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton says she believes it would be better to appoint an independent investigator to look into the CIA leak.

I'm joined now by the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden of Delaware. Thank you so much, Senator, for being here.

I'm going to start out on this whole leak thing. There's just no way to take the politics out of this on either side, is there?


Look, Candy, I've been hearing your report. I didn't think that was about what I was to talk about. But it's real simple here, it seems to me. There's been a federal crime committed. The man who printed the name of an agent that was covert said that he had gotten information from the White House. The director of the CIA back as far as July said we should have this investigated. There should be an investigation. To the best of anyone's knowledge, nothing happened on it at all.

And so -- but the bottom line is unlike other things, there is a crime committed. No one says that there wasn't a covert CIA agent who was outed by somebody allegedly in the White House. I don't know whether that's true or not. And the reason why the call for a special counsel came up, I believe, is because this occurred months ago and not a single thing appeared to be done. If it was, no one told anybody.

But you're right. You're going to have Democrats and Republicans engaging in hyperbole, exagerating what this is all about, calling it politics. It will be used politically.

But for me it's a really basic thing. Somebody released the name of a CIA agent shilling the future prospects of CIA agents, operatives coming forward with information that a future information may not want to hear. That's a very bad and dangerous thing.

CROWLEY: And, Senator, you are correct, we asked you to come on to talk about...

BIDEN: I'm happy to talk about this.

CROWLEY: ... money for Iraq. And I want to move on to that now. And I want to just quick play you something you just said on the floor about a meeting you had with President Bush.

BIDEN: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: I went in the Oval Office with him. And I said, Mr. President, I want to remind you there's a reason why your father did not go to Baghdad. And he looked at me, I to my friend from Missouri, like I was going to insult his father, for whom I have great respect. And I said, Mr. President, the reason your father didn't go to Baghdad, he didn't want to stay for five years. Are you ready to stay? Obviously I didn't say it in that tone to the president. I said, Are you ready to stay, Mr. President?


CROWLEY: And so my question is, what did he say?

BIDEN: He said he was ready to do what it took. And he's told me back in September in front of a number of my colleagues, Democrat and Republican, in the Cabinet room, that he would tell the American people this was going to take tens of thousands of troops and was going to cost billions of dollars. And I'm afraid that was not done.

Candy, my great concern here is, I supported going to Iraq. I think it was the right vote. I think it was necessary to enforce the international rules of the road. But the fact of the matter is, we got the American people to a point -- or the administration did, thinking this was going to be something that was going to be quick and easy, that oil revenues were going to pay for all the expenses, that we weren't going to have to stay there that long. Remember, they fired General Shinseki for saying it would take 200,000 troops to secure the peace. And so now we're losing the support of the American people. And we need to do this.

CROWLEY: Let me stop you on that point about the American people. Because if I can turn that question around, is Congress, which did vote to give him the authority to go to war in Iraq -- does Congress have the fortitude to stick this out for five years, regardless of what happens in the polls?

BIDEN: The honest answer to that is, I don't know. I'm getting a lot of heat from Democrats for saying I will support. I want to examine what he's going to spend the money on and how. But we have to spend this money.

I've been one of those, along with some other Democrats, saying we need more forces in there, hat it's going to cost more money to do this. And so I'm -- I don't know that I share the view, my view as held by a majority of Democrats, let alone a majority of the Republicans.

I think we have to stay there. But no -- no Congress ever stays without the leadership of a president, Democrat or Republican. The president is the bully pulpit. The president is the voice. And I truly believe that the president said to the American people, look, this is going to take a long, long time, and cost billions of dollars, I believe the American people would have sucked in and said, OK, Mr. President, we're there. But they feel like they've been misled.

And I'm the one -- I don't want to personalize this -- but I feel like I'm holding the bag here. I supported him. And my constituency back home is mad at me for continuing to support. But we can't afford to lose the peace. So I hope he'll continue to level, Sam (ph) -- I'm -- Sam (ph) -- excuse me -- I hope he'll continue to level with the American people as this is going to be a long haul.

CROWLEY: Senator Biden, always so interesting to talk to you. Thanks so much for joining us.

BIDEN: Thanks, Candy. I appreciate it.

Six days to go in our California recall countdown. Can Governor Gray Davis improve his chances of defeating the recall by having Wesley Clark with him in the trenches? We'll look at Davis' day and analyze the latest poll numbers.

Plus, is Arnold Schwarzenegger putting the cart before the horse, or simply planning for the inevitable?

And we'll listen to Howard Dean's impressions of Schwarzenegger.

This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.


CROWLEY: Mark this down -- CNN and Rock the Vote will co-host a forum of young voters and the Democratic presidential candidates November 4, exactly one year before the presidential election. CNN's Anderson Cooper will moderate "America Rocks the Vote" at Boston's Faneuil Hall. Our young voters in the audience will directly question the presidential hopefuls about issues that matter most to them. So be with us then, and stick with us now.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.


CROWLEY: Another new poll of California voters contains some ominous signs for Governor Gray Davis. When asked if they support the recall of Davis, 56 percent in an "L.A. Times" survey said yes; 42 percent said no. When asked to choose a replacement for Davis, 40 percent named Arnold Schwarzenegger, 32 percent said Democratic Cruz Bustamante, and 15 percent said conservative Republican Tom McClintock.

For more on that poll, and what the findings mean for the candidates, who else but our senior political analyst Bill Schneider -- Bill.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Yes, Democrats outnumber Republicans in California. But Republicans are more united. Almost 90 percent of Republicans say they are voting to recall Democratic Governor Gray Davis. But more than a quarter of his own party are voting to get rid of him, too. Yes, Republicans have two prominent candidates competing to replace Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and State Senator Tom McClintock, while Democrats have only one, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante. But Republicans are more united behind Schwarzenegger than Democrats are behind Bustamante, who is seen as a clone of Davis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cruz Bustamante has been Gray Davis' lieutenant for five years. It's hard to tell them apart on issues.

SCHNEIDER: California Republicans know their state. And they're behaving pragmatically. While 46 percent of Democrats say he McClintock is too conservative to get elected in California, 52 percent of his fellow Republicans believe he's unelectable.

Last week's debate seemed to give Schwarzenegger his momentum. But not because he dazzled voters on the issues. When asked, "Which candidate in the debate seemed most knowledgeable about the issues," viewers said McClintock, followed by Bustamante. Only 8 percent were impressed with Schwarzenegger's knowledge.

And when asked, "Who has the best experience for the job?" Schwarzenegger, again, came in dead last.

Schwarzenegger is running as the outsider in a state where voters are fed up with politics as usual.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA GOV. CANDIDATE: Special interests have a stranglehold in Sacramento. Here's how it works. Money comes in, favors go out, the people lose. We need to send a message, Game over.

SCHNEIDER: That's Schwarzenegger's biggest advantage. He's seen far and away as the candidate who can reduce the influence of special interests at the state capital.

McClintock? Davis? Bustamante? How can they change things in Sacramento? They've been in Sacramento for years. That makes Schwarzenegger the best positioned to make his case.

SCHWARZENEGGER: My candidacy is all about big change in Sacramento.


SCHNEIDER: So what if Schwarzenegger's not deeply knowledgeable about the issues? That's not what this race is about. If you want knowledge, and experience, get an insider. If you want change, get an outsider -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Bill Schneider.

More recall headlines in our "Campaign News Daily."

Arnold Schwarzenegger appears to be moving his campaign into a new phase, focusing on what he might do after Election Day. A few hours ago, Schwarzenegger talked about his first order of business if he wins next Tuesday.


SCHWARZENEGGER: Day one, I will sign an executive order to repeal the Davis administration tripling (ph) car tax. The increase is especially hard on the low income people who just want to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to work and take their kids to day-care.


CROWLEY: Political commentator and former recall candidate Arianna Huffington is now out of the recall race. She told me last hour she's urging Californians to keep Gray Davis because the recall was a bad idea to begin with.


ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, FMR. CALIFORNIA RECALL CANDIDATE: Because all along, I was against the recall in principle. I always saw it as a right-wing power grab, in a way to try and depose a duly elected governor. But I also saw an opportunity there to elect an independent, progressive governor who would really clean house in Sacramento.


CROWLEY: Huffington is expected to appear with Governor Gray Davis next hour at an event promoting land conservation.

As you've just heard, the numbers aren't adding up for Gray Davis. The California governor has six days left to save his job. Can he pull off a comeback? A live report from the Davis campaign when we come back.


CROWLEY: California Governor Gray Davis met this afternoon with the newest Democratic presidential hopeful.

And CNN's Frank Buckley was there, too -- Frank.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, General Wesley Clark became the sixth Democrat presidential candidate to appear alongside Governor Gray Davis as he tries to fight for his job. The two appearing here at Fire Station Number 27 in Los Angeles as the Davis campaign attempts to make a contrast between what they call real, live action heroes, firefighters and first responders, and Hollywood heroes, that referring to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Here's what General Clark had to say about the recall.


GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm asking all Democrats to answer this sobering question: if we come together and unite against this recall, we will beat back this power grab and we will send a message to -- from California to Crawford, Texas, to the White House, we are not going to stand for a Republican power grab.


BUCKLEY: And that was obviously Governor Davis. General Clark also talking about his opposition to the recall.

Meanwhile, if the Davis campaign is concerned at all about the most recent "L.A. Times" poll, they're not showing it. They say their internal tracking shows that this race is much closer -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much. CNN's Frank Buckley in Los Angeles.

Schwarzenegger's candidacy has increased the market for Arnold impersonators. Up next, wait until you see who got in the act.


CROWLEY: If that presidential thing doesn't pan out, Howard Dean will need a new gig. At an L.A. fundraiser yesterday, people in the crowd started rumbling about Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Dean apparently decided that was his cue.


HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am announcing that I'm running for president of the United States of America.


CROWLEY: We are thinking he may need to stick with his day job.

That is it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Candy Crowley.


Leak; Interview With Senator Joe Biden>

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