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White House, Woodward Clash Over Allegations of Oil Price Fixing With Saudis, Critics Find Fault with Patriot Act

Aired April 19, 2004 - 16:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

As we conclude the president's speech in this echo chamber, you might say, of Washington politics, there has been plenty of criticism of President Bush reverberating you might say in recent weeks. And today's release of Bob Woodward's book on the administration's planning for war in Iraq is turning up the volume.

But what are Americans saying outside the Beltway? Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider looks at our just release poll numbers -- Bill.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Violence in Iraq, dramatic revelations at the 9/11 Commission hearings...

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I believe the title was "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States."

SCHNEIDER: ... record gasoline prices. Not a lot of good news for President Bush. How is his support holding up? The answer, just fine. President Bush still leads Democrat John Kerry by five points among likely voters, about the same as at the beginning of the month when the president held a three--point lead.

The president wants to make this election a referendum on his leadership in the war on terrorism.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now take a look at me and my opponent and say, let's see? Which one of them can better win the war on terror?

SCHNEIDER: Here's why: it's the president's strongest issue. Sixty percent of Americans approve of the way the president is handling terrorism.

The president's weakness? Still the economy.

What about Iraq? People are split.

Has the president suffered any political damage from the 9/11 Commission hearings? Well, 53 percent blame the Bush administration for not taking al Qaeda warnings seriously enough before 9/11. But an even larger number, 60 percent, blame the Clinton administration. Yes, mistakes were made, by everybody.

The damage is limited because the majority of Americans continue to see President Bush as a strong, decisive leader.

BUSH: And the world has learned this. When I say something, I mean it.

SCHNEIDER: But does he have a good understanding of the issues? Some critics say the president's performance at his press conference raised concerns.

But when we asked people, do you think President Bush has a good understanding of the issues, 65 percent said yes. Slightly more than said John Kerry has a good understanding of the issues.

The public is doing what it always does at a time of international crisis. It's rallying. Morale is holding up fine. A solid majority continues to reject the view that Iraq was a mistake. Americans are responding to the president's call.

BUSH: And my message today to those in Iraq is we'll stay the course. We'll complete job.

SCHNEIDER: Even if it means sending more troops? Yes. The number of Americans who favor sending more troops to Iraq has gone up sharply this month.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is important not just to cut and run.

SCHNEIDER: He's right. The number who want to pull out, which was higher at the beginning of the month, is now lower.

But the public has no illusions about Iraq. Most Americans do not believe the U.S. will be able to establish a stable democracy.


SCHNEIDER: Do Americans think Iraq is likely to become another Vietnam? Well, at this point, the public is pretty closely split. Right now, they want to see this policy through and hope for the best -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

Well, today, John Kerry found a new line of attack against the president straight from Bob Woodward's new book. He seized on the reporting that President Bush struck a secret deal with a Saudi ambassador to the United States and long-time family friend, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

According to Woodward, he promised to increase oil production so that gas prices across America would fall down in the months before the presidential election.


KERRY: If as Bob Woodward reports it is true that gas supplies and prices in America are tied to the American election, then tied to a secret White House deal, that is outrageous and unacceptable to the American people.


WOODRUFF: Let's get the Bush camp's reaction to that and other aspects of Bob Woodward's book. I'm joined by White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett. Dan good to see you. Thanks very much.


WOODRUFF: Dan, let me ask you specifically about this passage in Bob Woodward's book where he writes, and I'm quoting, "According to Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador," who he says has special access to the president, "they hope to fine tune oil prices over ten months to prime the economy. What was key, they knew, were the economic conditions before a presidential election, not at the moment of the election."

Was there some kind of deal, Dan Bartlett, to get prices down before this election?

BARTLETT: No, Judy. Not at all. In fact the reason why President Bush was meeting with Prince Bandar is because just like when the Gulf War happened in 1991, what was really a concern of the president's was there was going to be a military conflict in Iraq, whether that was going to have a major disruption of oil supplies across the globe, particularly hurting Americans here at home.

And what we were reassured by was the fact that Saudi Arabia was not going to allow that to happen. It was going to work with other OPEC members to make sure there was not an emergency spike in prices.

What they also determined and what the Prince Bandar talked about not only with the president, but also what he has said publicly in recent weeks is that the long-term oil strategy for Saudi Arabia is for there to be a price band of $22-$28.

There was no talk with the president about making sure the prices are the same by presidential election no, secret deals. It seems Senator Kerry's more interested in trying to do book reviews about books he probably hasn't read and not really talking about the facts.

WOODRUFF: But I'm talking about the implication here and what Bob Woodward is reporting. You're saying that reporting is wrong?

BARTLETT: I'm saying what Prince Bandar said was that the long- term oil strategy for Saudi Arabia is the same that they've been publicly stating. And that's that there would be an oil price per barrel of $22-$28. There was no secret deal. WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about another thing in the Woodward book. He says in the summer of '02, his plans for the war were proceeding secretly. The president approved shifting money that Congress had appropriated for Afghanistan to preparations for war with Iraq.

My question is doesn't the Constitution say that this sort of a spending decision has to be OK'd by the Congress?

BARTLETT: Well, Judy, first and foremost let me say this is a very detailed accounting of a very complex issue.

And I think Bob Woodward has done a particularly good job of describing how complicated of a process it is for a commander in chief to do two real important but sometimes conflicting responsibilities. And that's to conduct a diplomatic strategy to bring peace to Saddam Hussein's regime, to do it in a peaceful way that is.

And secondly to have a credible military operation. And what this book has done is given a fairly accurate depiction that have process.

But in a couple of these instances we have a disagreement of what happened. And in this case, President Bush authorized $700 million, but that was dollars that came from a -- accounts that were not earmarked for Afghanistan. They were given broad discretion to the Department of Defense and that discretion was given by the Congress.

So the letter of the law was followed in this case, as we have in every case of spending the taxpayer dollars. So we have a different opinion on that depiction of how those dollars were spent.

WOODRUFF: All right, then let me ask you one other thing and that is his reporting that the president talked to the Saudi ambassador, again, Prince Bandar, before he told his own secretary of state, Colin Powell, that he had made the decision to go to war in Iraq.

BARTLETT: Well, again, like I said, there was a couple of these statements or depictions of meetings that took place that were just not the same. And in this case, that was the case because President Bush didn't make his decision until much later.

What he did say and what our administration was speaking to Saudi Arabia about was that this president was serious. We were serious about this time Saddam Hussein would be removed from power. Either peacefully through the diplomatic process that was underway or by military force.

And what was important for people in the Middle East to understand and those players such as Saudi Arabia is this president meant it. But he did not make a decision, he did not tell him of a decision before Secretary Powell. In fact, the cabinet knew of his decision, the war cabinet knew of his decision much before Prince Bandar or any other foreign national knew. WOODRUFF: All right, I've got a lot more to ask but we are running out of time. I'm going to have to leave it at that. Dan Bartlett, we appreciate it. Thank you very much.

BARTLETT: No problem.

WOODRUFF: All right. On CNN tonight, we want to let you know that journalist Bob Woodward will be talking about his new book, "Plan of Attack" and the administration's planning for the war in Iraq." He gives his first live primetime interview on the subject on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE," that's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

The political sparring over Iraq seems not likely to ease anytime soon. Let's bring in CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein now of "The Los Angeles Times."

Ron, how is it shaking out at this point? The president has clearly had to answer some tough questions in the last few weeks, not only because of the Woodward book, the Richard Clarke book, but also the events on the ground in Iraq.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. The events on the ground in Iraq will drive the politics here in America. You can be sure of that, Judy, all the way through November.

But the questioning in the short run is going to get more intense not only because of the Bob Woodward book but the Congress finally is getting back in the game.

Really over the past six or eight months, the administration has had to face tougher questions from the hosts of the Sunday morning talk shows. And programs like this have forced them to explain their thinking to the American people.

But this week, there will be a series of hearings, including the some at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, traditionally the most important venue for this kind of issue to be thrashed out. And it will begin, I think, to put the administration in a position of having to explain exactly how it anticipates this handoff of power going on June 30.

WOODRUFF: So you're saying we're going to hear criticism we have not heard before?

BROWNSTEIN: I don't know if it will be criticism we haven't heard before. There are a couple things. First, we will see some of the critics have more of a platform than they've had. There are three days of hearings in front of the Senate foreign relations committee on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. There will be outside experts, many of whom are critical of the course of the administration and then on Thursday, Mark Grossman the undersecretary of state who's had the most day to day responsibility for some of the planning will be brought before the committee to talk about some of the details of how the administration anticipates moving from where we are now towards some interim government after June 30 and beyond that to elections. There are obviously many questions. Paul Bremer and the president have increasingly deferred them to the U.N., to Mr. Brahimi. But Congress, finally, I think, is finally going to be involved in trying to flesh out some of those answers.

WOODRUFF: Ron, very quickly, John Kerry's argument has been, among other things, that the U.N. needs to be much more involved. Now the president is doing that. How does that affect Kerry's argument that he has a better plan for Iraq?

BROWNSTEIN: This is a challenge for Kerry. On a substantive basis, there are still differences. Kerry still envisions a larger role for the U.N. but there's no question that the president has moved in his direction both rhetorically and substantively. You saw John Kerry on "MEET THE PRESS" yesterday having the classic problem of the challenger when the incumbent does that. He was saying, I was saying this six months ago, they're doing it belatedly.

But there's no question some of the clear contrast Senator Kerry has had on the role of the U.N. has been diminished and he may have to look for other ways to sharpen his difference with the president on Iraq.

WOODRUFF: All right. Ron Brownstein of the "Los Angeles Times." Great to see you. Thanks very much.

And while I've been talking with Ron and with Dan Bartlett, there's been a news conference underway in Batavia, Ohio. The family of Private First Class Matthew Maupin. He is an American soldier who has been held -- taken hostage by a group in Iraq. We saw pictures of him just last Friday. These are some of the pictures that al Jazeera was airing on Friday. CNN aired them, as well. Just moments ago, a spokesman for the family, Carl Cottrell talked to the press.


CARL COTTRELL, FAMILY SPOKESMAN: We have waited with heartfelt patience for additional news regarding Matt. At 0800 this morning, his status had been officially changed to captured from the previous status of Destination Whereabouts Unknown. Each time that video was aired on television, it brings the same reaction as if viewing it for the first time. Our hopes continue to remain high as we believe in all the support and efforts to bring Matt home safely.


WOODRUFF: Spokesman for the family of Matthew Maupin, the American soldier who has been held hostage in Iraq. As you just heard him say, the family clearly going through agony as they cling to these pictures and of course, pray that he is safe.

Turning now to the Patriot Act once again, which we heard President Bush speaking about earlier this hour, one of the critics of at least parts of the Patriot Act is Eric Holder, a former deputy U.S. attorney general in the Clinton administration. He spoke with me just a short time ago. My first question had to do with his reaction to President Bush's comment that to abandon the Patriot Act would be, quote, "a willful blindness to a continuing threat."


ERIC HOLDER, FMR. DEP. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't think there's any question that there is the need for the Patriot Act, but I think there's also the need to re-examine the Patriot Act and see how it has been enforced and whether or not we need to strengthen it, whether or not there are things we need to change. One of the things we need to understand is that Senator Kerry has been tough, he's been consistent and he's been reasonable in this area. Back in 1996, when the Clinton administration proposed the Anti-Terror Act which, in fact, is the forefather of the Patriot Act, many conservative Republicans and many liberal Democrats did not support it, and John Kerry did.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about just before the 9/11 commission last week, you've had law enforcement officials, intelligence officials, both administrations, your administration, the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, all of them citing powers that are part of the Patriot Act, for example, making it easier for agencies to monitor the activities of suspected terrorists, letting agents who are conducting criminal investigations share that information with intelligence officers and vice versa. If you've got people in both administrations who see the good in it, what's -- where is the complaint?

HOLDER: When you look at some of the things that have done under the spirit of the act, where you detain citizens without giving them access to a lawyer, where you listen in on attorney-client conversations without involving a judge, these are the kinds of things that have been done in the name of the Patriot Act by this administration that I think are bad ultimately for law enforcement and will cost us the support of the American people which is a vital (UNINTELLIGIBLE) successful in this war on terrorism and that's the kind of thing that Senator Kerry has asked them to look at.

WOODRUFF: Even your former boss, Attorney General Janet Reno before the 9/11 commission last week said everything that has been done in the Patriot Act, she said, has been helpful, I think, while at the same time maintain the balance with respect to civil liberties. The only thing she said was an exception were the so-called FISA searches, the so-called roving wiretaps. But she was very laudatory.

HOLDER: I think the Patriot Act has been good. Senator Kerry had supported the act, he voted for it, he continues to support it. But he says, let's look at it, let's examine it, let's make sure what we have is good, that we're enforcing it in the appropriate way. I think in a lot of ways, the problem that I had with the enforcement of the act is that this administration said essentially trust us. We're not going to involve judges, we're not going to report to Congress on what we're doing, and I think our history has shown us that we are best when we operate as people governed by the law as opposed to putting our trust in people and that's the problem I have.

WOODRUFF: So specifically, what changes would you make?

HOLDER: I think we need to make better use of some tools. First up we need to enhance the ability of people in law enforcement to go after the money launders. We have people in other countries, people in this country who still have an ability to get money to terrorist organizations in a way that is unacceptable and ultimately weakens the act. You have to deal with this whole question of secrecy and the way in which the administration has conducted itself. You need to involve judges. If you're going to look at business records or library records, this should not be something that's simply done by the executive branch without the involvement of judges.

If you're going to listen in on attorney/client conversations, as we did in the Clinton administration, the difference was we asked a judge to authorize it as opposed to simply saying we in the executive branch by ourselves can do this without any supervision by a judge. You also need to report to Congress on a regular basis to let them know what you're doing under the act. I've really surprised to see this attorney general, a former senator, who has been extremely reluctant apparently to get up on Capitol Hill and talk about it. Even if it's in the intelligence setting where the public doesn't necessarily hear, been reluctant to share information about the way in which he has enforced the Patriot Act.


WOODRUFF: Eric Holder who was a deputy attorney general under President Clinton.

Well, as we said, President Bush is pushing for renewal of many of the provisions in the Patriot Act that are set to expire next year. With me now, Dick Thornburgh, he was attorney general in the first Bush administration, a supporter of the Patriot Act.

Good to see you. Governor Thornburgh, first of all, Eric Holder's point, it seems to me, is that much of the Patriot act is fine. The problems have to do, he says, with the fact the Bush administration isn't willing to use judges often enough and isn't willing to report to Congress often enough about its use of the Patriot Act.

RICHARD THORNBURGH, FMR. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm puzzled by his references to proceeding without the intervention of judges. All of the examples that he cited involved with judges. There are judges of the foreign intelligence act court which has jurisdiction over foreign terrorism cases and in order to carry out the kinds of acts he described, you have to have approval from the judge. So I'm very puzzled by that reference.

And what about the regular report to Congress? He said this administration has not been regularly reporting to Congress on the use that they've made of the Patriot Act.

THORNBURGH: That's what the Sunset provisions for, they provide for a given time during which an act should be in effect. It was approved overwhelmingly by the Congress. When the time comes for renewal, there will be every opportunity to review what's happened during the time the act has been part of law. You can't have people running up to the Hill every single day with the latest news flash from the enforcement of the Patriot Act. There's a systemized way of doing that and that's what will be followed.

WOODRUFF: Do you think the arguments, Dick Thornburgh, that there are some provisions of this act that clearly infringe on civil liberties, do you think that's just a bogus argument?

THORNBURGH: Most of the objections that have been raised are based on hypothetical cases. Senator Diane Feinstein of California asked the American Civil Liberties Union in an e-mail to provide her with evidence of actual abuses that had taken place. They said they didn't know of any. There are lots of things you can conjure up if you impart bad faith to the people who are administering the law which is apparently what the critics are doing. But the fact of the matter is that there have been no proven examples of any abuse of civil liberties at all under this law.

WOODRUFF: So you're comfortable with every aspect of this act as it is now written being continued in perpetuity.

THORNBURGH: That's a pretty large order. I don't think everybody's going to sign on every single provision of any act. But I think by and large, what the act did was meet identified needs and I suspect very strongly that the enthusiasm for repealing the Patriot Act was greatly diminished by the testimony before the 9/11 commission which clearly spelled out, for example, how these walls existed between the intelligence community and the law enforcement community and prejudiced their ability to connect the dots.

WOODRUFF: You've also got what, librarians and writers, publishers who are as a group now coming after parts of the Patriot Act because they say people don't have the privacy of reading and checking out books in a library without having...

THORNBURGH: They're up in arms and people never had that privacy. Those are business records that are subject to subpoena at any time and the law is no different now than it was previously. You go to a different judge to get an order in a terrorism case but I think there's an awful lot of misinformation and a little bit of hysteria out there promoted by critics of the act.

WOODRUFF: Dick Thornburgh, formerly the attorney general under the first President Bush. Very good to see you. Thanks for coming by.

Still ahead, the security situation in Iraq. We will talk about U.S. policy and troop presence with a senator who had hoped to get a closeup look what's happening on the ground.



SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: the way of them doing their job.

WOODRUFF: You felt that that might have been the case?


WOODRUFF: Is it -- by now, had you expected that the casualties would have diminished, trailed off?

SMITH: I had hoped, but on the other hand, I think the June 30 deadline is bringing people out of the shadows, those who want to compete for power, those who have something to lose, and frankly I think it's a good thing we press ahead with this and show the American people we're making progress, we're pulling out. I also want to say that I think those who would hide in mosques, in holy ground risk that becoming war ground because they forfeit the right that it become holy ground if they're going to commit murder from there.

WOODRUFF: You're referring to the supporters of the cleric al Sadr. The Bush administration, as you know very well, is now supporting a plan that the U.N. envoy, Mr. Brahimi came up with that would turn over control of Iraq in the short run to a non-U.S. entity. This is something that John Kerry has been calling for for sometime, but as I understand it last week, you were critical of bringing the U.N. in. Clear that up for me.

SMITH: I think the U.N. can do a few things well. They can be helpful in this way but let's face it, they do a lot of things poorly. They have no policy on genocide, they have not been willing to stand up in places like Kosovo or Rwanda or Iraq, and in my view, to commit American security to the security council is a grave mistake. Can they be helpful? Yes, but should the American people be counting on the U.N. to protect them? Absolutely not.

WOODRUFF: So do you think it's a mistake to let the Brahimi plan go forward.

SMITH: I think it's a plan we ought to utilize. If they can be helpful, fine. Let's understand that this whole call for internationalization is very illusory. At the end of the day, a lot of people are, when the first shot comes, they leave and frankly, I think even Osama bin Laden understands that, unfortunately, in Europe there's lots of uncertainties, lots of weakness and they're playing upon that. So it's time for the American people to understand their security is with Americans and with the British and with some of our friends who are standing with us.

WOODRUFF: And you don't think that makes Americans every bit the target that we have been right up until now?

SMITH: At the end of the day, in Kosovo and in other places, America had to come to the rescue because the U.N. and others who were charged with enforcing peace were unwilling to do it. It comes with world leadership. It's a sad fact, but we have gotten into this because 9/11 occurred. I have always believed that Osama bin Laden was responsible for that, owes the apology, but I also believe that there's a confederacy of terrorism and Saddam Hussein was at the center of fomenting and financing terrorism and I support the president in this action.

WOODRUFF: Are you trying to reschedule your trip? SMITH: We will reschedule it at a time when we can do so without being a distraction to the troops who need to look to their own security right now.

WOODRUFF: Senator Gordon Smith, who is a member of the Senate armed services committee. Thank you very much. Good to see you.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.


WOODRUFF: Checking the headlines in our campaign news daily, President Bush is using his trip to Pennsylvania to lend a hand to GOP Senator Arlen Specter. The party moderate is in a tough primary battle with conservative Congressman Pat Toomey. Bush and Specter have their differences on certain issues but the president is hosting a Specter fundraiser later tonight.

John Kerry's wife Teresa Heinz Kerry is a former donor to Arlen Specter's Senate campaign. Back in 1992, Mrs. Kerry gave Specter $1,000. She also appeared in a TV ad on his behalf. That race was about a year after Mrs. Kerry's first husband, Specter's colleague then Senator John Heinz, was killed in a plane crash.

MTV is teaming with the two political parties for a voter registration drive. The RNC's Ed Gillespie and the DNC's Terry McAuliffe are attending a joint news conference this afternoon. The 20 million loud campaign is designed to mobilize 20 million voters between the ages of 18 and 30.

Meantime, a new poll in New York finds a divided electorate when it comes to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Marist College survey finds that 51 percent gives Senator Clinton an excellent or good rating. 45 percent rate her performance as fair or poor.

As for 2006, a theoretical matchup against former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. Looks like a real showdown. Giuliani is getting 50 percent, Senator Clinton receiving 48 percent.

On that note, that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" live now from Las Vegas starts right now.


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