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CNN CROSSFIRE

CIA Director Calls It Quits

Aired June 3, 2004 - 16:30   ET

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


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

In the CROSSFIRE: the spy chief who's coming in from the cold. CIA Director George Tenet resigns.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's been a strong leader in the war on terror. And I will miss him.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: There certainly were intelligence failures in the Iraq operation. I do not believe that the resignation of George Tenet should be the only response to those failures.

ANNOUNCER: He says his reasons are personal, but did politics play a role?

And it's interactive Thursday. Log on to CNN.com/ITV.

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Robert Reich and Robert Novak.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: George Tenet is leaving after seven years as director of the CIA. And his departure couldn't have been more graceful. But was he pushed out or is he genuinely and simply ready to move on?

Joining me to debate that, our guest co-host, the former secretary of labor and candidate for governor of Massachusetts, Robert Reich.

And it's interactive Thursday. You can join us online CNN.com/ITV.

Now the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Just months before...

ROBERT REICH, GUEST HOST: That was my line.

NOVAK: Oh, that was your line. Go ahead.

REICH: Listen, just months before an election, the head of the CIA suddenly resigns. Now, the question is, what is going on? And here's what I think.

The president needs a scapegoat to take the heat for Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile charged with giving secrets to Iran. Chalabi, a close friend of Pentagon neocons, says the CIA is out to get him. There's also the probe into the White House leak of a CIA agent's identity, now even prompting the president to consult a lawyer.

And don't forget the atrocities at Abu Ghraib and perhaps elsewhere. Now, who's to blame for all of this? It will be, in my view, George Tenet. And now that he's gone, the president can say, I've cleaned house so you can trust me with a second term.

NOVAK: You know, Bob, you have packed four conspiracy theories into 40 seconds.

REICH: Pretty good.

NOVAK: Which is pretty good for a Boston liberal, I must say.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: But, as a matter of fact, you missed the only one the reason for his leaving. And that is the Senate Intelligence Committee under Republican leadership is going to come out with a very tough report that might be embarrassing in a couple weeks.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: Whatever you say about Ralph Nader, he is never dull. Speaking at the National Press Club today, he wasted no time exploding bombshells, beginning by urging a general strike in the District of Columbia in the quest of voting rights and ending with a letter to Democratic congressional leaders demanding that they renounce their pay increases.

He called for a date certain to get out of Iraq, denounced corporate influences and condemned political corruption. Now, if you are a left-winger, like Robert Reich, why vote for John Kerry when you can get the real deal in Ralph Nader?

(LAUGHTER)

REICH: Robert, sticks and stones may break my bones. But I'll tell you something. Anybody, after the year 2000, who votes for Ralph Nader has got to understand that a vote for Ralph Nader, no matter whether you agree with him or not, is in effect a vote for George W. Bush.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) NOVAK: Isn't it true, you know, a person of principle -- and I've always thought you were a person of principle -- would say that, you know, John Kerry is so wishy-washy. He's not like a Reich liberal. I mean, you agree with Nader more than you do with

(CROSSTALK)

REICH: No.

(CROSSTALK)

REICH: I agree with John Kerry.

But the issue really is that we have a two-party system, a winner-take-all system. And if you want your person and your values represented...

(BELL RINGING)

REICH: You've got to vote for that person who best represents them, not for some third party.

(APPLAUSE)

REICH: In an e-mail message sent to many members of the clergy in Pennsylvania, a Bush campaign official wrote that -- and I'm going to quote now -- "Headquarters has asked us to identify 1,600 friendly congregations in Pennsylvania where voters friendly to President Bush might gather on a regular basis."

Now, apparently, the White House still doesn't understand that the Constitution separates church and state. Religious groups are exempt from paying taxes. They are not supposed to be extensions of the White House.

(APPLAUSE)

REICH: Yet, here again, as with so many other issues, this administration is intent on politicizing religion.

Friendly congregations. Come on, Mr. President, you mean Republican congregations.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: I'd like to really get down to the basics. You're a politician, Bob. You have campaigned...

REICH: You never said a worse thing about me, and I resent that.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: You have campaigned many times, I would bet, in friendly black congregations. There is nothing more politicized than the black church in America. It is a forum for Democratic politicians. And please contradict me if I'm wrong. REICH: There is a big difference, Bob, between going to a particular church and talking to the people -- it's a First Amendment right everybody has -- and actually a campaign, a political campaign...

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: Oh.

REICH: A presidential political campaign in an election year saying by e-mail to the clergy, we want friendly congregations. That violates the establishment clause of the Constitution.

NOVAK: I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed in you.

Laura Bush campaigns by being nice, but niceness is not what Teresa Heinz Kerry is about. Senator Kerry's fabulously rich wife went to West Virginia to trash her husband's opponent. Teresa said President Bush's decision to invade Iraq -- quote -- "exacerbated out- of-control terrorism around the world" -- end quote.

But didn't John Kerry vote for that very invasion? Mrs. Heinz Kerry feels that when you have your own half-a-billion dollars, you can say anything you want.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: And in an ABC interview that will air tomorrow, Teresa says she still won't submit income tax returns to public scrutiny.

What is she hiding, Bob?

REICH: You know, Bob, I am surprised at you this time, because the last time I looked, there was a First Amendment that said, even if your spouse is running for president, you can say what you want. And, indeed, even if you are a multimillionaire, you have freedom of speech. Do you not agree with that?

NOVAK: I think, if you're a demagogue, you ought to be called up on it. Just because you are the candidate's wife, a lot of Democrats say, I shouldn't pick on candidates' wives, but I like to.

(LAUGHTER)

REICH: You know, Teresa Heinz -- Teresa Heinz Kerry is actually going to be a tremendous asset, already a tremendous asset to the Kerry campaign.

(BELL RINGING)

REICH: She speaks her mind. She's feisty. She's terrific.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: All right. Up next, CIA Director George Tenet calls it quits. Some wonder what took him so long. Others question the timing. Was he pushed out or did he just jump? And it's interactive Thursday. Log on to CNN.com dash -- slash -- dash, whatever it is.

REICH: You've got to the Internet.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I'm no. I'm not much of an Internet person.

And tell us what you think. If you know where to go, you're better off than I.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: We'll read some of your comments later on the air on CROSSFIRE.

Stay with us.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: You could not have asked for a more heartfelt farewell than the one delivered today by CIA Director George Tenet, including his gracious nod to President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR: He's a great champion for the men and women of U.S. intelligence and a constant source of support. It's been an honor for me to serve as his director of central intelligence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Was George Tenet pushed out or did he jump? Our guests co-host today is Robert Reich, former secretary of labor, professor at Brandeis University, and the author of a new book, "Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America."

God forbid, Rob.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

REICH: You can -- I'll tell you what, you can have...

NOVAK: Joining us to talk about George Tenet's resignation, Ray LaHood, congressman, Republican of Illinois who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, and Ed Markey, congressman, Democrat of Massachusetts, member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security -- Bob.

REICH: By the way, Bob, that's your copy of my book. And I want you to not sell it on eBay.

NOVAK: All right.

(LAUGHTER)

REICH: Congressman, don't you agree that it's a little bit odd, the timing of this resignation by George Tenet, I mean, five months before an election? Don't you think it has something to do with all of the problems going on between the Pentagon and the CIA, Abu Ghraib, the issue of the leak from the White House, the questions that are all surrounding intelligence failures? I mean, five months before an election, maybe the president wants to actually fine a scapegoat.

REP. RAY LAHOOD (R), ILLINOIS: Director Tenet was kind enough to call me early this afternoon because he and I are friends and we've worked together.

And I asked him if he had been pushed, if he had been pushed out. And he said no. He said, this is a personal decision between my wife and I. This was the time for me to go. And, as a matter of fact, he said the president asked him to stay and he said, this is the right time for him to go. And I believe him. I take him at his word and I take the president's word. He's done a superb job.

(APPLAUSE)

REICH: Why is there -- now, Congressman, your constituents are from Peoria, Illinois, right? This is heartland America. This is average people looking at the news. Most people looking at the news, wouldn't you agree, scratch their heads and say, well, who's responsible?

Is it the Pentagon? Is it the CIA? Whether you're looking at Abu Ghraib, or you're looking at intelligence failures, you're looking at anything else that's been going on recently, everybody seems to be passing the buck, don't they? Who's in charge?

LAHOOD: Well, as much as you probably don't like to hear it, Mr. Secretary, President Bush and George Tenet played very well in Peoria. As a matter of fact, Director Tenet was just out in Peoria and gave one heck of a speech and talked about values and talked about the importance of intelligence. He did a great job and he was well received.

And people out there don't play the blame game like we do here in Washington. People take people at their word. The director said it was time for him to go. It was his personal decision. The president said he's done a superb job. I agree with all that.

NOVAK: Ed Markey, your leader Al Gore was giving a rant in his imitation of Howard Dean last week, and he asked for everybody's resignation, except Laura Bush. And he ended up with asking the CIA director. Let's listen to what Gore said about what he called his friend, his personal friend, George Tenet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have regretfully concluded that it is also important, extremely important, that our country have new leadership at our intelligence community immediately.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Now, shouldn't you be happy? Al Gore says he's got to go. He's gone. Case closed. Aren't you happy about that?

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Oh, there's no question that the country is much better off now that George Tenet has left. After all, the war in Iraq was begun on a false premise and that false premise was that there was an active nuclear weapons program in Iraq.

Now, we now know that George Tenet knew that there wasn't, that Dick Cheney knew there wasn't, that Wolfowitz and Rice and the president knew there was no nuclear weapons program.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MARKEY: And we would not be in Iraq today if George Tenet had stood up and said there was no nuclear weapons program. And he knew it.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: So you're -- you're happy you got his neck.

But let me take another prominent Democrat's proposal -- take on this, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. Let's listen to her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: We're in the middle of a major alert with respect to the anticipation that there might be another attack on our own country. And to have I think the head of the intelligence community resign at this particular point in time is very unusual.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: You just can't satisfy you Democrats. You say he has to go. Then he goes. You say it's a funny time for him to go. It's all politics, isn't it, Ed?

MARKEY: It's not politics. It's performance. And George Tenet's performance is...

NOVAK: Actually, I'm asking about Dianne Feinstein.

MARKEY: Well, Dianne Feinstein and I disagree on this issue.

NOVAK: OK, then, fine.

MARKEY: And, unfortunately, this is the first break. This George Tenet resignation is the first break inside of the Bush administration.

But we now know that not only did George Tenet, but so didn't Colin Powell and so didn't many other people have grave reservations about the reports of nuclear weapons in Iraq before we started that war with Iraq, and none of them stepped forward to tell the public. So at least in the Democratic Party, even right here, I'm willing to disagree with Diane.

But inside the Bush administration, people were under orders to never step forward and tell the truth that this war in Iraq was started on a lie, and that lie was that there were nuclear weapons in Iraq. We would have never gone to war on the basis that we were going to bring democracy to the whole Middle East. There are now 1,000 -- nearly 1,000 dead, 5,000 injured young men and women.

And each one of them is as a result of something that was absolutely not true. Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons program. George Tenet knew it. All of them knew it. And there was a program in North Korea and in Iran that they knew were there and yet we started the war with the wrong country.

REICH: We started the war...

(APPLAUSE)

REICH: Congressman, we started the war with the wrong country. Now, I want to just ask you something, because a couple of weeks ago, you were quoted as saying, "If it was October, I'd probably be having a heart attack."

LAHOOD: Well, sure, that was a reflection -- a reporter asked me, what about the numbers? And the polling numbers at that point were not that great for the president. But, you know, we're several months away from election.

(CROSSTALK)

REICH: But since then...

LAHOOD: And these polls will go up and down. They will go up and down.

REICH: But since then...

LAHOOD: The important poll will be on Election Day. And I...

REICH: Since then, the polling numbers have gone down. In fact, we have a report recently the president is even consulting a lawyer, not even using the White House lawyer, his own lawyer with regard to the probe in who leaked the CIA operative from the White House. Now, tell me a little bit about all of this.

LAHOOD: Look, Secretary Reich, you've run for public office and I'm sure you took many polls when you were running for public office. And do you that to try and gauge where things are at.

And polls will go up and down, particularly in a presidential race, particularly when people are being barraged the way the president is every day by people writing, kiss-and-tell books, all the criticism that's come.

REICH: And that's why he has his own lawyer.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: All right, we have to take a -- we have to take a break now.

Up next, in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask whether some Democrats changed their tune on George Tenet when he moved from the Clinton team to the Bush team.

And, after the break, the controversy over outsourcing American jobs. Wolf Blitzer has an update.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, CIA Director George Tenet resigns, citing personal reasons. But is that all there is to the move? We'll have a live report from our international security correspondent and reaction from President Bush.

Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, a new book makes the connection between the two. You'll hear my interview with the author, Stephen Hayes of "The Weekly Standard."

And the controversy over outsourcing. Does it help or hurt American workers? I'll discuss that with "The New York Times" columnist Thomas Friedman.

Those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

REICH: It's time now for "Rapid Fire," where the questions and answers come as fast as Bush administration officials should be offering their resignations.

(LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE)

REICH: Our guests, Republican Congressman Ray LaHood, member of the House Intelligence Committee, and Democratic Congressman Ed Markey, member of the Homeland Security Committee.

NOVAK: Congressman Markey, when George Tenet was CIA director under President Clinton, I didn't hear you criticize him. Did he suddenly -- now you just think he's terrible. Do you think he suddenly got dumb and depraved when he went from a Democrat administration to a Republican?

MARKEY: No.

I think, though, that he was put under tremendous pressure from the Bush administration to enable the war in Iraq to begin on that false premise that there were nuclear weapons in Iraq. And for whatever reason, he succumbed to the pressure. He allowed the lie about the Niger uranium to go into the State of the Union address. Unfortunately, he exercised poor judgment. And during the Clinton administration, he did not.

REICH: Congressman LaHood, the FBI apparently is now undertaking lie-detector tests in the Pentagon, actually to try to find out which officials, if any, leaked information to Chalabi about the Iranian code-breaking. Isn't that extraordinary? And do you think that the lie-detector tests are going to be given to Wolfowitz and to Rumsfeld as well?

LAHOOD: Probably not, no. They won't be taking lie-detector tests.

REICH: What's going on here?

LAHOOD: Well, I guess they're trying to get to the bottom of the information that was disclosed. And I hadn't heard this report, but if you say it's so, then I guess we'll take you at your word.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Ed Markey, since you think it was such a bad idea to invade Iraq, do you think the world would be better off if we still had Saddam Hussein as a brutal dictator in Baghdad?

MARKEY: Well, the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein.

But if Saddam Hussein did not have a nuclear weapons program, then we could have contained him and we would not have to have lost a single...

NOVAK: You would rather have him in Baghdad, contained?

MARKEY: He was not a threat to the United States without nuclear weapons. And that's the only reason that we went in to fight.

NOVAK: OK.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Thank you. Thank you, Ed Markey. You just

(CROSSTALK)

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: Thank you, Ray LaHood.

It's your turn now to fire back at us. Your interactive comments are next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: We've had our chance to talk about CIA Director George Tenet's resignation. Now it's your turn to fire back at us.

The first question coming up from John of Goodyear, Arizona: "I thank the retiring CIA director for his service to our great country. He shows courage in stepping down."

REICH: Well, I think there is a certain amount of courage in stepping down. But I think that there's still going to be a lot of heat and he's going to be the scapegoat. I guess it shows courage in being a scapegoat.

Second one: "Why don't we just elect all new government officials from the president on down? Couldn't be any worse" -- D. Ferrell from Pennsylvania.

(APPLAUSE)

REICH: Well, it could be worse. We could have a second term of the Bush administration.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: No, I'll tell you -- I'll tell you, we get a lot of stupid e-mails, but I want to put that at the top of the list.

OK, the next one is from Mike of Florida: "Tenet's resignation is three and a half years overdue. Should have been on January 21, 2001" -- right out of the Democratic National Committee.

OK, let's take a look at our CROSSFIRE interactive leaderboard. What's it say? Thanks to everyone who has logged on.

REICH: And from the left, I'm Robert Reich and that is it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: And from the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

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