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CNN CAPITAL GANG

What Will Bill Clinton's Memoir Do For His Place In History; Bush Administration Disavows Memo Authorizing Torture; John Kerry Returns To Washington To Vote For Veteran's Health Benefits

Aired June 26, 2004 - 19:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.
MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with the full CAPITAL GANG: Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and, in New York City, Margaret Carlson.

The publication of Bill Clinton's memoir, "My Life," produced heavy news media coverage and long lines for the former president's personal appearances. Attention focused on his account in the book of telling his wife and daughter the truth about Monica Lewinsky.

Quote, "I spent the first couple of days alternating between begging for forgiveness and planning strikes on al Qaeda. At night, Hillary would go to bed, and I slept on the couch," end quote.

President Clinton wrote this about the impeachment process. Quote, "Black people all over America knew that the drive to impeach me was being led by right-wing white Southerners who had never lifted a finger for Civil Rights," end quote.

The former president assailed independence Kenneth Starr and in media interviews, especially a contentious encounter with the BBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the reasons he got away with it is because people like you only ask people like me the questions. You gave him a complete free ride.

Who cares if Starr sends FBI agents to their school and rip them out of their school to humiliate them, try to force their parents to lie about me?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Ken Starr was asked about President Clinton's personal animosity toward him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNETH STARR, FORMER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: I regret it, but again, I understand it. There are very few individuals who are caught up in the process of criminal justice who walk out saying, how much I love the prosecutor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, what does this big book do for Bill Clinton's place in history?

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: Well, his place in history is determined by his actions, not -- not by the book. And like most presidential books, this one, by all accounts, is dull and self- serving. Now, I know there'll be one person on the panel who will have read all 937 pages, and to that person I say, Get a life. Eventually, I will read it. I read Mr. Clinton's book, and I think there's a similarity in that there -- it's a data dump of the Palm Pilot and the foreign trips and what they saw in Greece and not as much about as what we would like, and in Bill Clinton's case, all about his -- his elementary school years in Arkansas.

It's selling well, unlike Nixon, Carter, Reagan, which sold fewer than a half a million copies, and selling better than Mrs. Clinton, which I hope we find out how that works out within the household. Maybe he's going to be sleeping on the couch again, beating his wife on "The New York Times" best-seller list.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, I think Margaret was referring to you as the one person on this panel who had read all 937 pages.

BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: I've gone through the whole book. I think it's an unreadable book. I don't -- I can't imagine -- people who say they read all 936, they're not telling the truth. But you can go through it because -- and Margaret is right, it is a data dump. Some of it is just straight stuff from -- from the trips. But it includes a lot of lies, too. He lies about Katherine Willey. He lies -- I mean, the only women he ever admits anything with is when he -- they got the goods on him. Otherwise, he denies everything. He denies -- and the anger -- he's supposed to be a good guy. He isn't a good guy. And the anger toward Ken Starr is just -- is just palpable. You saw it in the -- he almost lost it with that BBC interview. He looked like he was going to jump out of his skin.

So I would say the book is valuable because I think -- if you -- if you read it properly, you get a real picture of the real Bill Clinton.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, in defense of Bill Clinton, didn't, in fact, FBI agents were -- I mean, really, all over Arkansas, pulling people out of school, as he said, and bringing Monica Lewinsky's mother before a grand jury. I mean, there was -- there was an element of persecution to this investigation.

AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: Well, Ken Starr was a political hitman as a prosecutor, and did an absolutely miserable job, so there's reason for wrath there. Look, I have not read this book. I've skim-read parts of it.

But I could have told you three months ago or three years ago some of the reactions. Paul Begala would hail it as a tour de force, and if he'd written the Magna Carta, Bob Novak would say it was outrageous. Ends up he didn't write the Magna Carta. But one person who I did watch very carefully this week, on CNN, as a matter of fact, was Dave Maraniss, who I think is the foremost biographer of Clinton so far...

SHIELDS: The Lou Cannon of...

HUNT: And what he -- Dave said was that the first half is really interesting, about both himself and his times, and the second half is too much of a either "get even" or just a data dump, as Margaret said. I will tell you, I think, politically it will have no effect this year at all.

SHIELDS: But Kate, how do you account for this incredible turn- out? I mean, there -- it's become an event, a major event, not simply where he appears, but even where he isn't appearing, people turning out in record numbers to buy this book.

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: Although you'll read plenty else in this huge, boring, undisciplined mess of a book, you will not read that 12 people went to jail in Arkansas as a result of Whitewater, including -- and corruption, including a sitting governor. So those FBI agents -- their investigations paid off.

It's not a very important book. It's a mess. It's undisciplined. It ultimately won't matter. I think an awful lot of people are buying it owing to the sex scandal, frankly. Monica ought to be getting some royalties from this book. They're going to be disappointed because, as Bob said, he still lies. If there's no -- if there's no forensic proof, he still denies things. So people looking for something there, and I think that accounts for many of his sales, are going to be as disappointed as people looking for evidence of a very solid political mind, which Bill Clinton does have, or even interesting policy with respect to a blueprint for Democrats. None of that's there!

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson in New York, I know that 22 million new jobs were created, that the deficit disappeared under Bill Clinton. I listen to Bob Novak, and that's only testimony and tribute to the genius of Reaganomics.

(LAUGHTER)

SHIELDS: I mean, is it basically the case that this has become -- he's become just a -- a football for one side or the other to laud or to attack?

CARLSON: Right. In -- in Novak's view, Bob Rubin didn't exist. Well, you know, I don't think that Clinton has anything to apologize for in what he accomplished. What we concentrate on is that he -- you know, the Monica parts and the distraction that that caused. And you weigh these things together, and it looks like it wipes it out, but it doesn't. And certainly, even Bob would wish for those days of the Clinton administration, when he was doing far better than he's doing under Bushonomics.

NOVAK: Oh, Margaret! You don't know how well I'm doing right now, so you're wrong again! CARLSON: Oh, that's right. I forgot about your three tax cuts!

NOVAK: I think you're -- I think you're wrong. As a matter of fact, what he was, he was a very mediocre president. But the -- but the -- but the thing about the book that I think is interesting is that I think he -- everybody thought he was a really smart guy. This is not the work of a -- of a -- of a keen intellect. It shows a kind of a mediocre intellect with not many ideas.

HUNT: I would just point out to my friend, Kate, that of those 12 people went to jail in Arkansas, not a single one had anything to do with Bill Clinton and Whitewater, except someone like Susan McDougal, who wouldn't tell those partisan prosecutors what they wanted to hear.

SHIELDS: Last word, Al Hunt.

The GANG of five will be back with what Bush officials said then and now about the prisoner abuse scandal.

ANNOUNCER: Here's your CAPITAL GANG Trivia Question of the Week." Bill Clinton begins writing about his two-term presidency on what page of his 957-page memoir? Is it, A, page 1; B, page 223; or C, page 476? We'll have the answer right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Before the break, we asked on what page of Bill Clinton's 957-page memoir does he begin writing about his two-term president? The answer is C, page 476.

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

In the face of documents that appear to officially encourage torture, the Bush administration disavowed a memo contending that the president is above the laws banning torture.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I was in discussions with Secretary Rumsfeld where he specifically ruled out the use of that kind of technique. I think it's particularly important with respect to the fact that we stand for something very different from the governments in that part of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein's lawyer protested the treatment of his client.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MOHAMMAD RASHDAN, SADDAM HUSSEIN'S ATTORNEY (through translator): Until this very moment, we were not allowed to meet with Saddam Hussein, despite everything that was said by the American president and despite what has been provided in the Geneva conventions.

BRIG GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: Saddam Hussein is being treated in accordance with the Geneva conventions. He's being treated with dignity and respect. We don't have him in one of his palaces. We don't have him in one of his luxurious apartments that he used the oil money from the people of Iraq to buy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, can we now say that the Bush administration went too far in mistreatment of prisoners after 9/11?

O'BEIRNE: Mark, the same officials are saying the same thing they always have: full Geneva convention protections in Iraq, no formal Geneva convention protections for al Qaeda prisoners in Guantanamo. To give it to them would be subverting the purpose of the Geneva convention, which is a mutual obligation to abide by its terms, but fully human treatment. The memo that's being so distorted is a "what is -- what is the state of the law" memo. It's an academic exercise. It's what law review articles are for. People are free to dispute whether or not it's the state of the law. It is not the policy! It never has been the policy!

And this disinformation campaign, which is shameful, disgraceful, on the part of the Democrats, it alerts detainees now that they will receive no worse treatment than our own Army recruits. They might have long hours. They might have their sleep disrupted. People might yell at them. They'll actually be better fed because you need special permission to give them MREs instead of their culturally sensitive meals. And it also smears America and fuels anti-Americanism while our troops are in the field. It's disgraceful.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, give us your take on this. Is the Bush administration really as contemptuous and disdainful of torture as they maintain now?

CARLSON: Well, we still don't know. Senator John Warner, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has asked for the whole record, and dribs and drabs come out. Senator -- Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said he didn't issue a, quote, "blanket authorization" to use questionable methods, but we don't know whether he used -- you know, within that non-blanket authorization there was any specific saying that you could hood prisoners and deprive them of sleep and make them squat and strip them naked and have snarling dogs. There seems to be some information about that.

And there should be a distinction between al Qaeda and the prisoners in Iraq, but the abuses that we see, which are supposed to be a few bad apples at Abu Ghraib, it seems to be the barrel, not just a few bad apples at Abu Ghraib prison. So we have -- we have yet to see. SHIELDS: Bob Novak, what I found most revealing in the whole story was that the military lawyers -- the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Army -- all said they were against this because, A, it was a violation of traditional practice, B, it would put Americans at risk, and three, it would be a public relations disaster, and all of which has turned out to be true.

NOVAK: Some of my Pentagon sources say that the intelligence people working under Secretary Rumsfeld so -- I mean, I think their motives were good. I don't think they're sadistic brutes. They wanted to get information, but they went too far on the treatment of prisoners. Some of the uniformed military are not -- are not happy with it. But we're also, Mark, in a mode -- we're in campaign mode, and I am convinced that unlike other wars we've been in, that the opposition to this war will use anything, anything it can, whatever the interest is to the United States, to try to make this president look bad. So it's -- I think they went too far, but I think it's being used for political purposes.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Well, look, the administration's line is that -- that some of these memos were written that basically sanction torture, but it was never implemented as policy. And then these National Guard kids did it all on their own, did the stuff that they're referring to in memos two months ago. That's really not what happened. And if that were the case, why are they covering it up? Donald Rumsfeld promised on May 7 to give the Congress all of the Red Cross documents which purportedly detail a pattern of abuses. As of today, seven weeks later, still hasn't been forthcoming, nothing on Iraq, nothing -- no memos after April of 2003. The abuses took place in Iraq in late 2003. And if so benign, why, as you all suggested earlier, did the military officers, the legal counsel of the State Department, the Navy, the JAG officers object so much?

I think it's a fair surmise to guess what happened is that they panicked. After the post-invasion of Iraq was such a disaster, they sent the Guantanamo enforcer, General Miller, over there, and said, Take the gloves off and get something.

O'BEIRNE: There is absolutely no evidence of that. Specialist Charles Graner did not read this legal memo. He's not in the habit, I'm sure, of looking at a legal analysis. George Bush lives in the real world, as opposed to members of Congress, who after thousands of Americans died get to point fingers and second guess. There is no evidence of torture, by any means! The Abu Ghraib charges don't even involve torture. And those same...

HUNT: That wasn't torture?

O'BEIRNE: No. The charges don't involve torture, no. They don't. They do not involve torture!

HUNT: If you don't think that's torture, fine. I guess we have a different view of torture.

O'BEIRNE: Oh, it totally isn't torture, under any definition!

HUNT: OK.

O'BEIRNE: Under U.S. law, it's not torture. It shouldn't have happened. They should throw the book at them. It's not torture. And look, who exactly approved the pornographic videos they were making of each other? Was that also some sort of legal memo by the Justice Department that encouraged that?

SHIELDS: I just have to say, Kate, that anybody who objected was excluded from the next meetings. I mean, Will Taft, I mean, the State Department, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military -- they -- they object -- they said -- they said no, you're -- no more meetings. That tells you something about the openness of the administration.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, John Kerry stonewalls and Dick Cheney drops the "F" bomb all on the Senate floor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Senator John Kerry broke off his campaigning as Democratic presidential candidate to come to Washington to vote for increased veterans' health benefits. When the Republican leadership in the Senate would not permit a vote, Senator Kerry went to the Senate floor to say normal Senate courtesy would have permitted a Senate vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Evidently, this is not a normal time for those courtesies in the life of the Senate. I regret that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Senator Kerry was back on the campaign trail the next day in San Francisco, complaining that he had canceled the previous day's events in vain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: They found a way all day to twiddle their thumbs, do very little, attend a reception at the White House, but not let John Kerry vote.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: Senator Kerry, who hasn't been here all year, who's missed 80 percent of all votes this year, parachutes in for a day and then will be taking off once again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: On the very day Senator Kerry was denied his vote, Vice President Dick Cheney was on the Senate floor as president of the Senate for the annual Senate class picture. There he engaged in a heated discussion with Democratic senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont in which the vice president reportedly told the senator to "Go `F' yourself," in quotes.

Al Hunt, what has happened to civility in the new era in Washington?

HUNT: Well, Bush and Cheney have brought it back, right? I have to tell you, Mark, I don't find the John Kerry vote a big deal. Republicans are going to try to embarrass him whenever they can on the Senate floor. That's politics. That's the way it's played by both sides in election years.

I find more interesting, at least, is the vice president losing his cool and lashing out in a string of profanities, not just the one that you cited, others that we can't say on a family -- family program...

SHIELDS: Is that what this is?

HUNT: Yes, it is -- because of charges of alleged sleaziness by his former company. What this suggests to me is that -- that the vice president lost his cool -- he's not the first politician to do that -- but that they're feeling -- they're feeling the tension. They're feeling the -- the noose is getting tighter on the Iraq policy, and maybe the election. And I'm -- you know, I'm not talking about any culpability on the vice president's part, but I just think they're really in an ugly mood these days.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, I thought that John Kerry looked almost petty in trying to personalize the -- instead of saying they denied a day of veterans' benefits, health benefits to veterans, he personalized it too much.

NOVAK: I -- I thought...

SHIELDS: But can I just add just one thing to it? And that was -- I mean, the Dick Cheney thing -- is he feeling some stress?

NOVAK: Well, first -- first place, Pat Leahy, who has this -- this tone, this very somber, kind of superior tone -- and he is a mean partisan guy!

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: He's one of the most partisan guys I know...

HUNT: Pat Leahy?

NOVAK: Yes, Leahy. Mean. He's very mean. And he is vicious, in fact. And in fact, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) bringing up to the vice president this -- this Halliburton connection, imputing all kinds of corruption -- it got to Cheney! I mean, even -- I mean, somebody as even-tempered as I am, I sometimes lose it a little bit, and so I can understand Cheney doing it.

Now, I think that -- that -- on the question of Kerry, you're exactly right. I mean, I thought that was just a self-revealing thing. They wouldn't let John Kerry vote! That's called whining, and you shouldn't...

SHIELDS: Politicians should not whine.

NOVAK: Should not whine.

SHIELDS: And -- and Pat -- and Pat Leahy is not vicious. I mean, Pat Leahy...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Pat Leahy is a loyal Democrat. But did you ever notice that mean partisans are all Democrats and no...

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: ... you talk to people on the Senate Judiciary Committee who've served with them both, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee clearly prefer Teddy Kennedy. Now, he's a really...

NOVAK: Absolutely.

O'BEIRNE: ... sharp partisan, but they -- they see -- they see Pat Leahy as one of the nastiest members of the Senate, and that's fellow senators. So I guess he hasn't gone after you, Mark, so you don't have the same point of view.

SHIELDS: No, he hasn't gone after...

O'BEIRNE: But he's gone after Dick Cheney personally. He attacks Dick Cheney personally, Dick Cheney's integrity when it comes to Halliburton. So finally, Dick Cheney sees him, and rather than defend what he's saying frequently about Dick Cheney, which he had an opportunity to do, he starts whining himself about attacks he's suffered from, not at the hands of Dick Cheney. I can see, why should you have to put up with relentless personal attacks?

SHIELDS: Margaret -- Margaret Carlson in New York, Andy Card, when John Kerry used the "F" word in a "Rolling Stone" interview, Andy Card, the chief of staff at the White House, said, This is not the John Kerry that I know. Is this the Dick Cheney that we know...

CARLSON: No.

SHIELDS: ... who uses language like this?

CARLSON: Right. Republicans aren't supposed to have these vocabulary malfunctions. It's not in keeping with their demeanor. Listen, I think -- Patrick Leahy, Senator Leahy, had not been personal, but this week, we learned that the Pentagon personally went -- went to the White House and asked for their approval for a no-bid contract for Halliburton, and chief of staff to Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, gave it. So I think if it got personal, it's because it turned personal.

You know, Colin Powell in the Bob Woodward book recalls a Dick Cheney who was steady and unemotional in Bush I, and he wondered how he got to be such a fevered, zealous presence. And I think the demeanor of both Cheney and Wolfowitz this week reveal that, as they're deteriorating, so is the situation in Iraq and...

NOVAK: I wonder -- I wonder, Margaret, if it's only -- only the Republicans who are ever fevered and nasty and -- and partisan?

CARLSON: No, but they always say they aren't.

NOVAK: I -- I -- let me -- let me just say something to Mark.

SHIELDS: Sure.

NOVAK: Both sides are highly partisan. But I'm telling you something. If you don't think Pat -- Pat -- Patrick Leahy is one of the meanest guys that has ever set floor -- set foot on the Senate floor, you are living in a different universe!

HUNT: I don't -- I know he's not.

SHIELDS: I know he's not, either. But Bob, listen, Lord knows...

CARLSON: You know!

SHIELDS: ... when it comes to meanness...

CARLSON: Bob knows!

SHIELDS: ... you know meanness!

Coming up in the second half of the CAPITAL GANG, our "Sidebar" story, Ralph Nader's campaign for president. We go "Beyond the Beltway" for a direct report from Saudi Arabia on the terrorist campaign there, and our "Outrages of the Week." That's all after these important messages and the latest news headlines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Carol Lin at the CNN Center. In Iraq, the U.S. coalition says a bomb killed 17 people and wounded 40 others in the southern city Hilla. The car bomb went off near the ancient Babylon site along a road notorious for ambushes.

In New Jersey today, a memorial service for Paul Johnson Jr. He is the American who was kidnapped and beheaded in Saudi Arabia. Relatives said they hope his legacy is one of the peace and love for that country where he worked for more than a decade.

Troubling pictures and chilling threats. The Arabic TV network Al-Jazeera is airing this videotape of three Turkish men apparently being held hostage in Iraq. The terrorist group that beheaded American Nicholas Berg is threatening to do the same to these men unless Turkey pulls its companies out of Iraq within 72 hours.

I'm Carol Lin, now back to THE CAPITAL GANG. SHIELDS: Welcome to the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with the full gang: Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and in New York City, Margaret Carlson.

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader named Green Party activist Peter Camejo as his running mate, and then met with Congressional Black Caucus which urged him to withdraw from the race. Democratic Congressman Carolyn Kilpatrick was reported as saying: "Your ass should get out of the race."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: I told Mr. Nader today that a vote for Ralph Nader is really a vote for George Bush.

RALPH NADER (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My independent candidacy spillover vote will help the Democrats. It's very important for the Congress to have a Democratic House or a Democratic Senate because then they can block Bush.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: The Quinnipiac University poll in the important state of Pennsylvania shows a 6-point lead for Senator Kerry over President Bush in a two-man race. But that lead shrinked to just one point if Ralph Nader runs and wins 7 percent of the vote.

Bob Novak, is Ralph Nader a serious problem in 2004 for John Kerry?

NOVAK: No question about that. He finds the Democrats all saying, well, the Nader vote will go down to nothing by Election Day. They said that four years ago, and it didn't go down to nothing. And it hurt then. I think it will hurt them now.

And I think he is going to stay in. I think the Congressional Black Caucus getting him of the basement of Capitol and shouting at him and using profanities in dealing with him is not going to help. He's going to run and that's a problem because the last thing that John Kerry wants to do is move to the left to appease him.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, I was rather shocked that a member of the Congressional Black Caucus used language that would make the vice president blush.

CARLSON: I know. Yes, it's contagious, I guess. Lots of people are asking Nader not to run. "Nader Raiders" have sent a letter and gotten a lot of signatures asking him not to run. But conservatives are delighted. And the way he may get on the ballot in Oregon is that two conservative groups are pushing it. All he needs is 1000 names. If he gets on that really could secure Oregon for Bush.

You're right, I mean, yelling at Nader is not likely to get him out. But unlike Gore, the Kerry people are reaching out and taking on the Green Party guy as your vice presidential candidate won't necessarily bring the Green Party, because it's not good for the Green Party to have Nader who I think is now just seen as a crank candidate.

SHIELDS: A crank candidate, Kate O'Beirne?

O'BEIRNE: Well, given that a large majority of Democrats want us to pull out of Iraq now and John Kerry voted for the war, supports George Bush with respect to needing to stay to see it through, in fact, wants more troops there, of course Ralph Nader is a problem.

Look, Ted Kennedy is a problem for him with his disgraceful smearing of the military's performance in Iraq. Al Gore's paranoid rantings are a problem for John Kerry. But he dare not distance himself too much from either Kennedy or Gore because that just angers a very angry liberal base and they have somewhere else to go because Ralph Nader is sitting, waiting to take their support.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, I think you can make the case in 2000 that there was not a difference. George Bush, conservative -- got compassionate conservatism. Al Gore sort of muted positions. This year, though, don't voters see a real defined and significant difference between these two candidates?

HUNT: Yes. Of course. And I also would say to Kate that if it weren't for Ted Kennedy, John Kerry wouldn't be where he is today. I think Ted Kennedy is an asset, not a liability for John Kerry.

But I agree with Bob Novak. I think Ralph Nader is a very real threat. I think Democrats who deny that are smoking something funny. If this is a close race, decided by a point or two, I think the odds are that there will be at least a couple of states where Ralph Nader makes the difference.

And I also agree that the Black -- that was apparently a really intense, angry meeting, talking to a couple of members who were there. I don't think it will have any effect on Nader at all because this is all about Ralph's ego.

SHIELDS: Let me dissent, let me dissent. I just think that he's not going to be a big difference unless the following happens. And I think Kate makes a good point. And that is if the situation in Iraq deteriorates further, and Kerry obviously has made the tactical decision he's going to be very close to Bush here. He's not going to get any daylight between himself and Bush, then the "get out now" movement -- I mean, we've got a majority of Americans, the "USA Today" poll Friday saying that the war was a mistake, that we're less safe because of Iraq against terrorism, then the Nader position could get traction in places like Iowa City and Madison and key states.

NOVAK: If you listen to some of the call-in programs on C-SPAN for listeners, talk to some of these people, read some of the e-mails I get, there are a lot of left-wing nuts out there, believe me. And they -- he appeals to them. And the more that Kerry tries to be kind of a candidate who will have a broader appeal, the more appealing Nader is to the goofballs.

O'BEIRNE: Old Dean voters, he appeals to the people who liked Dean during the primaries. SHIELDS: The Dean voters were the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. But let's get one thing straight, Bob. If you show me your e-mails, I'll show you mine, because there are a lot of right- wing nuts out there.

Next CAPITAL GANG, "THE CAPITAL GANG Classic," Bill Clinton acquitted five years ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. After the Senate voted to acquit President Bill Clinton of impeachment charges five years ago, the exonerated president rejoiced.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the Constitution has been in effect re-ratified. And I hope that the presidency has not been harmed. I don't believe it has been.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: CAPITAL GANG discussed this on February 20, 1999. Our guest was Clinton adviser Paul Begala.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM THE CAPITAL GANG, FEBRUARY 20,1999)

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, did the president substitute celebration for contrition this week of Ash Wednesday?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BEIRNE: Of course he's celebrating, Mark, he's only human, as he felt the need to remind us after the past year. So he's celebrating, first in his parallel universe where the Constitution wasn't nullified and where he didn't demean his office, though most Democrats agree that he has.

HUNT: He's going to come back. He's going to stay on top now.

NOVAK: I thought this wasn't celebratory, I thought it was just arrogant. To say we re-ratified the Constitution, by this, a shameful performance by the U.S. Senate is just outrageous.

PAUL BEGALA, CLINTON ADVISER: The radical right wing is going to go after him every minute that he is in office. You know what he's going to do? He's going to keep leading this country into a new American Renaissance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, can we say five years later that Bill Clinton has won and his enemies have now lost?

O'BEIRNE: Depends on the meaning of the word "one," I guess, Mark. Look, he was impeached. He was disbarred and fined by the Arkansas Bar. He paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle Paula Jones' suit. We all know now for history what a selfish, juvenile, dishonest person he is. But he stayed in office and so he was able to continue ignoring al Qaeda for another two years.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson in New York, your take?

CARLSON: Bob's right. The Constitution didn't need a test and so it was arrogant of Bill Clinton to congratulate himself on winning that test. But Al was right. Listen, Clinton came back from that. He had a good last year until the pardons, which showed something about Bill Clinton that I think is partly obvious in the book is that every time he's going along doing well, he does something to undermine his own self. He has himself to blame for most of his problems.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, which was more dangerous for America, feminism or Bill Clinton?

NOVAK: It's hard to tell.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: The thing with Bill Clinton was, as Margaret was saying, he only gets in trouble when he has some power. But let's face it, Kate, he did win. He put it over on the country. He's now actually respected by a lot of people. So he was winner and the country was a loser.

SHIELDS: Al, winner?

HUNT: Well, again, I'll quote Dave Maraniss who said that Bill Clinton is capable of learning and changing and then forgetting and repeating. And that was the problem. But let me tell you, to quote Dale Bumpers from 1999, the more they said it wasn't about sex, it was about sex. That's was the impeachment was all about. And whatever you think of Bill Clinton, that was a disgraceful moment to try to impeach someone for lying about sex.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, you, for one of the rare times, have said it the way it is.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Beyond the Beltway" looks at the terrorist attack on Saudi Arabia with CNN's Nic Robertson from Saudi Arabia.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. The de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia went on state television to offer a deal to al Qaeda terrorists.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH, SAUDI ARABIA (though translator): If they give themselves up without force within one month maximum from the date of the speech, we can promise them that they are going to be safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHIELDS: The offer of amnesty followed Saudi security forces killing al Qaeda terrorists reported to have murdered American civilian contract worker Paul Johnson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: We believe that this was a major blow to them. We believe this is a setback. We will continue to hunt them and we will continue to bring them to justice.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm pleased that the Saudis are acting in such an aggressive way to get these killers and murders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Joining us now from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, via video link is CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. Nic, should this deal offered to the terrorists by the crown prince be taken seriously?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It should be taken seriously in the historical context that Saudi Arabia's rulers have made such offers before, of last minute amnesties. It should be taken seriously in the context that Saudi Arabia has woken up to the fact that is has a problem.

It should be taken seriously in the context that Saudi Arabia often makes those changes at a glacially slow pace. This is perhaps -- even though it's has been over year after the first significant attacks here, it's still happening by their standards relatively quickly.

Should it be taken serious inasmuch as it will produce results? That is an outstanding question. Already they say at least one person has turned themselves in. But for those hardcore elements within al Qaeda, it seems that there is not a lot in it for them.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Nic, is there a sense that the actual regime, the royal regime, is in danger of being overthrown by force, that the Saudis are in real trouble?

ROBERTSON: There's a sense here that it's entering a period of instability that it hasn't experienced for a long time. The analysis you get from experts here in Saudi Arabia and the sort of accepted wisdom on the street is that al Qaeda at this time is not such a force that it can really threaten the royal family, that the attacks the still small, perhaps, not well coordinated.

They're perpetrated by tiny groups. But the potential is there for it to grow. And is certainly in terms of the economy an - a potential -- the future economy of Saudi Arabia, it does present a very destabilizing force at this time.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson. CARLSON: Nic, some surveys show that 50 percent of the Saudi population sympathizes with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda and certainly the number of hijackers from their suggests that that might be the case. And an al Qaeda Web site claims to have infiltrated Saudi security forces and perhaps have helped in kidnapping Paul Johnson. Is that propaganda or is there some truth to that?

ROBERTSON: The Saudi royal family here would absolutely propaganda and its certainly something that plays heavily on the minds of -- in the expatriate community here. They are fearful of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) stopping at regular police checkpoints because they just don't know if they're the genuine article or not.

There is evidence that supports that this has happened before, that there has been infiltration before. But how widespread it is, is it really as strong as al Qaeda claims on its Web site? That's really not clear. What the royal family says is if there was greater penetration of their security forces, there would be more targeting and greater -- more effective targeting of the Saudi infrastructure or like say the interior ministry or other defense type institutions.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.-- Kate O'Beirne, I apologize.

O'BEIRNE: Nic, for years now it seemed that the -- second only to oil, Saudi Arabia's chief export has been this violent radical strain of Wahabi strain of Islam. What has the royal family done to limit the influence of these radical clerics?

ROBERTSON: The message does appear to be slowly filtering out within the religious community here. I talked just a few days ago with a religious policeman in a shopping mall. His job, as he described it to me, was to make sure that young men didn't bother young women, while people talk about that in other terms, that they had to keep them apart, from fraternizing in public.

But what he told me was interesting. The religious community see al Qaeda as hijacking Islam. They have published and printed pamphlets that they distribute their view of how Islam should be interpreted. They find it undermines support within the community for al Qaeda's version of Islam.

Is Wahabism a strong force within this county? Absolutely. The country still is rooted in that very conservative form of Islam. But is there recognition that al Qaeda tries to play on that? Absolutely. Recognition that they need to deal with that? That appears to be the case at this time.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Nic, what are employees of American businesses and other Westerners doing now in Saudi Arabia? Are they leaving, do they feel somewhat comforted by the reaction from the Saudi regime? Give us a sense of what's going on there?

ROBERTSON: A lot of people I talked to are really looking to their employers to provide them with that level of comfort, if you will, information. Help if they want to -- financial help if they want to leave the country before their contracts are up.

There is a feeling that the Saudi authorities haven't done enough, haven't moved quickly enough. Problems not providing enough security at compounds for people. The feeling going into these compounds and talking to people, they feel isolated. They don't feel safe in their homes.

When I asked them how many people left, nobody an put an actual figure on it on a Saudi-wide scale. But one group of people I talked to, a group of technicians with over 100 U.S. expatriates within their company, they told me already one-third of their number had left Saudi Arabia. And that does seem to be a fairly broad indication of the thinking. Although I have talked to people here who still want to stay even at this time.

SHIELDS: Nic Robertson, thank you for being us. THE CAPITAL GANG will be back with our "Outrages of the Week."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Now for the "Outrage of the Week." Two courageous Republican senators, Olympia Snowe of Maine and John McCain of Arizona, risked White House fury by voting with Democrats in a failed effort to life the Bush administration's ban on all press coverage of returning American war dead.

John McCain, who bears the scars of battle, argued: "I think we ought to know the casualties of war."

Instead, President Bush and his administration have repeated chose to be untruthful about the real causes of the U.S. war in Iraq or its real costs in American blood and money.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Black clergymen for years have boosted Democratic candidates from the pulpit. But a 1954 statute is used selectively to threaten the conservative clergy with loss of tax exemption if they talk politics.

Republican Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina sponsors a statute permitting free speech in all churches. Republican leaders back this, but the powerful House Ways & Means Committee chairman, Bill Thomas, used his skills to strip this from a major tax bill.

Why should religious conservatives support the Republican Party if this is treatment they get?

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, Texas Senator John Cornyn chided Senate Armed Services Chair and World War II veteran John Warner for his hand- wringing over prisoners, which is a distraction from winning the war.

Here's another distraction. General Taguba has found the CIA asking Secretary Rumsfeld for permission to allow "ghost detainees," suspects given no numbers of IDs so the Red Cross can't monitor their treatment. When the CIA finally wanted to question one of them after seven months, he couldn't be found.

Trying to the administration from throwing people in dungeons and losing them isn't a distraction. It's what a patriot like John Warner does.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: The Varela Project is a bold effort by brave Cubans to challenge the absolute power of the Castro regime, calling for free speech, free elections and freedom of religion. Cuban prisons are filled with political prisoners whose only crime is seeking basic human rights. When baseball pitcher Jose Contreras' family made a desperate escape this week, we were reminded Cuba itself is a prison.

Asked recently about the Varela Project, John Kerry called it "counterproductive." Imagine how that sounds to the heroic people who risked everything to fight Castro's tyranny.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: The press has done an extraordinary job and a courageous job covering the Iraqi war under difficult and dangerous conditions. Thirty-four journalists have been killed. Yet Paul Wolfowitz, an architect of this debacle, shamefully suggested that the problem in Iraq is cowardly journalists who: "Are afraid to travel, so they sit in Baghdad and publish rumors."

Wolfowitz later apologized for this cheap shot, but when are he and Don Rumsfeld going to take responsibility for aggravating those security problems by arrogantly ignoring military advice that we needed more troops in Iraq.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.

Coming up next, "CNN PRESENTS Fit to Kill: Soldiers Dealing with Killing in Combat."

At 9 p.m., "LARRY KING LIVE," an encore interview with Ronald Reagan Jr.

And at 10 p.m. on "CNN SATURDAY NIGHT," the latest news.

Thank you for joining us.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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