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CNN CAPITAL GANG

CBS Aires Controversial Story; Assault Weapons Ban Set To Expire Monday; President Bush Wants Two Debates, Kerry Says Not Enough

Aired September 11, 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.
AL HUNT, GUEST HOST: Welcome to THE CAPITAL GANG. I'm Al Hunt with the full GANG, Kate O'Beirne, Robert Novak, Margaret Carlson, and in Indianapolis, Mark Shields.

As the 9/11 anniversary neared, Vice President Dick Cheney issued a warning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2, we make the right choice because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that -- that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that'll be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and that we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mindset.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Dick Cheney's scare tactics today crossed the line. What he said to the American people was, If you go to the polls in November and elect anyone other than us, then -- and another terrorist attack occurs, it's your fault. This is un-American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: The vice president, in a newspaper interview three days later, said, quote, "I did not say if Kerry is elected, we will be hit by a terrorist attack. Whoever is elected president has to anticipate more attacks," end quote.

Meanwhile, the 9/11 commission reforms were introduced in Congress as a bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look forward to working with the members to get a bill to my desk as quickly as possible.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: I don't think the Senate should be allowed to leave town until we have acted on all 41 of the recommendations.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHIELDS: Bob, was Dick Cheney trying to frighten the American into voting Republican?

BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Sure. And Johnny Edwards ought to learn that isn't un-American, it's very American. Fear and frightening the voters is very much part of American politics. I remember Roosevelt used to try to frighten the voters all the time, and he succeeded on four occasions. The only trouble is that Dick Cheney, who I think is a very good vice president and a good man, is not that great a politician, and he was not -- he was not too subtle about it. He was -- he was too blunt and -- but this administration -- this campaign corrects its mistakes very quickly. They've got the franchise on the terrorist account, and he doesn't have to play it that hard to worry everybody because people do trust the Republicans more on this issue.

HUNT: Mark Shields, how does it look out in Indiana? Did the Republicans get the better of this exchange?

MARK SHIELDS, CAPITAL GANG: Well, Al, Bob Novak's observation that it takes -- they correct their mistakes in a hurry -- it took them three days. They were playing defense for a couple of days, and that's not where you score in politics, as Bob Novak knows so very well. But I don't think there's any question that the words of John McCain from the convention, Let us argue our differences but remember we are not enemies, we are comrades in a war against a real enemy -- those have been quickly forgotten by the Bush-Cheney folks this past week.

Finally, I'd just say, logistically, Al, it shows the problem you have when you have pre-approved, pre-selected audiences you appear before. Dick Cheney never would have said this if he was talking to reports. He never would have said it in sort of an adversarial setting. He only said it in sort of this chummy, in-house group that you had to be a member to participate in.

SHIELDS: Kate, why did Dick Cheney three days later say that he didn't say what we just saw him say?

KATE O'BEIRNE, CAPITAL GANG: Well, what he said...

(LAUGHTER)

O'BEIRNE: I'm going to disagree with both Bob and Mark. He is, we can all agree, an extremely smart man. What he said was, This is an extremely important election. Obviously, John Edwards agreed. The most central issue is who's going to help us stay safer? It would have been foolish -- and he's not a foolish man, Dick Cheney -- to say that, If we're elected -- the Republicans, reelected, there won't be another terrorist attack. In fact, the official position of the administration is -- from Tom Ridge to Don Rumsfeld to Dick Cheney is, Another attack is inevitable. So clearly, what he was saying is, How will we respond to such an attack? Will we go back to the '90s and treat it like a law enforcement problem, or will we continue to behave as though we're at war? And that is what's at stake in this election, and that's simply what he was saying. HUNT: Margaret, put on your lawyer's hat for a minute. Isn't this a little bit like the lawyer telling the jury, This is a filthy, no-good scumbag, and then say, I withdraw it?

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: Yes. Vote for them, you die. Oh, I didn't really mean that.

Listen, what he took away was not what Mark quoted from John McCain at the convention but Zell Miller. Some of us thought that was a little extreme, but Dick Cheney kind of got all jazzed up with it.

You know, the language of this campaign is getting more and more heated and more and more crude, and that's just an example of it. And it was -- I mean, we heard it, so you can't really say, That's not...

O'BEIRNE: But we can...

CARLSON: ... what he meant, that's not what...

O'BEIRNE: But we can agree that...

CARLSON: ... he said. He said exactly...

O'BEIRNE: ... that the reverse would have...

CARLSON: He said exactly...

O'BEIRNE: ... to be true in his mind...

CARLSON: ... that.

O'BEIRNE: ... that if they're reelected, the Republican team, they won't be attacked again. And clearly, he doesn't believe that!

CARLSON: Well, no. But he didn't have to say that second thing.

NOVAK: I think he...

CARLSON: He just said what he said. And by the way...

HUNT: I just want to quickly say...

CARLSON: And -- and...

HUNT: I think that's right, Kate. I think, substantively, obviously, Cheney-Bush, or Bush-Cheney, rather, thinks you're going to be safer if you elect them and...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: Right. It's incumbent upon Kerry to make the case...

CARLSON: But you know...

HUNT: ... the contrary case.

CARLSON: Just the way the mushroom cloud didn't work for Barry Goldwater, you can go too far...

HUNT: For Lyndon Johnson.

CARLSON: ... in what people are afraid of -- Lyndon Johnson...

NOVAK: It did work for Lyndon Johnson.

CARLSON: You can go...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: It did work for Lyndon Johnson...

NOVAK: It did work!

CARLSON: They don't want Kerry -- they don't want...

NOVAK: You were just a teeny, little girl then, but I remember...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... work for Kerry.

NOVAK: Can I say something...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: Let's let Bob say something. Then I want to go to Mark. Yes.

NOVAK: I just want to say that since John McCain is the gospel for liberals on these things, and if he says it, it's a good thing -- I would like to note that he said that you're not going to be able and you shouldn't be able to pass all the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, although he is the co-sponsor with Joe Lieberman of the bipartisan bill to put them into effect -- he says it's going to take a long -- I think the silliest thing in the world -- we even have some journalists talking about it -- is you got to pass all of this before the election. That's -- you know how -- how legislation works. It takes along time. Maybe you will get some of it passed, but you're not going to pass that whole thing, and you shouldn't -- these are very important positions, and you shouldn't -- you shouldn't rush to...

HUNT: I'm going to shock you...

NOVAK: ... to do it.

HUNT: ... by agreeing with you on that, but also point out to you that it wasn't the liberals, it was George Bush and Dick Cheney that asked John McCain to have a primetime spot in New York. But Mark Shields...

NOVAK: Wait, wait, wait a minute. Did I say he shouldn't have spoken? HUNT: No, no. No, no. I'm just saying...

CARLSON: Move on, Al.

HUNT: You say he's the patron saint of liberals. You're right. Mark Shields?

CARLSON: Yes, whatever he said was right.

SHIELDS: Al -- Al, I'd just point out two quick things. One is Dick Cheney was a great asset to George Bush in 2000, when he lacked any foreign policy or national security credentials.

HUNT: When Bush did.

SHIELDS: He rounded out -- when Bush did. And he rounded out the resume for him very nicely. You have to face the reality, with a 21 percent favorable rating among independents, Dick Cheney is a liability in 2004. And finally, I'd just say that this gives John Kerry a perfect opportunity to make his strong statement on how he would intend to make this country safer. That's what I think this opening does -- the mistake means for -- in Kerry's terms, if he can take advantage of it.

O'BEIRNE: But Mark, two quick points. In the latest ABC poll, John Kerry has a 36 percent approval -- favorable rating and a 42 unfavorable. He would envy Dick Cheney his favorable/unfavorable ratings. And unfortunately, he's had months to do it, and John Kerry has nothing to say about a strong response to the threats that face us. That's his problem.

HUNT: It was a strong last word, Kate.

O'BEIRNE: Thank you.

HUNT: And that'll be it. But THE GANG of five will return with Bush's military records back in the spotlight, with newly released records in dispute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: Welcome back. CBS's Dan Rather reported on documents about George W. Bush's Air National Guard service from the personal file of the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian, Bush's commanding officer. One 1972 memo has Lieutenant Bush asking to get out of drills.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN RATHER, "60 MINUTES" (voice-over): Killian adds that he thinks Lieutenant Bush has gone over his head and is "talking to someone upstairs."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: A 1973 memo has Colonel Killian saying the Texas Air National Guard commander was trying to "sugarcoat" Bush's evaluation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATHER: The memo goes on, with Killian saying, "I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job." One of the Killian memos is an official order to George W. Bush to report for a physical. Mr. Bush never carried out that order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: "The Washington Post" and other news organizations challenged the authenticity of some of the memos, as did members of Colonel Killian's family.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MARJORIE CONNELL, FORMER WIFE OF COL. KILLIAN: He was a person who did not take or make copious notes. He carried everything in his mind.

GARY KILLIAN, SON OF COL. KILLIAN: I don't believe (INAUDIBLE) for several reasons...

(END AUDIO CLIP)

HUNT: CBS and Rather said they were convinced the documents are authentic. "Time" magazine's poll, the most recent survey of likely voters, shows an 11-point lead for President Bush over Senator Kerry.

Margaret, what does President Bush's National Guard service have to do with this campaign?

CARLSON: Well, it doesn't have much to do with this campaign, but it comes up in every campaign because it used to matter, and it still matters to some people, whether you served or you didn't serve and whether you tried to get out of it or didn't. And Bush obviously didn't want to go to Vietnam, and he did get out of going, and he did get into the National Guard, which at that time was a haven for people who didn't want to go.

Now, you know, we're in a dispute over these papers, and that little "th" after "187" is going to turn into the grassy knoll. Was the IBM Selectric typewriter in use at the time? And one of the experts today said, Well, yes, it was, so I changed my opinion. It could have been done, and the Air Force was using those typewriters.

But you know, there's now red truth and blue truth. In the red states, they're not going to believe, so many people aren't going to believe, that John Kerry deserved a Silver Star, went under enemy fire and almost died. In the blue states, they're not going to believe that George Bush served out his National Guard service properly. I think he should have just said, Listen, when I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible, because without the "60 Minutes" report, all of the evidence was that when he went to Alabama, he slacked off.

SHIELDS: Is that what this is, Kate, a red-blue state divide?

O'BEIRNE: No, I think this one, we're not at the mercy of people's subjective opinions. Dan Rather here runs the risk of going the way of Howell Raines. The CBS is -- is just stonewalling. They consulted some experts who looked at the signature on the disputed memos, but they don't -- they recommend or don't want him talking to other media members. If you look at the experts consulted by other networks and by newspapers, the weight of opinion seems to be that these documents, which CBS will not make available -- they don't have the originals, but the copies they used -- the weight of opinion is that they're probably phonies. So this one we can get an answer to.

Does it matter? No. In the CNN poll -- except to show Democratic desperation, whoever may have phonied up these memos -- they're desperate because they want to somehow discredit George Bush. CNN's poll shows that 68 percent of the public gives George Bush high marks on being commander-in-chief, not based on anything he did 33 years ago, based on the past four years. That's what they're judging George Bush on.

HUNT: Robert?

NOVAK: The -- Margaret, I believe -- I don't know of anybody who changed their opinion. "The Boston Globe" got a new expert who said the thing probably is authentic. In the same story, they went back to the expert that "The Washington Post" had used. He said it isn't authentic. I think it's going to be very interesting to find out if these are forged or phony documents. That's -- as a journalist, I think that's a very interesting story.

I'd like CBS, at this point, to say where they got these documents from. They didn't get them from a CIA agent. I don't believe there was any laws involved. I don't think we'll have a special prosecutor, if they tell. I think they should say where they got these documents because I thought it was a very poor job of reporting by CBS. Why did CBS not go to the -- to Killian's family and get -- and ask them about it, as ABC did, and got these quotes, and they said they think they're phony documents -- I thought -- I thought that the "60 Minutes" thing by Dan Rather was a -- was a campaign operation, rather than an attempt to get to the bottom of the truth.

HUNT: Robert Novak, you're saying CBS should reveal its source?

NOVAK: Yes.

HUNT: You do? You think reports ought to reveal sources?

NOVAK: No, no. Wait a minute.

HUNT: I'm just asking.

NOVAK: I'm just saying in that case.

HUNT: Oh.

NOVAK: I think -- I think it's very important. If this is a phony document, the American -- the people should know about it.

HUNT: So in some cases, reporters ought to reveal sources.

NOVAK: Yes.

HUNT: But not in all cases.

NOVAK: That's right.

HUNT: OK. Mark Shields, what's the relevance of all this?

SHIELDS: A point well taken, Al. I'd just like to add, Margaret is a loyal and valuable employee of "Time," but "Newsweek" came out with a poll, Al, that showed an 11-week -- 11-point gap last week for George Bush over John Kerry. This week, it's down to 6 points. Now, I figure out, at this rate, 5 points a week, that John Kerry'll be 10 points ahead by the end of September.

(LAUGHTER)

SHIELDS: So, I mean, that -- what the poll did show that I think was really significant was that there had been a drop in George Bush's perception of him as an honest, straightforward guy who levels with you, a significant drop, 15-point drop in just a week. I think that's the problem here. It's good to hear Kate quote "The Washington Post" as gospel. That's -- I think it's a first for THE CAPITAL GANG, if you want to go back and check the record. But I think that's -- and as far as "The Boston Globe" is concerned, they've been pretty damn good at -- they've led the country on this story. And I thought their Saturday story on the authenticity certainly reopened that debate. I don't think all the evidence is on one side about this, by any means.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: This is not -- this is not reliable sources.

CARLSON: But finding out that CBS the documents aren't true could -- will go to CBS and the reporting, but there's independent reporting of that that tells us that George Bush did not complete his Guard service...

O'BEIRNE: No!

CARLSON: ... in Alabama...

(CROSSTALK)

O'BEIRNE: No, it's not! And you know, the polls probably do average out to about 6, and I know senior people with the Bush campaign think that they could probably drop a little bit lower. But over and above the head-to-head, things fundamentally are changing in this race in a way that's not helpful to John Kerry.

HUNT: In Bush's favor. I agree.

O'BEIRNE: Republicans are more enthused than Democrats. More Republicans are pro-Bush than are Democrats pro-Kerry. Personal qualities are more important than issues. And George Bush is getting ratings as a strong and decisive leader by 28 points over John Kerry!

NOVAK: I just want to say that the Democrats I talk to on the phone -- and they are all for Kerry -- they think he's just -- he's a -- he's turned out to be a terrible candidate. He's supposed to be a terrific closer, but they say, Hey, man, let's start closing.

CARLSON: Closing!

(LAUGHTER)

HUNT: Sometimes, the race can get away. I just want to add my two cents worth...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... closing.

HUNT: ... on this. I don't think this is a big issue, what these people did 35 years ago. If it is a big issue, if it does become an issue, the fact remains that one chose to fight in Vietnam and the other son of privilege chose not to fight. And I think that is undeniable...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: That's really interesting...

HUNT: And on that, I get the last word. Next on CAPITAL GANG, debating the presidential debates.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: Welcome back. Negotiations on presidential debates are just beginning. The Kerry campaign has accepted the three-debate plan proposed last year by the independent debate commission and accused the Bush campaign of wanting to cut back on the plan to eliminate the town hall format.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER ESKEW, SR. ADVISER TO BUSH CAMPAIGN: I don't think we'll be negotiating it on television or in the newspaper much, but there'll be debates, and we look forward to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Kate, is the Bush campaign trying to minimize the impact of these debates?

O'BEIRNE: Look, Al, here we go again. Every four years, this imperial commission on presidential debates, you know, lays down the law to all the candidates, and nothing's negotiable -- the time, the place, the number, the moderators. One foreign debate, on foreign issues, one on domestic would be plenty. It's what Bill Clinton did in 1996. The town hall format I think is a particularly dopey format. Nobody ever gets up at one of these town hall meetings and says, Why the heck doesn't the government stay off my back? How come government's so expensive? Yet that represents the views of half the American public.

But it could be a tactical mistake for the Bush team to want to do two instead of three. Given that the more the public sees of John Kerry, the less they like him,, maybe they ought to try to do four or five.

HUNT: Mark, what do you think, four or five?

SHIELDS: Al, I -- four or five is fine. Al, we're told over and over again by the Bush folks this is the most important election of our lifetime, and yet we started going from three debates, we want to go down to two. Where is the spirit, where is the courage, where's the confidence of Ronald Reagan, who, with a 15-point lead in 1984, agreed to debate his opponent? I mean, instead of trying to hide behind all this nit-picking and negotiating -- my goodness! It looks like a Hollywood contract, the two sides, at this point, I have to say. But I mean, let's get a minimum of three debates, and let's go out -- this is a job interview for the American people, to look at these guys standing shoulder to shoulder, face to face, mano a mano, and let's make our judgments.

HUNT: Bob?

NOVAK: I think one debate is enough. They only had one debate in 1980, and it was enough for the American people to hire Reagan and fire Carter. The -- you know, John -- John Kerry is a terrible candidate, and the -- what is the golden moment...

HUNT: You made that (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

NOVAK: What is the golden moment of his career? It was when he came back from way back against Bill Weld in the 1996 race -- Governor Bill Weld of Massachusetts, 1996 reelection race in the Senate. And he did it by -- how many debates did they have? They had 10 debates, I believe. And they -- and he got better and better, and Weld got worse and worse. Weld looked like he was bored at the end of those debates. And I think that's what they think, that somehow or another, they have enough debates, he -- he's even asked for a weekly debate -- that if they have enough debates, they can turn this around.

But I think one or two debates is fine.

HUNT: I love having a weekly debate with you. Margaret?

CARLSON: Debates are the only time the American people really get to see the candidates. The ads don't work. They only go to certain states. So it is the best civic experiment we have. Listen, Al Gore -- and they matter. Al Gore lost the election at the debates. So we learn a lot about a candidate, not always helpful. And if it's on personality, by the way, I think you're right, George Bush will win. And you get to see a lot of a person's personality in these debates. But it looks bad not to agree to debates. I'm -- you know, here's the Republicans. They're not girlie men, you know? They're the tough guys. And if they don't want to be in a debate, it looks like they're shrinking away from a test and a challenge.

HUNT: Well, they have mattered. You're right. Al Gore did lose in the debates. I think probably Ronald Reagan won on the debate in 1980. And arguably, Gerald Ford lost when he liberated eastern Europe...

CARLSON: Poland!

HUNT: ... 13 years before -- before it actually happened.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BEIRNE: Listen, these...

HUNT: I don't think it matters a whole lot the number, Kate. You know, I want more than one. I want at least two. But I disagree with you on the town -- on the town meeting.

O'BEIRNE: Oh!

HUNT: I think the more free-wheeling format -- the more we can get these guys away from their scripted response, and the more we can make it interesting, so you get a bigger audience...

O'BEIRNE: Well, but the town halls don't do that, Al!

HUNT: ... the better off we are.

O'BEIRNE: In town halls, everybody comes with something they want from the government. They'll -- they -- everybody is a special pleader in those town hall meetings. Nobody ever gets up and says, Government costs too much and does too much, even though that represents...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: But a lot more than...

CARLSON: I want Jim Lehrer...

HUNT: A lot more than half...

CARLSON: I want Jim Lehrer...

HUNT: ... want something out of the government.

CARLSON: I want Jim Lehrer asking questions for one debate. I would -- I would cast my lot with citizens in another.

NOVAK: Can't we be honest? What the Kerry people are looking at is the 1992 debates, when George Bush, Senior, in the town hall debate, didn't...

CARLSON: Went like this! NOVAK: ... went for his watch.

CARLSON: Yes.

NOVAK: They say, Gee, we -- maybe...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Maybe we could do that again!

HUNT: Mark Shields, we have about 15 seconds. Give us a final word on this.

SHIELDS: My final word on it, Al, is I would like to see as free-wheeling as possible, and I'd like to be able to have the candidates ask each other questions. And Kate, there's no way that any candidate's inhibited from saying, I want government off your back, to any of those special pleaders you speak about. They're not inhibited by what answer they give from the question they get.

HUNT: OK. That's it for this segment. Coming up in the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG: Are we safer three years after 9/11? We'll debate the pros and cons. We'll go "Beyond the Beltway" for a look at the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan with senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. And our "Outrages of the Week." That's all after these messages and the latest news headlines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Fredericka Whitfield. More of "Capital Gang" in a moment, but first a look at what's happening now in the news.

Hurricane Ivan intensifies to a category five storm with winds of 165 miles per hour. Ivan's center passed south of Jamaica overnight bringing heavy rain and powerful winds. This storm is blamed for at least 11 deaths in Jamaica. Forecasters expect Ivan to hit the western end of Cuba, including Havana by Monday. Many Cubans are trying to prepare their windows any way they can and stock up on food. But CNN Havana Bureau Chief Lucia Newman says many communities don't have hardware stores, so plywood and even tape can be difficult to find.

A painful day for many across the nation. Mourners gathered in New York to remember the victims of 9/11. Parents and grandparents of victims read the names of those killed at the World Trade Centers. Services were also held at Arlington National Cemetery and at the plane crash site in Pennsylvania.

And that's what's happening now in the news, I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Keeping you informed: CNN, the most trusted name in news.

Now, back to more of "Capital Gang."

HUNT: Welcome back to the second half of the "Capital Gang."

On the campaign trail, George W. Bush and his surrogates repeatedly make this assertion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As the September 11th Commission concluded, our country is safer than we were three years ago, but we are not yet safe.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He misled us into war in Iraq. That war has not made us safer and more secure at home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Pro or con: is America safer since 9/11 or is it not?

Mark, in Indianapolis, you go first.

SHIELDS: Al, no, sadly.

Americans experienced after 9/11 a time of unprecedented national unity, of confidence of their public leadership and their government and their president. And what we know is that now we've been isolated in the world by an administration that with inadequate evidence and insufficient evidence and misleading evidence, took the country to an unnecessary war of choice against Saddam Hussein.

HUNT: Kate?

O'BEIRNE: We're not safe, but we're clearly safer. On September 10th, 2001, Al Qaeda was in training camps all over Afghanistan turning out these terrorists; Pakistan was not cooperating with us; Libya was developing weapons of mass destruction; Iraq was harboring and funding terrorists; CIA and FBI weren't talking to one another. We're safer; we're not yet safe.

HUNT: Margaret?

CARLSON: Iraq was not harboring terrorists, which is what we've learned since then.

Listen, what happened is that the United States, by its actions, has created a terrorist haven in Iraq, where one didn't exist before. Fallujah is now the most dangerous sanctuary for Islamic terrorists since Afghanistan and that was completely unnecessary.

Maybe Iran, if we'd gone there, was harboring terrorists, but not Iraq. If there's one thing we know, there's no connection between Al Qaeda and the secular state of Iraq.

HUNT: Bob?

NOVAK: I don't see how anybody cannot say we're safer. I mean, I'm sure, if you had the worst president in the world, we'd still be safer because things were so bad on 9/11, as the 9/11 Commission has indicated it, they were really messing up. Things have improved.

I don't see how -- unless you're just bemused -- how you can say they're not safer, particularly that we have cleaned out Afghanistan of the terrorist camps. So I would say that there's no question that we're safer and Tom Kean, the Chairman of the Commission, who's not a very partisan guy, has said we're safer.

HUNT: All right. I'll break the tie.

We have failed to capture bin Laden or Zawahiri. London's respected institute for international strategic studies says the ranks of terrorism; that terrorism recruiting is soaring. Al Qaeda has a presence in 60 countries. We have failed -- we actually have backtracked on stemming nuclear proliferation, it's more perilous to travel in the world, and most people around the world, unfortunately, hate Americans. And at home, we've wasted so much money on Homeland Security by spending it on pork, rather than protecting vulnerable venues like ports.

So I'd say we're less safe.

NOVAK: Al, you don't believe that?

HUNT: I do, every word.

CARLSON: Wyoming is getting as much money as New York, which makes no sense. We take our shoes off at the airport. I think airports are safer, but what else is safer? Not the...

O'BEIRNE: Dr. Khan's nuclear bazaar has been shut down. You know who you disagree with, of course, John Kerry. Back in Iowa on December 16th he told his Democratic competitors that those who don't believe we're without Saddam Hussein don't have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president. We are not yet safe, much because we don't; we should be controlling our borders better.

CARLSON: And we've abandoned the job in Afghanistan.

HUNT: OK. Mark Shields?

SHIELDS: Kate, I have to disagree with John Kerry. He was wrong. I mean, we are not safer. The majority of Americans have died in Iraq, died after the capture of Saddam Hussein. And I'll just point out that the logic of bombing Iraq and going to war against Iraq after an attack of Al Qaeda in the United States has all the logic as Mark Russell pointed out, of the United States after Pearl Harbor bombing Brazil. It had nothing to do with it.

HUNT: Bob?

NOVAK: I would say that the -- if we get away from politics for a minute...

HUNT: I know you like to do that. NOVAK: ... and look at the improvements that have been made in the FBI, in the CIA, you have to say -- you have to have some kind of correlation to what's going on. I wasn't for going into Iraq, but I'm very glad that Saddam Hussein is out of there. I think that that is a plus.

I would have hoped it could have been a different way, but now that it's done, that's a plus.

CARLSON: And at the cost of not getting Osama bin Laden.

HUNT: OK. Last word Margaret Carlson.

Next, the "Capital Gang" classic: the nation attacked three years ago today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: From the 9/11 Commission Report, "The lessons of 9/11 for civilians and first responders can be stated simply: in the new age of terror, they -- we -- are the primary targets. The losses America suffered that day demonstrated both the gravity of the terrorist threat and the commensurate need to prepare ourselves to meet it. A rededication to preparedness is perhaps the best way to honor the memories of those we lost that day."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: You're looking at live pictures of the New York City skyline. The two powerful beams of light were lit at sunset tonight and were inspired by the World Trade Center's Twin Towers. They are being projected upward from a lot near Ground Zero. The illuminated memorial is visible for miles. They were first seen six months after the attacks on September 11th. The beams will shine through the night. The plan is to light them each year on the anniversary.

Welcome back now to the "Capital Gang."

Four days after the deadliest and costliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, the "Capital Gang" discussed the impact of the nation's loss. This is from our discussion of September 15th, 2001.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: We've lost a few other than our economic health. Three hundred and fifty firefighters: those people who run back into burning buildings and not away from them and 50 policemen.

NOVAK: If we have a meltdown of the great American economy because of these terrorists, of course, Margaret we mourn these brave firemen and policemen, but they have succeeded if they bring this economy to its knees.

SHIELDS: The economy was in trouble heading into Tuesday. Now, it's hard to accept that five days of the economy stopping is somehow going to tip it over.

HUNT: I don't think that these were people who hate modern life. I mean, they hate women to have rights, they hate democracy, they hate all sorts of things, and the fact that we're a capitalist society just may have been working against us.

O'BEIRNE: It's only a piece of it; we're the object of this murderous hate because we are powerful, because we are rich, because we are modern, because we are Christian, because we are good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Mark, three years later, what is the impact on America of 9/11?

SHIELDS: Well, I think the impact is all around us. I certainly hope that Bob Novak's portfolio of 250 leading stocks recovered adequately from that date because these classics are wonderful because they are such a wonderful dose of humility for all of us, I think.

But, I think if you look at this presidential campaign, it's fair to say that George Bush wouldn't be running for reelection but for his leadership in the eyes of so many after 9/11. And John Kerry would not be the Democratic nominee if the definition of the job of president hadn't been transformed and changed by 9/11 to commander in chief. We'd had three elections in a row when commander in chief didn't matter: '92, '96 and 2000. And in 2004, this election, it means an awful lot as you can see.

HUNT: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: I thought I was exactly right three years ago. This was an attack on American capitalism; that's what they tried to do and they failed. But it hurt the economy badly and if it hadn't been for President Bush's tax cuts, we would have been in big trouble.

HUNT: Margaret, that was the answer.

CARLSON: Well, the Bush administration likes to blame 9/11 for some of the deficits, but that's not the case.

Listen, President Bush gets to run on his leadership right after 9/11, which was quite good and the country was united. Unfortunately, where he's led us since is entirely in the wrong direction.

HUNT: Kate O'Beirne?

O'BEIRNE: We knew three years ago we weren't attacked by terrorism; we were attacked by violent jihadists. We're no detached when we watch the same kind of militant Islamic terrorists kill babies and shoot children in the back in a school in Russia because we, too, have been its victims.

HUNT: OK. Next on "Capital Gang: Beyond the Beltway" looks at the war in Afghanistan and Iraq with CNN's Senior International Correspondent Nick Robertson. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: Welcome back.

A message from an Al Qaeda leader was delivered to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI, CHIEF DEPUTY FOR BIN LADEN (through translator): East and South Afghanistan is an open battlefield for the Mujahedeen, while the liars are hiding in the big capitals. And the Americans are hiding now in trenches and they refuse to come out and meet the Mujahedeen.

In Iraq, the Mujahedeen turned America's plan upside down after the weak appearance of the men of the transitional government. The defeat of America in Iraq and Afghanistan has become just a matter of time with God's help.

BUSH: We put together a broad coalition, some 40 nations in Afghanistan, some 30 in Iraq. And I'll continue over the next four years to build our alliances, to strengthen our relationships, but I will never turn over America's national security decisions to leaders of other countries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUNT: Joining us now from Atlanta is Senior International Correspondent, Nick Robertson.

Thanks for coming in, Nick.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you.

HUNT: Nick, are things getting better or worse in Afghanistan and Iraq?

ROBERTSON: I think when you look at Afghanistan, you have to say that there is a level of threat, and so right here, he refers to a level of threat in south and east in Afghanistan. He's completely overstating it. U.S. troops are not hiding in their bunkers; they're out doing patrols, but the south and east are still a problem. There are still large numbers of Taliban, or Taliban supporters that can roam around.

I think when you look at Iraq, nobody in the coalition at this time would have wished it to be in this kind of state. But I think Zawahiri overplays, and certainly there are many issues.

HUNT: Bob?

NOVAK: Nick, what does that tape tell you about the state of the Al Qaeda? I mean it's so obvious and you say it so obviously overstated. Is that a sign of desperation, or is it still growing concern? What did we learn about Al Qaeda from that tape?

ROBERTSON: I think this is the leadership of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's deputy, coming out and waving the flag at a very important, very significant time for them. This is the first time that they've had an on-camera delivered video message like this in over two and a half years. This is when they wave the flag to say to their supporters, "We're still here."

But are they effective, can they really organize at this time? I think what they've been successful so far, it seems to be in, spreading their ideology and their ideological leaders and they wave the flag. And at this time, perhaps it doesn't have great significance than that.

HUNT: Margaret?

CARLSON: Nick, I want to ask you a hypothetical. If the United States had not diverted its troops and resources into Iraq, would the Al Qaeda have been rooted out and not had a chance to come back at all? Would Osama bin Laden have been captured by this time?

ROBERTSON: I think it's always difficult to deal with a hypothetical, because we don't know what would have happened to those -- let's say those troops who were deployed to Iraq -- what would have happened to the intelligence resources? Would they've all been focused on Afghanistan? But all of those experts in intelligence, who speak Arabic, would they have been involved in Afghanistan; hunt for Osama bin Laden?

Certainly the view from the Pakistanis' side of the border -- speaking to officials there -- if they think the United States could have done more and could be doing more in Afghanistan to root out Al Qaeda . As the finger is pointed at Pakistan for not doing enough.

It does seem that the number of troops inside Afghanistan could be supplemented by a lot more troops, who could do the same work more efficiently and more quickly and perhaps get a result in a much speedier fashion.

HUNT: Kate?

O'BEIRNE: Three years ago, Nick, right up there with oil, was Saudi Arabia's export of militant Islam in the form of funding and the air support for those madrassas, those radical schools? How should we be grading three years later, Saudi Arabia's cooperation with stopping the spread of militant Islam?

ROBERTSON: Well, I think Saudi Arabia's cooperation, if you will, in spreading militant Islam is really, they've taken a narrow focus on it: how does it affect them?

The real turning point for Saudi Arabia was last November. There was a bombing at a compound in Saudi Arabia. It killed many Arabs, it killed many Muslims. Saudis, at that time, living in the capital where the bombing happened, turned around amongst themselves and said, "There's something wrong in our country. The government has to fix it." And the government there has been cracking down. They see it as an internal problem that could destabilize the Royal family.

They're cracking down, but the real turning point for them has come out of their own interests and not for many other people's. Perhaps to keep their association with the United States on an even keel. But really the turning point does seem to have been out of self-interest.

HUNT: Nick, three years ago, I don't think any of us would have predicted that Osama bin Laden -- I'm sorry, Mark Shields, I forgot you in Indianapolis! Please go ahead. I apologize!

SHIELDS: I'm imminently forgettable.

But Nick, I turn to you as a student and scholar, an authority on Al Qaeda. You've said that they're engaged in a propaganda war, that it's a psychological operation. Now there's been open speculation about the possibility of an attack, the administration has, between now and the election. What would that tell us? Would they be aware of the fact that they would be -- if the attack came after the first of October -- almost surely helping President Bush be reelected?

ROBERTSON: Well, there's been some speculation on sites that Al Qaeda supporters use that it would be better for them to have George Bush be reelected. The rationale behind that is because he has actions around the world and many jihadists believe that the United States' removing Saddam, occupying Iraq has been a bonus for them and they believe having President George Bush continue in power is going to help them, because they believe it helps them create a more divided world. And they thrive on that at this time.

That's been what has been said on these, sort of, Al Qaeda supporting Web sites. Whether or not Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri support that, we just have no idea. But that's the sort of, chatter that goes on on these Web sites.

HUNT: Mark Shields, thank goodness we got your very good question in and Nick Robertson, you are always insightful and we learn from you. Thank you very much.

ROBERTSON: Thank you.

HUNT: The "Gang" will be back with the outrages of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUNT: And now, for the outrages of the week.

Great news, you can bag Bambi with an Uzi or AK-47 starting Monday when the ban on lethal assault weapons expires. Even though, according to the Annenberg Survey Center, 68 percent of Americans support the ban on these deadly weapons, President Bush, instead went into the tank for the gun lobby. He calculates most people will forget about this, but the gun nuts won't. The biggest winners however, are gangs and terrorists who prey on innocent people and love these killing machines.

Bob?

NOVAK: Teresa Heinz Kerry this week said her husband's health care plan is so wonderful, quote, "Only an idiot wouldn't like this. Of course, there are idiots," end quote.

Next, John Kerry said this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The wrong choices of the Bush administration are taking us back to a two-Americas, separate and unequal.

Just as divisive and destructive as Jim Crowe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOVAK: So, people who disagree with John and Teresa are idiots and racists. Could George W. get away with this?

HUNT: Margaret?

CARLSON: OK.

Dick Cheney has some advice for the 900,000 who have lost jobs since he took office: e-Bay.

I'm not one to sniff at the country's computerized garage sale. I once unloaded a stove on e-Bay, but nipping down to your basement, taking a picture of Aunt M's end irons and posting it under collectibles is no substitute for good jobs.

A reporter recently overheard a Bush staffer talking about the underemployed whining about their plight like girlie-men. If they're so unhappy, she snipped, quote, "Why don't they go on Prozac?" What's next? Lemonade stands?

HUNT: Kate?

O'BEIRNE: Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" on DVD sold four million copies on the day of its release. Its box office worldwide was $600 million. Before its release, the Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman claimed it would fuel hatred and bigotry; others predicted violence against Jews. A hostile media piled on, but millions have reacted sorrowfully, not vengefully. The only violence was done to the truth by the film's critics.

HUNT: And Mark Shields in Indianapolis.

SHIELDS: Al, in his convention acceptance speech, President Bush, the compassionate conservative, pledged to boost spending on education, but thanks to the work of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, we now know that administration documents call for larger cuts in the programs the President supposedly wants to expand.

Take Aid to Elementary and Secondary Education, which the President would increase by more than $800 million next year; great until you learn that in the next four years, the administration plans to cut that same spending by $5.5 billion, or six times as much. If hypocrisy were a felony, this crowd would be doing some hard time.

HUNT: This is Al Hunt saying "Goodnight" for "Capital Gang." Coming up next, "CNN Presents: 9/11, A Nation Changed." At 9 p.m., a special September 11th Remembrance Edition of "Larry King Live." And at 10 p.m. on "CNN Saturday Night: America's War Against Terror."

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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