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CNN CAPITAL GANG

News National Intelligence Report Offers Pessimistic View Of Iraq's Future; New Democratic Ads Attacks Vice Preident Cheney's Halliburton Connection; Bush Supporters, Media Continue Onslaught Of CBS News

Aired September 18, 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 Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Margaret Carlson. Our guest is House majority whip Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri.

Good to have you back, Roy.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), MAJORITY WHIP: Good to be here.

SHIELDS: "The New York Times" reported that a secret National Intelligence Estimate prepared for President Bush in July reflected a pessimistic outlook on Iraq, with civil war as the worst-case possibility. Senator John Kerry turned this against President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I believe you deserve a president who isn't going to gild that truth or gild our national security with politics, who is not going to ignore his own intelligence, who isn't going to live in a different world of spin, who will give the American people the truth, not a fantasy world of spin...

SCOTT MCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: Every step of the way in Iraq, there have been pessimists and hand-wringers who said it can't be done.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today this country is headed toward elections. Freedom is on the march!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, is the National Intelligence Estimate a campaign advantage, a campaign weapon for John Kerry?

AL HUNT, CAPITAL GANG: Sure. The administration has misled the American people. The president in that statement is either lying or they haven't told him the real situation. Mark, leave aside Senator Kerry, who, of course, is partisan in this. Every outside assessment concludes the situation is as bad as the president's intelligence estimate or worse. This includes -- these include Republicans, like Senator Chuck Hagel and Dick Lugar. It includes Marine General James Conway, who is leaving as the commander of the western Iraqi -- the U.S. forces in western Iraq, Generals Zinni, Shinseki, lots of others.

Now, Roy, I know they don't read "Playboy" magazine in Branston, Missouri, but a little advice. Get the latest copy, throw away the pictures...

BLUNT: This is your advice to me...

HUNT: Right. Right.

BLUNT: ... is take the latest copy...

HUNT: Get a -- and throw away the pictures and read an article by Colonel David Hackworth, one of the most decorated combat heroes of Vietnam. He says that Iraq is worse than Vietnam because the stakes are higher, that politicians have interfered and made disastrous decisions, that troop morale is the lowest he's ever seen. And after reading that, you can explain to President Bush that Iraq looks more like Beirut than Iowa.

SHIELDS: Roy?

BLUNT: Well, I would think a couple of things here. One is that this group has not had a real good track record both on Iraq and lots of other areas of being right. Just be our luck that this would be the one time that they have no good possible outcome and they might be right. I don't think they're right. I don't think the president believes they're right.

And two, I think it's clear in this campaign now the more you focus on national security issues, no matter how that gets started, the president benefits from that -- from that discussion. The American people trust the president. They don't yet trust John Kerry on these issues. And when he uses words like "gilded" as how he describes how we're talking about our foreign policy, that's just more of that sort of stilted language that's not connecting.

SHIELDS: I don't -- I don't argue with you that -- I mean, Jerry Ford said it best. You have to have a president who levels with the American people before the election if you're going to have someone who levels with them afterwards. I mean, I thought that was, you know, a lot better way of putting it.

Bob, the reality -- beyond the politics of it, the reality of this -- Iraq is a basket case.

BOB NOVAK, CAPITAL GANG: Well, let me say that the business of not leveling with the people and not telling the truth -- that is the Democratic spin right now. In every speech, he didn't level on Medicare, he didn't level on so-and-so. That's the talking points. They didn't level with the American -- you're going to -- they think that's going to work. It may work. The Democrats think it's going to -- it may not.

SHIELDS: Is it true?

NOVAK: No. No, let me tell you what I think about -- about this -- I think there's a lot of blather from both candidates on Iraq. I think that Kerry is completely incoherent on Iraq. He goes in several ways. I think that President Bush is putting out a best-case scenario. I think whoever is elected is going to have to pull out of Iraq. I don't think there's any doubt...

SHIELDS: So it is a disaster.

NOVAK: It isn't a disaster because I think that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was, in the long run, a good thing and a valuable thing. I just believe that this is a very problematical country, and they're going to have -- I think you got to let them try to find their own solution in time. I think they're going to have a successful election, and they're going to have a government. And try to hope they do the best they can. We can't stay there forever, though.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, we got 2,500 attacks on Americans a month now. That's four times as many as we had last spring, before the turnover. And we've got 35 Iraqi cities or provinces that are under control of the terrorists and insurgents. I mean...

MARGARET CARLSON, CAPITAL GANG: And Americans can't go in there. And I think the administration is trying to avoid places like Fallujah because if he goes there before the election, it's going to make the war look like much more of a disaster than it already does.

Bob, I'm glad to hear you acknowledge this. Everything...

NOVAK: What did I acknowledge?

CARLSON: That we're going to have to...

NOVAK: Did I use the word "disaster"?

CARLSON: ... pull out of Iraq because we're not going to get out of there what the president intended. We're just not going to...

NOVAK: Well, you're making -- you're making a partisan thing out of it, so don't attribute it to me!

CARLSON: OK, let me -- I don't want you to interrupt me, so...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Let me take back everything I said about Bob, for the moment.

SHIELDS: OK.

CARLSON: There's -- there are no surprises about what's happened in Iraq. And in this National Intelligence Estimate, the president is clinging to the fact that the Iraq president, Saddam Hussein, wanted to get weapons of mass destruction. And he's clinging to that. I want a Gulfstream V and a million dollars. There's just no basis for going after people who would like to have weapons of mass destruction.

The most dangerous job in Iraq is to be being trained as part of the security forces. You will die. The insurgents will get you. And the president is also clinging to, We're having elections and we're going to secure the place through these Iraqi security forces, neither one of which is going to happen.

SHIELDS: I think Margaret makes a very good point. Just say the president politically benefited from the turnover in June because it took it off page 1 and put it on page 11.

NOVAK: Can I...

SHIELDS: Just one second, Bob. The reality is that the story now is so bad and so compelling that it's moved out front page. I don't think it helps the president. It hurt the president last spring. I think it could start hurting him now.

NOVAK: I will say this, that...

SHIELDS: Go ahead.

NOVAK: ... there's no question that the decision has been made with the Kerry people that they can't make any -- any traction on these issues. He's a poor candidate. And they're going to try to make the Iraq thing the issue. But I will tell you he is a rotten candidate. I saw the script, the text of what he -- of what he mucked up in that speech we ran the thing on. It was written pretty well, but he -- he talks about "gilding" and all this -- this funny language. I don't think he makes a very compulsive case.

HUNT: No, I'm not -- I'm not going to say -- I'm not going to defend John Kerry on this because I think he's really been very uncomfortable on this. But let me tell you something. The American military is in bad shape right now. When you have people like Jack Murtha, who is very (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- he's been a Pentagon supporter for years -- say there's going to be...

NOVAK: He's a Democrat!

HUNT: Sure, he is. There's going to be a call-up of the National Guard after the election...

NOVAK: He's a Democrat! Come on!

HUNT: When you have "The Rocky Mountain News," a Republican newspaper, reporting that at Fort Carson, units are being told, If you don't re-up, you're going to be sent to Iraq -- that's a bribe -- and when you have Colonel Hackworth saying that reenlistments are plummeting so much, you're going to have to have a draft...

NOVAK: You brought up...

HUNT: ... in the year...

NOVAK: You brought up...

HUNT: That's not a Democrat.

NOVAK: You brought up Colonel Hackworth. He's a very erratic guy, a very erratic guy!

HUNT: When he doesn't agree with you, he's very...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: No, I don't!

(CROSSTALK)

BLUNT: It's very hard right now for people to have any sense of what's really happening. We're getting calls in the office, We understand you're going to go to the draft right after the election because we saw that on the Internet. That's not going to happen. These massive National Guard call-ups aren't going to happen.

HUNT: If you go along with Bob and you pull out of Iraq, you're right. But if you don't, you may have to...

SHIELDS: Last word, Al Hunt. Roy Blunt and THE GANG will be back with an eye on CBS and the president's military record.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. CBS and Dan Rather continue to come under attack from both President Bush's defenders and other news media. CBS issued this statement yesterday. Quote, CBS News is determined to answer the questions that have emerged about documents in a report originally broadcast on "60 Minutes" Wednesday. We will continue to aggressively report on those documents and all aspects of the story until the matter is resolved," end quote.

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee hammered at the Bush service record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: His lack of commitment 30 years ago is an insult to those who fulfilled their National Guard duty. His lies only make the matter worse.

BUSH: I'm just telling you I did my duty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But Guard records show he didn't take the required physical. He was grounded. And for six months in 1972, he failed to perform any Guard service, this son of privilege, this fortunate son.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: White House spokesman Scott McLellan responded, quote, "It just shows the Democrats and the Kerry campaign are determined to throw the kitchen sink at us because they can't win when the discussion is focused on the issues and the future," end quote.

Meanwhile, the swift boat veterans against Kerry put out a new ad. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: I gave back, I can't remember, six...

-- ribbons...

-- seven, eight...

-- and took the ribbons...

-- nine...

I didn't have my medals.

We threw away the symbols of what our country gave us...

-- and I'm proud of that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry. Can you trust anything he says?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, has the Bush National Guard record become a real issue in this presidential race?

NOVAK: I don't really think so. I think that this was taken up as an evasis (ph) because there was a lot of traction gotten on the -- on Kerry -- Senator Kerry's war record after the convention. The Democrats didn't think it would -- it would work. The White House didn't think it was very effective. But it did -- it was extremely effective. It hurt Senator Kerry, so they came back with this very old story about Bush and the National Guard. But it has backfired because it's gotten to be an issue over CBS and the documents. I think every journalist knows, if you're going to be objective, that CBS did a terrible job on this story. They didn't -- they didn't work it out. I think this is a disaster for Dan Rather and for CBS. The ratings cratered this -- this past week. And after CBS had gone on saying, We stand by our story, yesterday came out a statement saying, Well, now we're investigating it to make sure we're right.

SHIELDS: Margaret?

CARLSON: CBS's problem was they tried to prove a story that doesn't need to be proved. We all know that George Bush got into the Guard because he was a son of privilege, that he stayed in despite breaking the rules because he was privileged, and that he left early and got an honorable discharge because he was a son of privilege.

CBS will end up, if they are wrong, if it appears to be, apologizing for their mistake, and we will wait a long time before various cable channels and Fox apologizes for the swift boat ads and the commentary on their channels, which turned out not to be true. Almost -- I think every aspect of what they said has been disproved by Navy records and today by the...

SHIELDS: Inspector general. CARLSON: ... Navy IG.

SHIELDS: Roy Blunt?

BLUNT: Well, certainly, I think the two swift boat ads that use -- use John Kerry's own testimony -- that can't not be true. I mean, he said it. They're saying he said it.

CARLSON: No, I'm talking about the medals and the...

BLUNT: Some of these...

(CROSSTALK)

BLUNT: Some of these swift boat folks have been upset with John Kerry for 30 years. I'm pretty sure that wasn't the plan of the Bush administration to 30 years ago set these same people up to have been after John Kerry this entire time. Frankly, I think those ads were probably too well choreographed to ever have any coordination from either of the two major parties. They got a lot of space on not very much.

Now, I -- we wrote a letter, I wrote a letter last week -- I was the first signature on it -- to CBS News. It was on the whip's table on the floor for about 10 minutes and 39 -- 38 other people signed it before we sent it to Mr. Heyward...

SHIELDS: What's the letter, Roy?

BLUNT: Saying, Take this story down or reveal not your sources -- I understand the sensitive -- at least characterize who your sources were. This is unsourced. It now appears to be bogus in nature. These charges have been out there for five years. Nobody's been able to move forward in a positive way on them. I think what got Dan Rather in so much trouble was even that night, after we wrote the letter and people inside his own department started saying this is a problem, and there are a couple of high-level people at CBS saying that, and other news people, he said, Well, forget the -- maybe we shouldn't spend so much time on the documents and just report the story. The story isn't a story without being substantiated by some kind of documents.

SHIELDS: Al, this has become a story about CBS instead of about George Bush, who actually didn't take his physical, gave up his pilot's license. Never knew a pilot -- never knew a pilot gave up his pilot's license voluntarily.

HUNT: Well, let me -- let me touch on all this. First of all, I don't think this will be an election issue. Terry McAuliffe ought to get over it. Things that happened 35 years ago are not going to matter on November the 2nd. I think it is -- I agree with Bob, it is clear that CBS, some very good journalists, practiced some not so good journalism and put a flawed story on the air. It is also true that George W. Bush got in the National Guard because of Daddy, to stay out of Vietnam. It didn't make him the Lone Ranger. That's what people of privilege did back then. And this election, though, is going to be decided on Iraq, on terrorism, on jobs and health care. It's not going to be decided on what you did back in 1972.

NOVAK: Let me just...

BLUNT: How do we know that's true?

HUNT: This election?

BLUNT: No, how do we know that's true he got in the Guard because somebody got him into the Guard?

HUNT: Because...

BLUNT: The only person...

HUNT: ... Ben Barnes, among other people...

BLUNT: But Ben Barnes...

HUNT: ... have said that he was...

BLUNT: Ben Barnes...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: And that, Roy -- also, Lloyd Bentsen's son got in because -- I mean, that's what people of privilege did.

BLUNT: But Ben -- Ben Barnes...

HUNT: You didn't go in the Guard back then...

BLUNT: ... according to his...

(CROSSTALK)

BLUNT: Ben Barnes, according to his own daughter, said her dad -- as recently as a couple of years ago said that didn't happen and may have even said under oath it didn't happen.

NOVAK: Let me just -- let me just...

HUNT: No, he said under oath it did happen.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Let me respond to something Margaret said, all this stuff about the Swift Boat for Truth ads have been proved wrong. I don't think that's true at all. I've talked to several of the -- of the -- of the Naval commanders who tell stories about the -- that the -- the claims of Senator Kerry as a lieutenant were -- were not justified. The Naval IG said you cannot go back to these and reinvestigate these awards of medals 30 years ago. That's all he said. He didn't say that he had investigated them and they're all valid. He said that it's -- in his opinion, the Navy IG couldn't do it.

SHIELDS: John Warner was Secretary of the Navy under Richard Nixon -- checked them out. The White House wanted to discredit him -- checked them out then. They all met the test then, OK? That's -- that was current.

Now, let me just say, Bob -- let me just say -- all we know is one guy chose not to go to Vietnam and supported the war. The other guy went to Vietnam, was in combat, was wounded, came back and opposed the war. Now, just like David M. Shub (ph), the commandant of the Marine Corps, who won the Medal of Honor, opposed the war. Now, I don't understand. If you love the war and don't go, you're a patriot?

NOVAK: Because -- because -- because at Boston at the convention, when they made this the predicate for his candidacy, he opened the door to this investigation!

SHIELDS: Oh!

NOVAK: Just a minute! I let you talk!

SHIELDS: Go ahead.

NOVAK: He opened the door to this investigation, and the -- and contrary to what all of these supporters of Kerry were saying, nothing has been disproved that the Swift Boat Veterans say!

HUNT: Every single person who...

CARLSON: One has been disproved...

HUNT: ... served in a boat with John Kerry has said they're a bunch of liars!

NOVAK: No! No, that's not true!

HUNT: That is true.

CARLSON: Yes, it is.

HUNT: That is true.

CARLSON: Everybody...

NOVAK: I talked to -- I talked to the admiral...

CARLSON: Every eyewitness...

HUNT: He wasn't on that boat!

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: The other two men said he wasn't...

CARLSON: He wasn't on the boat!

HUNT: ... on the boat!

NOVAK: Well, he said he was, and I believe him!

(LAUGHTER)

HUNT: He is making it up, Bob!

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: You're making it up! And you're being duped!

HUNT: It is fiction. It is fiction. You've been had, Bob. I'm sorry. You were had.

NOVAK: You've been duped by the Kerry people again!

SHIELDS: Go ahead.

HUNT: No, I'm talking -- the people who were on the boat. You were had, Bob. You were had big-time.

CARLSON: People -- the people who don't care now cared in 1992 about Bill Clinton and Colonel Holmes and the National Guard.

SHIELDS: Last word, Margaret Carlson.

Coming up on THE CAPITAL GANG, Kerry versus Cheney, Hunt versus Novak.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. Both Democratic campaign ads and the candidate for president took aim at Vice President Dick Cheney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: Dick Cheney's old company, Halliburton, has profited from the mess in Iraq at the expense of American troops and taxpayers. Dick Cheney has continued to receive compensation from his former company.

MARK RACICOT, BUSH CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Cheney has absolutely no interest in Halliburton, and that's been established over and over again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: The vice president meanwhile indirectly criticized Senator Kerry by defining what a president must do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He has to make a decision, and then he has to execute on it. He has to stick with it. He's got to stick with it through thick or thin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: A Gallup poll of likely voters gave President Bush a 13-point lead, but a Pew Center poll had Senator Kerry just 1 point behind.

Margaret Carlson, does it make sense for Senator Kerry to raise the Dick Cheney-Halliburton connection issue?

CARLSON: Well, the Congressional Research Office, an independent arm of Congress, found that retained ties -- that Cheney has them and that they're a problem. But there are so many better things to go at Cheney for. He...

SHIELDS: For example?

CARLSON: He led the country and led the president into a war and still believes some of the stuff he once said, that there are ties to al Qaeda -- every study, every piece of information tells us that's not true -- that we'd be greeted as liberators -- that's not true -- and that -- he relied on Ahmad Chalabi, who turns out to be one of the biggest liars and scam artists the country has ever had as a CIA informant.

BLUNT: Dick Cheney has no more ongoing relationship with Halliburton than John Kerry does with the Heinz Company. You know, it's...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Well, Heinz...

(CROSSTALK)

BLUNT: And more than half of their facilities are outside the United States. Have you heard anybody accuse him of being a major outsourcing guy? He has nothing to do with that, and he gets money from them all the time. Cheney's getting whatever his agreement was in his contract. He has no relationship. His -- the money he gets isn't affected by whether they do badly or do well, and it's no more related than Heinz -- than Kerry is to all that Heinz money that comes into his house all the time.

SHIELDS: Does it -- I don't know if it...

BLUNT: And nobody has...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: I know the checks do come to Dick Cheney...

BLUNT: There are 50...

SHIELDS: ... from Halliburton. I've never seen -- have you seen checks...

BLUNT: They probably don't. (CROSSTALK)

BLUNT: There are 57 Heinz factories outside the United States, and this guy goes all over the country talking about how terrible outsourcing is. Now, would it be fair to blame him for that? No. He doesn't run those companies just because he lives off their money.

SHIELDS: He wasn't CEO of it, I don't think, Roy. I mean, it's a little different!

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: Right.

BLUNT: Well, the other guy's not CEO of anything now, and he -- and he has no stock. He has no ongoing relationship. His payment is whatever his severance payment is, is the same no matter how much money they make. It doesn't -- it doesn't matter to him...

CARLSON: I don't think Heinz...

BLUNT: ... financially.

CARLSON: ... has any war contracts.

NOVAK: Let me say this...

BLUNT: They probably do. They probably do have some war contracts. I'll bet Heinz sells money (ph) to the Defense...

CARLSON: For ketchup?

SHIELDS: OK...

BLUNT: Sure.

NOVAK: Please?

BLUNT: Of course they do.

NOVAK: Halliburton is an issue that all the Bush bashers love. It's -- the bloggers like it. I get e-mails on it. It is something that -- on "CROSSFIRE," Paul Begala and James Carville like to talk about Halliburton. It's something that gets a liberal really on a high! The problem is, it's not a presidential kind of item, a thing a presidential candidate should do. They are -- they are very nervous, obviously, in the Kerry campaign. They got -- according to "The New York Times," I think they got 11 strategists working on the campaign, and they try a different thing every day. And that is -- just is not presidential. If I were -- if I were Kerry, I would stick to Iraq. But the idea that you're going to get somebody interested in this race on the Halliburton issue -- it's the committed people interested in Halliburton.

SHIELDS: If you were Kerry, I'd put a George Bush bumper sticker on my car. Go ahead.

HUNT: Well, you know, actually, I don't disagree with Bob's bottom line, but Halliburton's a sleazy company. It's a company that the Pentagon -- not the Democrats -- say overcharged U.S. taxpayers on no-bid contracts for work in Iraq. They had...

SHIELDS: Meals.

HUNT: They charged for work they didn't do. They had to settle with the SEC because they lied about disclosure. They're accused, at least, of foreign bribes. This is not a very nice company. Does that have much to do with Dick Cheney? Probably not, but John Edwards doesn't have anything to do with sleazy trial lawyers, either.

But I do agree that if John Kerry wants to win this election, this isn't going to be what does it. He's got to talk about Iraq. He's got to talk about what he would do and how he would get us out of this mess.

NOVAK: See...

SHIELDS: Al, let me just say -- I think Al's put his finger on this right here. I don't think Halliburton -- I will make the mistake of agreeing with you, Bob, without mentioning your name...

(LAUGHTER)

SHIELDS: You're not going to come back. But I think -- I don't think Halliburton rises to the level of presidential -- I mean, the country wants change. We think we're headed in the wrong direction. Americans say that in every damn poll, and what John Kerry has to do is become the agent of change.

CARLSON: You know, Mark...

SHIELDS: ... the believable...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: You know what the country wants, exactly what they want?

SHIELDS: I imagine they want a cut in the capital gains tax, don't they?

NOVAK: I think -- I think they...

SHIELDS: I think...

CARLSON: You know...

SHIELDS: I don't think they want...

NOVAK: I think -- I think some people in the country want one thing, and some want the other. And everybody doesn't agree with you.

SHIELDS: I don't think 45...

CARLSON: You know, Mark...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: I don't think they want 45 million more people without health insurance.

BLUNT: John Kerry has a position for all of them. If someone wants something and someone...

CARLSON: You know, Mark...

SHIELDS: I don't think they want more people in poverty.

BLUNT: That's been his problem on Iraq. He has too many positions.

CARLSON: Mark, at the moment, the race has been framed by Republicans so that what Kerry says about Iraq is worse than what Bush has done in Iraq. And I think over the next couple of weeks, Kerry's got to shift that so that he points out -- the country disagrees with what's happened in Iraq, and they want to get out and they want to get out with honor...

NOVAK: Could I ask you...

CARLSON: ... but they nonetheless...

NOVAK: ... a question?

CARLSON: ... want to get out. What?

SHIELDS: Quick!

NOVAK: What if -- what if Senator Kerry were to get up and say, I promise you that if I'm elected president, I'm going to pull the troops out?

CARLSON: He -- he won't say that.

NOVAK: What would...

CARLSON: He can't say that. The mess was made by President Bush.

NOVAK: Well...

CARLSON: President Bush doesn't have a plan for getting out. Why put the burden on Kerry?

SHIELDS: Are we safer...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Are we safe in the Middle East today than we were... HUNT: Bob -- Bob has asked a very good question. I think he not only can but he should get up and give a timetable for getting out. I agree with that.

SHIELDS: Last word...

NOVAK: I think it's his only hope.

SHIELDS: Last word, Al -- how about, I'll go to Baghdad and I'll bring Bob Novak with me?

(LAUGHTER)

SHIELDS: All right...

NOVAK: I'll go with him.

SHIELDS: OK. Roy Blunt, thank you for joining us.

Coming up in the second half of THE CAPITAL GANG, the politics of the assault weapons ban is our "Sidebar" story. Stay tuned. We'll go "Beyond the Beltway" to Moscow, where President Putin has launched a power grab in the wake of terrorist attacks. That and our "Outrages of the Week." That's all after these messages -- important.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of the CAPITAL GANG.

The assault weapons ban expired at midnight Monday and Senator Kerry blamed the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: George Bush gave them his word that when it came time he was going to extend the ban. When it became time to stand up and ask America to do what was right, George Bush's powerful friends in the gun lobby asked him to look the other way. And he couldn't resist and he said, sure.

REP. TOM DELAY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: The assault weapons ban has been useless. It has proved to be useless.

It is a feel good piece of legislation and all it does is punish those that -- those people that are -- that live by the law. And it does nothing to keep assault weapons out of the hands of criminals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, since a big majority of Americans are for the assault weapons ban, isn't this a political advantage for Senator Kerry?

NOVAK: It is a big disadvantage for him, because the people who really care about the guns most are the people who like Second Amendment rights and they are against this assault weapons ban. I thought that Senator Kerry had figured this out. A lot of Democrats I talk to thought he had figured it out, that it is a negative to go on gun control for the Democratic Party and that it is something to stay away from. It very probably lost Vice President Gore the election, probably lost him the state of West Virginia, but yet he goes back to that.

I think he should have read that brilliant book by the former president, Bill Clinton, "My Life." I'm sure you have read that book.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: It's a wonderful book, in which he -- I can keep a straight face on that -- in which he really said, President Clinton said that the position on gun control by the Democrats lost the Congress in 1994 and has kept it in Republican hands for 10 years.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Oh, I don't think it is quite that -- I think if you want to advocate expansion in gun control then I think that may be right. I think it probably does hurt in West Virginia and Arkansas.

But then in some places it helps. If you want to go in the suburbs of Philadelphia, if you want to go into suburban areas where -- assault -- AK-- you are going to defend AK-47s and Uzis? I mean, I'm sorry. Tom Delay is wrong, there is at least some lives that have been saved and there is no hunter who has been inconvenienced by doing away with AK-47s and Uzis.

SHIELDS: Nobody has ever been hunting with one of these things, their only purpose is to destroy lives and break bones.

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": Right.

SHIELDS: And leave gaping holes in human beings.

CARLSON: Have you ever seen a moose head hanging in someone's house with 1,000 holes in it from an assault weapon? No. It doesn't happen that way. But the minority who cares about the second amendment is obsessed with it and absolutist and there can be no incursions into it, so they just go straight down the line.

And Bob is right, they are going to vote on the issue and so to that extent I guess it is better -- the problem with Kerry can't out gun these people.

NOVAK: Why does he bring that up? They bring up a different thing every day.

CARLSON: By the way, Bush didn't flip. I wish he had flip flopped on the issue. But he just stood kind of neutrally and said I'm kind of for it, but he didn't...

(CROSSTALK) CARLSON: But he didn't do anything for it the way he did tax cuts, where he goes to the Hill and demands that the tax cuts be passed.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I'm out numbered, three to one at the moment on this issue, not surprisingly.

SHIELDS: That's the way you want to be, isn't it?

NOVAK: No, let me just say that the Second Amendment argument is not because you want to go out and your -- I don't know what you hunt moose with, but it is not that they want to go out and...

CARLSON: I'd like to hunt you with something.

NOVAK: Hunt me? But it is the foot in the door on the Second Amendment rights. These people on gun control think that a model is the District of Columbia, where you can't have any handguns in this city.

SHIELDS: Now, let me just say in the District of Columbia, there is now 226 members of the House, lead by the Republicans, who want to repeal all gun control laws in the District of Columbia. Of course, states rights doesn't matter, or local control.

But, you know, Karen Pentz (ph) had a wonderful letter to The Editor, of "The Washington Post" today, where she said, that is fine. Why don't you do that, but let's be real and strong about this members of Congress, why even have metal detectors up on Capital Hill? Everybody should be able to carried concealed...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: No! I mean, for goodness sakes, because you're supposed to be safer. That's the argument, you are safer when you pack heat.

NOVAK: As a matter of fact, the District of Columbia law, which doesn't make the District of Columbia safer, is probably a violation of the Constitution, because it violates the right to bear arms. It is a flat prohibition.

But that -- you kind of twisted off of that, Mark, as a flat -- that is what the gun control people want. They want the D.C. law nationwide, no handguns in any place in the country. I'll be you want that, too.

HUNT: Yes. I do.

NOVAK: See.

HUNT: Bob, did you ever carry a concealed weapon?

NOVAK: Just my mouth! (LAUGHTER)

SHIELDS: You don't do much of a job of concealing it, there, let me tell you.

Next, a CAPITAL GANG CLASSIC, debating gun control in the last presidential election.

ANNOUNCER: Here's your CAPITAL GANG trivia question of the week. In 1992, who did the National Rifle Association endorse for president? A, George Herbert Walker Bush; B, Bill Clinton, or C, Neither?

We'll have the answer, right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Before the break we asked, in 1992, who did the NRA endorse for president? The answer is, C, Neither, George Herbert Walker Bush or Bill Clinton.

SHIELDS: Welcome back. Five years ago, this week, a gunman killed seven people and then himself in a Forth Worth, Texas church. The massacre caused a debate over gun control between presidential frontrunners George W. Bush and Al Gore.

Your CAPITAL GANG discussed this on September 18, 1999. Our guest was Democratic Congressman Marty Meehan of Massachusetts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOVAK: The vice president reacts with a sort of a knee-jerk liberal thing, anytime some lunatic shoots it up, we have to get gun controls without questioning whether that would do it. Well, I thought that Governor Bush was impressive on talking about the evil in this society.

REP. MARTY MEEHAN (D) MASSACHUSETTS: Gun safety measures in this country have widespread support.

This is one instance where those members of Congress and those politicians that are the tools of the NRA are going to pay a heavy price.

CARLSON: It is evil with a gun, that's what it is. And gun laws work. And you have to support gun laws if you want to stop this.

KATE O'BEIRNE, NATIONAL REVIEW: There is not a single gun law either one of you has mentioned that would have stopped this particular killing. And I really think that gun control advocates risk alienating an awful lot of people when there seems a readiness to exploit tragedies like this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, do gun laws work? CARLSON: Yes. There are always going to be lunatics and crazy people, but aren't they better off without access, easy access to guns, especially assault weapons?

SHIELDS: Bob, the chiefs of police of all the major cities are for this.

NOVAK: Well, there are the union members are probably. Union leaders are for anything that the Democratic want. But I would say right now that Margaret, five years ago, said that the gun control laws work. They don't work. And Marty Meehan was wrong and said that supporters of the NRA would pay a heavy price. They didn't.

SHIELDS: Al, it is more than the NRA, isn't it? It is the gun lobby.

HUNT: Bob, police chiefs are management, not union, just wanted to tell you that.

And if gun laws didn't work, if they are so ineffective, I don't know why these people in the front lines would so universally for them. They do work. They're not perfect, but they do work.

SHIELDS: Last word, Al Hunt, and a good one it was, I might add.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, "Beyond the Beltway" looks at Putin's power grab with CNN's Jill Dougherty, who joins us from Moscow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. President Vladimir Putin strengthened his control over Russia with sweeping changes, including appointment of regional governors, who up until now, have been elected.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): The fight against terrorism demands a deeper shaping of our policies in the region. One of the main, most important issues, is the weakness of state executive powers.

VLADIMIR RYZHKOV, RUSSIAN PARLAIMENT MEMBER (through translator): I believe there is no more doubt that this is an authoritarian regime and that the harshness of this regime is intensifying.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHIELDS: President Bush expressed sympathy for the Beslan school massacre, but added this criticism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm also concerned about the decisions that are being made in Russia that could undermine democracy in Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Chechen separatists claim credit for the Beslan bloodbath as well as suicide bombings of two Russian passenger jets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AKHMED ZAKAYEV, CHECHEN SEPARATIST SPOKESMAN (through translator): If the world continues to ignore the Chechen problem, the responsibility for the ensuing Caucuses catastrophe will fall at the feet of Vladimir Putin and his Western apologists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Joining us now from Moscow, is CNN's Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty.

Thanks for coming in, Jill.

Jill, do the Russian people support Putin's power grab?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: You know, Mark, there is certainly concern across this country about terrorism. We've had three major terror attacks here in Russia, in just the past few weeks. So people want the government to do something.

And what people have been saying on the streets that we've been talking to, is we want protection from the government. So in that sense you might get some support from average people for the government and for Putin to do something.

But the other steps that he's taken this past week, the political things that he is proposing, that we're going to, I'm sure, get into, are of grave concern to a lot of people. And you've even heard the former president, Boris Yeltsin, speaking out a little bit indirectly.

But very direct comments coming from former Soviet President Gorbachev, saying that it was rash and could cause more harm than good.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: It seems to me, Jill, that the pressure that is coming from certain people in the United States is that there is some kind of autonomy for Chechnya, or even independence. There is no way, is there, that Putin or anybody else who is going to be ruling Russia to give up part of Russia, after what they saw happen with the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. They're not going to be interested in dismembering Russia, are they?

DOUGHERTY: Absolutely. In fact, President Putin has made that clear, abundantly clear, over years that there is no intention to give up Chechnya. And what he says is that's exactly what the terrorists and the people who are pushing the rebel movement want.

That they want to, as he would argue, they want to rip apart Russia; they want to take chunks of southern Russia away. He says that that would destroy the territorial integrity, and he is not going to go for it.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Jill, does President Putin take heart from that faint criticism that we just saw from President Bush of Putin? Having looked into his soul and having approved of what he saw, is he too faint with his criticism? That he identified too much with Putin and -- you know, with his own 9/11?

DOUGHERTY: You know, the 9/11 comparisons are certainly there. But I think, Margaret, what is really interesting that is happening now is that you are getting a real knee-jerk defensive reaction from the Russians. In fact, even the foreign minister and then other people below him have said, hey don't tell us what to do about democracy. We don't need these comments.

And then they make the comparison actually, directly to the U.S. election in which they say, there was one quote from a Kremlin -- a person who is very close to the Kremlin who is a political analyst, who said, the U.S. has an antiquated political system that allowed a man who got less in the popular vote to become the president of the United States.

So, they say, don't tell us what to do. We have our own style of democracy.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Jill, you look at what Putin has done over the last year or two. He has cracked down on the oligarchs, some of them may have been bad guys, but he has cracked down on any independent businessmen. He has cracked down on freedom of the press. And now he is cracking down on elections.

Without the Communist mantra, is this really a return to the thuggish rule of decades ago in Russia?

DOUGHERTY: You know, people would -- when you look at this, what President Putin seems to be doing is he believes that the country is in danger, the country is in danger from terrorism, and so his response is to tighten up and to pull all of this control into the hands of, as he calls it, the power vertical, the president, back in the Kremlin.

And that is what people are worried about, regardless of what his intentions may be, that he is concentrating so much power in the Kremlin that everything now is in his hands. And he is taking power away from the people. And that was what Gorbachev spoke about this very well.

That is what the democratic reforms -- so called -- of the early '90s were about, putting more power into the hands of people. And now it is being taken away. And that really is a concern. And some would argue here, that there is an increasingly authoritarian system in Russia. SHIELDS: But Jill, if you look at, from Putin's perspective, the statements from the Chechen terrorists, claiming credit -- actually congratulating themselves for the massacre of the school. I mean, if anything it strengthens his position, doesn't it, and weakens the position of his critics?

DOUGHERTY: Well, I'm not too sure that that would be correct. Because it is kind of the same debate that you get in the United States. Where do you -- how do you tighten up the government? How do you put controls over society in the face of terrorism? Do you begin to crush democracy as a response to terrorism?

And here, not so long ago, what 12 years ago or so, there was a very authoritarian regime. And what happens here is there is a return, very quickly, people still think in that mode. And so that is the danger, that the nascent democracy that they have here could be hurt by this rush to protect.

And it is true that President Putin genuinely thinks there is a danger to Russia right now from terrorism. And that this country could be pulled apart. There is no doubt about that.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Jill, the two people, former leaders, who have criticized Putin, Yeltsin and Gorbachev were not too high in popularity when they left. Who do you think, in your guess, being on the scene, would win a popularity contest in Russia now, Putin, Yeltsin or Gorbachev?

DOUGHERTY: Ha, there is no -- hands down, it is Putin. There is no question. I mean, you know, Yeltsin went out with like 2 percent ratings. Gorbachev is really a kind of in the political wilderness. But he does come out to express the opinion of, let's say, Western- style thinking people. But there is no question that across the political spectrum, people still do support Putin.

The danger, though, is that now, that everything is in his hands, he will be blamed for things when they go wrong.

SHIELDS: Jill Dougherty, you have been terrific and thank you for being with us. The CAPITAL GANG will be back with our "Outrages Of the Week".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Now, for the "Outrage of the Week". In a fundraising letter, South Dakota state Republican Party Chairman Randy Frederick (ph), hit a new personal and political low when he accused South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle of treason, by providing, quote, "comfort to America's enemies", close quote.

When exposed, Randy Frederick offered a lame excuse. Quote, "I'm not questioning his patriotism", end quote.

Unlike his Republican opponent John Thune, or hatchet man Frederick, or anyone in the Republican congressional leadership, Senator Tom Daschle served three years during the Vietnam war, in the United States military.

Does Daschle's opponent, John Thune, have the guts to condemn this smear?

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Marion Berry, the former mayor of Washington, D.C., has been disgraced, discredited, and imprisoned, but the voters still love him. On Tuesday they voted him into a city council seat, perhaps on the way to a fourth term as mayor. That is bad news for me, as a Washington voter, and taxpayer. The good news is that it kills any last hope for District of Columbia statehood, a bad idea in the first place.

D.C. voters showed, this week, they just aren't ready for self government.

SHEILDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Senate hearings revealed this week that the CIA is no more prepared to capture Osama bin Laden than it was prior to 9/11. Indeed, the CIA has fewer case officers dealing with Osama. And the unit is stretched so thin it relies on untrained, temporary employees rotating in and out. Human intelligence is pathetic. And al Qaeda chatter can't be translated because of a dearth of language experts.

The president is too busy justifying war with Iraq to notice that he's gotten Osama, neither dead, nor alive.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt.

HUNT: Many of you have not heard of Gordon Peterson, but for those of us in Washington he's been a must see for decades on local news. I've never known a smarter more insightful or fairer local television journalist. But WUSA here, is replacing him in 11 o'clock news, probably because some idiot consultant said he wasn't so good at happy talk or the, if it leads it bleeds credo, he just does good journalism.

That is happening too much in news all over the country, and why so many are looking for alternatives.

SHIELDS: Amen, Al.

And the CAPITAL GANG wants to wish a very happy birthday to the pride of Camphill, Pennsylvania, Jim Bresnehan (ph). Our CAPITAL GANG crack research staff knows no bounds and this week they located an item in Wednesday's "Washington Post" crossword puzzle, you may have missed.

The clue for 10 down in the puzzle was, quote, "political roundtable group", close quote, 11 letters.

The answer: CAPITAL GANG. This is Mark Shields saying good night for the CAPITAL GANG. Up next, "CNN Presents: Nuclear Terror."

And at 9 p.m. an encore interview with Macauley Culkin.

And at 10 p.m., the first look at Hurricane Ivan damage to the Pensacola Naval Air Station.

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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