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CNN CROSSFIRE

Dump DeLay?; Confirm Bolton?

Aired April 11, 2005 - 16:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE: on the left, Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, tough times for one of Congress' top leaders. A Republican member of the House says the ethics cloud around Tom DeLay is hurting the GOP.

REP. CHRIS SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: I'm not asking him to step down. You're asking me if I think he should. Yes, I think he should. That's just an honest answer to a question.

ANNOUNCER: Can the man some call "The Hammer" because of his tough tactics beat back the growing heat or will his own party decide he's too hot to handle?

And is it time for tough talk at the United Nations? The president's outspoken nominee for ambassador to the U.N. is on Capitol Hill for his confirmation hearings. John Bolton told senators that the world body demands decisive American leadership.

JOHN BOLTON, NOMINEE FOR U.S. U.N. AMBASSADOR: Sadly there have been times when the General Assembly has gone off-track.

ANNOUNCER: Should he be confirmed?

Today on CROSSFIRE. Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello and welcome to CROSSFIRE. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay may be feeling the heat. Members of his own party are questioning the impact of continuing ethics questions around Mr. Delay are having on the GOP. Will Republicans show that they are the party of reform by dumping their ethically challenged leader? Or is the only way to clean up Congress to elect Democrats without "DeLay."

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: This is the vast left wing conspiracy in action. Having tasted blood in blocking Bush judges, they are after Tom DeLay in an effort to unwind the 10-year-old Republican majority in Congress. At the same time the Democratic smear machine opened fire on the Bush nominee for the U.N.

We'll get into these issues right after the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." It's not just President Bush's judicial nominees who made Democrats gag, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today Democrats grilled the president's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Undersecretary of State John Bolton. Nobody questioned John Bolton's credentials or his integrity in a lifetime of public service. The Democrats object to what Bolton thinks. They believe that the U.N. is heaven on earth and Bolton does not.

Bolton is also in trouble because of a disagreement with the liberal career Foreign Service officer over germ warfare development in Cuba. Bolton's main antagonist is Senator Chris Dodd, long a leading apologist for Fidel Castro. Is all this really about Cuba?

BEGALA: No, it's about John Bolton's credibility. First off, Senator Dodd is no apologist for Fidel Castro. But more importantly, Mr. Bolton stands accused, he has a right to defend himself, stands accused of twisting and bending intelligence in order to suit his political agenda. This is a crime we know that the Bush administration -- a political crime, Bush administration is already guilty of which led us into the war in Iraq.

The most important thing we can have at the U.N. is credibility. And I don't know that Mr. Bolton has it.

NOVAK: Chris Dodd has been -- I wrote a column about this three years ago. Chris Dodd has been...

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: ... after John Bolton because he's tough on Castro.

BEGALA: Republican Congressman Chris Shays yesterday said that Majority Leader Tom DeLay ought to step down. And Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist at the heart of so many of the DeLay scandals, is quoted in today's edition of Newsweek saying of DeLay and his henchman, quote: "Those SOBs, DeLay knew everything," unquote.

So could it be just as DeLay is tottering that there's a new king of sleaze in the GOP? Slick Rick Santorum, the right wing senator from Pennsylvania piously says DeLay should put all of his ethical information out before the public. But Santorum himself is avoiding a public hearing on why he billed a Pennsylvania school district $100,000 for his children's elite private education in Virginia.

John Baer of The Philadelphia Daily News reports today that when Santorum was grandstanding before the cameras at Terri Schiavo's hospice, he was also raising $250,000 from special interests. Baer asked the question in his column, quote, "doesn't the culture of life outweigh the culture of cash?" Not for Rick Santorum.

NOVAK: You know, I have to congratulate you, Paul, because you are a master of the politics of personal destruction. Of course, we have Rick Santorum up for reelection this year. And you are after him.

BEGALA: My friend Bobby Casey is going to beat him, too. NOVAK: As for the idea of poor old DeLay, he is the guy who has caused a -- been instrumental in a 10-year majority in Congress for the Republicans. And that's what you can't tolerate.

BEGALA: We'll debate that one.

NOVAK: Long ago John Edwards posed as a moderate Democrat. Now he races to the left, trying to go even beyond Hillary Clinton. At that hotbed of basketball and liberalism, the University of North Carolina, former Senator Edwards said this, quote: "We saw the memo that went out to Republican leaders about how they could take political advantage of Terri Schiavo. That's disgusting. They will pay a price for this in the 2006 and 2008 elections," endquote.

First, the memo went to one Republican senator from an aide who has since been fired. Second, shame on John Edwards for trying to make capital out of judges slowly starving to death Ms. Schiavo. Has John Edwards gone wild?

BEGALA: Well, first of all, next Monday, if I can plug it, I'll be speaking at the University of North Carolina, that hotbed of basketball and liberalism. I love both basketball and liberalism. But I love John Edwards, and he's right. John Edwards is right, the Republicans did try to make political hay of this. By the way, to correct the record, the memo went to at least two senators that we know of, Mel Martinez of Florida and Tom Harkin of Iowa. Others haven't --

NOVAK: The other is a Democrat.

BEGALA: No others have 'fessed up yet.

NOVAK: But he said it was to Republican leaders, it didn't go to any (INAUDIBLE).

BEGALA: Well, it certainly went all around Capitol Hill.

NOVAK: No it didn't.

BEGALA: It was on the Web site here. But it said that Republicans wanted to make politics out of Terri Schiavo's suffering. They tried to --

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: -- and they failed. And I'm glad they failed.

Well at the heart of the Catholic Church's clergy abuse scandal, were not just the priests who raped children also the bishops who knew about the abuse and failed to stop it. Perhaps the worst of these moral monsters was Cardinal Bernard Law. Law reassigned Father John Geoghan from parish to parish even though Geoghan had been accused of child abuse. There's also evidence that under Cardinal Law there was a pattern of covering up allegations of abuse and shuffling child molesters from parish to parish. Today Law received one of the highest honors of the church, giving one of just nine eulogies for Pope John Paul II. For such a holy man to be eulogized by someone who abetted such evil is a tragedy and an outrage. Law is a disgrace to the Holy Mother Church. He ought to be cleaning bedpans for the poor in Haiti, not being honored in Rome.

NOVAK: I'm just Catholic convert, Paul, so I don't know that much, but I do know that I don't think Archbishop Law -- Cardinal Law, is a monster. I think he's a sinner, just as you and I are sinners. I think we have to have a little redemption. He has had his Archdiocese of Boston taken away from him. The reason he presided over this Mass was that he's been assigned to that church and they were having the Mass at that church.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: So I think a little forgiveness for a man who obviously has sinned, I think that's being a Christian.

BEGALA: I think taking the lord's name in vain is a sin. Abetting child molestation is a lot worse a sin, he should not have this honor. But we will just respectfully disagree.

Members of his own party are turning up the heat on House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Next we'll debate whether ethical controversies will finally nail "The Hammer."

And is John Bolton really the best person to represent the United States at the U.N.? We'll discuss that as well when CROSSFIRE returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Congressman Chris Shays is a liberal Republican, who has never been much for party loyalty, says Tom DeLay should resign as House majority leader. Shays is the first Republican to turn against DeLay as the Democrats accelerate their campaign against the most effective Republican in Congress.

Today in the CROSSFIRE, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn, and Barbara Comstock, former Justice Department spokeswoman.

BEGALA: Barbara, good to see you again, welcome back here as well. Mr. Novak just hurled his mightiest epithet at Congressman Chris Shays, a Republican. He called him a liberal. That may be, I don't know. But he is a man who cares about ethics. He's the author or the Shays-Meehan campaign ethics law. And here's what he said about his own party's leader. Let Congressman Shays speak for himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHAYS: He's been harmful to Congress. I think it's been harmful to the Republican conference, a conference that ran on the highest ethical standards. And I think it's also harmful for Republicans who are up for reelection. And I can't say it any better than that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

I can't either. Make my day and tell me you all won't have the good sense to dump this sleazebag and let my Democrats hang him around Republicans' neck like a dead chicken. Please, make my day.

BARBARA COMSTOCK, FMR. JUSTICE DEPT. SPOKESWOMAN: Paul, as Bob pointed out, Tom DeLay is one of the most effective leaders, which is why the Democrats have tried to make this a campaign issue. Now as you know from your friend Senator Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman, oftentimes people break in the party.

This is one person, this is not representative at all. The whole conference is very strongly behind Tom DeLay. And the fact is is that he has gone and answered these questions about these trips and the pattern here is there are other members and there are other staff who are on these trips. Congressman McDermott, a Democrat, was on one of these trips that has written about, and he explained, hey, these stories are interesting hindsight but we didn't know this at the time.

And that's what the story is here. And Tom DeLay has said he is happy to sit down and talk to the Ethics Committee and explain this. But the Democrats are trying to make it a partisan issue, keep this alive because Rahm Emanuel has said, this is what they're running on in 2006.

Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have gone up because they have no ideas. This is their only issue. And so you have an Ethics Committee -- they don't want anyone in the Ethics Committee to address it because you will lose your entire campaign plans and all your George Soros money.

BEGALA: Let me ask you. Why? You are part of a great and storied political, the party of Abraham Lincoln. Why would you want to be led by a sleaze like Tom DeLay, when the guy right behind him, Roy Blunt, just as conservative, but a highly ethical man, a man of integrity. Why --

COMSTOCK: -- this name-calling and the facts are, this is --

BEGALA: I'm just curious. What is it in the conservative mindset that seeks out a sleaze?

COMSTOCK: Let's talk about facts, Tom DeLay was attacked for employing his family in his PAC. This is something that Jesse Jackson Jr. does. I mean, if Democrats don't want to do this, and they don't want to do -- go on private trips, what's not to lie (ph) on that?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I really have to respond on this. But go ahead, you can fire your --

COMSTOCK: Jesse Jackson's Jr.'s wife works as his campaign manager.

FENN: Barbara, $500,000 he has paid his wife and his only daughter over four years, that's a lot of bananas here.

COMSTOCK: Do you have a client that pays you $4,000 a month on a campaign? True? Have you ever gotten that purse, I know you have.

FENN: But not my wife, my wife doesn't pay me.

COMSTOCK: You have never worked for less than --

(CROSSTALK)

COMSTOCK: You know you haven't, Peter.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: OK, OK. I'll take your question. I'll take your question now, and come back.

NOVAK: Let's take a look at what Congressman Shays went on to say. Let's listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHAYS: I'm not asking him to step down. You're asking me if I think he should but I'm not arguing and demanding that he step down. He's still the leader. But if I think -- but that's what I think. I think he should step down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Now, and that's what I call a back down. You guys have been waiting for some Republican to say, OK, he's got to go. That was pretty weak, wasn't it?

FENN: Listen, I'll tell you, it takes something to stand up to "The Hammer." But you know who you stood up to him, as you know, was your beloved Wall Street Journal, they stood up to him and they hammered him for being --

NOVAK: They a member of Congress?

(LAUGHTER)

FENN: No, but they -- I don't really usually agree with them, but I did this time. Look, here's a guy three times reprimanded by the ethics committee, three times. He forced out the Republican chair of the Ethics Committee. Let me just finish this.

NOVAK: Wait, wait, no, no, no, no, no, no. We've got -- now what we do is --

FENN: It's just a long litany here of this --

NOVAK: We have accuracy. He was not reprimanded by them.

FENN: What do you call it, he's admonished. Excuse me, excuse me, admonished, admonished, I'll take that. I'll take that. I'll take that.

COMSTOCK: And they decided not to open an investigation. They didn't open an investigation.

FENN: But then he goes with his -- with Abramoff to a golf trip. They spend $70,000 up at St. Andrews. They take money from -- and now Abramoff says that he knew that this money came from lobbyists, which is against the law.

NOVAK: Peter, let me give you a practical question about practical politics. All this stuff is very old, old stuff. Just a minute. All this stuff is very old. Everybody knew about it. The reason this attack is on is that he redistricted Texas and as a result the Republicans, instead of losing seats in the last election, they gained seats. And this is a payback against Tom DeLay.

FENN: I think it was an outrage what did he in Texas.

NOVAK: Thank you.

FENN: I think it was an outrage when went to the Federal Aviation Administration and tried to get the federal government to intervene to go after those legislators. This is a guy who will stand at nothing. And we talk about what he's done for the country, record deficits and a war in Iraq that will not end. Boy, that kind of leadership we really need in this country.

NOVAK: We are going to have to take a break. Just ahead, Democrats also are unleashing their attack machine against another of President Bush's nominees. We'll debate the president's choice to represent the U.S. at the U.N. right after this.

And there were some tense moments outside the U.S. Capitol this afternoon. Wolf Blitzer has the latest on what happened right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hours, President Bush and Israel's Prime Minister Sharon meet in Texas and discuss Jewish settlements on the West Bank. We will go live to Crawford. Security scare right here in Washington at the U.S. Capitol. A man with a pair of suitcases is tackled and dragged away. We'll have the latest.

And why winning this year's Masters Tournament as a bittersweet experience for Tiger Woods. All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The man President Bush wants to represent you at the United Nations took the hot seat today in front of a Senate committee. John Bolton has made some pretty harsh comments about the United Nations in the past and that has more than a few people in the diplomatic community and a couple of senators questioning his nomination to be ambassador to the U.N. Still on the CROSSFIRE to discuss this, former Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock, and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.

NOVAK: Peter Fenn, I think one thing you and I can both agree on is that Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, senator, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is a guy with great integrity. Let's see what he says about John Bolton as a nominee. Let's just hear what he said at the hearing today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R-IN), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS CMTE.: Secretary Rice believes strongly that reform should occur. And they have nominated John Bolton to be the instrument of reform. It is their strong choice. They have made that very clear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: That was yesterday on Wolf Blitzer's show. Do you disagree with any of that?

FENN: I do disagree with his statement. I agree with you that he is a man of tremendous integrity and very, very great chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. But I'll tell you, nominating somebody like John Bolton to this post is a terrible mistake. This is like choosing a lead are in the Ku Klux Klan to be head of the NAACP. I mean, this is taking someone who has criticized -- he has said, well -- look, here he is. "The U.S. isn't legally obligated to pay the United Nations."

I mean, I read this stuff. "If the U.N. Secretariat building lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

NOVAK: Do you know what Pat Moynihan thought of the U.N.? He was the ambassador there.

FENN: Absolutely. In the '80s he was critical of the United Nations because you had a veto by the Soviet Union back then. Times have changed. He wrote this article in 1997, Bob.

BEGALA: Yes, Barbara, let me ask you about that comment that Peter made. In defense of Mr. Bolton, he talked about destroying 10 stories of that building before 9/11. It was 1994, but still isn't that -- it's a little harsh to have that sort of rhetoric of destruction. That's not -- just do me a favor, tell me one positive thing Bolton has ever said about the U.N.?

COMSTOCK: Paul, the Democrats really don't get it.

BEGALA: Just one.

COMSTOCK: Here you are, weak on --

BEGALA: Please, one?

COMSTOCK: Weak on foreign policy, and you decide to be the cheerleaders for the U.N. What Bolton has said is we --

BEGALA: I just don't want to blow up 10 stories of a building, I think that's...

COMSTOCK: He has made very valid criticisms of the U.N. that have been vindicated by the Oil-for-Food scandal and the --

BEGALA: I can show you whole speeches that George W. Bush has given praising the U.N. I mean, the U.N. is not evil, not even in President Bush's eyes.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I don't think Paul has ever heard of a metaphor. What do you say?

BEGALA: It's a metaphor of destruction.

NOVAK: He agreed today that --

COMSTOCK: He is somebody that understands reform.

NOVAK: If there wasn't a U.N., you would have to invent something like it. He said that today.

BEGALA: That's it?

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Well, he's trying to get the job. Today, he's sucking up today. But I mean, in the last 20 years of public life --

COMSTOCK: He has also been an advocate for reform --

BEGALA: No, for destruction.

COMSTOCK: No, for reform of the U.N., which I think everybody, after we have seen all this Oil-for-Food scandal, is that is exactly what we need. We don't want to have one of these Democrats who go in there and want to sing "Kumbaya" with everybody when...

BEGALA: You mean like Pat Moynihan?

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: If you watched the hearings today, what the hearing was about was Chris Dodd, Senator Dodd was very upset that John Bolton is tough on Fidel Castro. Is that where the Democrats are now, defending Fidel Castro?

FENN: I think the big problem was that he didn't have the intelligence that he thought he had on Fidel Castro by Castro creating all kinds of weapons of mass destruction. More weapons of mass destruction coming from Cuba, excuse me. You know, the other issue --

NOVAK: I think we're out of time.

FENN: Out of time.

NOVAK: Thank you, Peter Fenn.

FENN: Thank you.

NOVAK: Barbara Comstock, thank you.

COMSTOCK: Cuba --

NOVAK: President Bush likes to take his music with him when he's working out. Next find out what is at the top of W's play list?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING: "MY SHARONA")

BEGALA: Well, that, of course, was "My Sharona" by the Knack, one of the truly worst songs in the history of modern music, I might add, one of the dirtiest as well. It is also one of the more surprising selections on our president's iPod. We've looked at the presidential play list before, letting you know some of the songs on President Bush's mini music player. There's an updated list of songs in today's New York Times, some of them chosen by Bush campaign media strategist and my old college buddy, Mark McKinnon.

It includes classic rock with Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell. Alan Jackson and the great George Jones, representing country music. And this one --

(MUSIC PLAYING: "CENTERFIELD")

BEGALA: John Fogerty's "Centerfield" is on the president's iPod, fitting a former baseball team owner. But The Times notes my Fogerty's song "Fortunate Son" is not on the presidential iPod. It's a song about a politician's kid who avoids service in Vietnam.

NOVAK: I was so disappointed. I thought you were going to talk all that time about George W. Bush, and for the first time in five years not attack him. But you didn't disappoint me. You can't mention his name without being nasty about our president.

BEGALA: I bet you they were listening to that son "Fortunate Son" at the beer joints at the Alabama National Guard. Don't you think, guys? That was probably a big hit. He probably heard that song a lot.

From the left I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: On the right I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

END

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