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CNN ELECTION CENTER
Scott McClellan Blasts Bush Administration; Interview with Former White House Counselor Dan Bartlett; Fight for Florida's Delegation Continues; Two Commuter Trains Collide in Boston
Aired May 28, 2008 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, everybody.
For the White House tonight, massive damage control. And it is all because of this, the new book by President Bush's former spokesman Scott McClellan. It is called "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception."
Details from the book began leaking out yesterday. And from that moment, current and former administration officials have waged a ferocious assault on McClellan's credibility and truthfulness.
We're going to hear from some of them tonight and from the reporters who often sparred with McClellan during his daily White House briefings. This question, was he telling the truth now or is he telling it now? Because his stories don't match.
Also tonight, the Democrats finally getting ready to decide on delegates from Florida and Michigan. And this is a huge decision, folks. We're going to see what it could mean for Hillary Clinton's last-ditch attempt to catch Barack Obama. Also, tonight, could Obama be considering a pre-election trip to Iraq? Did he take McCain's bait?
We're going to look into that as well.
But we do start tonight with the White House. It's as if the administration has unleashed snarling attack dogs on former Press Secretary Scott McClellan. His book is already the number-one seller on Amazon.com. And with passages like this, it is no wonder.
On the Iraq war, McClellan writes that President Bush was not open and forthright, that he relied on propaganda, and veered terribly off course. He also hits the press corps for going too easy on the White House before the war started.
McClellan says, after Hurricane Katrina, the White House -- quoting again -- "spent most of the first week in a state of denial." And he admits some of the things he told reporters were in his words "badly misguided."
McClellan's book tour officially begins tomorrow. So, the president's men and women are hitting him from all sides today, trying to shred his credibility.
John Roberts of CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" is here with us now. And he covered the White House while McClellan was press secretary. John and I were there together while Ari Fleischer was press secretary. And then Scott came in and took over.
And for as many years as you sat there on the front row pummelling him with questions, as you often did, now -- we heard him spin. We heard him spin on the war. We heard him spin on a million different subjects. And now he's calling it propaganda.
JOHN ROBERTS, CO-HOST, "AMERICAN MORNING": Now we're learning the spin was just spin, right?
BROWN: I'm disappointed, John.
ROBERTS: Shocking, isn't it?
BROWN: Well, no. You knew Scott. So, is it surprising to you?
ROBERTS: Is it surprising to me that he's saying the things that he is? It's not surprising to me that he's saying the things that he's saying about the Valerie Plame leak investigation.
ROBERTS: I sat down and I talked with him in 2005, when it first became apparent that what he had told us in October of 2003, that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were not involved, was in fact not true.
He really didn't display any outward emotion at that time. But I could see it in his eyes, that he was fuming. He felt betrayed. He felt like he had been hung out to dry by the White House. And I would talk to him about it, and he was kind of circumspect about the whole thing.
But he did tell me at that time, he said, I will talk about at the appropriate time. Now's not the appropriate time.
So, I could really tell that something was bubbling inside him. I didn't know that it was going to go to the extent that it did, because all those times that he stood up in front of us, defending the Iraq war from the podium, we never had any inkling that he was in a disagreement with the White House. So, for White House insiders to be somewhat surprised that he had never expressed these opinions before I think is legitimate.
BROWN: Current White House officials, former White House officials, they are coming after him hard. And as we mentioned, we're going to hear from a couple of them shortly. But I want to play for you a little bit of what Karl Rove had to say. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARL ROVE, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH: This doesn't sound like Scott. It really doesn't, not the Scott McClellan I have known for a long time.
Second of all -- it sounds like somebody else. It sounds like a left-wing blogger. Second of all, you're right. If he had these moral qualms, he should have spoken up about them. And, frankly, I don't remember him speaking up about him. I don't remember a single word.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: It has been two years since he left the White House. I mean...
ROBERTS: He's been working on this book for almost that entire time, too.
BROWN: I know. But he's had so many opportunities to come forward...
ROBERTS: Well, he was trying to sell a book.
BROWN: ... both when he was there -- is that the bottom line here?
ROBERTS: I think he's been holding this back. Remember, there was an excerpt that was released last November or December.
ROBERTS: It was one of those advanced squibs.
BROWN: And it created a little buzz.
ROBERTS: Yes, it created a little bit of buzz talking about the president and the Plame leak investigation.
But he doesn't want to give away the story before the book comes out, because he wants to try to sell as many books as possible. I mentioned this in my blog. When you take a look at the White House response to all of this, in the past, I said that they have flensed their opponents, their turncoats, with the skill of a New England whaleman.
And they really have. Look at what happened to Paul O'Neill. Look at what happened to Richard Clarke. They tried to completely destroy their credibility. The difference here is Scott McClellan is talking about things from the inside that are well held to be true now by most of the American public, that the Iraq war was a mistake. The majority of the American public think it was a mistake.
Everybody knows that Scooter Libby was convicted of perjury. So, Scott McClellan is just reinforcing those things. So for them to come forward and say things like not the Scott McClellan I know, sounds like a left-wing blogger, they're not really attacking the substance of what he's saying. They're attacking the messenger. And I don't necessarily know that it's going to stick this time.
BROWN: All right, John Roberts for us -- John, stay with us.
(AUDIO GAP) standing by President Bush are not mincing any words, with some pretty angry reaction.
Former counselor to the president Dan Bartlett was Scott McClellan's boss as White House communications director. And he joins me right now from Austin, Texas.
Dan, welcome to you.
DAN BARTLETT, FORMER COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Good evening, Campbell.
BROWN: I know that you have known Scott McClellan a very long time. So what do you make of all this?
BARTLETT: Well, it's kind of hard to make heads or tails of it, because, as we read the passages in the book and really get the real totality of what he is claiming in this book, it's really puzzling for some of us who worked with him for so long because he never shared any of these views with any of us, in private moments, in professional moments. And we spent a lot of time together.
So you can imagine how much of a shock this comes to many of us who spent so much time with Scott personally.
BROWN: And I don't have to tell you, there's some pretty strong stuff here in terms of what he's written. One thing, McClellan is claiming the president used propaganda to sell the war in Iraq to the American people.
And Scott spent years defending this war, defending the president. So shouldn't we be taking his claims very seriously?
BARTLETT: Well, I think that people ought to listen to him. But I think when you read the book -- and one of the concerns I have about the book is that there's not a lot of evidence behind this so-called propaganda assertion that he makes.
And, in fact, Scott in his position at the time of deputy press secretary handling domestic affairs was not involved in a lot of the deliberations about whether the president was going to make the decision to using force in Iraq, for example.
But, at the same time, he was a part of the communications operation. And if he saw people at that time who were dropping caveats and making assertions with bad intelligence, all the things that he now alleges in the book, you would have thought at the time he would have raised these concerns, and he never did.
BROWN: But let me go to your first point. Shouldn't the fact that if he wasn't part of the decision-making process, if he wasn't in the room when some of these key decisions were being made on a lot of this stuff, shouldn't that in and out of itself be a little bit troubling to the American people, that the guy who speaks to the American people on behalf of the president is out of the loop? That's what you're saying.
BARTLETT: No, that's not what I'm saying, Campbell, is because when those deliberations, particularly with regards to the war in Iraq, he was a deputy press secretary with responsibilities over domestic issues.
He only became press secretary, where he became the chief spokesman on issues such as the war, until much later. And if he had the type of misgivings we're now hearing about in the book, why would he have taken that job in the first place? Why would he walk up on -- behind that podium every day and repeat the claims that he now says he has great misdoubts about? That's the part that we're all puzzled a .
BROWN: So, well, why do you think it is?
BARTLETT: I don't know.
BROWN: Why do you think he made this stuff up? Well, what do you think his motivations could be?
BARTLETT: I don't know.
He alludes a little bit in the book to his disgruntlement about the whole leak investigation, which we can understand. It was a very difficult time for a lot of people, most importantly Scott, because he was the person who was having to go out there every day and talk about the leak investigation.
There's the issues with his departure that he talks about in the book. I can only say -- surmise from that, that there was issues in which he wasn't pleased with his departure. I don't know about his book contract. A lot of people are going to raise questions, and those are things that Scott himself is going to have to answer.
BROWN: Let me talk about one of the issues that he referenced you relating to Hurricane Katrina. He was in charge of all of the press dealings at this point. And he says in the book that you were opposed to this now infamous Bush flyover of New Orleans, but that Karl Rove wanted it to happen.
Is he lying about that?
BARTLETT: Well, I'm not going to go into a point-by-point rebuttal of internal deliberations. And Scott has every right to do that.
But, at the same time, I will say that with, regards to Katrina, we have been the first to say -- and the president did in an address to the nation -- that there was not an adequate response to Katrina at all levels of government. And he took responsibility for that. And there are going to be times during internal deliberations about decisions that were made during a very difficult time in which there's going to be disagreements. But, at the end of the day, when you're given the position that Scott McClellan was given, and you're given that responsibility that only a president of the United States can give you, and you decide now after the fact to write it all in a book and make some of these damning allegations, when, in fact, persistently throughout the time that he was there, he wasn't raising these very concerns, is very troubling, Campbell.
And I think that's the point where it is going to make people pause before they accept everything that he's writing in this book.
BROWN: So, did you have any inkling that he was this upset? We know this book has been in the works for a while.
BROWN: You knew it was coming. The president knew it was coming. Hasn't he talked to any of you guys, to any of his former colleagues since he left the White House?
BARTLETT: He has. And I had lunch with him before I left Washington, before I moved my family back to Texas from Washington last fall.
And there was no indication at that time. We talked about our families, talked about what we were up to, but no indication that this is how he felt, that these were -- or that this was the type of book he was writing.
BROWN: Dana Perino called him disgruntled this morning. Do you think, bottom line, that this is all him just being angry that he was forced out?
BARTLETT: That could easily be part of his decision-making process.
This is going to be a question that only Scott can answer. I can only tell you that those who are closest to him, those who had worked with him side by side for a long time are very disappointed, because this is not the Scott we knew from when -- the many years of service in government. And it will be up to Scott to explain why he's decided to choose this type of forum, in a book, the very thing that, you know, politics and Washington, which he's apparently has a real message in his book about why it's gone awry in Washington, these types of books, I don't think, contribute to the process.
I think it makes people more cynical about Washington, D.C.
BROWN: All right, former counselor to the president Dan Bartlett for us tonight -- Dan, thanks.
BARTLETT: Thanks, Campbell.
BROWN: And stick around. We're going to take a look at some of the most damning claims in McClellan's new book.
Check out what he said about the Iraq war in 2003.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was the right decision to confront what was a grave and growing threat in the form of Saddam Hussein and his regime. It was based on solid and compelling evidence. And America is safer for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Now, that was Scott McClellan then, 2003 -- what he's saying now when we come back.
BROWN: In his new book, "What Happened," former White House spokesman makes some very serious and shocking accusations about what was happening behind the scenes at the White House.
And they stand in stark contrast to what he and other top officials were telling all of us during some crucial points in the Bush administration. We're going to look at three of them, the start of the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina, and the CIA leak scandal.
What McClellan's saying now is vastly different from what he said then.
BROWN (voice-over): Who do we believe, Scott McClellan the press secretary or Scott McClellan the writer? Because they're saying two very different things.
On the biggest issues to confront the administration, what McClellan writes in his new book, "What Happened," contradicts what he himself told reporters from the podium. On the Iraq war, this was McClellan on July 17, 2003.
MCCLELLAN: You bet the president is responsible for the decisions he makes to protect the American people. And it was the right decision to confront what was a grave and growing threat in the form of Saddam Hussein and his regime. It was based on solid compelling evidence. And America is safer for it. So, the responsibility for the decision...
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) policy I'm saying on this issue...
MCCLELLAN: No, I know, but let's get to the issue here. You have...
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) responsibility for misleading the American people.
MCCLELLAN: Well, I totally disagree with that statement. But the bottom line is that America is safer, the world is safer because of the action we took. Saddam Hussein is gone. He is no more. He cannot use his weapons of mass destruction.
BROWN: This is McClellan today: "What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary."
On Hurricane Katrina, this was McClellan on September 1, 2005. Asked whether the White House was sufficiently concerned about the situation on the ground, he seems to pass the buck to FEMA.
QUESTION: You're deflecting all specifics to the FEMA briefing.
MCCLELLAN: No, I'm not. I have given you some updates. But they are the ones who are in charge of operational aspects on the ground. And Department of Homeland Security is in charge of the operational aspects from Washington, D.C. And they're pulling together officials that will have the most updated information to you. So, I -- your characterization is just wrong, Jessica.
BROWN: But now he writes that, in fact, "Many within the White House were in denial about the administration's responsibility for Katrina. When you're president, the buck stops with you, a lesson George W. Bush still hadn't fully absorbed."
And, on the CIA leak scandal, the matter of whether the president's political guru, Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney's top aide, Scooter Libby, leaked classified information about Valerie Plame, well, McClellan's response couldn't have been more firm October 10, 2003.
QUESTION: I wonder if you could tell us more specifically whether any of them told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.
MCCLELLAN: Those individuals -- I talked to -- I spoke with those individuals, as I pointed out. And those individuals assured me they were not involved in this. And that is where it stands. They assured me that they were not involved in this.
BROWN: Today, McClellan claims he was tricked. "I had unknowingly passed along false information. The top White House officials who knew the truth, including Rove, Libby, and possibly Vice President Cheney, allowed me, even encouraged me, to repeat a lie."
So, who do we believe, Scott McClellan now or Scott McClellan then? Because they are saying two very different things.
BROWN: The relationship between White House reporters and the president's press secretary can get pretty chilly sometimes. I do know this firsthand. I was a White House correspondent during the time that Scott McClellan was the deputy press secretary under his immediate predecessor, Ari Fleischer.
Well, he's joining us now.
We're all friends now, right, Ari?
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Never between us, Campbell.
BROWN: Ari is now a Republican analyst. And he's joining me tonight from Stamford, Connecticut.
In Washington, we have got CNN political analyst Gloria Borger.
CNN's Jessica Yellin is joining me from Puerto Rico, where she's covering the upcoming Democratic primary. And she was also a White House correspondent. And "AMERICAN MORNING" anchor John Roberts is here as well.
Both John and Jessica, we should mention, covered the White House when Scott McClellan was press secretary.
Welcome to everybody.
And, John, I'm going to start with you, because I have got some tape. I want to listen first to an exchange that you had with Scott regarding the Scooter Libby and Karl Rove involvement in the Valerie Plame leak. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: If I could point out, contradictory to that statement, on September 29, 2003, while the investigation was ongoing, you clearly commented on it.
You were the first one who said, if anybody from the White House was involved, they would be fired. And then on June 10 of 2004, at Sea Island Plantation, in the midst of this investigation is when the President made his comment that, yes, he would fire anybody from the White House who was involved.
So, why have you commented on this during the process of the investigation in the past, but now you've suddenly drawn a curtain around it under the statement of, "We're not going to comment on an ongoing investigation"?
MCCLELLAN: Again, John, I appreciate the question. I know you want to get to the bottom of this. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. And I think the way to be most helpful is to not get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So, John, now he comes out and basically says he was misled by those top people in the White House. How frustrating is it for you? (CROSSTALK)
ROBERTS: I knew that he was misled back in 2005. The substance of that exchange there was Scott was saying, I'm not going to comment on an ongoing investigation. I pointed out to him that he had commented on it twice before while it was ongoing. And in the book he says I was, in fact, correct, that he had. At the time, we were trying to get to the bottom of what was going on. And Karl Rove and Scooter Libby's involvement was well-suspected in the Plame leak investigation. He continued to give us the line that, no, they weren't involved.
And when he came out there in October of 2003, he said, "I talked to them, they say they weren't involved," we kind of took him on faith.
BROWN: You believed him?
ROBERTS: I gave him the benefit of the doubt, not necessarily that I believed him. I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
So, when we found out a couple of years later that, in fact, he had given us false information, we kind of really laid it on him to say, well, why were you lying to us? Well, I wasn't lying. I had bad information.
And I do believe he was given bad information. I said before, he was given water to carry. The water was foul. And I think that he more than anybody feels burned by what happened. And I think that was the trigger for writing this whole book.
BROWN: Gloria, we're hearing a lot of he said/he said tonight, once story from the White House, something totally different from McClellan now.
Who has got the advantage here in terms of the court of public opinion? How damaging do you think this book is going to be?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think, in the sense that Scott McClellan now agrees with the majority of the American public, which remains opposed to the war that in the court of public opinion, people are going to look at Scott McClellan and say, gee, maybe now he's telling the truth or maybe now he's full of remorse for his role.
But this a powerful group of people to go up against. They're clearly circling and they're saying, look, this is a fellow who was replaced as White House press secretary. He's angry that he was hung out to dry, as John Roberts pointed out, on the CIA leak investigation.
And, you know, this is a group that really doesn't like anyone who is disloyal. And I would presume, although I don't know, that the president is probably pretty upset about this.
BROWN: Do you agree with that, Ari? FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's so much deeper than that. It's not personal, but Scott said that the president used propaganda and that the president in his words manipulated facts to launch an unjust war.
These are substantive issues, and I think we all have a very good right to disagree with Scott on those points. It's not a personal issue involving Scott here. This is, Scott has said things that really don't sound like Scott, frankly, and, two, that I believe are just 100 percent wrong on the substance.
BROWN: You're disagreeing.
ROBERTS: Well, no, no, just that everybody -- everybody from the White House who was associated with the White House, Ari, says this doesn't sound like Scott.
ROBERTS: What did Scott sound like?
FLEISCHER: Well, John and Campbell, you know how Scott sounds, too. I don't think you ever heard the word -- Scott, even when he was talking about people he opposed, use the words manipulative.
Scott is a soft-spoken person. Scott isn't right, direct and harsh to the point like that. It doesn't sound like anything I have ever heard Scott say in private or in public when he took the podium.
BROWN: So, come on, Ari, though. Well, what do you think has happened here? What do you honestly think is going on? You're making it sound like some other being inhabited his body.
FLEISCHER: Well, Campbell, I talked to Scott yesterday. And I asked Scott if he had a ghostwriter. And he said, no, and then he added, but his editor did, in Scott's word, tweak a lot of the words, particularly as the book came much closer to publication deadlines this spring. Now, Scott has got his name on it. And he has stand by it.
BROWN: Come on, Ari.
FLEISCHER: But, Campbell, you know that book doesn't sound like Scott in those passages. You know that. And a lot of the White House reporters I have spoken to today have echoed that.
They say it doesn't sound like him. Now, his name is on it. And I think we will all be interested tomorrow to see how Scott says it.
BROWN: All right, guys, hang on. Gloria, hold that thought. We're going to come back.
And I will get to you, Jessica, too, I know. We want to expand this conversation beyond Scott McClellan and ask why other one-time administration insiders have already written or cooperated with some pretty scathing books. Do-gooders or sour grapes or otherworldly beings inhabiting the bodies of those authors? We're going to have details. And independent viewers can decide for themselves -- coming up in just a moment.
BROWN: The list of embarrassing tell-all books by or about one- time top officials in the Bush administration keeps growing now, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, former national security counterterrorism chief Richard Clark, former CIA Director George Tenet, and now former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.
In one way or another, they all are portraying the Bush White House as obsessed with politics over most everything else to the point of being dysfunctional.
We're going to talk to our panel about this right now. With me again, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, along with CNN's Gloria Borger, Jessica Yellin and John Roberts.
I'm going to come back to you, Ari, on that point.
But I want to start with Jessica, because we ran out of time a moment ago.
And, Jessica, I joint wanted to get your take on this. Again, you were in the front row of that White House Briefing Room, too. You're no stranger to the McClellan stonewall. So, I do want to listen here to you trying to get an answer out of him about Vice President Cheney's infamous hunting debacle. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCLELLAN: Jessica, keeping with the practice of at least two or three reporters from each news organization today.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You've repeatedly said that the Vice President's Office will share this information with us. Will you tell us -- will you now ask them to share this information with us, because they're not.
MCCLELLAN: Share what information?
YELLIN: Details of what happened during the shooting and more information about --
MCCLELLAN: Well, Mrs. Armstrong provided that information. She was the eyewitness to what took place.
QUESTION: Can we get someone from his office in here to answer --
YELLIN: Why can't we get someone from his office to answer some questions?
QUESTION: Or get him?
MCCLELLAN: Well, talk to his office. I think they have provided a response to questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And just to remind everyone, Jessica, what was being discussed there is that Vice President Cheney had accidentally shot a good friend of his while out on a hunting trip.
But your experience there -- McClellan in this book is accusing the press of not doing its job. But he was hardly the most forthcoming person in the world, was he?
YELLIN: It was stupefying sometimes, Campbell, frankly.
He would say things like, the vice president of the United States has shot a man. We don't know the status of his health. Was this man gravely ill? Could the vice president possibly be charged with a crime? We didn't know any of these things. He would defer us to the vice president's office. He would kick us over to some private citizen in Texas.
The White House wasn't giving us any answers. This was upsetting in the vice president's instance, but tragic in the instance of Katrina, when we had more information in the news organization than seemingly the White House did on what was going on, on the ground.
We would ask Scott about it. Do you know about this? And he would accuse us over being overly dramatic, and then send us over to FEMA. Sometimes, it became really frustrating. At other times, it just seemed, frankly, irresponsible.
And Scott was a nice man. He did his job. He was very thorough. He responded to our calls, but his evasiveness was really upsetting sometimes. And for him to point the finger only at the press is a little disappointing.
BROWN: He says in the book, "The liberal media didn't live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served."
John and Ari, I want to get both of your takes on this.
ROBERTS: Yes. I think, with the benefit of hindsight, I think we could have done a better job in the run-up to the Iraq war.
Ari, I think I should have leaned on you a lot more than I did. But, at that time, I guess we were caught up in the post-9/11 sense of patriotism. The White House was also pretty adept at branding anybody who questioned what you all were doing as being unpatriotic. And there was no way to verify what you were saying, because nobody had any access to Iraq. But I think we should have done a better job of holding your feet to the fire. BROWN: Ari?
FLEISCHER: I think there's huge revisionism going on there.
I remember repeatedly getting asked to prove that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Where exactly are they? If you look at the whole run-up to the war, from pretty much October of 2002 to March of 2003, it was a repeated question. And the press bore in very hard on it. That was way after September 11, John.
And I think what happened was, everybody accepted as fact, because the previous administration said it, the previous CIA said it, and our CIA with the same CIA director, George Tenet, that Bill Clinton had, said, Saddam had it. It was an accepted fact.
The press still, I thought, asked the hardest, right questions. I think the press now is doing a little revisionism on whether they were too soft, and Scott's going to aid that cause now.
BORGER: Well, Campbell...
BROWN: Go ahead.
BORGER: ... I think that you saw in all of these tapes that the press was asking those tough questions.
BORGER: But when it comes to Scott McClellan, the question is how is he answering them? And I think if you read his book, it's kind of a mea culpa, which is essentially I was spewing out the propaganda.
And I think this is something that if you read this book and I know Ari has a hard time with it because he's a good friend of his, but it seems to me to be somebody who seems to really be full of remorse about what he did in his White House years.
FLEISCHER: Gloria is right about that.
BROWN: Ari, yes.
Ari, let me just ask you one thing because we saw that list of former Bush officials with less than fond memories of their time in the administration.
BROWN: The saddest part of it too, and they all -- all of these books are on various subjects, but they all make a central point, which is in one way or another, portraying the Bush White House as obsessed with politics over most everything else to the point of dysfunction.
FLEISCHER: Well, they also make the point, three of those authors, that they didn't get their way. That the things that they espoused, and they fought and everybody knew they had a different point of view on a variety of issues, particularly Paul O'Neill. And they let it be known that they disagreed.
So it wasn't a surprise when they wrote their books and George Tenet's book actually was praised worthy of President Bush. It was very critical of Donald Rumsfeld and several others in the administration.
I think that's part and parcel the background noise of every administration. Scott's is different though, because Scott never let it be known that he had any qualms or difficulties or problems. I suspect future administrations are going to have people who fight on the inside and leave and write books.
I don't know how many people are going to have somebody like Scott who always seemed to agree with you, took the podium and said those very things you showed, and years later writes a different kind of book.
BROWN: All right, guys. We've got to end it there.
But Ari, Gloria, Jessica and John, thanks to everybody.
We'll be right back. Everybody stay with us.
BROWN: President Bush spoke today at the Air Force Academy's graduation ceremonies. The president usually gives two or three commencement speeches a year, and one is always at a military academy. After all, it's pretty good P.R. and that's a stagecraft production we couldn't refuse.
CNN's Tom Foreman is in Washington with the details -- Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, when you have some of the lowest approval ratings of any president ever, your stagecraft gets really simple. Rally the troops and surround yourself with friendly forces. That's why the president rolled into the Air Force Academy in Colorado for graduation, and it was just one money shot after another.
His support among military people is intense and higher than it is in the general population. And so, he was surrounded by smiling graduates eager to serve their country and share the stage with their commander in chief -- Campbell.
BROWN: And, Tom, a lot of White House watchers have commented on this president's sense of humor, and that was pretty apparent today, I understand.
FOREMAN: This was the perfect event for him to show off his relaxed side. Look at this.
Here he is doing the muscle man with one of the cadets out there, and he kept all sorts of bits like this. With another one, he was blowing kisses to the crowd, having a great time with that. Then he even did the chest bump for crying out loud. Look at this, jumping up in the air, the commander in chief. And at one point, he was handed a cell phone by one of the cadets. Look at this.
Right there he's got it, and he took time to talk to whomever this kid had dialed up. The crowd just loved this. The cadets also gave him a portrait of their mascot, the falcon. And he cracked wise about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Class of 2008. Yes, that's good. I was a little worried you're going to yell give him the bird.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: This is pretty simple stuff here, but the best stagecraft often is because it works, Campbell.
BROWN: Tom, I understand there was one little downside. It was raining and that can undo even the best stagecraft, can't it?
FOREMAN: Yes. And one incident nearly did this whole thing in. This is the one picture that must have made the White House staffers just clutch their hearts. Look over here.
This is a cadet who slipped in the rain and just fell flat. But he hopped right back up, no broken bones. That was good news, and the president was soon enough back to having fun, doing his Heisman Trophy impersonation here, much to the delight of the crowd.
Yes, there were protesters outside of this graduation, but you know what? You'll never see them against this kind of stagecraft. In all, it was a really successful round of presidential stagecraft by a president who really needs it right now -- Campbell.
BROWN: Tom Foreman, interesting stuff tonight.
So after months of Democrats arguing, we may soon have a solution to the Florida-Michigan delegate debate. The details and what it means for Clinton and Obama when we come back.
BROWN: As the primary season winds down, the battle over Florida and Michigan is cranking up. Democratic Party bosses meet Saturday to decide how many delegates from those states will be given to each candidate. Whatever they decide, Obama will still lead Clinton in the delegate count and he's beating her in the polls, as well.
According to the latest CNN Poll of Polls where we average several of the most recent surveys, 53 percent of Democratic voters want Obama to be the party nominee; 40 percent are backing Clinton. The Poll of Polls two weeks ago showed Obama with just a 7-point lead.
Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley has been traveling with the Obama campaign. She's joining us from Thornton, Colorado.
And, Candy, before we dive into the Florida-Michigan stuff, there is some news to report tonight. I know you're hearing that Barack Obama is considering a trip to Iraq before the election. John McCain has really been hammering Obama on this, hasn't he?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He absolutely has. I mean, today McCain went after him and said he wants to surrender in Iraq without even knowing what's going on on the ground there. He hasn't been there for two years.
The Republican National Committee put a clock on its Web site to mark how many days it's been since Barack Obama was in Iraq. I mean, today, McCain said, listen, he'd rather meet with the president of Iran than talk to General Petraeus. So there has been heavy and intense pressure from McCain.
And today Obama told reporters and the campaign confirmed that, in fact, he is considering going to Iraq. He'd been considering a foreign tour, actually, earlier, but that was before the campaign went on so long. But now, we know that perhaps before November he's going to go back over there.
BROWN: All right, Candy, let's turn to Saturday's meeting, the DNC's Rules Committee. Walk us through what we think is going to happen, what we should be looking for.
CROWLEY: Well, what we think is going to happen is that one way or the other, not all of the delegates from Florida and Michigan will be seated in exact proportion to how those votes went. I would suspect and a lot of people around the DNC and some of those that will be sitting in that Rules and Bylaws Committee, say the most likely outcome will be seating the delegations with half of their delegate power. That means either seating the entire delegation and giving them all half a vote or seating half the delegation, probably the former.
Hillary Clinton will likely come out with more delegates, but not as many delegates as she would get if they counted everything that happened in Florida and Michigan. The Obama campaign is willing to accept some sort of compromise, they say, that will give her more delegates than she has, and they will go ahead and seat those delegates. They can afford to do this at this point because as you mentioned, she will not come out of this no matter what happens with more pledged delegates than he has, Campbell.
BROWN: OK, Candy Crowley for us tonight.
So if this is, in fact, the plan, is it a plan that the Clinton campaign will accept? And then what happens after this weekend's meeting? We're going to ask top Clinton supporter James Carville when we come back.
BROWN: As we've been reporting, Senator Clinton shows no sign of backing down on the battle over Florida and Michigan. In fact, she's kicking her campaign into high gear. This is, the math does seem to indicate that Senator Obama is close to getting the majority he needs to win the Democratic nomination.
CNN political contributor James Carville is a Hillary Clinton supporter. He was also Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign manager, and he's with us right now.
And, James, as we just heard, it looks like the best case scenario here for Clinton is that the DNC will seat half of Florida and Michigan's delegates. And this at least is how the party is leaning right now.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.
BROWN: Do you think the Clinton camp is going to accept this?
CARVILLE: Well, I don't know that the best scenario for the Democratic Party would have been to accept the offer, and Governor Rendell and Governor Corzine's offer to fund and have a primary in Florida and Michigan after this. Since Obama's camp chose to not accept that offer, I suspect that the people in the committee are struggling to try to do something competing interest here.
I don't -- I think we got -- I think Senator Obama can if he is the nominee, can win Florida, but it's going to be an uphill struggle if you look at the polls. Not that I think it's not going by unnoticed in Florida and Michigan that we didn't -- we're not counting -- we're only counting in half.
BROWN: But Clinton does have the right to challenge this if she chooses. Do you think she will or she should?
CARVILLE: Well, you know, if I would have spent this much time running for president and I was in all likelihood it seems to be winning the popular vote, I would challenge everything that I could. I mean, I think that she and her supporters and contributors and people that have been for her expect that she'll fight for the nomination as hard as she can. And if there's a challenge open, I suspect that she will use that avenue.
BROWN: But what do you think is fair here? I mean, what do you think? And I know you're a strong supporter of hers.
But, you know, she signed a pledge early on saying that she wouldn't campaign there, that Obama's name wasn't on the ballot in Michigan.
BROWN: What do you think is fair? What do you think the Rules Committee should do?
CARVILLE: Again, what would have been fair, since Obama did not accept this is our offer to have a primary in Florida and Michigan.
BROWN: I know, but it's too late for that. It's really for now.
CARVILLE: You know what?
BROWN: So now, it's in the hands of the Rules Committee.
CARVILLE: Now, again -- Campbell, the moral case is on Senator Clinton's side. I think given the fact that she was ready, that her supporters are ready to tee it up and run, I think, and everybody's name was on the ballot in Florida. But the DNC has obviously got, you know, pressures and they're going to have to do that.
I think the fairest thing would have been is to have it. And I think that Senator Clinton has the superior moral case to make because it was her and her supporters that want to actually have the primary.
BROWN: You have said yourself that you think Obama could beat McCain, as well. Is there anything to this electability argument, really?
CARVILLE: Well, obviously, it is, if I say it, I think that Obama could beat McCain, as well. I think Senator Clinton would be a stronger general election candidate and that's why she's -- and she said she thinks she'd be a better president.
But I don't see anything at all wrong with what she said. In fact, it makes complete sense for a candidate. Again, let me repeat -- she's probably going to win the popular vote.
CARVILLE: Some people say that the number of votes you get should count for something. I think that if you look at state by state polls that everything it comes out, I think she does show herself to be a strong candidate. That doesn't mean that I don't think that Senator Obama could be a really good president, or I don't think it doesn't mean that I don't think that he could win the general election. I think both things can be true.
I just said that to myself and a lot of her supporters think that she could be better. And I don't know what is so offensive about her making her case to superdelegates, and her making her case to voters.
I think she's very much entitled. She's earned it. She's gone out.
She's won any number of primaries, and she's going to make the case and I'm all for that. And by the way, all of her supporters are all for this too.
BROWN: But do you honestly think that there is a realistic shot that she could at this stage of the game get the nomination?
CARVILLE: Well, only if you say -- if the person that gets the most votes and would be the strongest candidate in the general election should be the Democratic nominee, then she should have a shot and she should be able to make that case.
BROWN: All right. Well, we'll see what happens. Maybe there's still a cliff hanger in this somehow.
CARVILLE: Maybe so, I don't know. But I know that she certainly when she wrote in that letter is she's entitled to do it. She's entitled to take her case. It's, you know, failing and as hard as she can make it. And that's exactly what she's doing.
BROWN: All right. James Carville for us tonight.
CARVILLE: Thank you.
BROWN: James, as always, thanks.
CARVILLE: Appreciate it.
BROWN: And we have got some breaking news out of Boston tonight. A commuter train accident. We're going to have new details coming up right after this.
BROWN: I want to update you now on some breaking news. Two commuter trains collided this evening west of Boston. The accident happened near a station in Newton as one train rear ended another. Crews are still trying to free one of the train operators who was trapped.
A Newton-Wellesley Hospital spokesman tells CNN that eight people have been treated, but their injuries are not serious. We are going to go back to our top story.
Scott McClellan's scathing new book. How much ammunition is he giving the Democrats? That's coming up.
BROWN: Scott McClellan's assertions in his scathing new memoir offer Democrats plenty of ammunition for the general election. Well, will it become their new playbook?
Joining me now, Tara Wall, deputy editorial page editor for "The Washington Times" and a former senior adviser to the Republican National Committee. And Paul Begala, CNN's political contributor, a Democratic strategist, and a Hillary Clinton supporter.
Hi, guys. Paul, let me start with you.
Dems are already trying to use this McClellan book as political weapon here. Obama's camp today came out and basically said, look, guys, this is confirmation the war was a mistake. And if you get John McCain, you're getting four more years of it. I mean, this can't be helping you.
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Definitely, if this is the worst thing could happen to John McCain, you know, it --
BROWN: To have this back on the front burner, you mean?
BEGALA: Sure. Because it revisits. You know, not only was Scott McClellan complicit in misleading this country into a war, a war that now even Scott and other former Bush advisers say was a tragic error. But John McCain was complicit in that as well.
And at some point, maybe John McCain will write a book admitting that he, too, misled the American people. Maybe he ought to do that now.
TARA WALL, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": Well, I think that, you know, look, I think this is short-lived, quite frankly. And if it were any other Republican but John McCain, it might have a little traction, but I doubt if it goes beyond the weekend.
Look, John McCain has said that this administration has handled the war terribly. He's criticized it. Ad nauseam he said Donald Rumsfeld was one of the worst defense secretaries.
So, I mean, it would work if it were a different kind of Republican. But I think that, you know, for Democrats most will say that for them to say this over and over again, probably won't stick long-term with John McCain.
Plus, if, you know, it's something that has not -- it's not something that we haven't heard, we haven't all heard before, hasn't been said before. I think the shocking part of it for a lot of folks right now is who it's coming from.
BROWN: OK, guys, stay there. We're coming right back with more from the panel right after this.
BROWN: We're back now with our political experts. And Paul Begala, just a few moments ago, John McCain was hammering Barack Obama saying that he needs to go to Iraq to fully understand this issue. And now, we're hearing from the Obama campaign that he may, in fact, consider a trip to Iraq before Election Day.
How important is this for Democrats generally? But for Obama if, in fact -- I know you're a Clinton supporter -- but it, in fact, he is the nominee?
BEGALA: I think that's probably wise for Senator Obama to go to Iraq. I don't much like Senator McCain setting the tempo and the pace here. You know, perhaps Barack Obama should invite John McCain, say, to go to a factory that's been closed down and outsourced by the McCain- Bush economic policies, or go to a hospital where families are being denied health care because they don't have insurance because of the Bush-McCain health care policies.
And I would go through a whole list of policies if I were advising Barack, and invite John McCain to come with him and see the devastation. And, by the way, maybe while they're in Iraq, they can look for the $9 billion in cash that's missing in Iraq because John McCain didn't vote for oversight on the money that we're spending over there.
WALL: I think -- well, you know -- I think, look, you know, Senator McCain probably would have to ask Barack Obama to go had he gone over two years ago when he started first criticizing the war. I think, you know, you have to look at whether, you know, there's some -- if there are legitimate arguments that he's making, make those legitimate arguments within the context of the fact that you've been there, you've seen what's going on, you understand, you've talked with troops and folks on the ground.
BROWN: But he had been there.
WALL: But he can't do that because --
BROWN: He hasn't been there recently, but he has -- OK.
WALL: I think, you know, it is a good time for him to go. He should have gone a long time ago.
BROWN: All right, guys. I have to apologize to Paul and Tara tonight. We ran a little bit short on time.
But many, many thanks to both of you, Tara Wall, to Paul Begala.
That is it for me in the ELECTION CENTER. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you tomorrow night.
"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.