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CNN Crossfire

Are Intelligence Agencies Talking to Each Other the Way They Should?; The Parties Attack Each Over Bush Administration Disclosures on Terror

Aired May 17, 2002 - 19:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE, on the left, James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson. In the "Crossfire" tonight, he didn't know before September 11th, but he does know Washington.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's the kind of place where second-guessing has become second nature.

ANNOUNCER: Today a second helping.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First we need to find out who knew what, and when they knew it.

ANNOUNCER: Could anyone have stopped September 11th? In the "Crossfire" the White House, the FBI, plus the spin or is it damage control?

Ahead on CROSSFIRE. From the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. We're coming to you from the George Washington University. How much longer will it take for the conspiracy theorists and political hacks to realize this so- called hijacking story just doesn't have any wings. While the Democrats were noisily running their engines again today, President Bush calmly stated the obvious.

BUSH: The American people know this about me and my national security team and my administration. Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people.

NOVAK: In the "Crossfire" tonight, why an FBI agent's concerns about Arab flight students never got passed up the bureau's chain of command. We'll also take aim at Washington's spin game, but first the war of words. In the "Crossfire" Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler and Republican Congressman Peter King. Both are from New York and they're in New York tonight.

PAUL BEGALA, HOST: Congressman King, thank you very much for joining us. First, I don't know if I've done this. I want to congratulate you on your political novel here, "Deliver Us From Evil". It's terrific read and unfortunately tonight we're talking about real evil, not fictional evil. But you bring a unique perspective as a member of Congress, but also somebody's who had to dream up scenarios for your novels.

I want to play, if you'd listen carefully please, a piece of videotape from Dr. Condoleezza Rice, our National Security Adviser yesterday and then ask you to respond.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NAT'L SECURITY ADVISER: I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile. All of this reporting about hijacking was about traditional hijacking.

BEGALA: Congressman, the problem with that is, with all due respect to Dr. Rice it's factually false. In 1994, there was a Christmas attempt in France to slam a civilian airliner into the Eiffel Tower. The French foiled that terrorist plot. In 1996 we discovered in Manila a hijacking plot from al Qaeda to simultaneously hijack 11 U.S. airliners and crash them into buildings including the CIA headquarters in Washington. In 1998 "Time" Magazine reported that bin Laden planned to strike Washington, D.C. and New York, and in 1999, a widely distributed government study said the following, let me read it to you.

The prospect of an attack involving planes crashing into buildings is raised in a 1999 interagency U.S. government study compiled by the Library of Congress and shared with various governmental agencies. The author specifically cited al Qaeda involvement in a terror attack in which a jet could crash into the Pentagon, headquarters of the CIA or the White House. Why is the administration telling us something that's factually false sir?

REP. PETER KING, (R), NEW YORK: No it's not factually false. Paul, what she's saying - what Dr. Rice is saying quite clearly is that nothing in the report that was submitted to the president on August 6th indicated that type of hijacking nor was there any real emphasis given on the question of hijacking. There was any number of things that al Qaeda could have done. There was no reason to think that between August 6th and September 11th that any hijacking of a plane, which would crash into a building would take place.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) you mention a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) report back in 1999. I'm not aware of President Clinton or his administration taking any specific action to prevent planes from crashing into buildings at that time. This was one of many possibilities including the blowing up of subways, buildings you know, attacking dams, bridges, we go down the whole list. So I think what she's saying is that nothing that was told to the president on August 6th should have put him on notice that something was imminent involving specific hijacking.

And if I could just say, what - I think the real issues here, I think there was a failure in intelligence. I think the FBI and the CIA should both be criticized for not working with one another, and being more interested in protecting their own turf, I believe, especially the FBI rather than serving the national interests. But I think what's wrong about this is an implication that somehow President Bush knew something and didn't follow through, and I think what Mr. Gephardt said yesterday - Dick Gephardt, using Watergate type language in his reference to President Bush, which really intones criminality, that really went over the edge, and that's what's wrong.

NOVAK: Congressman Nadler, you're shaking your head. Do you want to say something? You want to respond to your colleague?

REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D), NEW YORK: Well I don't think that what Dick Gephardt said was intended to use Watergate type language and imply criminality, but those are key questions, and I don't know how to avoid using those terms. What did the president know? When did he know it? Forget Watergate, and what, if anything, did he do about it or should he have done about it? Those are our questions.


NOVAK: All right, Mr. Nadler ...


NADLER: Let me just say that we have seen a report that on August 6th he was told there might be hijacking. Now forget the question of hijacking into buildings. There might be hijackings. One would think that the administration should have alerted the airlines to be particularly alert. Did they? I don't know.

NOVAK: Now what's very interesting is that I saw -- you made a statement saying that if he didn't alert the airlines, he would be guilty of misfeasance, is that the word you used, in office?

NADLER: Nonfeasance ...

NOVAK: Nonfeasance in office.


NADLER: What I said was ...


NOVAK: Now just a minute ...


NOVAK: ... just a minute.


NOVAK: ... just a minute. Let me ask the question, please, Mr. Nadler. Now, as a matter of fact, that he did, that the government did alert the airlines, don't you think you ought to have your facts straight before you're accusing the president of these crimes, because the airlines were alerted.

NADLER: Fine I wasn't accusing the president of anything. I was asked the question, and I said specifically we don't know the facts.


NOVAK: Then why are you bringing up again tonight the question of not alerting the airlines when they were alerted.

NADLER: Well I don't know if they were. If they were, that's fine. All I said ...

NOVAK: Well they were.

NADLER: Well, I don't know that.


NADLER: If you're saying -- excuse me, if you're saying they were, fine. All I said yesterday, and I'll say it today gain, if the president was told there might be a hijacking, and then they certainly should have alerted the airlines, and if they did, fine, if they didn't, that would be a terrible failure.


NOVAK: I mean, I don't understand, you can say if the president was a an ax murderer, it would be a terrible thing. How can you bring up hypotheticals, which you know are not true when the fact of the matter is that the airlines have said they were alerted, that the Federal Aviation Agency alerted them. Why do you bring up a hypothetical like that?


NADLER: Well first of all, because I was asked this yesterday morning and I wasn't aware of any of those facts, and if you're saying that the airlines have said that, they said it today, because as of the papers I read this morning, I didn't see that. And all I said was, we have to get to the bottom and find out what the facts are.


NADLER: The facts are that they - that they did alert the airlines, then that's fine.

BEGALA: Well in fact, Congressman King, why not get to the bottom of the facts? I am perfectly open to the conclusion, in fact I think the president should be given every benefit of the doubt, having worked for a president, I know how hard that job is. I'm not ready to judge in a negative way his conduct before September 11th, let me be really clear about that. I think we should get all the facts and certainly I would expect the White House to cooperate in that.

But I have a big concern with how they've conducted themselves after September 11th. What reason could they possibly have for hiding from the American people for eight months the fact that Bush got this briefing, except for politics, to cover their posterior? KING: No first, I don't think they were hiding it at all. I mean there's nothing new in that memo. I mean last summer the Department of Transportation put on its Web site saying that al Qaeda and bin Laden could hijack planes. So this was not something that, you know, came out of nowhere. This was one of many possibilities that's always been discussed. To me there's probably thousands of documents, there's been many, many briefings, and it was based on those that the president did put a game plan into action, which was prepared. Now it was prepared on September 10th, but the ...


KING: ... the beauty of that was ...


KING: ... the president was ready to - was ready to respond and he wasn't caught short.

BEGALA: OK, we're going to have to take a quick break, but both of our congressmen stay put. We're going to come back to you with a lot more questions, believe me and I do providing answers, but we will be right back in just a minute.

In the headlines in today's "New York Post", thought is a great one, a classic, and it's got the White House crying bow (ph). The White House press secretary even went so far as to call the paper's editors, then he attacked Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for even mentioning the headline in a very moderate, respectful speech on the Senate floor. Is the White House perhaps, maybe getting a little bit touchy? Since when is it wrong for a New York senator to mention a New York newspaper. Our two New York congressmen will be back to debate that and much more.

And then later, speaking of missed clues, why did an FBI agent's warning get buried in the FBI bureaucracy? Stay with us.


NOVAK: Welcome back to the George Washington University campus. We're looking at the sanctimonious second-guessing about the Bush administration's handling of last year's vague, general threats of possible terrorism.

In the "Crossfire" two congressmen from New York, Democrat Jerrold Nadler and Republican Peter King. Congressman Nadler you have been up front in supporting and coming out as a spokesman for national security policy in the Democratic party and we're very glad that you're with us tonight.

But I'm going to play a little game called, remember the old show, "This Is Your Life", we're going to play, "This Is Your Record" Jerrold Nadler for cutting defense spending four times, against increased defense spending, seven times, for cutting military equipment, three times. That's 14 votes against defense, for cutting the intelligence budget, six times, for disclosing military intelligence, three times, against health care benefit increases for servicemen, one time, against an increased border patrol, two times.

In all due respect, sir, haven't you disqualified yourself to speak on national security when you're voting that way?

NADLER: Well, two things, first, I'm not a major Democratic Party spokesman on national defense. But second of all, no, I don't think so, and I think those are distortions of the votes. I voted against having the army control the border. I voted in favor of having increased border patrol, for example, and I have voted against the fact that our military budget still has huge numbers of tanks and troops in Europe to prevent - to fight against nonexistent Soviet tank invasions of western Europe. I think we should be spending more on other kinds of defense and less on that kind of waste.

And I don't think it has anything to do with what we're talking about here. For example, here it wasn't the question if there was a failure of intelligence. It wasn't that we didn't have enough resources. It was that we didn't analyze properly or understand the importance of the information we had.

BEGALA: Congressman King, I don't know if you saw Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary's briefing today, but he did a rather astonishing thing. From the podium at the White House he publicly attacked a Democratic Senator, Dianne Feinstein. He -- in fact, suggested, he implied that Senator Feinstein, who had for many months before September 11th raised questions about our preparation against a terrorist attack.

He suggested that perhaps maybe she knew and didn't do proper diligence to warn the government. I want to read you Senator Feinstein's response. She said, "despite repeated efforts by myself and staff, the White House did not address my request. The request is to do more against terrorism. I followed this up in September 2001 and was told my "Scooter" Libby, the chief of staff for the vice president, that it might be another six months before he would be able to review this material. I told him I did not believe we had to wait six months". Why in the world is the White House attacking Dianne Feinstein?

KING: I think part of it was response to what Dick Gephardt said yesterday, you know, using the Watergate analogy. I happen to think Senator Feinstein is a good senator, but also the fact is that the White House was acting in the war against terrorism. The fact that there was a plan on the president's desk, which he was able to implement and go ...


BEGALA: But they did tell Dianne Feinstein to wait six months and now they're attacking her.


KING: I would just say, listen there were attacks by Democrats yesterday, the Republicans are firing back today. And I just wish we could get away from that because I think the real issue here ... NOVAK: I just want to say one thing, in all candor Ari Fleischer did not attack Dianne Feinstein. All he said, he was praising her, that -- said that three months before the attack on September 11th, she knew that there was going to be a terrorist attack, and just ...


BEGALA: He also implied that she should have done something. And she did -- she went down to the White House ...


BEGALA: ...and they told her to sit still for six months.

KING: No probably what Ari Fleischer was doing was he was using Dick Gephardt words against Dianne Feinstein, and it was a turn of a phrase.


KING: But I think the key issue here, which does have to be addressed and I think maybe Jerry Nadler and even I can agree on this, and that is there was a breakdown in intelligence, and I think that's what we should be focusing on, is why the FBI and the CIA didn't cooperate on this.


BEGALA: Congressman King and Congressman Nadler, I'm sorry to do his to you, but they're telling me in my ear that we are out of time. I want to thank you both very much for addressing ...


BEGALA: ...this issue is so important to New York, but also the whole country. Thank you both gentlemen coming from New York.

And coming up, a former FBI agent who knows a lot about the cost of terrorism. He's the man who led his state through the Oklahoma City bombing. Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma will bring his unique perspective to the "Crossfire" and later, the White House is in full damage control mode, but by attacking conservative newspapers and Democrats who tried to warn the White House about impending terror attacks, are the pushes (ph) doing more damage than control?

And it's too bad nobody in the Bush administration paid attention to our quote of the day back when a high-ranking official said it in the White House situation room last July.


BEGALA: Back when Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (ph) was a crusading "G" man on prime time TV, most folks thought the FBI could do no wrong. Nowadays it's pretty much the opposite. Last July an agent in Arizona wrote a memo calling on headquarters to comb America's flight schools for possible terrorists. The Phoenix memo ended up in paperwork limbo. By August another FBI agent was writing that suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui seemed interested in flying airplanes into the World Trade Center.

Why didn't anyone at the FBI put two and two together? Joining us from Oklahoma City is one-time FBI special agent Frank Keating. He has a different job now. He's the governor of Oklahoma. Governor, thank you for joining us.

GOVERNOR FRANK KEATING, (R), OKLAHOMA: Hi, Paul, an honor. Thank you for having me on.

NOVAK: Governor Keating, today I interviewed Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, top intelligence man for the Republicans in the Senate and I want you to listen to something he said in a program that's going to be on full interview on CNN tomorrow night at 5:30 p.m. Eastern. Let's listen to it.


RICHARD SHELBY, (R), ALABAMA: I believe that the FBI has failed the American people in that regard, that is the information they got out I believe it was July the 10th memo to headquarters, dealing with the flight schools, basically saying they should act on it. Nothing was done on it. The FBI was either asleep or inept or both.


NOVAK: Which is it, governor, asleep, inept or both?

KEATING: Well that's pretty strong words from a man who has a lot of knowledge and a lot of ability, but certainly hindsight, Bob, is always 20/20. It appears to me that somebody dropped the ball, but I think the good news is that under Bob Mueller, the FBI has superb leadership. The question is how quickly can he reorganize the bureau to make sure this - a ball like this isn't dropped again. You don't write a memo unless you have something to say. You have hundreds of pieces of information, sometimes thousands of pieces of information, coming into the bureau. Individual agents don't spend the time writing memos unless there is something to say. So, if there wasn't a group sitting around collating and digesting this information, that was a terrible breakdown. Hopefully there is now, but obviously lives are at stake. There's no more time to make a mistake.

BEGALA: Well, in fact, Governor, I totally agree with you that Director Mueller has an enormous mess to clean up, but let me do something I don't think I've ever done on CROSSFIRE before. I'm going to criticize my former boss. Bill Clinton put a man in charge of the FBI by the name of Louis Freeh. He was a federal judge and he came highly recommended, but this is what he did or happened under his watch. There was obviously the Robert Hanssen spy scandal where he as spying right under Louis Freeh's nose.

There was a meltdown of the FBI crime lab. Larry Potts, the guy in charge of Ruby Ridge (ph), was made the number two man in the bureau. Richard Jewell (ph) was falsely wrongly accused of the Atlantic Olympic bombing. The carnivore computer system was set up to spy on our e-mail, the Wen Ho Lee (ph) case was messed up, and the Tim McVeigh case was messed up. Laptops were stolen. Guns were missing and now this. Wasn't Louis Freeh just the biggest disaster in public service in the last 10 years?

KEATING: Paul, J. Edgar Hoover is looking better every day. So I don't think that's fair to say that Louis Freeh was a disaster, but the reality is that leadership frequently requires very tough decision making, and right now the number one issue for the FBI is not to investigate these things, but to prevent them in the future. When two-thirds of the economy is consumer confidence, you can't afford, A, to lose precious human lives but have any other awful incident occur that will flatten the American economy.

So, the bureau needs, and I'm sure they are, needs to have a round table with other intelligence agencies, have quick reaction opportunity to absorb, assimilate, collate and act on intelligence tidbits from all over the world, CIA, and of course state and local law enforcement and other federal agencies and make decisions quickly and certainly not ignore agents' memos. Again you pay a lot of money to an FBI agent and if they take the time to write a memo, which isn't that common, you ought to read it.

NOVAK: Governor Keating, I think it's worse than that. In our interview with Senator Shelby today, he said quietly that the FBI has been leaking these documents that have caused such a stir and has put the heat on President Bush, and he explained why. Let's listen to Senator Shelby.


SHELBY: Until our investigative team made the demands on the document dealing with the Phoenix deal, there was never furnished to the Intelligence Committee. It was never furnished to the White House. It was never furnished to anybody. It stayed in the FBI. It was never furnished to the CIA.


NOVAK: In other words, what the FBI did was, instead of giving the information to the people it wanted, it put it out so that the heat and the target went away from the FBI on the White House. That's reprehensible, isn't it?

KEATING: Well, when I was an FBI agent and later when I was U.S. attorney, the only policy in criminal investigations was to give name, rank and serial number. You didn't try to get in front of the case or behind the case and make yourself look good by selectively leaking information or withholding information. That's terribly unprofessional. That's something that Bob Mueller needs to get people by the ears and shake them up and down and make sure that doesn't happen.

The reality is that somebody dropped the ball in 1993. When the World Trade Center was bombed, you had a raft of people apparently tied into the same crowd that crashed into the World Trade Center in 2001. The question is, how could they let people in the country with these kind of credentials? What kind of investigative material, FD302s (ph) and the rest of it do they have that would suggest a future event or to suggest who was responsible for dropping the ball in the past.

I mean the reality is lives are at stake. The bureau needs to get control of the situation and make sure this kind of conduct doesn't recur, and I have faith in Bob Mueller, and I have faith in individual FBI agents. The problem is the culture there is difficult, and I'm hoping, obviously, very quickly that he can take control of that culture.

NOVAK: Well maybe they need Frank Keating. But we can't have him there now. Thank you very much, Governor.


KEATING: Thank you both.

BEGALA: Thank you.

NOVAK: One of the nation's phone companies is disconnecting the careers of thousands of its employees. The details are coming up in a CNN news alert. And then a pair of White House veterans grade the spin and counter spin and counter, counter spin from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. And our quote of the day doesn't come from President Bush, but it was spoken at the White House.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We are coming to you live from the George Washington University here in downtown Washington, D.C. Our quote of the day comes from White House counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clark. "Washington Post" reports today that back on July 5 of last year, Clark was one of the officials from a dozen different agencies who'd been summoned to the White House situation room. That's where he sounded this warning, our quote of the day.

"Something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon." Tragically, he was right.

Bob, one of the best things George Bush did was keep Richard Clark, President Clinton's director of counterintelligence. And I just wish, I'm not trying to second-guess Monday morning quarterback, but I'm glad he's there. And I hope they're listening to him now.

NOVAK: But the interesting thing is, he didn't know what that spectacular thing was.

BEGALA: That's right.

NOVAK: He had no idea. And the idea that's being put out by irresponsible people that they knew, and they weren't telling, that's just reprehensible to say that.

BEGALA: I think it would be if anybody were doing that. NOVAK: Oh, they are. Your girlfriend Cynthia McKinney...

BEGALA: I've already disagreed with Cynthia McKinney, but there are legitimate questions. And for Bush to go on the attack the way he did today, I think, really bespeaks politics.

NOVAK: But that's the insinuation that he knew something, and he just wasn't telling about it.

BEGALA: But he knew something but he didn't tell us about it after the fact. That's when he should have told us. And you know, I just don't agree.

When Dick Clark tragically, his prescient comment is just one of the reasons why the White House is so very busy with damage control right now. Ari Fleischer himself has shot himself in the foot so many times in the last few days, I suspect he's down to his last two toes. Next in the crossfire, a couple of real pros, who know how to do it right, veterans of many White House battles, including former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers and Ron Kaufman, a top aide to another president who happened to be named George Bush.

And then in the fireback, listen my children and you shall hear a viewer's thoughts about George W. Revere.


BEGALA: It happens sooner or later to every White House. A story breaks. At first they think oh, it's nothing. Then they pooh- pooh it, as well as just a two story. And before you know it, it is a full fledged feeding frenzy. You can see the sweat beads gathering on the press secretary's face when he's being grilled by the press.

That's when the gentle art of damage control comes in handy. Has the White House's very aggressive attack strategy blunted criticism of its failure to disclose that President Bush was briefed about potential al Qaeda hijackings? Or is it a justifiable response?

Now stepping into the crossfire, two pros who have helped presidents through the worst of times, former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers and Ron Kaufman, a Republican National Committeeman who is a political adviser to the first President Bush.

BEGALA: Dee Dee, cool do. Ron, thanks for coming.

NOVAK: Dee Dee, before the Democrats get too overexcited about how they're really going to make a lot of gains on this little story, whatever it is, I'd like to read you a poll. This is not a poll showing how much support the president has, because he has a lot of support, or the fact that they don't think he misled America. This is a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll. Should there be a congressional investigation into when the administration released information on 9/11 warnings? Yes, 43 percent; no, 55 percent. Why that's so significant is that everybody in this town inside the Beltway thinks yes, let's have a congressional investigation. You don't even have a majority in the country for a congressional investigation. DEE DEE MYERS, FMR. CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY: Well, first of all, Bob, it's early. This was the first day, this was taken yesterday, which is the first day that the American public has been exposed to this issue. As you know, as these things gain currently, as people learn more about them, opinions change. So I think we ought to not let snapshot polls on day one drive of this drive long-term decisions that are important to the American public like getting to the bottom of who knew what, when, and how we can make sure this doesn't happen in our country again. I think that's the most important thing.

I think the public wants to know. And what we've seen in sort of these same polls is that there's a thirst for information. What happened? And what can we do better next time to prevent it from happening again? Those are reasonable questions. And people seen as getting in the way to find answers to those are not going to fare well in the long run.

NOVAK: Dee Dee, let's be honest about this. This isn't a question of trying to find out how it happened.

MYERS: Of course it is.

NOVAK: I mean, I can tell you right now, I've been working at it as a reporter. It was an analytical failure by the FBI. It never -- this information never got below the middle level of the FBI. We know this problem, Senator Shelby said.

MYERS: Right.

NOVAK: What you're interested in, and what your people are interested in...

MYERS: Tell me Bob, what am I interested in?

NOVAK: And tell me if I'm wrong. You're interesting in cutting down George W. Bush, who has these high ratings, and having some effect on the 2002 election.

MYERS: No, I think what I'm actually interested in, and what my Democratic friends that I've been talking to, and even my Republican friends that I've been talking to today, are interested in is understanding how this happened, who knew what when, why this information didn't get shared? Many of the same things you claim to be interested in.

What the White House does in these situations, though, is they say oh, you can't ask these questions. If you ask these questions, you're unpatriotic. And they try to push back the questioners. This has worked really well on domestic issues up to this point. It is not going to work on this. The American public wants and deserves answers to this. What the administration should be doing is saying you're right, these are good questions, let's get to the bottom of them. They should get out in front of this parade.

BEGALA: In fact, Ron, I think there's two very different inquiries. First, the inquiries into what was or was not done before September 11. We don't have the facts yet. And I do think it's wrong for anybody in either party to prejudge the president. He should be given the benefit of every doubt on this. But after September 11, I think his conduct is obviously wrong. And it's a strategy we've seen before from them.

In the campaign, Governor Bush was asked if he'd ever been arrested, except for a college prank. He said no. Turned out yes, he'd been convicted of drunk driving. He then, after September 11, sent his minions out to spin falsehood about Air Force One under being attack. This is not a good strategy, is it, to hide, deny and lie?

RON KAUFMAN, FMR. ADVISER TO PRES. GOERGE H.W. BUSH: Well, first of all, Dee Dee is an expert at spinning these things. She had to do it so many times when she was in the White House.

BEGALA: As did you for your president. That's why you're here. You're an expert.

KAUFMAN: Well, we're not in trouble. That's the whole thing. Listen I tell you what...

BEGALA: But they are...

KAUFMAN: I'd love, Paul, for this issue to be talked about every day from now until November 5, and let's let the American people decide whether the president is right on this issue, and whether you know, whether he's not. And as long as the Democrats want to keep berating the president, and denigrating Condi Rice, and denigrating Colin Powell, and denigrating Dick Cheney, it's fine. And we'll do it every single day. And I'd love to come back tomorrow and do the same thing, the day after, the day after...

BEGALA: You and I have a community of interest, Ron. You and I agree. No, but let me ask you this...

KAUFMAN: By November, let me finish, right, by November, after the election, when the new Senate majority leader Trent Lott, and newly elected -- re-elected Speaker Hastert, and new Governor Romney from Massachusetts, and new Governor Simon from California, when they're all re-elected because of this issue, I'll be very happy.

BEGALA: Well, let me ask you this. What reason, after September 11 again, not before, after September 11, the White House gave voluminous leaks to "The Washington Post" about how strong and brave and wise and kind they'd all been. Somehow they left this fact out. Why would they tell us the fact that Bush had been briefed on August 6 about potential hijacking? What reason could they have to hide it from the American people, except politics, Ron?

KAUFMAN: Every day since the president was first elected on the 21st of January, he was briefed on what was going on. The fact that in one briefing there was talk of some terrorists who may do some hijacking or something in this country, is not a surprise to anybody, Paul. You know that.

BEGALA: But the front page story in every paper in America. They should have put it out, should've been honest.

MYERS: It wasn't one briefing, though, Ron. It was delivered in a briefing. It was a response to a request from the president himself to know what al Qaeda was up to. This was clearly relevant in the post September 11 world. And the administration should have put it out there. Now they're paying the price for not doing it.

NOVAK: I don't know if you know what you're talking about, Dee Dee. Did you know that they were relying on material from 1999 and 2000, that talked about the hijacking? That was what this information was.

MYERS: Yes, of course I do. But the fact that it was in response to a request from the president by what al Qaeda was up to, I do happen, Bob, to know what I'm talking about. I think it's relevant. And I think the press and the American public think it's relevant. One point I want to make. Where are the Democrats attacking the president? I haven't seen one single Democrat or Republican attack the president or Condoleezza Rice, for that matter.

NOVAK: That's extremely clever, Dee Dee.

MYERS: It's not. You got the board...

NOVAK: Now what you're saying is what did he know and when did he know it, going back to Watergate days.

MYERS: And then they're saying not one person...

NOVAK: Just a minute, wait a minute. You're implying that the president knew something that happened that didn't happen.

MYERS: I don't think -- no.

NOVAK: I've used the word three times. I'll use it a fourth time. That's reprehensible, isn't it?

MYERS: Well, it would be reprehensible. What they're saying is, there's not one person who said they don't believe that had George Bush known specifically something like 9/11 was going to happen, he would have done everything in his power to stop it. Every single Democrat has made that point. Every single Democrat I've spoken to believes that in his or her heart. So to try to make this into Democrats attacking the president is nonsense. It's a non sequitur and it's not going to play.

KAUFMAN: That's not true.

MYERS: It is true, Ron.


NOVAK: We'll have to time to talk in a minute, but we're going to take a break. And in just a minute, I'll ask our guests about the dangers of overreaching. And then in fireback, a Democrat who can teach Paul Begala and his friends a lesson. (CROSS TALK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The White House is in full damage control mode. Today, they pulled out their biggest gun, the president himself, in attempt to spin away the growing controversy surrounding the blockbuster revelation this week that George W. Bush had been briefed about possible al Qaeda hijackings before September 11. But he never told the American people about that briefing for eight long months. Indeed, never acknowledged it until it was leaked this week.

But has the White House damage control done more harm than good? In the crossfire, Ron Kaufman, Republican National Committeeman and a political adviser to President Bush's father, and former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers.

Mr. Kaufman, in addition to the president, they brought out another big gun last night, Dick Cheney, who gave a speech that I want to show you a clip of. And I hope the whole country sees it, because it's Cheney at his worst. Take a look.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Basically what I want to say to my Democratic friends in the Congress is that they need to be very cautious not to seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions, as were made by some today that the White House had advance information that would have prevented the tragic attacks of 9/11.

Such commentary is thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war.


BEGALA: Ron, do we really need lectures about patriotism from a man who two years ago was trading with Iran, Iraq and Libya?

KAUFMAN: Listen, no one has more respect for this country than Dick Cheney when it comes to foreign affairs.

BEGALA: He's pretty respected in Iran, Iraq and Libya, where he was doing business two years ago. Those are terrorist countries, right?

KAUFMAN: He was respected in Boston, Massachusetts and your hometown in Texas. Listen, this thing -- the only place this is spinning out of control is at this desk, and places like that across the country for folks like you. Listen, the president has done a great job since November 11, every day since. Dick Cheney has, as has Colin Powell. Listen, who do you think the American people would like to have at the helm, these folks or Al Gore?


KAUFMAN: I promise you, how many times have you gone to coffee shops back in Midland, Texas, or in Boise, Idaho...

NOVAK: He's form Austin.

KAUFMAN: Whatever.

BEGALA: Boston ain't Midland, believe me.

KAUFMAN: Texas. And how many people have come to you and said, "Boy, I'm really glad, with all due respect to Al Gore, he's not there right now. I'm so glad that it's George Bush."

BEGALA: So the smarter, more experienced guy would have done a worse job. No, Ron, I don't agree with that.


KAUFMAN: They do.

NOVAK: Dee Dee Myers, let's be honest about what's going on in this town. When this story broke, I mean, let's just be fair on both sides, Republicans were terrified.

MYERS: Right.

NOVAK: And the Democrats said oh, my God, I've died and gone to heaven. This is going to be a terrific thing that we're going to knock down Bush. And they got a wonderful warning from one of the smartest politicians in Washington, the minority leader of the senate. And let's listen to what he said today, not long ago.


SENATOR TRENT LOTT (R), MINORITY LEADER: For Democrats now in this silly season, which is within six months of an election, to start raising this kind of questioning about what happened that date, what the president knew is totally out of line and inappropriate.


NOVAK: Said that in South Carolina, I believe.

MYERS: It was a campaign fund raiser.

NOVAK: Yes, what do you think of that?

MYERS: I think that, you know, I think Dick Cheney was actually right about one thing. I think Democrats do have to be careful. This is very serious business. Neither side should play it as a partisan issue. It's not a partisan issue. And I certainly don't think that the response from the administration should be don't dare ask any questions, it's unpatriotic. That's a very political response. And I think the public will see it as such.

NOVAK: I tell you what, your sister, Cynthia McKinney, Democrat of Georgia, congresswoman, says that the president knew this. These people died... MYERS: You know what?

NOVAK: Just let me ask the question.

MYERS: Comments have been disavowed by me and a lot of people in my party.

NOVAK: Can I finish my sentence?

MYERS: Sure, but it's silly.

NOVAK: Because they said that they let these people die to give profits to the Carlyle group.

MYERS: It's nonsense. It's silly and it's embarrassing. OK? I have no defense of that. I don't think the president knew that it was going to happen. And I think had he known, he would have done everything in his power. That said, why are the Republicans, why is the president, why is the White House so afraid that somebody's going to take a look in this and try to fix the problems that you so eloquently have acknowledged took place in the intelligence community tonight?

KAUFMAN: No one's afraid of any questions. They should ask away. I totally agree with you, but this may surprise you. I actually agree with you, the Democrats for doing what they're doing right now, because if I had no answer to education reform, if I had no answer to welfare reform...

MYERS: Oh, come on, Ron. That's a briar patch I'd love to get into with you.


MYERS: Let's do education. Let's talk about the environment. That's a great issue for Republicans. Let's go.

KAUFMAN: I would love to.

BEGALA: We will have you back to talk about education and the environment.


I want to show you, instead, enormous, front page headline out of yesterday's "New York Post," probably the most right wing, it's so right wing it carries Novak's column. "The New York Post," here's what they said on the front page yesterday, "Bush knew." Now Ari Fleischer, thank you, Ari Fleischer, he flipped. I like Ari, he's a very good guy, but he flipped, and gave this more publicity, attacking it from the podium, calling "The New York Post," and then attacking Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for even referring to it. As my friend Zell Miller likes to say, a hit dog barks.

KAUFMAN: This is the same people that had the Clinton was an alien, I think. BEGALA: This is "The New York Post." This is a Murdoch right wing paper.

KAUFMAN: No, this is "The New York Post," which loves crazy headlines, and we all know that.

BEGALA: But why does Ari call attention to it then? If he doesn't like the headline, why does he promote it and let me put it back up?

MYERS: He was right to call him. He was wrong to mention it for the public.

NOVAK: I'll explain tabloid journalism to you sometime when I have a chance. Thank you very much, Dee Dee Myers.

MYERS: Thank you, Bob.

NOVAK: Thank you Ron Kaufman. Appreciate it.

No matter how hard Paul is crying, there are some Democrats who aren't buying his blame Bush for everything line. One had some advice, a Democrat had some advice for ways to deal with his fingers. Next.


NOVAK: Time now for fireback, when the viewers and the people in the audience fire back at Paul and me.

The first e-mail is from Frances Ohmstede Lincoln, Nebraska, who says "It is a sure good thing our leader wasn't Bush when Paul Revere said 'The British are coming.'" I don't quite understand that, so I'll just go right on to you.

BEGALA: Good for you, Frances. Here's our second e-mail from Dana O'Donnell of Atlanta, Georgia. "The Bush administration could have prevented 9/11? Give me a break! Let's stop wasting our time on unfounded accusations and continue to fight the war on terrorism with the dignity that this administration brings." Dana, how about getting to the bottom of it? Nobody is saying he could have prevented it, Dana. We're saying we need to know what happened so we can prevent the next one.

NOVAK: Insinuation. You know, that old song.

BEGALA: No, we have a right to know.

NOVAK: OK, the next one is from Howard Hoffman from Los Angeles, lotus land. "How can anyone see the words hijacking plus bin Laden in the same sentence and think 'traditional hijacking?' Did the White House think they wanted to fly planes to Cuba?" They didn't know what they wanted. And nobody knew what that plan was.

BEGALA: No, this is my problem with their post-September 11 spin. What they're saying today is we had no idea planes could be used as missiles. That is factually, provably false.

NOVAK: Well, we can debate it.

BEGALA: Look, it's like when I said there's no blue dress. Sometimes there's a blue dress. They can't say there was no knowledge that they'd use it as a missile and then there is knowledge.

NOVAK: This is not the blue dress. Thank God. Go ahead.

BEGALA: Christina in New York says, "I'm a Democrat and don't think it's fair to point fingers at the Bush administration or anyone until all the facts are known. I don't think anything of the horror and magnitude of 9/11 could have been predicted." Christina, I am with her. We need to know all the facts. Let's have an investigation and get to the bottom of this.

NOVAK: All right, we take questions from the audience. First question?

LYLE: Hi, my name is Lyle from Hophog, New York.

NOVAK: Hop what?

LYLE: Hophog.

NOVAK: Hophog, at the end of Long Island, right?

LYLE: Yes, western Suffolk County.

NOVAK: Yes, all right, go ahead.

BEGALA: You know you're in Suffolk County.

LYLE: It really seems that the Democrats are trying to blame President Bush for not preventing the September 11 attacks. But what about the fact that al Qaeda and bin Laden were really building up in the '90s under Clinton's watch? They just didn't come out of nowhere on September 11. They'd been doing this for the last eight years. So why didn't President Clinton, when he had the chance, do some sort of preemptive strike?

NOVAK: I'll tell you why. The only time he ever did anything against bin Laden was when he lied to the grand jury, and he wanted to take the attention away. If he had had more grand jury appearances, they'd probably have done more against Osama bin Laden.

BEGALA: No, see, that's not fair. And in fact, this is the real Republican strategy is to blame Clinton. No Democrat is trying to blame Bush the way the Republicans are trying to blame Clinton. But in fact, Clinton did launch cruise missile attacks against him. He did have counterterrorism agencies. And Bush tried to cut the terrorism budget when he was president.

NOVAK: Question?

KIRSTEN: Hi, I'm Kirsten from Kansas City, Missouri, and I have a comment. I think Governor Keating was right. Hindsight is 20/20. And I think the country should focus on how to prevent the next 9/11 attack. Deal with it. Let's deal with it and let's move forward.

NOVAK: Well, I tell you, Miss Kansas City, one thing you have to do is you have to fix the FBI. And it ain't fixed yet.

BEGALA: On this Novak and I agree completely.

NOVAK: All right, next question?

BEGALA: It's very rare we agree, but it's probably last time. Yes, sir?

CHRIS HALER: Hi, I'm Chris Haler from Washington, D.C. I'm graduating from George Washington this weekend. And my question is will this make President Bush a one term president like his father?

BEGALA: Well I think that the totality of Bush's, particularly his domestic policies as he squandered the surplus and he drove us into recession, I think that's much more important politically to his re-election changes. It's always the economy, stupid.

NOVAK: The answer to your question is Paul sure hopes so. And that's what this is all about.

BEGALA: No, no, it's the economy. It's the economy. From the left, I'm Paul Begala. Good-night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.