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CNN The Situation Room - Transcript

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CNN The Situation Room - Transcript

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BLITZER: Senator Kennedy, thanks very much for joining us. Congratulations on the new book, "America Back on Track." I am going to get to that. I want to get to the news of the day, which is the spiraling price of a gallon of gasoline. The president earlier ruled out supporting what's called a windfall profit t tax on the big gas companies, oil companies like ExxonMobil. Is that something you would supporting taxing what some would see the excessive profits of these big oil companies?

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Very definitely so. It's unconscionable now that the major oil companies are having these extraordinary windfall profits at a time when the United States is at war in Iraq, at war in Afghanistan and basically a war on terror, and that the middle class is having such a difficult time in making it. It seems to me that we ought to have a windfall profits tax, rebated to the middle class. But beyond that ...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second. How would you do that? In other words, what impact would taking billions of dollars from the oil companies like ExxonMobil, how would that translate into reduced cost at the pump? KENNEDY: Well, first of all, we are talking about greed on this. And we're talking about fairness on this, and we can, under the tax code, we can have a refundable credit that can go to basically to targeted groups, like the middle class. That's certainly possible. And we shouldn't tolerate the greed that is taking place at the present time.

Secondly the president ought to have the leaders of the oil companies into the Oval Office, and he ought to jawbone them, talk about what is necessary in terms of what is fair in this country, and the obligations that we have to our fighting men and women, and we are demanding fairness from them, and to get them to do something.

Thirdly, the president, six years ago talked about jawboning OPEC. And we haven't had any success in jawboning OPEC, which has been a mistake.

And finally, the energy bill that passed last fall just provided additional kinds of tax benefits to the oil companies without developing the alternative sources of energy.

So, this has been just a disaster. Something that is predictable. And something that we should have anticipated and we are still getting very little action. I applaud the fact that the president is talking about now putting more money onto the market, taking money out of the strategic reserve, that's a modest program. I certainly support it.

BLITZER: But do you have any hard evidence right now that these bill oil companies are engaging in price gouging?

KENNEDY: Well, first of all, we know the excess profits that they have receiving now, not based on additional kind of research, not based on additional kinds of ...

BLITZER: But are they violating the law?

KENNEDY: No. They are not violating the law. That's where we need the Federal Trade Commission to investigate that. When the president said, when he was -- many of us have urged the president to have the Federal Trade Commission to do that, he says, we are asking the Federal Trade Commission to be vigilant on it. That's not satisfactory. The Congress has given the Federal Trade Commission the power to do the kinds of investigations about the price fixing and price gouging.

What I am saying is that the excess profits ought to go as a result of the spiraling profits that these oil companies have made as a result, not as a result of any business decision but because the American family, so to speak, American consumers are, effectively, being gouged.

BLITZER: A lot of experts have suggested, and you just said that this was all foreseen years ago. Brendan Bell, the energy analyst at the Sierra Club was quoted by the "Washington Post" a year ago almost as saying this, "The big problem is we did not make the right decisions 10 years ago." Would you agree with that?

KENNEDY: I would.

BLITZER: There was a Democratic president in power ...

KENNEDY: There's more that should have been done. I must say, we did do more, President Clinton did, with regards to automobiles, and devices, some steps were taken, but those energy steps that were taken were basically relaxed by this administration.

Now this administration, the fact that we have 140,000 men and women that are over there in the Middle East, in terms of trying to have a secure region of the country, and these countries are refusing to understand the kind of economic plight that we are being put through I think is really unacceptable.

BLITZER: The president in our latest CNN poll, which just came out has his job approval number at 32 percent. That's a record low since he took office, and the Republican-led Congress, job approval is lower, in the 20s. Do you believe the Democrats will be the majority in the Senate after November?

KENNEDY: Easy question. The answer is yes. Very definitely so.

BLITZER: If the Democrats are the majority, they then get subpoena power and they can investigate and go after allegations, a lot more thoroughly than obviously as a minority in the United States Senate. Would you expect that to happen after November if you become the majority?

KENNEDY: In an appropriate way, is the use of that power. Now, listen to this. When we had a Democratic administration, Republican control of the House of Representative, they had over 1,100 subpoenas that were used against the Clinton administration in a variety of different kinds of activities.

In the last five years, they have had three subpoenas to try and investigate the single source contracting with Halliburton, the general kinds of climate of corruption and cronyism that we have seen in the recent times. We just have not had the serious oversight which should have been taken.

BLITZER: Where would you -- if you could, right now, subpoena the administration, on what issue would you like to get more information right now?

KENNEDY: Well, I think it's clearly with regards to the investigations of the single source contracts that have been given in regards to Iraq, Halliburton and, also, with Katrina, the great waste and abuse that we saw that took place.

The American people don't have a full understanding of it. I think they will at some time, but they not have to have this kind of failure and this kind of incompetency that is costing the taxpayers so much.

BLITZER: Do you support Democratic Senator Russ Feingold's motion to censure the president?

KENNEDY: It's a close question. The American Bar Association has made a finding that they felt that the president of the United States has violated the law. The Congressional Research Service has indicated that they thought the president had violated the law ...

BLITZER: We're talking about the warrantless surveillance.

KENNEDY: The warrantless surveillance on this. And at the present time, we have -- the Democrats, now, for the first time, the committee, a small committee, is being given the kind of information by which legislation can be prepared, so, it's a shared responsibility with the president and the Congress the way that the FISA law works.

And if we were to have the cooperation of the administration in working that process through, I think it would demonstrate good faith on the part of the administration. In the administration is going to stonewall that effort, then, I think can you reach a different conclusion.

BLITZER: So, you have ...

KENNEDY: That's where I am.

BLITZER: So you haven't made a final decision on censure?

KENNEDY: That's so.

BLITZER: Here's what you write in your new book, "America Back on Track." "It is difficult to assess how secretive an administration is but I have never seen an administration so determined to keep important information from Congress and the people."

You go on to write, "This extraordinary secrecy is a major threat to our democracy." That sounds, if it's that big of a deal, as potential groundwork for impeachment.

KENNEDY: Well, the secrecy issue is obviously something that I think the American people understand and increasingly understand. For example, with the warrantless wiretapping by the administration, I believe that, should we capture the al Qaeda with that kind of a process, there's a very good opportunity that those individuals will not be successfully prosecuted and convicted, and our ability, really, to leverage the prosecution of those people, be heavily compromised because we did not have a constitutional system and legitimate authority by the president of the United States.

This could basically be avoided by the president of the United States. It's not the secrecy over the energy - development of the energy policy. It's just complete, all through aspects. The reclassification of historic documents to deny them public distribution. There's a whole range of different activities. Americans should be entitled to access the information that's not going to threaten the security of the country.

BLITZER: Here's what you write, also, in the book, on Iraq. "Our misguided policies reduced rather than enhanced our influence in the world, created new battalions of terrorists and made it far more difficult to protect our nation and its interests. The war in Iraq, as many had warned, turned Iraq into a breeding ground for terrorism which it had not been before."

Let me rephrase the question I asked on the warrantless wiretaps, now on Iraq. Is this stuff grounds for impeachment as some are suggesting in your party?

KENNEDY: I would say, this is the great mistake about the policy. That's what I'm concerned about, and interested in. There's no question today, now, in retrospect, it was not the activity of al Qaeda in Iraq, there's no question it's a training ground in Iraq and I don't think because of the Iraq war we are safer than we were prior to the time, when Saddam Hussein ruled there.

So, that is -- that is a basically, the position that I have. And I think we need to change policy. I think we are going to try and do that in the remainder of this Congress, and we are certainly going to do it in the congressional and senatorial elections and the presidential elections. That's really as far as I'm prepared to go.

BLITZER: You're not ready to talk about impeachment.

KENNEDY: I'm not, no.

BLITZER: Let's talk about, in the time we have left, which isn't a lot, the vice president, Dick Cheney he said on "Face the Nation" on March 19th, "I think we are going to succeed in Iraq. I think the evidence is overwhelming. I think Ted Kennedy's been wrong from the very beginning. He is the last man I'd go to for guidance in terms of how we should conduct U.S. national security policy."

I want you to respond to the vice president.

KENNEDY: Well, it's the vice president, is the one that has basically gotten it wrong. And that's what history is going to show. At the time that we had al Qaeda on the run in Afghanistan, at the time that we had Osama bin Laden on the run in Afghanistan, it was the vice president as a principal advisor to the vice president that diverted the focus and attention on the battle in the war on terror from Afghanistan and al Qaeda into Iraq.

He was wrong about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He was wrong about the al Qaeda connection in Iraq, he was wrong about Americans being accepted as liberators in Iraq. He was wrong about the Iraqis being able to pay for all of their reconstruction in Iraq, and he is wrong when he said, just a few weeks ago, that the Iraqi war was in its last throes. He has been wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. This isn't just myself, it's recognized by the American people.

BLITZER: Would you agree with the "Los Angeles Times" editorial that came out in recent days suggesting that he resign given that record?

KENNEDY: Well, what I'm interested in is a change of policy. It starts at the top, it starts with President Bush. He ought to change the policy. We need new leadership in the Department of Defense, we need new direction, that's going to be able to bring American servicemen home now, this year, American servicemen home from Iraq, bring them home with honor.

BLITZER: We only have minute left. You're going to - you've said you are going to support John Kerry if he wants to run for president once again. What would he bring that Senator Clinton, for example, wouldn't bring?

KENNEDY: Well, I'm not against any of the other candidates. I know, at least, the ones that have been talked about, and I have respect for them, and I'm sure they would be -- do a much better job than we are having done at the present time. I do know John. I have known him since the time of the Vietnam War.

I understand his commitments, and I believe that he can. He's learned from the last campaign. I think he would be a good candidate, and I think he would be a good president.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "America Back on Track." Senator Edward M. Kennedy, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.

KENNEDY: Good to be with you. Thank you, Wolf.

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