January 23, 2004 Friday
HEADLINE: Interview With Senator John Kerry
GUESTS: John Kerry, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen
BYLINE: Robert Novak, Paul Begala
Senator John Kerry discusses his new position as front-runner in the Democratic presidential race. Actors Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen explain why General Wesley Clark is gaining their support.
NOVAK: Senator John Kerry is up to 34 percent in the latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup tracking poll in New Hampshire. That's a nearly 10-point gain since the Iowa caucuses brought Senator Kerry's presidential campaign out of intensive care, with the help of the good Dr. Dean.
As Howard Dean knows, what comes up can come down pretty fast. But unlike the good doctor, Senator Kerry figured he could keep his lead and his cool long enough to step into the CROSSFIRE.
We talked with him this afternoon after a Kerry rally in Manchester.
BEGALA: Let me begin with the news of the day. "The Wall Street Journal" reports that Halliburton has admitted that two employees there accepted $6 million in kickbacks. Meanwhile, the top Pentagon auditor is asking the inspector general to investigate allegations of $61 million of overcharging.
First, what's your response to the news? And, second, do you have a plan to try to control allegations of profiteering by contractors in Iraq?
And you don't give no-bid contracts. That's where it begins, No. 1. No. 2, there's a licensing in this administration of an irresponsibility, if you will. If you give a no-bid contract and people believe that, because the vice president of the United States has a linkage to the company, they somehow have this kind of ongoing immunity, it extends the powerful interests' ability to do what they want to do.
And that's exactly what I think people feel about Washington today. This is an extension of the lack of accountability.
NOVAK: Senator Kerry, at last night's debate, General Clark was asked about a statement made in his presence by Michael Moore that President Bush is a-was a deserter.
In the absence-and General Clark said he didn't know anything about that, but he didn't know one way or the other.
NOVAK: In the absence of any-any allegations to that effect, what do you think of calling the president of the United States a deserter? Or do you have some information that that is accurate?
KERRY: No, obviously, I don't. I think it's over-the-top language, Bob. And I think that's not what my campaign is about.
My campaign is about the American people. It's about bringing our country together, not dividing it, and trying to find a way to make it more fair. We need to put people back to work. We need health care for all Americans. We've got an education system in crisis. And we've got a president who's giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, rather than investing in and facing up to those choices, as well as being fiscally responsible.
BEGALA: But you've talked a lot about your experiences in Vietnam, had a rally today with several Vietnam veterans. Why not raise the questions about George W. Bush's service?
In truth, your hometown paper, "The Boston Globe..."
BEGALA: ... has reported in great detail that there's not a scrap of evidence that, for a year, that he ever showed up for his National Guard duty. He'd been transferred to the Alabama National Guard.
BEGALA: He never showed up. It's certainly not desertion. But it's certainly not fulfillment of one's obligation. It was your hometown paper. I mean, you must be familiar with
KERRY: Paul, that's not-that's not the ground I want to fight this campaign on.
And I'm very proud of my service. I'm glad that I got the experience I got. And I'm proud of the friendships I have from it. But a lot of us decided many years ago not to make the other choices people made an issue. It was a very complicated time. It was a very difficult time. What I want to talk about now is the future, how we bring the country together over a war that has been bum-rushed at the American people.
Their-the president did not do, I think, the diplomacy that the United States of America deserves, that the world deserves, before you take a nation to war. There's no graver decision that a president makes. And when the international community is sending you every signal in the world, slow down, let's do this in a responsible way, a president ought to listen. This president didn't.
And now the American people are over $200 billion out of pocket. Our American soldiers are more exposed than they ought to be, because they are not sharing the risk. It's the wrong way to take a nation to war. It was the right thing to do to stand up to Saddam Hussein, but he's done it in the wrong way.
NOVAK: Senator, the first time I met you, over 30 years ago, you came to Washington as a young war hero who was protesting against the war. It was brought up last night that you threw away your medals.
KERRY: I actually threw away my ribbons, not my medals, yes.
NOVAK: Your medals-those ribbons means a lot. Your courage and intrepid behavior was an inspiration.
NOVAK: Those ribbons and medals mean a lot to a lot of us.
KERRY: Yes, they do.
NOVAK: Everybody makes mistakes. Do you think that that was a mistake, as a young man who felt that deeply?
KERRY: No, Bob, it was not a mistake. It was a very heartfelt and painful expression, symbol, if you will, of the anger that a lot of veterans felt.
And it was the only way to sort of get the nation's attention and sort of shake the nation and say, hey, look, this is what's happening. I'm proud of what I did in Vietnam personally. I'm proud of the men I served with. I'm proud of what I did to earn those. But, on the other hand, it was a way of saying to the nation, stop, look, and listen. And I think it did that.
I will tell you, it was a very difficult thing for everybody to do. There was great emotion in that ceremony. Those vets were crying. They were angry. But it really teaches you a great lesson about the consequences of the decisions you make about going to war. I remain proud of my service. And I said it then. I said then, I'm prepared to go to war again to defend my nation, but it's got to be with all of the nation coming to the sense that-or the vast majority of the nation coming to the sense, this is really the last resort and this is what we have to do.
And that's how wars ought to be engaged in.
BEGALA: Well, let me ask you about the current war in Iraq.
The vice president of the United States, one of the chief architects of our policy in Iraq, gave an interview to National Public Radio in which he claims that there is strong ties between al Qaeda and Iraq and that the trailers that were found in Iraq were, in fact, proof of biological weapons. How do you respond to those-those two assertions from the vice president?
KERRY: Paul, I don't know where the vice president is coming from on that. I mean, you can have an opinion, but you can't make up facts.
The fact is that his own inspector found otherwise. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said otherwise publicly. And when the administration came to us in order to get the authority, they acknowledged there was no smoking-gun, open connection of al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein.
They were given their authority based on the weapons of mass destruction. That's the only rationale that Colin Powell left standing before the Foreign Relations Committee. That's what the president said he would do. And he misled the American people. And we are going to hold him accountable for it.
BEGALA: Is-is Dick Cheney misleading the American people now?
KERRY: I believe that is not a factual statement.
BEGALA: Senator John Kerry shortly after a rally this afternoon in Manchester with his fellow veterans.
One of his opponents, also a veteran, General Wesley Clark, is getting an awful lot of support from celebrities. So, next, we'll talk to actor Ted Danson and his wife, fellow actor Mary Steenburgen, about why they're campaigning for the four-star general.
Stay with us.
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