This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, September 14, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.
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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Welcome back to The Beltway Boys.
Joining us to get an inside look at what's going on in the White House as the Iraq war planning intensifies is Tom DeFrank, Washington bureau chief for The New York Daily News.
Welcome back to the show.
TOM DEFRANK, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Thanks, Mort.
KONDRACKE: You wrote in a recent column that at some stage, we are going to have an Adlai Stevenson moment, that is, like the moment during the Cuban missile crisis when Adlai Stevenson presented the evidence about Russian missiles to the United Nations with pictures.
Now, what's the plan here?
DEFRANK: Well, they're not telling me the plan, but here's what I think the plan is, Mort. I think pictures like that are going to start being shown to members of Congress next week, behind closed doors. I think there's also — it's also likely that those pictures will be shown another time, and it'll be the night the president announces that he's gone to war, if he goes to war, which I think he will.
FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Tom, on September 11, of course, the president this year, on the first anniversary, gave a speech in the evening at Ellis Island. It looked like a Hollywood production. What was going on?
DEFRANK: Well, the thing that surprised me about that was that they were bragging about it. You know, Fred, every president, every staff sends advance men out, and they're looking for the right angle of the sunrise or the sunset, or is it a blue background or a red background? All of that is standard operating procedure, it has been since the three of us have been in Washington.
But I thought this was — this was the only discordant note of that whole day for me. I thought the president performed terrifically, but I just thought that was a little hokey with the Statue of Liberty over his right shoulder, floodlit with extra lights, with the billowing American flag over his left shoulder. I thought that if the wind wasn't so high, they probably would have rented fans to make the fan flow.
I thought the — the flag blow.
DEFRANK: I thought that was a little bit much, and I — but I was very surprised that this buttoned-down White House leaked the story to The New York Times — not even leaking it, talking on the record, about how proud they were about this. I just thought that was a little much, but it was a, it was a very good speech.
BARNES: Tom, the president seemed to have on September 11 a lot of time, hours, to shake hands with people and hug people, you know, at the places he went, the Pentagon, ground zero, Pennsylvania. Doesn't that screw up his schedule?
DEFRANK: Well, it would have, except the president made clear to his staff that he wanted extra time there, because this was going to be a day, especially when he was meeting families, that he was not going to be rushed, he was going to take plenty of time, that his time on — at ground zero went well beyond the printed schedule.
You're right, he's very punctual. He actually shows up early for things sometimes. But this was one where he wasn't going to be rushed, he was going to spend the maximum amount of time. That's got to be the toughest duty a president has, and I think he and Mrs. Bush pulled it off very well.
KONDRACKE: The White House chief of staff, Andy Card, has said that the roll-out for the persuasive effort on Iraq was all very — was planned a long time ago for September because you don't have — you don't do a public relations campaign in August.
But, but July and August looked to be pretty dicey, with a lot of Republican officials going back and forth, Brent Scowcroft, Larry Eagleburger coming out against the president's policy. Did that at all worry the White House?
DEFRANK: Well, I think it rattled them, because it got them off their game plan. They weren't on, on message. There was a progression here, and it was all supposed to be building to a crescendo in September. And then all of a sudden, parties like Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker and, to a lesser extent, Henry Kissinger, who's still very supportive of military action, were raising questions.
And I think it really did rattle them, because what — it had an effect of influencing Congress, and then public opinion was influenced as well, and his numbers came down, his approval numbers about military action in Iraq came down even more.
KONDRACKE: Well, so they did launch in September, but he's calling for a vote before the end of Congress. Now, the Democrats all suspect that the timing is very politically based. It's designed to, you know, take away from the domestic policy ... that the Democrats expect.
Is this a Karl Rove special?
DEFRANK: it probably is a Karl Rove special. And I don't believe Karl Rove is manufacturing the crisis. They're not — but, but the fact of the matter is, the timing clearly is something that helps the president and Republicans by changing the subject away from what the Democrats hope will be the November 5 election agenda, which is jobs and the economy and prescription drugs and Social Security and all those kind of core issues for Democrats.
BARNES: What is the role these days, Tom, of Colin Powell? He seems to be back in the fold, saluting the policy, which I thought he didn't like that much. Does this president like creative tension and disagreement among his top aides?
DEFRANK: He loves creative tension and disagreement, because one of the biggest problems — and I talked to him about this in 1992 before — the year before his father's election, about how difficult it was to get people — he was saying how difficult it was for people to speak candidly to his father, the president of the United States, then a candidate for reelection.
And so he likes this. As a matter of fact, there's a famous story, I'm not going to tell you who said this, but in a cabinet meeting once, he asked a certain cabinet officer, There are three options on the table, which one do you like? And he said, I don't like any of them. And he says, The option I like is option seven, and it's not anywhere there. And he said, That's why you're still in my cabinet.
So, so, of course he doesn't like it all over the papers as it has been lately. And I think now that the president has decided a certain course of action, Secretary of State Powell's going to be the good soldier he is, and he will salute.
KONDRACKE: How worried was the White House about — when the, when the orange alert was declared? I mean, the, the vice president went off to an undisclosed location. Do — were they really worried that they were going to get hit?
DEFRANK: I think they were, they were more worried than, than we may know. I think it was a 50-50 proposition. But the point is, most people don't know this, Mort, when you go from yellow to orange, there are certain things that happen. And one of them is, you set up a shadow government.
BARNES: It's been going.
DEFRANK: ... all of, all of, all of a sudden, a lot of senior officials from, from various government cabinet off — cabinet agencies disappeared to other undisclosed locations, not the one where Cheney was.
BARNES: Tom, thanks very much. Always great to have you.
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