Big Story Transcript: Wesley Clark Accuses President Bush of 'Bait and Switch'

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, Dec. 23, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.


GEN. WESLEY CLARK (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our threat was not Saddam Hussein. It was Usama bin Laden (search). And the president of the United States deliberately misled the American people away from a struggle against Usama bin Laden. He did a bait-and-switch on us.


JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FNC SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST: From his strong views during a Sunday news show to his use of a four-letter word during a pancake fund raiser, Democratic presidential hopeful General Wesley Clark (search) is making waves.

Earlier, I talked with New York 1's political correspondent Dominic Carter (search), who recently had a one-on-one with General Clark. I asked Dominic today's big question — how are General Clark's remarks affecting his campaign?

DOMINIC CARTER, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK ONE: Politics at play, Judge. We're in the middle of a presidential race and that's what we're looking at. Mr. Clark, if you sit down and look at this, it appears that he is trying to play to his military credentials. I mean, that's what he brings to this race.


CARTER: That's what he's trying to highlight here.

NAPOLITANO: But do his military credentials really help him? Does it help him to say, “I have all this foreign policy experience” when he's running against George W. Bush who's waging the most aggressive, and you might say successful, foreign policy in recent times?

CARTER: Judge, here is the problem. It is a formidable task to defeat this president to begin with. Just look at his poll numbers.


CARTER: And for the Democrats, what they have or what they thought they had, the economy and Saddam Hussein. The economy appears to be on the way back. I mean, just look at the stock market. And so thus, you look at what's happening around the world and now that's not even an issue. So, they are finding themselves behind the eight ball, if you will, and so that is why the Democrats, to a degree — this race is far from over, but one can make a strong case, Judge, that they are reaching. They're in trouble.

NAPOLITANO: All right. So George Bush has succeeded in taking issues away from them, is what you're saying.


NAPOLITANO: He's taken the economy away from him. He's taken Saddam Hussein away from them. So now they are going to say, “Well, what about Usama bin Laden? Why didn't you get him?” What does he mean about “bait-and-switch?” I know what the term means, but what is he saying the president did or failed to do with respect to Usama bin Laden?

CARTER: Well, it's trying to — just look at the president's poll numbers in the last couple of weeks. They have gone up. And so if you are running against him, you have to find a way to try and change this. It is an attempt, in my opinion, to say, “Look, this is not over. Saddam Hussein may be in custody. But, hey, wait a minute the president promised us Usama bin Laden.”

NAPOLITANO: And he is still out there.

CARTER: And he is still out there.

NAPOLITANO: All right.

CARTER: So it is trying to take a positive and turn it into a negative.

NAPOLITANO: Got it, got it. One point I think you said he thought President Bush was afraid to go after Usama bin Laden. Now to me, that doesn't make any sense. Remember, we invaded Afghanistan trying to find Usama bin Laden. Is he going to make any headway with this kind of nitpicking? You got number one, you didn't get number two.

CARTER: Well, when your big credential happens to be military experience and, frankly, you don't have much, that's what you have to — that's what brought you to the game, Judge. That's what you have to stay with. And so, it doesn't appear to be working. The Democrats are battling right now to be an alternative to Howard Dean. It looks like his momentum is moving full steam ahead.


CARTER: And things right now, as of right now, it could change at a moment's notice, things don't look good for the Democrats right now.

NAPOLITANO: Now you spent personal time with General Clark recently in a car ride here in New York City.

CARTER: Over the weekend, we met him in Staten Island. I've interviewed him a number of times. I don't know why he's decided to focus on me.

NAPOLITANO: Well, you are a good man to interview and to be interviewed by. So I think it was a good move on his part. But what did you talk about in the car when the cameras weren't rolling?

CARTER: How much do I owe you for that, Judge?

NAPOLITANO: We'll deal with it later.

CARTER: No. No. We talked on the Staten Island ferry and, you know, without going into a private conversation because I don't feel that's fair, he did say that he feels more comfortable on the stump. And it does — that is General Clark. And it does appear that he is more comfortable with the media and so on. Just look at his schedule. He is making himself much more available than he did in the beginning of his campaign. And it seems like he is getting a little bit of stride, if you will.

NAPOLITANO: Is he the last best hope of the Democrats, that is General Clark the last best hope of the Democrats who want to stop Howard Dean and think that the South Carolina primary is the first and last place to do it?

CARTER: Perhaps. And maybe that's why he's spending all of that time that he is down in South Carolina. But let's keep in mind, Judge, these contests are front-loaded and, as you well know, this thing may very well be over before it even starts.

NAPOLITANO: It could. And the Democrats may be kicking themselves in the foot because they frontloaded this. Because those who want to stop Howard Dean, the guys who frontloaded it, don't have the time to do so now.

CARTER: Indeed, judge. It may be too late. It may very well be too late. Mr. Clark and others are hoping to hang around...

NAPOLITANO: Dean may be king.

CARTER: Temporarily.


CARTER: Until the general election.

NAPOLITANO: Dominic Carter, anchor here in the city at New York 1. Thank you for joining us.

CARTER: Judge, always nice to see you. And happy holidays to you and your family.

NAPOLITANO: Same to you.

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