Hot Stories for the Week of March 22 - 26

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys", March 27, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "The Beltway Boys" Saturday at 6 p.m. ET and Sunday at 1 and 6 a.m. ET


RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM CHIEF: Your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you failed you. And I failed you.


MORT KONDRACKE, HOST: And welcome back to America from far-off Iraq...


KONDRACKE: ... glad, glad you're back safe.

BARNES: Thanks ...

KONDRACKE: While you were gone, the top story of the week, hot story of the week is Clarke week. 

Richard Clarke (search), who you just saw there, former top antiterrorism official in the White House, spent the week trashing President Bush, saying that he didn't adequately prepare for 9/11, praising Bill Clinton as having made terrorism a top priority, and said that Bush's war in Iraq was a diversion from the war on terrorism.

Now, the Bush campaign, as you well know, regards his handling of the 9/11 aftermath as the crown jewels, or the fortress, of their existence, you know...


KONDRACKE: ... and they, they defended it as fiercely as they possibly could. Here's Bush doing it himself.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to strike America, to attack us, I would have used every resource, every asset, every power of this government to protect the American people.


KONDRACKE: Now, I think that at the end of the day, the fortress stands, the jewels are still, are still in the vault. What I think what really counts for Americans is what happened after 9/11, how did Bush, how did Bush handle it?

I mean, it -- the polls show, the latest Fox poll shows that 52 percent do find that Richard Clarke accusation that Bush didn't recognize al Qaeda, the al Qaeda threat was believable, but 65 percent approve of the Bush administration's response to the 9/11 attacks.

And when asked who would do a better job protecting the U.S. from future attacks, 50 percent think that Bush would, and only 27 think that Kerry would.

BARNES: Now, you also see up there that Kerry perhaps not doing as well on 9/11, is doing better than Bush on jobs, and that's what he's had a free hand this week to emphasize while Bush was warding off blows from Clarke all week long on 9/11.

The Kerry also gave a speech on Friday where he's beginning now finally to outline his economic plan. We'll hear a lot more about it. But listen to this, it was in Detroit.


U.S. SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So if I am elected president, I will fight for the most sweeping international tax law reform in 40 years, a plan to replace tax incentives to take jobs offshore, with new incentives for job creation on our own shores.


BARNES: Now let me turn back to Clarke. I think his whole case against Bush is disingenuous. The truth is, neither Clinton nor Bush did enough to fight terrorism prior to 9/11, 9/11 changed everything.

And you know why I know that? Because Clarke himself has said so. His big thing in the Clinton administration was that they should, he should have ordered a serious attack on the al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.

Clinton wouldn't do it. Why wouldn't he do it? Why does Clarke say he wouldn't do it? Because he had other things that were bigger priorities. Maybe it was the Balkans, maybe it was Israel and the Palestinians. In other words, fighting terrorism was not a top priority for Clinton, and in fact it wasn't a top priority for Bush either.

Now, let's get to who we think were the winners and losers in the whole 9/11 hearings thing, starting with Richard Clarke, Mort.

KONDRACKE: Richard Clarke, loser. I think net-net loser. Look, I can, I think he came across as two things. One, a passionate terrorism fighter. I mean, I think he was really obsessed with terrorism. But two, he was also an incredible bureaucratic climber.

BARNES: Yes, yes.

KONDRACKE: You know, and he wanted this job as number two man in the homeland security department. You know, and he basically did whatever any president wanted him to do, you know, he wrote a memo defending the administration, he gave a backgrounder defending the administration, which was released.

And then he writes his book attacking Bush after he gets denied the job of number two man...

BARNES: Right, yes.

KONDRACKE: ... in the homeland security department.

Here's a little exchange with Jim Thompson, who's the, one of the Republicans on the 9/11 commission. Watch.


JAMES THOMPSON (R), 9/11 COMMISSIONER: As we sit here this afternoon, we have your book, and we have your press briefing of August 2002. Which is true?

CLARKE: I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done, and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done. And as a special assistant to the president, one is frequently asked to do that kind of thing. I've done for several presidents.

I don't think it's a question of morality at all. I think it's a question of politics.


KONDRACKE: It's a spinner...

BARNES: Yes, yes, right.

KONDRACKE: ... that's what he is...

BARNES: Yes, right, yes.

KONDRACKE: ... Now, look, if he had gotten the number two job at homeland security, this book never would have been written.

BARNES: Yes, yes. No, I know, you're right. Look, you know, every administration has some guy who says, The world would be different and better if only the president had taken me more seriously, if only he'd read my memo, if only I, I could have gotten into the Oval Office.

And this whole thing that Clarke is doing, I mean, it is calculated for maximum publicity. I mean, he's not attacking Clinton. Who would care about that now? He has to make his attack on Bush where there's an audience for that.

He, the book's coming out so it'll coincide with the 9/11 hearings and so on, it's extremely cynical. OK.

Winner, Bob Kerrey. You know, Kerrey, a member of the 9/11 commission, was the one guy who came across as someone concerned about mostly about why 9/11 happened and not trying to blame Democrats or Republicans ... Bush or Clinton.

Listen to this short set-to with Madeleine Albright, Clinton's secretary of state.


BOB KERREY (D), 9/11 COMMISSIONER: We keep hearing the excuse we didn't have actionable intelligence. Well, what the hell does that say to al Qaeda?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: You, senator, I know, were the only person that I know of who suggested declaring war. You were probably, you know, in retrospect, you were probably right.


BARNES: Now she tells us.



KONDRACKE: ... Kerrey, Kerrey was the, by far the most forceful and evenhanded of the commissioners. But he did not do himself any good...


KONDRACKE: ... as a potential candidate for vice president. The Democrats that I've talked to said...


KONDRACKE: ... that what they wanted was an attack dog ... somebody who could eviscerate...

BARNES: Yes, right, right.

KONDRACKE: ... Don Rumsfeld, and that what, not what Kerrey did.

BARNES: Even more reason why Kerrey's a winner. OK.

Winner, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Now, look, Rumsfeld made the argument, I thought, cogently that there was no serious rationale for attacking the al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan prior to 9/11.

I mean, you couldn't do it on the basis of just chatter we were hearing, you know, intelligence chatter. But if you had attacked them before 9/11, then their response at the World Trade Center (search) and the Pentagon (search) would just seem like their reaction, and not the horrible event that it was.

KONDRACKE: Well said, I mean...


KONDRACKE: ... Rum, Rumsfeld was tight trenchant, you know, good.

BARNES: All right. Loser, Bill Clinton.

KONDRACKE: I, yes, Bill Clinton, look, what comes out of this is that in eight years, you had the first World Trade Center bombing, you had ... Khobar Towers, you had the ... embassy bombings, the "Cole" and all that, and did Bush, what did Clinton do? He, he sent one fusillade of cruise missiles into Afghanistan, and that was it, you know. And he did, as you said, he did not have terrorism as a top priority either.

BARNES: Right, he didn't. OK.

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