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Transcript: Key Campaign Advisers

The following is a transcribed excerpt of "FOX News Sunday" for October 31, 2004.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Joining us now to talk about the campaign is Karen Hughes, longtime confidante and senior adviser to President Bush. She is with the president now in Orlando, Florida.

And, Karen, welcome. Good to have you with us.

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Good to be with you, Chris. I'm glad you reminded me where I am, because that's the hardest thing coming down the stretch, is knowing exactly what city you're in.

WALLACE: I'm sure.

Why hasn't the U.S. caught Usama bin Laden?

HUGHES: Because he's hiding somewhere, Chris. And I think we've sent our very best forces to try to do that.

It's interesting, you know, Senator Kerry is trying to make much of — actually engaging in shameful politics, claiming that we missed a chance to get him.

We had our most elite, most highly trained force, Delta Force, in the hills of Tora Bora looking for them. And I have every confidence that, had he been there, had they been able to find him, had they known exactly where he was, Delta Force, the most highly skilled force in the world, would have captured him.

Now, what we have done is significantly and systematically destroyed his organization. We have arrested three-quarters of his key leaders and operatives. We have — he used to run a country in Afghanistan. He used to run training camps and basically control the country. He is now a fugitive from justice. Those training camps have been shut down. His organization has been shattered.

Now, he's still a threat. There's no doubt about that. And the question for the American people in this election is, who is best able to deal with that threat? And I'll argue that it's absolutely President Bush, who has been systematically engaged in an effective war against terror that is shutting down and destroying his organization.

WALLACE: Karen, I want to talk to you, if I can, about what you just brought up: the politics of the bin Laden tape. After Senator Kerry heard that this tape existed, he was asked about it, and he said that we are paying the price for the president's mistake, the fact that he let Usama bin Laden get away.

The president reacted very sharply to that. And let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: It's the worst kind of Monday-morning quarterbacking. It is especially shameful in the light of a new tape from America's enemy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Now, Kerry, as you know, has been saying for months that the  president took his eye off the ball with regard to Usama bin Laden. I know you disagree. But why is it shameful for Kerry to say it now? Does bin Laden get to dictate what can and can't be said during an American presidential campaign?

HUGHES: Well, of course not, but it's shameful for him to have done that now, because you see his instincts.

On a day when the president was a great statesman and when he went out and used the senator's name and included the senator in saying that no Americans are going to be influenced or intimidated by an enemy of our country and that he was sure that Senator Kerry would agree with this, thereby taking politics out of the equation, what Senator Kerry did was just the opposite and tried to use this as an opportunity to score a political point, making statements that he knows are simply not true.

They've been disputed. I mentioned Delta Force was in charge of the operation there. The commanding general in charge of the entire operation, General Tommy Franks, has said that Senator Kerry's comments just do not square with reality.

And, in fact, Senator Kerry, at the time of the Tora Bora operation, praised the administration, said we had handled it very well and that we were doing the right thing in working with local Afghans who, after all, knew the terrain and were helping our Delta Force operatives.

So it's just shameful that he would try to use this moment, which is a moment for all Republicans, all Democrats and all Americans to express our revulsion at this face of evil, and that he would try to use that to score political points I think was just beyond the pale.

WALLACE: Karen, what does your polling over the last two nights tell you about the effect that the bin Laden tape has had on the presidential campaign?

HUGHES: Well, Chris, as we've said, we don't expect that the tape will have any influence on this campaign. We don't believe that our fellow Americans are going to allow our enemy, Usama bin Laden, to affect their votes one way or another.

Now, what should influence this election is the American people's judgment of which candidate is most effective to wage and win this war against terror, which candidate — I've been saying since the beginning of this campaign that I think that, when people get in the voting booth, they're going to vote based on who they believe will make their family safer.

President Bush clearly has been leading and waging a very effective war against terror. The polls are showing the momentum is with the president. The new poll that came out yesterday shows — the Newsweek poll shows President Bush up by six points. The average of all the public polls shows him up by three points.

We were joking yesterday, as we were traveling through the Midwest, there was a front coming through, and gale force winds were blowing us onto the airplane. We'd been saying the wind is at our backs, and that's how we feel. We feel we have the momentum in this campaign.

WALLACE: Karen, let's move on to the other big story this week, and that is the 377 tons of high explosives that allegedly went missing after the fall of Baghdad.

We have now have this tape that appears to prove that some of those munitions were still at the Al Qaqaa weapons facility after the fall of Baghdad. Given the fact that the U.S. was specifically alerted about the danger of these weapons, why weren't U.S. troops told to secure them?

HUGHES: Well, Chris, first of all, there are a couple of statements you made there that I think are still in question. The number of tons of explosives is still very much in question.

As the military has said all along, the facts of this matter are still not — we still don't know all the facts. And even Senator Kerry's own advisers admitted he doesn't know all the facts, although he's again tried to use this somewhat recklessly to score political points at the expense, I think, of our troops.

What we did see this week was the Army major who was in charge of going to that site and getting rid of the explosives at that site, thereby protecting our troops, making sure that those explosives could not be used against our troops. And he talked about the fact that he removed a substantial number, I think he said 250 tons, of explosives from that site.

That was his mission. Our military clearly had a strategy to go after those explosives.

WALLACE: But, Karen, he said that that was before the tape that showed that the weapons were still there. And he said he didn't know whether the specific weapons that the IAEA had warned about were or weren't there.

Let me just ask you, though, because we're running out of time...

HUGHES: But, Chris, let me remind you, this is a war, and this is a facility that's the size roughly, I understand, of Manhattan. That Army major had a mission, and he went there, and obviously you could tell on his face the pride that he had in that mission. He went there to remove explosives, and he removed explosives.

And I think Senator Kerry, in highlighting this story, has made a strategic mistake, because he's reminded the American people that Iraq was a very dangerous place, full of weapons, and therefore President Bush was absolutely right to go into Iraq and try to remove that danger and that threat to our country.

WALLACE: We've only got a minute or so left, Karen. It was a bitter pill, I know, for this president when his dad lost running for re-election in 1992. I know, and please don't tell me, that George W. Bush doesn't think that he's sure he's not going to lose. But has he prepared himself for the possibility of that?

HUGHES: I actually don't think he thinks that way. He's an optimist.  He's very much looking forward to serving for another four years as president. He has a great deal he still wants to accomplish for this country.

And he's enjoying going around the campaign, around the country talking about his positive vision for strengthening the economy, for winning this war on terror, for bringing about the peace that we all want for our children and for our grandchildren. And so that's the way he's looking at it. He's very much enjoying the campaign.

I don't know whether Senator Kerry's enjoying himself. Frankly, he's issuing a long list of complaints. And anger is not an agenda, and complaints are not a plan for the future.

The president is talking about the future. He wants to be the president for the next four years. And I'm confident, when all is said and done on Tuesday, he will be the president for the next four years. And that's going to make our country and all of our families a lot safer.

WALLACE: Karen Hughes, thanks so much. Safe travels on the rest of the campaign trail.

HUGHES: Thank you so much, Chris. 

WALLACE: For the view from the Democrats, we're joined now by Bob Shrum, senior adviser to the Kerry campaign, who's with the senator in Dayton, Ohio.

Bob, good to have you with us.

BOB SHRUM, KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Good morning, Chris.

WALLACE: Let's start with the bin Laden tape that we were talking about with Karen Hughes. After Senator Kerry heard that there was a tape, he was asked about it by a local TV station, he repeated his claim that he's made so often, that George W. Bush took his eye off the ball in Afghanistan, let bin Laden get away from Tora Bora, and then said the following. And let's put this up. Kerry said, "I would never have done that. I think it was an enormous mistake, and we are paying the price for it today."

The Republicans say, and you just heard it from Karen Hughes, that John Kerry is a political opportunist whose first instinct was to try to gain some political advantage.

SHRUM: You know, first of all, they're running a campaign of fear.  George Bush has half a campaign. It was stunning to listen to Karen Hughes talk about the future. And in her future, there are no jobs, there's nothing done about health care, there's nothing done about any of these critical domestic issues. It's simply a campaign of fear.

People who saw those debates know that John Kerry can defend this country. But they also know that he'll fight for the middle class.

Now, let me talk about the Usama bin Laden tape, because I rode with him to the airport in the car. He got out of that car, he walked over to the plane, he stood up, and he said, "We're all united as Americans in our determination to defeat terrorists. They're barbarians. And we have to go out and kill them."

Look, the real issue here is whether or not we're going to fight a more effective war on terror. Senator Kerry has a plan to increase our armed forces by 40,000. He has a plan to double our special forces.

But the other part of the equation is fighting for the middle class.  I mean, I'm here in Ohio where 230,000 jobs have been lost. George Bush doesn't talk about it. Karen Hughes doesn't talk about it. We've asked them over and over and over...

WALLACE: Bob, Bob...

SHRUM: Let me finish one sentence, Chris. We've asked them over and over and over in this campaign why they support a loophole to ship American jobs overseas. They won't answer the question. The answer is because it's money for people who are very powerful and who contribute to them.

WALLACE: Bob, I want you to answer one of my questions, though. Let's go back to this question of bin Laden and fighting the war on terror.

Has Kerry been consistent about that whole action and the way in which the bin Laden issue in Tora Bora was handled? 

The reason I ask is, back when it was happening, in real time, in December of 2001, he was asked about the question of letting Afghan warlords try to capture bin Laden. And this is what he had to say: "It is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively, and we should continue to do it that way." 

And this raises the question that the Republicans have been talking about throughout this campaign: Doesn't John Kerry jump and have it whichever way suits him at that particular time?

SHRUM: Chris, you know that's wrong. It's wrong on two counts. First of all, he was asked whether or not we should use some Afghans. He did not say that we should not use Americans. And for over two years, he's been saying that we should have used American forces. He's talked very specifically about the 10th Mountain Division, which was nearby and which should have been sent to get bin Laden.

But that's not the issue. The issue is that we diverted our forces and our focus from Afghanistan. We went to Iraq. We created a mess in Iraq. It's a terrorist haven that it wasn't before.

And it's absolutely stunning to hear Karen Hughes try to excuse the malfeasance of this administration on these weapons by saying, "Well, maybe it's not 380 tons." Well, what if it's 100 tons? I mean, this is ridiculous.

I mean, John Kerry will make this country safe, and he'll fight for the middle class. He'll fight for jobs and health care.

And, you know, Chris, it would be really interesting if we had a couple of questions on that. Because as I travel across the Midwest, as I look at the Des Moines Register poll this morning, where Senator Kerry has a three-point lead, as I look at the poll in Minneapolis, where he has a nine-point lead, I'll tell you something, people want someone who can be commander in chief but who will also be a champion for the middle class, for jobs and for health care.

WALLACE: Well, Bob, forgive me, but I'm going to ask another national security question, because it's something that you...

SHRUM: You know, Chris...

WALLACE: ... your campaign — forgive me, Bob — this is something that your campaign has brought up and talked about all week. And that is the question of these alleged 377 tons of explosives that went missing in Iraq, which you certainly would agree Senator Kerry has been talking about all week.

What we're talking about here, even if it is 300, 400 tons is 1/1,000 of all the weapons that the U.S. forces have destroyed in Iraq. Is that really the best you've got?

SHRUM: Well, first of all — by the way, the best we've got? This was reported by news agencies and, I think, actually by your network in a very straight way. And it was reported as a very serious problem. The undersecretary of state, Richard Armitage, said this is a tremendous security problem.

So I think it's a very important issue.

And the issue is that the administration had 15 different, shifting explanations for this. At one point, the undersecretary of defense actually went out and said, well, they gave them to the Russians. The next day, Rumsfeld went out and said that's not true.

The fact is, those weapons were there, we sent our troops into battle without body armor, and they're — we don't know what happened to those weapons. We don't know whether there was looting. But we do know that the administration did not do its job, the civilian leadership did not do its job, of having our troops secure those weapons.

WALLACE: But how about the fact that the American forces...

SHRUM: It's the same way that they failed to do their job on...

WALLACE: Bob, forgive me, but how about the fact that U.S. forces did destroy 400,000 tons, not 400 tons?

SHRUM: There are all sorts of — this is not the only one. There are ammunitions dumps, as we know, all across Iraq that were not secured. We know that the insurgents are using weapons out of those ammunition dumps.

Look, Iraq is a mess. There's a tremendous problem that we're facing there that our senior military leaders are talking about on the front page of The New York Times today. They say Iraq is moving in the wrong direction.

Iraq is moving in the wrong direction. This president doesn't have a plan on jobs. And this president has no plan on health care, except health savings accounts, which make you pay a $3,000 deductible and work as a tax shelter for very wealthy people.

WALLACE: Bob, I want to ask you about the broader question here of whether or not Senator Kerry has convinced voters that he is ready to be commander in chief.

In the Fox News poll — and let's put up the numbers here — in the Fox News poll that we just mentioned that shows a flat-footed tie, 46-46, the president still leads Kerry on who will do a better job handling terrorism by 11 points.

I mean, it seems that, at least on that issue, Bob, that he has not made his sale.

SHRUM: Look, Chris, the fact of the matter is that people have made a judgment that John Kerry can handle terrorism. They have made a judgment that he can be commander in chief. They've made a judgment, in a lot of polls, that he will handle the foreign policy and national security of this country better.

But what they really like is the fact that he understands that a president has to do more than one thing at a time — all this president does is talk about one thing and try to play the politics of fear — that the president has to stand up and fight for jobs, for health care, for the middle class.

WALLACE: Bob Shrum, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you so much for joining us today. And as we said to Karen Hughes, safe travels the rest of the campaign trail.

SHRUM: Thanks a lot, Chris.