This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Nov. 24, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Democrats are trying to make a point about a controversial IRS privacy clause that wound up buried in a huge spending bill. Republicans now agreeing to take it out but Democrats still delayed the final vote. They're mad.
Senator D'Amato, let's start with you. Are Democrats motivated here, in this instance, by partisan politics or real, live, honest-to-God principles?
AL D'AMATO (R), FORMER NEW YORK SENATOR: Both. I think they're right on the principle issue and I think they're certainly playing up politically, Bob may say no; but both. I think it was dumb and stupid.
GIBSON: It clearly was. If some...
D'AMATO: Some staffer writing in or at their direction or not at the direction of a Congressman that the committees would have the right — the chairman and the ranking member and their staff — to look at the tax returns, et cetera.
No criminal penalties or no penalties if that information is divulged to others. I mean, it's silly; absolutely silly.
So whoever came up with it...
GIBSON: What would be the point of it?
D'AMATO: It's wrong on principle. You something? I don't really understand it; why they would do it. But principally — unless it's an enhanced power — it's wrong there and certainly politically it makes something for the Democrats to shoot at.
GIBSON: So, Beckel, explain this to me...
D'AMATO: By the way, they shouldn't hold up the bill now and Bob knows that. At a certain point they're going to let it go. They're trying to make their point.
GIBSON: But I'm trying to understand it. Is this the idea where if you are the committee chair and somebody is appearing before you, go peek at his taxes and sort of hint, hint, wink, wink, to the person, "I got some stuff on you?"
BOB BECKEL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, yes, they could do that but as Al pointed out, the other thing they could do is take these tax returns and hand them off to other people without any penalty for doing it.
Now, the question is: are the Democrats...
GIBSON: In other words, a legal leak?
BECKEL: Yes. Are the Democrats playing politics? Of course they are.
D'AMATO: But Bobby, you want to know something? You and I disagree on so many issues, but I am glad to say — here you are, you say, "Of course they are." And the fact is they should. We should be spanked because it's our committee people who did it; our staffers who did it. It's stupid.
GIBSON: Let's get with the spanking, Bob. Go ahead.
BECKEL: I'm not going to take the spanking. It's Republicans who need some spanking.
The point is Al raised this important point which is why? Now, if you asked yourself a — I mean, maybe you miss a comma or you misspell a word, or one of these things — but this is an entire change in the way you do policy. I don't for a minute believe this was a mistake or people were too tired.
First of all, we should do away with this process that allows this kind of bill, these ominous bills to end up at the end of the year. But, leaving that aside, somebody somewhere in the Republican Congress wanted to use, and I believe they want to use terrorism, as a reason to step on people's civil liberties.
I mean, the idea that you could pull up people's tax returns is not only well thought out by somebody, it is an abysmal affront to the Constitution.
GIBSON: OK. So...
D'AMATO: All right. Wait a second.
GIBSON: But I'm under the impression they can do it anyway.
D'AMATO: I agree with 80 percent of what Bob said, but then that last part, which is really cogent, we had a provision which permitted this heretofore, basically, to take place. But it said, "If you leak it out, let me tell you, there are penalties."
Doing away with the penalty thing is absolutely wrong.
GIBSON: OK. Let me move on to another thing.
Everybody is up in arms, Bob, about this shake up at the CIA and now the president wants to hire thousands of more spies. And you just heard Wayne Simmons, in the previous segment, say he believes that analysts with a political agenda set the president and George Tenet (search) up with this "WMD as a slam dunk" to embarrass them. That's a pretty serious charge.
What do you make of that?
BECKEL: Well, first of all, I'm of big fan of Wayne's. But let me tell you, when I heard that sitting here, I just about fell off this chair, which would have been a large...
GIBSON: That's why I have arms on my chair, Bob, so I don't fall off.
Let's remember what happened in that meeting. The chief analyst for the CIA made the briefing for the president in front of Tenet, and the president said, "I can't sell that on Main Street." Do you remember when he said that?
And then he said, "George, what do you think?" And George says, "It's a slam dunk." Now he has his chief analyst there making the case to the president of the United States. The president said, "I can't sell it," but Tenet says it's a slam dunk and the president goes along with it.
I've never understood that from the beginning, but it wasn't as if somebody tried to scuttle the president of the United States at the CIA. And the idea that the CIA wanted John Kerry (search) to be president of the United States is about like them wanting to have me and Al D'Amato as president and vice president.
The whole thing is ridiculous.
D'AMATO: I'm not taking the number two spot.
BECKEL: No, I said I would Al.
D'AMATO: Understand that.
BECKEL: But if you...
GIBSON: Earlier you said to me, "Well, I think that is possible."
D'AMATO: It certainly is possible. Unfortunately what we have is a climate which is so charged politically that it does reach down into various areas of government: the State Department, the CIA, unfortunately.
I think that the new director of the CIA has kind of felt that, and that's why he put out a memo, which I don't think politically was good. But he was trying to get the point across that, "Hey, let's stop this."
Better to say we're all working for this nation together than the president's agenda.
GIBSON: Bob, you think all in all this Porter Goss (search) is going to make the CIA an improved agency that's going to help protect us better? Or is all the squawking from the people who are getting hurt over there mean that it's getting weaker?
BECKEL: If the first month of his tenure is any indication, I don't think the guy could make the Portland Police Department any better.
I'll tell you, the problem here is the CIA, when you take them on like that, they are master leakers as Al knows, and you've seen this now. But Goss' people that he brought over there, particularly the chief of staff of the Intelligence Committee, had a reputation for being a guy who always stirred things up.
But I think beyond that, the idea that the CIA director, after all the intelligence failures we have would send out a memo saying, "We are going to follow the president's agenda"; as Al said, it's just a terrible use of words. And it is political? And the answer to that is yes, and I intend to use it and I am right now. It's political.
D'AMATO: OK. Let me tell you this: it was a mistake. But having said that — and George Tenet is a friend of mine, I've known him; I know his family — but I want to tell you something. We have to be able to do a better job than has taken place over the years.
We need better human intelligence. If we can't improve this situation — and I was on the Intelligence Committee for six years — I learned more at reading the "New York Times," which I don't agree with at all, than I did going to the Intelligence briefings.
That's how uncooperative the Intelligence Committee was with the CIA. The CIA is out of control and they have not done a good job.
GIBSON: Senator Al D'Amato, Bob Beckel, thanks to both of you. Happy Thanksgiving...
BECKEL: Happy Thanksgiving to you.
GIBSON: See you later.
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