Was Bush's 9/11 Terrorist Transfer a Political Stunt?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," September 7, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: After President Bush's big announcement yesterday that he moved top Al Qaeda suspects to Guantanamo, some Democrats are saying that the timing is politically motivated and meant to scare people before the midterm elections. They're even going so far as to say this move bears the fingerprints of longtime Bush political aide Karl Rove.

Now, someone who's written extensively about Rove's long-term influence on the president, Wayne Slater. He is the Austin bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News and author of the book "The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power."

So, Wayne, Karl Rove — everybody knows he's a political genius, but have you see his fingerprints, as it were, or his influence on what we've seen over the last couple of days?

WAYNE SLATER, THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Absolutely. I mean, I think there's no question about that. It's really a bold stroke by the president. I think it is potentially effective. It certainly was effective in 2002 in the off year elections, in 2004 for the re-election of the president when Rove and company made terrorism the primary issue.

What has happened here is that it's an effort by the White House to refocus the debate against and away from Iraq, which is not good for the president, and toward terrorism. And in one fell swoop, we have people talking about exactly what Karl Rove and President Bush want to talk about: the bad guys are going to get us, and George Bush is the guy who can protect us best.

GIBSON: Now, Wayne, there is great power in the incumbency to decide OK, I'm going to move some Al Qaeda suspects today or I'm going to ask Congress for a new law on terrorism. Why shouldn't he?

SLATER: He should. I mean, I'm not saying that that was the reason to make this decision. It obviously makes sense from a strategic point of view, from a Republican point of view, from an administration point of view, and from the point of view of many national security experts.

What I'm saying is that the benefits politically to the president and to the president's party are potentially immense. The only question is whether voters have seen this White House go to the well one time too many.

Will they buy the argument? Will they be distracted from the problems in Iraq, and will they think it's significant that the president is the key figure? And they're reconstituting the debate over how do we keep the terrorists and the terrorist threat at bay.

GIBSON: Isn't this also a calculation that when voters are going in and voting for a congressperson who may be supporting the president or a challenger who attacks the president, that they think, oh, right, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh. Now this video today, which shows Ramzi Binalshibh planning 9/11 with Usama bin Laden. I mean, isn't the background of this as we're voting for Congress what's really important, not so much for Bush himself?

SLATER: Absolutely. And when I say Bush, it's really the party, because those are the offices that are at stake this fall for the Republicans. The Republicans have seen poll numbers that show that Democrats are about to make big gains, potentially taking over the House, possibly the Senate.

And so what the White House is doing here is reinforcing the position of Republicans who want the voters and their home districts to say, look, the decision that I want to make here is between the civil liberties of terrorists or my own safety here at home. I'm going to go with a Republican on that debate.

GIBSON: Wayne Slater, Austin bureau chief of The Dallas Morning News and author of "The Architect" about Karl Rove, thanks very much.

SLATER: Good to be with you.

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