This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," August 18, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: John Kerry spoke to the Veterans of Foreign Wars today and he got what some reporters are describing as a tepid reception.
This comes days just after the Republicans began slamming the Senator about his record on the intelligence committee and his proposal during the 1990s to cut intelligence spending by $6 billion.
So is Kerry's record on national security starting to mean trouble for the Senator?
Joining us, former Oklahoma congressman J.C. Watts, and also former Arizona Senator, Dennis Deconcini, who was himself a member of the Intelligence Committee. And he opposed Kerry's proposed cuts in intelligence spending.
Senator, good to see you.
Congressman, good to see you.
Thank you for being with us.
All right. Senator, let me begin with you. This new ad is out and it has John Kerry saying he's going to reform the intelligence committee. Then it points out that he missed 76 percent of the committee hearings.
Then it has that he even missed an entire year's worth of hearings after the first World Trade Center bombing. And then it points out he wanted the $6 billion in intelligence cuts.
Here is what you said at the time when he proposed this. We'll put it on our screen. It says, "There are still nuclear weapons out there which are targeted against the United States and whose control we worry about. There are countries not friendly to us, which seem bent upon developing their own weapons of mass destruction. But the world remains a dangerous place and an uncertain place. We continue to face the challenges to our nation's interests all around the world."
Senator, you were right. You knew John Kerry was wrong. That's a powerful statement you made back then and it shows that you were way ahead of the curve. And yet you're supporting John Kerry tonight. Why?
DENNIS DECONCINI, FORMER ARIZONA SENATOR: I am. I am. And I'll tell you why, Sean, if you just give me a few short moments.
HANNITY: Take your time.
DECONCINI: This is a political effort now to discredit a very strong American war hero, because he made a mistake, in my opinion, and obviously in yours, in trying to cut the intelligence committee.
But to me, the question here is, where is George Bush? Since 9/11 he has done little or nothing to change the intelligence committee. I mean, the intelligence community. And that's where the blame is.
Now, to be fair about it, the blame was there with Clinton, as well. These presidents have known that there was a problem with intelligence. Bush knew it. Bush had a chance after 9/11 to really make some changes because the Congress was with him, the people were with him, and he didn't do it.
HANNITY: Senator, let me just disagree with you gently, as gently as I can. Your guy wasn't there 76 percent of the time. And from what I understand you were there nearly all the time. Bob Kerrey was there nearly all of the time.
Now, after the first trade center attack, he didn't show up once in a year, not one time. And he proposed the $6 billion cuts which you thought were disastrous and unwise.
DECONCINI: That's true.
HANNITY: So why should we trust him now? He wanted a nuclear freeze when Reagan was winning the Cold War. He has been all over the map. This guy doesn't instill any confidence in me.
DECONCINI: Well, maybe he doesn't in you, but he does in a lot of people that don't think that President Bush has conducted this war in the proper manner. And certainly after the combat has stopped, what he has done with our relations around the world.
And this is a disagreement that reasonable people can have. And I think Bush has got himself a lot of problems. And that's why he is running and not doing what John McCain said, stopping the swift boat attacks on Senator Kerry.
HANNITY: Wait a minute. The president has condemned all these ads.
But let me go to J.C. Watts. You know, Congressman Watts, it was John Kerry in 2003 that was warning the country that Iraq's WMD's posed a real and grave threat to the United States.
And he's for the war but against the funding. Then he's the antiwar candidate and now with all that we know, he'd still support it. I don't know how people are supporting this guy.
J.C. WATTS, FORMER OKLAHOMA CONGRESSMAN: Sean, I agree with Senator Deconcini that I don't think Senator Kerry is a bad guy because he proposed a $6 billion cut to an intelligence bill. I don't think he's a bad guy because he's on the wrong side in many of these issues.
But then I do think that the American people have a right to know. They have a right to know where you stand on intelligence issues. They have a right to know where you stand on intelligence funding.
And I would disagree with the senator just a bit in saying that President Bush hasn't done anything on intelligence. When you consider that the Patriot Act was a piece of legislation that, in that legislation, we allowed the FBI and the CIA, who, prior to that legislation, could not exchange information on the bad guys. President Bush signed that law — signed that bill into law.
So the Patriot Act has helped us tear down many networks, tear down funding networks, go after the bad guy, kind of help the good guys do what's right for our country.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Congressman...
WATTS: But I do think, again, I think we have to be careful that we don't get into impugning people's character. I don't think Senator Kerry is a bad guy because he did those things.
WATTS: But I do think the American people have a right to know where he stood on intelligence issues and defense issues with his vote as a senator.
COLMES: I think it's been inaccurately represented.
Congressman, good to have you on the show.
Senator, good to see you.
That $6 billion cut was over six years, by the way.
And Senator, let me ask you: you were on the intelligence committee. Let's talk about those absences.
DECONCINI: I was. I was.
COLMES: Can you talk about whether John Kerry was absent? Can you even disclose his level of appearances there? And is that a fair criticism against John Kerry?
DECONCINI: Well, no, I don't think it is, Alan. Because No. 1, he was not on the committee when I was chairman of the Intelligence Committee. So he did not have the access that I had and the other 19 members of that committee had.
Now, still, you know, you can argue that he should have learned. But I I have the greatest respect for the congressman.
But to think that George Bush let the Patriot Act pass or supported it in order that the FBI and the CIA could work together, they could work together before. The bipartisan commission on 9/11 has pointed that out, that they have turf wars. They won't work together. And the president could and should do something about it.
And Rumsfeld and McLaughlin of the CIA testifying, "Well, we're kind of wishy-washy."
The congressman, Alan and I have been around Washington for a long time. We know when people don't support something, they say, "Well, we have second thoughts. We need to go slow. We've got to be deliberate." That's just nonsense.
COLMES: Congressman Watts, let me ask you this.
In terms of John Kerry and the criticisms against him, this administration has to stand on its record. In the days after September 11, the Bush White House cut by nearly 2/3 an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI.
John Ashcroft cut the FBI's request for items like computer networks, language intercepts and cyber-security requests.
Shouldn't they run on that record and is that a fair criticism against this administration that did not want to fund these counterterrorism efforts?
WATTS: Well, Alan, if it happened, it is a fair criticism.
But I do know for a fact that the Patriot Act, that the CIA and the FBI could not, by law, exchange information in some cases and the Patriot Act allowed them to do that. And that is a fact. I was in Congress when we had the debate on that issue.
You know, I tell you what. To say that someone, if you bring up J.C. Watts' voting record on an issue, that it's unfair or it's being negative. You know, when I was in Congress — and Senator Dennis Deconcini can say the same thing — when we were in Congress, we cast thousands of votes and we had to vote yes and we had to vote no and go on and defend those votes.
COLMES: J.C., Senator Kerry spoke at the Veterans of Foreign War. He talked about getting the job done for the military and pointed out that 500,000 people are excluded from the V.A. health care system, 320,000 are at the moment waiting for decisions on disability claims. V.A. hospitals are being closed. Those are irrefutable facts.
Is that really a good record on the part of this administration in terms of how it treats its veterans?
WATTS: Well, you know, Alan, you can go back for the last 10 years and we've seen those things happen. Those things just didn't happen in this administration. When I was in Congress, I represented a district that had a whole lot of veterans and we talked about those issues on many occasions.
You know, if there is fault to be had in that circumstance, you can't just point to this administration...
COLMES: Where does the buck stop?
WATTS: Well, exactly. And we saw it and we've seen it happen — we've seen those things happen under the Clinton administration and I am concerned about it.
However, you know, when you're going through and you're always having to borrow from Peter to pay Paul and this is what I told the veterans in the Fourth District of Oklahoma. When you're borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, something is going to suffer, something is going to suffer. Something is going to have to give.
But I think when you look at the facts, a lot of those things have happened, but this administration has put more money in veterans’ programs and veterans’ benefits.
You know, because you have a hospital closed...
COLMES: A number of them.
WATTS: ... or a military facility that closed, you can't say that, you know, that's anti-anything. I mean, there's a lot of capacity out there.
We're going to go through a round of military closings in 2005. Is it anti-military, because we close some military facility? No. We have to counter evaluate and analyze and see how we keep this thing alive for those veterans that really need those benefits.
HANNITY: Senator Deconcini, let me go back to you. And I hate it when you're so nice to me, by the way. You're totally charming and disarming, which I don't like for Democrats. Just kidding.
You haven't read the book "Unfit for Command," have you?
DECONCINI: Yes, I have...
HANNITY: You have read the book?
DECONCINI: I have not. Not really.
HANNITY: OK, you haven't. I have read the book.
DECONCINI: "Plan of Attack," I read.
HANNITY: It's extremely well documented. You've got 250 swifties, over 60 of them on the record with their names, documenting their experience. A lot of these guys are heroes. A lot of these guys have medals. They all served their country.
Don't they deserve the right to be heard? Don't they deserve the right...
DECONCINI: Well, Sean...
HANNITY: Wait a minute — to tell their stories without having their character and integrity and honesty questioned?
DECONCINI: First of all, these men that are involved in the swiftie group, hey, I honor them, because they are Vietnam veterans. I honor John Kerry because he's a Vietnam veteran, just as George Bush says he honors John Kerry.
This attack by these gentlemen is disgraceful. And it's...
HANNITY: Don't they have the right to tell their story?
DECONCINI: It doesn't make any difference if...
HANNITY: Are you calling them liars? What if they're telling the truth?
HANNITY: Will you expose the fact that John Kerry wasn't in Cambodia at Christmas?
DECONCINI: How can you say that they are not telling the truth when the people that were on the boat with John Kerry have testified that they were there?
HANNITY: These guys were eyewitnesses. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. No.
DECONCINI: Wait a minute. They were not on the boat, Sean.
DECONCINI: They were in another boat.
HANNITY: Senator, this is Clintonesque.
DECONCINI: And they want to go after this guy.
HANNITY: These guys...
DECONCINI: This is disgraceful.
HANNITY: I read the book. You didn't read the book. Let me tell you something about the book.
The book chronicles their eyewitness day-to-day working, hand in hand with John Kerry in Vietnam. They served their country. They're telling their story and it seems that we could do better than just questioning their integrity this way.
HANNITY: You haven't even read it.
DECONCINI: Who questioned their integrity? John McCain, another war hero.
HANNITY: I love John McCain. He's a friend, but I think he's wrong on this.
DECONCINI: Well, I disagree with you. I think John McCain is right on this. And he has asked the president to refute that. The president has not done it.
HANNITY: Yes, he has.
DECONCINI: John Kerry has refuted the ads that go the other way.
HANNITY: The president said he's against all of these ads. He doesn't want them.
DECONCINI: No, he has not. The Bush...
HANNITY: But I am saying, they have earned the right, via their service, to tell their story and not be called liars by the Clinton hit men — by the Kerry hit men that are out there, attack them.
DECONCINI: That's nonsense to do that. How can you support someone who would attack someone who was in combat in Vietnam and offered up his life? I didn't do that.
COLMES: I think they have the right to tell their story and we have the right to speak out about it.
We thank you very much, Senator, for being here.
Congressman, good to see you.
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