This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," Sept. 21, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: Earlier, I spoke to Senator John McCain, and we spoke about Iraq and a wide variety of issues, including the CBS controversy. You might be surprised by some of his blunt responses.
But, first, I asked him if he was pleased with the progress in Iraq.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN R-ARIZ.: I'm not content because I think we've made mistakes and I think that we need to correct those mistakes, but I am confident that we will prevail because we must prevail and I believe that the consequences of failure are too terrible to contemplate.
VAN SUSTEREN: When you talked to me last April, sir, you said that you had been in Iraq the previous August and you said that you had heard from the soldiers and the troops and the sergeants and majors in August of 2003 that we needed more boots on the ground, something you repeated in April. Is that still your view, sir?
MCCAIN: It's still my view, and I think we're paying a very heavy price for not having done that, and I also believe that we should never have allowed sanctuaries to come into being in places like Fallujah.
Having said that, I think we've made progress in the north, I think we're adjusting to some of the mistakes we made and the recent increase in the level of violence is tragic, but not too surprising in that I think the insurgents recognize that we're most vulnerable politically in this run-up to the election.
VAN SUSTEREN: Does that mean, sir, that we should put more troops on the ground right now and is it so that nobody is listening to you in the Bush administration since that's something that you at least have been repeating at least for quite some time?
MCCAIN: Well, it's kind of a glass-half-full, half-empty kind of deal, because they had planned on reducing the number of troops far below the level that it's at today and they've maintained and even increased some.
We need more linguists. We need more special forces. We need more civil affairs. We need more military police. We need more training of the Iraqis. We need a lot of things. And I would also say that General Abizaid, General Petraeus, General Casey and these leaders are the best that I've ever seen.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. In terms of the elections, we all go to the polls in November trying to decide whether to reelect President Bush or to vote for Senator John Kerry. We're trying to decide how each candidate is different in terms of executing the war in Iraq. Do you see a profound difference in the way these two men look at executing the war and what is it?
MCCAIN: I think they would execute the war probably very similarly, but John Kerry has stated that America and Iraq and the world are not safer as a result of removing Saddam Hussein. I happen to believe we're a lot safer, not only now, but in the future, if Saddam Hussein remained in power. John Kerry seems to think that George Bush hasn't done enough to get foreign troops in.
Look, I think George Bush has done everything he can and I think that it's very, very difficult to get other allies to come. And, if they do, America still does the bulk of the fighting. And, third, John Kerry has set a withdrawal date four years from now. A date certain is not a date for victory. The key to it is to prevail and reduce our casualties down to minimal or none and then it doesn't matter how long we stay.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. You've been the champion of trying to clean up the money in campaign finance. In looking at this election, is it any cleaner or is it still — even though we fixed a little bit of the money problem — a dirty election, in your view?
MCCAIN: Well, the 527s have had a very pernicious effect. There's no doubt about that. There has been a dramatic reduction in soft money, in corporate giving of soft money, but could I just mention quickly, a federal judge over the weekend threw out 15 of the 19 regulations that the Federal Elections Commission had enacted in order to implement McCain-Feingold or BCRA.
The Federal Election Commission again has proven to be a corrupt organization led by Ms. Weintraub, Ellen Weintraub, who's a Democrat apparatchik, and Bradley Smith, who is a right-wing ideologue, and they have totally abrogated their responsibilities.
This is now the second time that the United States Supreme Court said that the Federal Elections Commission was responsible for the opening of loopholes for soft money and this judge has said that, among others, the Federal Election Commission encouraged corruption by their regulations which they've issued, which have no relation to the campaign finance laws.
A United States federal judge, over the weekend, gave a very sound whacking to the Federal Elections Commission, and incredibly, rather than abandoning those regulations, the Federal Election Commission says it's too late to change them, even though they've been declared illegal. This organization must be abolished.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. And no one has ever accused you of giving up, Senator McCain. I also understand you're going to try to fix the 527s. What are you going to do about those?
MCCAIN: Well, first of all, we go to court and we'll win just as we just win. By the way, it was Marty Meehan and Chris Shays that brought the suit against the Federal Election Commission for the regulations they issued implementing the law and now that they are allowing the 527s to function. We're going to go to court again and we'll win in court and we'll shut them down.
But we can't keep putting our thumb in the dike every time that the Federal Elections Commission in their corrupt fashion opens another loophole. So we're going to have to change the Federal Election Commission so that they are enforcers of the law, not enablers of creating loopholes.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Let me switch gears for a second to the election. Do you think that we have talked enough about the Texas National Guard, Swift Boats, Vietnam? Should we be focusing on the now and the future on cable TV, in the news, in our political debates, put this other stuff behind us?
MCCAIN: I was very pleased that John Kerry gave a major speech on Iraq and that the president of the United States went to the United Nations today to give his vision of the future both in Iraq and the Middle East. I cannot imagine any viability associated with re-fighting a war that was over more than 30 years ago.
John Kerry served honorably in the United States Navy. George Bush served honorably in the National Guard. We cannot change the outcome of that war. They've reopened old wounds. I can't erase a single name on the Vietnam War Memorial.
And, today, young men and women are risking their lives in Iraq. We should be debating and discussing how we can best achieve the goal of freedom and democracy in Iraq.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why aren't we? In 2000, the primary season got pretty mean and ugly. Why are we still having this sort of finger pointing and not looking at the present and the future?
MCCAIN: I can only assume that pollsters and political consultants say it moves numbers, that it effects voters' decisions and so it's up to the voters to reject this kind of campaigning. And sometimes it works, even though the voters don't like it, and they deserve a lot better than what they've been getting for the last five or six weeks.
VAN SUSTEREN: We're back with more of our interview with Senator John McCain. He talked about CBS, Dan Rather, and the future of news. But, first, I asked him about his views of the recent developments in Russia.
MCCAIN: Well, I think that Mr. Putin is using this latest terrible tragedy, this horrible thing in Beslan as an excuse to further consolidate his power, to repress the media, to have a Duma that will basically be a rubber stamp. And the tragedy of all this is that the Russian people deserve better.
But, also, it won't stop the war with the Chechens until they receive some kind of autonomy or independence. He is fighting an insurgency that's been overtaken by extremists because of the incredible brutality that's been inflicted on the Chechens.
And are they good and decent people? No, because they've been taken over by extremists, but he's got to find some moderates in Chechnya and set them up in a government and give them some kind of autonomy.
But I called it several months ago a creeping coup that is taking over Putin and his KGB cronies. They're taking over Russia. Now it's a galloping coup.
VAN SUSTEREN: How much should Americans worry about what's going in Russia?
MCCAIN: Not enough. Not enough. And I think it's up to our leaders to start speaking out more harshly against what Mr. Putin is doing. We want a good relationship with the Russians, but we should not stand by and not speak out very strongly about what's being done to the freedom and liberties of the Russian people.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you also worry about the stockpiles of sort of nuclear weapons? And, in Russia at least, we oftentimes hear that they are not that secure.
MCCAIN: I'm very worried about it. I think the Nunn-Lugar plan of disposing of a lot of this has worked pretty well, but there's still a lot of areas that, as you say, are both unsupervised and could possibly be sent to the wrong people. But I'm also worried about Iran and I'm worried about North Korea.
We may look back on the first 10 years of the post-Cold war period with great nostalgia in the years ahead.
VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think, Senator, about the recent controversy involving CBS? They apparently got caught with their pants down, to put it politely, on these documents?
MCCAIN: Well, specifically, I think Dan Rather is a fine practitioner of his craft. He has apologized. Clearly, there's an investigation of outside people that should find out what's going on. But I also think, frankly, that CBS is going to pay a very heavy price because people are not as many people are going to watch and they're going to have a tough job in restoring their reputation.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me quote to you from a headline in The Wall Street Journal of an editorial. September 3, 2003, "John McCain's Flying Circus," in which The Wall Street Journal editorial page insulted you and it turned out you were right. Have you gotten that apology yet from The Wall Street Journal, sir? I've been asking you for a long time about this?
MCCAIN: I've never gotten an apology from The Wall Street Journal, but I've stopped looking in my mailbox.
VAN SUSTEREN: The only reason I bring this up to you: It seems like a lot of news organizations get things wrongCBS is far greater than perhaps an insult to the United States Senate, but you may not feel that way. Unfortunately, there's no way to police this.
MCCAIN: Well, I think also interesting — I agree, but I also think it's interesting that during the convention — during the Republican Convention, more people watched Fox because they felt that that was more compatible with our views. In the Democratic Convention, more people — obviously, Democrats — watched CNN because they thought that was more compatible with their views.
What are the implications of that? I'm not exactly sure, to tell you the truth, but it could be that people will begin viewing news according to their, perhaps, bias — leanings or bias or political beliefs. It could be very interesting in the future and also the fragmentation of the news.
I remember very, very well when there was three major ways of getting your news and you got it in the evening, either from Walter Cronkite or from Huntley and Brinkley or whoever it was, and Brinkley and Brokaw were - - I've forgotten who his predecessor was now — but now I get up in the morning, I click on and see what the news is.
I don't have to wait for the evening news. The whole scenario has changed, and I really don't know, but it certainly is interesting when most of the young people say they get their news from the Jon Stuart "Daily Show."
VAN SUSTEREN: And, of course, we all have a profound commitment as well to the First Amendment and, in many ways, it's better to have more news than less news, but we need to just try to work at getting it right.
MCCAIN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think it's good and great that we have the proliferation of news sources. I think that's wonderful. I just don't know how it's all going to come out.
VAN SUSTEREN: I guess we have to police each other a little better.
Nice to see you, Senator. Thank you very much for joining us, sir.
MCCAIN: Thank you, Greta.
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