CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
August 24, 2004
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: Good evening. I'm Anderson Cooper.
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Kerry blasts Bush for a fear-and-smear campaign. But is his rhetoric keeping the swift boat issue alive? We go 360 with former presidential candidate Howard Dean.
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Coming up next on 360, Howard Dean says George Bush may have violated the law and owes the nation an apology. We're going to talk to him ahead.
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360 next, Howard Dean still swinging, he's throwing punches for John Kerry. We'll hear from him and we'll go on the campaign trail for a look at what happened today. Lot of tough talk today. . .
(Context for the Dean interview:)
COOPER: Well, Senator John Kerry was in New York today, telling an audience this November's election will be a choice between right and wrong. He also used the S-word to describe his opponent's tactics, which prompted the Bush campaign to fire the same S-word, smear, right back at him.
CNN's congressional correspondent Joe Johns kept track of this day's punch and counterpunch.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the Republican National Convention right around the corner, John Kerry staged a preemptive strike in Manhattan, with a picture-perfect photo-op at the Statue of Liberty.
SEN. JOHN KERRY, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Well, I used to work over there, actually.
JOHNS: And a strongly worded speech designed to undercut the president.
KERRY: Next week, at Madison Square Garden, the Republican convention will focus on slogans, excuses, and attack politics. And mark my words, they're going to bend over backwards with last-minute proposals and last-minute promises to make up for all that they haven't done, and to pretend that they're not who they really are.
JOHNS: Kerry didn't mention the swift boat controversy by name, but it was clearly on his mind. Aides were suggesting the matter could backfire on Bush.
KERRY: The Bush campaign and its allies have turned to the tactics of fear and smear, because they can't talk about jobs, health care, energy, independence, and rebuilding our alliances.
JOHNS: The Bush campaign quickly fired back. In a statement, Bush-Cheney spokesman Steve Schmidt listed what he called a series of attacks by the Kerry smear machine. And he called Kerry's accusation that Mr. Bush is claiming to be something he's not, quote, "an incredible effort to rewrite history. This is a candidate who said voting against our troops would be irresponsible, then voted against our troops."
(on camera): With just days to go before the start of the GOP convention, the Kerry campaign is hoping to focus voters on what it calls the clear choice between Kerry and the president on the issue. Even so, the swift boat controversy is still churning up the water.
Joe Johns, CNN, New York.
COOPER: Well, you could call it a ritual of politics. One side lobs a political hand grenade, the other side fires back. Soon the political diatribe degenerates into he said, he said accusations, then one of the candidates turns around and calls for the campaign to return to issues. Sound familiar?
CNN's Judy Woodruff thought so.
KERRY: I don't know, in front of me, behind me, I'm talking about the things that are important to Americans.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Kerry is trying to turn the page, sort of. Under fire for weeks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH AD)
BOB ELDER, LIEUTENANT, BRONZE STAR: John Kerry is no war hero.
GRANT HIBBARD, LIEUTENANT COMMANDER, TWO BRONZE STARS: He betrayed all his shipmates.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: The candidate says he's moving on to what voters really care about.
KERRY: ... talking about the economy, jobs, health care, things that matter to Americans.
WOODRUFF: But he's still flogging his swift boat nemeses, portraying them as a cog in a Republican smear machine.
KERRY: The Bush campaign and its allies have turned to the tactics of fear and smear.
WOODRUFF: Kerry is pulling a page from the same weather-the- storm playbook that Bill Clinton used. In '92, dogged by draft- dodging allegations, Clinton spelled out his story to the media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON: It was just a fluke of circumstance that I wasn't called.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: And then froze out the press, turning his attention to the people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: It's amazing to me the difference in the questions you ask and the questions real voters ask.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: And it worked. Clinton got through a rough patch by confronting the problem and plowing on. Call it the Dukakis lesson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1988 CONSERVATIVES FOR FREEDOM CAMPAIGN COMMERCIAL)
ANNOUNCER: This man let him out of prison on a weekend furlough.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: In 1988, Willie Horton helped sink Michael Dukakis. He failed to respond to the firestorm over so-called weekend passes for vicious criminals, and it helped sink his campaign. John Kerry wants to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to him.
Judy Woodruff, CNN, reporting.
COOPER: Well, Howard Dean is not mincing words about the television commercial attack, attacking John Kerry's Vietnam record, the original one. Earlier, I talked to the former Democratic presidential contender.
Governor Dean, you're calling for an apology from President Bush for misleading ads. What, in particular, what specifically, do you think he should apologize for?
HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think he, the president needs to apologize to the nation and to the nation's veterans for two reasons. First is that the first so-called swift boat ad had absolutely no truth to it whatsoever.
And the second is that the president's campaign is directly responsible for that ad. He had people from his campaign participating in making that ad. That is a violation of the law. I think presidents ought not to be violating the law. So I think he has a double apology to make.
COOPER: I mean, this allegation of a link, today "The Washington Post" said the evidence is unconvincing. What's convinced you?
DEAN: Well, the guy who -- one of the people in the ad was actually on the president's campaign council, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
COOPER: You're talking about Cordier.
COOPER: Yes, but he, he was a relatively...
COOPER: ... low-level -- he was a relatively low-level guy in the national steering committee for Veterans for Bush.
DEAN: Anderson, it doesn't make any difference. You're not supposed to do ads paid for by outside parties if you are involved with the president's campaign. That, in fact, is what happened. Someone from the president's campaign was involved in an ad that the president was not paying for. That's against the law.
COOPER: But you're alleging, it seems -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- more than that, though. I mean, you seem to be alleging that these two groups are colluding, working in tandem.
DEAN: And the evidence is pretty clear. If you have an employee or someone who is on your advisory council then colluding with another group to put out ads, which, incidentally, don't have one shred of truth to them, then I think you've got a serious problem. I think the president has a very serious problem, because I believe the president has violated the law.
I understand I don't believe the president saw the ad ahead of time, but I believe that under the law, he is responsible for it.
COOPER: Your critics will say, look, there is as much evidence of collusion between President Bush and this group, as there is between John Kerry and some of these 527s that have been raising money for him. I mean, his former spokesman or one of his former advisers, Jim Jordan, former campaign manager, is now a spokesman for the Media Fund, you're appearing at a Moveon event tonight. You work with the Kerry campaign.
Couldn't someone say there's collusion, that's evidence of collusion?
DEAN: There's nothing against the law in my appearing anywhere I want to. I'm an independent operator. I don't do ads for Senator Kerry. And he -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Senator Kerry, to the any campaigns that I've done for Senator Kerry have been paid for by Senator Kerry's campaign.
What the president's doing is very different. There are no employees, to my knowledge, of the Kerry campaign involved in any of these 527 ads. Jim Jordan was fired from the Kerry campaign a long, long time ago.
So I have no doubt the Republicans will say a great many of these things. They're great at shading the truth. But the fact of the matter is the president of the United States, his campaign appears to have violated the federal election law, which is a criminal sanction, which calls for criminal sanctions. There's no evidence to that effect of any kind on the Democratic side.
COOPER: Haven't there been a lot of groups on the Democratic side or you know, 527 groups on the Democratic side, who have raised some $67 million, depending on who you listen to, and they've made some pretty outlandish claims? They've made some commercials. One commercial on Moveon's Web site, sort of made a link between George Bush and Hitler.
DEAN: That is something that -- that sounds like the Republican argument. The Republican argument is they're doing it, too. The truth is this is a matter of law. There have been a lot of things said on both sides that have some inaccuracy. There's nothing against the law about saying any damn thing that comes into your head, whether it's true or not. I think it's too bad that both sides are doing that, but that's what's happening.
There is something against the law when the president of the United States' campaign has a hand in doing that, and it also, I might add, since the president's campaign has a hand in telling a story that's totally untrue, which has been documented to have been untrue by some of the most important and prestigious newspapers in the country. I think the president owes this country an apology. Thanks.
COOPER: Governor Dean, good to talk to you.
DEAN: Thank you, Anderson.