Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer
CNN, April 4, 2004
BLITZER: Governor Dean, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.
Let's get right to the issue of the 9/11 hearings coming up this Thursday. Dr. Condoleezza Rice will testify. What specifically do you want to hear from her?
HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'd like some explanation, and I'd like some explanation from Secretary Powell about how he managed to present to the world the case to go into Iraq and now is admitting it wasn't true. You know, Colin Powell is one of the few people left in the Bush administration with credibility in foreign affairs. And for him to say that, I thought was shocking.
BLITZER: Let me interrupt you on that point. What he suggested was that his testimony, his statement before the U.N. Security Council on the specific issue of mobile labs, he says that was apparently now based on faulty intelligence. But he didn't say everything else was not untrue, just the specific reference to mobile labs.
DEAN: I know, Wolf. But when you put it all together, now we find out that the mobile labs allegations weren't true. It wasn't true they were buying uranium from Niger. It wasn't true that they were about to get nuclear weapons. There were no weapons of mass destruction. This administration has simply not told us the truth. And I can't understand why this isn't being investigated. This is Bushgate, which is far more serious than Watergate in many ways because 600 people are dead -- Americans are dead, in addition to countless Iraqis and over 2,000 Americans wounded, many of them permanently maimed.
What is going on in this country when this kind of stuff gets buried on page 6A, as it was in our local paper here this morning?
BLITZER: Well, let me just point out that there is a commission now that's investigating the WMD intelligence going into the war, which John McCain is a member of that commission. It will be released in March of next year after the election.
But there is a full-scale inquiry going on there, as well as in the intelligence committees in the House and Senate. So there are inquiries under way.
DEAN: Yes. I find it interesting, of course, that the inquiries are going to be put off until after the election. You know, if Bill Clinton were president today, there would be calls for his impeachment, there would be congressional investigations.
In fact, what's really happened is the right wing of the Republican Party, which apparently controls both houses, not just the House, is putting its party's interest just above the country's interest. We need a full-scale, open, congressional investigation about this.
The president of the United States took us to war. Six hundred brave American soldiers are dead, and we don't know why.
But we do know that this president was consistently untruthful, as was his administration, in telling us why we went to war.
BLITZER: Are you satisfied with the arrangement worked out with the 9/11 commission members, former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean and former Congressman Lee Hamilton and the other members, that the president and the vice president will appear before all the panel members, all 10 of them, behind closed doors?
DEAN: I think they ought to be testifying -- I think it's fine for them to testify behind closed doors. I think there are national security issues.
I do think they ought to testify under oath. That's important. This is a serious matter. Bill Clinton testified under oath during the Monica Lewinsky matter, which was a small matter compared to the national security of the United States. And I do think the vice president and the president ought to be testifying under oath.
I have a great deal of confidence in both Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton. I think the work of this commission ought to be taken seriously, and I think it ought to be taken seriously by the administration.
BLITZER: Based on what you know right now, do you believe 9/11 could have been averted?
DEAN: I think that's impossible to say. I think what we do know right now is the president of the United States paid no attention to 9/11 because of his obsession with Iraq, both before 9/11 and after 9/11.
We do know that we've consistently gone after the wrong enemy, which has always been al Qaeda, and that Saddam Hussein now is a diversion. And that the president of the United States has made consistently bad decisions, in many cases based on willful misinterpretation of the intelligence.
BLITZER: I don't think it's fair to say that the president paid no attention to al Qaeda. Richard Clarke said that this was an important issue for the president, but not a critical issue or an urgent matter, as it was, he said, for the former president, Bill Clinton.
You don't accept Richard Clarke, who was there for eight months, his assessment?
DEAN: What Richard Clarke's assessment was -- and I watched him because I think his testimony was riveting. What he said was that the president was consistently obsessed with Iraq and consistently demanded that his people who reported to him tell him, whether it was true or not, that Iraq had something to do with 9/11, therefore justifying the invasion of Iraq. When, in fact, we should have been spending our resources and our attention, not to mention sending the soldiers and so forth, to deal with Osama bin Laden.
That did not happen. The United States has been at continued risk because of that. So I think, true, perhaps to say he paid no attention is a little strong. But the fact is that he did everything he could to focus on Iraq, when Iraq in fact was not the problem. And that's jeopardizing the security of the United States of America.
BLITZER: Given what the United States faces in Iraq right now -- forget about the past for a moment -- but right now, what should the Bush administration, or a Kerry administration, for that matter, do in Iraq?
DEAN: Well, I prefer to talk about a Kerry administration, because I think the Bush administration is hopelessly out of touch with the defense needs of America. And I don't generally give public advice to a nominees. I think that can be done in private.
Let me just say what I think should be done in general. We need to rekindle the moral leadership this country has held until this administration came along since World War I. We need to enhance the kind of cooperation that should have been done in the beginning. And we need to bring foreign troops into Iraq, preferably Arabic-speaking and Muslim troops into Iraq, to set that country on a path toward real independence.
BLITZER: Have you thought about the possibility, with this major U.S. offensive now under way in Afghanistan looking for Osama bin Laden, if he is captured between now and November, what that impact might be on the presidential election?
DEAN: I think every one of us wants Osama bin Laden to be captured or killed. So I don't think you can think about what might happen to the presidential election. I mean, it's in the best interest of the country for us to get Osama bin Laden as soon as possible. And whatever happens in the election, it has to be secondary to that.
BLITZER: Let's take a look at some of the most recent polls nationwide, as far as the presidential horse race, as it's called, is concerned. A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll that came out in recent days had Bush at 51 percent, Kerry at 47 percent. A Los Angeles Times poll that came out a day or two later had Kerry at 47 percent, Bush at 44. But Ralph Nader was showing 4 percent in that race.
It's obviously a very close race right now. A lot could change between now and November. But this Ralph Nader factor must be a source of concern to Democrats. Is it a source of concern to you?
DEAN: It is a source of concern. I think there are always those who are attempted to, in their view, make the perfect the enemy of the good. And the pitch that I've been making is, this is not the year for that.
I think there are many times that third-party candidacies who have had a significant impact on America for the good. Bob LaFollette certainly is one of them.
But I think in this case, this is the one year where the damage to the country from four more years of George Bush, with these enormous deficits that are half a trillion dollars every year, cannot be -- the country is going to be set back so badly if John Kerry is not elected president that we can't afford to have people voting for Ralph Nader who would otherwise vote for John Kerry.
We know -- or I know, from personal experience with third parties, that in a turbulent election like this, you'll have a ratio of about -- for a third party, on the left, you'll have a ratio of about two voters who would have voted for John Kerry to one that might have voted for Bush, and then 10 percent might have voted not at all.
So it really is going to hurt John Kerry's candidacy. And I'm urging my supporters, many of whom are former Nader voters and Green Party people, this is the one time that we need to put aside our differences and support John Kerry, because we cannot afford four more years of George Bush.
BLITZER: So would you appeal on this program right now to Ralph Nader to step down and reconsider his bid for the presidency?
DEAN: Well, I have done that privately, and I've done that publicly. I think it's very clear that a vote for Ralph Nader is essentially a vote to reelect George Bush. And this country can't afford that.
BLITZER: Let's show some other poll numbers that are out in the CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll. As far as favorable opinion, in February, President Bush had a 56 percent favorable opinion. Now it's 57 percent. John Kerry went from 60 percent down to 53 percent.
And on another poll number, "Has John Kerry changed his mind on issues for political reasons," 57 percent said yes, 31 percent no.
And I think it's that number which is causing a lot of opportunity for President Bush and his supporters to go after John Kerry. Listen, for example, to what the president has said. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: My opponent is an experienced senator, and he's built up quite a record. In fact, he's been in Washington long enough to take both sides of just about every issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That line seems to be resonating, at least based on some of the public opinion polls we're getting. What do you think?
DEAN: I think it's funny for the Bush administration to talk about people being on both sides of the issue. George Bush is claiming he's a compassionate conservative. There's no compassion in his budgets when he's cutting a half a million kids off health care. There's no conservatism in his budget. He's a much bigger spender than Bill Clinton ever was.
This is a president who says one thing and does another on a regular basis. If there was ever a Washington insider, it's George Bush and his group of neo-conservative cronies who are running the country based on their own ideological agenda, and not based on what's good for the country.
So I find it laughable for George Bush to be accusing John Kerry, for example, of raising taxes. The largest tax increase in the history of America on the middle class was under George W. Bush, who has cut money for college, cut money for health care, cut money for cops on the beat, cut money for local schools.
All he's done is transfer the cost of programs from the federal government to individuals, who are now paying a lot more out of their own pockets for property taxes, college tuitions and health care.
This is a president who's the biggest spendthrift that I've seen since I've been paying attention in politics. And I find it laughable for him to be attacking John Kerry on this basis.
BLITZER: He does say -- and at least last month, the jobs creation number may be backing him up, 308,000 jobs created. He does say that the tax cuts, the series of tax cuts that he got through the Congress, are beginning to pay off in jump-starting the U.S. economy. Three hundred thousand jobs in one month is pretty impressive. DEAN: Let's remember what happened just a few short months ago, when there was 128,000 new jobs, supposedly, and then two months later they revised it downward to 29,000. So this is an administration, again, that you can't believe them.
You know, I find it amusing, this claim that Kerry voted for a 50-cent gas tax, which, of course, is completely untrue. This is an administration that got us into Iraq and is responsible for the deaths of 600 American soldiers by not telling the truth. Why in the world would you believe one of their ads?
BLITZER: Well, on that 50-cent tax increase on a gallon of gasoline, I was the senior White House correspondent for CNN during the early years of the Clinton administration. At that time, the president, then Bill Clinton, did support a 50-cent surcharge on a gallon of gasoline. There was no formal vote, but John Kerry did express his support for that 50-cent surcharge as a way of reducing dependence on imported oil, as you probably remember.
DEAN: Reducing dependence on imported oil is probably something we ought to have done a long time ago. There's a big article in The New York Times Sunday Magazine today that shows the incredible damage that this president has done to our air quality by gutting all the Clean Air Act.
It seems to me that balancing the budget and having a strong environment, which is a hallmark of a Democratic administration, is a much more worthwhile goal than passing tax cuts along to Ken Lay, who ran Enron, at the expense of middle-class Americans, which is the hallmark of this administration.
BLITZER: There's a story in The New York Times today suggesting that John Kerry's team has already started questioning various potential vice presidential running-mates. Among them, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Bill Richardson, Tom Vilsack, the governor of Iowa. What do you think of that list?
DEAN: I think any of them would be a big addition and a positive addition.
BLITZER: What about you?
DEAN: (smiles) I haven't been asked.
BLITZER: Nobody sent you -- I mean, have you thought about the possibility, if Kerry's elected, serving in the executive branch of the government?
DEAN: I haven't been asked about that either. Those are the kinds of things I generally discuss in private with members of the Kerry team, and certainly not in public. As wonderful as this show is, I don't plan to have those kinds of discussions publicly.
BLITZER: I'll ask you one final question. In that same article, Adam Nagourney, the New York Times reporter, suggested, quoting some Kerry associate, that if John McCain were to reconsider and serve as his vice presidential running-mate, the election would be over. Kerry would certainly win. Do you believe that?
DEAN: I think he'd be a very interesting choice. I think the biggest problem would be his views on abortion, his views on gay rights and things of that sort. I'd want to know what those were very carefully.
I do think that, you know, in the national interest, we've got to have a strong ticket that will replace this most dangerous president in my lifetime, in terms of our economic future and our defense future.
But I do think if we go outside the party, we're going to have to look very carefully at the credentials of the person and the positions of the person who might be selected.
BLITZER: Governor Dean, as usual, thanks very much for joining us. I hope you'll visit often.
DEAN: Thanks, Wolf.