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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

JOINED BY: PATRICK BUCHANAN, ELEANOR CLIFT, MORTIMER ZUCKERMAN AND LAWRENCE O'DONNELL

TAPED: FRIDAY, MARCH 26, 2004
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF MARCH 27-28, 2004

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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Mea Culpa.

RICHARD CLARKE (former White House counterterrorism director): (From videotape.) Your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you failed you. And I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn't matter, because we failed. And for that failure, I would ask, once all the facts are out, for your understanding and for your forgiveness. (Applause.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Loved ones of the victims of 9/11 welcomed Richard Clarke's dramatic opening statement, the first time a public apology was made by anyone from the Bush administration. The former director of counterterrorism for both Presidents Bush and Clinton testified that he had been calling for action against al Qaeda as early as January 2001 -- the very month of Bush's inauguration. Clarke wanted the U.S. to retaliate for the bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 Americans and nearly sank the $4 billion warship in mid-October, just three months before Mr. Bush took office.

MR. CLARKE: (From videotape.) I suggested, beginning in January of 2001, that the Cole case was still out there, and that by now, in January of 2001, CIA had finally gotten around to saying it was an al Qaeda attack and that therefore there was an open issue, which should be decided, about whether or not the Bush administration should retaliate for the Cole attack. Unfortunately, there was no interest, no acceptance of that proposition. And I was told on a couple of occasions, well, that, you know, that happened on the Clinton's administration watch. I didn't think it made any difference. I thought the Bush administration, now that it had the CIA saying it was al Qaeda, should have responded.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: How damaging to George Bush is this narrative and charge by Richard Clarke?

Pat Buchanan?

MR. BUCHANAN: John, I think he drew blood, there's no doubt about it. Clarke this week drew blood, and you know that by the fact there was a tremendous reaction from the administration.

But my feeling is he was more effective when he said -- talked about the obsession with Iraq on the part of Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld from day one, right before 9/11 and after it.

On the 9/11 charges, I really find the president not guilty, if you will, for this reason: Clarke nowhere says that either he or Tenet said, "A hit is coming on the United States, sir, and you have to do something." And I don't think he made the case there -- I mean, he said they didn't bomb Afghanistan. But, John, look, by the time Bush got into office, the beast was out of the cage; they were in Hamburg, they were in Phoenix, they were in DelRay Beach.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Bear in mind his principal point: the obsession with Iraq -- his contention, shared by others -- the obsession with Iraq deflected the attention and the focus of the president and the administration from al Qaeda. That's his point.

Eleanor.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, I agree. It's kind of pointless to argue that either administration should have gone to war in Afghanistan based on what they knew and based on the public's awareness. I don't think you could have gotten support. But the heart of Clarke's argument is that going to war in Iraq was irrelevant to the war on terrorism, and the Bush administration cannot even bear to admit that it made a mistake in not finding weapons of mass -- or claiming there were weapons of mass destruction. It's as though they've created this whole myth around this president as infallible, the world leader astride on the stage. And if they admit any fallibility, it's as though the whole image begins to collapse. And I think it's one of the most unappealing characteristics of this administration, that they are so cocky.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Before I turn to our distinguished guest, Mort, on my left here, and then the other distinguished guest, Lawrence -- not actually comparable distinctions --

MR. O'DONNELL: Not at all. No, not at all.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I wouldn't claim that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. (Laughs.) Let's hear --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: We're in agreement, Larry. (Laughter.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's hear a reiteration by Clarke of his central point and then how he adds to it.

MR. CLARKE: (From videotape.) The reason I am strident in my criticism of the president of the United States is because by invading Iraq -- something I was not asked about by the commission; it's something I chose to write about a lot in the book -- by invading Iraq, the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Clarke elaborated on that point in a "60 Minutes" interview.

MR. CLARKE: (From videotape.) Osama bin Laden had been saying for years, America wants to invade an Arab country and occupy it -- an oil-rich Arab country. He had been saying this. This is part of his propaganda. So what did we do after 9/11? We invade an oil-rich and occupy an oil-rich Arab country, which was doing nothing to threaten us. In other words, we stepped right into bin Laden's propaganda, and the result of that is that al Qaeda and organizations like it -- offshoots of it, second-generation al Qaeda -- have been greatly strengthened.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: In what way is Clarke's central point, namely the Iraq war has strengthened terrorism, not weakened terrorism -- to what extent has that politically devastated Bush? And it also has diminished even the importance of what happened immediately before 9/11.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think it has had some political effect. There's no doubt. As Pat says, it drew blood. But the Bush administration was looking for a larger strategy on what they defined as the war on terrorism, which, in their minds, included rogue states such as Iraq, which at that point everybody in the world believed had weapons of mass destruction. And they had some sense there that that, at some point, would intersect with terrorist groups. And that was the single greatest threat they felt to the United States and they --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was it a bad call on their part?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Under the circumstances at that time, I don't believe it was a bad call. I think there was a real concern with what Iraq might or might not do under Saddam Hussein.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is what the administration was led astray by. And it was so stated in so many words and this is -- these are not their words: There's a piddling little al Qaeda effort going on in Afghanistan. We believe that that goes nowhere without the power, the infrastructure and the money of a state government.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Of a -- right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And that state government, Wolfowitz had been saying for a year, two years he wrote to Clinton on this. And then he tutored Condoleezza Rice at Kennebunkport, who in tune tutored -- in turn tutored Bush -- you know about that development?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But it was -- they felt that the state of Iraq was needed in order to accomplish the terrorism (sic) that was there, and B, it would set an example against other terrorists from getting in if they demolished the terrorists in Iraq. Bad call.

MR. O'DONNELL: Which shows you how much the Wolfowitz world doesn't know about terrorism. The IRA had no state support. It was no more than a hundred guys, you know, half-sober, at best, who kept the British Empire at bay for 30 years, in its most recent version of terrorism.

The -- this claim that terrorism has somehow been encouraged by -- and we are now worse off in our defense against terrorism -- what the media hasn't noticed about it is that it's a complete guess, is that he has absolutely no evidence to submit to support this. We're all guessing about that. Are we -- have we increased terrorism or decreased terror?

Bob Kerrey --

MR. BUCHANAN: Well --

(Cross talk.)

MR. O'DONNELL: Bob Kerrey, who was very sympathetic to Richard Clarke's testimony, contested this particular point with him --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.

MR. O'DONNELL: -- and said, "How do you know that terrorism has increased? How do you make that argument?" And Richard Clarke's answer was completely non-responsive. It was -- it sounded nice. It was filled with words, but it was completely non-responsive. (Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Does his -- is he not sustained in his argument, though, by reason of the al Qaeda entry and usurpation of much control in Iraq? In other words, is there a danger of Iraq becoming a terrorist state?

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

MR. O'DONNELL: It's certainly a thing he can argue. It is not a thing he can prove. We are taking statements from Richard Clarke as if they are facts, and they are just --

MR. BUCHANAN: But you have a failed state.

MS. CLIFT: But the administration's argument --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Clarke said that there has been a reconfirmation, a reinforcement of the motivation of al Qaeda --

MR. O'DONNELL: And no facts to back that up.

MR. BUCHANAN: John --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, they're getting more sophisticated.

MR. O'DONNELL: He is guessing about --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Eleanor. Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: The administration's argument is that going into Iraq would make terrorism better. We're arguing whether it keeps it neutral or makes it worse. And it seems to me that if you talk to --

MR. O'DONNELL: No, we're not.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, we're not.

MR. O'DONNELL: It's a perfectly reasonable argument to make --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.

MS. CLIFT: If you talk to any -- excuse me.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MS. CLIFT: If you talk to anybody in the counterterrorism world, they are supporting what Clarke says. Nobody was a fan of --

(Cross talk.)

MR. BUCHANAN: John, there are two facts -- John, let me introduce --

MS. CLIFT: There are good guesses and bad guesses, and this was a bad good guess --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've had Jakarta.

(Cross talk.)

MR. BUCHANAN: But John, there are two facts here --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Go ahead. Go ahead, Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: There's two facts. Look, one is, Iraq, whatever you say, it had a country, it had a state, and it had an army. It is now a failed state, and all these elements are pouring in there and killing Americans.

Second, throughout the Islamic world, from Marrakesh to Malaysia, Bush is hated, the United States is hated. The spawning ground out of which these --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him finish. No -- well, it's worse now --

MR. BUCHANAN: The spawning ground is activated, and more of these --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him finish. Let him finish. (Cross talk.) Okay --

MS. CLIFT: I want to say one thing. (Cross talk.) Going into Iraq --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish. Let her finish.

MS. CLIFT: Going into Iraq rallied the Muslim base.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. (Cross talk.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: It's evidence.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah.

MR. O'DONNELL: You forget that they might be true. These are guesses, and we all admit that they're guesses --

(Cross talk.)

MS. CLIFT: You have no evidence for what you're saying, Lawrence.

MR. O'DONNELL: I have no evidence as to whether terrorism has gone up or down.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We do know this, there is one piece of good news coming out of Iraq --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: We do know -- we do know -- we do know this --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The economy of Iraq is really showing extremely well, believe it or not.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right. That's right. I agree with that. And it's too early to tell what's going to happen to Iraq. There's no doubt that there are transition problems as we move from one kind of regime that has been there for 30 years to a new one. I don't disagree with that. But whether it will be better or worse, it's too early to tell.

But let me give you example -- evidence where there is better. Libya. Libya is an example where a country looked at what happened in Iraq -- Iran, I can tell you because I was directly involved with Iran, I was involved in a meeting with --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes? Do you have good news out of Iran? Surprise us.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely -- they were absolutely concerned about regime change being threatened in Iran, and they were prepared -- look, they began to deal --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you mean they're cooperating with us on the nuclear question?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, they began to cooperate with France, Germany and England on the nuclear question. It hasn't worked out at this point --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, quite the contrary, from what we are hearing.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I don't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about Syria? Syria now has turned -- has refused to cooperate to a considerable extent.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, Syria has cooperated with us on intelligence and dealing with terrorism, but not in dealing with --

MR. BUCHANAN: They did before Iraq. They were -- look, Iran helped us in Afghanistan, passively. Pakistan did. Libya was with us. I think what you've done is the cancer has been metastasized by the invasion of Iraq. (Inaudible.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, let's move out with this. Okay, the human toll. U.S. military dead -- 587. U.S. evacuees -- 14,600, an estimate, since the Pentagon has refused to release updated figures in over three months of repeated requests.

Iraq civilian dead -- 13,000. That's an estimate.

Exit: Did Clarke's contrition persuade you personally that his motivation is a sincere concern for the country and not partisanship?

Pat Buchanan?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think this is a man who has 3,000 dead people on his conscience because he failed in his job. And he says, "I failed, but they didn't follow my advice, so they failed too." I think there's an element of bitterness here and there's an element of payback and there's an element of genuine contrition.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about that number, it's now 3,587.

MR. BUCHANAN: I mean on --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I know what you're talking about. But I think he also made it clear he has that on his conscience too, besides the --

MR. BUCHANAN: But let me give you -- the numbers from Iraq go to Mort's point. The final returns are not in from Iraq, they really aren't. The final returns are not in, whether it was wise or not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How final is final? Like 10 years? In 10 years, Iraq is going to be a wonderful story, there's not much doubt about that.

MR. BUCHANAN: If it's a wonderful story two years from now --

MR. : You've given away -- you've give away --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We don't put young men into battle, and women, to lose their lives or become all maimed because we want a regime change.

MR. BUCHANAN: It was not a necessary war, I agree with you. The question is, will it turn out to have been a wise war?

MS. CLIFT: Right, this was a war of choice, and if you favored it -- you think it was worth it -- then you can abide those deaths. Otherwise --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, you cannot -- these --

MS. CLIFT: It is an epic -- I think it's an epic failure and disaster because this war was unnecessary.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You cannot send young --

MS. CLIFT: I'm agreeing with you.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You cannot send young men and women into battle if they're functioning as mercenaries. You've got to have a real, imminent threat to your national security.

MS. CLIFT: I agree, and the president -- (cross talk) --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In point of fact, he --

MS. CLIFT: -- the president owes this country and the world an apology for taking us to war under false pretenses.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Let me answer your question -- (laughs) -- about whether it was partisanship or a sincere concern for the country. I think it's both. It's a partisan concern for the country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Which is it dominantly?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You know, I think -- how do make those -- they're both --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's your felt intuition?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That it's a concern for the country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (To Mr. O'Donnell.) And that's your felt intuition?

MR. O'DONNELL: Oh, on Clarke's part? I think absolutely it's a concern for the country. However, he is full of rhetorical flourishes that are motivated by personal, bureaucratic offense.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MR. O'DONNELL: His essential claim about the difference between the Clinton administration and the Bush administration is, in Clinton, I got to talk to the national security advisor a lot more than I got to talk to the national security advisor -- (cross talk) --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're oversimplifying.

MR. O'DONNELL: I'll read it for you word for word, if you want. It's right here in the transcript. It's word for word what he said.

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That does not -- (cross talk, laughter) --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He was demoted -- he was demoted from the principals to the deputies. He didn't --

MR. O'DONNELL: (Reading.) "I spent less time talking about the problems of terrorism with the national security advisor in this administration." That's his under-oath answer to what the difference between Clinton and Bush --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, well, how do you interpret that? That establishes a level of interest on the part of the administration.

MS. CLIFT: Exactly.

MR. O'DONNELL: It does not, it does not.

MS. CLIFT: It certainly does.

MR. O'DONNELL: It establishes a use of time.

MS. CLIFT: No, it doesn't.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is, the five of us feel that dominantly this man was speaking from conscience.

MS. CLIFT: Absolutely. Absolutely.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When we come back, the White House mounts its counteroffensive. Head for the high grass, Mr. Clarke.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Bush fires back.

MR. CLARKE: (From videotape.) I knew before I wrote this book that the White House would let loose the dogs to attack me.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The White House this week painted Clarke as a shameless self-promoter, a disgruntled ex-employee, a Democratic partisan.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE (national security adviser): (From videotape.) Dick Clarke just doesn't know what he's talking about. He wasn't involved in most of the meetings in the administration.

ANDREW CARD (White House chief of staff): (From videotape.) I think he's taking an opportunity to sell a book and take advantage of the publicity that comes with the 9/11 commission hearing and in the heightened political season. And I'm disappointed in Dick Clarke.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN (White House spokesman): (From videotape.) His best friend is Rand Beers, who is the principal advisor to the Kerry campaign.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But the rotweiler lunge came on Wednesday, when the transcript of an August 2002 background briefing -- given one year after 9/11 -- by Clarke to reporters was published. In that briefing, Clarke says the Bush administration had decided to, quote, "adopt a new strategy that called for the elimination of al Qaeda" and, quote "add to the existing Clinton strategy (on al Qaeda) and to increase CIA resources for covert action, fivefold, to go after al Qaeda" before 9/11.

The former governor of Illinois grilled Clarke on whether those August 2002 statements contradicted his book.

(Begin videotape segment.)

JAMES THOMPSON (9/11 commission member): Mr. Clarke, as we sit here this afternoon, we have your book, and we have your press briefing of August 2002. Which is true?

MR. CLARKE: Well, I think the question is a little misleading. Time magazine ran a somewhat sensational story.

I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done. And as a special assistant to the president, one is frequently asked to do that kind of thing. I've done it for several presidents. (Laughter.)

MR. THOMPSON: Well, okay. But what it suggests to me is that there is one standard of candor and morality for White House special assistants and another standard of candor and morality for the rest of America. I don't get that.

MR. CLARKE: I don't think it's a question of morality at all. I think it's a question of politics. (Applause.)

(End videotape segment.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question, Pat Buchanan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've been in a similar position --

MR. BUCHANAN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- for several presidents. (Soft laughter.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You even ran for president.

MR. BUCHANAN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did you think of his statement that you're asked to go out there and accentuate the positive and eliminate or mute the negative?

MR. BUCHANAN: You cut out the negative, John.

MR. O'DONNELL: (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: He's exactly right. Look, he's a special assistant to the president of the United States. You go out and you make the president's case. You are an advocate. You are a surrogate. You have the president's loyalty and trust, and you go out and make the case. And if you cannot do that, you either remain silent or you leave.

I don't have any problem there with what this man said, and I don't know that there is any necessary inconsistency with him coming out and telling the story that he didn't tell in public. I don't have a problem with that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now your words have a special unction --

MR. BUCHANAN: Unction?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- because of the position that you had --

MR. BUCHANAN: Unction?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- close to President Nixon and President Reagan.

MR. BUCHANAN: Sure. Well, I mean --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now the point is, Pat, I know, from having lived right next to you in the office of the Old Executive Office Building, that you detested Nixon's move to China.

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You used to tell me how aggrieved you were about that. But you zippered up your lip, Pat, and you went right out there and traveled with him to China.

MR. BUCHANAN: And I wrote the toast in which he praised -- (laughter) -- and toasted the health of Mao Zedong, the greatest mass murderer of all time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But you --

MR. BUCHANAN: If you can't go and do the job that a person has to do, you don't belong in the White House.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But in your heart, you thought he was dead wrong.

MR. BUCHANAN: I thought --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You told me that.

MR. BUCHANAN: I thought it undermined our position in Vietnam, and I still do.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there you --

MS. CLIFT: Well, the White House is complaining about the timing of this book. First of all, they had the manuscript at the National Security Council for several months, as they were going over it to check for classified information. So the timing -- the White House is partly responsible for it.

Secondly, Condoleezza Rice -- I find her behavior in this really the most offensive. She's all over television.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay.

MS. CLIFT: She's got an op-ed.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.

MS. CLIFT: But she refuses to testify in public. Why? Because you have to take an oath if you testify in public, and she's got a series of conflicting statements.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me ask you this. Yeah. Cueing off that and moving away from her, and looking at the entire administration, was it a good idea to mount this counteroffensive against Clarke from so many different sides and to such a deployment of resources and personnel?

MS. CLIFT: Well, I think it's overkill and it backfires. But the reason they did it is because Clarke's assertions go to the very heart of Bush's campaign for reelection. (Cross talk.) It strips away his aura of a wartime president who's effective.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This is a careful -- all right. This is a careful risk calculation. If you say nothing, then it travels along on its own track.

MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, John --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But if you say something, you run the risk of building it.

MR. O'DONNELL: You cannot --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you want to say about it?

MR. O'DONNELL: Andy Card did it right. Everybody else went into big rhetorical overkill. Andy Card said, look, it's selling books. He underplayed it; did it beautifully.

Condi Rice should not have been going on TV saying Dick Clarke doesn't know what he's talking about because she knew Dick Clarke is a very poised performer, and she should have known he was going to come across very well in the hearing.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They had no choice but to respond to it any more than Tony Blair had no choice but to respond --

MR. O'DONNELL: But they overresponded --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: They did overdo it.

MR. BUCHANAN: John? John?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: He was basically calling them liars.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible) -- what would have been a small blaze into what is now a raging fire.

MR. BUCHANAN: John, this guy, on "60 Minutes," said the president of the United States should not be elected, he's run a lousy job on the war on terror before, he should never have taken us into Iraq. You have got to go out and respond to that, and they did the necessary and the right thing.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right. Absolutely.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but they did it --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They completely overplayed it. They started off with that amazing interview on CBS --

MR. BUCHANAN: Overplayed it? The networks --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- on CBS "60 Minutes."

MR. BUCHANAN: "60 Minutes" pumped it! CBS did it!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You make it -- you ignore it --

MR. BUCHANAN: You can't, John!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- you ignore it and you start talking about other things and try to repossess the headlines.

MS. CLIFT: Well -- well --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: You can't ignore it.

MR. BUCHANAN: You can't start talking about tax cuts when the whole country is watching these hearings.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Inaudible) -- built this fire, and it's now a prairie fire, Pat, only because --

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, they're winning it. They've done a good job.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, they went way overboard.

MS. CLIFT: No, they did a terrible job. And what they should have done was respond substantively. If Clarke says it was a wrong idea to go into Iraq, tell us why from their perspective it was a good idea.

MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, come on, cut it out, Eleanor --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly, who won the week? Who won the week, Bush or Clarke?

MR. BUCHANAN: I think -- listen, I think it was -- both of them drew blood. Both did. I think -- look, the counterattack against Clarke has damaged his credibility in my eyes, and I thought he was enormously credible when I heard him on "60 Minutes."

MS. CLIFT: Clarke easily won. You cannot destroy his credibility, he served three presidents. He's been a good public service.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, we got one draw, we got one Clarke.

Quickly.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think Bush lost. I don't know that Clarke won, but I think Bush definitely lost.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if Bush lost, Clarke won.

MS. CLIFT: Right.

MR. O'DONNELL: Clarke won, despite some very strange, grandiose statements, including one in which he says President Clinton gave him every single thing that he ever asked for or needed. Now, if that was true, there would be no --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I want one-word answers, we're out of time. Who won the week, Bush or Kerry?

MR. BUCHANAN: Kerry won the week.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Kerry won the week? Because Bush lost --

MR. BUCHANAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- or because Kerry did the smartest thing possible by going skiing in Idaho?

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.) Because Kerry stayed out of it!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Napoleon said when your enemy is destroying himself, you do nothing to distract him.

MR. BUCHANAN: Right.

MS. CLIFT: Right. Kerry, by letting this unfold.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Kerry.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I mean, other than calling his Secret Service guy a "son of a bitch," I think Kerry did very well.

MR. O'DONNELL: Kerry won by choosing the snowboard over the skis, going for the younger voters. It's a very smart move.

MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A Kerry win.

We'll be right back with predictions, if we have time.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Out of time. Bye-bye.

PBS SEGMENT

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: Pledge or prayer?

SCHOOLCHILDREN IN A CLASSROOM: (From videotape.) I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Millions of children in America recite these words every school day --

SCHOOLCHILDREN: (From videotape.) -- one nation, under God, indivisible --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- but maybe not for long. The phrase "under God" was contested before the Supreme Court this week. This man, Michael Newdow, an atheist, argued that "under God" clearly violates the separation between church and state.

MICHAEL NEWDOW: (From videotape.) This is not about religion versus non-religion. This is about government being involved in religion.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Newdow's daughter attends elementary school in California and, says Newdow, is being, quote, unquote, "coerced" to recite the pledge. School officials say otherwise.

DAVE GORDON (Elk Grove, California, school superintendent): (From videotape.) In our state law, parents have an absolute right to opt their children out of saying the pledge if they are uncomfortable in doing so.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The mother of Newdow's daughter has no problem with "under God."

SANDRA BANNING: (From videotape.) I think it's an expression of our patriotic ideals and the values that we hold true.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "Under God" was inserted into the pledge by Congress in 1954, during the Cold War and the Eisenhower administration, to contrast America with the prescribed atheism of the USSR.

Question: Is this manna from heaven for Bush or what, Pat Buchanan?

MR. O'DONNELL: (Laughs.)

MR. BUCHANAN: Well, it's certainly good news for Bush. This guy's a national pest, John. He's a totalitarian liberal who wants to terminate --

MR. O'DONNELL: Ha, ha, ha.

MR. BUCHANAN: -- terminate the Pledge of Allegiance when his child does not have to say it. (Cross talk.)

MR. O'DONNELL: Look, it's a prayer written by politicians. That's why it's such a bad prayer.

MR. BUCHANAN: It's voluntary, voluntary.

MR. O'DONNELL: And he's going to win, unless the Supreme Court doesn't give him standing, which is possible in this case.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A question -- quick question for you, genius politically that you are. It puts Bush in a quandary. He should normally file an amicus brief defending the "under God." But he gets more mileage out of it if the court throws it out, eliminates "under God," because it will drive the fundamentalists up the wall, and angry people vote.

MR. O'DONNELL: Look, it was a good -

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So what should he do?

MR. O'DONNELL: It was a good -- he's done everything he has to do. It was a good week for Bush. He had the solicitor general in there arguing --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Should he file an amicus brief?

MR. O'DONNELL: They -- Ted Olson was arguing the case in the Supreme Court.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's going to get more mileage if the court kicks it out. Don't you understand? Because angry fundamentalists will definitely --

MR. O'DONNELL: It doesn't matter. He got the mileage just by the threat.

MS. CLIFT: I don't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What would you do? Would you file an amicus brief or --

MR. BUCHANAN: I sure would, and if they throw it out, Bush wins 49 states. (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: (Inaudible.)

MS. CLIFT: I don't cede this to President Bush. I didn't notice that John Kerry necessarily is campaigning against taking out that phrase. And why do we assume that Bush gets --

(Cross talk.)

MR. BUCHANAN: The court will go with Bush.

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