MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday, our Meet the Candidates 2008 series continues, an interview with Democrat Chris Dodd of Connecticut. He has served in the Congress for 33 years. In January he became chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. This morning Chris Dodd on Iran, Iraq and the race for the White House 2008, only on MEET THE PRESS.
Then August 8th, 1974, Richard Nixon announces his intent to resign.
PRES. RICHARD NIXON: I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.
MR. RUSSERT: His successor, Vice President Gerald Ford, actually told this reporter four months earlier, in April 1974, that Nixon would not complete his term. That and other Ford comments about Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and more in this new book, “Write It When I’m Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford.” With us the author, Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News, joined by New York Times columnist William Safire, who criticized what he thought was Ford’s disloyalty way back in, you guessed it, April 1974.
But first, in just 67 days voters will caucus in Iowa, the first step in selecting our next president. And with us is a candidate who’s moved his family to the Hawkeye State in a final push in his quest for the Democratic nomination, Senator Chris Dodd.
Senator Chris Dodd, welcome.
SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT): Thank you, sir. Good to be with you.
MR. RUSSERT: The president just announced that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is a foreign terrorist organization and imposed sanctions on Iran. Do you support the sanctions?
SEN. DODD: Absolutely. I think it’s the right way to go. In fact, we’ll be dealing with that legislation in the committee I serve on. That’s the—that’s the appropriate way to go. What is not the right way to go, in my view, is the resolution adopted several weeks ago in the Senate, the large vote here, which almost exclusively focused on the military option in Iran. Iran poses some serious issues. Certainly the accumulation or the possibility of accumulating nuclear weapons, obviously supporting terrorism in the region are serious questions that the United States has to address. The best way to approach that at this juncture is through the sanctions, the diplomatic approach, in my view, building the relationships that we need to build in order to effectively convince the Iranians that their direction they’re going in is one they have to stop. And that’s my concern. This vote the other day seems to belie that approach on sanctions and diplomacy.
MR. RUSSERT: But back in March, Senator, you were a co-sponsor of a resolution that said this: “The secretary of state should designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization.” “The secretary of the treasury should place the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the list of Specially Designated Global Theorists relating to blocking property,” “prohibiting transactions with persons who commit, threaten to commit, or support terrorism.” What’s the difference?
SEN. DODD: Well, a huge difference, Tim. That was the, the Gordon Smith bill, which he introduced, 68 of his co-sponsors, Senator Kennedy, myself, Jim Webb, among others here, that was exclusively focused on diplomacy and sanctions and specifically said no military action should be taken in Iran without the prior approval of the Congress. Very, very different approaches than the resolution offered by Senators Kyl and Lieberman, which, the language on diplomacy and sanctions was removed before the final vote. The only reference there was keeping military force possibly in Iraq in order to deal with the Iranian situation. Very, very different.
Jim Webb vehemently opposed the Kyl-Lieberman resolution. In fact, one of the leaders in the opposition, along with Dick Lugar, along with Chuck Hagel, there were bipartisan opposition to that approach, and the, the approach obviously that Gordon Smith suggested was one that enjoyed broad-based support because it was more expansive and included other options other than just the military one.
MR. RUSSERT: But the resolution you’re talking about by Senator Kyl and Senator Lieberman received almost three-fourths of the Senate.
SEN. DODD: It did.
MR. RUSSERT: And it did mention diplomacy.
SEN. DODD: No, that language was taken out, Tim, specifically taken out, the, the paragraph referring to diplomacy and economics. And that’s the resolution you’re going to see. What, what didn’t we learn from October 2002 in a sense? The administration clearly is on a drumbeat here, given the Cheney speeches by the vice president, the Vice President Cheney speeches, the, the announcement the other day, even though including sanctions. Clearly this administration is moving in that direction, towards military action against Iran. And I believe that you’ll see, clearly, those who supported that resolution on September 26th, that’ll be one of the justifications that the Bush administration gives for military action in Iran if it comes. And I believe we’re getting precariously close to that happening. That’s why I think that vote was so dangerous.
MR. RUSSERT: You think we’re getting precariously close to military action against Iran?
SEN. DODD: I do. I think there’s a—I—clearly the administration seems to be pointing in that direction, and I think that’s a dangerous move at this juncture here. And again, I don’t—I’m not going to take a backseat to anyone in my concerns about the problems that Iran poses here. And I would not exclude the use of military force in dealing with that. But it seems to me that arrow ought not to be drawn out of our quiver until we examine and explore fully the opportunities to reduce those threats, much as the administration has now done in North Korea. For six years they objected to the approach the Clinton administration took on North Korea. They finally came to that point of view, and today you don’t hear much talk about North Korea because I think we’ve handled that well in the last couple of months. But here in Iran, I think clearly there’s an effort to pursue a military action.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that, in effect, the vote for the resolution of September 26th—one of them was cast by Hillary Clinton...
SEN. DODD: Yes, it was.
MR. RUSSERT: ...was a de facto vote for war with Iran?
SEN. DODD: I think it gives a justification for it. That’s my concern with it here. Much as you saw back in ‘02, 2002 in October, the resolution which I supported at the time, said the president ought to look at diplomatic approaches in that language, but clearly had no intention of doing that as we’ve, as we’ve subsequently learned. And it gave them the argument that the Congress gave overwhelming support, almost by the same vote, I might add. There were only 23 votes against that resolution, October of ‘02, about 75, 76 votes in favor of it. So the similarities are startling, in my view, and it was used and waved back, over and over again, “Congress and the Democrats went along with this.” What haven’t we learned of—over that time period? Seems to me that’s why that vote was such a bad one, and I think Mrs. Clinton, my colleague from New York, cast the wrong vote on that issue, terribly so.
MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned October of 2002. Let me bring you back to that day, October 9th, specifically when you went to the Senate floor and spoke in favor of authorizing the war in Iraq.
SEN. DODD: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: Here it is.
SEN. DODD: There’s no question that Iraq poses biological and chemical weapons, that’s not in doubt, and that he seeks to acquire additional weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. That’s not in debate. I also agree with President Bush that Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace and must be disarmed.
MR. RUSSERT: What do you think when you watch those words?
SEN. DODD: Well, I read the whole speech, and I did last evening in preparation for coming here this morning. And I also cautioned there that we explore, let the, let the inspectors stay on the job here. And many of us, most of us believed, even Carl Levin for instance, who took a very different view than I did, acknowledged the fact that the weapons of mass destruction were there and the possibility of accumulating. We were all drawn into that. I regret that vote, obviously. Like to have it back. You can’t. I’ve said as much. It was a mistake, in my view, here. But I also at that time and also in March of ‘03, strongly cautioned the administration not to aggressively pursue the military option without seeing whether or not we could actually prove that the weapons of mass destruction existed there.
Colin Powell said it well before the Senate Foreign Relations committee. He said if this is about regime change, we should not go in. If it’s about dealing with weapons of mass destruction, that’s a cause for war. I agreed with him then. I agreed with him then. I think that was the appropriate way to approach the issue. And certainly we’ve learned painfully that that was not the issue. The weapons of mass destruction did not exist.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, your support for the war continued. Here you are in July of 2005, almost two years after you voted for the authorization. Here’s Chris Dodd on MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. DODD: We need to complete this job, which I support, by the way. We’ve got a lot of things we need to do.
MR. RUSSERT: And then in February of ‘06, when asked specifically about a deadline for withdrawal of troops, here’s Chris Dodd: “‘Senator Dodd, do you agree that setting a deadline would tip off the enemy so to speak?’ Dodd: ‘Yeah, I’m opposed to deadlines.’”
SEN. DODD: Well, let me—just first of all, it was in—in September of ‘04, I said it was a mistake that we went in. Hartford Courant will report that, September 28th, 2004. What I talked about on the program here was we’re there. We got in mistakenly. How do we complete this in a successful way? And certainly the idea—I initially did not like the idea of having deadlines. But, Tim, I’ve come to the conclusion, as many others have as well—and people on the ground conclude this as well—this was not going well at all here. This was—the issue that was raised by John Warner to General Petraeus before the Senate Armed Services Committee a few weeks ago, is America safer? That’s the issue the American president has to answer. Are we keeping our country safe and secure? And I believe that our continued military presence in Iraq does not keep us safe and secure. I think we’re far more vulnerable, I think we’re far more isolated today than in any time in recent history, and that we need to change direction on this policy.
Our young men and women are doing an incredible job. I’ve been there many times, I have great respect for the work they’re doing. But I think we’re all coming to the conclusion that as long as we continue to be engaged in a military—civil war, rather, in the country, the ability for us to sort that out—just even recent articles will indicate here—we’re arming Sunnis in Anbar province to kill Shias. And around Baghdad here, the Shias are keeping the Sunnis out of the police departments here. We’re basically acting like a, a bouncer in a bar brawl in a sense, here, with both sides trying to keep them apart from each other. The Iraqis have to decide whether or not they want to be a nation-state or not. That’s not a decision for us to make. We can create space for them, we can help them get there, but ultimately they have to make that decision. They’re not making it. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to possibly get them to move in that direction is to say with clarity that our military participation in your country is coming to a close.
You asked the question the other night at Dartmouth College here, of all of the candidates, will you commit that by the end of your first term in 2013 we’ll have our troops out of there? I was stunned to hear three of the so-called leading candidates say they would not make that commitment. When you asked me the question, I said I will. In fact, I hope we have it completed by 2009, and you can do it safely and securely for our troops here. So, in the past, I have been reluctant to support time certains—deadlines, if you will. But I came to the conclusion almost a year ago—in fact, I was here, having just come back from, from Baghdad. We talked at this table. And I met with young soldiers over there who said this is just not working. We need to change this policy. I think we want some decisive action here, we want some clarity on this. We’re not getting it. In my view, we should be changing the fundamental policy. That is not to walk away diplomatically from the region. There are many things we can do, Tim, to make a difference. But I think we’re, we’re deluding ourselves in believing that $10 billion a month, almost 4,000 lives lost, almost 29,000 injured, 80 to 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives, four million have left the country. Listen to the ground—troops on the ground. They will tell you over and over again, despite the fact their willingness to serve, this is not going well at all, and it’s affecting us everywhere else in the world, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: You said the other day, “All that loss for what?” Do you believe that the troops have died in vain?
SEN. DODD: No, I don’t. And I don’t think it’s a question of winning or losing. Baker-Hamilton, other reports have pointed out there was no military solution here. You can’t win or lose where your goal was never to have a victory here. Our, our operation was to create the space for the Iraqis to be able to come to some reconciliation, both politically and religiously. The American president, the vice president, leading military figures, members of Congress have begged the Iraqi leadership to reconcile their differences. This past summer they took a month-long vacation after, once again, we plead with them to try and work things out and come together. I don’t think we can arrange that for them any longer.
MR. RUSSERT: But answer that question. “All that loss for what?” What did they die for?
SEN. DODD: Well, listen. I don’t think soldiers who do their job every day die in vain. They were asked to do a job here.
MR. RUSSERT: So what did they die for?
SEN. DODD: Well, hopefully to create some space in Iraq here for they—for them to come together, so the state should have a chance of succeeding.
MR. RUSSERT: You, you said in April something that you had not said before—and let me play it for you—from Southern New Hampshire University. Here’s Chris Dodd.
(Videotape, April 20, 2007)
SEN. DODD: You’re never going to convince me that the war in Iraq was exclusive about democracy and about Saddam Hussein. It was about oil. Don’t have any doubts about it.
MR. RUSSERT: “It was about oil. Don’t have any doubts about it.” You never mentioned oil until April of this year.
SEN. DODD: Well, not publicly. But certainly I think that was one of the major factors. Someone said to me in New Hampshire, in fact, that very state, some weeks before, if Iraq were growing turnips and not having oil, was there likely we’d have been there as strong as we were? And I suspect that’s the case. Alan Greenspan said the same thing before.
MR. RUSSERT: But why didn’t you say that back in ‘02?
SEN. DODD: Well, good question. I mean, that was one of the reasons I think we were there.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about your comments about how safe we are.
SEN. DODD: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe we are safer now, as a country, with Saddam gone?
SEN. DODD: I, I think we’re better off without him there. But if that—if the question ends there, then it’s not...
MR. RUSSERT: But are we safer?
SEN. DODD: Well, I don’t think we’re safer in the sense with all that’s happened afterwards. If, if—you can’t disregard what’s happened afterwards here. The fact that we didn’t—we weren’t able to build the kind of society in Iraq, or at least help them achieve that result certainly has made us less safe. I think the answer that General Petraeus gave when John Warner asked him the very simple question “Are we safer?” And he said, “I don’t know,” I think he was being candid in that answer to that question. And frankly I don’t think we are. That’s my conclusion. When you raise your right hand on January 20th, 2009, you’re going to be asked to swear to two things: that is protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and to protect our country from enemies both foreign and domestic, in effect keeping us safer. And, Tim, I don’t think we are safer.
MR. RUSSERT: But in December of ‘03, again, Chris Dodd, “Of course, we’re safer with Saddam gone.”
SEN. DODD: Well, again, I think you could make a case then, but certainly we’ve learned since then. I mean, this is taking snapshots of a moment in time. Since then we’ve learned we’re not—we’re a lot less safer. We’ve turned Iraq into a petri dish for jihadists and terrorists that didn’t exist in December of ‘03. It’s become a more dangerous place in part, I think, because we failed to understand that the Iraqis were not going to jump to a political conclusion of reconciliation. And, as a result, we’ve become a lure, in a sense, attracting these elements that come into that country and pose additional risks.
MR. RUSSERT: But you voted for the war, you voted for funding for the war. You were against timetables for withdrawal of troops. Then you became a presidential candidate, and suddenly it was about oil and you were against the funding and you were for timetables.
SEN. DODD: No, Tim, that’s...
MR. RUSSERT: Is that political expediency?
SEN. DODD: No, no, no, let’s go back, as I’ve said earlier to you, in September of ‘04, I said I wish we had the vote back, it was a mistake, it was wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: But you kept voting for the funding.
SEN. DODD: Well, did vote for funding along the way because the argument was we were trying to get this—get a decent conclusion to this here. And then a year ago when I was there and came back, drew the conclusion, as many others have along the way here, that this is just not working here. And my view was, at that point and is today, that Congress has one responsibility. If the policy has failed and it’s not working, that we ought to terminate the funding for it here. Clearly the administration doesn’t want to do that, not likely to do it, so it’s up to the Congress to achieve that result.
MR. RUSSERT: And no political expediency?
SEN. DODD: No, none at all, Tim. I think this is a process here you go through as you make decisions what you think is right on this thing here. I—early on, look, from the very beginning, even in October of ‘02, recognized there were maybe better ways of dealing with this. Certainly in March said the same thing. Pointed out the problems with the funding, the lack of oversight, all the way through the process. Made the point that I thought we should have had more troops on the ground going in than we did. Tried four different occasions to get decent body armor with votes on the floor of the United States Senate. There’s been a pattern here of expressing my growing concern about how this has been conducted, along with many others, not exclusively so, and have reached the conclusion at this point that the best way for us to deal with this is to terminate that funding, paid for with a safe redeployment of our forces out of, out of Iraq. That to me—ultimately we’re going to do it, Tim. At some point we will. How many more lives have to be lost, how much more damage to our country do we have to go through before we arrive at that conclusion? Ultimately we will. I think we ought to do it now rather than wait till later.
MR. RUSSERT: After September 11th, the government went to many of the private telecom companies in our country and asked them for information, data. The government said they were legally justified to it. They wanted to see if there was a nexus between international terrorists and some phone calls made back here to the United States. You have been very outspoken about giving those companies immunity from any kind of prosecution, even though they were doing what the government asked them to do. Senator Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democratic on Senate intelligence, has a view much different from yours. This is what Rockefeller says: “We recognize that private companies who received legal assurances from the highest levels of government should not be dragged through the courts for their help with national security. The onus is on the administration, not the companies, to ensure that the request is on strong legal footing, and if it’s not,” it’s “the administration that should be held accountable.” Why you going after these companies for doing what they thought was in the public interest?
SEN. DODD: Well, because not all of them did. There were companies that didn’t comply with that request. They said, “Give us a court order and we’ll turn over documents.” The court order was never forthcoming here. These companies have very strong, good legal departments here. The idea that companies would turn over thousands, if not millions, of private records, of individuals without a court order is an invasion of that privacy, in my view. There’s a, there’s a way to do this, a legal way to do this. They decided not to do it. They decided they were going to turn over the—these records without any court order whatsoever. That is dangerous in my view. There’s been a consistent pattern by this administration on—to, to, to basically trample on the constitutional rights of people. We’ve seen it from the very beginning here. That’s of great concern to me, Tim. I’m probably spending more time in this campaign talking about that than any other candidate. As I pointed out earlier, when you raise your right hand and take the oath of office, you swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States. And I think we’re being asked a false dichotomy. The dichotomy goes something like this: In order to be safer, we’re going to have to give up some rights. I think that’s a very dangerous proposal here, and too many people are succumbing to it. And I refuse to do so here. If you’re turning over these documents without a court order, Lord only knows what’s in these documents, how much information is there. It seems to me that if you do that, then you have to pay a price for doing so, in my view, so I’m going to vehemently oppose legislation here that would go forward.
The other good parts of this bill, Jay Rockefeller and Kit Bond have done a good job, in my view, with the FISA legislation generally. But the idea you get retroactive immunity to some companies who decided to succumb to the administration’s request. Those that did not, in a sense, have been, I’m told by some, have paid a price financially because they wouldn’t step up to the plate and do what the administration asked them to do. Habeas corpus.
MR. RUSSERT: What price did they pay?
SEN. DODD: Well, economically, there’ve been some talk of Qwest has suffered economically.
MR. RUSSERT: How?
SEN. DODD: Well, certain, certain, certain contracts and others that they’ve suffered from. That’s, that’s the reports.
MR. RUSSERT: You mean the government punished them?
SEN. DODD: That’s what we’ve heard, as well.
MR. RUSSERT: Can you prove that?
SEN. DODD: Well, it’s—those are the allegations out there. And again, point out to you, not all companies followed that request. They said, “Look, give us a court order.” That’s a basic requirement in these kind of things.
MR. RUSSERT: There’ve been suggestions that you exploited this issue politically for your presidential run, and, and they point to this. Here’s your Web site. “Restore the Constitution. We did it! You helped us meet our $100,000 goal in 36 hours. Let’s keep it going.” You used it as a fund-raising tool.
SEN. DODD: Well, no, we get people, people stepped up to the plate through the Internet and contributed and were helpful in the campaign.
MR. RUSSERT: But tied specifically to your criticism of that legislation.
SEN. DODD: Well, the, the point is here, look, Tim, this is a serious issue here that requires a serious response, and I believe, going back, the military commission’s active a year ago. I think the only person speaking out as strongly as I have against these actions here, this consistent erosion here that worry me very, very much about what’s happening to our Constitution. But I’ve been asked the question, what’s the first thing I would do on January 20th, 2009, the consistent answer I’ve given is restore the Constitution. I’m very worried about where we’re headed with all of this.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about another issue that’s been front and center and discussed, but a very different reaction from you, and that’s hedge funds.
SEN. DODD: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: And here it is from your home state paper, Stanford Advocate. “Among Democrats running for president, Connecticut’s” Chris “Dodd, the Senate Banking Committee chairman who has stated his reluctance to hike taxes on hedge fund profits, leads in political contributions from the booming investment sector.
“The tax code allows hedge fund executives to pay capital gains taxes at 15 percent on a portion of the profits they earn known as ‘carried interest’ instead of paying the personal income tax rate, which can go as high as 35 percent.
“Dodd received $726,950 in donations from hedge fund executives for the first six months of the year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.”
And then this from The Hill, a luncheon that you canceled when it became public. “Senate Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd invited top executives in the equity and fixed-income trading divisions of the nation’s largest banks to have lunch with him in Manhattan in the hope of recruiting bundlers for his presidential campaign.”
You raise money from these guys, and then the legislation which would raise the tax rate to 30 percent, 35 percent, which normal people pay, gets killed.
SEN. DODD: Well, no. As always...
MR. RUSSERT: Old time politics.
SEN. DODD: Hasn’t been killed at all. In fact, I haven’t come out even in favor or opposed. The only thing I said...
MR. RUSSERT: Harry Reid said—the leader of the Senate Democrats said it’s dead.
SEN. DODD: It’s not dead. I don’t think it’s dead at all. And the point being is this. Look, there’re unintended consequences to these actions. As, as chairman of the banking—I’ve been on that committee for 26 years here. The next president of the United States is responsible for a $14 trillion economy. Having some idea of capital formation of the country, having a pro-growth Democrat that cares about these issues: What happens to endowments? What happens to retirement accounts? What happens to pensions? There are issues here that need to be addressed beyond the tax question. And as chairman of that committee, the responsible answer, I think, is, let’s examine this. Dick Shelby, the Republican former chair of that committee, and I’ve sent letters to the Treasury Department, the SEC saying, “Tell us what the implications of all of this are. Are there some downsides to this we ought to consider?” I consider that sort of responsible reaction here. I knew the politics of this thing. Coming out against hedge funds doesn’t require any great leap of understanding. Doing what’s right and responsible on the issue is critical. I’ve been on this committee for a quarter of a century. I know these issues very, very well. No one has fought harder against the credit card industry, no one’s fought harder against the predatory lending and the housing issues, no one’s fought harder against the defrauds that went on in the student loan business. There’s a long history. I’ve also stood up where I thought the financial services sector was doing the right thing. Having someone running for the presidency as a Democrat who understands these issues is not a liability, it’s an asset, I think, when you consider the important fiscal questions...(unintelligible).
MR. RUSSERT: But these are the managers, the managers of the funds. The funds would not be affected, Senator, you know that. These are a handful of people who are making hundreds of millions of dollars, and if the tax rate was increased, the testimony before the Senate was, they’d still be in the business, they’d just pay the taxes.
SEN. DODD: There’s no question about that. But the question is what do you do with that all of a sudden? Where does that shift resource capacity, Tim? It is not—it isn’t a slam dunk answer. There are people who legitimately think there’re problems with changing the tax code on this point. They may ultimately, the point you’re making, be correct. I’m not disagreeing with that.
MR. RUSSERT: So you might support it?
SEN. DODD: Absolutely. My question was a responsible member of the committee, what ought to be the case here is saying what are the implications of this. I recall back years ago with the S and L crisis, people made a similar suggestion, and as a result of what they did, we had a huge problem on our hands. So here I’m merely trying to suggest that we act responsibly.
And again, to make the point here: The next president of the United States has got some huge issues to deal with financially in the country. And having someone running for that job in that office of the presidency who has spent a quarter of a century dealing with these issues, both pro and con, I think is a value and not something to be—and not something to be seen as a liability, if you will.
MR. RUSSERT: Back in May of ‘06, you told the Connecticut Post, “I realize I’m not a household name. That will obviously change. At least I hope it does, or this will be a relatively short campaign.” That was ‘06. Here’s the latest poll from Public Opinion Strategies: Hillary Clinton, 40; Obama, 19; Edwards, 12; Joe Biden, 2.7; Stephen Colbert, 2.3; Bill Richardson, 2.1; Dennis Kucinich, 2.1; Mike Gravel less than 1 percent; Chris Dodd, 0.
SEN. DODD: Yep.
MR. RUSSERT: What’s that about?
SEN. DODD: Well, we’ve got a lot of room to grow here, as we, as we say, Tim, in the campaign. I think the campaigns are about expectations, in a sense. We have a very strong campaign in Iowa. We’ve got some 11 or 12 offices open, about 80 people on the ground. People are just beginning to, to, to look at this. This is basically reactions to news stories, to celebrity, how much money you’ve raised in the campaign, and I think people take it very seriously. And any look back on history in Iowa, certainly in the last campaign, John Kerry was way behind Howard Dean, even into December, had a national number that was in the area of 4 percent or 5 percent, less than Reverend Sharpton at the time, and three or four weeks later he ended up being the nominee of the party.
I feel very good about where we are today, and I’ve certainly been around this long enough to know whether or not there’s room to grow, whether or not you’ve got an opportunity to win the nomination. And I believe there’ll be three or four tickets coming out of Iowa before you go to New Hampshire, and I think that’s a very open question. The overwhelming majority of people in Iowa are undecided at this point.
The more important question may be why aren’t these leading candidates, who get all the attention every single day, why aren’t they doing better? And I think it is because people are uneasy about electability and governors, two issues which I bring a lot to. I spent 26 years producing results. I wrote the Family Medical Leave Act, the first child care legislation since World War II, financial services reform, dealing with issues involving body armor for soldiers, the Fire Act, the Safer bill. People want to know the person they’re going to nominate can get elected. I’ve been through eight elections and never lost one. I ran a party nationally. And I’ve brought Democrats and Republicans together. On every single bill I’ve, I’ve authored, I’ve had a Republican co-sponsor, usually a conservative Republican. I think the country wants that kind of leadership again, and I’m very confident, as you point out, with 67 days to go, with people just really looking at this, we’ve got a very good chance to come out of Iowa and win in New Hampshire.
MR. RUSSERT: But having been a senator for 26 years, chairman of the Democratic Party, chairman of the Banking Committee and you’re at zero, it must be frustrating.
SEN. DODD: Well, not frustrating. Look, realized going in this was going to be an uphill climb, facing almost incumbency status in this—in the, in the case of several candidacies here, and, and knew that to be the case. And again, based on history here, we’ve seen rarely has the front-runner in September—August, September, early October, ended up prevailing in the caucuses and primaries. So if history is any teacher at all, then there’s someone here that is in this second tier that’s going to emerge, I think, and, and be a viable candidate come January, February.
MR. RUSSERT: If this doesn’t work out, will you seek re-election in the Senate?
SEN. DODD: I haven’t made that decision yet, and I’m counting on this working out.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Chris Dodd, we thank you very much for your views. And be safe on the campaign trail.
SEN. DODD: Thank you, Tim, very much.
MR. RUSSERT: And our viewers should know, as part of our Meet the Candidates 2008 series, we’ve invited all the major candidates for president to appear here for an in-depth interview. We’re also archiving the transcripts and videos of the entire series on our Web site, mtp.msnbc.com, so voters can review the candidates’ positions throughout the campaign.
Coming next, the late Gerald R. Ford had some strong opinions about Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill and Hillary Clinton and more. This morning we reveal the contents of “Write It When I’m Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford.” Our political roundtable with Tom DeFrank and William Safire is next, only on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: What did Gerald Ford really think about Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill and Hillary Clinton and more? We’ll find out after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Bill Safire, Tom DeFrank, welcome both. We are back to Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon one more time. Tom DeFrank’s new book, “Write It When I’m Gone.” Let me set it up. Here’s how you open your book: “I’ve always believed my professional relationship with Jerry Ford was cemented in the spring of ‘74 during a short chat in Palm Springs. Infuriated by a disparaging remark from a Nixon loyalist and goaded by me, Ford blurted out an amazing political indiscretion, then asked me not to print it. I was literally petrified, especially after the vice president of the United States grabbed my tie and rather forcefully informed me I wasn’t leaving until I agreed to forget what I’d just heard. After what seemed like an eternity of gut-churning negotiation, we reached an understanding and shook hands. I kept my word to him.” And that was not to print it until he had died.
Let me set the stage. You’re on a plane going out to interview Jerry Ford. You’re reading a column by one William Safire in The New York Times who had—Safire, who had just read an article in New Republic entitled “Ford’s Future.” This is what Mr. Safire wrote, headlined, “Et Tu, Gerry?” as in Brutus.
“A few die-hards might consider it unseemly for the vice president to be confiding his plans for the assumption of power while the body of the sitting president is still warm.
“Reached by telephone today, the vice president admits to being the source of most of the story but adds” “he thought he was talking off the record.
“Even so, his willingness to play Cabinet scrabble with reporters is hardly in good taste. Mr. Ford betrays a lack of understanding of the uniqueness of his role. He is the first vice president in American history whose own actions could help make him president.”
And so now you get off the plane, you go meet President—Vice President Ford. You sit down, and here’s where DeFrank starts.
“‘Before you go, I want to show you something. What do you make of this?’
“Ford handed me a copy of Bill Safire’s withering appraisal of his behavior, the very same damning column I’d read on the plane only a couple of hours before.
“‘Why would Bill say something like that?’ Ford wanted to know. ‘He knows I’ve been damn loyal to Dick Nixon. Dick Nixon knows I’ve been loyal. Why do they do this?’
“I told him that Safire, Pat Buchanan and their fellow White House partisans were kicking the dog because, despite their fierce loyalty to Nixon, most of them were pragmatic enough to realize where this Greek tragedy was heading.
“‘They’re angry and they’re bitter because they know Nixon is finished,’ I replied. ‘It’s over. He can’t survive, and you’re going to be president.’
“Before I had time to reflect on my own audacity, Ford floored me with his totally unanticipated answer. ‘You’re right,’ he said, ‘but when the pages of history are written, nobody can say I contributed to it.’
“I was thunderstruck. Moments before, he’d assured me Nixon would ride out the firestorm. Now, impulsively, he’d blurted out the truth. Four months before it actually happened, Ford had just admitted he knew in his gut that Nixon was a goner and he would soon become America’s 38th, and first unelected, president.”
When he told you that, you must have wanted to run to a telephone and report it.
MR. TOM DeFRANK: Well, actually, I wanted to call my parents, but the fact of the matter is, Tim, I, I was as thunderstruck as he was. And, of course, he, he knew immediately he’d blurted out something that he shouldn’t have said. After all, this was a huge—this would have been a huge scoop. But...
MR. RUSSERT: So he grabbed you around the tie.
MR. DeFRANK: Well, what happened is, he, he hands me Bill Safire’s column, and I say what I say, and of course, 34 years later I’m a little astounded and, and chagrined that I would said—I certainly wouldn’t have said that in a similar circumstance today. But when I don’t basically say, ‘You’re right, it was off the record,’ he jumps up, comes around the table and very gently grabs my tie and says, as you have, as you have described. And I saw my journalistic career passing in front of my eyes. I’d been assigned to the—to Ford because my boss, the legendary Mel Elfin of Newsweek, was convinced he was going to be president. He said, “Nixon’s finished. You’re going to go to the White House when Ford is president.” And I remember saying to myself, “This is great. My meal ticket to the White House has just said to me, ‘You print this and you and I are finished.’” And I was 28 years old, and I was scared to death.
MR. RUSSERT: He said, “Write it when I’m dead,” and you said OK.
MR. DeFRANK: I said OK. He stuck his hand out, we shook hands, and we didn’t talk about it again for 17 years.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Safire, when you read Gerald Ford talking to John Osborne in The Republic, not by name, not by name, it was backgrounding at best.
MR. WILLIAM SAFIRE: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: But you called up Vice President Ford and said, “You’re the source, aren’t you?”
MR. SAFIRE: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: And he ‘fessed up?
MR. SAFIRE: You bet. Because I felt this was a year before Nixon’s resignation. There was plenty of time for Nixon to do all the right things and not have to resign. As a matter of fact, I, I made a mistake. I, I wrote a memo to Nixon about two or three months after I’d gone to The Times, and said “Here’s how you get over the taint of Watergate.” And when you read the thing now, 35 years later, it made sense, you know. And I said to Abe Rosenthal, who was then the executive editor of The Times, “Look at this memo I sent to Nixon.” And he didn’t even read it, he just pushed it aside and said, “The next time you have advice for a politician, you give it in The Times.” And he was right. And for the next 30-some odd years, that’s what I did.
But in this case, I see John Osborne, who’s a great reporter and a straight shot, saying, attributing it to nobody and speaking only on my own authority, that’s the rules of not for attribution, that’s deep background. Not everybody obeys that anymore, but he did. And then he proceeds to say what, what kind of an administration Ford would give. Who he would fire—and he would fire Schlesinger , he would keep Kissinger. And he sort of said, “This would be my Cabinet. This would be my White House staff,” and this is a year before the president resigns. I felt that was unseemly, so I took a pop. I misspelled his name. I’m sorry about that. It’s—what is it?
MR. DeFRANK: It’s Gerald with a G, Jerry with a J.
MR. SAFIRE: Yeah. So that was another mistake. But—so I told him in the column, this is the wrong thing to do. And so I, I called him up, and he returned the call. Wonderful thing, you’re a columnist for The New York Times, you can do this. And he—and I said, you know, this came from you, didn’t it? Although Osborne’s piece carefully didn’t say who it came from. And he ‘fessed up right away, and said, “Maybe I shouldn’t have done it, but I did it.”
MR. RUSSERT: In your reporting, did Vice President Ford take any steps to help bring about the resignation of President Nixon?
MR. DeFRANK: No, Tim, but traveling with him day after day on this twin engine Convair, this very unimperial Air Force Two with five other reporters, we saw this, this tightrope that Ford was always trying to negotiate. He thought Richard Nixon one of—was one of his good friends. He was trying to defend and support the guy who had named him vice president. He was also trying to save his beloved Republican Party from going down the drain in November, which he failed to do, of course. And he was, he was trying to be fair to his conscience. And I think every day something would happen that said to him, “Maybe you’re being lied to here.” So he was trying to negotiate this very tricky process.
MR. SAFIRE: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: It’s the public and private side. This was Jerry Ford on MEET THE PRESS defending, defending Richard Nixon. Let’s watch.
MR. LAWRENCE E. SPIVAK: In a recent U.S. News interview you said, and I quote you, “I’m positive the president is innocent of any involvement in Watergate,” end of quote. Can you tell us why you are positive? Have you seen evidence that the rest haven’t seen?
VICE PRES. GERALD FORD: I haven’t seen concrete evidence, but I have talked to the president about it, and I’ve been in many meetings where it was discussed by the president and with others. And I’m absolutely certain that if you go back and reflect on the circumstances in 1972--here the president had just come back from China, historic action on the part of our government. The president was in the process of negotiating with the Soviet Union. The president was trying to end the war in Vietnam. I’m sure he turned to those running the re-election campaign and said, “I have these major matters that involve the national security and the well-being of the American people, and you run the campaign.” Unfortunately, those that ran, some of them apparently ran it badly. But I’m convinced that the president was preoccupied with these very important matters, and therefore I’m convinced he had nothing whatsoever to do with Watergate.
MR. RUSSERT: A big public defense. In 1991 this is what the same Gerald Ford told you. “After years of reflecting on his conduct, Ford admitted he could be fairly faulted for giving Nixon too much benefit of the doubt. On some level, perhaps, Ford may not have wanted to know the truth. That certainly would have made his defensive duties for—far more difficult to pull off. Regardless, he didn’t press Nixon for a ‘just between old friends’ accounting of the facts and regretted his timidity. ‘All the time that this thing kept getting hotter and hotter and hotter, whenever I would see him alone, I’d try to find out whether I was being fully informed. To be honest with you, Tom, I never said “Mr. President, were you involved? Did you know?” In retrospect, I probably should have.’”
MR. DeFRANK: Tim, I have a theory here, and I think—can’t prove it—but I think he didn’t, he didn’t ask him because he didn’t want to know because he knew. And I think if he knew, if he...
MR. RUSSERT: He couldn’t go on MEET THE PRESS and say those kinds of things.
MR. DeFRANK: Exactly right, yeah, and have a bigger problem than the lapels on, on that old suit, which are wider than I am.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me move on to Ronald Reagan. Because this was very striking in your book, Tom DeFrank, and we’ll bring in Bill Safire on this and get his sense of the public and private man. Here’s what Tom DeFrank writes about Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford: “Three days after Ronald Reagan died Ford joined millions of his fellow Americans in mourning the country’s heartfelt loss. ‘He and I became very good friends,’ Ford told CNN’s Larry King. ‘Let me be’” “‘forthright: I think Ronald Reagan was a first-class president, and I treasured my relationship and association with him.’
“Baloney. Ford neither liked nor respected the former Hollywood actor. He considered Reagan a superficial, disengaged, intellectually lazy showman who didn’t do his homework and clung to a naive, unrealistic, and essentially dangerous worldview.” How do you know that?
MR. DeFRANK: I know that because he told me that several times, and there’re lots of quotes from the books that, that back that up. At one point he said, “I have to say he was not a technically competent president, but he was a hell of a showman, he had a hell of a flair.” And he also says at one point—told me at one point that, that foreign leaders had told him the same thing. President Ford said “Foreign leaders have said they were appalled by Reagan’s lack of, of knowledge of the issues. On the other hand, they all agree with me that he was one hell of a salesman.” So, he said it many, many times. But I want to say, to put this in context and in fairness to President Reagan, from the day that President Reagan told the world about his Alzheimer’s in 1994, Gerald Ford never uttered another unkind word about him. As a matter of fact, for the next 12 years, Ford would say all that bitterness about ‘76, something like this really puts it into perspective. But up until that time, from ‘77 to 1994, he was still bitter at Ronald Reagan.
MR. RUSSERT: Bill Safire, it sure is striking how something that we always instinctively feel, that politicians always put on a gloss and a public persona, but it is remarkable when they let their hair down privately and later on in history, when they’re gone, we find out their true feelings.
MR. SAFIRE: I don’t know if I’ll—in fact, I don’t like the idea of “write this when I’m dead.” By the way, the title of the book is, “Write It While,” you know, “Write It When I’m Gone.” In the book it says “Write this when I’m dead.” And I don’t know about you, Tom, but I think some publisher said “dead” is a bad word in a title. But at any rate...
MR. RUSSERT: The language guru, Mr. Safire, speaks.
MR. DeFRANK: I have great reverence for Bill’s respect for the language.
MR. SAFIRE: But, I don’t know, it’s certainly from the reporters point of view, if somebody says that to you, you are free when somebody dies or when the time runs out you’re free to do it. But are you free to, if you’re the president, to say “While I’m alive, I don’t want to take heat for this, but afterwards I don’t care what happens? Then you’ll know what I think I thought at the time.” I’m—that makes me a little uncomfortable.
MR. RUSSERT: Here’s President Ford on Bill Clinton. “Back to impeachment: Ford told his wife Betty that” he’d “been talking about Clinton’s troubles with Monica Lewinsky”—“we’d been talking about Clinton’s troubles with Monica Lewinsky. ‘Betty and I have talked about this a lot. He’s sick. He’s got an addition. He needs treatment. He’s sick.’
“The former first lady, who’s Betty Ford Center has turned around tens of thousands of lives, joined in. ‘You know, there’s treatment for that kind of addiction. A lot of men have gone through the treatment with a lot of success. But he won’t do it, because he’s in denial.’
“Ford,” returning “to his Clinton head-shaking theme without any prompting, ‘I don’t understand why any of his Cabinet hasn’t resign. How can they keep working for him after he lied to them?’
“On a human level, he was more concerned about what he believed was Clinton’s denial—something he himself had witnessed with Betty for years until she face dup to her alcohol and medicinal dependencies.
“‘I’m convinced that Clinton has a sexual addiction,’ he repeated. ‘He needs to get help for his sake. He’s already damaged his presidency beyond repair.’”
And then you write that Clinton and Ford had conversations, and Ford was willing, in fact, to be a character witness for Clinton if...
MR. DeFRANK: If President Clinton admitted that he had lied in the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky matters. And President Clinton, according to President Ford, said, “I can’t do that. I won’t do that.” And Ford said, “Well, Bill, this conversation must end.” I, I find it somehow comforting about our democracy, Tim, that a partisan Republican would be willing to reach across the aisle to a partisan Democrat in a moment of crisis and, and offer to help him. But the deal was never consummated so we don’t know what that help might have been, and Ford didn’t—or wouldn’t tell me.
MR. RUSSERT: And, finally, on the book, Jerry Ford predicts, one, that Hillary Clinton would run for president; and, two, her opponent would probably be Rudy Giuliani.
MR. DeFRANK: Right. He, he always thought that that would be one great race. And he would go back and forth. And I think he always thought that Giuliani would be the best, best shot at beating Hillary Clinton. But he always—he thought the country wasn’t quite ready for a woman president. He thought we were going to have a woman vice president, something’s going to happen to the president and the next—and that would be how we got the first woman president. And then he said, “From that time on, us men are in second, second place.”
MR. RUSSERT: But pretty interesting crystal ball, looking at Giuliani-Clinton in terms of 2008. Which brings us to Bill Safire, who used to write his office pool when he had his column in The New York Times and op/ed page. And we’ve asked him to do a MEET THE PRESS edition, and here it is: If Hillary wins the nomination, her choice for vice president would be: Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois congressman. Safire says, Rahm Emanuel.
MR. SAFIRE: Well, I was torn there, because Bill Richardson would bring a lot to the ticket, his Spanish background and all. However, he’s been—surprised all of us by going very strongly anti-war. Now, bring the boys home now—not the boys. Bring the troops home now. So I don’t think she could cross that bridge with him.
What about Rahm Emanuel, the most powerful voice in the House of Representatives that agrees with Hillary Clinton on foreign affairs. He’s a hawk. And although he’s a rootin’ tootin’ liberal on domestic affairs, he is a hawk on foreign affairs. I was at the—a roast for him for Epilepsy Association, and Hillary Clinton was there, and I said, quite frankly, here you have the hawkish side of the Democratic Party. If they get together, the bumper sticker will read “Invade and bomb with Hillary and Rahm.”
MR. RUSSERT: But, you know, they never got along when they worked together in the Clinton White House, but that’s another subject.
MR. DeFRANK: Times change.
MR. RUSSERT: And you, you forgot Ted Strickland, the governor of Ohio. Ohio, Ohio, Ohio. You need Ohio to win.
MR. SAFIRE: Well, but I don’t think—I think that would be a “Who, me?” kind of appointment.
MR. RUSSERT: All right. Let me go through the rest of these questions. These are the predictions, again from Safire. If Obama wins the nomination, his VP choice: Biden, Dodd, Feinstein. Safire says Feinstein of California. If Giuliani wins the nomination...
MR. SAFIRE: Wait a minute, before you...
MR. RUSSERT: His—I got to go. His choice would be Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, John McCain. He says Fred Thompson. If Romney wins the nomination, his choice would be Mike Huckabee, John McCain, General David Petraeus. Look at this, Safire says David Petraeus. If McCain wins the nomination—Giuliani, Romney, Condi Rice—Safire says Condi Rice for John McCain. Biggest Republican worry: the war drags on, the economy tanks, early Hillary nomination lockup, poll-driven despair. Safire says biggest GOP worry, the war drags on. Biggest Democratic worry: success in Iraq exploited by McCain, terror attack on U.S., Clinton-Pelosi party split, soak-the-rich tax backlash, poll-drive base overconfidence. Safire says Clinton-Pelosi party split. What’s that?
MR. SAFIRE: Well, there, there are two Democratic parties—the Nancy Pelosi far left party, which is the base, and Hillary Clinton, who is not running for the nomination anymore. She’s got the nomination, in her mind. But she’s running for the presidency, and so because of that she’s running a centrist campaign starting now. And that centrist vs. base is the tension within the party, and you never can tell. If she stumbles and makes a mistake, wham, you’re going to have a big fight.
MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, do you ever think if you had gotten New York Daily News headline: “Ford to Nixon: ‘Drop Dead,’” what it would have done to history and to your career?
MR. DeFRANK: Well, I don’t know what it have done to my career, but I know that it—I don’t know, I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that Richard Nixon would still have had to resign, and Gerald Ford would still have been—become president in August. It might have come at a different time, but it still would have happened.
MR. RUSSERT: And you kept your word.
MR. DeFRANK: I did promise him, and I kept my word, at least for 33 years.
MR. RUSSERT: And you missed your 40th reunion at Texas A&M last night to be here on MEET THE PRESS, we appreciate that. “Write It When I’m Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald Ford.” Tom DeFrank, thank you.
And thanks for the office pool, Mr. Safire. We miss it. And we’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: Watch MSNBC Tuesday night, 9 p.m. Eastern, as Brian Williams and I question the Democratic candidates. Presidential debate, Drexel University in Philadelphia Tuesday night, MSNBC, msnbc.com at 9 p.m.
That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS. How about those Boston College Eagles? Matty Ryan for the Heisman trophy.