updated 9/15/2004 10:23:08 AM ET 2004-09-15T14:23:08

Tuesday September 15, 2004

DON IMUS, HOST, 'IMUS IN THE MORNING':  From Detroit, Michigan, Senator John Kerry. Good morning, Senator Kerry.

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE JOHN KERRY:  Good morning, Don Imus.  How are you?

IMUS:  I'm fine, sir.  How are you?

KERRY:  I'm doing terrific.  Thank you.

IMUS:  Where's Edwards?

KERRY:  Edwards is in -- well, he was in Oregon last night, and he's in West Virginia today.  He's campaigning hard. 

IMUS:  I wondered if he was still on the ticket.  We haven't heard from him.

KERRY:  No, he's doing great.  He's doing great. He's got -- God, he had about 8,000 people, 10,000 people in Missouri the other day.  He's doing wonderfully. 

Who's in charge?
IMUS:  I had both James Carville and Paul Begala on the program here in the past week or so, and there were these rumors that they were advising your campaign, and I said to Carville I didn't think he really wanted you to win, you know, and he called me an idiot. But who is running your campaign? 


KERRY:  Mary Beth Cahill is running my campaign and she's doing a spectacular job.  James Carville and Paul Begala are good friends and good advisers.  They've given us a lot of good advice.  And they're very savvy people, and they do want us to win, and we are going to win. 

IMUS:  Why would they want you to win when they want to run her in '08? 

KERRY:  I don't agree with that.  I think that's... That's everybody's game and speculation.  I just don't believe that.  I think James Carville cares enormously about how Bush is leading our country in the wrong direction and -- I mean, look, the choice, Don, is really pretty simple.  Everybody's making it complicated, but it really is simple.  We've lost 1.6 million jobs.  He's the first president in 72 years to have lost jobs.  We have a tax burden -- the share of the tax burden has gone up for the middle class, down for the wealthiest folks.  Five million people have lost their health care.  We have the largest budget deficits in American history.  If people think we're moving in the right direction, go out and jump up and down and support George Bush.  But if you believe that we can put people back to work and stop losing all our jobs overseas and create better jobs here, be fiscally responsible, and do a better job in terms of our relationships in the world and start fighting terror in a smart or effective way, I think there's a new direction.  That's the simple choice in this race.  Every time George Bush has had a choice, he has really chosen, I think, the wrong thing.  I mean, he chose tax cuts over investing.  He chose to go into Iraq alone over waiting for our allies and building a stronger alliance.  He's chosen bad trade policy.  We have the largest trade deficit in the history of the country.  We're going to China and Japan and people to have them buy our debt today.  I mean, we have a very, very serious economic situation, very serious international situation, and the president just doesn't seem to get it.

IMUS:  You know what would've been funny -- I mean, I don't know whether you'd think it would've been funny or not -- but if he'd've... what's the matter with your throat?

KERRY:  I'm doing great, actually.

IMUS:  Well, why are you coughing and hacking then?

KERRY:  Well, because I'm imitating you in the morning.


On the president's National Guard speech Tuesday
IMUS:  Wouldn't it have been funny if he'd've showed up for that speech yesterday, that National Guard speech— the president went up there and gave that dopey salute like you did and said, "Reporting for duty, finally"?


KERRY:  Yes, actually it would have been funny.

IMUS:  Or just not shown up at all, that would actually have been more amusing. But those guys don't have a sense of humor.

The war on terror
IMUS: You know, in this interview you did in Time magazine and then the survey they did, other organizations, they suggest that terrorism has replaced some of the issues you were talking about as the single most important issue, like the economy and so on, and you've said you'll fight a more effective war on terror.

KERRY:  Yes, I will.

IMUS:  Well, what does that mean?

KERRY:  It means I'll do a better job of making America safe. George Bush has talked a game, but he hasn't done it.  Let me give you an example. Homeland security -- 95 percent of the containers that come into America are not inspected. The president's been told again and again by security folks and others that that's a danger to America. He hasn't done what we need to do to protect us. Nuclear and chemical plants in America are still without the kinds of plans and protection they need.  We still have firehouses that are not fully staffed.  We have cops being cut from the streets of America. I just was endorsed by the National Association of Police Officers the other day.  There are about $2.2 billion reduced to about $600 million for police officers on the streets.  Why would you do that when police officers are not just first responders, they're first defenders?  In Israel, they train police officers in how to actually patrol, aware of terror, and alert for terror,and to be able to look for different patterns in a community. We're not training our police officers to do that in some of the high-target areas, let alone in all areas. There are all kinds of things that we could be doing with respect to other countries.

On America's bravest
KERRY: The president has alienated some of the most important allies of the United States of America. I mean, I understand you just went over to Walter Reed; I've been over there, and I know it had an impact on you.  I'll tell you, when I met those kids over there and you see some of them with their arms grafted to their legs and they're, you know, going through six months and a year of dealing with a wound that came about because they don't have the armored Humvees over there, because some of these kids are over there without the state-of-the-art armor. I mean, this president sent people to war without the state-of-the-art equipment, without the kinds of allied support, without the kinds of judgments that should have been made beforehand.  He says he miscalculated. My God, the miscalculation was ignoring the advice of General Shinseki, ignoring the advice of the military advisers.  I said a year ago, Donald Rumsfeld should have been fired.  He should resign.  The Abu Ghraib prison scandal is not the reason.  The reason is the most serious miscalculation in the going to war and the sending of young American men and women into harm's way in a long time that I can remember, perhaps since Vietnam.  And I'll tell you, there were five widows of 9/11 who stood up yesterday, some of whom voted for George Bush last time, and they said they're not going to vote for him this time, and they can't vote for him, because he pushed and fought and stonewalled the 9/11 Commission and fought against trying to find out what happened.  I don't believe he's taken the proactive steps to make America safer; I will. 

IMUS:  They can't get this equipment for these troops if people like you won't vote for the funding though. 

KERRY:  We did vote for the funding.  We voted for the funding.  I voted for the largest defense budgets in the history of our country.  And I voted— this is long after the war, that $87 billion vote.  The war had started.  These people were sent over there without the equipment and they still don't have the equipment.  And I've met families across America who are struggling, you know, they go out and they hold a bake auction or they do some charity effort in order to buy the armor on the Internet, send it to their kids.  That's not the way you send young Americans into war. 

On 9/11, three years later
IMUS:  Back to the war on terror for a second.  There hasn't been an attack in this country since September 11, 2001, three years.  Have we just been lucky?  Who gets the credit for that?  Is there any credit due anybody? 

KERRY:  Well, I think that the FBI and the CIA are doing a better job than they were doing, and I give them credit for that.  I think they've done some things better.

But we're not doing the things as well as we ought to be doing.  I'm told that it's still very easy to get in with passport forgeries and other kinds of things.  We know that there are people in the country, and frankly, a lot of the folks that I've talked to -- I can't go into all the briefings, but I can tell you that some people scratch their heads and they're not completely sure why.  One thing is certain:  Terror is up around the world over the course of the last year or two.  And the number of troops that have been killed has been up every single month.  It was up in June, it was up in July from June, it was up in August from July.  And the fact is that we have whole areas of Iraq now where there are not -- where American troops can't go, where there are terrorists where there weren't terrorists before.  And what the 9/11 widows said yesterday is really important.  That the war in Iraq is not the principal war against terror that we were focused on in Afghanistan with Al Qaida.  Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida did 9/11.  Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida knocked those buildings down, hit the Pentagon, saw that plane, you know, those people courageously give their lives to save the nation's capital.  And they're not in Iraq.  And they weren't in Iraq.  And Iraq was not the focus.  The focus of Iraq was weapons of mass destruction.  And the president has misled America about those weapons, about the intelligence, about the war.  He's misled America about what we're achieving today and what is happening on the ground in Iraq.  And I think we deserve a president who tells the American people the truth and who has the ability to bring our allies into this effort.  The president has alienated so many people that they're just sitting on the sidelines, not even living up to the resolution of the U.N. that they voted for.  And the president doesn't even seem capable of holding them accountable to that. 

The vote to authorize force in Iraq
IMUS:  You said, Senator Kerry, a while back, not that long ago -- and I assume you meant all of the things you're talking about now, but you said knowing what you know now, which would include just what you've been talking about, you would have still voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, which doesn't make any sense to me. 

KERRY:  Yes, it actually does make sense. 

IMUS:  Explain it.  Help me out here.

KERRY:  Let me explain it to you.  I felt in 1998, and I said that Clinton ought to have the power, the authority to use force, in order to force Saddam Hussein to have inspectors, to be able to disarm.  The only way to get the inspectors in was to be tough, to have the threat of force and the authority to use force.  I was prepared to use the force if he didn't do what he needed to do.  But I warned the president, as did many people, take the time to build up the international coalition, don't rush to war, because the most difficult part is not winning the military part of the war; it's winning the peace.  The president ignored that.  And what he basically did was cut off the inspection process and rush to war.  Now, I believe that Saddam Hussein was sufficiently duplicitous and, you know, couldn't obviously -- you don't trust him, so you needed that threat to be able to make certain you had the inspectors and were going through a process to hold him accountable. But we could have held him accountable.  We had two-thirds of that country in a no-fly zone on day one.  And the fact is that what the president wanted to do was just get in there and go do it.  And he did it in such a rushed way that he ignored what the consequences would be.  It was wrong to rush to war without a better understanding of what you'd confront in a hostile, postwar Iraq.  It was wrong to rush to war without a better understanding of Iraqi nationalism and Iraqi tribal separatism.  And it was wrong to have no plan except the initial military victory.  So when they won, they didn't even guard the ammunition dumps, which now are the weapons that are being used against our soldiers. 

IMUS:  Half those kids at Walter Reed— in fact, more than half of them were injured by these improvised explosive devices, these IEDs.  I didn't know what that meant until one of them explained it to me. 

KERRY:  Right. 

What's Kerry's plan?
IMUS:  You know, Senator Kerry, you say you have this plan to get out of Iraq in your first term, which, barring some scandal, would be four years. 


I've known you a long time, Senator Kerry. 

KERRY:  That's counting correctly.  That's counting correctly. 

IMUS:  What is this plan you have? 

KERRY:  Well, the plan gets more complicated every single day because the president...

IMUS:  Try to simplify it for me so I can understand it. 

KERRY:  I'm going to just tell you why. 


KERRY:  Because about -- I can't remember whether it's -- several months ago, I said, "This may the president's last chance to get it right in Iraq."  That's what I said.  And I said, as Joe Biden did and others did, "Mr. President, you've got to lead.  You've got to get the international community at the table."  The president has never done that.  Now it's obviously, with the situation on the ground, much more complicated; I have to acknowledge that.  It is more complicated.  But I would immediately call a summit meeting of the European community.  They haven't lived up to the obligations of their own resolution that they passed at the U.N.  It is important to do much more rapid training.  Senator Biden came back from over there, other experts have observed they're not doing the training that's necessary, at a pace that's necessary, in a way that's necessary to establish the security.  And it is going to be critical to accelerate that kind of training. 

But look, I have to look and see what I have on January 20.  At the rate the president's going, nobody can predict what will happen on January 20.  I'll tell you this:  A new president, with new credibility, with a fresh start, who listens to the military leaders, doesn't fire them, like General Shinseki, when they give him advice they don't like, a new president who has credibility with the foreign leaders, will have the opportunity to isolate the extremists and to bring people to the table in different ways:  for border security, for training, and to do the things necessary to provide stability.  I'm committed to providing that stability, but I'll tell you, this president is making it tougher every single day by just not understanding and not being honest about what's going on. 

IMUS:  But it sounds -- that may or may not be a good plan, but meanwhile, we had three soldiers dead in Iraq yesterday and how many die before -- wind up over there in the rehab room at Walter Reed before a plan like this kicks into effect?  Also, I was talking to...

KERRY:  Well, Don, I realize that, but the fact is that the president is the president. I mean, what you ought to be doing and what everybody in America ought to be doing today is not asking me; they ought to be asking the president, What is your plan?  What's your plan, Mr. President, to stop these kids from being killed?  What's your plan, Mr. President, to get the other countries in there?  What's your plan to have 90 percent of the casualties and 90 percent of the cost being carried by America?  I mean, he is the president today, and we have given him advice from day one; from day one, from the floor of the Senate when we debated it where I said don't -- you know, you've got to have other countries with you, don't make an end runaround the U.N., the difficulty is not winning the military, it's winning the peace; and he ignored it.  And others -- the bipartisan, Dick Lugar, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Joe Biden, and the Foreign Relations Committee gave him advice that he chose to ignore. And since then, many times we've stood up and said, "Mr. President, this is what you have to do."  He's chosen not to do those things.

IMUS:  We're asking you because you want to be president. 

KERRY:  That's correct.  But I can't...

IMUS:  He's not going to answer any questions. 

KERRY:  I can't tell you what I'm going to find on the ground on January 20th. 

IMUS:  He's not calling me to be on the program.  I had his dad on, so dad's still sore at you, some of those votes you cast when he was president, by the way.

KERRY:  Well, his dad was the one who recommended military cuts back then, and Dick Cheney was the vice president of the United States, who recommended those military cuts back then. 

On who Kerry would appoint
IMUS:  You know, as I started to say, Senator Kerry, I was talking to Craig Crawford from CBS News.  He's kind of a whack job, but he's fairly legitimate, and he a good question, and he thought it was fair to ask you this, not that...

KERRY:  This is Don Imus' way of getting a question in that he doesn't want to ask, that somebody else...

IMUS:  I don't mind asking.  I'll ask you anything.  But the question is, give us a couple names of people who would help you get all these allies on board, somebody you might put in over at the Pentagon or at State.  You don't have to name your whole cabinet, which you're not going to do anyway probably, but...

KERRY:  Well, I'm not going to run through...

IMUS:  Well, just give us one name. 

KERRY:  No, I was just going to say to you, I'm not going to start appointing people to positions, and I think that's completely irresponsible and not appropriate, but...

IMUS:  Either give us a name or we won't vote for you. 

KERRY:  But there are people who are advising me and who are very respected in the community. 

IMUS:  Holbrooke? 

KERRY:  He is one who is advising me.  I have Joe Biden is advising me.  There are -- Madeleine Albright obviously you know. 

IMUS:  That's a mistake. 

KERRY:  There are a number of -- General McPeak, General Clark.  There are a group of about 10 or 12 admirals and generals. 


KERRY:  I mean, there's a very solid group of people waiting.  You have people like Sam Nunn and George Mitchell, and really extraordinary group of capable people. 

IMUS:  Those are pretty good names. 

KERRY:  Beg your pardon?

IMUS:  Those are pretty good names.  Madeleine Albright is a huge mistake.  I mean, come on. 

KERRY:  No, she gives advice.  She gives good advice.  And I think she gives good advice, frankly.  And she has a very, very strong sense of that region and of other regions and would have made much smarter decisions than this group has. 

IMUS:  Do you think, Senator Kerry, there will be elections in Iraq in January? 

KERRY:  I think it is very difficult to see today how you're going to distribute ballots in places like Fallujah, and Ramadi and Najaf and other parts of the country, without having established the security.  I know that the people who are supposed to run that election believe that they need a longer period of time and greater security before they can even begin to do it, and they just can't do it at this point in time.  So I'm not sure the president is being honest with the American people about that situation either at this point. 

On the O'Neill book
IMUS:  Did you read "Unfit for Command?" 

KERRY:  No. 

IMUS:  Did anybody on your staff? 

KERRY:  I have no idea. 

IMUS:  Why wouldn't you want to know what's in it?  It's the No. 1 "New York Times," of course, it says nonfiction bestseller. 

KERRY:  Because they have right wing people to buy them in bulk, and that's what they're doing. 

IMUS:  No, I understand. 

KERRY:  Look, it's a pack of lies.  It's an absolute pack of lies.  It's been proven to be a pack of lies, and I have no interest in reading it. 

IMUS:  "Time" magazine asked you about this rough month you had in August with the swift boat ads, the convention, which you whaled on you guys, Vice President Cheney suggest that you're election would invite another terrorist strike.  And you said the president is unwilling just to walk away from these various comments, makes it clear that he and the vice president will say and do anything to get elected.  And my question is, didn't you already know that, that's how they are?

KERRY:  Well, it's not just that.  I think it's a level of irresponsibility that is beyond anything that I've ever seen. 

IMUS:  Look what they did to McCain. 

KERRY:  Well, that's what I was about to say.  To John McCain -- this group to John McCain called him "The Manchurian Candidate."  They spread rumors that he had a black child when they were down in South Carolina, that his wife was a drug addict.  They actually challenged the quality of his service while he was a prisoner of war.  They challenged his character.  They lied about him again and again.  They lied about Max Cleland.  And people have learned, and so that's why I said -- I'm not -- but I think that what's interesting about their statement about terror is that if you look at their record in dealing with homeland security and you look at their record in dealing with terror, they really have already made the world less safe while they've been in office.  And so that's a debate I welcome.  Bring that debate on.  And I look forward to these next five weeks.  This campaign is moving.  We're doing very, very well right now.  I think the American people understand this is about choices.  George Bush's choices have been the wrong choices. 

IMUS:  But there are people who say -- I mean, you may not want to get to their level, but there is a sentiment out there among a lot of your supporters, and Tony Coehlo and a bunch of these other people, who think that you and Senator Edwards have to punch back, and...

KERRY:  Well, we are punching back. 

IMUS:  But I mean, if they're dropping bombs on you, y'all can't fight with, oh, I don't know, spitballs. 

KERRY:  Don, I am going to tell the truth, we're not.  I am absolutely taking the gloves off, I'm prepared to take them on and everything.  And here's what this election is about, it's about the fundamental choices.  When George Bush had a chance to do something for workers, he chose to give Enron a $254 million tax break.  When he had a chance to help people, you know, get better drugs in America at lower cost, he prohibited them importing them from Canada.  He wouldn't allow Medicare -- he raises the cost of Medicare.  I think the choices as we go through them are going to be very, very clear in this race.  George Bush has misled America, period, and every time he's had a choice of doing something for working people, doing something to put -- to create a fair trade law, doing something to stand up for the middle class, he's turned around and he's stood up for the wealthiest people in the country and the most powerful and influential, and those choices will become clearer every step of the way as we go forward in the next days.  I mean, he hasn't done anything about health care in four years.  Five million people have lost their health care; 1.4 million lost their health care last year; 1.4 million people went into poverty last year.  Wrong choices for America. 

On Abu Ghraib
IMUS:  What should happen, Senator Kerry, to the guards and their superiors if they're found guilty of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq? 

KERRY:  Well, obviously, if somebody has engaged in activity like that, they're going to have to pay a price for that.  But what irks me is that every study and every analysis shows that this goes all the way up the chain of command.  And you still don't see the civilian leadership or people at the top of the chain of command taking responsibility.  And I object to some sergeant or, you know, some enlisted person being held accountable and held up to this scrutiny when this came from both the White House and a Defense Department that changed the behavior in how prisoners were going to be treated.  They did it in Guantanamo, they did it in Afghanistan, it spilled over into Iraq, and no one yet is being held accountable, and that's wrong. 

IMUS:  But if these guards and superiors are in violation of the Geneva Conventions...

KERRY:  They have to be health accountable, and they will be. 

IMUS:  What does that mean?  What does that mean?

KERRY:  Well, It means that they're going also have to pay a price for that, but it's got to be appropriate.  It can't be scapegoating.  They can't be the only ones and they can't pay the higher price while other people walk free.  It has to be appropriate to the level of sort of their understanding of what the rules were, and wrong as it may be, it has to be put into a context, and I don't think it has been yet. 

IMUS:  Back in May of 2001 on "Meet the Press," you said you yourself have committed the same kinds of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers in violation of the Geneva Conventions.  And my question, Senator Kerry, is, is there a difference between what happened in your case in Vietnam and what happened at Abu Ghraib, in that both were acts in violation of the Geneva Conventions? 

KERRY:  There is a difference. 

IMUS:  What is it? 

KERRY:  There is a difference.  What I was referring to in that testimony was the general categorization of free-fire zones in Vietnam and the general categorizations of some of the weapons that were being used, which were in violation of the accords.  We didn't learn that until we came home.  I didn't know any of that while I was there.  I didn't know any of that over there, nor did most soldiers.  And I never meant to impugn, I've never meant to categorize, you know, all soldiers somehow in that category, but it was a general -- if you talk to Neil Sheehan, who wrote "Bright Shining Lie," or you look even at the military manuals today that have drawn lessons from that period of time, there were policies put in place overall.  We had a program called "The Phoenix Program," which was an assassination program, and people were taken out of villages, and you know, the CIA ran it.  There were a whole bunch of things that regrettably, and you know, it's an awful period of America's history, but I told the truth about it, and that truth has been confirmed in countless documents since then, and I regret that some people are still upset about that period of time.  You know, I was angry about it when I came home. 

IMUS:  That's what they're angry at you about. 

KERRY:  Yes, that is what they're angry -- and I understand that, Don, but I had the courage to stand up -- look, I went, I did my duty, I came back, I saw what I saw, and I told the truth.  If some people have trouble with that still, I'm sorry about it. 

IMUS:  A Freedom of Information Act request by "The Washington Post" regarding your military records produced six pages of information, while a spokesman for the Navy Personnel Command said there were at least 100 pages of information available, but he was not authorized to release them.  Why can't we see this stuff? 

KERRY:  We've posted my military records that they sent to me, or were posted on my Web site.  You can go to my Web site, and all my -- you know, the documents are there. 

IMUS:  So is -- everything's available? 

KERRY:  To the best of my knowledge.  I think some of the medical stuff may still be out there.  We're trying to get it. 

IMUS:  "The Washington Post" doesn't think that it's all available, and they could go to your Web site.  Maybe they did. 

KERRY:  Well, we released everything that they initially sent me. 

IMUS:  You know, I don't know if this is amusing or not.  It might be.  Toni Morrison characterized Bill Clinton as America's first black president, and I read that you said that you wouldn't mind being America's second black president.  And my question is, when my friend Harold Ford Jr.  is elected president, what is he going to be, like number three, or what? 

KERRY:  No, he'll be number one.  He'll be number one.

IMUS:  Does he lose that distinction, or what happens? 


KERRY:  Obviously it's a tongue in cheek -- I mean, that's a joking comment. 

IMUS:  OK.  Because Harold is upset, because I keep promoting...

KERRY:  It's a characterization, not a reality. 

IMUS:  Harold is upset because I keep reporting -- I keep supporting Barack Obama, but he was just the man of the moment and I just jumped on that bandwagon. 

KERRY:  He gave a great speech.  He did a spectacular job, didn't he? 

IMUS:  Well, yes, he did.  Did you read Richard Cohen in yesterday's Washington Post? 

KERRY:  I did not. 

IMUS:  He wrote that in voting to authorize this war in Iraq that we've been talking about this morning -- this is Richard Cohen, don't get hysterical, not that you would but -- unlike Senator Kennedy, you chose a supposedly safe and overly nuanced route that in Mr. Cohen's view has left you, Senator Kerry, tongue-tied. 

KERRY:  Well, I disagree. 

IMUS:  Well, he's urging you to admit the war was a mistake and then start attacking these people.  Why can't you do that? 

KERRY:  But I do.  That's exactly what I am doing.  I think the war -- I've said it a hundred times, I think it was a huge mistake for the president to go to war the way he did.  I've said that a dozen times.  I mean, the fact is that I...

IMUS:  Do you think there are any circumstances we should have gone to war in Iraq -- any? 

KERRY:  Not under the current circumstances, no, there are none that I see.  I voted based on weapons of mass destruction.  The president distorted that and I've said that.  I mean, look, I can't be clearer.  But I think it was the right vote based on what Saddam Hussein had done, and I think it was the right thing to do to hold him accountable.  I've said a hundred times, there was a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.  The president chose the wrong way.  Can't be more direct than that. 

IMUS:  Thanks for taking the time to talk to me this morning.   Hey, listen, if you see Edwards, would you tell him Charles wants his watch and his wallet back?  We're sick of this. 


KERRY:  I'll tell him you're looking for him. 

IMUS:  Yes. 

KERRY:  Will you have him on? 

IMUS:  Well, of course. 

KERRY:  He's doing a terrific job out there. 

IMUS:  We'll have him on from his undisclosed location.  He already thinks he's vice president.  I mean, this is ridiculous. 


Good luck, Senator Kerry, and thank you. 

KERRY:  Thank you very much. 

IMUS:  Senator John Kerry from Detroit, Michigan. 



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