Guests: A.B. Stoddard, Peter Fenn, Charlie Black, Richard Wolffe
TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to the show. I‘m Tucker Carlson. A lot to get to today, including one member of the Bush family who really does belong in the White House. Needless to say, he‘s not there.
And the billionaire donor who could change Barack Obama‘s mind about running for president.
But first our top story. Robert Gates‘ admission to Congress. The president‘s choice for defense secretary said at his Senate confirmation hearings this morning that he doesn‘t believe the U.S. is winning the war in Iraq. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CARL LEVIN, (D) MI: Mr. Gates, do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: No, sir.
Even if our—if whatever changed approach or strategy we come up with, the president implements, works, we are still going to have to have some level of American support there for the Iraqi military. And that could take quite some time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: Not exactly the way the White House would have written the script for the first day of hearings. Joining me now with the latest, NBC News‘ Mike Viqueira on Capitol Hill. Mike?
MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Tucker.
Bob Gates came back after lunch, after some questions were raised at the White House briefing about those comments you just played. And he wanted to amplify, clarify his remarks.
Didn‘t exactly contradict himself but he said this to clarify. Quote, “I want to make clear this pertains to the situation in Iraq as a whole.” So take it for what it‘s worth. He did repeat it when John McCain asked him a couple of times whether the status quo was working. He said it is not. He says are we winning in Iraq? He said no.
Overall, Gates says he is open to a wide range of proposals, but he is against a specific timetable for withdrawal, that puts him at odds with the top Democrat on the committee coming in as chairman in just a month‘s time is Carl Levin of Michigan who wants the withdrawal to begin within four to six months.
He says, Gates does, we are in a situation where most of the bad guys in the Middle East are active in Iraq, and if we left now, it would be unconstrained chaos. That‘s one thing he says, obviously, that he wants to avoid.
He says that if the United States left the country in chaos, it would end up like Afghanistan after the Soviet Union left, which led to fertile ground for the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda. He says that in the next year or two, that will tell the difference between an improving situation in Iraq and what he terms a regional conflagration.
But Tucker, I have to tell you that in the afternoon session, there were very few senators here. He was not grilled very tough at all by comparison to a lot of administration nominees up here. This administration—this nomination is on cruise control. They hope to finish up and perhaps vote as early as tonight. They are in closed session late this afternoon. And then have the full Senate vote on it as early as tomorrow or Thursday before the Congress leaves town for the holidays, not to return until January 4 when Democrats take over. Tucker?
CARLSON: Mike, the White House is putting out a completely different message, obviously, even than last month about Iraq, all of a sudden conceding that things aren‘t going well. Is there any way of knowing whether Bob Gates was speaking from the talking points when he said we‘re not winning or was this something he just said of the cuff?
VIQUEIRA: I don‘t know. I think his amplification after lunch would lend one to believe that he may have had a conversation or two. One thing he did agree with was the fact, under Senator McCain‘s questioning was that there were insufficient number of troops that were sent into Iraq just after the March of 2003, invasion to keep the peace.
A big mistake, he agreed, not to have people there and dissolving the military, keeping the peace while Iraq was reconstructed. So Gates went out on a limb in a few places. Senator Lindsey Graham asked him whether he thought the president of Iran was lying when the president of Iran says that he has no intention of building a nuclear arsenal, and Gates agreed with that, that, in fact, the president of Iran was, quote, unquote, “lying.”
So a few highlights here. Overall, a fairly non-confrontational hearing, I have to say, and the skids are greased for Gates to become the next secretary of defense as early as the end of this week, Tucker.
CARLSON: Yeah. He is the best the Democrats can hope for. That‘s for certain. Thanks a lot, Mike.
CARLSON: We turn now to the Democrats and their presidential hopes for 2008.
It looks like both the frontrunners are getting it in gear as Barack Obama met last night with left wing billionaire donor George Soros in New York.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, reportedly told one lawmaker, quote, “I‘m really going to go for this,” meaning for the White House. Is she about to announce and will Obama stand in her way?
Joining me now to talk about that from Washington, Republican strategist Charlie Black and his Democratic counterpart Peter Fenn. Thank you both for coming on.
PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Thanks, Tucker.
CARLSON: Peter, just to - something that I can‘t resist asking you. George Soros, hard left, I think an extremist compared to the president of the United States, to Adolf Hitler, is it considered within the mainstream of the Democratic Party to meet with Soros and solicit money from him now?
FENN: Well, I tell you, George Soros is one of the wealthiest men in the world. As you know. He has been involved in a lot of progressive causes. He is not, as you point out, he is not a politician in his own right, and does not hesitate sometimes to speak his mind, but he also is very influential in the party.
He also is in New York. So I think Barack Obama decided that that wouldn‘t be a bad little visit to make before Christmas.
CARLSON: It‘s just not consistent. I mean, I understand Soros has a lot of money and he spends a lot of money in politics, but this is not consistent with the message we heard in the midterm elections last month. The bigger tent, Democrats toning down the rhetoric a little bit, getting away from the hard left stands of old. He is the embodiment of kind of the old-fashioned Democratic Party. There is no shame?
FENN: No, I don‘t think so. Tucker, I think it‘s precisely that message, the big tent message. Why shouldn‘t he be in the tent? Look, Republicans have—they are the ones that are narrowing their tent, unfortunately for them. They are the ones that are getting rid of all the moderate Republicans and heaven forbid an occasional left of center Republican.
So I think what you have got here is a very interesting race. It‘s a kabuki dance I think right now between Obama and Clinton. One is trying to keep the other out. Both of them are sending signals, hey, I‘m in no matter what. Or close to in.
CARLSON: It‘s the voters, by the way, who seem to be kicking out all the liberal Republicans. And good for the voters. They‘re not entirely stupid, are they?
Charlie, here is what Barack Obama said about Hillary Clinton. Quote, “I think she is tough, I think she is disciplined, I think she is smart and I‘m not one of those people who believes she can‘t win.”
Wow. Talk about damning with faint praise. Kind of a clever attack, isn‘t it?
CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I guess it is, but he may believe it. Certainly, most Democrats believe that Mrs. Clinton is the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination. I think so. But it‘s a shame that any Democrat who wants to run for president has to go kiss the ring of George Soros. Among the progressive causes that he believes in, he is against U.S. sovereignty. He is for one world government. He is from the total legalization of drugs. Unfortunately, he‘s the most powerful figure behind the scenes in the Democratic Party, and that is not in the mainstream.
CARLSON: No, it‘s not. For all the ink wasted on Jerry Falwell and his control of the Republican Party, this, he guy pales by comparison.
FENN: I don‘t want to spend a lot of time defending George Soros here.
CARLSON: Oh, go ahead.
FENN: He can do it for himself. But Charlie, I think you‘re a little over the top there on one world government. He does believe in the United Nations, which the previous ambassador hardly did.
BLACK: Peter, I‘ll send you the book. He said all of that.
CARLSON: I want to get back if we could for a second to Barack Obama here.
What do you think, Charlie, of his—this is essentially a veiled attack.
“I‘m not one of those people who believes she can‘t win.”
In other words, there are a lot of people out there who believe Hillary Clinton can‘t win. If you‘re Barack Obama, at some point you need to go after Hillary Clinton. And on what grounds do you do that? Do you attack her as a lackey of the Bush administration because she supports generally the Iraq War? Do you attack her from the left, in other words. Do you attack her as a retread, as kind of the old Democratic Party? How do you go after her?
BLACK: Well, I think if you look at her voting record, about the only place he has to attack is the Iraq War. Then he should try to make the contrast on personality and charisma. She does not have that.
CARLSON: That‘s a very good point. And then coming back, of course, Mrs. Clinton is going to have to attack Barack Obama. This is all accelerating at a pace we didn‘t anticipate. Hillary has reached out to people in Iowa, in New Hampshire, Peter, as you know. She is moving into high gear because of Obama, of course. How does she respond to him? It‘s a delicate question. How do you attack Barack Obama if you‘re Hillary Clinton?
FENN: I tell you, I think it‘s going to be a while before you have any attacks here. I think both of these candidates, if Barack decides to get in, I think—I think Hillary Clinton is pretty assured of running it, obviously.
But if he decides to go, I think he‘s got to raise a lot of money, he has got to be all over this country. He has achieved rock star status rather quickly. And he‘s going to have to put meat on the bones. And that‘s his first job.
So I don‘t think you‘re going to see Obama or the Obama camp doing a whole lot of attacking in the next year, nor do I think the Clinton folks are going to do likewise.
CARLSON: They are going to do a lot of organizing, though. Charlie, it looks like Mrs. Clinton is going to try to compete in Iowa. You‘ve got the governor of that state, Tom Vilsack running. John Edwards has a great organization in Iowa. Should she bother to mount a campaign in Iowa or just move on to Nevada?
BLACK: Well, usually we consider that the frontrunner needs to compete everywhere, including especially in Iowa that it might be a sign of weakness if she doesn‘t. Listen, the Clintons are tremendous organizers. She has the best talent in the Democratic Party available. But they will go out there and spend all the money in the world and she will have a chance to win Iowa.
FENN: I think you‘re probably right.
CALRSON: If you all wouldn‘t mind just staying right there, we will be right back.
Still to come, when we do, the first President Bush breaks down in tears while praising his son, but not the son you imagine. Is JEB the most impressive Bush, some say.
And President Bloomberg, President Edwards? We‘ll handicap the dark horse candidates in the ‘08 race when we return.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: A true measure of a man is how he handles victory and also defeat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: That was former President Bush having an emotional moment yesterday as he talked about his son. Not the one in the White House. His son JEB, the departing governor of Florida. Which leads to an interesting question. Would JEB Bush be a better president than his brother George W. Bush? Joining us once again, Republican strategist Charlie Black and Democratic campaign consultant Peter Fenn. Welcome to you both.
FENN: Thank you.
CARLSON: Charlie, this is one of those cliches that in my view is actually true. Everyone says oh, the wrong Bush became president. But anybody who has ever spent time with JEB Bush can tell you he is enormously impressive, you know, in person, has complete command of the details of policy, for instance, and is a very smart, very conservative guy, more conservative than his brother. That‘s for sure. Is he ever going to run for president?
BLACK: I don‘t know. JEB is a young man. He might run someday, but right now he is going to return to private life. He was an excellent governor and he was successful politically, and he would make a good president. He doesn‘t feel that it‘s right to run now. But his brother is a good president, too. So you might end up with three good presidents out of the same family before we‘re done.
CARLSON: Do you see that as possible, Peter? This whole dynasty thing is wrong and Americans understand that, which is why Hillary is doomed, is that your position?
FENN: Listen, I think we have had enough Bushes as presidents at this point. Obviously, the—you hand me a softball here, I‘m going to hit it. Would JEB Bush be a better president than his brother? Well, he couldn‘t be any worse would be my line on this. I do think it‘s a—it brings back the old interesting thing, Tucker. A very moving moment for his father.
But you remember the old Smothers Brothers routine, mommy always loved you best. And when you look at that reaction, you wonder maybe his dad feels a good deal more affection for JEB than he does for .
CARLSON: That‘s been widely reported. Not that he loves him more. But I think it is true, Charlie, isn‘t it, that the family, the parents, former President Bush and his wife expected JEB to be the political star, didn‘t they?
BLACK: Well, no, I don‘t think so. I think they knew they both had political talent. They showed more interest in politics than their siblings. But I can tell you from personal knowledge, George and Barbara Bush love all their children and grandchildren equally, and family is by far the most important thing in the world to them.
So you could see the former president have the same kind of performance about any of those siblings.
CARLSON: There is, Peter, there is clearly a royalist streak in Americans. Why else would they keep electing people from the same families? And you see it not just at the national level but certainly the state and local level, in every state in the country. They keep electing people whose fathers or in some cases mothers have held office.
This is supposed to be a republic. What is that about? Why do voters do that?
FENN: Well, I think that voters get familiar with families. They—and it is in the genes, I think, Tucker. I was obviously making fun of it, of this family. But look, all families, whether the Kennedys or the Bushes, they are very tight, they are very close, they are very happy to see their kids or their grandkids or great grandkids get into politics.
You start with the Adamses and you go on through. And I think it‘s something that is probably going to continue. But I think it used to be that you could get elected just because of your last name. I think it‘s a little tougher now, I think you really do have to prove yourself and that‘s the way it should be.
CARLSON: You kind of would hope so, that each person would be elected for his own qualities. Charlie, what‘s the bottom line political calculation with Hillary Clinton? Does her husband help or hurt her?
BLACK: Oh, he is a tremendous help to her, no doubt about it. Now she doesn‘t have the likeability and charisma that Bill Clinton has, but she has some qualities he doesn‘t like discipline and sticking to a plan. She has been running for president since November 4, 1992, the day after he was elected president, and she has conducted every day according to a plan.
Now she has arrived at the time to move full swing into a campaign. I think she is a tough candidate. But she certainly does not have the personal appeal of Bill Clinton.
CARLSON: So when Bill Clinton stands behind her, Peter, that doesn‘t hurt? Voters don‘t see her as a pale imitation of her husband who remains so very popular among Democrats inexplicably?
FENN: I don‘t think so, Tucker. I think she is very much her own person. Look, she is very pragmatic. She has sponsored legislation with 35 senators who voted for her husband‘s impeachment. Look, and he‘s the best political advisor out there. He‘s the best political consultant in America.
CARLSON: Really? Then why do none of the people he anoints ever win? How many people from his administration have been elected? Rahm Emanuel. But all the rest .
FENN: Rahm has done OK.
CARLSON: He has done great. But other than him, I can‘t think of anybody.
FENN: He was very active this election cycle and past election cycles. And I think the question here is can she do around the country what she did in New York? I mean, can she go into traditionally Republican areas or independent areas and win these people over? She has shown she could do that in New York, and can she do it in Iowa? Can she do it in Nevada? Can she do it in New Hampshire? That‘s the real question here. Right now, you have the old poll, about 40, 45 percent of the people would not vote for Hillary Clinton for president. They would not vote for any Democrat for president.
CARLSON: Maybe. But I do think the sooner that the Democratic Party kicks its tragic Clinton addiction, the better for it and for America. Thank you both very much.
BLACK: Thank you, Tucker.
FENN: Appreciate it.
CARLSON: Charlie and Peter.
Coming up, President Bush says he does not ask his father for advice. Would we be better off if he did? And Scotland Yard detectives are in Moscow right now trying to find out whoever poisoned that ex-spy in London. We‘ve got the latest on that when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Your father is a former president. You and your brothers and your sister Doro all adore your father. Everybody knows that. One would imagine you consult with him constantly on matters of policy. Is that the case?
GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: No. Listen, I love my dad. But he understands what I know, that the level of information I have relative to the level of information most other people have, including himself, is—is significant. And that he trusts me to make decisions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: So the 43rd president doesn‘t go to his father for advice, the 41st president. Why not? And who does he talk to? Joining me now from Washington, Richard Wolffe, White House correspondent for “Newsweek” and contributor to this week‘s cover story, “Will Bush Listen?” Richard Wolffe, welcome.
RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”: Good to see you, Tucker.
CARLSON: Let‘s back up three steps here and assess this. This is pretty sick, actually.
The guy‘s father was president, dealt with pretty difficult foreign policy crises in exactly the same part of the world, and the son doesn‘t consult him for advice. Do you think that‘s true, and if so, why?
WOLFFE: Well, this relationship is just about the hardest to get to, and only the conversations between Bush and Cheney are about as difficult to understand. But what we do know is this. They do talk often. They do talk about Iraq, we‘re told. But there is a very large amount of respect, certainly from the father to the son, about not wanting to stray out of his lane, not wanting to ask too much or assume too much. But you‘re right, there is a certain irony. I‘m not sure how sick it is, but there is a certain irony here that here is a president and a former president with this incredible relationship, and yet there is this wall between them about the advice that one gets from the other.
And I have to say, look, there aren‘t that many former presidents out there, as you say, with experience in the region. And it‘s a huge resource. Generally these former presidents and current presidents tend to get together because so few people have shared that job.
It‘s an irony of ironies that this president doesn‘t, in fact, consult as deeply as he might with his own father.
CARLSON: And it just invites pop analysis. I mean, I almost can‘t control myself. Is this insecurity on the part of the son not wanting to seem dependent upon the advice of the father or is it that he believes the father‘s advice would be poor? Or is there no way to know?
WOLFFE: You know, Tucker, you and I have been covering the president for a long time, and this is the subject they hate the most.
CARLSON: Yes, I know.
WOLFFE: And they are the most sensitive about. If you remember, one of the most—maybe the most embarrassing thing in the 2000 campaign except for the DUI event was when the father campaigned with the son in New Hampshire and referred to him as this boy, the son of mine.
And they found it, I don‘t know, humiliating but very difficult to deal with inside the Bush circle. Still to this day, there is a huge amount of sensitivity about seeming like a son and not a president. Now, is that a factor in the president‘s mind? I don‘t know. I mean, look, every son and father has a difficult relationship, and of course a loving and wonderful relationship, too, as the father of two sons, I‘m going to say that now.
WOLFFE: But, you know, why don‘t they talk more? I can only assume the president wants to feel the freedom to make his own decisions, not his father‘s decisions.
CARLSON: I still think—I‘m a father as well. And I think it‘s very odd. I at the time thought that incident in New Hampshire was strange. What‘s demeaning about that? He is the first president‘s boy. There is nothing wrong with that. It takes, I think, a very insecure man to be upset about that. Just my view. So who does he listen to?
WOLFFE: Well, you know, in this period, the tail end of his second term, this is a president who feels like he doesn‘t need his training wheels anymore. And certainly the reliance on the vice president has declined substantially. He feels he has been around the block a few times. He is a statesman in his own right. He has always trusted his own gut instinct but I think that‘s especially true now when you look at things like should you talk to Iran and Syria.
He has a very strong opinion from his own experience and his own judgment. He obviously leans very heavily on Condi Rice. No question she has an open line to the president and he relies on her and trusts her to make her own decisions and execute his own. Steve Hadley he also has a close relationship to. But beyond that, is there sort of a kitchen cabinet out there? I don‘t think so.
CARLSON: So he listens to Condi Rice but not the first President Bush.
That is really—someone needs to write a book about this.
Of course, the Baker-Hamilton report comes out tomorrow morning. It will offer recommendations on where we go from here in Iraq. Is the president bound to follow these recommendations given the enormous amount of publicity that report has received?
WOLFFE: No, he is not at all. And this is a congressional mandated group as it were.
WOLFFE: The president has made it very clear and certainly his staff has made it very clear that he is going to make his own decisions as commander in chief, he is going to set his own policy, and he‘s going to really put the Baker report alongside his own internal reports which are well under way. They are going to be respectful. They are going to consider it and be very thoughtful about it. But within the next two weeks, we‘re going to see them coming up with a new approach, a repositioning rather than a complete reversal of course.
But, you know, the Baker report is just going to sit alongside all of these others. So I don‘t want to suggest that he‘s not going to take advice or that he doesn‘t even listen to his father. He does listen. But the question is whether he changes as a result of that. And what we‘re seeing is, like I say, a repositioning, not a reversal.
CARLSON: Really, a baffling relationship. Richard Wolffe, thanks very much.
WOLFFE: Any time.
CARLSON: Still to come, one of these men could be a great president. Not so fast, Al Gore. It‘s not you. And why the FBI‘s highest ranking Arab American agent says the agency is doing a lousy job fighting terrorism. We‘ve got that story. We‘ll be right back.
CARLSON: New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, former North Carolina senator and 2004 V.P. candidate John Edwards, they are all names you have heard, but not necessarily men who come immediately to mind when you think of the 2008 presidential election. Well think again, because these guys may be actually running for president. Does any of them have a chance?
Joining me now from Washington, associate editor of the “Hill Newspaper,” A.B. Stoddard. A.B., welcome.
A.B. STODDARD, “THE HILL”: Thanks Tucker.
CARLSON: Let me add to that list another local New York politician Rudy Giuliani, who apparently, according to the “National Journal,” hot of the wire, just hired Sandra Pack (ph). She was the C.F.O. of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign. She will now be working for his exploratory committee. Does this mean he is running?
STODDARD: I think he is definitely running and that‘s what I have been hearing from some Republicans who are close to his inner circle. I wonder if Rudy Giuliani is regretting the fact that he quit the Iraq Study Group in May, after being a member of it for just two months. Now that it has such a high profile and he is going to be looking for some foreign policy credentials, I wonder if that was a mistake, but I think he is definitely serious about running.
CARLSON: He seems to be credited with foreign policy credentials.
STODDARD: Right, why is he credited with foreign policy credentials when he has none?
CARLSON: Well, that‘s a good point, but—
STODDARD: I mean, everyone says he has national security credentials and he was -- You know, he survived 9/11, and he handled it beautifully as mayor and he has law enforcement credentials and he cleaned up—his law enforcement credentials in New York are real and they are very appealing, but they are not national security credentials at all.
CARLSON: He has positioned himself as an expert on terrorism, someone who called 9/11, in the broadest terms, before it hand. True or not, that‘s where he has positioned himself. Mike Bloomberg, the man who replaced him in New York, very rich guy, billionaire, making noises about running, not clear if they are real or not. I don‘t see how he‘s got a shot, but do you think he‘s going to run?
STODDARD: I think when you have that much money and you‘re soon to have a lot of times on your hands, it‘s on the table. That‘s what I think. And he‘s obviously—It‘s been reported that he is having serious conversations with people feeling it out, as you have to do before you get serious. I mean. he is a fabulously successful businessman and he has had a really good run as mayor. I love New York. I was born and raised there. I don‘t think it‘s a model that can be duplicated nationwide for Michael Bloomberg, but he seems to think he‘s become so popular there and he‘s sort of the anti-politician. I think that that—I can see why that has an appeal, but I—again, I mean, we have to take all of these long shots seriously.
CARLSON: They misread their own polls though. I mean, he was down in the 20‘s not long ago. Now he is at 70 percent approval in New York. All of a sudden they think they are god because New Yorkers like them. But New Yorkers are very fickle, as are --
STODDARD: It is not the rest of the country.
CARLSON: Exactly, that‘s exactly right. What—Sam Brownback could be the most—if he enters the race—would be the most conservative Republican running. What‘s the point of the Brownback candidacy? Is it an ideological crusade?
STODDARD: Yes, he is filling this niche that needs to be filled for the conservative - for the real true blue—excuse me, true red conservatives in the Republican party on the social issues. Sam Brownback, it‘s just so interesting to me last week when Barack Obama went to Rick Warren‘s church with Sam Brownback and there were some protests beforehand about Barack Obama going because he is pro-choice, and Rick Warren supporters, some Christian conservatives were getting upset that he would be invited there. Sam Brownback said, you know, let‘s all come together to solve problems like AIDS and not—and be unified.
And I thought—I found that really amazing. Sam Brownback is such an interesting candidate. Unfortunately for him, the silver bullet of being the tallest might not work for him since that doesn‘t really—that rule doesn‘t really work anymore after 2004. I think he might be taller than all of the contenders, but Sam Brownback, you know, I could sit here and tell you why his social justice stance would be so appealing in the general election, but he has to get through the primary and I don‘t think he can raise 10 million by the end of the year, 1 million every week, following and ultimately 500 million.
CARLSON: That‘s a long way from here to there. Finally, the most interesting number I have seen this week is the John Edwards numbers out of Iowa. He is leading, beating pretty dramatically, even the governor, Tom Vilsack in Iowa. He has got a pretty good organization there. Is he the sleeper candidate we have been ignoring while we pay attention to Hillary and Barack Obama?
STODDARD: What‘s interesting is that the Barack Obama boomlet, I mean. it sort of helps John Edwards, in a way. Everyone thinks it hurts him, but I think it actually could help him, especially if Obama decides not to run. That is that it makes John Edwards now seem sort of seasoned and more experienced. He is definitely more senior than Barack Obama.
CARLSON: No, he‘s Henry Kissinger compared to Barack Obama, that‘s right.
STODDARD: But also Edwards, we can‘t laugh him off because he has been making—he has really been doing what they call the early work. Just like John McCain, but probably with not so much notice, he has been working. I‘m told he has really saturated Nevada. He has a lot of support in the right places because he has gone there and he has been working so hard, out of office, being the outsider. He, of course, went through the process, and he knows kind of where the bodies are buried. So, let‘s not laugh it off. I think that he‘s done probably the early work that he had to do. It doesn‘t mean that it‘s going to carry him all the way, but I think he has been serious about it.
CARLSON: No, he‘s totally serious, and he‘s—I think the most talented, probably the most talented guy running. Alexandra B. Stoddard, A.B. Stoddard, thanks very much.
CARLSON: It‘s been five years since 9/11, but how much progress has the FBI really made in the war on terror? Not much, say some. In fact, almost none, according to the agency‘s highest ranking Arab American agent, Bassem Yousef. NBC‘s senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers had an exclusive interview with him and brings us never before released tapes of FBI officials revealing a stunning lack of knowledge about terrorism.
LISA MYERS, NBC NEWS SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST (voice-over):
Dale Watson was the FBI‘s top counterterrorism official before and after 9/11. But in this videotaped deposition, he seemed unsure of some very basic facts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know who Osama bin Laden‘s spiritual leader was?
DALE WATSON, FBI COUNTER-TERRORISM OFFICIAL: I can‘t recall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know the differences in the religion between Shia and Sunni Muslims?
WATSON: Not technically, no.
MYERS: John Lewis was also a top counter-terror official for the FBI.
Does he know the difference between Shias and Sunnis?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know generally?
JOHN LEWIS, FBI COUNTER-TERRORISM OFFICIAL: Not very well.
MYERS: Was there any relationship between the first World Trade Center bombing and the 9/11 attacks?
LEWIS: I‘m aware of no immediate relationship, other than it all emanates out of the Middle East, al Qaeda linkage, I believe. Not something I have studied recently, that I am conversant with.
MYERS: Even FBI director Robert Mueller was stumped in his deposition. Was Mueller aware that one of Osama bin Laden‘s spiritual leaders was the blind Sheik, convicted in 1995 for terror-related offenses?
ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: Actually not, not with any specificity in as much as that prosecution and those events happened in New York, way before I became director.
MYERS: Counter-terror experts say such apparent ignorance of the enemy is alarming.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you absolutely have to understand the basics of who your enemy is and where they come from.
MYERS: Another senior FBI official claimed it‘s not necessary to have expertise in Arab culture, or even in terrorism, to lead the war on terror. It‘s leadership that matters.
GARY BALD, TOP FBI COUNTER-TERRORISM OFFICIAL: The subject matter expertise is helpful, but it is not a pre-requisite. It is certainly not what I look for.
MYERS: But an FBI spokesman now says expertise does matter.
JOHN MILLER, FBI: I think today you have both. You have got the leadership skills and the subject matter expertise.
MYERS: But why is Bassem Yousef, the FBI‘s highest ranking Arab American agent, now holding down a desk job instead of working terror investigations? He‘s one of only six agents with advanced Arabic skills, and won a prestigious award for work on a terrorism investigation before 9/11.
(on camera): So you‘re saying the biggest problem is the FBI still doesn‘t have the expertise to effectively fight the war on terror?
BASSEM YOUSSEF, FBI: Yes, I believe that is the case. If you can‘t get inside the mind of the enemy, we will never succeed.
CARLSON: Joining me now with more from Washington, one of the best investigative producers in television, senior investigative producer of NBC News Jim Popkin, who put together the package you just saw. Jim, what is the answer to that question? Why is the senior Arabic-speaking agent in the FBI assigned to a desk job?
JIM POPKIN, NBC NEWS SR. INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER: Well Tucker, it‘s pretty complicated. He is in a real beef with the FBI at this point. But from his perspective, since 9/11, he says he has been sidelined and really not had an ability to do what he says he does best, which is to help infiltrate terror cells and understand the mindset of this radical ideology. And he is obviously very upset that he has a desk job to this day. Right now he‘s helping to analyze telephone calls at the FBI, an important job. I don‘t mean to diminish it, but not what he says he‘s good at and what he has won awards for.
CARLSON: Six advanced Arabic speakers in the entire FBI, I mean, that almost—that‘s almost beyond belief. Why is that? I assume there are far more than six people assigned to organized crime or narcotics sales. It doesn‘t seem a very great commitment to fighting terrorism for only six of them.
POPKIN: It is a surprisingly low number. The FBI says that there are 33 people inside the entire bureau, it‘s about 12,000 agents, that have any proficiency at all in Arabic. In their defense, they say that it takes a long time to hire these folks and to train them, and that they have also hired a huge number of interpreters, and that when they do need to do the work that requires Arabic training, that they have the right number of folks to go about and to use, but at this point, it‘s only six agents that have the skills that Bassem Yousef has, in terms of speaking Arabic.
CARLSON: The FBI officials we just saw in your package, John Lewis, Gary Bald, the number who just basically admit, I have no idea what I‘m doing. You don‘t need to be a terrorism expert in order to fight terror. No, I have no idea what Osama bin Laden believes. Have they been punished, censured in any way for their ignorance?
POPKIN: To my knowledge, no, they haven‘t. Some of them have left the bureau, but having nothing to do with this, just in terms of other jobs or rotations. Some have gone to other field offices. The FBI, at this point, what they say is that they concede that they kind of failed the pop quiz, a lawyer‘s version of jihad jeopardy, if you will. They say that today we now have the leaders in place that have the expertise and the leadership skills that they need to run the counter-terrorism division, and they are confident they have the right folks.
And from what I know about this, from some of the people I know from covering the FBI and talking to Lisa Myers and her work on this story, they have brought in some impressive people from the CIA, and they have elevated, promoted some very sharp people within the FBI, who today do have the skills that you would want. I‘m confident that many of them would be able to pass these pop quizzes.
CARLSON: Well, here is just finally a subjective question from covering the Justice Department. Do you get a sense that people fighting terrorism, who were assigned to fight al Qaeda, spend a lot of time thinking about what motivates al Qaeda?
POPKIN: It‘s interesting, you know, that‘s a point that Mike Sheehan, who we quote in the story, we use in the story, as an NBC terror analyst says. He says while I respect Director Mueller and a lot of agents, he worries and wonders if the average FBI agent or FBI official spends a lot of time reading and trying to understand the mindset, as opposed to some of the other—some of the other things that obviously occupy the time of FBI agents, and he‘s troubled. He thinks the answer is probably no, that there isn‘t the kind of deep thinking that he would like to see.
CARLSON: That‘s just—it‘s just depressing as hell five years later. Thanks a lot Jim Popkin, I appreciate it.
POPKIN: Thanks Tucker.
CARLSON: The struggle between the British and Russian governments over the poisoning death of a former Russian spy in London heats up. Why are the Russians refusing to cooperate in the investigation? Do they have something to hide? Of course they do. We‘ll have the latest on that when we come back.
CARLSON: British police are in Russia tonight investigating the
poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. Authorities there are protecting their own. Russia‘s chief prosecutor is refusing to extradite any suspects to Britain. That could make the British investigation a lot more difficult.
Joining me now from our London bureau with more NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski. Michelle, what‘s going on?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi Tucker, well here it is day one of the investigation on the ground in Moscow and we have had two sides here; the British saying they are willing to take this investigation as far as at will go, into any other country, and Russia has been saying yes, they want to cooperate fully. But today they Russians are saying, if you find a suspect and you want to extradite that person, no you can‘t do that. That‘s just not the way our rules work.
And furthermore, if you want to interview a prisoner who is making some pretty shocking allegations, you can‘t interview him either, because he‘s considered guilty of treason. So that could be another roadblock for the British investigators here. But then again, maybe they are going to move in another direction, and that won‘t cause anything detrimental to their—to their work over there. Because, you know, even if they couldn‘t extradite someone, it is possible, and the Russians are agreeing with this, that they might be tried in Russia.
I mean, it would have to be in a Russian court, with their rules and their jury, potentially. But, you know, it‘s also possible that the Russians would bring charges, say if someone was considered under suspicion of stealing this Polonium. If the Russians brought charges and brought them to court, it‘s possible the British could do it that way. So you never know, Tucker. Maybe this will cause the end of the investigation, but then again it might work out.
CARLSON: Does anyone really believe, Michelle, that this assassination could have taken place without the knowledge of the Russian government?
KOSINSKI: Yes, in fact, security experts say that it‘s been known in the past that there are these rogue elements, as they call them, within the security forces. It used to be called the K.G.B. Now it‘s call the F.S.B. Apparently during both time periods, there are these groups that operate pretty much autonomously, believe it or not, of the Russian government. I mean, security experts in other countries acknowledge that just because people are alleging that the F.S.B. may have been involved here, that doesn‘t necessarily mean that the top levels of Russian government had anything to do with it.
CARLSON: Do we have any specific suspects or has anyone been named, a group been named?
KOSINSKI: Scotland Yard isn‘t naming any suspects officially, but when people are named in the press as being persons of interest or people that investigators might want to talk about or talk to, investigators will then mention those people without naming them explicitly. So we should get that out on the ground floor. But there is one man, Andre Lugovoy. He is a Russian former K.G.B. agent. He met with Litvinenko on the day Litvinenko thought he had been poisoned. And what‘s really curious here is that this man now says that he‘s in a hospital in Russia, that he has been contaminated with Polonium. He said he stayed in this hotel—this is what he is telling the London press—but he also says he checked out of that hotel, which later tested positive for radioactivity, several days before Alexander Litvinenko thought he had been poisoned.
The question is was he poisoned before Litvinenko? Also, he told the press that he flew to London from Moscow on a flight on October 25, British Airways. We also know from investigators that that‘s the first flight they are looking for, they are examining as possibly having something to do with this case. So there is a lot of circumstantial evidence out there. There are details that come out. But there is no one right now who is being considered as a prime suspect, at least not by officials, Tucker.
CARLSON: I suspect that will change. Michelle Kosinski in London, thanks very much.
Well an Oscar-winning actor implies Oprah and her good friend Gayle King (ph) might have something going on. We‘ll tell you which star has drawn the wrath of Oprah, the foolish man, when we come right back.
CARLSON: Joining us now from MSNBC headquarters, one of Oprah Winfrey‘s all time favorite people, Willie Geist.
WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I pray she‘s one of my favorite people. I really do. Tucker, an entry into the mug shot hall of fame today, rip Torn, the actor, there he is. He joins Pat Campbell and Nick Nolte, wow, in immortality. Let‘s get the man a comb or some brill cream. Excuse me, Glen Campbell. Rip Torn arrested on suspicion of a D.W.I. And that was the flattering shot they took of him.
CARLSON: Suspicion of D.W.I.? That‘s verification of D.W.I. right there, that picture.
GEIST: Exactly. He actually refused the Breathalyzer. I think I know why, based on that picture. Well Tucker, as you know, there is no achievable level of stardom that allows you to make fun of Oprah Winfrey or her friend Gayle King. Oscar winning actor Jamie Foxx just learned that lesson.
At a tribute to Will Smith on Sunday Foxx said to Smith, quote, I was talking about you the other day. I was laying in bed with Oprah and I turn over to Gayle and I say, you know what—well laughter drowned out the rest of the joke. Oprah, however, not laughing. Some people, who it should be noted are not me, have suggested Oprah and Gayle may be lovers. Foxx says he hopes, and I bet prays, the Bravo network cuts the joke from the broadcast of the tribute. He better repent really, really quickly. Let me ask you a question, have you seen James Fry around lately? Because I sure haven‘t. That‘s because Oprah had him offed.
CARLSON: James Fry, you know, little known fact, Willie, days before he died of Polonium poisoning, Alexander Litvinenko criticized Oprah. I‘m not drawing any connections. I‘ll let you do that.
GEIST: Yes, the Russian government‘s a red herring, right?
CARLSON: Not as powerful as Oprah, actually.
GEIST: Let me ask you Tucker, are you looking to bring down the price of your rent? Well, you could get into some dead end negotiation with your landlord, but it‘s so much more fun just to bring hookers into the neighborhood. Two artists in Tel-Aviv have put card board cut outs around their apartment buildings, in the hopes there‘s will be perceived as a seedy area and their rent will be lowered. One of the men said, quote, whores are the real estate contaminator of the world, and that‘s a nice sentiment. I think I‘ll have it stitched onto a pillow for the holidays. It‘s really nice. I don‘t think the cardboard cut outs are going to work, because if you are propositioning a cardboard cut out, you have really fallen on hard times. I hope people don‘t buy those hookers.
CARLSON: Well, you can just imagine that drunk guys are doing just that. In fact, I think that‘s why Rip Torn was arrested.
GEIST: Finally Tucker, when you pay thousands of dollars to travel first class on a trans-Atlantic flight, I don‘t think it‘s too much to ask that you not travel next to a corpse. First class passengers on a British Airways flight from London to Boston did just that, after a man died of a heart attack in business class. His body was taken to one of the private first class pods, where it was seat belted in and covered with a blanket for the rest of the flight. Now Tucker, obviously this is a sad story, but if you are looking for a silver lining, is there anything worse than someone sitting next to you on a plane who talks to much? You don‘t have that problem here. And I don‘t mean to make light of a sad story, but I‘m a glass half full kind of guy.
CARLSON: But, you know, the problem with this is they did not cover the man‘s face, hoping, I guess, to convince the rest of the people he was still alive.
GEIST: I should have pointed that out. Yes, the blanket went up to his neck, that‘s it.
CARLSON: That‘s so grim. Willie Geist.
GEIST: All right Tucker.
CARLSON: Thanks Willie. That‘s our show. Thanks for watching. We will see you back here tomorrow at the same time. Have a great night.
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