John Kerry was on CNN’s The Situation Room today. Blitzer covered a range of subjects with his interview (as Matthews also did on Hardball tonight) including the CIA leak disclosure today, Feingold’s censure motion and Kerry’s Iraq proposal. From the transcript…
With the word today from prosecutors that he authorized the disclosure of classified intelligence, President Bush may find himself in more hot water with the American public. His opponent in the last presidential election, Democratic Senator John Kerry, is very happy to help turn up the heat.
Earlier this afternoon, I sat down with the senator on Capitol Hill.
BLITZER: And joining us now, Senator John Kerry.
Senator, thanks for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: A pleasure.
BLITZER: Let’s talk a little bit about the news of the day, which is this disclosure and the government, the prosecution put forward some documents suggesting that the vice president’s former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was authorized actually by the president to leak classified information from a national intelligence estimate on Iraq. What do you make of this development?
KERRY: Well, it’s incredible! I mean, it means, first of all, if it’s true, it means that there is no accountability in this administration, the buck doesn’t stop anywhere. It means you have a president of the United States who stood up in front of Americans and said, gee, we have to find out who did this, we’re gonna have an investigation, if I find the person, I’ll fire him, and so he’s been looking for himself for two years. It’s stunning, and…
BLITZER: The document didn’t say that the president authorized Libby to leak the name of Valerie Plame, the CIA operative, only to leak information and the NIE, the national intelligence estimate, unclear which information in the NIE, although it’s presumed involving former Ambassador Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger.
KERRY: Right. But to the best of my knowledge, it’s part of the same effort to discredit Joe Wilson and to credit illegitimate arguments for going to war in Iraq, and the fact is that the bottom line remains that if the president of the United States is authorizing for political purposes the release of classified information, you have a very serious issue.
BLITZER: How serious of an issue is it? There’s already one motion to censure the president that Senator Russ Feingold has put forward because of the domestic warrantless wiretaps.
KERRY: Well, this would certainty be item number two on that list, if it is true. As I said — I don’t know all the facts, but I know what the court papers allege to have said, and if the court papers are accurate, then that is something that the Congress would have to take a very hard look at.
BLITZER: As you know, a lot of Republicans, including the former House majority leader Tom DeLay, are saying if the Democrats take the majority in the Senate and/or the House, the first thing they’re going to try to do is impeach this president.
KERRY: The first thing that the Democrats are going to try to do is put this country back on track and get a policy in Iraq that doesn’t have our young kids being killed because of a bunch of Iraqi politicians won’t come together and we’re not involved enough to get them to, and we will do the things necessary to put this country on a track, not a political track like we have today, but one that deals with healthcare, with jobs, with the budget deficit, and the real concerns of the American people. One thing I know we know how to do is govern, and I think this country needs governance of its best quality.
BLITZER: Is impeachment an option out there?
KERRY: Look, I don’t even want to — that’s a road that’s all political, all Washington, all process. What Americans want for us right now is to deal with the issues they’re concerned about, and number one, they are appropriately concerned about young Americans who are putting their lives on the line in Iraq for a policy that doesn’t work.
It is inexcusable that five months or four months plus after an election, they don’t have a government, they’re sitting around arguing with each other, and every day you’ve got kids coming back to Bethesda and to Walter Reed Hospital without their arms or limbs, with serious disabilities because of this policy of the president’s. His policy is wrong, we need to be tough with the Iraqis, we need to say you’ve got until May 15th to put a government together, and if you don’t put it together, our troops are leaving.
BLITZER: I want to get to Iraq in a moment, but let’s just wind up on the censure. Senator Feingold has got this motion out there. Senator Leahy, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee said the other day, he said this, “Our witnesses today will address whether censure is an appropriate sanction for the violations,” the wireless wiretapping. “I am inclined,” he said, “to believe that it is.”
Are you inclined to believe that the behavior of the president, authorizing the wireless wiretaps, the surveillance, is appropriate for censure?
BLITZER: So you would support Senator Feingold on that?
KERRY: I am inclined to believe it, and I think the hearings are appropriate, and I would be prepared to vote for it, if there shows the appropriate linkage of what they’ve done to the requirements of the law. I believe it is, and I believe it is appropriate, but we have to have it properly vetted through the committee and I think it’s appropriate to do that. But I think it’s more than appropriate to be having this discussion and that debate, and it ought to be deeper than that.
Wolf, you’ve got a war that’s being prosecuted by a secretary of defense who’s been wrong on almost every step of the way, but there’s no accountability. It’s like a FEMA director, Mr. Brown, who wasn’t prepared for Katrina. You have Mr. Wolfowitz, who leaves the Pentagon after designing the war, and he’s promoted up. You have intelligence that was faulty, but you give the Medal of Freedom to the director of the CIA.
There is no accountability in this administration, and the Libby, Scooter Libby, the Scooter Libby evidence with respect to leaking is just one more example of the lack of accountability in this administration.
BLITZER: Here’s what you wrote in the “New York Times” this week. You wrote, “Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15th to put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military.”
What if it takes longer to do it? This is a historic, dramatic moment in Iraq. They’re trying to force an alliance between Sunni, Shia, and Kurd. It’s clearly not an easy matter for them, given some of the historic ethnic tensions.
KERRY: But there’s been almost no legitimate, major diplomatic effort to get them to do it over the last months. You know, a quick visit of the secretary of state, with all due respect, is not real sustained and deeply engaged diplomacy. You remember Henry Kissinger and shuttle diplomacy. You remember Jim Baker and his amazing Herculean efforts to piece together a legitimate coalition.
Where is that kind of engagement by the president and highest officials to bring the Iraqi …
BLITZER: They do have the U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, he’s working tirelessly to try to do that.
KERRY: But an ambassador is not. I have great respect for Ambassador Khalilzad. He is very good. I’ve visited with him there. He’s doing his utmost, but it takes more than an ambassador in Baghdad to make this happen. It takes a president, a vice president, secretary of state, working with the surrounding neighbors, working with the Arab League, working with the United Nations. That’s why I’ve suggested you must have a Dayton Accords-like conference that brings people together in order to put that diplomacy on the table.
But secondly, and this is very important, the Iraqis have only responded to deadlines. It took a deadline for the transfer of the provisional government. They didn’t like it, but they did it. It took a deadline for first election, a deadline for the referendum on the constitution, a deadline for the last election and they must be given a deadline, and it has to be serious. No young American soldier should be killed or lose limb or gain a major disability because Iraqi politicians can’t seize this moment of democracy.
BLITZER: In that same “New York Times” article, you said even if they do put together a new government by the middle of May, which is not an easy challenge, obviously, but let’s say they do. By the end of this year, you say the U.S. should pull out of Iraq. When we spoke here in the Senate on November 17th, this is what you said to me, and I’ll read it to you. You said, “You set out a timetable not for withdrawal, but for success, that allows you to withdraw.” You’ve had a change of heart since then?
KERRY: Because the situation on the ground has changed since then, and what I did say at the same time that I said we need a timetable, I said I believe we could have most of the troops out by the end of this year.
Now, the key is that back then, most people thought we were fighting the jihadists, the foreign jihadists on the ground. That has now completely transformed, and it is not the jihadists who present the greatest threat, it is a civil war that presents the greatest threat.
BLITZER: You think there is a civil war right now?
KERRY: There is a low-grade civil war. It has not yet burst out into a full-fledged civil war, but it is such. Former Prime Minister Allawi called it a civil war. It is sufficient that the problem is now principally Shia and Sunni, and the only solution, according to our own generals, General Casey said this can not be solved militarily, it must be solved politically. I believe over the next eight months, we have the ability to do that and our troops have done their job.
BLITZER: So are you running for president again?
KERRY: I honestly don’t know yet. It is too early. I am working mostly on the 2006 races. I’ve been supporting over 135 candidates around the country. I’ve been in 33 states, many of them have nothing to do with presidential politics, but they have everything to do with building a broader Democratic base in the country. That’s what I think we have to do, is win seats in the House and Senate, and I’m determined to try to help do it.
BLITZER: And in our CNN/”USA Today” Gallup Poll, among registered democrats, we asked their favorite choices for the 2008 presidential nomination. Senator Clinton gets 39 percent, Senator Kerry 15, Al Gore 13, John Edwards 12. What would be different between a John Kerry run, another John Kerry run, and a Hillary Clinton run? She hasn’t announced she is running. But a lot of people think she will.
KERRY: First of all, I’m not going to get into a race that doesn’t exist that’s premature, that’s just not worth your time or mine.
BLITZER: Well, Senator Biden, who’s running, he says that he brings a lot more to the table in terms of his experience than Senator Clinton.
KERRY: When and if I decide that I’m going to be a candidate, I’ll tell you, but I’ll tell you this, I came within 60,000 votes, I won 10 million more votes than Bill Clinton did for reelection, and we exceed our goals in every precinct in America. We won a lot of seats in legislatures and elsewhere around the country. I’m proud of the campaign.
We made some mistakes. I take responsibility for them. I know that if I ran again, I’ve learned a lot, I won’t repeat those mistakes. I think I know how to win, but it is way too early to be getting into a head-to-head analysis and I’m just not going to do that.
BLITZER: One of your former supporters was quoted in the “Boston Globe,” your hometown newspaper, saying this, John Wertheim of the New Mexico Democratic Party, chairman, “I do sense that there is a feeling in the party that he,” referring to John Kerry, “has had his chance, and that we need to move on to someone new. We need a real breath of fresh air, a new voice for the party.” I’m sure you’ve heard that …
KERRY: Some people have that feeling and they are entitled to that feeling and I respect that feeling and I will listen carefully to people. As I said, I haven’t made up my mind, but I’m confident in my ability to be able to win if I make a decision to run based on the lessons learned in the race I ran last time.