FTN - 6/16/02

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BOB SCHIEFFER, Chief Washington Correspondent: Today on Face the Nation: The dirty bomb, just how dangerous is it?

Last week the attorney general announced the arrest of a man suspected of trying to obtain a so-called dirty bomb, an explosive packed with radioactive waste. Just how dangerous is this threat? Why was it announced just last week? And how prepared is the United States against such an attack?

We'll talk with Republican Senator John McCain of the Armed Services Committee and Democrat Joe Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Then we'll turn to the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. We'll talk with John Dean, former White House counsel for President Nixon, and Nixon biographer Richard Reeves.

Gloria Borger will be here, and I'll have a final word on Watergate. But first, Senators McCain and Biden on Face the Nation.

ANNOUNCER: Face the Nation, with Chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer.

And now from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.

SCHIEFFER: Good morning again.

Senator McCain, welcome to Face the Nation.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN, R-Arizona: Thank you.

SCHIEFFER: Let's start with the front page of The Washington Post.

The man who broke the Watergate story, Bob Woodward, is on the front page this morning with a report that the president has given the CIA basically secret authority to do whatever is necessary to bring down Saddam Hussein. What's your take on that?

McCAIN: Well, I'm not surprised. But we need a regime change in Iraq. If we can do it on the cheap and by having operations involving just special forces and some air power and opponents within, either the Kurds in the South, Shi'ites in the North, then that's fine. But we have to be prepared to do whatever is necessary to bring about this regime change.

I think we also ought to prepare the American public, by way of informing them, that Saddam Hussein has these weapons, continues to attempt to improve their capability, and would not be reluctant to export them to other countries. So he presents a clear and present danger.

GLORIA BORGER, U.S. News & World Report: Do you think we could do this without military action then, with covert action, or does that seem unlikely?

McCAIN: I don't know if we can succeed or not, and I would guess that the experts would tell you the odds are against it succeeding with just covert activity, support for opposition within.

But my argument is, why not try it? I mean, we should attempt to succeed that way, otherwise -- and thereby preventing the loss of American lives.

BORGER: But the president says he has no war plans on his desk.

McCAIN: Well, in all due respect, that's probably technically correct. They're probably not on his desk. They're probably on somebody's desk down the hall.

(LAUGHTER)

McCain: I mean, so -- we all know that contingency plans are developed. I mean there's all kinds of contingency plans and appropriately so, even in some very far-fetched scenarios. I hope we have contingency plans for every threat that exists to the United States of America.

So I would say, yes, we should plan for it, yes, we should try to do it first covertly or with special operations but, if not, be prepared to do what's necessary.

SCHIEFFER: You just said the president should begin to prepare the American people. Will this be easy, to topple Saddam Hussein? Some people say maybe you're talking about 200,000 troops, American troops, before you're over. Is that what we should be prepared to accept?

McCAIN: I think we should be prepared to do what is necessary in the vision of our military planners. But I know you remember, in 1991, there was estimates of tens -- the experts, the military experts, there's going to be tens of thousands of American casualties, the Republican Guard will never -- blah, blah, blah. And the fact is that he was weak then; he's much weaker now.

And to believe that the Iraqi people are happy under the reign of this individual who has caused their standard of living to continuously decline, for them to live in a state of terror, is just not in keeping with the facts as I see it.

So I think you've always got to prepare for a difficult conflict, but I would argue the chances of success relatively easy are good.

BORGER: Senator, the New York Times reports today that intelligence officials in this country believe that the war in Afghanistan did not really diminish the threat from Al Qaeda, that now they've dispersed all over the world. Do you think we are doing enough to combat Al Qaeda?

McCAIN: I do. I think we're doing everything we can. And I think we will continue hopefully to make improvements, such as the reorganization of homeland security and more cooperation between the CIA and the FBI, all the things we've been reading about.

But I -- and I believe that they were dramatically weakened, they had to be dramatically weakened, when you remove their training capabilities and keep bin Laden on the run, et cetera.

But let me just add one important comment here. I think the American people, understandably, are very nervous when they are warned every day that this threat, that threat -- every day it seems to be a new threat.

BORGER: Dirty bomb.

McCAIN: Yes.

The American people and this country can and will win. We will succeed. Yes, it's a long-term threat and struggle. But just as we won War World II, just as we defeated the threat of the then Soviet Union, the United States of America can and will win. We have the intellect, we have the capability, and we have the will to win.

So we need to keep telling the American people that as well, as well as basically, if I may be so blunt, frighten them -- frighting -- scaring them every day. Obviously a three-syllable word is hard for me.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask about this whole business of the arrest of this person who was the so-called dirty bomber. Now the administration seems to be backing off a bit from some of the, kind of the impact that that announcement had. Some people were saying it was a little scarier than it ought to have been, the way it was first pictured.

McCAIN: This is an example of what I was just referring to.

SCHIEFFER: Well, what do you think here. I mean, how serious a threat is a dirty bomb?

McCAIN: I think it's a threat. I think it's one of many. I think that one of the efforts that has been going on ever since the end of the Cold War was to get these materials under some kind of control, eliminate them, store them, et cetera, wherever they may be and to stop the proliferation of this material. We've only partially succeeded, although we've had some success.

But I also think that the way that it was presented was criticized by the White House itself, so it probably should have been presented in a different way. But we're in a tough situation, and so these things aren't always easy to orchestrate in the most effective fashion or efficient fashion.

BORGER: So very quickly, you think the administration is scaring people unnecessarily?

McCAIN: I don't think they're intentionally doing so. I think that they feel they have an obligation to warn the American people of various threats. But I think we must couple that by reassuring the American people that we can and will defeat this threat, just as we have others throughout our history. And that's something that I think the American people need very badly.

SCHIEFFER: Senator McCain, thank you very much.

Let's get another side of this now from Wilmington, Delaware. Senator Joe Biden, of course, is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

You just heard Senator McCain, Senator Biden. What about this situation we're reading about in The Washington Post this morning, that the president has given the CIA this new authority to basically do whatever is necessary to topple Saddam Hussein, does that give you any pause?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, D-Delaware: Well, only if it doesn't work. I think -- I agree with John. I don't think there's any question that if Saddam Hussein's around five years from now, we've failed.

And the question is, you know, how you take Saddam out. And I've discussed this with the president and I've discussed it at length with Condoleezza Rice in the weekly meetings. And, you know, it seems to me there's a clear way to do this. And that is to make the case, just as he did in Afghanistan, to our allies as to what the facts are, what Saddam's doing, because they don't -- they're engaging in denial.

Secondly, to make sure that we have a plan that we don't miss on. As John said, I assume what John meant was, if the covert action doesn't work, we better be prepared to move forward with another action, an overt action. And it seems to me that we can't afford to miss. We don't want to embolden this guy more; we don't want to increase his capability. We don't want to increase his stature.

And lastly, there is a minor little thing. He does have, as John knows and I know, he does have a capability for weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological. What's he going to do when he's attempted to be taken down? Is he going to use those? Is he going to try to start a larger Middle East war?

And lastly, Bob, it seems -- as the president asked me, well, if I agree with him, why am I not more enthusiastic about it? I said, Mr. President, you -- there's a reason why your father stopped. The reason he didn't go to Baghdad -- and I'm not criticizing him -- the reason he didn't go to Baghdad, he wasn't prepared to stay for five years. What are we going to do after we take him down so that the Kurds and the Turks aren't in a war, that the Shi'as in the south and the Iranians aren't back at it again, and so on and so forth?

So, we need a plan. We need a plan. And to the best of my knowledge, I know of three distinct plans being discussed within the administration and three distinct points of view as to how to proceed. And there's another article I read today, and this comes down to this issue of leadership. The president has to decide among his advisers what is the best proposal.

BORGER: Now, I was just going to ask you, has any decision been made in this administration about which plan, which tact they intend to take against Iraq?

BIDEN: To the best of my knowledge, no. And I only know what John knows. The president's looked me in the eye and said, there is no plan on my desk, there's been no decision made. But I agree with John. There's obviously plans on other people's desks.

What -- not concerns me, but what I think has to be focused on is, is there one plan?

I know of several plans, having spoken with several elements of the administration, each having their own point of view. I don't know which one the president has adopted or -- I guess what I'm saying is, I don't think the president has decided on which plan yet.

But, look, once Saddam is down, I don't know a single, solitary informed person in the country or abroad who does not understand that there's a need to know what is going to follow Saddam so that we don't end up with a circumstance that is not worse, but is chaotic.

And I think this could be a win-win situation with the Russians. Lugar and I spoke to Putin about this.

I mean, look, there are ways to generate consensus. And I think the first step is go for a hard regime of inspections. We know they're not going to go for that. At least make the case to the public at large, the world at large, that this is not fiat on our part. And then we begin to build a case to have a consensus, not that anybody else is going to help us, but that we have the support, in effect, of the rest of the world to do what we have to do so we don't have to worry again about all that debate about the street, the Arab street and all the rest.

There's ways to do this, and I think we should.

SCHIEFFER: Senator, let me ask you this. The president has begun to talk about preemptive strikes. If the administration discovered that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon or some sort of real weapon of mass destruction, would you endorse a strike to take that out?

BIDEN: If he had any reason to believe that that would be used, the answer is yes. Constitutionally, the president has the right to act preemptively.

The hard question's going to be whether or not one has the capacity, does that necessarily mean they have the intent? For example, the Chinese have a capacity. Does the president have the right to preemptively go strike the Chinese, the communist regime? The answer's no. And so...

But with Saddam, there is -- it's much more tenuous because he has used weapons of mass destruction before. He has made assertions about intentions to use these weapons. And therefore it gives more credence to the president's capacity to be able to go act preemptively.

But I think the president will be wise if, in that circumstance, to make sure that at least he brought in key members of the Congress. And, you know, there's an old Vandenberg expression, Bob, you know it well. If you want us in on the landing, you better be in on the takeoff.

And so, that's how he -- that's how the president's operated so far. I would fully expect him to do the same.

SCHIEFFER: OK, I think we better bring this to a landing, we're about out of time.

BIDEN: Thanks.

SCHIEFFER: Thank you very much, Senator.

BIDEN: Thank you very much.

SCHIEFFER: When we come back, we're going to switch gears and talk about the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHIEFFER: With us now from New York, the former Nixon White House counsel John Dean. Here in our studio, historian Richard Reeves, author of the biography, "President Nixon: Alone in the White House."

Monday, I guess it is, is the 30th anniversary of the break-in of the Watergate, in the Democratic headquarters there.

John Dean, you've got a book coming out, it's coming out online. I guess it's coming out tonight, is it, in which you are going to narrow down who you think Deep Throat was. And that in fact is the name of the book, is it not?

JOHN DEAN, Former Nixon White House Counsel: That's correct. It's called "Unmasking Deep Throat," Bob, and it's really the result of about 30 years of on-and-off searching, and I've got it down to a thimbleful.

SCHIEFFER: Well, would you like to go ahead and scoop yourself and tell us this morning who that is?

(LAUGHTER)

DEAN: I don't think so. I think I'll keep the suspense as much as I can until I publish tonight.

SCHIEFFER: Why do you think that Watergate, why did the break-in happen?

DEAN: Well, Bob, there is no question as to why they went in the second time. They were there to repair the bugs, to take more photos, to see what they could pick up.

And the first time they went in, the earlier one in late May, was, as best as I can tell -- and I've really searched over the years to look at the answer to this -- and they were really on a pure fishing expedition. I don't think they had any more idea what they'd find in the DNC than when they had later planned to go into McGovern's headquarters or some of the other places. They were just looking around for anything they might think might help the Nixon campaign.

SCHIEFFER: Dick, you know, in your book -- which, I must say, is as good a book about Richard Nixon as I have come across -- this is one of the questions you raise. But 30 years later, I still have the same question. Why would somebody as smart, as cunning, as devious as Richard Nixon allow himself to get tangled up in this? Because, after all, by that time, he was pretty much coasting toward reelection.

RICHARD REEVES, Author: He was coasting...

SCHIEFFER: How did people get themselves into this kind of predicament?

REEVES: ... but he didn't know it.

Well, I think he got himself into it because he was literally running a coup d'etat against his own government. And Nixon, whose real political idol was Charles de Gaulle, who was another anti-democratic democrat, tried to govern by surprise. His great accomplishments -- China, taking the U.S. off the gold standard -- were both announced on television. There had never been any public debate on them; there had never been any congressional debate. And Nixon felt hampered by the checks and balances our founding fathers didn't feel hampered by, and he tried systematically to eliminate the other factors: Congress, the press, the courts, the bureaucracy.

And to get that kind of surprise, he needed an extraordinary amount of secrecy. The only way to protect the secrecy was lies. And once you get into the lying business -- and we're talking about a White House where the military would come in at night and empty people's briefcases and wastebaskets to see if they could find out what the president and Kissinger were really doing. Once you get into that kind of secrecy, you're beyond the law already, and you begin not so much to surround yourself with, but to hire these sleazebags, the G. Gordon Liddys and the E. Howard Hunts of the world.

And once they had money in their pocket, they went out and did what seemed reasonable to them. I don't think that, if they had gone in to Richard Nixon and said, listen, let's do this -- not that Nixon didn't say some outrageous things about that, but it was a way to create a new kind of presidential government and it was succeeding.

And the value of talking about these things again after 30 years is, it could happen again. It happened here. Presidents feel restrained by us, by everybody else. They want to do what they think it is. And Nixon felt most constrained and would sit there and talk with Kissinger about how good Mao had it, you know.

SCHIEFFER: Hearing you say this, let me go back to John Dean.

You were there in the White House. It always seemed to be no shortage of people who were ready to tell President Nixon what he wanted to hear. If he wanted to go over and find out how many Jews there were in the Internal Revenue Service, there was always somebody there to count. There was always somebody willing to do whatever he asked, to give him whatever advice they thought he wanted to hear.

When did those of you in the White House come to realize how wacky this was, how stupid it was?

(LAUGHTER)

SCHIEFFER: Or was there such a time?

DEAN: Well, it varied from aide to aide. In fact, the closest I've looked at the Nixon presidency was when I did a book on how he selected Justice Rehnquist in the fall of 1971. He had two seats to fill. And so I listened to hours of tapes. I read every memo that related to the subject matter. And I could see that he wasn't happy getting the results he was getting from his staff. The attorney general wasn't giving him what he wanted. John Ehrlichman wasn't.

And so, at one point, he really brings this into himself and then takes it over and starts running it like a staff man, and everybody else is being treated as staff. It was a very interesting thing to see how he really could make a decision that he wanted to make.

And again, as Richard said, he wanted to do this in secret. And he really, actually, at one point, wasn't even telling the chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, what he was doing, just to have this element of surprise.
And when you try to run the government in that way, you can get in trouble.

The problem with the Rehnquist selection was, of course, that it really never got vetted, and later that would come to haunt the now chief justice.

BORGER: So, Mr. Reeves, was it this obsession with secrecy, this paranoia that, in the end, brought down the Nixon presidency?

REEVES: I think it did. But it was a product of who Richard Nixon was. And we're talking about a man -- I mean, his election as president, one of the greatest triumphs of will and intelligence in human history for a guy this introverted who operated almost as if he were autistic, in a business where most politicians we know, John McCain, Joe Biden, they're people who can't stand to be alone.

Nixon couldn't stand to be with people, and he tried to create a presidency where the president stood alone and apart from all of what he considered distractions. And then when he carried that out, when he went to the secrecy, as John mentioned, he lost total control of what they were doing at lower levels. And his own government, including John Dean and Mel Laird, the military, turned on him because they were worried. They knew the country was being taken over.

BORGER: John Dean, do you think you became the scapegoat in the Nixon White House?

DEAN: Well, I don't think there was any doubt that there was an effort to do that, to make me that. And very early when that became apparent -- I initially, when I broke rank, and after telling the president I thought there was a cancer on his presidency, I realized my days were numbered, because I could no longer serve as the desk officer of the cover-up and be giving him that kind of advice.

But when that happened, I also realized I had set myself up; that a lot of the others thought that I should fall on the sword for them. I wasn't inclined to do that. I was trying to solve the problem.

And when Nixon realized he could use me also as a foil -- I don't think initially he wanted to make me a scapegoat. He wanted to sort of protect himself through me. But then later decided, you know, everybody was expendable but himself.

And I just thought the truth had to prevail, and there was no way I was going to lie for anybody at that point. And the truth has its own way of coming out, as we all know.

SCHIEFFER: Well, gentlemen, I'm sorry we have to stop there. This is just fascinating. After all these years, it is still fascinating. I don't think -- we haven't seen anything like Nixon since Nixon, and probably that's a good thing.

REEVES: One hopes.

SCHIEFFER: We'll be back with a final thought in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCHIEFFER: Finally today, all presidents try to control the press and what is said about them. Some do it better than others.

Richard Nixon took it another step. He tried to bring the press to heel and use it as propaganda arm of the government to show the North Vietnamese that the American people supported his war policy.

He saw those who opposed the war and the press as one and the same enemy. And when he could not get the demonstrators out of the streets and could not stop the press from reporting what was happening, he set out to destroy them both. In the end, of course, it destroyed him.

But 30 years after the Watergate break-in, what still amazes me is how little impact the effort had on events. No amount of political spin could have impressed the North Vietnamese at that point. They knew they were winning. Nor was there much chance that, by then, that American opinion could have been turned around. By then, most Americans had already concluded they did not want to pay the enormous cost in lives and treasure that Vietnam was taking.

Yet the good things that Nixon did -- the opening to China, the arms control overtures to the Soviets -- remain as remarkable achievements that even the dirty deeds of his political henchmen could not tarnish.

The best political spin is never a substitute for bad policy. But good policy, if it is good policy, always trumps a bad press. Had Nixon and his people remembered that, rather than devoting so much time to hairbrain schemes to destroy their enemies, they might have saved their presidency. Instead, they destroyed it and themselves.

That's it for us. We'll see you right here next week on Face the Nation.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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