Kerry vows to restore 'truth' to presidency
Complete Transcript of Interview with the Democratic Candidates
Published: July 10, 2004
Following is an interview on Friday with Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Senator John Edwards of North Carolina aboard Mr. Kerry's campaign plane, on a flight from Beaver, Pa., to Albuquerque.
Q.Knowing what you have seen or read about the Senate Intelligence Committee report that came out today - and Senator Rockefeller said that he thought that most Democrats would probably not have voted for the war had they known about the quality of the intelligence - about weapons of mass destruction, would you now, knowing what you know, have voted for that resolution? Do you think the American people and Congress were misled? Senator Edwards?
EDWARDS: I think what we know from the intelligence report, there are several things. One is that the al Qaeda-Hussein connection was not there. I believed that at the time, I continued to believe it in the interim, and I believe it now. I believe it was not there. I did not believe there was a strong al Qaeda-Saddam Hussein connection, I never believed that. My view is that what George Bush has done in Iraq, both in the leadup to the war and more importantly his planning for winning the peace, has cost America dearly, and cost the possibility of success dearly. And I think that's our focus, for purposes of the Kerry-Edwards administration, is what we would do, given the situation that we're now in. If you listen to what we've talked about both on the campaign trail, and what we will talk about going forward, and what the American people want to know from us is, what would you do given the situation we're in in Iraq now, how will you lead differently, how will you build coalitions differently, how will you provide security or help the Iraqis provide security for themselves differently than this administration, and that's what I think people are looking for. So trying to go back and reevaluate what we would have done, had we had, hypothetically, had this information or that information, is not useful to us now. What people want to know from us is what we can do to lead. Based on the situation we're now in. That's exactly what we've been talking about, it's what we'll continue to talk about.
Q.You said you never thought there was a connection between al Qaeda and Hussein. Is there anything in the intelligence report that has changed your view on anything, from what your view was when you took the vote to what your view is now of the situation?
EDWARDS: Yes. They didn't find eapons of mass destruction. We were provided evidence before the war began indicating that there were or had been weapons of mass destruction.
Q.Was that your main rationale for voting for the war?
EDWARDS: It was one of the things. I'm not going to go back and answer hypothetical questions about what I would have done had I known this, had I known that thing at the time. My job is to talk about what I will do going forward.
Q.What if the vote were today?
KERRY: Look, the vote is not today and that's it. I agree completely with Senator Edwards. It's a waste of time. It's not what this is about. We voted the way we voted based on the information in front of us, based on that moment in time. And it was the right vote at that time based on that information. Period. And this president not only abused the intelligence and the information, for which he is responsible, not just Mr. Tenet - not just the vice president, not Secretary Rumsfeld - the president. You know, Harry Truman's sign didn't say, "The buck stops at the Pentagon," or "The buck stops at the intelligence agency," and the fact is that we authorized the president to use force in a responsible way, and I have said for months, you know, I have said it to you, I have said it across the country: this president abused the authority that he was given, by abusing his own promises to the country as to how he would build a coalition and how he would go to war.
Q.Did he mislead you, did he mislead Congress, you, and the American people?
KERRY: Over a period of time, there were a number of misleading statements made by the president. He certainly misled America about nuclear involvement. And he misled America about the types of weapons that were there, and he misled America about how he would go about using the authority he was given. "Going to war as a last resort" means something to me. The president did not go to war as a last resort, period. Moreover it's the responsibility of a president, if you are going to go to war, having said we're going to do all that's necessary, to do all that's necessary. He didn't. Because he had no plan for winning the peace. It is utterly extraordinary the level of miscalculation of this administration, as to what they would find in Iraq and what was going to be necessary. They discarded their own professional military evaluations, from General Shinseki and others, they disrespected professional military careers, turned their backs on their own State Department's plans, and arrogantly believed. . . . And they were wrong. And soldiers lost their lives because they were wrong. And America's paying -billions of dollars because they were wrong, and allies are not with us because they were wrong. I think there is no greater responsibility of the president of the United States.
Q.You're both products of Vietnam, in different ways. Do you think this experience has undercut Americans'-faith in government the way that Vietnam did for a lot of us in the 1960's?
KERRY: I think there is a new level of cynicism and lack of credibility towards government among young people in our country, I think you're seeing it on campuses, I think you're seeing it in the reflection of, ah -
EDWARDS: I think equally important, we can change that, we can change that. The damage is not irreparable with a new administration. That's exactly for people in this country who have lost some of their faith, who feel that cynicism that John's talking about, to have a president who has been through what he's been through, in Vietnam, what the men around him describe about his leadership, his vision, and more, what he's made of, inside, will go a long way and to have a president who tells the American people the truth will go a long way toward restoring that confidence. One of the reasons, one of the reasons, that this election is so important, I mean, it is important for so many reasons, and this is one. Another, which we talked about consistently on the campaign trail over the last few days that I believe deeply, is, people, there is a hunger and a thirst, at a gut level, for feeling good about things, feeling good about America. Being Americans, the way America's viewed around the world, how their families are going to be tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. That's what we believe a Kerry-Edwards administration can give people. And it's a dramatic contrast with this administration. I mean, by any measure, if you listen to us over the last few days, and John over a longer period of time, and you listen to them, I mean there can't be any serious question about who can give the American people hope and optimism again.
KERRY: And I believe if you talk with Warren Hoge or you talk to David Sanger, you talk to other people around the world, they will confirm to you, I believe, that it may well take a new president to restore America's credibility on a global basis so that we can deal with other countries and bring people back into alliances. The credibility of this country has been tarnished by this president. We can restore it. We will restore it.
Q.In your discussions since March, Senator Kerry, what have you learned from Senator Edwards that has affected or expanded your position on how you win the war in Iraq or homeland security. What are things that Senator Edwards told you that changed or modified?
KERRY: They haven't changed or modified. Senator Edwards and I have been an echo chamber over the course of the last months. With respect to Iraq, we have the same position. We both voted the same way with respect to the $87 billion, we've both been talking about international cooperation, we've both been articulating the need for diplomacy and statesmanship, and that's one of the reasons why I'm so comfortable is I've looked at the records, I looked at the proposals of the campaign, and the creativity and the thoughtfulness that went into thinking about, for instance, the intelligence community. John had a very thoughtful proposal in the course of the campaign about how we do it. We had a very similar proposal. You look at the proposals on health care, they weren't very far apart. So there was a general comfort level with the vision that we both wanted to articulate to the country.
EDWARDS: If I could add one little thing to what he just said. And if you listen, people have talked a lot about my "Two Americas, building one America" speech. But he was talking about exactly the same thing, in different words. I mean, he talked at length during the campaign about middle class squeeze, about the effect on working people of the cost of health care and the loss of health care coverage, what we should do about college tuition, how do we make our school system one public school system that works for everybody. It really is very much the same thing.
Q.Not so much differences. During this whole process, did you talk about where does this country go, where would you as president, as vice president ?
KERRY: We've had discussions, obviously we talked about our shared vision.
EDWARDS: Things like the middle class tax cuts
KERRY: Of course we talked about those things. But the most important thing because I had exhaustive research done on a number of people. And I spent a long time reading through those issues of each person I was considering and evaluating. So we didn't need to spend a heck of a lot of time talking about how many forums did we do? 31 debates? The conversations are really about a relationship, about a mutual understanding of the role of the presidency and how we can be a team, and about values, about what matters to us personally. It was more a question of coming together in that regard.
EDWARDS: And coming to the conclusion that we believe in each other.
Q.Senator Edwards, what was the hardest question he asked you?
KERRY: Oh, I wouldn't -
EDWARDS: Well, first of all, I don't even know the answer to that question. And if I knew the answer, I wouldn't tell you.
Q.Senator Kerry, what was the best answer? What was a turning point where he said something and you thought, "This is the guy''?
KERRY: Here's the deal. I said I was going to keep that process personal and private up until the point that I announced who I'm running with, and I did.
Q.Now we're after that point.
KERRY: Yup. And we're talking about what we're going to do as president.
Q.In a poll we did recently, we found that a majority of Americans thought that because of the administration policy onIraq, the chance of a terrorist attack had grown. Do you guys agree with that?
KERRY: I believe that the overall conduct of this administration's foreign policy the war included, the management of Afghanistan, the diversion from Afghanistan, away from Al Qaeda, the lack of cooperation with other countries, the lack of adequate attention on homeland security, all together -- has not made America as safe as we ought to be given the options available to us in the aftermath of 9/11.
Q.That's too mushy. Are we more or less vulnerable to a terrorist attack?
KERRY: Look, because I didn't answer your question the way you want me to doesn't mean my answer is too mushy. What I said is very clear. That there are a whole series of events that have not made America safer.
Q.Not that part. The other part. Is America more vulnerable to attack?
KERRY: Iraq itself has become more of a focus of terrorism. And I'm confident that certain things that they have done in Iraq have increased the recruitment of terrorists.
EDWARDS: I agree with that. I want to go back to what he just said. The question, I can't remember exactly how you phrased it say it again.
Q.Has his policy in Iraq - I'll grant you all the other foreign policy points - made us more vulnerable to terrorist attack?
EDWARDS: The way he answered that question, the way John just answered that question, is the way the question should be answered. Because things don't fit into boxes in this world. Any more than the things that affect American families here at home fit in boxes. You know, it's not health care, and then in another box, jobs, and then in another box, tuition. They all come together to affect the lives of Americans. It's also true that when you're evaluating what the effect has been of this administration, you can't look at Iraq in isolation, because Iraq acts in concert with what's happening in Afghanistan, what's happening with the war on terrorism in general, what's happening with the deterioration of our relationships around the world all those things go together in order to evaluate what the impact is.
Q.Have all those things together made us more vulnerable to terrorist attack?
EDWARDS: I do not believe we are as safe as we can be, that's what I believe.
KERRY: Can I tell you why? The fact that what's happened in Iraq may have created more terrorists doesn't mean they've gotten to the United States, doesn't mean they have the ability to attack us. Those are very - that would require the briefing that I'm waiting to get this weekend, for me to ask a lot of questions. The likelihood is, yes. It certainly has increased the recruitment of terrorists and the focus on the United States as a target.
Q.Do you think the warning Thursday from the White House was trying to use fear to manipulate the electorate? Is there a "crying wolf" danger with all these warnings?
EDWARDS: I would say two things about that. First, we are committed to crushing terrorist cells, to getting them out of the United States, and to winning the war on terrorism. Completely committed to that. Using all of the resources of the United States to accomplish that goal. We both believe that there is more than can be done. We talk about a positive vision for the country. This is one of the areas where we believe we have a positive vision about other things that can be done. Just for example, stronger alliances. Both of us know, from our work in the Senate, and our work on the Intelligence Committee - which John served on for, what, eight years? - that you cannot get to these terrorist cells without effective, cooperative relationships with the countries where they're located. You just can't do it. I talked about and he talked about - before September 11, when the administration was focused on missile defense - about the danger of terrorism, the danger of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. So the bottom line is, we are committed to stopping terrorism, this is an area where the safety and security of the American people are at stake, that's where we're focused. And we believe we have a vision and a set of ideas that will keep this country safe.
Q.Do you believe the White House manipulated the public by using these warnings?
KERRY: I can't speculate and I'm not going to. What I'm going to do is guarantee that we, like John just said - what's important is what we can do to make Americans safer. I don't think people want political talk about this, I think they want to know that we have a plan.
Q.Have you talked about this, about what you would do differently?
KERRY: No, we have not talked about that. What we have talked about is making America safer.
Q.What would you do differently in regard to that?
EDWARDS: So many ways
KERRY: Significantly. First of all, Homeland Security left ports unsecured. They haven't pushed the kind of port container inspection we ought to have. They haven't asked people in the foxholes facross the country about emergency planning capacity and catastrophic response capacity. We don't have the nuclear chemical plant, physical preparation that's been taking place, firehouses are understaffed, cops are being cut. Drive around and talk to mayors around the country as we have. They'll tell you how they're struggling with Homeland Security. Second, second, the cooperative effort with other countries cannot be overstated in terms of its importance to us. Your intelligence staff, the only way to improve it is with indigenous assets, the only way to have indigenous assets is to have good cooperative relationships when you're in the country and capable of building them. And in the absence of indigenous assets belonging to us, you've got to use other people's. That means you have to have the best cooperation. Everybody understands this administration doesn't have that. They've left relationships in tatters. And the fact is we can do a much better job of providing security to this country by repairing alliances around the world. Third, we have a set of other global issues that are available to us to help bring countries, to sort of build up the well of good will, if you will, so that when you need a vote at to the UN, or you're trying to get people to cooperate, there's more of a relationship to build on, and I'm talking about North Korea, AIDS, Africa, African development, global warming, loose nuclear materials in Russia, there are a series of involvements in Latin America, there are all kinds of things, that if we had a more proactive, sensitive, thoughtful, strategic, engaged foreign policy, we will strengthen our ability to wage the war on terror. Third
EDWARDS: Fourth. You already did third.
KERRY: That's why he's good. This administration has done a really poor job of public diplomacy that is critical to our building up an understanding in the world about the true nature of Islam. The real potential for a dialogue so that we isolate extremists, not have extremists isolate America. I think we can create a climate wherein the Arab world is more prepared to stand up for what is right than they are today given the dynamics this administration has created. So, there are many ways for us to be able to make America safer.
EDWARDS: Intelligence reform.
KERRY: And I have proposed, we both proposed, that the intelligence community reform. You know we've got this broad array of agencies that still are stovepipe, they don't talk to each other. There's not one single leader responsible, there's not one single budget responsible. We've both proposed, independently and) to bring that together with a unitary command and a greater structure. So there's, you know, I think this administration has been talk. As they say in Texas, all hat, no cattle.
Q.Do you think Dick Cheney is too powerful a vice president?
EDWARDS: I'm focused on what our relationship's going to be I'm not interested in talking about theirs.
Q.Who are your role models for vice president or, tell us three vice presidents and some aspect of how they did the job that you want to emulate.
EDWARDS: Well the most recent example is the relationship between President Clinton and Vice President Gore. Which from the beginning was a relationship where they were close, they talked often, they consulted on a whole range of issues that affected the country. And the vice president was given responsibility, Vice President Gore, was given responsibility for particular areas. The reality is that both of us trust each other. And you asked earlier, both of you asked earlier, about what the result of our conversations has been. Let me tell you what from my perspective what the result has been. They have done nothing but intensify my belief of what kind of a man John Kerry is, what kind of president he will be, and my faith in him. And the result of that is that our relationship is evolving. You know it will continue to evolve. I mean, he picked me Tuesday.
Q.(To Mr. Edwards) Did you do a lot of reading about vice presidents?
KERRY: Can I comment, just quickly, if I may. . The reason I'm going to comment is because John and I talked about this, specifically, and the truth is that the vice presidency prior to Walter Mondale and Jimmy Carter was almost, you know, non-existent as a relationship. That was the first time the vice president was moved into the West Wing. Literally, every presidency since then, the vice presidency has been evolving. John and I talked very specifically about our wanting it to evolve to a stronger and most effective relationship that has existed to date. But I particularly find fault in the relationship between this vice president and president, particularly, and that will not be our model.
Q.Did you call Vice President Mondale before you got picked to talk to him about the job?
EDWARDS: No, not that I remember.
Q.Did you do any reading of history about other vice presidents?
EDWARDS: I have followed and read about other vice presidential relationships, some in the past, some more recently. And I will say this: I went to Minnesota, for you, at the convention I just remember being in Minnesota and he said very nice things about us being there, And I consider him a terrific, terrific person.
Q.Anything particular that you've read about vice presidents?
KERRY: Nobody wrote anything about vice presidents.
Q.So what have you guys been doing up here at the front of the plane? Has Senator Kerry been playing guitar for you?
EDWARDS: He played some guitar for me. I'm not sure I want him to play it again.
Q.Are you going to take up some instrument and have a band?
EDWARDS: No, we have no band, unfortunately I'm not blessed with musical talent like him, like my pal here.
KERRY: I'm not blessed with it either.
EDWARDS: We haven't played any cards. We've talked a lot. An awful lot.
KERRY: We've been busy, we've been moving pretty fast.
EDWARDS: It's been good.
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