Thursday, January 26, 2006

Dean on The Today Show: Transcript

Couric: Howard Dean is chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Governor Dean, good morning.

Dean: Good morning, Katie.

Couric: Obviously, as we just heard in Kelly O'Donnell's report, that this week the Bush administration has been on the offensive defending what it now terms "a terrorist surveillance program" at every opportunity. And about half of Americans support the efforts to listen in on conversations between Al Qaeda suspects and those in the United States. If this potentially stops another terrorist attack like September 11, why not give the White House some latitude on this?

Dean: Democrats support the idea that we ought to spy on terrorists, and we support the idear that we need to eavesdrop from time to time. But we also believe that the president ought to obey the law. The law says that if you have an emergency reason to spy on Americans, that you can go ahead and do it, but you've got to justify it with the court afterwards. We don't think that this president, who has a habit of putting himself above the law ought to be able to do this when he's spying on Americans. This is not simply listening in to al Qaeda, it's poking around into people's private lives in order to see if they're doing anything wrong.

Couric: Have you seen any evidence that this is happening? That the administration is somehow "poking into the private lives of Americans"?

Dean: Of course they are. You can't tell who's a terrorist and who's not until you tap their phone. So we've always had, for many, many, many hundreds of years in this country, the idea that the courts had to give some prior justification in order to do this. Now, the *law* says, if the president feels like he can't have prior justification, go ahead and do it anyway, but just go to the court after the fact. So the president--I don't *know* why the president's doing this. We all believe that we ought to be spying on al Qaeda, but we don't believe that you ought to spy on American citizens without some kind of third party looking at this. That's what makes the difference between America and other countries, like Iran, where the government can do anything they damn well please. We need to obey the law.

The other issue is, the president is breaking the law. There's no need for it. We all support what the president's trying to do in terms of fighting al Qaeda, but it's a *bad* example for our kids for the president to *insist* that it's okay for him to break the law. That is not right.

Couric: At the same time, obviously perception is everything and some of your opponents believe this is yet another example showing the Democrats are soft on defense and are not as vigilent as they should be in the war against terrorism. Why has this become such a poisonous, partisan issue? In other words, no one wants to see another terrorist attack, so why can't both sides get together and figure this out instead of, you know, throwing mud at each other on a daily basis. Don't you think the American people are tired of that?

Dean: We don't think insisting that the president obey the law is throwing mud, first of all. And secondly, the president isn't interested in hearing from anybody else. He's not only not interested in hearing from Democrats--well, I can understand that, we're the opposition party. He's not interested in hearing from his own military. He has made a gross misjudgement in Iraq because he wouldn't listen to General Shinseki and other military people who told him to do this differently. Wouldn't even listen to his own Secretary of State Colin Powell. This is a headstrong president, who thinks he's above the law. We don't think that's right. We think we ought to be tough on defense--I tell you one thing, if we get back in power, we're going to make a real effort to go get Osama Bin Laden. We're not going to let him lollygag around for four years after the September 11th attack. And we're also going to equip our troops with the body armor they deserve in order to fight this war. We need to do a better job on defense than this President is doing.

Couric: Well, you know a lot of people say the Democratic party at this point in time criticizes all and literally stands for nothing. Even Jamens Carville and Paul Begala, I mean, you can't find two more hardcore Democrats, Governor Dean, than that, in their book "Take it Back" wrote that the Democratic party needs a backbone and a spinal transplant. So, what do you think, in thirty seconds, the Democratic party stands for at this point in time?

Dean: One, American jobs that will stay in America using energy independence to generate those jobs. Two, a strong national defense based on telling the truth to our citizens, our soldiers and our allies. Three, honesty and integrity to be restored to government. Four, a health care system that works for everybody just like they have 36 in other countries. And five, a strong public education system so we can have optimism and opportunity back in America.

Couric: Meanwhile, and thank you for staying within the thirty second time frame, a new CNN/USA Today Gallup poll shows 51% of registered voters said they would *definitely* not vote for Senator Hillary Clinton for President if she runs in 2008. She is the frontrunner among Democrats. Is that bad news in your view?

Dean: Right now Senator Hillary Clinton wants to make sure that 51% of the people vote for her for New York senator, and I'm sure she's not thinking about the presidency right now. I don't comment on '08, I've got to be the referee in that one on the Democratic side before we get to the general election.

Couric: What about telling a Black congregation in Harlem that she thought Congress was being run like a plantation? What was your reaction to that comment--certainly much has been made of it.

Dean: That was something Newt Gingrich had also said in 1994 and it was also on CNN a year before. But the truth is the president and the Republicans *are* abusing their power in Congress. Just the other day, they stuck something in that gave HMO's 22-billion dollars of taxpayers' money. They stuck it in in the middle of the night. Nobody knew anything about it and it passed because nobody knew it was there. That is *not* the way to run Congress. We ought to have a real democracy in Congress where both sides get listened to and that is not the way it is right now. The other thing is the corruption scandals in Congress. Tom DeLay and all these folks involved in getting money, all of them are Republicans, from Jack Abramoff. We need a real--

Couric: Heeey! Democrats took money from Jack Abramoff too, Mr. Dean!

Dean: That is *absolutely* false. That *did not* happen. Not one *dime* of Jack Abramoff went to any Democrat in Congress.

Couric: Let me tell you, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Abramoff and his assodiates gave 3 million dollars to Republicans and 1.5 million dollars to Democrats according to Senate minority leader Harry Reid.

Dean: Katie, *not one dime* of Jack Abramoff's money ever went to any Democrat. We can show you the FEC reports. We would be happy to do it. There is a lot of stuff in the press that the Republican National Committee has been spinning that this is a bipartisan scandal. It is a *Republican* finance scandal. Not one dime of money from Jack Abramoff ever went to any Democrat, not one dime!

Couric: Well, we'll obviously have to look into that and clarify that for our viewers at a later date. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Dean, Governor Dean, thanks so much for talking with us.

Dean: Thanks very much.

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