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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With John Dean

Aired June 17, 2003 - 20:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: First, let's begin with another look at the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq. The debate has sharpened as weeks go by without finding weapons of mass destruction. Now, in the last hour, I don't if you saw it, but national security correspondent David Ensor looked at the possible flaws in the administration's case, the flaws as seen by the critics, that is. But supporters of the war say plenty of flaws in the arguments some of those critics are making as well. For that side of the story, let's turn to once again to David Ensor again -- David.
DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the president and his supporters point to the dramatic evidence that has emerged since the war of the massive brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime, saying that that underscores how right it was to go to war to get rid of him. But they also say there are some real problems with some of the central arguments of their critics about weapons of mass destruction.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENSOR (voice-over): As the president and his supporters on the war in Iraq see it, the arguments of the critics are full of holes. Argument number one, maybe there are no longer any weapons of mass destruction to find.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO: So where are those vast stockpiles?

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Do they actually exist? The questions are mounting.

ENSOR: That's playing politics, say the president's supporters. Raising that now after years of accumulating evidence.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Saddam Hussein has openly admitted to the world that he had weapons of mass destruction. He used those weapons to kill his own people.

ENSOR: And if Iraq destroyed the weapons itself, why did Saddam refuse to prove that the U.N.? Bush supporters note that not even U.N. inspectors and the last president were satisfied on that point.

HANS BLIX, CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: There are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared, and at least some of this was retained after the declared destruction date.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And someday, some way I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal.

ENSOR: Argument number two, the administration exaggerated or got the CIA to embellish the evidence on Iraqi WMD.

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: I'm deeply concerned about reports that the administration twisted the arms of our intelligence analysts to produce analysis which agreed with the policies that you wanted to pursue.

ENSOR: That charge is false and unfair, say administration supporters.

RICHARD PERLE, DEFENSE POLICY BOARD: These are lies. There's not a word of truth in them.

JOHN BOLTON, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: I personally never asked anybody in the intelligence community to change a single thing that they presented, and I am not aware of any other official in this administration who did that.

ENSOR: At the CIA, Director George Tenet issued a statement say "our role is to call it like we see it." Concerning Iraq's weapons, Tenet said, "that is exactly what was done."

Finally, argument three, the administration hyped the danger from Saddam in a rush to war.

BYRD: How reliable were the claims of this president and the key members of his administration that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction posed a clear and imminent threat to the United States?

ENSOR: Wait until then, say the president's supporters, and you could be too late.

KEN ADELMAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, ARMS CONTROL & DISARMAMENT AGENCY: Listen, it comes down to how much chance are you willing to take?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?

ENSOR: The fact no weapons have been found yet should raise question not about the president, say his supporters, but about Saddam Hussein.

ADELMAN: What will be most interesting and most astonishing is if, four years from now we look back and say there were no weapons of mass destruction, and what we'll say then is that Saddam Hussein had to be the stupidest leader that ever, ever existed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ENSOR: The debate over the missing weapons, the president's primary reason for war, will likely intensify as Congress investigates and hearings are eventually held. But it will certainly end quickly, both sides agree, if weapons are found under 10 feet of sand in Iraq -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, David Ensor, thanks for the two reports. I appreciate it.

Well, as we just heard, President Bush's critics are asking whether the administration exaggerated reports about Iraqi weapons in order to build a case for war. Serious allegations. But what if he did? John Dean, our next guest, knows something about political scandals. He, of course, was a member of the Nixon administration, served time in prison for his role in the Watergate affair. Now he's written a controversial essay raising the possibility of whether President Bush could be impeached. John Dean joins us live from Los Angeles.

John, thanks very much for being with us. Just so right away, I want to just inform our audience who haven't seen this essay, I want to put something on the screen from it. This is a quote from an article that appeared on FineLaw, the legal Web site. In it you say -- quote -- "If Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he's cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be "a high crime" under the Constitution's impeachment clause." You stand by that?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I do indeed. I don't think anyone would really question that. If you look at the history of impeachment, if you look at what happened to Richard Nixon, let's just back up for a minute. One of the things that the House Impeachment Committee had put in the article -- the proposed articles of impeachment against Nixon was his misuse of the CIA and the FBI. There also were any number of people charged during Watergate with felonies for misusing the agencies of government. There's a very broad statute, criminal statute in the federal law that prohibits people in the White House from influencing or improperly obstructing the way an agency's normally functioning. If there has...

COOPER: Excuse me. The use of intelligence is sort of a tricky things. I mean, intelligence often is vague, some of it can be very specific, but some of it is open to interpretation, and there is a lot of room for interpretation. What do you need to hear from these congressional committees that are investigating to make up your mind either way?

DEAN: Well, there's no question that I've been in the business of evaluating intelligence. It is an art as well as a science, and a craft as well as getting the good data. But what we have here is a situation where, if the CIA, which has a very clear statutory mandate as to what they're to do, and it says they're to interpret the national intelligence and do it in a way that they do not do it under the influence of politics. It's right in the statute. If there's been a political influence on their decision-making, that's when I think you get in trouble.

COOPER: But there's also the separate question, which is even once the CIA has given -- I mean, they're basically a reporting agency. They have given over the intelligence to those who are making decisions, how that intelligence is interpreted, which is frankly out of CIA's hands is also open to really interpretation?

DEAN: That's true. When you get -- you've got a real question that comes up. Do you base your policy on intelligence, or does your intelligence -- is it used selectively to support your policy when it's a predetermined decision? We had the impression -- after I lined up all those quotes of Mr. Bush, that he was very clearly relying on intelligence to take us to war. Now, what I'm saying -- we don't know the answers to these questions. You've had an essay on both sides of this in this program, and we won't get the answer for a while, but we've at least started the process. And I'm telling you if you get to the end of the line and you find manipulation of intelligence, that's when you get into the very troublesome area.

COOPER: And we will wait and see. John Dean, thank you very much for being with us. Appreciate it.

DEAN: Thank you.

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