NBC's Today Show

October 1, 2003

HEADLINE: Howard Dean, Democrat, presidential candidate, talks about leak of CIA agent's name to press and desire for independent counsel to head investigation


KATIE COURIC, co-host:

On CLOSE UP this morning, the charges being leveled at the White House. Former Vermont governor and presidential hopeful Howard Dean is among the Democrats who want a special counsel to investigate whether a member of the Bush administration improperly leaked the identity of a CIA agent.

Governor Dean, good morning. Welcome back.

Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Democrat, Presidential Candidate): Good morning to you.

COURIC: OK. I want to offer a quick review for our viewers, because it's a pretty complicated story. So Ambassador Joseph Wilson said the Bush administration's conclusion that Iraq was buying uranium from Niger to develop nuclear weapons was inaccurate and not an appropriate justification for war, because he had traveled there a year earlier. After he refuted the White House claims, the—apparently, the name of his wife, an undercover CIA officer or analyst, it's unclear at this juncture, was allegedly leaked to a number of journalists as a sort of payback for his criticism. Now, as you know, the Justice Department has launched a full investigation with the cooperation, we might add, of the White House. What is your reaction to all of this?

Mr. DEAN: I think it's pretty serious. This is an offense that's punishable by 10 years in prison, leaking the name of a covert operative for the CIA. If she is in the field or was in the field, her contacts are also jeopardized and could lose their lives. So this is pretty serious. The president knew about this some months ago when it was reported by Bob Novak, the columnist who had the information leaked to him. And the question is, why is this president, who campaigned on restoring honor and integrity to the White House, unable to stop this kind of behavior in the White House and unwilling, in fact, to push it until it becomes a very public matter?

COURIC: Some Democrats, including your rival, one of your rivals, Senator Lieberman, are asking for a special counsel. And you yourself said yesterday, “This breach of national security will not be carried out free from political influence if a special counsel is not appointed.” Why, in your view, isn't the FBI capable of conducting an investigation?

Mr. DEAN: Well, I think the FBI may be, and even under a special counsel, the FBI would be involved. But you have the spectacle of Attorney General John Ashcroft who's one of the most partisan political figures in the administration of being in charge of the investigation. I think most Americans are going to realize that that's hardly an unbiased source.

COURIC: At the same time, a lot of Americans will say, come on, Governor Dean, your call for a special counsel is also politically mo—motivated as you try to gain traction in an election year.

Mr. DEAN: Well, the cynics will say that for sure. But I think it's important that we not have leaks from the White House that could potentially jeopardize American sources of information and certainly have ruined the career of a woman who had nothing to do with politics. It's—not only have they done that, this is a—an offense punishable by a significant prison term. The president needs to find out who did this, and the people ought to resign. They know who they are. They need to resign now.

COURIC: In his column today, Bob Novak, who first revealed the name of Joseph Wilson's wife, says it was an off-handed comment made to him, not a, quote, “planned leak.” Does that change your opinion at all?

Mr. DEAN: A leak is a leak. What is—what was done is punishable by a significant prison term and endangered—ruined the career of a CI—CIA operative and endangered the lives of her con—could've endangered the lives of her contacts. This is serious, whether it was a backhanded comment or not. If it is a backhanded comment, then Bob Novak ought to say who he got the comment from so this matter can be put to rest.

COURIC: Let me ask you, if I could, Governor Dean, about the front page of the New York Times this morning. The headline reads, “Dean struggles with the stance over Medicare.” It goes on to say that in 1995, according to news reports, you, quote, “fully subscribed to the idea of su—substantially reducing the growth rate in Medicare spending and praised that element of a Senate Republican budget plan vehemently opposed by Democrats on Capitol Hill.” I know that you said during the recent debate that nobody, none of the Democratic hopefuls, de—basically deserves to be compared to Newt Gingrich. But are these reports accurate, and did you support back then reducing Medicare?

Mr. DEAN: I mean, all these people that are chasing me for the Democratic nomination used to say that I was like George McGovern, so I couldn't be—couldn't be electable. Now they're all saying—or some of them are saying I'm like Newt Gingrich. I got—think they got to make up their minds.

COURIC: Well, did you...

Mr. DEAN: The truth is...

COURIC: ...did you...

Mr. DEAN: ...that...

COURIC: ...support reducing Medicare?

Mr. DEAN: No, I did not support cutting Medicare, which is what Ge—Dick has charged. What I...

COURIC: Dick Gephardt.

Mr. DEAN: ...did support is cutting the—yeah, right. What I did support is cutting the growth rate in Medicare, which Bill Clinton ev—eventually signed in 1997. That did have some Democratic support, people like Senator Bob Kerry at the time. And in fact, what we did saved Medicare. Here's the fact. The fact is that a third of all the people—seniors in my state have prescription benefits. I'm running against five people from Washington who accumulatively have nearly a century of service, and we have yet to see any prescription benefit or anything in the way of universal health insurance, which we have done for all kids under the age of 18. I am not in favor of nominating somebody from the old Washington for the presidency of the United States in this party. We need change in this party, we need change in this country, and we're simply not going to get that with the old Washington comparing each other to Newt Gingrich. That's just ri—even Wes Clark who was a Republican until 25 days ago could not reasonably be compared to Newt Gingrich. This is Washington talk. It's nonsense. And what it does is obscure a record of failure on the part of many of the people who are running against me to deliver what they promised to the American people.

COURIC: Are you...

Mr. DEAN: I have...

COURIC: ...sorry, though...

Mr. DEAN: ...delivered that...

COURIC: ...Governor Dean...

Mr. DEAN: ...in my state.

COURIC: Are you sorry, Governor Dean...

Mr. DEAN: Pardon?

COURIC: Are you sorry that in 1993 you, according to an account by the Associated Press, you described Medicare as one of the worst things that ever happened and a bureaucratic disaster?

Mr. DEAN: It is a bureaucratic disaster, and I don't make any apologies for that. I—when my father passed away two years ago, I couldn't figure out what was in his—in his bill. And many other Americans face the same problem. Small town doctors, which I was before I got into politics, are harassed by the folks who run Medicare and Medicaid. That doesn't mean it's—the program is a bad program. It's a terrific program for seniors. I talk about it all the time. It's part of the underpinnings of universal health care.

COURIC: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DEAN: But it's not very well run. And one of the things I promise is that somebody who's actually taking care of patients is going to run Medicare and Medicaid should I become president of the United States.

COURIC: And in closing, Governor Dean, you delivered that sharp zing to General Wesley Clark. Some believe that some of your thunder has been stolen by General Wesley Clark after he announced his candidacy. A recent NBC poll shows him behind you by just one percentage point. How do you deal with that?

Mr. DEAN: You know, Wes is a good guy. I happen to think he is a Republican, or at least he was until 25 days ago. I'm not bothered by the fact that he voted for Nixon and Reagan. That was a long time ago. I am bothered by the fact that he says he voted for Al Gore and then went out and campaigned a few months later for the Republican Party and saying what wonderful people Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and—and others are. I real—Harry Truman used to say that if you nominate a Re—if you run a Republican against a Republican, the Republicans always win. And I'm really trying to change this party and change the way we do business in this country. So I like Wes Clark. I think he's certainly entitled to run in whatever party he chooses. And the voters will make the ultimate decision. But I want to take this party in a different direction.

COURIC: Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. Thanks so much for talking with us this morning. We appreciate your time.

Mr. DEAN: Thanks. Thanks, Katie.

COURIC: It's 7:15. Now here's Matt.

MATT LAUER, co-host:

All right, Katie. Thank you.

Copyright 2003 National Broadcasting Co. Inc. NBC News Transcripts


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