Tuesday, September 21, 2004

How It's Done

Lockhart with Hemmer.

HEMMER: It's my understanding you talked to Bill Burkett just days before the CBS story aired. What was the content of your discussion, Joe?

LOCKHART: Well, the content of the discussion was he had some strong feelings about the way the Kerry campaign had responded to the Swift Boat attack, the -- Senator Kerry's record in Vietnam and, you know, the smear campaign that was going on against him. He believed that we should have responded more forcefully. You know, I listened respectfully, I told him I thought it was good advice, and that was the end of the conversation.

HEMMER: How long did that last, Joe?

LOCKHART: Probably three or four minutes.

HEMMER: And what details of the National Guard story came out during that three to four-minute discussion?

LOCKHART: Not a single detail. There was never any discussion. He didn't tell me anything. I didn't ask him anything.

He wanted to give us some advice. We get advice from a lot of quarters.

You know, the interesting thing is, you know, you can always tell when people are worried by how whipped up they get. And the White House is real whipped up on this, and they're making -- throwing a bunch of charges up there that are, you know, pretty meaningless and without foundation.

HEMMER: Let me get to the whole White House claim for a second here.


HEMMER: Did CBS work together with the Kerry campaign on this story?

LOCKHART: No. Listen, CBS did their story. I think they've been very open about answering the questions.

They called me and said this guy wants to talk to you. I was happy to talk to him. It's sort of the beginning and end of the story.

HEMMER: Hey, Joe, how common is that?

LOCKHART: Listen, Bill, you're a journalist. I think you probably know the answer to that. I'll let journalists talk about how common it is.

HEMMER: But when the suggestion for a source comes your way, I mean, here we are 42 days away from a presidential campaign, many would think that's probably not that usual after all. How would you phrase it?

LOCKHART: I wouldn't. I think that's a question for journalists.

You're one. You can answer it. You know more -- more about how common that is than I do.

HEMMER: What did Mary Mapes tell you, the producer for Dan Rather, when she called you?

LOCKHART: She told me that there was a gentleman who had been helpful on a story that she was working on about the National Guard who wanted to talk to the campaign. He specifically asked to talk to me. And she gave me his phone number.

HEMMER: And what did you hope to learn from him then, Joe?

LOCKHART: I didn't have an expectation. You know, I talked to a lot of people. I got some advice. We get a lot of advice.

Listen, you know, this isn't about this phone call. This is about a White House that's desperately spinning.

You know, I looked this morning at the White House Web page and found out that Scott McClellan, the man who says we ought to have answers to these questions, has held two White House briefings in the last two months. Now, that is a White House that doesn't want to answer questions.

I used to -- you know, listen, I went through some pretty tough times as the White House press secretary, and I got myself during impeachment, during scandal, and I stood up there every day and answered the questions because I think the public has a right to know what's going on with the president, what's going on around the world. This White House has had two White House briefings in the last two months.

You know, it's a government job, but it pays pretty well. You know, that's a lot of money for one briefing a month.

HEMMER: I know at the outset of your answer there you said this discussion has nothing to do with -- does it really rely so much on a conversation you had on Saturday night? It was the 8th of September, was it, if memory serves?

LOCKHART: It was the Saturday -- that sounds right.

HEMMER: So it was the Saturday before, and the story aired on the following Wednesday, which is four days later. But the issue is, regarding this phone call, whether or not there was collaboration ultimately between the campaign and the network. What can you say about those who raised that possibility today?

LOCKHART: I can say two things. One, is the campaign had nothing to do with these documents, nothing to do with this story. And two, you have to question the motives of those people who are raising these questions.

The White House is raising questions about this because they don't want to answer questions. I mean, the guy has held two briefings in two months. These guys don't want to answer questions about the National Guard story.

They even don't want to answer questions about what's going on in Iraq, what's going on in the economy. And I think it's time for them to step up and stop posing questions and start answering them, because that's what -- that's what the public wants.

HEMMER: I apologize for interjecting again. But you knew Bill Burkett has a long history of a fight with the National Guard. And also for several years he's had his own fight with George Bush.

LOCKHART: Bill, what do you base that on?

HEMMER: The reports that we're getting. It's just that I interviewed him -- I interviewed him six months ago and he told...

LOCKHART: Bill, you just said what I knew. How do you know that?

HEMMER: I know it because I talked to him six months ago, in fact, on this program. And he raised the issue...

LOCKHART: No, no, no, Bill.

HEMMER: He raised the issue. Let's be clear.

LOCKHART: Let's be clear.

HEMMER: Some very important stuff here. He raised the issue that some files were seen by him and others in a garbage can 30 years ago about George Bush's National Guard service.


HEMMER: And now -- and to you, you say what?

LOCKHART: I say, Bill, how do you know what I knew? You're basing this on what maybe some other people were telling you. I didn't know who the guy was. I talked to him on the phone for three or four minutes. That's the beginning and the end of the story.

HEMMER: So let's be clear. You did not know about the history about Bill Burkett before you talked to him Saturday night?

LOCKHART: I did not. I did not.

HEMMER: What has Senator Kerry said about all this, Joe?

LOCKHART: He hasn't said -- he hasn't said anything. He's focused on the issues that, you know, Americans are worried about. Not what the news media in Washington is worried about.

HEMMER: So you have not talked to him about this matter?

LOCKHART: I have not. I have not.

HEMMER: Do you plan on it?

LOCKHART: No, I don't -- you know, I talk to him all the time. But I don't have any intention of using a lot of the valuable time we have left in this campaign to talk about this.

HEMMER: Valuable time, indeed. In fact, six weeks from today, 42 days and counting. Is this the distraction again for the Kerry campaign?

LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. Listen, you all will have to decide what's news here.

The quagmire that this president has created in Iraq, a miserable economy, the worst in 72 years, and a White House that won't answer questions. I mean, the fact that we've gone two months with two White House briefings should say everything to the American public.

And if you think this is the news, that's fine. Well, you know, you go ahead and cover that. But I've been open. You know, I talked to reporters yesterday. I talked to them, you know, well into the night about the details of this phone call. And, you know, I'll be happy to talk.

You know, I'll be glad to give up this chair to Mr. Bartlett or Mr. McClellan to start answering some questions for a change.

HEMMER: Joe Lockhart, Kerry adviser down in D.C. Thanks for coming on and talking with us today, Joe.

LOCKHART: Thanks, Bill.