CNN accuses Al Franken of advocating execution of Rove, Libby
Comedian Al Franken, once best known for his Saturday Night Live catchphrase of "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it people like me," is now campaigning for the Democratic nomination to run against incumbent Senator Norm Coleman in Minnesota.
In an interview with CNN's Kiran Chetry, Franken insisted that his having been a comedian isn't a problem because people "know I take the issues very seriously. They hear me speaking from my heart and my gut and my brain."
Chetry noted that the Republican Party has been attempting to paint Franken as an extremist and Coleman as a moderate. The National Republican Congressional Committee recently called Franken "one of the most extreme and radical candidates for public office in years," adding that "Al Franken's mean-spirited and nasty partisanship is a clear contrast from Norm Coleman."
Franken replied that Coleman may call himself a moderate and boast that he only votes with the Republicans 77% of the time, but when he took office in 2003 "he was attached at the hip with President Bush. He voted with the White House 98% of the time the first year."
[Former Speaker of the House] Tip O'Neill had a ... phrase for 'moderates' like Norm Coleman," Franken went on. "'They're always there when you don't need them.' ... [Coleman] always looks for cover, and now to seem like he's not supporting the president, he votes against him when he has cover."
Chetry then asked Franken about some "controversial" statements he'd made as a comedian. "You said some things about Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, saying they should be executed for treason."
"I did not say that!" Franken broke in. "I didn't even say that in a joking manner."
Franken explained that he had been on the Late Show with David Letterman soon after news came out about Rove's and Libby's involvement in the Valerie Plame outing. During that October 21, 2005 appearance, Franken joked, "George H.W. Bush, the President's father, was the head of the CIA and he has said that outing a CIA agent is treason. ... And so basically, what it looks like is going to happen is that Libby and Karl Rove are going to be executed. ... Yeah. And I don't know how I feel about it because I'm basically against the death penalty, but they are going to be executed it looks like."
"What you said was that I advocated the execution," Franken concluded.
"I didn't say advocated. I didn't say you advocated," replied a flustered Chetry.
"The Republican Party in Minnesota said that I advocated the execution of those guys, and I wasn't," Franken replied. "It was very clear.
"This is just ridiculous," Franken went on. "The reason they want to do this kind of distraction is that Norm Coleman has such a terrible record. ... I'm not going to let them do that."
Franken finsihed by pointing out that the latest poll shows him as 3 points ahead of Coleman and summarized some of his economic proposals, including investing in infrastructure, creating jobs, and developing green energy.
This video is from CNN's American Morning, broadcast March 14, 2008.
Transcript via closed captions
:: well, comedian al franken might be best known for his "saturday night live" character stuart smalley to some. take a look.
:: i'm going to do a terrific show today, and i'm going to help people, because i'm good enough, i'm smart enough and doggone it, people like me.
:: hello. you know, wants people to like him in a new way. running for new york senate in minnesota and more than likely to be the democratic nominee. al franken joins us now from minneapolis. are you sick of seeing that yet?
:: well, fortunately i didn't see it. i'm -- we don't have a monitor here, but, no. i really am proud of that character. in fact, the movie stuart saves his family is used by rehabs all over the country, and in their, especially in their family programs. i'm very proud of that movie.
:: when you go out there and campaign, how do you make that transition and make the voters of minnesota know that you used to be a comedian, now you're a serious politician who thinks you can do well for that state?
:: i -- this has not been a huge problem, when people hear me speak, they know i tack take the issues very seriously. they hear me speak from my heart, and my gut and my brain. so it has been a problem, and that's why i'm in very good position to be the nominee and take on norm coleman.
:: the republican national congressional committee describes you as one of the most extreme and radical candidates for public office in years. al franken's mean-spirited and nasty partisanship is a clear contrast from norm coleman, he's saying he's the moderate. that voted with his matter 77% of the time. how can you prove you're not really a partisan candidate, that you can be a senator for all people including conservative republicans in your state?
:: well, that attack on me is something that i expect, and the sounds kind ever partisan to me. does it sound kind of partisan to you, kiran?
:: the committee trying to describe you, painting their candidate as someone maybe more moderate and inclusive.
:: look, norm coleman pretty much told the people of minnesota where he was at six months after he became senator, six months after paul wellstone died, he said to roll call, quote, to the blunt, i'm a 99% improvement over paul wellstone. when he apologized three days later he said what i meant was i'm a 99% improvement over paul wellstone in terms of supporting this white house, and he was attached at the hip with president bush. he voted with the white house 98% of the time the first year. he, you know -- when talk about seriousness, here's a guy whose policy on the war is to stay the course. his policy on the economy is to stay the course with the bush economy. minnesotans want serious solutions to these problems. staying the course is not serious. and, you know, tip o'neal had a word or a phrase for moderates like norm coleman. they're always there when you don't need them. he's always looking, never the 51st vote. on any issue. he always looks for cover and now to seem like he's not supporting the president, he votes against him when he has cover.
:: you quoted something norm coleman said. wrote a book calm aide rush limbaugh is a big fat idiot."
:: and other observations.
:: you said some things about karl rove and scooter libby, saying they should be executed for treason.
:: i did not say that.
:: in a joking, satirical way?
:: no. didn't even say that in a joking manner.
:: what did you say?
:: i was on david letterman's show, and he asked me, this is like the day after it was revealed that they had outed, valerie plame and asked what would happen. i said that president george h.b. bush before he was president was director of the cia. and george h.w. bush said that outing a cia agent was treason. i said, david you know what the penalty is for treason. and david asked bhee was going to happen to them. i said, so i guess they might be executed which i'm against. i'm against the death penalty. and i'm afraid that cheney and bush might be involved in some way, so we should pass a constitutional amendment to ban the execution of a sitting president, because that would be harry demoralizing to the american people. this was, you know -- this is exactly what the republican party is doing.
:: this is a -- the cbs late show quote, so we're clear, you were joke around with david letterman, a comedian, too. so basically what it looks like will happen, libby and karl rove will be executed because outing a cia agent is treason. then said you went on to say we should never, ever, ever execute a sitting president. all i'm saying is, when you say things like that in the past, and you're running, obviously those things come up.
:: what you said was that i advocated the execution i. didn't say advocated. i didn't actually say advocated. i'm saying when you say things in the past that can be perceived as divisive, how to you come together and say i can be a senator for everyone in the state?
:: because people know the difference between being a satirist and the whole point of that was to show that outing a cia agent is serious. that's what a satirist does. a satirist points out what is actually serious, and -- but, you know, the trick here is they are going to be taking things out of context, and you're right. the republican party in minnesota said that i advocated the execution. of those guys. and i wasn't. and it was very clear, the letterman audience and nine saw that, and, look, if -- this is just ridiculous. we should be talking about foreclosures on homes. we should be talking about gas prices. we should be talking about loss of jobs, and that's what i'm going to do.
:: i agree.
:: the reason they want to do this kind of distraction is that norm coleman has such a terrible record on these things. so i'm not going to let them do that, and then when they say that i advocated these things they're only shooting themselves in the foot. they came out with this the day i announced. the day i announced the first poll came out said i was 22 point down from norm coleman. the last poll has me three points ahead of norm coleman. this doesn't work. let them continue to do this. i'm going to talk about the problems that face minnesotans. i'm going to talk about getting university health care. go ahead.
:: before we let you go, one of the top issues is the economy, of course. 70-plus percent of economists stay looks like we're in a recession. if elected, what are some of the first things you would do to try to turn the economy around?
:: put a moratorium on foreclosures. staunch this downward spiral. every house foreclosed upon goes on the market. that's why we've had the floor fall out of the housing market. i would also make sure that people have jobs. i didn't like this stimulus package. i would have used the stimulus package to address deferred infrastructure projects, like roads. you know, there's plenty of infrastructure praumps in this country that are short term. we could have put people to work, repairing them, they could have -- they would have had job. those jobs would have created more jobs, because they'd be spending money and at the end we'd have prepared infrastructure. we can do that by fixing up foreclosed housing, retrofitting homes to make them more energy efficient, by making sure states aren't laying off teachers and nurses and firefighters and police, so we could pulse money back to the state. and then long term, we have to do research and development, end this bush war against science. we have to build an company that works for everybody and a green economy that creates jobs and gets us off energy dependence on on -- and that's why the price of gas, the price of oil, is so much that we've done nothing in the last seven years to get off our dependence on foreign oil. and norm coleman has done nothing about it, and president bush has done nothing about it. there are things that we can do to pulse the economy now and then there are long-term things that we have to do to get into the 21st century and get a handle on health care is one of them. we spend twice as much money per person on health care as any other industrialized country. we need universal health care. we need an education system that trains our kids for a 21st century economy. we need to restore our standing in the world. a lot of reason for the increase in oil prices is the war in iraq, and the uncertainty in iran.
:: i'm getting told we have to go. but i appreciate you weighing in on these issues. you're welcome any time. al franken, u.s. senatorial candidate.
:: we also did invite senator norm coleman to appear. open-end invitation still stands for next week.
:: perhaps we'll get him on too.