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PBS NewsHour

Q&A with former CIA lawyer John Rizzo


Former CIA lawyer John Rizzo at a film panel discussion in 2013. Photo by Joe Newman.

The Senate, the CIA and the White House are still negotiating over the delayed release of a Senate Intelligence Committee report examining the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program for al-Qaeda detainees. John Rizzo served as either the CIA’s Deputy or Acting General Counsel between 2001 to 2009, the first nine years of the Bush Administration’s War on Terror, and became a controversial figure due to his role in approving some of the CIA’s most controversial programs. He is the author of Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA. We spoke to Rizzo about the ongoing debate surrounding the publication of the report. 

NEWSHOUR: What makes this report so important?

JOHN RIZZO: Having not seen it, I’m just speculating. But it is a four-year effort, $40 million. I would like to think it will be a comprehensive look at the entire history of the program. I am pessimistic, however, given the way this report was prepared by only the Democratic side of the Senate Intelligence Committee. No one from CIA — including me — current or former who was involved in the program, none of us were ever interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It could be a worthwhile and valuable product, but by all indications it is going to be a political product with a distinct point of view that I honestly believe the seven Democrats on the committee had in mind from the beginning.

NEWSHOUR: How do you respond to people saying the CIA is trying to run out the clock or block a report that may damage its reputation?

JOHN RIZZO: To be clear, I have not seen the report. I asked to have access to it and was denied by Chairman [Dianne] Feinstein. So I have no idea what’s in it. All I know is what I’ve been reading in media reports. It does appear, however, that it is the Obama White House who have taken the lead in negotiations with Chairman Feinstein. Also playing a role is the Director of National Intelligence. So, the notion that it’s the CIA that is dragging its feet, if that’s what the allegation is, seems to me misleading at best. The White House could support the report coming out in any sort of form, and it would basically be declassified tomorrow. So I just don’t think their complaint reflects the reality.

NEWSHOUR: Senator Ron Wyden raised the issue of redacted names and says he would like to see pseudonyms used so that citizens can identify how many agents were involved in actions documented in the report. Why would the CIA want to totally black out names in the report?

JOHN RIZZO: We’re talking about undercover operatives, CIA agents. Not senior officials of the CIA, which would include myself. I assume my name, wherever it appears, will appear with my true name, and that’s fine. What we’re talking about are people, many of whom are still at CIA undercover and carrying out assignments around the world. Clearly, a pseudonym is a better protection than just having their real names, but even pseudonyms can become a problem. I’ve found in my experience, for those who are really intent in uncovering identities, if pseudonyms appear in a certain pattern in the report in certain contexts it is not that difficult to discern who exactly is being talked about. It would therefore put them in potential jeopardy. Do you think it’s certain death for these people? No. The point is, why take any sort of risk along those lines?

NEWSHOUR: Some in the senate, including Senator Wyden, have raised balance of powers concerns here. How do you respond to those who say the CIA is overstepping its authority here?

JOHN RIZZO: In terms of separation of powers, the executive branch has classification control over executive branch information. That power ultimately rests with the White House and with the President of the United States, himself. Again, this is not a dispute between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is a dispute apparently between the executive branch and the legislative branch. Honestly, from the outside, I think both sides are acting in good faith, and hopefully this can still be worked out.

NEWSHOUR: Senator Wyden is threatening to push for a Senate override to declassify the report. What do you think that would mean? Knowing the politics here, do you think that’s likely?

JOHN RIZZO: The chances of that effort being successful is minimal in the extreme. Again, there is a process for that sort of thing. So he’s free to pursue it. If, by chance, the senate prevails and does override, then so be it. That will never happen. There should be a way to reach an accommodation on this. I can’t believe there isn’t.

NEWSHOUR: What would an accommodation look like?

JOHN RIZZO: The issue here is the CIA interrogation program. It’s wisdom, it’s efficacy, morality and legality. It took four years to generate. It took $40 million. I have no objection to the report coming out. Personally, I think the report should come out. But I don’t see how potentially jeopardizing or compromising the identities of undercover operatives is necessary or appropriate in order to have that debate about the substance of the program. Why bring up names of people doing very difficult work in good faith? The senior officials like me, our names should be in the report. I have no problem with that.

NEWSHOUR: What are the report’s implications for national security?

JOHN RIZZO: Part of national security is protecting intelligence sources’ identities. So anything that would compromise identities of undercover personnel would negatively affect national security.

NEWSHOUR: What is significant about the ongoing debate surrounding this report?

JOHN RIZZO: I went through a lot of battles when I was at CIA between the executive branch and congress about congressional oversight and access to information and declassification. This, from my perspective, is nothing more than that. In all of those previous cases, there was an accommodation reached that perhaps neither side was totally happy with but it was reached and everyone moved on. That’s my hope that that’s what will happen here. I don’t know anyone at CIA who object to this report being released after all this time and all this money.

Hopefully there will be new insights, new details. The debate and discussion that could be generated by all this is not a bad thing. It could be a useful thing and a valuable thing in a democracy. How does the US government react? What are the limits and extent to which you can take aggressive actions to combat terrorist acts? That’s a valuable dialogue to have. So hopefully the report, as large as it seemingly is, will have that effect.

NEWSHOUR: What do you hope to see happen?

JOHN RIZZO: In terms of identities and pseudonyms of CIA agents, that’s important for people that are involved. It’s important to their potential safety. As for the report itself, it should come out, along with the CIA’s rebuttal, and the rebuttal of the senate Republicans on the Intelligence Committee. All of it should come out, and the American people should make their own judgments about it.

The post Q&A with former CIA lawyer John Rizzo appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

CIA and Senate battle over a report on interrogation tactics

KEEPING SECRETS  monitor cia logo

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JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn now to a battle over making public a Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation tactics.

In 2009, the Intelligence Committee launched its investigation. Three years later, the 5,000-page classified report was finalized. The CIA disputed some of the conclusions. Earlier this year, senators learned the CIA searched Senate computers without notifying the committee. And in April, the committee voted to release a summary of the report.

But the CIA has insisted on more redactions to protect agency assets and secrets.

We will hear from a former CIA official in a moment.

But we begin with a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He is Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Senator, welcome to the program.

SEN. RON WYDEN, (D) Oregon: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why is it you want this report released?

SEN. RON WYDEN: Judy, the CIA leadership maintained for years that torturing prisoners was essential to obtaining information, that we weren’t able to get the information we needed to protect our country without torture.

What this report shows is that a number of the claims that the CIA leadership made about the value of enhanced interrogation simply was untrue. And, regrettably, it looks like the culture of misinformation at the CIA leadership is still going strong.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But isn’t the reluctance to release it, doesn’t that have to do with making public the identity of agents, methods, operations that the CIA and others believe needs to be secret?

SEN. RON WYDEN: Judy, I don’t take a backseat to anybody in terms of protecting our agents who are undercover.

In fact, a number of years ago, I wrote legislation with Senator Bond on a bipartisan basis to increase the penalties for outing one of our agents. What the CIA is doing here is trying to obscure key facts and trying to keep the real story from coming out. Of course I would be in favor of redacting any specific identifying information about our very valuable undercover agents.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, one of the key facts — just give us a sense of what is a key fact that you think must come out that the CIA and the administration, whoever is making this decision, is saying no?

SEN. RON WYDEN: Well, this report is about misdeeds, mistakes and utter falsehoods.

And the reality is, is the CIA is asking for something that is unprecedented. For 40 years, since the days of the Church Committee, we have used pseudonyms in order to protect our undercover agents. But if you don’t allow pseudonyms, for example, you can’t even tell whether we’re talking about different people or the same people, and you’re obscuring what the narrative and what the public accounting is really all about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s my understanding that the concern — one of the concerns expressed is that even using pseudonyms could be traced to particular individuals and places.

SEN. RON WYDEN: I don’t believe that stripping out the specific identifying information will cause a problem.

Judy, the reality is, for 40 years, we have never seen a demand like the CIA is making now. The CIA is asking that all pseudonyms, all of them be stripped out. That wasn’t done with the Church Committee. That wasn’t done with Iran Contra. That wasn’t done with Abu Ghraib.

What the CIA is asking for is unprecedented. And it’s very clear what they’re interested in obscuring the facts and covering up a really accurate narrative.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Ron Wyden, member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, we thank you.

SEN. RON WYDEN: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And for perspective from the CIA side, joining us now is John Rizzo, who spent 34 years in the agency’s Office of General Counsel. He’s also the author of the book “Company Man” about his time in the CIA.

So, John Rizzo, you heard what Senator Wyden is saying. He is saying, this is unprecedented, what the CIA is asking for.

JOHN RIZZO, Author, “Company Man”: Well, first of all, I should make clear that I have not seen the report, not for a lack of trying.

Several weeks ago, I and former CIA officials who were deeply involved in the program asked for the opportunities to at least read it before it’s released to the world. So I have no idea, as we sit here today, anything about the content of that report.

As for the use of pseudonyms, again, it’s all context. But…

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we should clarify, again, we’re talking about substituting pseudonyms, other names for the names of actual people who provided information.

JOHN RIZZO: That’s correct.

And I also should make clear that we’re not talking here about deleting the names of senior people, like myself, who are public figures. I mean, all of us, I assume, are going to be named by name in the report, and that’s fine.

What we’re talking about here is about the names of undercover operatives, many of whom are still operating in secret around the world performing dangerous assignments.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, as you heard Senator Wyden say, in all that years — that in the modern era, he said, going back to the Church report, back in the 1970s, this is not something that the CIA has done, has insisted on. Why is it different now?  Why is it so important to keep this report back until this name issue gets resolved?

JOHN RIZZO: Well, again, it’s all context.

But I can certainly see — foresee a situation — this report is, what, the executive summary is 600 pages’ long. If these pseudonyms, if the same pseudonym for the same person appears at various parts in that report describing the circumstances, what he or she was doing and what country he or she was in, those who are willing to take the time — and, believe me, there are people out there willing to take the time — can piece together the two identities, or at least there’s a possibility.

And if there’s even a possibility of that, I honestly don’t see — I mean, this report is about the program. The agency ran the program. The people who carried it out in the trenches, you know, why should their safety be potentially compromised?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just last question, do you think a compromise is possible here?  This has been going on for months.

JOHN RIZZO: Look, I and many of my colleagues would like to see this report come out. It’s been hanging fire for a long time and it’s been drip, drip of leaks. We all want to see it come out.

I hope an arrangement can be made. I would note finally that it’s not the CIA that’s driving this process. It’s the White House, the administration, the Obama administration, the president’s — the president’s chief of staff. So to characterize this as purely a CIA machination to hold up the report is simply unfair and doesn’t reflect reality.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, John Rizzo, former general counsel for the CIA, we thank you for talking with us.

JOHN RIZZO: Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.

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Shields and Brooks on the midterm mood


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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to politics now and the final stretch of campaigning, with Election Day just four days away.

Plenty of heavy hitters were on the trail this week, from former President Bill Clinton in Kentucky, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Iowa, Mitt Romney in Kansas, Jeb Bush in Colorado, and lots of others.

So what should we be watching heading into this final weekend?

Joining us now are Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

We can’t wait. We’re almost there.

Mark, we’re heading into the last few days.


JUDY WOODRUFF: What does your gut…


MARK SHIELDS: Don’t tell me it’s over.


MARK SHIELDS: I — can we have another week, please?


JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what you’re thinking?

MARK SHIELDS: Can we stay up late tonight, Judy?  Can we stay up late?

JUDY WOODRUFF: What are your sources and what does your gut does tell?

MARK SHIELDS: My gut — and when my gut speaks, I listen to it.


MARK SHIELDS: It’s a — I would say Republicans have to feel better than Democrats do heading into Tuesday.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Senate races.

MARK SHIELDS: Senate races. The governor’s races, I think, are races that stand far less on partisan grounds and more mano a mano, if I can use the sexist term, on individual records, and incumbents’ judgment.

But the Senate, it’s not only the terrain. The Republicans are playing on a home field with a big advantage politically. But it’s the mood and it’s for the Republicans and against the Democrats.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What’s your instinct?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. My gut is with Mark’s gut.


DAVID BROOKS: I have the same feeling.

All the models say the Republicans are likely to take over the Senate. A couple of things, one, ticket-splitting. There used to be a lot of people ticket-splitting. They would vote for a Democrat up here, Republican down there, vice versa. That just happens less.

One of the reasons is, the electorate is more educated. The more educated a person, the less likely their ticket splits.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Interesting.

DAVID BROOKS: College apparently teaches people to think less.

No, they’re more ideological. They give themselves ideological labels. Obama’s a drag. If you look at his numbers in a lot of these states, where he was with groups like women and Latinos, he’s come down a lot, and so it’s just a big drag. There are a lot of undecided voters out there.

And my newspaper had a story today suggesting the early voting, there are some good signs for Democrats, so it’s not a lock. But when the country’s unhappy, the president is in a sixth year, it doesn’t take — it’s not brain surgery that the out party is going to do OK.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What are you watching for here at the end, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, the first two in — I’m looking at New Hampshire and North Carolina, Jeanne Shaheen, Democratic incumbent in New Hampshire, and Kay Hagan, Democratic, embattled in North Carolina.

Obama carried New Hampshire twice. Jeanne Shaheen has been favored. Scott Brown, the transplant from Massachusetts, has narrowed that race. It’s a tossup. I would say if Jeanne Shaheen and Kay Hagan win, the two Democrats in those two states, then the Republican sweep is nonexistent in 2014.

But, beyond that, Judy, I have to look at the states that the president did carry where Democrats are running, Iowa, Colorado. If the Democrats lose those, I think that’s significant and it will indicate that the Republicans are having a very good evening.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what you’re seeing?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I actually was hoping to give the same answer.

You know, the Republicans will do well in the red states. They’re probably going to do well in Arkansas, places like that, West Virginia, obviously, probably Louisiana, but if the victory — winning over your own people is good. It’s not a huge victory.

So they could do that and still even win the Senate, but if they can get in these purple states, then they’re really showing — they’re breaking out of their pattern, and their pattern has been, especially over the last four years, is they’re toxic. People, even some traditional Republicans, are unhappy with the Republican Party.

But has the party detoxified themselves?  Have they returned from sort of a Tea Party, which generates intensity, but scares a lot of people?  Are they now seen again as sort of a business party that maybe will get the economy going?  And if they start winning some of those purple states, the North Carolinas of the world, or even if Scott Walker wins in Wisconsin in the governor’s race there, then you begin to think, OK, they have improved their image with some of the swing voters.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, David kind of began to answer this question a minute ago, but, Mark, I want to turn on its head.

A lot of talk about how much trouble the Democrats are in. But as both of you point out, they are fighting on territory that is pretty red. These are states, many of these states, that Mitt Romney won by double digits, some 23, 27 points in West Virginia a couple of years ago.

So you — if you turn the question on its head, you could say why aren’t Republicans running away with some of these races in the states where Democrats…

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a good question.

And my only answer would be that the first time I was on Capitol Hill, an old-timer took me aside and was looking at some kind of down-at-the-heels congressman. And he said, see that guy?  And he said, he knows more about pork belly futures than anybody in his state.

And he went on and said, everybody that’s in this body, House or the Senate, has something going for them, and it’s up to you to figure out what it is, because there are at least 1,000 or maybe 5,000 people in the state of ability and ambition who would like to have that seat.

So the Democrats who are holding those seats are gifted political operatives. They have survived in hostile territory, Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor. They have managed to do it. And the fact that their — that time and tradition and trends are running against them makes it even tougher for them.

But, I mean, you have got to acknowledge that these are skilled, able people who have performed satisfactorily to the voters of those states.


DAVID BROOKS: Landrieu in particular has pulled rabbits out of the hat on numerous, a couple of occasions. Coming up, it might be too uphill.

I would say the other thing — and here’s a substantive point — the Republicans don’t have a growth agenda. The Democrats don’t have it either. But if you look at where the polling is on issue by issue, people still think the Democrats are more like them.

They do like the Republican positions on spending. They do like the Republican positions on Obamacare, but the number one issue is who can create jobs and who can create growth.


DAVID BROOKS: And you would not say that the Republicans have come forward with some agenda to do that. I’m not sure Democrats have either. But without that positive agenda, it’s hard to get a big wave going.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of growth, we’re looking at an economy now that is — what, they put out GDP numbers the other day. It’s growing at 3.5 percent, more than it has in years. The unemployment, the rate is the lowest, Mark, it’s been in years. Wages are finally showing some life. They’re started to come up, consumer confidence up.

And yet none of this is translating into good news for the party in power.


There’s an irony. The stock market, just take the Dow Jones average, is up 10,000 points since Barack Obama has been in the White House. And you’re right. The last six months have been the best six months of growth in the past 11 years. So it really is good news.

The problem is, Judy, that’s big picture. And people don’t feel it. The median income, family income, has been down every year since 2006. It is lower now than it was in 2000, in the year 2000. The share of wealth that goes to the top, 1 percent in the country has doubled.

And so there’s a sense that the rising tide has lifted all yachts.  But it hasn’t lifted all boats. And that’s really what it is. It’s not a knock on the overall big economy. It’s what my life is, where my own chances of success and providing for my children or my family are, if anything, more threatened than they were.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because you have all these statistics on the one hand. But, David, on the other hand, two-thirds of voters are saying they don’t like the direction the country is headed in.


Well, first of all, there’s an economic lag here. The growth rate really has to be going in August, September, July for people to notice in an election. Historically, there’s been a period. It has to — you have to get a bunch of months where the confidence is going up.

Second, do people feel, well, I can leave my — the job which I’m kind of unhappy with and there will be other opportunities around?  They don’t feel that, not at the same wages. So, until that happens, they are going to feel bad, because they know their own personal experience.

Third, I think there’s a feeling that we’re weak abroad. I think there’s more foreign policy in this election than recent elections. And there’s a sense we’re not strong on the world. There’s a lot going on in the world that we are not controlling.

And then finally, the president — and this feeds into that — doesn’t seem to be shaping agendas. And maybe it’s impossible. Maybe it’s an unrealistic expectation to expect him to, but the Obama drag really is the core thing here. People are seeing the president, 38 approval on the economy and foreign policy. That’s the core thing, disappointment.

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree. I think it’s more of an economic election than a national security election.

And I’m not arguing that that question of certainly lack of confidence or doubt has increased in the White House, but the basic concern is that of the economy. And I think that that’s the irony, is that these big, good numbers you have cited don’t translate into support for the president.

I mean, 10 million more people have health care than had it a year-and-a-half ago. It’s a — really, the great legacy you can make, a great statement about transformational presidency, but it’s not much of a help if you’re a Democrat running in a — any kind of hostile area.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Because it makes you want to ask, do statistics lie?  Do they just not mean anything for people?

DAVID BROOKS: The ones I disagree with lie.


DAVID BROOKS: No, a lot of it is everything is pros and cons, but there is an overall feel.

And maybe the country is wrong. Maybe they should be more cheered up. I could easily make that case. If you compare the way we were in the ’70s, the ’30s, the ’40s, worse problems than now, but there’s a general sense our institutions are not working. And that may be a mood, it may be a perception. I think there’s some substance to it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s a — we have talked a lot in this campaign over the last few months about how negative the campaign is. Ads are just over the top, negative, mudslinging just about everywhere in the contested states.

So, my last question to both of you is, what do you see out there that’s uplifting and makes you feel better about the country, Mark, as we go into this midterm election?

MARK SHIELDS: That lieutenant governor’s race in Montana.


JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s a long silence.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy, it’s a good question, and I wish I had a good answer for it.

I’m not charged up or encouraged by what I have seen. The negative commercials which, we’re careful now, and uncoordinated between the independent groups and the candidates, where I savage you through the independents group, and then I can talk about fields and what a wonderful person I am in my own campaign contributions, that to me is a creation of the devil.

And the final cost of negative commercials is, it depresses turnout. It depresses — it says there really is nothing that you are going to do to change. It erodes confidence in our public institutions and ourselves. And I just really think that the consequences are enormous.

So I should be cheered. There was one bumper sticker I saw in Harrisburg — no, that. But go ahead.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Nothing uplifting?

MARK SHIELDS: I can’t — I can’t see — Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado, the fact that he’s not running any negative commercials, if he wins, then maybe that will be encouraged.

Politics is a very imitative and derivative business, I can tell you. And if somebody wins not running negative commercials, then that’s a positive. It really is.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Hickenlooper has gone from very positive to like neck and neck.

MARK SHIELDS: I know. That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: We will see.

I would think in general — I can’t pick you a great race, because they’re all doing the same thing. TV stations’ owners are getting really rich, but the governor’s races are better than the Senate races.

I’m struck that we are polarized in the country, but there are still so many states where you really have close governor’s races.

MARK SHIELDS: Very close.

DAVID BROOKS: Florida, even Wisconsin. Illinois even is kind of close.

And so that shows there is still some political competition, as Mark said.



These are races being fought more on policy than the national races.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s always uplifting having the two of you here on Friday night.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m sorry. I feel like I let you down.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You did let me down, Mark.


MARK SHIELDS: I did. Thank you, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

And a reminder, finally:  Tune in Tuesday night for our election coverage. It will include a special report at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

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WATCH LIVE: Minnesota Senate Debate

Minnesota’s U.S. Senate candidates will meet for one last debate at 8 p.m. EST (7 p.m. CT) on Sunday, Nov. 2, just two days out from Election Day.

Incumbent Sen. Al Franken (DFL) will defend his record against opponent Mike McFadden (R) live from Minnesota Public Radio’s Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minn. Kerri Miller and Cathy Wurzer, two program hosts for MPR, will moderate.

Franken, a former comedian and writer for Saturday Night Live, squeaked into office by 312 votes in 2009, after a lengthy recount and court battle. He has since taken up a classically progressive stance within the Senate, notably writing provisions into the Affordable Care Act.


Minnesota Senate candidate Mike McFadden (left) and Sen. Al Franken (right) will square off in a debate Sunday.

McFadden is a businessman and political newcomer. Since winning handily in the primaries, he has focused on Franken’s record of backing President Obama’s policies, calling his opponent “the most partisan Senator in the Democratic Party.”

Until recently, that tactic didn’t appear to be working: in September, McFadden was still down by 13 points. But a new poll out this week shows Franken’s edge has narrowed to single digits, with McFadden gaining among independents.

It’s relatively unusual to debate the weekend before Election Day. Many voters have made up their minds by now, and campaigns typically conduct their final outreach efforts now, to ensure high turnout.

But if the candidates’ most recent meeting in Minneapolis is any indication, there are still plenty of issues to discuss out in the Gopher State. Sparks flew at that debate, with both men interrupting and occasionally shouting at one another over health care, tax policy, and negative campaign ads.

McFadden later paid to replay the debate in its entirety as a campaign ad of sorts.

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