Tue Apr 6, 2004 02:37

Transcript for April 4
Guests: Former Gov. Thomas Kean (R-N.J.), chair of 9/11 commission; former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), vice chair of 9/11 commission; former Bush adviser Karen Hughes.


GUESTS: Former Gov. Thomas Kean (R-N.J.), chair of 9/11 commission; former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), vice chair of 9/11 commission; former Bush adviser Karen Hughes.


This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS(202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)

Meet the Press (NBC News) - Sunday, April 4, 2004

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Bush and Cheney, Clinton and Gore, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will all now appear before the September 11 Commission. Could the attacks have been prevented? When will the commission issue its final report? With us, the chairman and vice chairman of the 9-11 Commission: former Republican Governor of New Jersey Tom Kean and former Indiana Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton.

Then, the Bush-Kerry presidential race with Karen Hughes, the former counselor to the president, who left the White House to return home to Texas. She now has a new book, "Ten Minutes from Normal."

Kean, Hamilton and Hughes: only on MEET THE PRESS.

And we are joined by the chairman, Tom Kean, the vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, of the September 11 Commission.

Gentlemen, welcome, both.

FMR. GOV. THOMAS KEAN, (R-NJ): Good morning.


MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Chairman, on Thursday, Dr. Condoleezza Rice will testify in public under oath. What do you expect?

MR. KEAN: Well, we expect it to be very exciting, because we want to know so much. We want to know about her work in the transition. We want to know about what happened and what the differences were between the Bush policies and the policies of the Clinton
administration. We want to know what she heard and what she knew and, of course, what differences there may be between her, Mr. Clarke, and a number of other people we've heard.

MR. RUSSERT: When she testified in private on February 7, only about half the commissioners showed up. Do you expect all of them to be in attendance on Thursday?

MR. KEAN: Absolutely. That was late on a Saturday afternoon. There may have been some other problem, but they all read the transcripts and they're all going to be on hand.

MR. RUSSERT: How long do you expect her to testify for?

MR. KEAN: I think we've got her scheduled for about two and a half hours, which would be, actually, the longest session--as long a session as we've had with any witness.

MR. RUSSERT: Also, before I talk a little bit more about that, Vice President Cheney and President Bush are scheduled to appear. Is there a date yet?

MR. KEAN: Yeah. We've got a date, but we haven't--we honestly haven't revealed the dates of any of our witnesses who testify in private, so we haven't talked about that one, either.

MR. RUSSERT: Will it be within the next few weeks?

MR. KEAN: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: But they will appear together. Why?

MR. KEAN: That's their request, and we didn't see any problem. We're going to ask the same questions, whether we get them together or apart. So that was a White House request and part of a package deal we put together to get the testimony and allow all 10 commissioners to come in, and we didn't see any problem with it.

MR. RUSSERT: Will President Clinton and Vice President Gore appear together?

MR. KEAN: No. No, they're appearing separately.

MR. RUSSERT: Why a different standard for them?

MR. KEAN: Because we had already scheduled our appearances with former President Clinton, and all our other witnesses have appeared separately. But this was the White House request, and we didn't have any problem with it.

MR. RUSSERT: Clinton-Gore in the next few weeks as well?

MR. KEAN: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Isn't it better to have people separately so that you can judge them independently as to their veracity?

MR. KEAN: I think it's a matter of judgment. All things considered, maybe we would have rather had them one at a time, but we don't see any problem with it, really. We'll ask each of them individual questions. They've promised us to give us the time we needed to get our questions answered, and if we have any problems, as you do, we'll have follow-ups.

MR. RUSSERT: And one last question on this: Why won't President Bush, Vice President Cheney, former President Clinton, former Vice President Gore be put under oath?

MR. KEAN: It's, I gather, sort of a tradition, practice. No president, I gather, has ever been put under oath. And so, because of precedent in this town, we're not putting them under oath.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Hamilton, let me refer to a couple of the things that have been said by people before your commission or in the public domain. Richard Clarke, the chief of counterterrorism, testified on March 24 to your commission and said this: "All of the things that we recommended in the plan or strategy...back in January [2001] were those things on the table in September [2001]."

And Dr. Rice wrote in The Washington Post last week, "No al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration."

We seem to have a discrepancy here.

MR. HAMILTON: Well, that...

MR. RUSSERT: What is your sense? Based on what you've heard and read and learned, was there a plan that was given by the Clinton administration to the Bush administration about al-Qaeda?

MR. HAMILTON: I don't think I'm going to try to make a judgment about that at this point. You get into a lot of word games here. There was an agenda, there was a plan, there were options, and an awful lot of this is subjective. What has been impressive up to this point, despite all of the media play, is that there's been a remarkable agreement with regard to the facts. Whether you call something a plan and how far along that plan was, you can get different judgments about, but the factual agreement through the Clinton administration, through the early months of the Bush administration, remarkable agreement on the facts, not complete but remarkable.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Clarke also said this: "I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue but not an urgent issue. ... There was a process underway to address al Qaeda. But although I continued to say it was an urgent problem, I don't think it was ever treated that way." Dr. Rice, "The seriousness of the threat was well understood by the president and his national security principals. ... The president wanted more than a laundry list of ideas simply to contain al Qaeda or `roll back' the threat. Once in office, we quickly began crafting a comprehensive new strategy to `eliminate' the al Qaeda network." There seems to be a difference of fact there.

MR. HAMILTON: Well, I'm not sure that it is. Let's take the question raised by Mr. Clarke's testimony. He said that the Bush administration put an important priority on al-Qaeda and terrorism but not an urgent one. Well, how do you draw that line between important and urgent? That's a very subjective kind of a judgment and it can easily be colored by your own biases, by your own position, if you would. That's very typical, it seems to me, of the kinds of differences we confront here.

MR. RUSSERT: Governor Kean, one of the things that your staff has released are staff reports, which I have read, and they're quite...

MR. KEAN: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: ...comprehensive...

MR. KEAN: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: ...and quite interesting and quite revealing. "Deputy Director of Central Intelligence [John] McLaughlin told us he felt a great tension -especially in June and July" --"between the new administration's need to understand these issues and his sense that this
was a matter of great urgency. Officials, including McLaughlin, were also frustrated when some policymakers, who had not lived through such threat surges before, questioned the validity of the intelligence or wondered if it was disinformation, though they were persuaded once they probed it." A sense that the new team was a bit skeptical of some of the threat assessments of al-Qaeda, is that fair?

MR. KEAN: I think that's probably fair and probably right, but I think they were skeptical about a number of things at that point. No question, there was a period in the summer when people refer to it as their hair being on fire, there were so many threats of one kind coming in, but most of them, in all honesty, were not threats to this country, they were threats to things abroad. And we put a barricades around our United States embassies. We tried to protect our American citizens over there. We did a number of actions in that area. Did we do enough at home? No, but I think to your question, there was some skepticism, no question about it.

MR. RUSSERT: The Washington Post wrote this in May of last year: "On July 5 of [2001]...the White House summoned officials of a dozen federal agencies to the Situation Room." 'Something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon'," said "Richard Clark," the terrorism czar. "The group included the Federal Aviation Administration"--"the Coast Guard"--the--"FBI, Secret Service"--"Immigration and Naturalization Service."

"Clarke directed every counterterrorist office to cancel vacations, defer nonvital travel, put off
schedule exercises and place domestic rapid-response teams on much shorter alert. For six weeks [in the summer of 2001], at home and overseas, the U.S. government was at its highest possible state of readiness - and anxiety - against imminent terrorist attack."

Congressman Hamilton, it sounds like people in the White House really expected something big to happen and really did ring the alarm bell.

MR. HAMILTON: Yes. I think they did and especially Mr. Clarke at that. That's kind of a high watermark in the summer when the chatter on the intelligence lines was very high, a lot of reports coming in at that moment about possible terrorist activity. And there wasn't any question that there was a sense of urgency at that point and may have been the high watermark prior to, of course, September 11 in terms of the government being keyed up, ready to go and ready to act.

MR. RUSSERT: It says they were on high alert for six weeks, canceling vacations, the whole bit. And then, did we let our guard down before September 11th?

MR. KEAN: We did a bit, because the threat level went down. All these tremendous things that were coming over stopped coming over, and we weren't getting the level of threat that we got, and as that threat level went down and people had been sort of at the ready all along, they did let down their guard a bit. There's no question about it. We were not at the state of readiness on September 11th that we'd been back in August.

MR. RUSSERT: Why do you think that is?

MR. KEAN: I think when the chatter went down, when they didn't hear all these people talking to each other so much, there were other priorities out there. You can't keep people sort of at the ready constantly, day after day after day after day, and I think gradually they had a plan. They had a meeting, as you know, just before September 11th. They thought they were operating on some of these things, but the actual tension relaxed as the chatter relaxed.

MR. RUSSERT: In December, Governor, you said that you were surprised that some midlevel officials at the FBI and in the federal immigration agencies had not been removed from their jobs, given errors before September 11th attacks that may have allowed the hijacking plot to go undetected: "It surprises me that if there were serious mistakes, there haven't been any consequences of those mistakes."

Has anyone been let go yet?

MR. KEAN: Not to the best of my knowledge. What I was referring to was, you know, the fact we've now documented, I guess in the commission hearings, that people got into this country with improper travel documents, that there were people in the FBI who obviously sounded the alert and then got stuck somewhere midlevel in the bureaucracy, that there were people in the airlines who were not put on the watch list, so that there were two people we knew about, and those kinds of mistakes. No, I don't know of anybody who's been let go.

MR. RUSSERT: Are you surprised?

MR. HAMILTON: That no one has been let go?


MR. HAMILTON: Not really. First of all, government's not very good at that. not just this government but many governments, in holding people strictly accountable. Secondly, I think the problem is really more systemic in nature. The more I look at it, the more I see kind of systemwide problems rather than individual responsibility. That doesn't mean the commission will not make criticism. We may make criticisms--I don't know--of individual people. But what I'm quite sure is, we will find somewhere along the line that there were a lot of problems. A government has to manage huge amounts of data, not all of it in English. Millions and millions of bites of data come into the government all the time, and analyzing those, collecting them and disseminating--very, very tough job, and it takes systems analysis and management to an extraordinary degree.

MR. RUSSERT: There's a report in a British newspaper, The Independent, about a former translator for the FBI with top-secret security clearance, says she's provided information to the panel investigating the attacks which proves senior officials knew of al-Qaida's plan to attack the U.S. with aircraft months before the strike happened. Sibel Edmonds is her name. She said she spent more than three hours in a closed session with the commission and provided information that was circulating within the FBI in the spring and summer of 2001 suggesting an attack using aircraft was months away, that terrorists were in place. Is she credible?

MR. KEAN: We've had all her testimony. It's under investigation. I can't say--we're certainly not there that she's credible or uncredible yet.

MR. HAMILTON: We've talked to her.

MR. KEAN: Yeah.

MR. HAMILTON: We've talked to people she has identified. We've looked at documents. Look, the commission gets leads by the dozens, every day. I had a dozen of them last week. And we do our level best to follow up on all of them. In this case, and several others that have been prominent in the European press, we have been very, very careful in our research. We're not totally completed with it, as the governor has mentioned.

MR. RUSSERT: Governor, you also said this in December: "I do not believe it had to happen." Why? Why do you believe that?

MR. KEAN: Well, I got some criticism for that at the time, but what we've found now in the commission has not changed our belief. Because there were so many threads and so many things, individual things that happened, and if some of those things hadn't happened the way they happened--for instance, if we had been a little earlier in what we found out about Moussaoui, if we had...

MR. RUSSERT: Moussaoui being the so-called 20th hijacker...

MR. KEAN: Yes. Yes, that's right.

MR. RUSSERT: ...in Minnesota who was actually arrested.

MR. KEAN: Absolutely right. If we had been able to put those people on the watch list for the airlines, the two who were in this country; again, if we'd stopped some of these people at the borders, if we had acted earlier on al-Qaeda when al-Qaeda was smaller and just getting started even before bin Laden went to Afghanistan, there were times we could have gotten him, there's no question. Had we gotten him and his leadership at that point, the whole story might have been different.

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman, you think September 11th could have been prevented?

MR. HAMILTON: Well, there's a lot of if



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