9/11 COMMISSION "MEET THE PRESS"
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
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
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
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.
FMR. REP. LEE HAMILTON, (D-IN): Hi, Tim.
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
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
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
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  were those things on the table in September ."
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
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
...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
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
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. RUSSERT: Yeah.
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
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
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman, you think September 11th could have been prevented?
MR. HAMILTON: Well, there's a lot of if
(Cont'd) 9/11 COMMISSION "MEET THE PRESS" RESEARCHER, Tue Apr 6 02:42
Dick Cheney, NBC, "Meet the Press,"
NBC - MEET THE PRESS, Tue Apr 6 02:53
Wizard Of OZ , Cheney , No Arab Hijackers ? Eleanor Clift, Tue Apr 6 14:04
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