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America's New War: Laura Bush Discusses the Impact of September 11

Aired October 2, 2001 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, grim finds at ground zero: Will America ever heal? We'll hear from first lady Laura Bush, who thinks education is part of the answer.

Then if you know anything about any of these suspected terrorists, the FBI wants to hear from you. Joining us in Washington, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and he'll take your calls. And from Quetta, Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban ambassador to Pakistan.

They're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. The headlines of the night, the president has warned Taliban rulers that there'll be consequences if they fail to surrender bin Laden. The United States has provided NATO with proof of bin Laden's involvement in the attacks. And Reagan National Airport will reopen Thursday with new security measures in place.

A little earlier today, I spoke with first lady Laura Bush in the Map Room at the White House. My first question was: Where was she three weeks ago?


LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I was in Senator Kennedy's office. I had gone over to brief the education committee on the results of the summit I'd had earlier in the summer about early childhood education.

And actually, I heard as I got in the car about the first plane. But of course, we thought then that it was maybe just some strange accident. And then by the time we heard about the second plane, I was there in his office.

KING: Did they rush right -- did they rush you right back to get you in the car?

BUSH: No, we stayed there, actually, for a long time. And it was -- he and Senator Judd Gregg came in, who is also on the Education Committee, and he's a very good friend of mine and of the president's. And we stayed there for quite some time before -- until we got the word that they were evacuating the Capitol as well as the White House.

KING: It's interesting that a Kennedy and a Bush together (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

BUSH: I know. It's -- exactly, and I thought about that at the time, of course. I knew how he had been so -- or our whole country -- was so impacted by his brother's death, but how personally that, that must have been for him.

And then to be with him on that -- on such a, such a day.

KING: They say that great man rise to occasions. Now, nobody knows a husband better than a wife maybe, but has anything about the president during this surprised you?

BUSH: Well, not really, because I knew what he was like already. And I think that's what...

KING: But you never saw him under this kind of pressure.

BUSH: No, of course not. Of course not. But I've seen him under other personal pressure. And he's very focused. He's very disciplined. And I think the American people are seeing that now.

He's very resolved. He's very compassionate. He really does empathize -- I mean, all of us, every American can grieve with the families who directly lost someone in this.

We can grieve for that, or we can also grieve for a loss of innocence that we had as a country, the feeling that we always thought that we weren't really vulnerable.

It's a -- all of those things, I think we all grieve for together.

KING: How soon after this did you talk to him?

BUSH: Right away. As soon as -- actually, it was not while I was in Senator Kennedy's office, but as soon as I was taken to a secure location. Then I talked to him.

KING: How did he sound?

BUSH: He sounded, you know -- I mean, we were shocked, all of us. We were horrified. And every American was.

But he also had a lot of resolve. There was a lot of strength in his voice. And...

KING: The other day, Jeb Bush was on our program, your brother- in-law. And he said that his mother, Barbara, had sent him an e-mail saying, as proud as she was of her son that day at the Capitol, she also felt she'd lost a son, that he'd become part of the country. And Jeb felt a little bit the same about his brother.

BUSH: Yes.

KING: Do you feel the same a little?

BUSH: About my husband?

KING: Yeah.

BUSH: In some ways, I do, I think. But I also feel...

KING: I mean, what was it like, sitting up there and watching that...

BUSH: It was great. It was very moving, and very -- you know, the thing is that all of these things, every one of them that have happened, I'm glad that people have gotten to see my husband as he really is. I'm glad they've had the chance to get to know how he really is.

But any of us would give all that up if it hadn't happened.

We're thrust into a -- all of us, our whole country -- is thrust into a place that we'd just as soon had never gotten to.

But at the same time, I think we -- there are a lot of ways that so much goodness has come from it.

An act of terror is meant to undermine a country, make us feel vulnerable, make us be afraid. And what happened instead, I think, is it made us realize how strong we are and how unified we are as a country.

KING: The attorney general, who'll be on in a little while...

BUSH: Yes.

KING: ... warning of more attacks. How fearful should we be? We've got people buying gas masks, ...

BUSH: Yeah.

KING: ... and antibiotics.

How do you balance...

BUSH: Well, I mean, I could...

KING: ... fear is normal?

BUSH: That's right. Fear is normal. That's absolutely right.

But I think if we're -- if we can be rational about it -- and I know it's not a rational -- fear is not that rational of an emotion.

But the fact is most of us are safe. Nearly all of us are safe. Our children are safe in their schools. We need to reassure them of that.

We're safe in our homes. We're safe. We can continue to try to have a normal life. I know they're going to open National Airport later this week, which I'm glad about. I know that people are getting back on planes and flying again, which I'm glad about.

Each step to go back to a more normal life, but at the same time not forget what happened to us.

KING: Should...

BUSH: Not forget the people we lost.

KING: ... should they buy things like gas masks?

BUSH: I think if people feel like it makes them feel comfortable. But I think for...

KING: In other words, whatever makes you feel better, ...

BUSH: That's right.

KING: ... do it.

BUSH: That's right. That's right. If it makes you feel better to do that, that's certainly all right.

I think there are probably, you know, the chances of having to ever use them are very, very minuscule.

KING: We know how important your faith is to you. Did you ever question it during this? Did you ever say...

BUSH: Why did this happen?

KING: ... where was God?

BUSH: No, not really. I have -- I did that before in my life, at other times in my life when I was faced with other tragedies.

But at this vantage point, I think that after a certain amount of time, no matter how strong your faith is, you know that evil things happen, and that, that's just part of life. And we know that.

It's a terrible, terrible thing, but I actually found strength in my faith.

KING: You did?

BUSH: And I think all Americans are finding strength in their faith.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) got stronger.

BUSH: That's right. That's right. Stronger than...

KING: Despite that horrific loss.

BUSH: Despite that. And I think people are finding that around the country. I can't tell you the number of people that say to us or write to us that they're praying for us. All the people who are the survivors of the people who were on the United Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania came here to the White House. And every one of them said, we're praying for you, when, of course, what we wanted to say to them is, we're praying for you.

KING: The president's going to New York tomorrow...

BUSH: Yes.

KING: ... to talk to school kids.

BUSH: That's right.

KING: They didn't announce the name of the school for security reasons, but it's said that he wants to learn from them how they're feeling.

You're a teacher...

BUSH: And that's really important. It's important for everyone, for parents and for teachers to let children talk.

They might irritate us because they may ask the same question over and over and over. And a lot of times, those are questions we can't answer, we don't have an answer for.

But it's really important for children to talk. And when they don't talk, if your child is particularly quiet, and I think parents need to do something and teachers should do something about trying to get a conversation started in a real -- you know, not in any threatening way or scary way.

But it's important for children to be able to express their feelings.

KING: What is the effect on -- it's different at different ages, right?

BUSH: It's different at different ages. And I think children are very resilient. And children may not really see all the consequences that adults see.

I visited also in a school where the teachers had actually had to run -- it was the school that's down in the shadow of the World Trade Center, and at some point had to evacuate.

And by that point, there were only a few children left in each room, because most of the parents had come to pick up their children after they -- after the event happened. And then they ran for 2 miles to another school, to the next closest school.

And the -- you know, when teachers sign on to teach, they expect a lot of things. But they don't expect that.

KING: No... BUSH: And the fear that they must have had, and the -- all the time trying to relieve the fears of the children that they were running with.

I think all of us really need to thank the teachers all over the country who are comforting our children.

KING: They have a big job.

BUSH: They do. They have a very big job.

KING: What -- do we know the age at which the child would comprehend this?

BUSH: I don't know. No...

KING: Is it 10?

BUSH: ... I mean, I'm not a psychologist. But I think...

KING: What grade did you teach?

BUSH: I taught second, third and fourth. And surely, I think, even first-grade children know that something terrible happened. And children even younger than that.

KING: They feel it in the house.

BUSH: They feel it in that. They don't -- and they saw it. You know, probably nearly all of them saw it on television, even if parents were careful to turn the TV off, which I hope they were, especially with young children.

But they got -- I got, when I visited, this school of second- graders wrote letters to me. And second-graders are the most comforting children.


BUSH: They're the most comforting age, where every line was I love you and I love the firefighters and I love the firemen's dogs and I -- you know, they loved everyone. And those were very comforting letters...

KING: What's...

BUSH: ... for me to read.

KING: Every first lady tries to find a role.

BUSH: Yes.

KING: What's yours? And you couldn't have counted on this, so...

BUSH: No. KING: ... what do you see it as now? It's not the same as it was. September 10th.

BUSH: Well, not the same as it was. But I hope to continue to do the same things I was doing, and in fact, tomorrow I'm going to be in Ohio at an education summit to talk about early childhood education, which is what I'd been on, on Capitol Hill to do the day of September 11th.

KING: But the public looks to you for other things, now.

BUSH: I think the public does. I think the public actually looks to all of our leaders to, you know, to comedians and to singers and to everyone who has a role of leadership, as well as, of course, government leaders.

But this -- now, look what -- look what the -- to what the public looks at the firemen and the policemen for. I mean, when you saw that...

KING: I want to ask you about.

BUSH: ... a lot of celebrities that were -- whose stories were written in the newspaper. And now, they're firemen and policemen, and I think that's great.

KING: We'll be right back with the first lady. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with the first lady. Weren't you quoted early on as saying you'd want to spend as much time in Crawford as possible...

BUSH: Yes.

KING: ... and they called you the quietest first lady since Bess Truman?

BUSH: Well, I was not quoted as saying I wanted to spend as much time in Crawford as...

KING: That was wrong.

BUSH: That was wrong.


KING: And you're not...

BUSH: I'm very glad to be here at the White House.

KING: You're not as quiet as Bess Truman was.

BUSH: Well, I don't know. I have no idea. I'm sure she was very lovely. KING: There are reports that school trips are being canceled.

BUSH: And I understand that. One of the things that I'm going to do soon is go to Arlington to the area where the three children who were on the National Geographic field trip, where the -- visit their schools, where those children went to school.

So I can see how school districts would rather, right now, just think about the field trips. I understand that.

KING: What about your safety? Do you think about it?

BUSH: Not really.


BUSH: Not much. I mean, I have, you know -- we have a lot of security. So I don't think about that.

KING: Yeah, but I mean, you've got these -- you've got crazy people running around. President Kennedy says -- someone said, if you want to give up your own life, you can harm someone.

BUSH: Oh, well, of course. I mean...

KING: You don't think about it?

BUSH: ... that's what we know.

KING: Yeah.

BUSH: No, not really. I mean, we have -- we're surrounded by security.

And you know, I think we all need to start thinking about how we can be more secure.

KING: How would...

BUSH: And we're doing that now with the airlines. We'll -- people just need to be vigilant.

KING: What we -- this biological, chemical fear is starting now...

BUSH: That's scary.

KING: ... all the news magazines. That's -- that's really scary to people.

BUSH: It is. I mean, you know, I understand why people are frightened. I certainly understand that. We all do.

But at the same time, we don't want our lives to be totally disrupted from what was normal by a terrorist act. And I think people, when they think about it rationally and use common sense, can -- will realize that they can go about their daily lives in a very normal way.

KING: How well is the media doing?

BUSH: I think the media is doing well. I thought, especially at the first, the media was really very good about not sensationalizing the lives of the people who were lost and giving the people who were grieving their loved-ones, the survivors, a chance to grieve with some privacy.

I'll tell you one thing that has been so consoling to me, and that is, these survivors. Lisa Beamer and other people that I've seen on television...

KING: Boy, we've had her on.

BUSH: ... who were so...

KING: We're having her on again Friday.

BUSH: ... so terrific.

KING: Amazing.

BUSH: And they literally consoled the country. And their strength, I think, strengthens us.

I've seen so many people on television who lost someone they loved, and their lives were changed forever. And their children's lives are changed forever. But they still -- their strength comforts us.

KING: Ted Olson.

BUSH: Ted Olson is one, for sure.

KING: Does that surprise you the way people have acted?

BUSH: I guess it does surprise me, and then I don't know why I'm surprised because I know how great Americans are. That's one thing I got to know when I got to campaign for my husband around the country.

But I also think they are strengthened, because they know that all of America prays for them and that everybody in America grieves with them. And so I guess it's sort of a mutual strength.

KING: You've known and liked Rudy Giuliani a long time, haven't you?

BUSH: That's right.

KING: I guess you're rather proud of him.

BUSH: I am proud of him. I'm very proud of him. I think New Yorkers know what he was like. Maybe he had to show it to them again. But they, I think, they really appreciate it, as well as the job that Governor Pataki is doing.

KING: Some Texans, as you know...

BUSH: Yes...

KING: ... don't like New York. And there's a tendency to put down New York. Do you think that's changed?

BUSH: I think that's definitely changed. And that really isn't the truth that some Texans don't like New York. Texans love to go up there.


KING: Yeah, they may knock it a little...


BUSH: Shop.

KING: ... but they like it.


Did you -- what was it like for you to go there?

BUSH: When I went the last time. It was unbelievably moving. I went to the fire station that lost Battalion 9, that lost the most firemen. I went to the school that I talked about visiting earlier with the teachers that actually had to run with their students as they evacuated their school.

I spoke to the Learning Leaders, which is a huge volunteer program. The volunteers in the New York public schools, called Learning Leaders, they're more of them than there are Peace Corps members. It's a huge volunteer group that volunteer all over the city in all the public schools, and they have such an important role now.

They can be the ones to bring in the cupcakes for the kids, to put their arms around the teacher, give the teacher a pat on the back, and say to the teacher, let me read to your class right now while you take a break and catch your breath. And it's a really important job, for them in New York City, but also around the country. I want to encourage people to volunteer in their schools and to help their teachers.

KING: What toll has it taken on the president?

BUSH: Well, I mean, it's unbelievably stressful. I thought today he looked a little tired. I don't think he has up until now. But he's doing great. He's very resolved. He's doing very well.

KING: Does anything else come up in conversation? BUSH: Sure, we talk about other things. I mean, we try to talk about other things. We're both reading books that have nothing to do with -- with things. We talked to the daughters. Our girls came this weekend. This was the first weekend they've been here since September 11th, and we had noticed as we talked to them on the phone, which we started doing almost every day, that they had just a little slight uncertainty in the back of their voice, like I'm sure most parents are noticing in their children's voices, and even in those grown children, those college-age children.

This is for them and for everyone their age, this is the first time in their lives that anything like this has happened, and I think it's giving young people, it really is making them re-examine their own lives, figuring out ways they can help.

Certainly, some young people are thinking about the military who might not have thought about it before. They are thinking about ways, jobs that they can have that help people.

I noticed this weekend there was an article in "The Washington Post" about all the food banks here that are empty. Everybody has been giving blood, they've been donating to the Red Cross, but they've forgotten the food banks.

And so I hope that a lot of people will think about other ways they can honor the lives of the people that were lost by doing things like that, going back down and doing a food drive at their school, for instance.

KING: A couple of other things: Have you spoken to your father- in-law?

BUSH: I've spoken to my father-in-law. They were -- they had actually spent that Monday night here.

KING: Really?

BUSH: I had just seen them off that morning when I got in the -- got in the car and found out about the first plane.

KING: Didn't know that.

BUSH: They were -- they were on their way to St. Paul, Minnesota to give a speech, and they were in a private plane, and their plane was diverted to Minneapolis.

So during that day I heard that they were fine, and I heard also that every former president was fine, that they'd all been taken to a secure location.

KING: Your husband even flew Al Gore back from Europe, Bill Clinton up from Australia.

BUSH: Yes.

KING: What a day that was? BUSH: That was an unbelievable day. And you mean at the National Cathedral (UNINTELLIGIBLE) all the -- all the former presidents there, except for President Reagan, of course.

KING: The whole -- the whole thing.

BUSH: Yes, yes.

KING: And do you think -- do you get involved in talks about military retaliation?

BUSH: No, no.

KING: Do you -- do you feel that's not your area?

BUSH: It's not my area. It's definitely not my area. But I like to talk about things that we can do to help children cope with all of this. I love to talk about what we can do to help our teachers across the country, because I feel like teachers get forgotten.

Then I've had the chance to go hug family members of people who were injured, for instance, in the Washington Hospital here, the ones who were injured in the Pentagon who were burned. And that was so moving, when the commander in chief walked into those -- those hospital rooms, and here were military men who were bandaged because they were burned, and they tried to salute.

We've had some very moving moments.

KING: Finally, what's -- what's the No. 1 message you're trying to get across to people on this three-week anniversary, is a correct word?

BUSH: Well, I want to get across the message that I think people need to go about their daily lives and start feeling secure again, and certainly to help make their children feel secure as they go about their daily lives, but still at the same time we don't want to forget of the unity that we have now as a country. We don't want to forget praying for all the people who lost someone, who were directly impacted, all the children who lost parents. That may be really the saddest part. We want to keep those children in our prayers, and our country in our prayers.

KING: The orphans of America.

BUSH: Yes. Breaks your heart.

KING: Thank you, Laura.

BUSH: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Laura Bush, the first lady of the United States. When we come back, the attorney general, John Ashcroft.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We welcome to LARRY KING LIVE an old friend who has been with us on under better circumstances, the attorney general of United States John Ashcroft. The other day -- thank you for coming.


KING: When you talked about fear of another attack, do you think maybe you set people off a little?

ASHCROFT: Well, I certainly didn't intend to. But I think it would be misleading if we were to suggest that there was no real possibility that we would have a reoccurrence. I mean, before September 11 we didn't have a very keen sense of awareness about what might happen but it happened.

And we can't define the risk by saying that it is one thing and that becomes the risk. We have to understand that we probably haven't apprehended all the people that were associated with the network, that perpetrated these acts of war, and that there may well be plans for additional activity.

That doesn't mean that it is inevitable or doesn't mean that it is going to happen at specific time, but if you will look just into our recent history, Osama bin Laden orchestrated the attacks against the embassies in Africa. He has actually been indicted for that, about five of his colleagues have been tried in the United States for that, convicted. These outrageous acts, these -- rather complex. So I think it...

KING: You would have been derelict not to?

ASHCROFT: I think we clearly don't want to be a people of panic, but we do want to be a people of preparation, and I think it is derelict to suggest to people, oh, it can't happen again, this is an anomaly. Well, until we are successful with this effort to so substantially curtail the potential of terrorism around the globe, this global network of folks that are associated with this, we are going to have to understand that it can, unfortunately, it can happen here.

KING: Now people are watching all over the world. In a moment we are going to put up some pictures. We will tell you how you can help anywhere you are in the world but your anti terrorism bill, they have watered it down a bit, have they not?

ASHCROFT: Well, frankly we have had to give up a few things but we think that it is very important to enact it. We need the tools to fight terrorism. Talk won't prevail against terrorism. But tools can do so. And we have felt so insulated for a long time in the United States that we haven't had the same tools against terrorism that we have had against organized crime, or the kinds of tools we have had against the drug traffickers, or even the same tools that we have had against those who perpetrate health care fraud.

It is time for us to say, wait a second, terrorism is high priority, we've got to stop it. KING: Is it going to pass?

ASHCROFT: I believe we will. But I have been a little bit -- frankly, I have been disappointed with the pace. We have talked about the process and we have talked about our cooperation for several weeks now. But it is time to for us to do more than process. It is time to for us to have production. Time for us to pass something.

KING: Now we are going to show pictures, I guess the public has become familiar with this, but we are going to show it so everyone in the world sees it. These are -- who are these people?

ASHCROFT: Well these are the individuals who were on the on the airplane.

KING: They are all dead?

ASHCROFT: Who commandeered them, who basically flew suicide missions that resulted in the tragic deaths and the calamities of September 11.

KING: They are all dead, every one in this picture?

ASHCROFT: I believe that to be the case.

KING: What do you want from the public in connection with this?

ASHCROFT: Frankly we would be very pleased to have people anywhere in the world who know about these individuals, and have information about them, have seen them, reacted with them, had business dealings with them, to let us know about them.

We are the FBI, which has done a spectacular job in this instance of putting things together, has a hotline that people can call, and that is 866-483-5137, you've got that on the screen worldwide.

KING: You can call that anywhere in world, (866) 483-5137. And I will tell you, the FBI does follow everything they are called with.

ASHCROFT: We are dealing -- and of course we've got an Internet site, that is And we have had over 100,000 people call us. And we have had important bits of information, important leads come to us, but no show in the world has the kind of reach that your program does, and for us to have this opportunity to invite people around the globe to participate in curtailing this scourge of civilization, this tremendous wedge that was driven between the civil and savage, you know, setting aside...

KING: Let's put them up again. If we can, we will put those pictures up again. And again repeat the number for you, 1 (866) 483- 5137. If you think you know anyone in this picture, had any dealings with them in the United States, anywhere in the world, call in those numbers, or the hotline that was given to you by the attorney general.

Now a lot of arrests have been made, right? ASHCROFT: We have made a number of arrests.

KING: Around the world, right?

ASHCROFT: Around the world. There have been arrests. The president has done an outstanding job of helping the world understand this was an assault on the world. Of course, I think 78 nations represented in the carnage at the World Trade Center. I was with the Canadian solicitor general this afternoon, Lawrence MacAuley who is a good friend and the Canadians are so helpful to us. They are best neighbors we could want.

But there were 23 Canadians missing, unaccounted for, hundreds of people from Great Britain, all around from, really, from Argentina to Zimbabwe, literally from a to z, the nations of the world and it was in a real tense the World Trade Center that was hit there. I don't want to suggest that that is all we were concerned about. That is what is most calamitous, that is the most dramatic.

But a plane flying into the Pentagon of the United States, the sort of the heartbeat of the military presence of America, at least symbolically, and those who lost their lives in Pennsylvania are similarly matters of our concern. And each of those cases we have been working very hard to develop the kind of understanding of what actually happened.

KING: Is this not a very complex criminal problem?

ASHCROFT: It is a complex problem. The plane that went down in Pennsylvania, of course what a heroic story. I think Americans finally were informed by relatives and others on the phone that -- of what was happening, and my own view is that they made a decision that they were going to land in Pennsylvania, and not on Pennsylvania avenue.

They weren't going come back to Washington to destroy something. And the evidence they are sifting through, to find, for instance, we found the letter of instructions there at the crash site.

KING: That was incredible.

ASHCROFT: It takes real work by the FBI and law enforcement authorities.

KING: We will take a break and come back with more of the attorney. We'll also include a few of your phone calls. We will be meeting later the Afghan-Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, coming to us from Pakistan.

Each night we close with a musical tribute and tonight as the general saw coming in, the United States Army Chorus in our studio. Don't go away.


KING: We are with Attorney General John Ashcroft. Do you have any concern in all of this about our civil liberties, our freedom of speech, the right to dissent, which is what so many Americans have died for over the years? You don't want -- terrorism wins if you give up liberties.

ASHCROFT: You sure do. And the job of the Justice Department, the responsibility of the attorney general is to guard those liberties. Historically, you know, when we had just four people in the cabinet there was a secretary of war to fight other guys, secretary of state to deal with the other nations, a secretary of the treasury to gather the resources, and the attorney general, to look after the framework, of liberty.

KING: So, is it a delicate balance for you now/

ASHCROFT: Well, it is always a delicate balance but we have a hard-and-fast rule: We will not propose anything that infringes the Constitution. We will not give up what we are sworn to defend. That would be -- to give in.

But you know, what we are asking for in the legislation are things that are well established as Constitutional in the fight against drugs, in the fight against organized crime, in the fight against health care fraud, and if there -- if it is Constitutional to have these tools against those things, it is certainly constitutional to have them in the fight against terrorism.



KING: Let's take a call for the attorney general. Doylestown, Pennsylvania, hello.

CALLER: Yes, hello. Thank you, good evening. Thank you for taking my call.

KING: Sure.

CALLER: Mr. Ashcroft, I have a question for you. We have been getting a lot of information about future possible future terrorist attacks. And I know my neighbors, my friends, we are all very concerned. Now maybe you can't be specific about what kinds of threats there are going to be, but can you least let us know, have we been getting threats?


KING: That is fair question.

ASHCROFT: We are -- convinced that we haven't eradicated all of those who are associated with this episode. And we believe that there have been circumstances that would -- would make -- that we should prudently respond to constructively. We discovered some information about crop-dusting in the files and in the data, and in the evidence related to people who are associated with these folks. We know that aerial spraying would be a way to disperse chemical agents. So we are looking carefully at that. Now, we will provide law enforcement authorities with any credible threats, any specific threats. But it is important to note that we didn't have credible or specific threats about the events of September 11, so we have to have an elevated sense of awareness. We are not to live in panic, but we are to live with a heightened sense of awareness.

KING: We asked the first lady: How about people who are buying gas masks and buying antibiotics out of this fear? And she said she doesn't think that is warranted, but if you feel it is warranted you should do it. What are you saying to the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

ASHCROFT: I think she is wise. You know.

KING: So, if you have that fear, buy a gas mask.

ASHCROFT: Sure if it is going to make you feel better or understand that it is a way for you to accommodate what you think is necessary, I believe that we are working hard. We need the additional tools in government to intercept the surveillance, the intelligence.

We don't have the same wiretap capacity against some of these foreign agents that we do against other criminals. But if a person feels that they want to do that I wouldn't argue with the person.

KING: What does the attorney general fear?


KING: Personally?

ASHCROFT: I want to -- I want to do the very best job I can to protect this country. Our first priority has to be preventing any more attacks. That is the number one thing. We want to do that in the framework and in the context of our Constitution...

KING: But do you fear anything? Do you fear going to the Justice Department? Do you fear being in Washington?

ASHCROFT: No, I don't. But I do realize that there are risks of additional attacks and that is why we need to equip ourselves with a greater capacity to detect them, to disrupt them, to prevent them, to delay them, and that is -- that is why we have the extraordinary measures and will probably become habitual measures at airports and other settings.

KING: What do you make of those who criticize government action? There are -- Ari Fleischer said the other day that this would not be a time to do that.

ASHCROFT: Well, you know, I'm not in the business of criticism now. I'm in business of making sure we get the right tools to prevent terrorism.

KING: You are not telling people not to? ASHCROFT: For heaven's sakes, if people want to make criticisms or want to ask questions or make suggestions, that is what America is about. And, we are very careful to make sure that the rights of all Americans are protected here. As you well know, early on there were some Americans whose well-being was threatened because of their heritage. And we had about 90 cases we were investigating in the FBI. We brought charges in the Justice Department because we don't think any American -- any patriotic American citizen, law-abiding citizen, should suffer because of their heritage.

KING: Rhineback, New York, hello.

CALLER: Hello.


CALLER: Hi. Mr. Ashcroft, are you concerned that the media is giving out too much information which may compromise our position? I worry about that.


KING: Balance of a free press.

ASHCROFT: You know, I would expect the press to give out all the information it can. And there will be times when I don't answer questions with the kind of completeness people would want, because I don't want to compromise either the nature of the information or the source of the information. And I think that's particularly important in times of conflict, when you're -- and we have a kind of conflict here. The president has called it the new kind of war. It's not conventional in the way that previous conflicts have been.

But I think the media, when it comes upon information, now, there are times when it should be asked, if it's particularly sensitive, not to divulge it. But we've got a 24-hour news operation now on so many of these channels, and there's an insatiable demand for it.

Some of it's accurate, some of it's not. I tell -- some of my friends say, you -- you -- I bet you know a lot. And I said, I don't know near as much as you do, but most of what I know is true.

KING: Could -- could you envision an occasion where you would call a CNN or a "New York Times," and say, listen, don't run this?

ASHCROFT: Well, I think there are times, there have been certainly in times of conflict in the past, when we've asked for a voluntary restraint on the part of the news industry, because there was something particularly sensitive. If there were a military operation to be undertaken and somehow news industry learned about it, and it would compromise the lives, safety and integrity of the operation, but the safety and security of our troops, I think we would go and say, please don't reveal this until after the -- the operation has commenced.

KING: Laura Bush said that she noticed today for the first time the showing on the president, a little tired, a little slower of movement. Are you surprised at how he's handled this?

ASHCROFT: Well, I'm thankful for the way he's handled this. He has a focus on this that is very significant. He's not a person who fails to reach a decision. He assembles facts and distills them rather effectively and then makes a decision. But he is focused.

And on a daily basis, the director of the FBI and I report to the president about where the investigation is and what the circumstances are as we see them and understand them. And he doesn't miss a beat.

He is totally focused. He is committed. He understands that this is a long-term proposition. It's not a -- it's not Osama bin Laden. It's not just Osama bin Laden, and that a narrow network of al Qaeda. It could well be that the -- this is an effort that we are undertaking to promote safety for civilized people around the world, and it means that those terrorist threats to America that are associated with and affiliated with this network called al Qaeda are also to be regarded and to be addressed.

KING: We're going to be talking to the Taliban ambassador. Do you think -- do you have pretty good leads that we may get him? Do you think they will come around? Do you have feelings on that, or can't you express them?

ASHCROFT: Well, you talk about...

KING: Bin Laden.

ASHCROFT: Well, my view is that it's pretty clear to me that the roots of this operation are in Afghanistan, and that we have seen the branches of this operation around the world, and clearly in Western Europe, and obviously and painfully in the United States of America. And I think the fact that America was hit signals to the rest of the world that if it can happen there it can happen anywhere. It's a -- it's a substantial reach, and it's to the strongest and the most prosperous nation.

And so I think the world knows that this individual is responsible for a real threat, not just to America but to a way of life, a way of security and decency and freedom. And I believe that the president has the resolve and the American people have the understanding that it may not be quick, and it certainly may not be easy. But as the president says, we'll smoke them out, we'll get them on the run, and some day we'll bring them to justice.

KING: No attorney general has ever faced what you're facing. Are you glad you took this job?

ASHCROFT: I'm very pleased to have the opportunity of serving, but I wouldn't say that it's easy or that this is sort of a time of celebration. But it's an opportunity to make difficult decisions, to reinforce freedom, to strengthen the hand of law enforcement so that we can be a secure people, but do it in a context of the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.

KING: I want to repeat that number: 1-866-483-5137. Any information on any of the individuals pictured there, any information, 1-866-483-5137, or on the Internet. There you see both number and the Internet slide. We look forward to having you return. Thank you so much, General.

ASHCROFT: Thank you. Thank you for helping us.

KING: The attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft.

When we come back, the Afghan-Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. He's our guest, then the Army chorus.

Tomorrow night, we're in New York and Rudy Giuliani's one of the guests. Don't go away.


KING: Joining us now from Quetta, Pakistan is Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef. He is the Afghan-Taliban ambassador to Pakistan.

Mr. Ambassador, you have asked for negotiations. What do you wish to negotiate?

MULLAH ABDUL SALAM ZAEEF, AFGHAN TALIBAN AMBASSADOR TO PAKISTAN: Yes. We are feeling this thing which is the American people feeling, and this event was really, really bad and really disaster to the American people. And we condemned that before. And also for the negotiation (UNINTELLIGIBLE) clear, our policy is clear. We want to settle any problems and anything through negotiation.

The negotiation is the way of solving our problems, and this we can to clear anything. And this we can to find the way together, the people, and to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and this option.

We prefer to the negotiation than the war, because the war is really bad, and it has lot of bad results in the future. And this will be increasing the problems, not decreasing.

KING: If it were shown to you, Mr. Ambassador, that bin Laden was involved in the recent attacks in the United States, would your government turn him over?

ZAEEF: Hand over is the other option in the other action -- we want that. If Osama bin Laden is involved in this action -- and this action is terrorist action. We know this was non-Islamic, and this was really (UNINTELLIGIBLE) action, and we condemn that.

If Osama bin Laden is involved in this action, we need, too, something, which is the evidence which is the proof of Osama bin Laden to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on this action.

Unfortunately, President Bush denied that again and again, and he is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the attack on Afghanistan. And he wanted the negotiation time is finished, and this is not the time for the negotiation. Only the Islamic (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Afghanistan must to comply the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of President Bush.

But this is not suitable. This is not the way of the solving of the problems.

We are an independent nation, and Afghanistan is an independent country. They have right to contact with people. They have right to know what is the problem, what is the right, and what is the evidence, what is the proof. If they don't contact with us and only they want to enforce something, and some, some other thing on us, I think this is really far and distant from the justice.

KING: If the proof were sent to Pakistan and Pakistan showed it to you, would you turn him over? If you were convinced he was involved, would you turn him over?

ZAEEF: We don't -- we don't want to follow the -- the other way. We want to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because Afghanistan (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Afghanistan is independent country, and the nation is independent nation. This is not suitable by the -- by the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Why they cannot able to contact with us? Why did -- don't (UNINTELLIGIBLE) don't talk with world government?

If they attacking through Pakistan, this is not suitable. They should directly -- directly speak with us, directly solve this problem with us. And they should -- this is able. This is not -- not nonable, because we are in the war. We are in the front of the war.

We came to help the people, and also we are -- we would like to be peaceful people. And we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) work in that.

KING: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. Ambassador saying if the government contacts them directly, apparently, that they're willing to turn and certainly willing -- they're opposed to terrorism, he said. And if bin Laden's involved, they will do something about it.

That was the Afghan-Taliban ambassador to Pakistan.

When we come back, the United States Army chorus will really help us all a lot. Don't go away.


KING: We have been closing every program each night with -- on an upbeat note of patriotism, and tonight the United States Army chorus is with us, 12 of the 30 in all that has 30 members. It is all male. Soldiers are assigned to the chorus, and they can remain with it for their entire military career if they wish or can get reassigned.

Their chief is with us now, and he is chief Robert Nixon, who is the conductor, right?


KING: How -- now, these guys will be in the chorus forever if they wish?

NIXON: Well, we'd like them to, but their assignment with us is special. We're considered one of the special bands. Their singing is at the quality that they're going to stay with us.

KING: This is as good as any professional glee club, right?

NIXON: Absolutely.

KING: Where do they work usually, where are they sent?

NIXON: Mostly, we're in the Washington, D.C. area. We sing quite frequently for all the military, the chief of staff of the Army, General Shinseki, also at the White House sometimes.

KING: And it's a division of the United States Army, right? These are all official Army men.

NIXON: Right, we're all regular Army soldiers. We've all been through basic training and raised our right hand at one point or another and joined the Army.

KING: And could you be transferred?

NIXON: Yes, I could. I'd like to stay, though.

KING: OK. They're going -- the United States Army Chorus -- we'll be back after this to talk with Aaron Brown, but they're going to lead us in with "America the Beautiful." Enjoy.





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