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CNN CROSSFIRE

Who Knew What in the Bush Administration About a Terrorist Attack Prior to September 11?; Republicans Accuse Democrats of Playing Politics

Aired May 16, 2002 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, should he have tried to harder to connect the dots?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This government did everything that it could.

ANNOUNCER: Oh, yeah?

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: That would be nonfeasance in office of the highest order.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, who missed the clues about September 11th?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: Very important questions that have to be asked and have to be answered.

ANNOUNCER: And who's overdoing the "I told you so's?"

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I think the Congress should have known this information.

ANNOUNCER: Ahead on CROSSFIRE.

From the George Washington University, James Carville and Robert Novak.

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE. We're coming to you from the George Washington University.

It's not been a very good day inside the Bush White House. The White House has confirmed last summer President Bush was warned that bin Laden's boys may have been plotting airline hijackings or some kind of terrorism. "Hold on," says the president's spokesman. "He wasn't given specific dates, details, or airline reservation numbers."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president did not -- not -- receive information about the use of airplanes as missiles by suicide bombers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARVILLE: Today, virtually every Democrat in Washington has tried out his or her Howard Baker impression. What did the president know and when did he know it?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I think what we have to do now is to find out what the president, what the White House knew about the events leading up to 9/11, when they knew it, and, most importantly, what was done about it at that time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARVILLE: In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Democratic Senator Dick Duces of Illinois is a member of the Intelligence Committee, and Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia. He's on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Thank you all for coming, Senators.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Senator Durbin, amid the bleating by your leaders, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle, about when the president knew what he knew and the stupid question that our introduction asked, could the president connect the dots, there was a voice of Democratic sanity today, not surprisingly from the chairman of your Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham. And this is what he said just a couple of hours ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Intelligence case officers -- the purpose of our briefing was to keep us informed as to policy levels.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Isn't that a fact, the idea that the president of the United States is supposed to take these disparate pieces of information or that Dick Durbin can take it and come to a conclusion -- that's just wrong, or do you disagree with Bob Graham?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I was standing next to him, and I agree with him.

But I think we have to put it in this context, Bob. We've learned a few things in the last few days that are very troubling. We know that the FBI office in Phoenix on July 10th sent a memo to Washington saying -- this has all been in the press -- saying that "We suspect there are foreign nationals who are terrorists who are connected with Osama bin Laden, who are involved in aviation training. Here is the name of one of the schools, and we recommend that the FBI take this seriously and go after the other aviation training schools."

That memo went through the FBI, and, frankly, it died. It wasn't distributed. You don't have to be an analyst when it comes to intelligence to know that there was a breakdown there.

NOVAK: Senator, I wrote months ago that there was a breakdown in the FBI, that they should have known that these Middle Eastern people were taking flights. They did know it. They didn't put the -- put it together.

But what we're talking about now, the implication that somehow or another the president and the -- and his staff should have known it -- Condoleezza Rice, I think a person of the highest integrity, says she never saw the Phoenix memo, the president never saw the Phoenix memo. There's no reason why they should have seen it.

DURBIN: Well, frankly, they should have seen it, Bob.

NOVAK: How could they have seen it?

DURBIN: Because the FBI, frankly, broke down. And don't take my word for it. Director Mueller, who testified before Senate Judiciary -- I asked him the question. He conceded the fact...

NOVAK: It's not their fault that they didn't see it.

DURBIN: Well, whether -- how far it went -- I can tell you it didn't reach the White House. It didn't even reach the CIA until last week. But what the president knew on August the 7th when there was this briefing about terrorist hijackings -- I just want to make it clear I have taken a close look, after all of the disclosures today and the statements by Ari Fleischer, the Senate Intelligence Committee was not given the same information as the president of the United States.

NOVAK: All right. That's the spool. We'll talk about that later on.

DURBIN: No, that's a fact.

CARVILLE: Senator Allen, my senator from Virginia, thank you for getting these flights back to National Airport. You and Congressman Moran (ph) have worked hard on that, I know.

But let -- we're showing -- this is show-and-tell night, so I want to show you something Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, this ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee -- let's see what Senator Shelby had to say today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R-AL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The fact that they've waited this long to get it out is troubling. It was troubling to us a week or two ago when the story broke regarding the FBI memo of July 10, a very involved memo, as to the involvement in the flight schools of the al Qaeda organization.

And you tie it altogether, as I said, including the Zacarias Moussaoui situation in Minneapolis, and you have some information that should have been acted upon, but it wasn't. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CARVILLE: Does that make sense to you, Senator?

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R-VA), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Well, I think it makes a great deal of sense for all of us in looking at this in hindsight that, yes, the FBI, the CIA, the INS, Customs, the state, local law enforcement are lacking in the technological advancements they need to communicate.

The interoperability is lacking. The director of the FBI in the testimony talked about how they need to upgrade their communications. Whether -- whether all of these things could have been known and could have stopped and could have connected the dots is hard to say.

The definition of hijacking now is a different one. It's -- now it's commandeering of an aircraft as opposed -- and then crashing it in a suicide bombing, so to speak, as opposed to taking the plane somewhere else.

So I think we can learn from where the fumbles were between various federal agencies, whether external or internal. I do think it's essential that our local and state law enforcement are involved in it. And one of the things that technology can do, especially those in the private sector, if they apply it, is actually help analyze these volumes of information.

To expect the president to look at every memo -- there's not enough hours in the day.

CARVILLE: You're -- the CIA is in your state. You have a lot of CIA agents.

ALLEN: Yes.

CARVILLE: And CIA was under blistering attack, failure of intelligence and everything else, and it laid to light (ph) and everything else. Now we look at this. And let me ask you a point- blank question. Was September 11 a result of failure of intelligence or failure to act on intelligence?

ALLEN: Good question. First, I think the motives of every single agent, CIA, defense intelligence, the embassies...

CARVILLE: No one wanted this to happen.

ALLEN: Everyone. And let's not be blaming all our people. The people who are at blame here are these terrorists. They were very stealthy. They were...

CARVILLE: I understand, but...

ALLEN: They were painstakingly precise in what they were doing, and this was going on for years. I don't know if they could have figured it out. But they may have. There are ways you could... CARVILLE: But, apparently, they knew -- they put in there -- this thing that something like this was likely to happen. The FBI -- and then what I'm trying to get at -- we were told by a lot of people that the CIA didn't do its job, that it fell down. My question to you is, looking at this now, did the CIA do its job and other people higher up failed to do their job?

ALLEN: I -- no, I think that everyone did their jobs. My analysis of this is that the information was there on -- not every one of these terrorists, not all 19, but on many of them, some of whom never should have been brought into the country -- allowed in the country in the first place, and so that needs to be tightened up.

I think where the fumbles were were the information wasn't being analyzed. There is so much information, it's hard for an agent or even someone higher up to determine what is important. But that's where technology and analysis can help them get a flag, that, hey, we need to pay attention because something's happened in Florida, something's happened in Minnesota, and that can help you analyze what is important.

CARVILLE: Thank you, Senator.

NOVAK: Senator Durbin, just to clean up a factual question, the August briefing of the president -- today, the chairman of the House Committee, Congressman -- House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Goss, said his committee essentially had the same information. Just let me finish. He said that.

DURBIN: I'm not answering. Go ahead.

NOVAK: Yeah. The -- your chairman, Senator Graham, said your committee had the same information. Senator Shelby -- this was -- that sound bite was 24 hours old, and Senator -- this morning -- Senator Shelby this afternoon says he had the same information. Were you -- were you playing hooky at work that day when the committee...

DURBIN: No.

NOVAK: ... when they had that information. Why did they say they had information?

CARVILLE: Well, give him a chance to answer the question.

DURBIN: It's a serious enough question that, after all these statements, I went back to look at it. I pulled out the August 7 memo that was sent to the Intelligence Committee, and I looked at the daily policy briefing that is given to the president, and they are totally different.

The president was given a much more complete briefing that had specific references to terrorists and hijacking. The briefing sent to Capitol Hill to the Intelligence Committee had no reference whatsoever to it. None whatsoever.

NOVAK: So you're saying your chairman just was mistaken? DURBIN: No. No, I was standing next to him when he made it clear that what we received was a summary of a summary of a summary. What bothers me is the suggestion from Mr. Fleischer that somehow the Congress dropped the ball here. The fact is that the administration, the executive branch has the responsibility for law enforcement, and...

NOVAK: Well -- just a minute. Just a minute. There is a difference on opinion.

But I -- I just want to get one thing straight. You know, Senator Allen said that nobody was trying to cause this thing to happen, and there's a kind of implication -- a nasty implication in a lot of the things that somehow the president -- I don't know -- wanted this to happen, I'd like you to listen to something that Trent Lott, the Senate minority leader, said on the floor just about an hour ago.

Let's listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: Does anybody really think that this president or any president of either party at any time would know that we were going to be attacked and not take necessary actions to try to deal with it? I don't believe the American people really think that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: How do you respond to that?

DURBIN: Bob, there's always an opportunity for a cheap shot politically in Washington. Within hours after September 11, there were people saying, "It's a failure of the Clinton intelligence. The Congress didn't put enough money in, Clinton didn't put enough money in intelligence." Do you remember that? It was one of the only things...

(CROSSTALK)

DURBIN: What I would just tell you is that Senator Lott is correct. Neither President Bush nor president Clinton would have ever wished this tragedy on the American people. What we have a responsibility to ask hard questions. Did the FBI do its job? The honest answer is no. The Phoenix memo was an explicit memo of danger which died on a desk.

NOVAK: Senator, I will agree with -- I will agree with you.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Just let me finish my...

CARVILLE: Well, let's have a one-person show.

NOVAK: I will agree with you, Senator -- I will agree with you, Senator, 100 percent that the FBI didn't do its job, but can we agree that this shouldn't be a Bush-baiting tirade?

DURBIN: I don't think there's anything to be gained by it.

CARVILLE: Well, there's something that's very serious here. They say that you get the same information that the president gets.

DURBIN: That's not true.

CARVILLE: That's not true?

DURBIN: No.

CARVILLE: Now when were we, the public -- when will the shoe clerks get a chance to look at the information that the president got and the information the Congress got?

DURBIN: It's classified information.

CARVILLE: Can some -- how can -- it can be declassified and sent out. How can you declassify the information?

ALLEN: Well, the president, I suppose, could...

CARVILLE: Oh, the president could?

ALLEN: Sure he could, but...

CARVILLE: Why wouldn't he?

ALLEN: Why? He wouldn't because of security reasons.

CARVILLE: What are the security reasons? The building's already been knocked down.

ALLEN: Because we're still tracking down the financial assets. This war on terrorism that is still going on...

CARVILLE: No, but, Senator Allen...

ALLEN: ... has financial intercepts that are needed....

CARVILLE: I understand. We don't want...

ALLEN: ... intelligence...

CARVILLE: We don't need to know that. Can the public look at what the president saw and what the Congress saw vis-a-vis intelligence reports for knocking our buildings down?

ALLEN: So long as it does not harm our national security.

CARVILLE: OK. Right.

ALLEN: There are reasons why...

CARVILLE: I understand. ALLEN: ... that -- when you have all 100 senators getting briefings for -- whether it's top secret or key level...

CARVILLE: I agree...

ALLEN: ... that you don't want that going out because either people are going to just be in an absolute panic and paranoia...

CARVILLE: This is something...

ALLEN: ... or you'll -- oh, I know, but, nevertheless, the investigates are still ongoing. We're not sure that we've gotten every one of these terrorist cells that might be in this country. Why let them know what we know? That's the reason why, Jim.

NOVAK: We're going to take a break. We've been asking what did President Bush know. In a minute, we'll ask why we're only finding out about these revelations now, some eight months after September 11th.

Later, we'll look at the political fallout, how unlikely the voters will remember any of this come election.

And our quote of the day is a highfalutin "I told you so" about September 11th. Now who would be in a position to claim that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The White House acknowledges that President Bush received a warning last summer about possible airline hijackings involving followers of Osama bin Laden. The news has provoked a frenzy of 20/20 hindsight here Washington.

Now in the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

James.

CARVILLE: Senator Allen, Senator Durbin, I want to throw out a couple of ideas to both of you and -- tell me whether or not you think it's a good idea or not so good an idea. We'll start with you, Senator Allen, and then ask Senator Durbin to respond.

People have suggested that the president in the very near future, like the next four or five days, hold a primetime news conference and stand up and answer all questions about what he knew and -- et cetera, et cetera. Do you think that's a good idea or not too good of an idea?

ALLEN: I don't think that's -- I don't think it's necessary. I think the White House will cooperate with Congress as we try to determine what happened. But, most importantly, what we need to do is learn what we need to do in the future to improve our law-enforcement capabilities at the federal as well as working with the state and local.

CARVILLE: Do you think it's a good idea?

DURBIN: If you've been in Washington over the weekend, you know that when Condoleezza Rice comes in at 4:00 this afternoon to answer what was on the news last night, it's a big story in the White House.

The president's going to face this. Whether he wants to face it in four days, five days or two weeks, ultimately, he's going to have to answer some questions.

CARVILLE: Let me throw another -- one more out here. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain and Connecticut Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman pushed their legislation to create an independent citizens commission to investigate these and other factors surrounding the attacks. Do you think you'll be voting for this, Senator Allen?

ALLEN: I think that -- I don't know if we'll have to vote on anything, but anything that comes up that will help in this investigation, I think, is important. And how -- whether -- I don't think a press conference is the way to do it.

CARVILLE: But you'd be for -- you want to know what happened?

ALLEN: The concept behind that is probably all right, and I think the White House is going to cooperate as best they can. Now please understand in -- when you have a citizens commission or even a congressional one, there are some sensitive information matters that cannot be revealed because, again, we're at war, and we still are trying to prevent it.

NOVAK: Senator -- Senator Durbin, I want to ask -- you're a very sophisticated operator on this scene. I want to give you a little scenario on...

DURBIN: I'm being set up here.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: ... what's happening right now. I think I know what's happening, and I think you'll agree with me. What has happened -- why is all this stuff coming out right now? What has happened is that the Senate committees are coming closer on investigation.

They've been given classified material, and there are certain people who want to cover their posteriors. There are people in the FBI, maybe the CIA who said, "Hey, I -- I put out something to warn them. It's not my fault. It's the other guy."

They leak the stuff, and then you have this feeding frenzy. Is that a pretty good analysis?

DURBIN: There's a lot of truth to it because what happened -- when the Joint Intelligence committees, House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, started this investigation, we requested tens of thousands of documents, and as these the documents were released by the FBI and the CIA, somebody took a look at them, and they said, "Oh, my goodness. The July 10th Phoenix memo. We're turning this over to Congress. The whole world's going to see this."

You know, I'm not -- I think your analysis of it is not too far from the truth. Somebody said, "We'd rather get our side of the story out." So they picked -- out of seven- or eight-page memo, they picked three sentences, and the FBI released them and said it wasn't that big a deal. I have seen it. It was a big deal.

And we're going to see as these documents are being analyzed, there is going to be more and more revelation. I hope it's not for finger pointing or political purposes but to make this a safer...

NOVAK: You hope it isn't?

DURBIN: I hope it is not.

NOVAK: Honestly, senator?

DURBIN: Hard to believe, but I think...

NOVAK: Yes.

DURBIN: ... our obligation's to make this country safer, and we have to make it safer with a stronger FBI and better intelligence gathering.

CARVILLE: Senator -- Senator Allen, I know no one is more outraged by this than you are in your own...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: But everybody is, and it just is ludicrous that somebody wanted this to happen. But shouldn't we have gotten this information earlier? Why are we just finding out, the American public finding out...

ALLEN: I just explained why.

CARVILLE: ... all of this -- but shouldn't the FBI, shouldn't the administration have come forward and said -- they were asked any number of times about -- and they, obviously, were told this on August 6th. Why didn't we know about this? Why are we just finding out now?

ALLEN: I just explained to you why. I agree, and so does the Senator Durbin as to why. The specifics of this didn't come out for a variety of reasons, but it's not a bit surprising to me from some of the top-secret briefings we had had before, as they're trying to reconstruct what happened, what they knew about it, and I think that, if you read Director Mueller's statement of what they need to do with the FBI and get them more technologically adept, there is a...

CARVILLE: It's coming out because it's a typical CYA Washington thing. It would have been better if it would have come out -- if you people would have told us...

DURBIN: James, let me tell you the problem.

ALLEN: You know why I think people are upset? Because we still haven't gotten Osama bin Laden. I think people would feel differently.

DURBIN: Where is Osama bin Laden?

NOVAK: OK.

ALLEN: I think if we had him, people would feel differently.

NOVAK: We're out of time.

Senator George Allen, thank you.

Senator Dick Durbin, how's your campaign coming?

DURBIN: Doing OK. Thanks.

NOVAK: OK. Thank you.

DURBIN: Appreciate your concern.

NOVAK: Well, we're going to take a break. Despite all of the glum faces and windy weather (INAUDIBLE). It's hard to miss the Democratic gloating here in Washington.

Coming up, are the Democrats overplaying their hand?

And, also, our quote of the day. It comes from a woman who was called loony by her state's own U.S. senator. But, today, she is smiling. Why?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Back in March, Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia insinuated that the Bush administration may have ignored warnings about September 11th. She hinted at a plot to benefit defense contractors close to the Republican administration.

The reaction was fierce. Her fellow Georgia Democrat, Senator Zel Miller, called her loony, dangerous, and irresponsible.

Well, Representative McKinney now claims she's been vindicated and is the source of our quote of the day. "I was derided by the White House, right wing, talk radio, and spokespersons for the military industrial complex as a conspiracy theorist. Well, I won't sit down and I won't shut up until the full and unvarnished truth is placed before the American people," unquote.

Well, I want to tell you one other thing that Cynthia McKinney also said. She said, "Why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered?" That's irresponsible, Cynthia, and you should know better than that.

CARVILLE: Well, an interesting thing happened. I wasn't here, but my dear friend and partner, Mr. Begala, was, and I want to show you a tape of what happened when she made the first quote of the day.

He ducked. Hey, Paul. You can come out now. It's OK. They're going to have congressional hearings.

NOVAK: That's just -- she's still in space. You've got to admit it.

CARVILLE: No, she was wrong about half, and she was right about half. She was -- you have to give the woman right -- she...

NOVAK: That's like...

CARVILLE: There was notification. There was notification. Some of the stuff I agree with Senator Miller. She is a little loony out there. Some of it. Not all of it.

NOVAK: Thank you. I'm glad she's half loony. We can agree.

Next, in our own news alert, Nancy Reagan returns to Washington for a golden time at the Capitol. After that, the political fallout from the September 11th hijack warnings. Does the president really need much damage control?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARVILLE: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We are coming to you live from the George Washington University in beautiful downtown Washington, D.C. Has today's news blown the teflon coat off of George W. Bush? If so, can the Democrats get cooking? In the CROSSFIRE now, Democratic political strategist Tony Coelho, who is Al Gore's campaign chairman, and Republican strategist Cliff Mays.

CARVILLE: Good to see you.

NOVAK: You know, some of your fellow Democrats, Tony Coelho, have just gone bananas today over what this -- what they see as an opening. Let's just try to bring this thing down to some realistic level. For example, we ran a Democratic congressman from New York at the beginning of the show.

The president would be guilty of misfeasance if he didn't alert the airlines about the warning of a hijacking. They did alert the airlines. Don't you think this is going to backfire the Democrats if you just say mistruths?

TONY COELHO, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, I think the only person who's gone hyper is you and a few other Republicans, who are trying to defend the White House. I haven't seen any Democrats go hyper.

As a matter of fact, I see Democrats being very careful. This is an issue where 3,000 plus people lost their lives. This is an issue where thousands and thousands of people all over this country were hurt because of the economic results of 9/11. This is very, very serious. It shouldn't be played with politically. It shouldn't be played with by people in the media or people in politics.

NOVAK: You didn't answer my question.

COELHO: I did answer your question. We have not, as Democrats, individuals here or there -- I don't know what individuals have done of either party. Some Republicans are on the air being critical today as well.

I don't -- I am not responsible for other individuals. I think the Democratic party has a responsibility to the American people to make sure that people all across this wonderful country are protected. That's what the government's role is. And we should ask the right questions to make that happen.

CARVILLE: Cliff, you -- a former reporter and also public relations is your expertise. And I'll say this publicly, you're quite good at it. Let me pose a couple of questions.

CLIFFORD MAY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes.

CARVILLE: Yes, he's very good. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) my neighbor, Tony Coelho, lives about four houses down from me. But a couple ideas in response to him. The idea has been posed that the president hold a primetime press conference, explain to the American people, what was known, what he did, et cetera, et cetera. Do you think it's a good or bad idea?

MAY: No, I think it's a bad idea. Look, we had on September 11 perhaps the worst atrocity ever committed against us. We also had a terrible failure of our intelligence system. Anybody that doesn't recognize that of either party is making a big mistake. Now what we have to do is not try to find out who is to blame, but what went wrong, and fix it.

Having a press conference on all this, that doesn't get to it. We need a rigorous post mortem, rigorous reevaluation. And then we need to start to fix the things that went wrong with our intelligence gathering and our intelligence analysis. And this goes back many years, the mistakes we've made. And I'll be glad to discuss those with you.

CARVILLE: I think what I would like to say is, you say that we had a failure of intelligence. I would say that we had a failure to act on intelligence. You would demean the CIA. I would tell you that this information was presented. These people did their job. It was presented. And no one acted on it. Now there's a big difference here.

MAY: It's a good point. And let's discuss it for a second, James. What you have is you gather intelligence. And some of that was done and not enough. For example, we didn't, for example, let me give you an a example. We didn't have CIA agents who were willing to penetrate mosques where we new that terrorists were being recruited, or to investigate Islamic charities that were sending money terrorists. But information was gathered. And then it was not sufficiently analyzed so that we could act upon it.

NOVAK: Tony...

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: Look, it's not a good idea for me to sit here and say, here's how our intelligence gathering and the analysis deteriorated under Clinton or to talk about Gore and his 1996...

NOVAK: Wait a minute, James...

MAY: What we need to do instead...

NOVAK: All right. That's enough. That's enough, already. Tony Coelho...

COELHO: Don't get hyper. No way.

NOVAK: This is -- you know, you're one of the really great Democratic politicians of our generation.

COELHO: When you start saying this, I get nervous.

NOVAK: Yes, but let me just see if you can look at this analysis by a distinguished Republican senator, a moderate from Missouri, Kit Bond. Let's listen to what he said this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN KIT BOND (R), MISSOURI: This is pure, pure politics by the Democrats. You got to give them credit. They are down in their own 10-yard line with about four, five months to go and they're throwing some Hail Mary passes. But this is not a good way to support our war effort. We need to be united.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: He's got it right, hasn't he?

COELHO: That's the phoniest statement I've ever heard.

Talk about politics, you raise an issue that you want people to believe. What he's doing and what you're doing, Bob, is you should constantly saying this is politics, this is politics. The facts are is that -- what happened?

CARVILLE: You got a mike -- your mike fell off.

MAY: I didn't do it.

CARVILLE: There it is. It was a right wing conspiracy.

MAY: I'm not there. I'm not there.

COELHO: That's other people.

CARVILLE: Wait a minute. Placed on the president's desk was a thing saying that bin Laden may be hijacking an American plane. The FBI says check out flying schools. And you people are sitting there trying to blame Clinton. You know what...

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: James, I'm saying we should not -- James, listen to me.

CARVILLE: You know what, the president, George Bush, August the 6...

MAY: James, look, since -- let me answer this, because I'm not blaming Clinton. I'm not blaming Bush.

CARVILLE: They blamed the CIA. They blame -- they provided the information.

MAY: Look, since the end of the Cold war, our ability to do intelligence work has been deteriorating. And it's time that we fixed it. As far as what happened there, look, we had some information. And it wasn't analyzed in the way that could cause us to do things we needed to do long ago.

Listen, if they had said OK, here's what we got to do. We got a problem with plane hijackings, let's arm all the pilots who want to be armed and let's put sky marshalls on, would you have been in favor of that? I don't think so. We had a system that allowed guys with boxcutters...

CARVILLE: Got to go.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: It's Bill Clinton's fault we got to go to break, ladies and gentlemen. Will the president's latest stumble have a domino effect? Next, we need to look forward to this Fall's election, whether today's revelations will have an impact on the congressional elections. And then comes the main event. Novak and I go mano y mano, Round 6. Consider that generalized analytic warning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARVILLE: After today's revelations that President Bush was briefed about potential hijackings over a month before 9/11, we're playing the political blame game with two political strategists: Republican Cliff May and Democrat Tony Coelho.

NOVAK: Tony, let's just try to get -- we're talking politics now. You're not a national security expert, neither is Cliff.

COELHO: And neither are you.

NOVAK: Yes, I am. But let's talk about politics right now. You know, and I know, that the Democrats have been down in the dumps. They don't like the looks for regaining the House. They have possibility of losing the Senate. Your man, Gore, looks like he's going to be the nominee.

They've been -- their morale has been low. And so, you look upon this as just an absolute bonanza that suddenly you got something to attack George W. Bush with. Isn't that what is all about?

COELHO: No, absolutely no. And I to some extent, Bob, I resent the tone of your question because it questions the patriotism of myself and a lot of other people. And I resent it, because we are not -- we are not taking on the president on this issue. As a matter of fact, we're showing a great amount of restraint.

What we're concerned about is the protection of the American people. What do we know what the president knew at the time that he was told, what he was told...

NOVAK: You're not taking on the president...

COELHO: No, you let me finish. Would you let me finish for a moment? And the thing is -- and the thing is we want to know that we're safe today. We want -- and I happen to disagree with what was said here earlier. I think the president needs to go on the air and to say that we're safe because of x, y and z. I think that is not politics. I think that's a security issue of the American nation.

CARVILLE: Okay, now we're day one here. All right, we've been through this before. Day one we find out, August 6, it was in the president's briefing, we find out about the Phoenix memo. We find out about the thing in Minneapolis. OK? You and I, all of us here agree, we have to have a thorough investigation in this, whether it's through a congressional committee or through a national commission as Senator McCain and Senator Lieberman are proposing. I think we're on safe ground by saying we're going to find out a lot more in the coming months.

MAY: Absolutely.

CARVILLE: All right. Should -- you're giving strategy to -- you're called into the White House, and cliff, you're a bright guy, what should we do? Should we put all this out -- as much of the information we know right now? Or should we just let it drip out?

MAY: No, listen, we should have a rigorous investigation, a rigorous review, and then begin a process of reform, but it should be depoliticized. And you, as one of the preeminent political strategists in the country, you should write, and I mean this seriously, one of your famous memos in which you should say to Democrats do not politicize this issue. The American people will punish you for it. Do not even appear to politicize this issue. What we have to do is fix the system, and make it better so -- because the most important thing is that we don't have 9/11s in the future.

CARVILLE: But we need to know, it is important and we'd all agree that we need to know who knew what when, and what did they do with the information. MAY: We need to know where the system of collecting and analyzing information and intelligence went wrong, and why we were afraid to act upon some of the things we did know. We need to know all of that. What we can do is what some people are going to be tempted to do, and say, oh let's hear about -- make it into a Watergate. What did he know and when did he know it? No. When did we collect the information and how well did analyze it.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Tony Coelho, you know, they used to say that patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel, but I did not question your patriotism. You know that.

COELHO: Please don't.

NOVAK: I would never think of doing it.

COELHO: Please don't.

NOVAK: Certainly not. What I want to ask you though is a political question. Do you think -- and don't tell me you haven't given it any consideration, do you think that this will affect the congressional elections this year, the midterm elections, which are very important?

COELHO: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) last night?

NOVAK: Yes.

COEHLO: No. What may come out in the future? I don't know and you don't know. That's the facts.

NOVAK: Well, you're saying -- just a minute. So you're saying -- just a minute.

CARVILLE: No, you keep interrupting everybody. There's two people. There's two co-hosts on this show. You're not the only host.

NOVAK: So you're saying that what happened last night would probably not affect the midterm elections in itself?

COELHO: That's what I said except -- except, Bob you gotta let me answer it totally.

NOVAK: Right.

COELHO: Except what happened last night is only the beginning of what we need to know.

CARVILLE: You know what...

COELHO: I have no idea what's going happen in the next few weeks as we go along here.

NOVAK: What do you expect? CARVILLE: You know what I think -- Tony, you what I think...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: You know what, I want to make a point. You know what I think? You see how he's talking all the time, won't let anybody talk? They are scared to death because they don't know what's in there. They don't know what the president -- that's why he's interrupting every guest tonight. That's why he's trying to dominate the conversation because he's scared to death.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: That's exactly what I do. You're right. I've done it on the air.

MAY: Look, we shouldn't be doing a blame game, but the point of the matter is, there is -- we need to address...

COELHO: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Why was it held up for eight months?

MAY: We need to examine how our the CIA operates, how the FBI operates, how our Senate and House Intelligence committees operate. We need to look at the whole thing. This is not a partisan issue. And James, will you write that memo and tell your people that this shouldn't be a partisan issue?

CARVILLE: It shouldn't be, but I tell you what. I think you guys are scared. I don't know.

NOVAK: Thank you very much. Tony Coelho, thank you very much. The Democratic gloating has gone far enough. Coming up in "round 6", I'll tell the James Carvilles, Dick Gephardts, and Tom Daschles of the world a little lesson about overreaching. And later, I'll be getting some help from viewers who have already fired back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's round 6. Not a good bang. Just -- yes, just me and Carville. James, there is nothing that has come out to indicate any kind of malfeasance by President Bush in not telling the people anything. And you and Tony Coelho insinuate that there's some dark secret lying out there. Don't you realize that this is a popular president? And you're playing with fire politically by trying to insinuate things at which there's no proof and no indication anything is wrong?

CARVILLE: What I said tonight is first of all, we got to look, and I think we will, but it'll be declassified. We'll see -- the public will see what the president saw, as they should. They'll see what the Congress saw, as they should. And we'll see if anybody acted on it.

I think the point the people are trying to make here is this the first day in this. We found out about the Minneapolis memo. We found about the Phoenix memo. And we also found about what the president saw. I think what everyone...

No, I'm saying everybody needs to take a deep breath. The American public is entitled to the truth. Everybody agrees this thing should be thoroughly investigated. It will. And let's find out what happened.

NOVAK: See, you're insinuating that there is something that's going to -- just a minute -- that's going to incriminate the president. What this is, I don't know if you can understand it, but this is a problem with the FBI. It's a problem with the whole interagency committee system, where they can't make decisions. But you want to devolve everything down to the lowest political level. And that's....

CARVILLE: I thought the president's the highest political level. I didn't know he was the lowest -- my guess in your world it is, but most people think he's got a pretty high office.

NOVAK: That's a funny play on words. But as a matter of fact, this is the kind of cheap politics that I think has ruined the Democratic party in the last 10 years.

CARVILLE: I see -- all we said is let's look into it, and let's find out. When we do, we'll make an assessment.

NOVAK: All right, now that our viewers have sifted through all these wonderful signals about what the president may or may not have known, or did, one of them has told us who really is to blame. Find out next on fire back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back. Now it's time for fire back, when the viewers fire back at us.

The first e-mail is from Ryan Ampose of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. "If President Clinton had received a warning about airline hijackings and done nothing about it, the Republicans would be out screaming for his hide. The impeachment word would be heard throughout the halls of Congress." Wrong, after he bombed the Osama bin Laden camps because he lied before a grand jury, and he wanted to cover up, nobody asked for his impeachment.

CARVILLE: "So the White House got notice that some planes might be hijacked? Well, then, they should have prevented the attacks on 9/11. How ridiculous is that? There is only one person to blame for those attacks: Osama bin Laden. Hindsight is always 20/20." Kim Roggs, New Orleans, Louisiana.

You're right, Jim, it's Osama bin Laden's fault that they had that, but we have a government in place to protect us, and we need to know what happened. And to this day, we'll still arguing -- pick his charge. And we'll be arguing this for a long time.

NOVAK: Next is from Ann Taraz of Irvine, California. "Maybe this is one reason why the White Jouse is so insistent that Tom Ridge NOT testify before Congress." Tom Ridge, my goodness, was not even involved in this operation. I think they got funny water out there in California.

CARVILLE: "Congress needs to get a grip on reality. You can't blame one man for everything that goes wrong. Sometimes, even the president doesn't know what's about to happen." Robert E. Bell, III.

Robert, I'm a Marine and I'm a Catholic. It all starts at the top. And when you run for president, you know that you take credit for everything good, but people are going to blame you when things go wrong. That's life, baby.

NOVAK: You didn't say that on Clinton. Now a question out there, please?

JACK KRISMAN (ph): Yes, I have a question from Mr. Matalin.

NOVAK: Your name?

KRISMAN: Jack Krisman from Shawnee, Kansas. Question for Mr. Matalin.

CARVILLE: OK.

KRISMAN: We all know that the threat everyday of terrorist hijacking planes. That's been going on for years. That's why we go through airport security checks. Bin Laden's been planning this for five years now. The previous administration knew that he was a threat and did nothing about it. So how do you respond to that?

CARVILLE: I think you must, but I don't know where you got your facts from. We sent cruise missiles over to try to kill him. We deployed troops in Afghanistan to try to kill him. We hired Uzbeks to try to kill him. And also, this administration knew full well on three different occasions that bin Laden, al Qaeda was going to try to use airplanes to ram into buildings. A trial in New York in 1995. In France, they tried to hijack an airplane...

NOVAK: On to another question.

CARVILLE: I mean, if they're going ask some stupid questions, they got to get facts.

NOVAK: Question, please?

LIZ: My name's Liz. I'm from Seattle, Washington. My question is the dangers of keeping members of Congress fully informed of these kinds of threats is especially now with midterm elections coming up, that the information will be leaked for political gain. How do you keep this from happening?

NOVAK: That's the trouble with Congress. And that's why it's a problem. It's all politics with the members of Congress, no matter how high (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they are.

CARVILLE: Well, you've been noticing tonight that Bob's been a little out of control and hyper and everything, but I've been holding the reason back. And I'm going to tell you. Because this afternoon at 1500 hours, that's 3:00 Eastern daylight time, he and his wife, Geraldine, became grandparents for the seventh time. Born George W. Carwell, six pounds, 11 ounces at Sibley Hospital in the District of Columbia. Congratulations, Bob and Geraldine.

NOVAK: Thank you.

CARVILLE: From the left, I'm James Carville. And good-night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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