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Bush Addresses Alleged Pre-9/11 Terrorism Warnings

Aired May 17, 2002 - 11:18   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.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Turns out President Bush speaking live right now in the Rose Garden, making a few comments on 9/11.

Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... and my administration: Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people.

We will use the might of America to protect the American people. We're in for a long struggle. It's a tough war. This is an enemy that's not going to quit.

So therefore, in order to protect innocent lives, this country must have the will and the determination to chase these killers down one by one and bring them to justice. And that's exactly what is going to happen so long as I am the president of the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

I'm proud of what this group of Americans have done on the football field. No more proud than those who wear the blue, I might add. And I'm proud of your commitment to our country.

See, this enemy of ours, they don't understand the Air Force Academy or what it stands for.

They thought we were weak. Of course, they never saw the Air Force football team play.

(LAUGHTER)

They thought we'd just roll over. They thought we might file a couple of lawsuits.

(LAUGHTER)

They found out we think differently here in America. We think differently because this is a nation loves our freedom, loves our country. And this is a nation that has got citizens who are willing to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves.

We're here to honor our football team. We're also here to honor soldiers, men and women who wear our uniform and who are willing to sacrifice for the greatest nation on the face of the Earth.

Welcome back to the White House. May God bless you all.

KAGAN: Listening to comments from President Bush. He is in the Rose Garden for a ceremony today. This is the first time since yesterday, when the big controversy dust-up started, over what the Bush administration, and specifically what President Bush, knew before 9/11 about the potential threat from al Qaeda and hijackings, and, of course, what took place on 9/11 -- the president saying that had he known that killing and the severity of the attacks, he said he would have done everything in his power to protect the American people.

Let's go ahead and bring in Joe Lockhart. He has been in the middle of many such Washington dust-ups. He was White House press secretary for President Clinton and has a few stories of his own.

Joe, good morning. Good to have you with us.

JOE LOCKHART, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good to be back here.

KAGAN: In your post-White House life, part of what you're doing involves PR and crisis management. So if you look at how the White House is handling this right now, how would you evaluate it?

LOCKHART: Well, clearly, the president had to speak to this. And I think that's why they probably put this out. I think it's -- they found an appropriate setting standing in front of some service people. But you know, this is -- I think, ultimately, this is not going to be a PR problem. It's going to be a question of substance, whether real questions get answers, whether real information was withheld.

So I think it was the right thing to do this morning to come out and talk about it. But I think there's some questions that will have to get answered. And the one thing that Ii think we always learn sometimes the hard way is, the longer you let the questions go, and questions only the president can answer, the harder it is to answer them.

KAGAN: All right. Joe, if you can, if you can stick with us through this commercial break. I would like to continue our conversation. We wanted to just bring you in right from the president there. So we'll take a break and our conversation with Joe Lockhart will continue after this commercial break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: We continue our conversation now with Joe Lockhart, former Press Secretary for President Clinton. Looking at the 9/11 blame game that's been taking place since yesterday -- thanks for sticking with us, Joe. LOCKHART: Sure thing

KAGAN: Give us a look inside of a place that very few Americans have, but you have had, and that's inside the White House at these briefings that we've been talking about. How does it exactly work?

LOCKHART: Well, the one constant in a president's life is that every day he will get an intelligence briefing. You can get away from politics for a couple of days, you can get away from the policy. But the one thing you get every day, and they come in several forms, oral, from a representative of the CIA, and also extensive written material.

So, you know, every single day the president gets -- like we pick up the morning newspaper and check on things that we think are important. The president gets similar thing, but it happens to be the most top-secret information available to our intelligence agencies.

KAGAN: Right. And there's been a lot of criticism over how this was handled, and it's coming out eight months later. But the Bush administration themselves had said months ago this isn't working correctly and have changed things. In other words, the FBI and CIA talking to each other and doing the briefing together.

LOCKHART: Well, I think that there clearly are some inter-agency questions here. But I think what's troubling to people on the outside is how this, you know, clearly relevant information -- it may be even more relevant by the fact that it was withheld -- was withheld. And there really hasn't been a satisfactory answer to that.

KAGAN: Well what appears to be troubling to a lot of Americans is it's return of politics as usual. I want to just show you something from our Web site, from cnn.com. This is our quick vote. It's not scientific, but it's a place where people can go online and answer the question: "Is the criticism of President Bush over the 9/11 warning just political?" Sixty-nine percent, Joe, of the people who go online click on "Yes." So they think this is politics by the Democrats and taking advantage.

Don't the democrats have to be very careful in how they handle this situation?

LOCKHART: Well, I think it's interesting -- I mean it is not scientific. I think those polls are somewhat suspect. But, I think politics is something that enters everything in Washington. It is a political city. But I think we should look closely at just what happened yesterday.

What happened yesterday is Democrats came out and said there are some questions that need to be answered; we ought to get them answered. In fact, the harshest statements yesterday from Republicans. I mean Sen. Shelby came to the conclusion yesterday, based on what information only he knows, that the Bush administration had missed something. So this isn't -- I mean I know there wants to be a game. But I think the most disturbing part of yesterday was Vice President Cheney's speech last night. He basically came out and warned the Democrats that we shouldn't try to undermine the war effort. There wasn't a single Democrat in Washington or in the country that tried to undermine the war effort. And if anyone's playing politics here it is Cheney and the Republicans, trying to raise money through using pictures from September 11th, calling Sen. Daschle two or three times saying please don't hold hearings.

There's politics, there's politics in the events the president does, there's politics in the events that the Democrats do. But I think if you look at this a little bit more closely, you will find that I think Cheney's actions are much more objectionable. And the Democrats, in fact, have put politics aside and have been very supportive of this president.

KAGAN: Yeah. But I think clearly -- clearly the attitude and the atmosphere has changed with this latest revelation. Real quickly, on a personal note, when you see stuff like this happening in the White House, does it make you hungry to be back there, or you think good riddance, glad to be in private practice and going home to family at a decent hour every night?

LOCKHART: I like the going home my family, getting out at a decent hour. I think, you know, unfortunately, so much of what happens and so much of such important stuff to al Americans when it sort of goes through the narrowing lens of the media covering this all the time, gets reduced to something it isn't. And gets reduced to sort of a game.

You know, it's funny, because I thought the Democrats -- and I watched very closely -- were very good about not jumping to conclusions. But when I watched the news and read the newspaper, the blame game, even before anybody said anything. I think everybody has to understand this is as about as serious as it gets. And we should all work very hard to make sure we look at the underlying issues and sort of don't pay as much attention to the game and the blame game and whatever the polls say.

KAGAN: A lot of people want answers on both side -- that we can agree on. Thanks for your time. Thank you, Joe Lockhart -- good to have you with us.

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