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Interview With Bob Woodward

Aired November 18, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, everybody in the country is talking about Bob Woodward's new book and he's here tonight to talk about it.
Bob Woodward of "The Washington Post," America's best known investigative reporter got remarkable access to the Bush White House and to the president himself. And he's here for the hour. And he'll take your calls and he's next on "LARRY KING LIVE."

We've been waiting this book for a long time around here at CNN. The book is "Bush At War." The author is Bob Woodward. The publisher is Simon & Shuster. It is Bob's 11th book. Eight of them made No. 1 on "New York Times Bestseller List."

September 11, 2001 happened. When did Bob Woodward start thinking book?

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "BUSH AT WAR": I was actually working on a book about Bush's first year and it was going to be about the tax cut. I was literally doing my last interview on 9/11 for the tax cut book. The tax cut is not mentioned in this book about the war, except once.

KING: And the book takes us from nine -- it begins exactly on the morning of 9/11, begins with George Tenet, the CIA director, to when?

WOODWARD: It really goes to last month, when the Congress gave Bush the authority to do what he wanted in Iraq in passing the resolutions overwhelmingly in the Senate and the House.

KING: Who planned the timing to be this good with all the news about Iraq now?

WOODWARD: No, it's just -- it's an accident. I was able to get a lot of the notes of the NSC meetings. There are 15,000 words quoted so you can see exactly what Bush says, what Cheney says, what Powell is saying and so forth. And I sent a memo of my findings from those notes in the interviews to the president and he invited me down to talk to him at his ranch in August for two and a half hours in which he answered every single question.

I was -- really wanted to explain and was not dodging inducting in any way and we realized we had to get the book out as soon as possible. So Simon & Shuster pulled off a miracle and did it.

KING: Tell me when that interview took place. WOODWARD: August 20 of this year, about three, four months ago.

KING: pretty good turn around.

WOODWARD: Very good.

KING: How did you get the minutes of the NSC?

WOODWARD: Just by going and talking to people and getting a little piece here and a little piece there and then finding some people who had verbatim notes. And doing the interviews and kind of back and back again. It's kind of a tried and fully tested method that if you take people's business as seriously as they take it, and show that interest and say, OK, I want to know what happened on the 9th and the 10th and the 11th and then come back with new information on your fourth interview, there is a tendency to kind of, Well, you don't know this part, let me fill it in, let me get this memo, let me get this record, you should talk to this person.

There is this undercover person from one of the intelligence agencies that you might be able to track down and get his assessment and so forth.

KING: And frankly, do you also depend on leaks?

WOODWARD: Well, you know, we have this view of leaks that it's Daniel Elsburg coming in with the grocery cart of documents. As you know, whenever you get a story, it's not that way. And this book was not that way. There were no leaks as such, no one was calling me. I was calling them and going to see them and piecing it together as best I could.

It is a very slow, tedious process. It entails, as I said to "Newsweek, " a lot of iron pants reporting, meaning you have to just go and be willing to sit and wait people out. A lot of these people are incredibly busy and an appointment might be for 4:00 or 6:00 at night and you wouldn't get in until 8:00 and instead of getting indignant and angry about it, you simply have to sit and wait.

KING: Were you surprised that the president gave you the lengthy interviews?

WOODWARD: Yes, I was. I expected that he would not or certainly not to that length and again, it was one of tone and -- at one point I said, Well, I would really like to get closer to your inner thought on this. And he said, Let's go for it. Now, as you know, in press conferences and lots of public appearances, his tendency is to say, Let's not go for it. I've given my answer.

But he was very reflective about how he digested the presidency, what he had learned, what he had learned from his father, some of the convictions he had. At one point when asked about his stance, very confrontational stance toward Iraq, he said, Well, maybe it's partly my religion, that he wants to help people who are starving, people who are being abused. There was very little discussion of the strategic value of what he might do as president and it was very, very personal, somewhat religious, and humanitarian.

KING: When you were doing the book about the tax cut, and we spoke, you told me that you were learning a lot of things about President Bush and that I would find this very interesting. Now you've got all the information you've learned about him and now, September 11 breaks out, what, from the first note you got to the war did you notice any change?

WOODWARD: Certainly. I encountered him at a speech before 9/11 and he had given a speech about the tax cut and education in Connecticut and he was bouncy. He was very expressive. He grabbed my head and gave me a nickname and...

KING: What is your nickname?

WOODWARD; The nickname he gave me was woody. And he -- you know, the act of giving a speech for Bush is physical. It's not just intellectual. And when he came off giving that speech, he was -- he was roaring. And when Dan Bolts, a colleague of mine at "The Post" and I went to interview Bush in December, so three months after 9/11, and I went in and he said, Hi, Woody, he's a politician and he remembers, but then Dan and I sat down with him for 90 minutes and he was totally focused on the war, answered all of our questions. It was very much like my Texas interview. He was not ducking and dodging in any way.

KING: We got to take a break. But would you say it consumed him?

WOODWARD: Sure. He knows that the issues of terrorism, Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, put this country at a turning point in history. And how we pivot, how we succeed or don't succeed, not only is about his presidency and his place in history, it's about the survival and the status and the influence this country might have in the world.

KING: In a minute, we'll come back with more. We'll be taking your calls. Later, more behind the scenes look at no one can get behind the scenes like Bob Woodward in his new book "Bush At War."

Tomorrow night, in his first live primetime appearance since the election, first time taking phone calls, former Vice President Al Gore. We'll be right back.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today we've had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country. I have spoken to the vice president, to the governor of New York, to the director of the FBI and have ordered that the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and their families and to conduct a full scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act.


KING: Your book, Bob Woodward, called "Bush at War" says that on September 22, 2001, the FBI had 331 people on its terrorist watch list, essentially saying that 15 times the number of terrorists who carried out 9/11 could be lurking in the United States. The president was floored by the number, decided not to tell the public. Did that surprise you?

WOODWARD: It surprised me that he acknowledged it when I interviewed him and that he remembered the number and how horrifying it might have been if that had come out publicly after the country had suffered so much trauma. And he said he told the FBI to make sure they got on the case.

It turns out the FBI did indeed get on the case. Their terrorist watch list, I understand, went up to over 600. They reduced that. They've tracked people down. They found people were not here, and so that number is very -- almost zero or people are being added to it. But at that time, think, he -- and the work (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sitting there, and the FBI director said, you know, we don't know, we have intelligence, we have hints. There are some evidence people came into airports, possibly came across the border, but that kind of number might be here. It was frightening.

KING: Bill Clinton was on this program recently, and I asked him where he was on 9/11, he was in Australia. And he said the first thing he thought about when he saw those two planes hit was Osama bin Laden. Was president -- President Bush as aware of that? How aware were we as a government about Osama bin Laden and did we pin it on him that quickly?

WOODWARD: Well, that's a really important question. At the CIA, George Tenet and his people were intensely aware of bin Laden. Had been tracking him for years, and as I report, they had paid agents, had the code name GE/Seniors who were Afghan nationals who followed bin Laden around in Afghanistan and could with regularity report that bin Laden was in a certain place, much of the time.

What they couldn't do is guarantee that bin Laden would be there in six hours or 10 hours, the time it would require to fire a cruise missile at him. That was kind of the weapon of choice at the time.

Also, I think what's interesting in this, in doing the reporting, discovered that before Bush became president, they -- there is a traditional secrets briefing, where they take the president-elect over to Blair House, across the street from the White House. The CIA director, in this case, James Pavitt, who's the head of operations for the CIA, briefed Bush, Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, who was going to be the national security adviser and said here is the good, bad and the ugly about the CIA.

In the course of that, they said there are three things you're going to have to worry about that are on the horizon. The first, bin Laden. He is a tremendous and immediate threat. Second was China. And third, proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction. People in the White House argue they moved fast enough on bin Laden. I think in retrospect, everyone would agree that after that secrets briefing, would have been certainly desirable for the president and those people to go back and say, oh, OK, what are we going to do about each of these three things? They started things on bin Laden, but by September 11, there was no change in policy and effort to try to track him down.

KING: How did the president deal with the fact that his key advisers, Cheney, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, had so much more experience with him in the overseas area of diplomacy and dealing with foreign nations?

WOODWARD: That is one of the most remarkable things about this. When you look at the meetings that take place, now this is the National Security Council which the president chairs -- Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Tenet and Rice are the key players there -- there is some other people who come in and out -- and go through the meeting notes, you see that these experienced, heavyweight people have a lot to say, have a lot of ideas, there are some arguments, sometimes some very tense arguments, but Bush is in control.

There is this idea out in the land that Cheney is really secretly running things, or somebody else is running things. They -- Cheney is the first adviser in many ways, but the president makes the decisions. He's the one who makes the calls. He listens to them. When I talked to him about this, I said, well how -- because one of the president's themes is about himself, I'm a gut player, I go by instinct, I don't play by the book. And the obvious question is, well, how do you keep from being impulsive?

And he said, the way you keep from being impulsive is you have this group of advisers, and you hash it out, and you weigh, and you debate. The evidence available to me, which is quite comprehensive, shows that happens. People who may look at it who don't like Bush are going to say, look, he really didn't know what he was doing, he had to ask questions, he says some things, like at one point he says, "Can the first bombs in Afghanistan be food?" And the people who knew a lot more around the table chuckled. You can't drop food on the people you're going to bomb, at least initially until you've gained air superiority. He did not know that.

People who are on Bush's side are going to look at this and kind of say, oh, that's, you know, that's great. He's thinking about the impact on the people in Afghanistan, which clearly he did.

KING: Take a break and come back. We'll go to your calls in a while. The book is "Bush at War," the author is Bob Woodward. It's destined to be number one, as so many of his books have already been. It's the most talked about book in the country. We have got lots of questions to go. Don't go way.


BUSH: These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.

Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.



KING: How deep, Bob Woodward, is the rift between the Cheneys and the Rumsfelds and the Powells?

WOODWARD: Well, there definitely is a very deep difference of perspective between Powell, on one hand, and Cheney and Rumsfeld on the other. Powell very much believes, and there is a long account in the book of how he went to the president and said, When it comes to Iraq, we have to think about building a coalition, acquiring allies, perhaps going to the U.N. and over -- in probably one of the most interesting, extraordinary dinners in this town, on August 5 of this year, Powell, with notes, laid out the case for some sort of building an international coalition or going to the U.N., and it was two hours of, This is what I think, this is what I feel.

Cheney and Rumsfeld clearly did not agree with this initially, though the president went with Powell and they made the arguments against it, and there are arguments against it, and Bush looked at the overall picture and said, No, we're going to the U.N., but it was a battle royale. It had many, many steps, whether to go to the U.N. and seek new resolutions was in the speech, out of the speech and so forth.

KING: Has it had repercussions between them?

WOODWARD: Well, I think there is a clear tension. But as I understand it from lots of in depth interviews on this, there is a civility in the debate, particularly between Cheney and Powell, but it gets blistering at certain points, particularly at meetings of the principals without the president there. In other words, the National Security Council less the president. Then, the participants tend to get down and dirty, and it is quite tense. And whether it has become personal or not, I do not know, but there is a big difference.

KING: Works -- previous works that have not had the access you had, have -- tend to put a lot of blame on George Tenet and the CIA. Your book comes out a little the other way, doesn't it?

WOODWARD: Yes, it does, and it is based in the -- on the facts of what they did. You certainly can argue before 9/11, the CIA should have done more. Everyone should have known more. Everyone should have done more, including people in our business, journalism, including myself, very much. I knew a lot, and had written a lot about terrorism, and I think that I dropped the ball on something that was a major story. But once...

KING: Really?

WOODWARD: Yes, sure. Look, we should have -- bin Laden was out there, and if you had put me on sodium pentathol before 9/11, I would have said he's kind of a crazy kook who really doesn't have the kind of resources, I would have been skeptical about the evidence that he was behind some of the attacks in the 1990s. It is quite clear he was. I was asleep, quite frankly. I think the country was asleep about bin Laden.

George Tenet and the CIA were not. They were doing a great deal, and as the book charts with, you know, kind of payment by payment, the CIA had contacts, assets, sources inside of Afghanistan that had been developed over years.

The first Americans to go into to Afghanistan after 9/11, it was 16 days after the terrorist attacks, was a secret paramilitary team. Man named Gary -- I don't use his last name -- very experienced, $3 million in cash in a suitcase between his legs, and it charts out how they went around and bought off more of the Taliban, the people who were the militia that was ruling Afghanistan, that made the sanctuary for bin Laden. They bought off more of those people than the military killed, probably, and they certainly bought off thousands of people, and that saved lives. It expedited the war.

KING: We're going to take a break in less than a minute, and then we are going to go to calls.

Would you say from what you learned this makes you more confident about how this country might handle a war in Iraq?

WOODWARD: You know, I don't know the answer to that. There are lots of downsides to any war, and I don't think it is certain we're going to have a war. Lots of people have argued to Bush, including Rumsfeld, including Tenet, that Iraq is not Afghanistan. Afghanistan was quite easy. There was really no central government there, and so forth. So it is night and day, so the outcome we don't know.

KING: We'll take a break, come back. Start to include your phone calls. The book is "Bush at War." The publisher is Simon & Shuster, and the author is the Pulitzer Prize winner, Bob Woodward.

I'm Larry King. Al Gore tomorrow. We'll be right back.


BUSH: Our nation, this generation, will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.



KING: We're back with Bob Woodward. The book "Bush At War" is everywhere where books are sold. And you can get it on Amazon and all those things and it's going to move quick.

And it takes us through the days -- the 100 days of the Bush presidency starting with September 11, though gets further along than that.

Let's go to some calls. Santa Barbara, California, hello.

CALLER: Good evening, gentlemen.


CALLER: Mr. Woodward, in you research for this book were you able to gauge whether the administration gave any thought in the days right after the attack to Mr. Bush's political ability to handle this crisis and fight this war having come up half a million votes short in the 2000 popular election?

WOODWARD: I don't think it was a political question that had to be addressed after 9/11. Al Gore has said publicly Bush is his commander-in-chief. Bush won the election, at least according to Supreme Court which is the final arbiter of this. Certainly Gore accepted that.

I think the question was what do you do? How you to do it? And how do you protect America? All of a sudden Bush, with very limited experience in foreign relations and managing this -- managing the country, had a series of problems which.

If you look at the problems in -- with Iraq, the continuing war on terrorism, a lot of things are not going well. It turns out we now believe that bin Laden is alive. It is the manhunt of the ages, that he has alluded and many in many ways Bush had more problems -- has more problems than any president arguably since Franklin Roosevelt in World War II.

He gets -- I hope -- I think the book shows he gets lots of help from his war cabinet. He needs lots of help. Probably any president would need lots of help.

KING: To Tampa, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Yes, Larry. My question for Bob Woodward is how much interaction and influence is there between the former president, George Bush, Sr. and the current president, and you to feel the influence plays an influential role in international as far as presidential matters and events such as September 11?

KING: Excellent question.

WOODWARD: It is an excellent question. And I got some answers to that in fact the contact is not that great. It's maybe every Sunday. They clearly talk about some of these things, but quite honestly I -- the best evidence I had was they're not that significant, but I really don't know and that is one of the things that went unpenetrated in this -- the communication between the two Bushes, the former president and the current president.

There is the possibility that it is very great. It would be quite natural I think if anyone's father had been president and you wound up in that job, you call up and say hey, what should I do? KING: Wichita Falls, Texas, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Larry.

Mr. Woodward, the president appears to be very secretive. Why aren't there more press conferences so that he can answer questions?

WOODWARD: I think there should be more press conferences. And it is true that the White House has done a fabulous job of sealing him off.

In the research on this book, for reasons that are not clear to me, I was able to talk to people, I was able to get all kinds of documentary information, specific information, conversations, what happened here, what happened there. And as we talk about earlier, interviewed the president for two hours and 25 minutes in which he answered all the questions and in all I asked almost 300 questions. The sort that were not general, but what did you feel, what did you say at this moment, where did that come from? I think he should...

KING: Do more?

WOODWARD: ... do more interviews and more press conference.

KING: Concerning the media, it's a side bar story today but we have to ask about it.

The book says an important-looking confidential communication came from Roger Ailes, who runs the Fox News network to Karl Rove, top adviser to the president, who took it immediately to the White House.

The book says that Ailes was once a media guru for George W.'s father, which he was. The book also says that Rove tells the president the message from Ailes has to be confidential because as the head of Fox News, Ailes is not supposed to be giving political advice.

And here's what the book says, "His back channel message: the American public would tolerate waiting and would be patient, but only as long as they were convinced that Bush was using the harshest measures possible.

"Support would dissipate if the public did not see Bush acting harshly."

Mr. Ailes' response today saying that, "Bob Woodward's characterization of my memo is incorrect. In the days following 9/11 our country came together in non-partisan support of the president. During that time I wrote a personal note to a White House staff member as a concerned American expressing my outrage about the attacks on our country. I did not give up my American citizenship to take this job."

Do you know, Bob, if the note was written on Fox stationary? Well it would be different if you write a letter on the "Washington Post" stationery? You're speaking for the "Post?"

WOODWARD: I do of that and Roger Ailes was saying some things today and like a gentleman, he called me. And we had a very lengthy conversation about this. And we have agreed in a factual way that there really is no dispute between Ailes and myself on this.

It is a non-issue. And I offered to, because he called me, to buy him a drink, a big drink in New York next time I'm there. So it is a matter of -- I don't know exactly how this became a focus and exactly why he became concerned about it, but we went over it and there is no dispute between us.

KING: Just journalistically, ethically would it matter if it was written on Fox stationery or not?

WOODWARD: I don't know. There are people in the media business always who are giving advice, who are making recommendations. Not so much these days, but if you go back decades, there were people who were journalists who were writing speeches...

KING: Oh, famous journalist.

WOODWARD: ... yes -- for politicians and so forth. And so it definitely has changed. I don't think it is really that big a deal. And -- but I put it in the book because it is one of the elements.

Now, the book stand and speaks for itself. I have to say that Roger Ailes was a gentleman and called me. And the issue's over.

KING: And with that note, we will take a break and come back with more phone calls for Bob Woodward, the author of "Bush At War." Don't go away.





KING: Vice President Al Gore and Tipper Gore tomorrow night. Bob Woodward tonight. The book is "Bush at War." The caller is from Reno. Hello.

CALLER: Hello.


CALLER: Hi. My question for Mr. Woodward is, since your interviews with President Bush, have you changed your personal or professional opinions about him?

KING: Another good question.

WOODWARD: Very good question. There is such a tendency that people have, which people should have, to look through the political lens at all of this, if you're a Democrat or you're a Republican or if you like Bush or if you don't like Bush. As a reporter, it is obviously my job not to -- to not look through this as -- it's not political for me. I'm trying to find out what happened.

Professionally, I was delighted to see that he was willing to answer so many questions, so thoroughly, and dig deep. I think that is good for presidents. People I've talked to about the book in and outside the administration, a number of them have made the point, there was nothing like this during the Vietnam War. We kind of got into the Vietnam War and there was no book or in-depth continuous reporting about what was going on.

We now learn through the Lyndon Johnson tapes which Michael Beschloss has put out in magnificent form that President Johnson was saying, I don't think we can win this war while he was escalating the war.

As a reporter and somebody who lived through Vietnam and served in the Navy during that period, stuck in my head was this idea of what do we have here with Bush? Is there some doubt? By the way, I found out there is no doubt. One of the criticisms of him might be that he -- that once he makes a decision, he sticks with it and tends not to double back on it unless the staff and Condi Rice, his national security adviser, really push him.

His approach is, let's act and then let's stick on the road that -- and the direction we're going. So to answer that and have this detailed record allows people to make their evaluation. And mine is all geared towards what happened.

KING: You're just the conduit. Hillsboro, Virginia, hello.

CALLER: Good evening. You've spoken about many of the excerpts that George Bush has around him, but does he ever rely on Laura Bush for advice?

KING: What was her role in this and how did she act?

WOODWARD: That's a very good question. When I interviewed President Bush down at their ranch in Texas, he was on vacation. And near the end of the interview, he was telling me how his wife, Mrs. Bush, had been so strong during this, after 9/11, was not worried, in a sense, did not open a second front at home and say things like, why did you get me into this mess, how did you get me into this mess?

At that moment, she walked in and sat down and started talking, and I started asking her some questions, and she said she was really worried, very apprehensive about what was going on and feared that there would be another strike in all of this. And then she said, you know, I was up at night, I was worried, and then she pointed to him and said, "And he was, too, I knew it." And his first impulse was to deny it -- no, I wasn't up -- and then she gave him one of those looks that only a spouse can give, which is, come on, let's level -- and, yes, he acknowledged, he was up late at night.

She also said that she gave him advice when he said things about bin Laden like "dead or alive," I'll have him either way, this kind of tough Texas macho talk she advised him, quote, "Tone it down, darling." And I asked if she thought he had toned it down, and she said, "not always," and she had to revisit the issue a number of times.

So she clearly acts as some sort of moderating force, particularly on the rhetoric.

KING: Toronto, Canada, hello.

CALLER: Mr. King, Mr. Woodward.


CALLER: Good evening. Question for both. Gentlemen, you've both being on top of national politics for a long time, and Mr. Woodward, you most famously with running the Watergate story. Since running that story, and the question is for both, led to the resignation of President Nixon and, you know, loss of faith in U.S. politics, now more important than ever. Did you then or looking back do you now have any second thoughts on the wisdom of running that story?

WOODWARD: Well, in my case, absolutely not. It was -- and all the evidence in the tapes established that Nixon was a criminal, and it's the Republicans who turned against him.

KING: All right. In this story, is there any -- do you think you might be revealing something that someone on the other side could read and learn? That could hinder the United States?

WOODWARD: I was as careful as I could be, but as I say in the introduction, this isn't some censored version, and where I drew the line, I'm sure other people would draw it at other places. I'm sure there are people in the government who would say we shouldn't have a book about this. But we're a democracy and people should know.

KING: San Diego, hello.

CALLER: Good evening, gentlemen. Mr. Woodward, now that you've written your book, how do you personally feel the president is doing concerning the war on terror?

KING: What grade would you give him? Give him a reporter's grade.

WOODWARD: You know, my impulse is and it's so strong, it's overriding, to not give grades and to try to -- and perhaps part of the reason people will talk to me or a president might talk to me is that I'm not judgmental and I am not political about this. I really want to find out what happened. And I want to find out in detail. That's the way I can do my job. So I get whatever personal opinion or evaluation or grade and I put it in my back pocket and keep it there.

KING: Hard to do? WOODWARD: Not hard to do. In fact, much easier to do. If you look at the reporters I know, that you know, Larry, I mean, the great David Broder at "The Washington Post," you can torture me and I can't tell you what his politics are.

KING: Agreed.

WOODWARD: And he may have them, but they don't enter in, as best I can tell, to how he does his job. And so he can go, talk to anyone and get answers to his questions, because people know that he's going to treat them fairly.

KING: This is Bob Woodward's 11th book. Eight have made number one. The book is "Bush at War." We'll be back with our remaining moments and more phone calls. Al Gore tomorrow night. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) * KING: Mississauga, Ontario for Bob Woodward, hello.

CALLER: Yes. good evening, gentlemen. I recently observed a lecture being given by a gentleman who was a previous Iraqi arms inspector. He was also, I believe, a Gulf War combat veteran, a man by the name of Scott Ritter. And I'm most interested in what Mr. Woodward's opinion would be of Mr. Ritter's credibility and his message.

KING: Mr. Ritter opposed to this whole thing with Iraq, saying that, I guess that they have complied.

WOODWARD: There's an immense amount of skepticism. I understand Scott Ritter feels very, very strongly about that. I've talked to people who know about the intelligence and the information we have. And there is no question that there is something there.

There also is no question that Saddam Hussein is kind of an industrial strength package of psychiatric disorders. And a very dangerous man.

Now, whether you have to go to war to solve the problem remains to be seen, but he is a threat and one of the things Condi Rice said on the record when I talked to her about this, said the lesson of September 11 is simple. Take -- go after -- take care of threats early. Not late. That's what should have been done with bin Laden and there is a feeling about Saddam on this now. We'll see how it plays out.

Scott Ritter, I don't know enough about him. I'm sorry, sir.

KING: Houston, Texas, hello.

CALLER: Hi. My question is about the 9/11 victims' families. They wanted an investigation. I was wondering did you talk to President Bush at all about that?

KING: I think he opposed it and then went along with it. Is that correct, Bob?

WOODWARD: Yes, he did. There is going to be a commission that will look at this somewhat like the Warren Commission. It certainly something like that should be done. I don't know as I looked at this that you're going to be able to hang anyone out and say this person is guilty of malfeasance. I think that the system broke down, there was not a lot of attention at all kinds of levels and I, myself, as we were talking about earlier, feel, you know, it is good to look in the mirror and ask about yourself, but as a journalist, I knew a lot about this and I did not -- I failed to examine certainly something that was one of the most serious threats to this country.

KING: Northfield, Illinois, hello.

CALLER: Yes, hello, Mr. Woodward, you're such an outstanding author and journalist yourself. Which of all your projects and books has been the most challenging and your favorite to work on?

WOODWARD: Books are like children. You love them all. And you love them all the same, but you also know their defects and shortcomings. And so I can't pick one out. Certainly working with Carl Bernstein on the Watergate story was one of the most fascinating times. But I liked taking a subject like the CIA or the Pentagon or the Bush White House and each time I find it interesting.

KING: How about had you departed and did John Belushi?

WOODWARD: In "Wired" about his drug overdose death. That was a great learning experience also because it was really the first book to kind of demythologyize cocaine use and show that it kills rather than it's simply recreational. I learned about Hollywood and their capacity for denial which is almost as great as people in Washington.

KING: One other question, where were you 9/11?

WOODWARD: I was interviewing senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. And...

KING: On Capitol Hill?

WOODWARD: On Capitol Hill, in her office in the Russell Senate office building. And I, being too interested in getting information, kind of ignored the reports and she was saying, Should we go through with this interview? And, of course, I was saying yes. And her television was on and you could see the burning World Trade Center towers. Her chief of staff came in and said they're evacuating the building and then we looked over at the TV and one of the towers collapsed. And even then I realized it was time to terminate that interview.

KING: We have one minute, Bob. Do you remember what you thought? Were you scared?

WOODWARD: Sure. Because it went out on the lawn around the capitol and there were noises -- there really were -- it looked like other buildings were being attacked. There was a report of a bombing at the State Department and so forth. No time like it.

KING: You keep on keeping on. Thanks, Bob.

WOODWARD: Thank you for having a serious discussion about this. I appreciate it.

KING: Bob Woodward. The book: "Bush At War." Come back and tell you about tomorrow right after this.


KING: Tomorrow night, Al and Tipper Gore, their first live primetime appearance since the election. First time taking phone calls. The former vice president and his wife tomorrow night.


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