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Top Cabinet Members From Bush, Clinton Administrations Testifying This Morning

Aired March 23, 2004 - 08:00   ET


The people who call the shots in the fight against terrorism, today they go public, explaining how the 9/11 attacks ever took place.

One of the president's harshest critics on terror once worked in the administration. This morning, Richard Clarke and what he saw.

And the little secret about cell phones that companies don't want you to know, ahead this hour on "American Morning."

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN broadcast center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Bill Hemmer and Soledad O'Brien.


Welcome, everybody.

Other stories that we're following this morning, the judge in the Scott Peterson murder trial has set a tentative date for opening statements. It was one of several rulings yesterday. Some of them went against Peterson and his defense team. We're going to get a report on that.

HEMMER: Also this hour, so many Americans taking anti- depressants. Now the government is looking into some of the most common of those medications. Is there a risk of suicide? Sanjay has that story this hour, as well. Stay tuned.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Cafferty, hello.


Coming up in the Cafferty File in less than an hour, a brand new refrigerator that will allow you to stuff your face while watching "American Morning" at the same time.

HEMMER: I like it.

CAFFERTY: And knowing your PIN number in reverse could save your life, a true story. We'll tell you more about it.

HEMMER: Really? I didn't know that.

O'BRIEN: Really?

CAFFERTY: I wouldn't -- I don't make this crap up, you know?

HEMMER: You're writing about crap?

CAFFERTY: This is the real deal here. This is...

O'BRIEN: That's very interesting...

CAFFERTY: I don't come here with frivolous or trivial items.

HEMMER: No, never.

O'BRIEN: It saved somebody's life?

CAFFERTY: Leave me alone.

HEMMER: Thanks, Jack.

O'BRIEN: You won't give us any -- elaborate at all?

CAFFERTY: No. I'm not going to tell you anything. You've got to wait for an hour.

O'BRIEN: Wow. It's a big tease, then.

HEMMER: That's right, 15 minutes.

O'BRIEN: All right, I'll wait. I'm willing to wait, Jack.

CAFFERTY: You have no choice. You have to wait.

O'BRIEN: But even if I didn't have to wait, I'd still make it.

CAFFERTY: I bet you would, wouldn't you?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I would.

CAFFERTY: Yes, sure you would.

O'BRIEN: I love you that much.

CAFFERTY: Leave me alone.

O'BRIEN: Let's turn to the top stories now.

A serious story, we begin those train bombings in Spain. Now have sparked changes in rail security here in the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says the department will begin testing ways to screen train passengers and their luggage as early as this spring. The announcement follows some criticism from some law makers that an unbalanced amount of funds was going toward airport security.

Israeli forces on high alert following the killing of Hamas founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Israel's security sources say Israel will continue to target Hamas leaders without waiting for another terror attack. Meanwhile, there have already been clashes in the West Bank Thanksgiving today. Palestinians vowing revenge for Yassin's killing amid a three day period of mourning for Hamas' spiritual leader. We've got much more on this story just ahead.

The first full day of testimony today in the state murder trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols. Prosecutors claim that Nichols was an eager participant in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building. But the defense said Nichols was set up to cover a wider conspiracy. Nichols faces the death penalty if convicted in the state trial. He's already serving a life sentence on federal charges.

In New York, an electrician who married the widow of a murdered millionaire has now been indicted in connection with the man's death. Daniel Pelosi was ordered to appear for arraignment this morning. The case has made tabloid headlines when Ted Ammon was found murdered in his Hampton Beach resort mansion two and a half years ago. His widow married Pelosi three months later. The couple later split and she has since died of cancer.

The Supreme Court today considers a case one lawyer called a classic HMO horror story, one that tests states' patient protection laws. A woman's suing because she says her HMO refused to pay for care that its own doctor recommended. The court is considering whether she can sue in state rather than federal court. Many people are watching that, of course, because lots of people have issues with their HMOs.

HEMMER: 8:03 here in New York.

A check of the weather right now.


HEMMER: Top cabinet members from the Bush and Clinton administrations testifying this morning and a very highly charged political atmosphere maybe. The independent commission studying the attacks of 9/11 hold those hearings today live in Washington.

Barbara Starr is there for us this morning covering that for us in D.C. -- Barbara, good morning.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Bill.

Well, former counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke's allegations that President Bush wanted to blame Iraq for the 9/11 attacks now likely to be front and center when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testifies later today.


STARR (voice-over): Pentagon officials say if asked, Rumsfeld will make no apologies for questioning whether Saddam Hussein might have been involved in 9/11 and will admittedly say the administration did not ignore the al Qaeda threat in favor of Iraq. DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: That's just not true. I mean, the fact of the matter is the president decided to go into Afghanistan. We did. It was an enormously successful activity. It took a relatively short period of time. The al Qaeda training camps were destroyed.

STARR: Rumsfeld will remind the Commission it was just 26 days after 9/11 that the bombing of Afghanistan began. But the Commission will ask top officials to explain how they handled the most pressing security threat to our country, says Commission Chair Thomas Keene.

The hearing opens with former Secretary of State Albright, followed by Secretary Powell and then former Secretary of Defense Cohen, followed by Rumsfeld. On Wednesday, CIA Chief George Tenet and then former counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke.

One commissioner making it clear skepticism will focus on what was being said and heard in the months before 9/11.

TIM ROEMER, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: Why did it take you so long in the Bush administration to develop a counter-terrorism policy and strategy, especially as the spike up in the warnings were at record levels through the spring and the fall?


STARR: And, Bill, Commission officials say this two day session is going to be one of their most important in trying to determine if the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented -- Bill.

HEMMER: Barbara Starr, thanks, from the Pentagon this morning.

Next hour, live coverage when the hearings begin. The former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, scheduled to go first before that panel, 9:30 a.m. Eastern time -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Despite withering criticism from the White House, President Bush's former counter-terrorism chief is standing by his claims. Richard Clarke contends that the administration mishandled the war on terror.

Earlier on AMERICAN MORNING, Clarke recalled the disputed meeting he claims he had with President Bush a day after the September 11 attacks. At that meeting, Clarke says, the president ordered him to look into whether Iraq was behind the attacks.


RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNTER-TERRORISM ADVISOR: This was not the president saying do everything, look at everybody, look at Iran, look at Hezbollah. This was the president, in a very intimidating way, finger in my face, saying, "I want a paper on Iraq and this attack."

Now, everyone in the room got the same impression and everyone in the room recalls it vividly. So I'm not making it up. (END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Republican reaction now to Clarke's allegation is California Republican Congressman David Dreier joining us.

Nice to see you, sir.

Thanks for being with us, as always.

REP. DAVID DREIER (R), CALIFORNIA: Nice to be back, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much.

It seems like the main allegation that Richard Clarke is making is that President Bush was warned about the threat of al Qaeda and he ignored it, he ignored it before 9/11, he ignored it after 9/11.

What evidence do you have that, in fact, that's not the case?

DREIER: Well, the best evidence, Soledad, is the fact that within three weeks of taking the oath of office, President Bush wrote a letter, was in contact with General Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, raising concern about the Taliban and al Qaeda.

It's very true, there has been a greater focus on the war on terrorism since September 11th in 2001 than there was before. Obviously. We've established a Department of Homeland Security and we know that Mr. Clarke wanted to be in the number two spot there. He's made that clear. And many people have said that he is disgruntled.

Now, the thing that we need to look at is we need to look at what has taken place since September 11. We've been able to successfully capture or kill two thirds of the al Qaeda leadership and seize $200 million of terrorist assets.

I think it's also important to note that the term outrageous, Soledad, which was used by Mr. Clarke on the "60 Minutes" interview, would be most appropriate to respond to the interview that I heard him have with Bill. He says that he's not political and we know he's a 30 year career terrorism expert. But the fact of the matter is in the interview that he just had with Bill, what was it he did? He criticized President Ronald Reagan. He criticized President George H. W. Bush. He praised publicly and then criticized President George W. Bush.

Now, I will tell you that today's "Washington Post" talks about the fact that his brash style led people to go to then National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and urge him to be fired. It talks about the fact that many of his friends and colleagues realize that this guy is a shrewd tactician who knew full well the political ramifications of his coming out with his book at this time. And I'm reminded of Speaker Dennis Hastert's warning that he gave, if we continue the 9/11 Commission, it is clearly going to get into presidential politics. And Mr. Clarke has obviously played a big role in doing just that. O'BRIEN: Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator, said this. He said, "This is a serious book. It's written by a serious professional who's made some serious charges. The White House must respond to these charges."

Do you think that the White House has gone far enough to dispute the charges as opposed to saying some things -- and you've repeated some of them -- that he's brash, that he was disliked, that he's partisan. Do you think they've gone far enough to say Charge X, Charge Y, Charge Z all incorrect?

DREIER: Well, let me say, I mean, you know, charges and counter- charges, that's not what this is all about. I will tell you that the criticism that I've just raised came from today's "Washington Post," primarily from people who served in the Clinton administration with Mr. Clarke in describing his style.

But I do believe that, as you pointed out in just a few minutes -- and you're going to be carrying here on CNN -- the hearings will proceed and we're obviously going to hear from Mr. Clarke. It is somewhat troubling that Mr. Clarke is going to be testifying for twice the amount of time that the director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, is going to be testifying. But...

O'BRIEN: Isn't the argument there that he served under two administrations, ergo he gets twice the amount of time, because he's talking about serving under one administration...

DREIER: Soledad...

O'BRIEN: ... and then his service under a second? Is that not correct?

DREIER: Soledad, George Tenet was appointed by Bill Clinton as director of Central Intelligence. And so he's served under two administrations, as well.

I do believe that it's important for us to realize that we are in the midst of a war on terrorism. It's been an ongoing war. And I'm not going to sit here and point the finger at the Clinton administration, but people talk regularly about 1998 and 2000 and the lack of response that took place when Mr. Clarke was there.

I think that what we need to realize is that this president has been so committed -- George W. Bush -- to winning the war on terrorism and he appropriately raised questions, as Donald Rumsfeld will say in his testimony today -- he appropriately raised questions about Iraq.

We know that Iraq has been a trouble spot on this Earth for a long period of time and I think it's very clear that raising all of these questions was the right thing to do.

O'BRIEN: A final thought. Here's something that Mr. Clarke writes in his book, toward the end of the book. He says, "Nothing America could have done would have provided al Qaeda and its new generation of cloned groups a better recruitment device than our unprovoked invasion of an oil-rich Arab country."

In other words, it's only been made worse.


O'BRIEN: You obviously disagree.


DREIER: I totally disagree. I mean I will tell you that, again, if you look at the success that we have had in taking on al Qaeda, if you look the administration the developments just within the past couple of weeks, right now the firefight that's taking place on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is continuing evidence of our battle against the al Qaeda terrorist organization.

O'BRIEN: David Dreier, Republican congressman, joining us.

DREIER: Always nice to be with you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: As always, nice to have you, as well.

Thanks for being with us -- Bill.

HEMMER: Almost 13 past the hour now.

Jury selection resumes today in the Scott Peterson case.

Rusty Dornin watching that, live in Redwood City, California -- Rusty, what do we expect today?

Good morning.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... up for questioning individually in the courtroom. Meantime, the defense lost an important battle to keep evidence away from the eyes and ears of that final jury. That means that reporters, all those interviews that Scott Peterson did with reporters will be in the trial.


SCOTT PETERSON, DEFENDANT: And I left the house here right around 9:30.

DORNIN (voice-over): Scott Peterson talked about the day his wife Laci disappeared. He talked about his affair with Amber Frey.

PETERSON: I had told Laci about it in early December.

DORNIN: Talk that will be heard by a jury when the trial begins. The judge ruled the statements Peterson made to reporters are admissible.

Defense Attorney Mark Geragos wanted the interviews thrown out, claiming they were irrelevant and could be prejudicial against his client. The prosecution argued it showed the lies Scott Peterson was willing to tell on national television. Judge Alfred Delucchi said the interviews can show the defendant's state of mind and it will be up to the jury to decide.

For the first time, potential jurors were questioned in court. During proceedings, Peterson smiled and spoke often with his attorneys. At one point, he leaned over his chair to speak at length to the defense's jury consultant, Jo-Ellan Dimitrius.

Only one qualified. The rest were dismissed for a variety of reasons, including their views on the death penalty, one financial hardship case and another believed Peterson was guilty. That's the type of prejudice that Peterson's defense claimed is widespread here in this county south of San Francisco. And Geragos continues to threaten to file another change of venue motion.

MARK GERAGOS, SCOTT PETERSON'S ATTORNEY: We will continue through this, obviously, through the rest of the week and then we'll -- I'll take the appropriate action after I've got a week's worth of information at my disposal.


DORNIN: Geragos said he was not optimistic after only one juror qualified out of the 13 that were up yesterday. The selection is expected to take another six weeks. Judge Alfred Delucchi says he expects over statements to begin May 17th.

HEMMER: Quickly, Rusty, if you could clarify the end of your story there. We were led to believe this time yesterday he would argue for that change of venue.

That's still a consideration, but not just done yesterday, is that the way I read it?

DORNIN: Yes. He -- we expected him to file that motion some time last week and the judge to rule on it this morning. It looks like he may just be waiting to have individual jurors questioned in court and have it become possibly very apparent that people are prejudiced against Scott Peterson. That's what he says that he believes is going to happen.

HEMMER: All right, mid-March. We'll watch that date on the calendar.

Rusty, thanks.

Rusty Dornin in Redwood City, California this morning.

O'BRIEN: Still to come, members of both President Bush's national security team and the Clinton White House are in the hot seat from just over an hour from now. The latest about today's 9/11 hearings is just ahead.

HEMMER: Also, a militant Palestinian group vowing revenge after the assassination of its founder. Why is there a concern about reprisals against the U.S.? We'll talk to an expert on that topic in a moment.

O'BRIEN: And the FDA calling for new warnings regarding anti- depressants and suicide. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us with details on that.

Those stories all ahead, as AMERICAN MORNING continues.


O'BRIEN: Four more people have been charged in the March 11th terror attacks on Spanish trains. Two hundred two people were killed when 10 bombs exploded on four packed commuter trains. Nine suspects are now being held for the attacks. Four more people were arrested yesterday -- Bill.

HEMMER: Now to the volatile Middle East. Hamas is vowing revenge against Israel and the U.S. after the Israeli assassination of its founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Steven Simon is a Middle East and terrorism expert.

He also wrote the book, "The Age of Scared Terror."

He's our guest this morning on AMERICAN MORNING.

Nice to see you, Steven.

Good morning to you.


HEMMER: What does this mean for Hamas right now, with the assassination of Sheikh Yassin?

SIMON: Well, Hamas is going to be in some disarray. They're going to be looking for an alternative leadership, someone who could match Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's charisma and his mobilizing ability. But it's not clear there's any there there.

HEMMER: There's no there there. So you would agree with Greg Myre in the "New York Times," writing today, and quoting, "I don't see any figure in Hamas" -- quoting an official now -- "I don't see any figure in Hamas that will have Sheikh Yassin's level of influence."

Do you agree with that?

SIMON: Well, no one of that stature. He is the founding father.

HEMMER: When they threatened U.S. interests, how seriously are those threats taken?

SIMON: Well, they've made these threats before. But the Hamas leadership in the past has been very wary of actually targeting Americans. Americans have been killed in Hamas attacks, but inadvertently, if I can put it that way. There are great dangers for Hamas in targeting the United States.

HEMMER: Such as?

SIMON: The American wrath against Hamas. And I think that they'll want to do anything they can to keep the battle between themselves and the Israelis without having the Americans involved directly against them.

HEMMER: Go back 10 years. Go back 20 years. Has Hamas ever carried out an attack specifically against a U.S. target?

SIMON: Not to my knowledge, no.

HEMMER: Well, part of the battle that's happening in Gaza today, you believe, will pit Hamas against the Palestinian Authority.

Explain that and how that battle goes.

SIMON: Well, what this is about, it seems to me, is who controls Gaza after the Israelis leave. Prime Minister Sharon, as you know, has put forward an ambitious plan to withdraw Israeli forces from most or even all of Gaza. Well, that's going to leave a vacuum. And it raises the question of who controls that crucial piece of territory. And control will be contested by Hamas on the one hand and Palestinian Authority figures on the other.

HEMMER: When you got the news late on Sunday night or even early Monday morning that Sheikh Yassin had been assassinated, how did that strike you? Was there surprise at all with the news when you received it?

SIMON: Well, he had been on the Israeli death list for a long time. They tried to kill him last September after the Ashdod bombings. They happened quite recently. Two guys from Gaza got out of that area to the Israeli port city of Ashdod and blew themselves up. It was pretty clear that this man's days were numbered.

But in a larger way, I think the Israelis want to weaken Hamas as much as possible so that other Palestinians who would be easier to deal with will be in a better position to gain control of Gaza after the Israelis pull out. And I believe that Sheikh Ahmed Yassin will not be the only target. There will be other targets, as well.

HEMMER: Nice to talk to you.

Steven Simon with the Rand Corporation.

The Israelis telling us yesterday they are ready and prepared and do expect reprisals. And we all await now what is the next step in the Middle East.

Appreciate it.

Nice to talk to you.

SIMON: Good to be here.

HEMMER: A break here.

In a moment, there is some cell phone companies who do not want you to know certain details about the billing. We'll tell you about that and what it means for you as a consumer in a moment when AMERICAN MORNING continues, right after this.


HEMMER: Allrighty.

Welcome back.

The Question of the Day and to Jack.

CAFFERTY: I had my foot on the table there. That's a rare antique worth millions of dollars. You wouldn't want to damage that.


O'BRIEN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on that table.

HEMMER: You can use that in your house next time. It gives you the neighbor across the street is moving.

CAFFERTY: The cheapest, ugliest furniture in the entire City of New York is in this studio.

O'BRIEN: But with flowers, it wouldn't look so bad.



O'BRIEN: With flowers it would look less cheap and ugly.

CAFFERTY: They should cover it with poison ivy.

Starting tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide what the phrase "under god" means. The judges will hear the case brought by this atheist out in California who doesn't want his 9-year-old daughter exposed to the phrase "under god" when saying the Pledge of Allegiance. In June, 2002, a San Francisco appellate court ruled the reciting of the Pledge with those words in it is unconstitutional.

So, the question is do the words "under god" belong in the Pledge?

Leif and Heidi in Wausau, Wisconsin: "The wording says freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. The language of the founding fathers was not accidental. It was very deliberate. I'm sick and tired of the constant bashing and opposition of the practice of any monotheistic religion by the fringe left. Isn't god generic enough? Or does the plaintiff in this case think that he should have no higher authority than himself?" Whoa.

Linda in Dayton, Ohio: "Yes, under god should be in the Pledge. The Ten Commandments should also be returned to that courthouse down South. They're good rules to live by."

Leo in Illinois: "I'm a religious person and I don't feel the Pledge needs to say those words. Believe what you want, where you want, when you want. As for a secular pledge, who really cares?"

And Don writes: "It's so clear that the phrase "under god" has dramatic impact on the daily life in the United States. Look at the high ethics and morals that characterize the actions of our leaders in government, church and big business. Under god? No. It's more typically under investigation."

HEMMER: This is tomorrow, right? The Supreme Court may or may not hear it. They're going to rule tomorrow, is that right?

CAFFERTY: I don't know.

O'BRIEN: That's funny, under investigation.

HEMMER: I was just thinking you're ahead of the news again, as you always are, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I think it['s tomorrow.

HEMMER: Ahead of the curve.

Thank you, buddy.

O'BRIEN: Under investigation. That was very funny.

CAFFERTY: I was thinking about the furniture.

HEMMER: Yes, you were.

CAFFERTY: Oh that, I like it, under investigation. It's cute, right?

O'BRIEN: Yes, that's the way it is. Yes, that's very cute.

HEMMER: Let's get a break here.

In a moment, lawmakers on Capitol Hill quibbling about wording in the debate over same-sex marriage. The latest on that in a moment when we continue, right after this.



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