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Interview With Karen Hughes

Aired April 6, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Karen Hughes, one of George W. Bush's closest advisers. Her unique perspective on mounting U.S. casualties in Iraq, Condoleezza Rice's upcoming testimony before the 9/11 commission, and the 2004 presidential campaign. Karen Hughes for the hour. An insider's insight with your calls next on LARRY KING LIVE.
KAREN HUGHES, BUSH'S ADVISER: Insider's insider, huh?

KING: An insider -- she's making fun of herself.


KING: Karen Hughes has written an extraordinary new book. Great title, too. "Ten Minutes From Normal." There you see its cover. We'll be getting into the book later. But let's get right to the news of the day. Karen will go back as an official part of the campaign team in August, right? You will be with the president from August 15 on?

HUGHES: I promised him when I left the White House that I would come back and travel with him the last few months of the campaign. So...


KING: Today's report adds to the pain, 12 Marines killed.

HUGHES: Tragic day.

KING: Do you ever give a thought that Iraq may be a mistake?

HUGHES: No, Larry, I don't think so. Because I think you have to back up and look at why we're there and what's at stake. We went into Iraq for our own security and for greater peace and stability in the world. Now, there clearly today there's a reminder that there are some forces in Iraq, some people, forces of terror and chaos and thugs, like this militant cleric, who apparently has put together an illegal militia and is really trying to undermine not only what America is trying to do, but what the Iraqi people are trying to do. You know, the Iraqi Governing Council yesterday issued a statement basically condemning anyone who's trying to incite violence and undermine the cause of democracy in Iraq.

And I think what you have is a small percentage of people -- I saw Paul Bremer today saying perhaps 10 percent -- who want to undermine the cause of democracy and freedom there. But the vast majority of people I think understand the stakes and want a free and democratic Iraq.

KING: But there were no weapons of mass destruction. When combat ended, the president announced the end of major combat; 480 troops have died since that announcement.

HUGHES: Well, Larry, let's go back and talk about the weapons. First of all, David Kay, the chief weapons inspector, came back and reached two very important conclusion. And I'm worried the American people only heard one of them. He said we were wrong about the weapons. And you'll still find disagreement in Washington. Some in Washington still believe we will find weapons. After all, he used them in the past. We know he had them. He at one point -- he used them against his own people.

But just as important, I would argue, David Kay concluded that we were absolutely right about the war, because he said the situation in Iraq was even more unstable, more dangerous, more likely that terrorists might have gained the means or the knowledge or some materials to have been able to develop weapons of mass destruction. And Larry, that's the nightmare scenario. And that's why, when you hear the administration talk that everything is different in the aftermath of September 11, you know, it's interesting, right now, we're listening to a commission that's questioning should we have done more to preempt September 11 before it happened.

Well, what the president is trying to do is preempt the possibility of a nuclear September 11, with the nightmare scenario that terrorists will be able to access weapons of mass destruction.

The loss of life in Iraq is tragic. I'm the daughter of a career military Army officer who fought in three wars. World War II, Korea and Vietnam. And we grieve. And I know the president grieves for every loss. But the cause, make no mistake, the cause is important. And it's freedom. It's our freedom. And it's security in a very, very important part of the world.

KING: But it's tough -- the reason it's a major issue, don't you think, is convincing public that they were a major threat to the United States?

HUGHES: Well, I think the threat, again, was that the terrorists would be able -- who've said they hate America -- and remember, al Qaeda's stated goal is to kill all Christians, kill all Jews and kill all Muslims...

KING: The al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq.

HUGHES: ... who don't agree with them. Well, again, al Qaeda, there are forces -- there are terror forces in Iraq. There was information, materials, plans, program activities to develop weapons of mass destruction, and a brutal dictator who also hated America and who we thought would stop at nothing in order to help America's enemies. And so it was a very dangerous situation. I think it's clear that the world is safer without Saddam Hussein in power. That America is safer without Saddam Hussein in power. KING: It's been reported in some circles this week that the president's father had some doubts, especially about the aftermath. What happens after you're there? Was there an after plan?

HUGHES: Well, I think the military had a very careful series of plans. And I sat in many meetings where the president sent them back to the drawing board and asked questions, and asked them to develop better plans. And clearly they did look at the plans.

KING: But something went wrong.

HUGHES: But they also -- well, Larry, no, I think they always understood from day one that this was going to be very hard. I mean, building a stable democracy was not easy in our own country. And no one expected it to be easy in Iraq. I remember a conversation with Condoleezza Rice, where she said, Karen, this is going to be really hard. Because she knew it would be difficult. She knew that some of the world might not agree with us. She knew that some people in our own country might not agree with us.

But I looked at her and I said, but Condi, is it right? And she said, absolutely. And I know there was a strong feeling on the part of the president, the national security team, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, George Tenet, all -- there was a strong feeling that this was absolutely the right thing. And we cannot allow the actions of a few who are trying to incite riots and armed violence to prevent Iraq from becoming a stable, democratic place, to deter us. Because that would be the most awful signal we could send is that if you attack Americans, then they'll back off. That would be the wrong signal, entirely.

KING: You can honestly say you never questioned it?

HUGHES: Oh, I can say I questioned a lot. I remember asking a lot of questions at the very beginning.

KING: But now you don't question it?

HUGHES: I think the administration made absolutely -- and the president made absolutely the right decision, Larry. It's difficult. And we knew that going in. I remember asking a lot of questions, like many Americans did. Why now? Why Saddam? Why Iraq? And what I was told over and over again by the experts, the national security experts, including Condoleezza Rice, was that we -- there were a confluence of events, a very brutal, dangerous, tyrannical dictator with terrible weapons, or at least the means to produce those terrible weapons, and a past of having used those terrible weapons. A history of aggression against his neighbors. And, in a very, very volatile region of the world, the Middle East.

And you know, Larry, it's really interesting in hindsight to look back. I like to quote Senator John Kerry who said it would be naive to the point of grave danger to underestimate the threat that Saddam Hussein posed. That he would -- had just as much as promised the world that he would try again to intimidate others in the world. KING: Colin Powell said last week that Dick Clarke was one of our top security officials. Why are we dismissing him out of hand? Why are we attacking him for coming forth with his thoughts on what he perceived? He's always served Republican and Democratic administrations. Why an onslaught on a man who has different thoughts?

HUGHES: Well, Larry, I disagree with the characterization of it. I -- he is...

KING: You don't think there's been an onslaught on him?

HUGHES: Well, I think he's a career public servant, who Condoleezza Rice made the decision to keep, even though some people counseled against it...

KING: So she must have thought he had ability?

HUGHES: ... who worked there. Because she thought he had ability. Now, I think what we've seen since then, however, is that the information that he's providing, I think, based on what I know, has been distorted. A distorted view. And I'll give you one example. Dick Clarke has mentioned once in my book, he was sent to my office by Condoleezza Rice on the week after September 11 to brief me on Afghanistan, because the president -- and he claims we were focused on Iraq at this point. The president had told me and Condoleezza Rice on Sunday night, September 16, that after his war council meeting at Camp David, that he had determined, based on all the evidence and all the information -- and yes, he had tried to find out everything about it. You want the president to know who's behind these horrific attacks.

He had tried to find out everything. He had concluded, based on all the information, that al Qaeda was responsible. And so Condoleezza Rice sent Dick Clarke to my office to brief me on al Qaeda and Afghanistan, because the president had determined that was who was responsible, al Qaeda and Afghanistan. And I think it's ironic, because, of course, when I wrote my book, I had no idea that Dick Clarke was going to write something or make -- you know, again, I think -- I just think that some of his views are distorted.

KING: So you're not dismissing his credentials?

HUGHES: No, I'm not at all. He worked for the government for a many number of years.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on all of this.

HUGHES: But what I am -- I think what I think is most distressing, Larry, is that I think what he said has led to a misplaced sense of responsibility. Based on everything I know, I don't -- you know, as you know, I'm an advocate for the Bush administration and I am not an advocate...

KING: No kidding.

HUGHES: ... for the Clinton administration. But I'm willing to stand up for the Clinton administration on this, too. Based on everything I know, I think that had anyone in the Clinton administration or the Bush administration been able to put together the pieces before the horror of September 11 in a way that would have prevented it, I know they would have. I know President Bush would have done everything in is power. And so I just disagree with him that...

KING: So what you're saying is it absolutely was not preventable?

HUGHES: Well, his apology made it appear that someone in our government was responsible. That's why I say there is a misplaced sense of responsibility.

KING: Well, somebody had to make a mistake somewhere?

HUGHES: No, al Qaeda is responsible. What happened is al Qaeda declared war on our country. Just as Japan declared war on our country when they attacked Pearl Harbor. And I think it's very important that we be very clear about just who is responsible. It's not our government. It's al Qaeda.

KING: Let me get a break. We'll be right back. The book is "Ten Minutes From Normal." We're going to ask about that and the title. We're going to ask about other developments in her extraordinary career. Some more on Iraq as well, and the coming campaign. And your phone calls. Lots to do, for an hour with Karen Hughes. Don't go away.


RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNTERTERRORISM CHIEF: I suspect that we'll catch bin Laden. But it's two years too late, because al Qaeda has now morphed during this time. You know, in all of Afghanistan, we only have 11,000 U.S. troops. That's fewer U.S. troops in Afghanistan than we have police in Manhattan. Why? Because the administration held back the troops we needed, because they wanted to invade Iraq.




CLARKE: The point is, the war in Iraq was not necessary. Iraq was not an imminent threat to the United States. And, by going to war with Iraq, we have greatly reduced our ability to prosecute the war on terrorism.


KING: Karen Hughes, top adviser, maybe the most powerful woman in Washington, when she's there. And the author of "Ten Minutes from Normal" published by Viking. When you hear statements like that and you realize the impact that's coming, do you expect this to be a very, very rough campaign?

HUGHES: I do. I expect that it will be a difficult election, a close election. We saw in the last election that the country is very closely divided. This is a hard time. It's a time of great challenge and very high stakes in the world. I absolutely disagree with what Mr. Clarke just said. The nightmare scenario was that terrorists would somehow marry up with the weapons or knowledge or programs or information or materials that Saddam Hussein had at his disposal. After all, again, we know he had already used weapons of mass destruction against his own people. We had to act. The world is different after September 11. The world is a different place. Condoleezza Rice, I remember her telling me that September 11 was an earthquake across the international security environment. We had to look at everything differently.

KING: Thursday, she's going to come under some pretty tough grilling.

HUGHES: She will. I'm very pleased. I know that Dr. Rice is very pleased, as is the president, that she will be able to go before the commission and the American people and lay out the facts. I think that will clear up some misperceptions that were left after last week's hearings. I think that she will -- she's a very articulate, intelligent spokesman.

KING: Her expertise, though, was the Soviet Union, wasn't it?

HUGHES: That's what she studied in college. But her expertise is clearly national security as well. After all, she worked for Brent (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the previous administration for the national security council. She was provost in California at Stanford. She's a very intelligent person. I think it's interesting, that the person that the Bush administration and Condi hired to brief us during the transition on terrorism was Mr. Zelikow, who is now the executive director of the commission and the chairman of the commission, the governor said the other day that the reason they hired him was the same reason we did, because he's the foremost expert on al Qaeda so if we weren't concerned about al Qaeda, why were we hiring the foremost expert in the country on them during our transition?

KING: Ted Kennedy came out swinging yesterday concerning the president. We asked him about some comments he made about credibility. This was this show last night. Watch.


KENNEDY: How do we re-establish the working relationships we need with other countries to win the war on terrorism and advance the ideals we share? And how can we possibly expect President Bush to do that? He's the problem, not the solution. Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam. And this country needs a new president.


KING: That was a tape. He was a guest last night. He said pretty much the same thing in our interview, but we played that instead of our interview. What about the comparison of Vietnam?

HUGHES: I think it's irresponsible, Larry. I think the issues are very different. It's a very different situation. We acted in Iraq because we thought there was an urgent threat to our own security. Again that the terrorists would access weapons of mass destruction. I think it's an irresponsible allegation, frankly. You remember Vietnam. I remember Vietnam. I remember watching it as a young girl when my father was over there.

One of the problems in Vietnam was that the politicians were deciding how to fight the war, not the military. I know the military frequently felt their hands were tied behind their back. Nothing could be further from the case in this war. President Bush, I have heard him ask his commanders, do you have everything you need? What do you need? You'll have what you need. He's committed the resources, he's committed the money and by the way, his Democratic opponent who, voted for the war, then voted against funding the war which I think, again, is a very irresponsible...

KING: Additional funding.

HUGHES: Well, against the funding...

KING: Against the 87 million.

HUGHES: Funding to help protect our troops and arm and equip our troops and help rebuild Afghanistan.

KING: Let's put it this way. Is there any area you ever disagree with the president?

HUGHES: Oh, sure. But I'm going to tell him, not you.

KING: Are you as forceful an advocate for your disagreement as you are for your agreement?

HUGHES: I am. I am. I think one of the things the president expects from his staff is our unvarnished opinion. He gave a very knowing laugh when he named me counsel to the president. I said, Mr. President, I promise I will always give you my unvarnished opinion. And the entire room broke up in laughter because I'm known for being blunt. My husband says I talk to everybody the same like a dog. I love my dog. I have a wonderful dog but I'm very blunt. I'm known for that. I feel very free to disagree with the president. That's what he wants from us. I don't think it's my place. No one elected me. I work for the president because I believe in him and because -- I wouldn't be doing this for anyone else.

As I describe in my book, I never grew up thinking one day I would go to work at the White House. If I planned my career the right way, found a politician who was going run, I would end up there. What happened to me was, I went to work for someone who I admired and believed in, and he decided to run for president and I hung along for the ride.

KING: Where were you on 9/11? HUGHES: I was actually at home that morning...

KING: In Washington?

HUGHES: In Washington. Which is -- September 10th is my wedding anniversary. Normally I would have traveled to Florida with the president, but I decided that you sometimes communicate big things with little acts. I decided that I would stay home in Washington with my husband. I had never missed an anniversary dinner in 18 years and I wasn't about to start just because I worked at the White House.

So I was home in Washington. I was scheduled to represent the White House at a Habitat for humanity house build the morning of September 11 so I had my blue jeans and T-shirt. I wasn't going to the West Wing and because of that...

KING: Jimmy Carter going to be there?

HUGHES: No, I don't think he was going to be there but Mel Martinez the secretary of housing at the time, now candidate for Senate in Florida was leading the build. And I was just getting dressed when the phone rang. It was my assistant at the White House. And she got my husband. He brought the phone to me and she said, Karen, a plane has hit the World Trade Center and it looks pretty bad. I remember saying how bad? She said, we think ten or 12 floors. At that time everybody thought a terrible accident. I turned on the television and, like many Americans did, saw that second plane.

KING: Did you rush right in?

HUGHES: Well, I tried. I saw on TV the White House was being evacuated. So I was calling, trying -- I knew I had to get to work. I couldn't figure out where to go. I was on the phone with my assistant when she said, Karen, I've got to go, the Secret Service is yelling at us to get out of here. I said, well then go, get out. Then for the next 30 minutes, I was oddly disconnected. I was trying to call and no one was answering the phone. I knew I had to get there but they shut down and I couldn't tell how -- finally the vice president ended up sending a military driver to pick me up and I went back to the emergency operations center there.

KING: We'll go to break. We'll be back. More discussion with Karen Hughes and at the bottom of the hour we'll take your phone calls. The book is "Ten Minutes from Normal." As we go to break, here's the president earlier today.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will pass sovereignty on June 30. We will stay the course in Iraq. We're not going to be intimidated by thugs or assassins. We're not going to cut and run from the people who long for freedom because you know what? We understand a free Iraq is an historic opportunity to help change the world and be more peaceful. That's what we understand in the country.




SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to be successful in Iraq. I have said that many times. But, we have to be successful by pursuing a policy that makes sense, that brings all nations to the table to understand the stakes. And I think this administration has yet to provide Americans with a thorough understanding of exactly who we are turning the authority over to in June, and precisely what the consequences of that will be.


KING: According to a poll released Monday by Pew research Bush's job approval rating is down to 43 percent. That's a low for his presidency. Same poll said half those surveyed disapprove of the war in Iraq.

Reaction from Karen Hughes, author of "Ten Minutes (UNINTELLIGIBLE)"

HUGHES: Polls come and go. I saw a poll last week that said 53 percent, one of the highest it's been in several months. So, I doubt that it changed that dramatically. I tend to rely more on instinct and what I hear from people. Obviously polling is part of the political art. People look at them and focus group this and focus group that. But there's an old saying that the only poll that counts is on election day. We'll have a tough campaign, and on election day the voters will make up their mind.

KING: Are you and Karl Rove protagonist, antagonists?

HUGHES: Karl and I are friend. We've worked together for years, and we sometimes disagree. Because members of a president's staff should disagree. Largely it's because we have different roles. My job is the big picture message and public perception, the communications strategy. One of Karl's many jobs, he does a lot of work in the policy area to, because he's a very bright policy thinker. But one of his many jobs is to stitch together a coalition of legislators to support the president's agenda or voters to help reelected the president, and sometimes those two give you a different perspective.

KING: A major political insider told me yesterday, in regards to you -- I'll tell you off the air who it was. But he said you are the key link to the president. If the president comes down to, that's it, you're the number one counselor.

HUGHES: Well, that's a tremendous responsibility, isn't it?

KING: Are you surprised at that, is he on the mark?

HUGHES: I think a lot of people, lot of people have a lot of great deal of -- the president has wonderful staff. Andy Card the chief of staff, Condoleezza Rice, Karl. A lot of people the public has never really heard of. Harriet Meyers, a wonderful lawyers, who's been with him for years who is the head of all policy in the White House. Josh Bolten at the Office of Management and Budget. All his cabinet members, who are instrumental parts of the president's team. There are a lot of people, Larry. I do think I know the president well. I've traveled with him for a long. I have worked with him for a long time. I think he knows that when I offer my opinion or advice, it's out of trying help him be the best president he can be and for no other reason. And maybe that gives some level of trust.

KING: You don't have an agenda?

HUGHES: I don't. I don't. Except for, again -- I don't think I'd be doing this for anyone else. I can't imagine that I would be back home in Austin, Texas, spending more time with my family if it wasn't for believing so strongly in this president.

KING: Where did you come up with this title?

HUGHES: It's from an experience on the presidential campaign. It was right, couple days after the Republican convention, which you've covered conventions. They're chaos. There people and balloons and parties and hoopla and those funny hats and elephants everywhere in glittery vest. They're chaos. You don't get any sleep. So, we left and we were exhausted. And we got on this train. All of a sudden we're doing this slow roll across the Midwest, seeing cows outside the window. Just a complete contrast from the convention. The second day as we came into a little town in Illinois the conductor came over the loud speaker and announced, ladies and gentlemen, we are 10 minutes from Normal. Ten minutes from normal. And I turned to a couple friends and the staff cart and said, if I ever write a book, that's the title. Because...

KING: That's Normal, Iowa or Normal, Illinois.

HUGHES: That's how I feel. I feel like I am a normal person, who had a normal upbringing. I've got a teenage son, who thinks I'm totally annoying. I have got animals who don't mind. My husband said to say when they said I controlled the White House message, my husband used to say anyone who thinks she's in control ought to come see our animals. I'm a very normal person, who's had a the enormous privilege of having a friend and boss run for and become the president.

KING: What does your husband do?

HUGHES: He is an attorney who is not practicing law. He is currently working at our church as the assistant director of adult education. We team taught a class of sixth grade Sunday school class. I joked that those sixth graders...

KING: What city?

HUGHES: In Austin. Those sixth graders were so smart, they sent my husband back to the seminary to learn more about all of this theology. So know he's working in Christian education. KING: Our guest is Karen Hughes. You will now get the chance to talk to the former counselor to the president who returns to the campaign wars August 15th officially. She's the author of "Ten Minutes From Normal."

Your questions for this -- I was going say this abnormal person. Right after this. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Karen Hughes. Your chance to talk to one of the most influential people in the administration. She's the author of "Ten Minutes From Normal." Let's go to calls. Athens, Georgia, hello.



CALLER: Ms. Hughes, I wonder, recently Colin Powell was asked about when he gave his speech to the United Nations about the weapons of mass destruction, and he said perhaps he had been given some misinformation, and yet you're continuing to repeat some of the things that he said then. Are you still repeating the same information, knowing that perhaps that was misinformation?

HUGHES: No, I don't think so at all. In fact, what Secretary Powell presented to the United Nations, I was actually in Washington the week before he made that case and looked at some of the evidence myself. What he presented was the best evidence that we had, the best intelligence that we had, what we had been given by the intelligence officials of our country. It had also been presented to certain members of the Intelligence Committees in both the House and the Senate. It was, even President Clinton and Senator Hillary Clinton have acknowledged that that's what they believed as well, because it was really the accumulated body of about 15 years of American intelligence.

And I don't think that I have repeated that at all. What I have said is, I have -- I have talked about what chief weapons inspector David Kay said when he came back from Iraq just a few months ago. He reported that he thought we were wrong about the weapons, but he did find evidence of ongoing weapons of mass destruction program activities. And that's the way he phrased it, to cover a wide variety of things that he felt that Saddam Hussein was engaging in. And it's undisputed that he, in fact, in the past had weapons, because he, after all, used them in the past.

KING: I believe James Scotty West (ph), the brilliant writer in "The New York Times" once said, there's never been a case in American political history where an elected official said we were wrong. Ever. Either party.

HUGHES: Well, David Kay said we were wrong.

KING: How do you account -- how do you account for that? Not elected. He's not elected.

HUGHES: But he also said -- well, he's not elected, but he also said we were right. And that's what's interesting, Larry, about this debate. I don't think that -- that wasn't the headlines in the newspaper or news magazines, it was we were all wrong, instead of we were right about the war. And I worry that the American people haven't heard that very important judgment.

KING: Dallas, hello.

CALLER: Hello.

KING: Yes. Go ahead.

CALLER: Yes, first, let me say that I just finished reading the book today, and it was terrific.

HUGHES: Well, thank you. That's great. I'm glad you liked it.

CALLER: Well, thank you. But my question is, what role does your faith play in your advising of the president?

HUGHES: Well, you know, it's my faith is really the foundation of my life. It's how I decide my choices. It's how I decide my priorities. It teaches me how to set priorities in life and how -- what's important in life. My faith has two primary principles, love God and love your neighbor. And that's how I try to live my life. And so it affects me in the sense of what I think is important.

And obviously, that's a foundation that affects everything I do. It teaches me to try to be ethical, to try to do the right thing.

One of my favorite scriptures is the one that says "All that is required of you is to love -- act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God." And that's the way I try to live my life. That said, obviously the kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom. We operate here on Earth in a political environment, but sometimes I'm a little troubled because sometimes I remember having a conversation once with my boss that this political process sometimes doesn't feel very Christian. He responded to me, well, that's true, but it's important for people, Christians and people of all faiths, to be involved in the political process for the right reasons. And I think the only right reasons to be involved is because you genuinely care and you want to make your country, your state, your neighborhood, a better place.

And I think, you know, one of the reasons I first became involved in politics was because as a reporter, I admired the people who were willing to put their lives on -- their names on the ballot and subject themselves to the spears and arrows and the scrutiny of the public, and run for public office. And that's true of people by and large, I found, of both parties.

KING: There's some who have said that the president sees this as some sort of great war between Christianity and Muslimism. Do you accept that? HUGHES: No, I don't at all. In fact, that just is not the case. As I stated earlier, our enemies in the terror network have vowed to kill all Christians, all Jews and all Muslims who don't agree with them. I think this is a battle between the forces of civilization and the forces of chaos. And it's very important that the civilized nations of the world work together to respond to that threat.

KING: It is black and white?

HUGHES: I think it is black and white, Larry, and I think for me, where I come down, I think the fundamental difference is, we value every life. And the terrorists value none, not even their own. We are a nation founded on the belief that every individual was endowed by our creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We believe in the dignity and the worth and the value of every life. And we've acted that way around the world. That's why we acted to liberate the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.

I have not been to Iraq, but I have been to Afghanistan and I have met with women and girls there who were brutally repressed during the years of the Taliban. They were treated as virtual prisoners in their home. We believe their lives have value, just as much value as men, or as men and women who live in this country. And it's really the fundamental difference that separates us. And that's what's at stake here in this battle against terror.

KING: Champagne, Illinois, for Karen Hughes. The book, "Ten Minutes From Normal." Hello.

CALLER: Hello. I was wondering if anyone in the Bush administration has considered the fact or possibility that maybe the weapons of mass destruction were actually there and some terrorist organization or group has actually acquired them?

HUGHES: Well, I certainly hope that is not the case. That's, as I said, the nightmare scenario. We certainly hope that's not the case. I think you will find different opinions in Washington from different people about what the exact status of the weapons is or was. As I said, David Kay has concluded in his view that we were wrong about the weapons. Others disagree. Others think we will still find them. And the work is ongoing. And Iraq...

KING: The general thinking is they aren't there.

HUGHES: ... is a very big country. That's -- I would say that's probably the general thinking now. But there are some who feel that perhaps Saddam's own generals misled him about the status of the programs. There are some people who will argue that perhaps they were spirited across the border to another country. I think CIA Director George Tenet said, in the end he thinks we were probably -- we will probably find out that we were not either all right or all wrong. And that's the nature of intelligence. Intelligence, by its nature, is trying to discern something that somebody doesn't want you to know. And particularly in this case, the terrorists don't want us to know their intentions or their plans.

KING: Monterey, California, for Karen Hughes.

CALLER: Thank you very much. Ms. Hughes, I have a question for you. A friend of mine worked at the World Trade Center, and on the evening of September 10, at 8:00 at night when he left work, when he exited the building, the building was cordoned off with police tape and there were bomb-sniffing dogs in New York either fire or police on the scene investigating. And so you can imagine his feeling the next day when the events transpired. And so my question to you is, given what I have just told you, which did not appear in our media here in this country, but which was reported in Europe, are you convinced that there was no prior knowledge about the impending attack on the World Trade Center?

KING: I never heard that.

HUGHES: Well, I have never heard that, and I frankly can't imagine if that were the case that Mayor Giuliani or members of the New York Police Department or the 9/11 commission or someone else investigating that would not have -- have reported that. So I find that a little bit hard to -- actually, very hard to really believe that that is credible. But I, you know, have you ever heard that, Larry?

KING: Never heard it. Did anyone ever think ...

HUGHES: I've never heard that before. I do not believe -- I just do not believe that anyone -- my understanding is -- and before September 11, I was not as involved in some of the national security matters as I was after September 11, when the president put me in charge of communicating the war. But I -- my understanding of all the intelligence that we received when there was a spike in intelligence was that most of it was directed at the idea of a foreign attack, and that none of it was ever specific. In other words, that we did not know what, when. There was general talk about something big being planned, but we didn't know where in the world it might happen. We didn't know who, you know, how many, what, when, where, why. And it's an awfully big world. You know, that's one of the problems with the nature of the terror network.

KING: I guess no one ever suggested that it would be done with our own planes?

HUGHES: With our planes, I don't believe that. Actually, I think there was -- apparently at the initiative of the president, who asked a lot of questions when we were told that there was a spike in terror threats, primarily directed, again, at overseas targets, we thought. But my understanding is both the president and Dr. Rice asked, would it be possible for one of those to be directed against our country? And there was a briefing on August 6 that I think speculated about the use of planes to perhaps free hostages, but never, I don't think, any speculation about planes being used as weapons to fly into buildings.

KING: Toronto, hello.

CALLER: Yes. I'd like to know, a year ago this president said firmly that this war was necessary because of weapons of mass destruction. I would like you now to explain to me how this administration operates with -- there's a strong belief of the definite possibilities that there is the potential materials that may be one day used against the United States. That doesn't sound so firm to me.

HUGHES: Well, I think what the president said -- you have to go back. He did say -- he based it on every bit of evidence that we had. And by the way, not only we. Based on evidence that President Clinton and Vice President Gore had, that Senator Kerry felt was true. After all, he said it numerous times in his public statements. He talked about Saddam Hussein and his weapons. The U.N. Security Council believed they had weapons. Every credible intelligence agency in the world felt they had weapons. So we had to act based on what we thought we knew at the time. And based on our own security. Again, I just have to keep going back to this point because I feel it's so important. Saddam obviously had the capability to produce weapons. After all, he had done so in the past and had used them.

KING: But other countries also have that, too.

HUGHES: I remember talking about that, Larry, and being told that Saddam was unique, for a number of reasons. Because he is such a terrible tyrant. Because he had a history. Because he was operating in a very volatile region of the world. That there was potentially very explosive.

KING: We'll take a break and come back with more calls for Karen Hughes. The book "Ten Minutes from Normal" is published by Viking. Don't go away.


HUGHES: I'm Karen Hughes, counselor to President Bush. I am here to update you all on the activities of the federal government in response to this morning's attacks on our country.




KERRY: The Bush administration is busy spending millions of dollars to try to mislead America again. They misled America, leading us into the war in Iraq. They misled America on taxes and jobs. This president promised America 5.1 million jobs and he's lost 1.8 million. That's a difference of 7 million jobs.


KING: Is that a key issue, Karen?

HUGHES: Huge issue. I don't see how Senator Kerry can say that with a straight face, frankly.

KING: That's a misstatement?

HUGHES: Obviously. Obviously the attacks of September 11 had a devastating effect on our economy. He knows that. He's got to know that. It really hurt the tourism industry, the travel industry, the airline industry. Huge segments of our American economy. When President Bush took office, he inherited a recession that was beginning as we took office and actually the economy dipped into recession within weeks after before the president took office. It started back in the year before he took office.

Then we had corporate scandals. We had the stock market decline. And I think uncertainty about the war in Iraq did cause problems for our economy. Businesses were a little leery, understandably, about investing and adding jobs. But look what's happened since. President Bush not only championed tax cuts during the campaign, but actually worked with Congress to get them done. That's one of the things that causes sometimes his opponents to resent him. He's effective. He not only talked about education reform. He got it done. He not only talked about prescription drugs and Medicare, leaders of both parties have talked about that for years. President Bush worked with Congress and signed it into law and got it done. What we've seen in the economy is the economy is rebounding rapidly. We added 308,000 new jobs last month.

KING: But salaries are very low.

HUGHES: Again, I don't think -- what the president was talking about today is training our young people for the high salaried, high growth jobs of the future in high tech, in fields. We need to help our young people by helping them learn better math and science skills. That's what the president was doing today at a community college. Talking about better training. You hear a lot of talk about outsourcing. What's important is that we need to equip our workers with the skills to outperform workers around the world. Because I'm convinced that American workers can outperform any competitors if they have the right skills and the right training and that's what President Bush is focused on.

KING: Annapolis, Maryland for Karen Hughes, the author of "Ten Minutes from Normal." Hello.

CALLER: First thing I want to say. You're very good, Karen Hughes. No wonder they called you up. I just want to let you know that I'm a Republican and I voted for President Bush. I believe that the president is at the helm. It's his watch, as he's been saying, at many of his fund-raisers. And I believe taking responsibility is a sign of leadership. Therefore, I'm very concerned. Can you please explain to me what President Bush's own words meant that he said to Bob Woodward which were, paraphrased, I'm sorry, if al Qaeda was not urgent, I was not on point, I was not thinking about Osama bin Laden. To me, it begins and ends there.

HUGHES: That's slightly somewhat of a misquote. I was in the office when the president did that interview with Bob Woodward. What he was actually asked about was killing Osama bin Laden, assassinating Osama bin Laden. You understand, that is always a very difficult decision for any American president. That's something that our country is rightly very concerned about, the idea of assassination of a foreign national. Particularly before September 11.

And what Bob Woodward asked him was, did you think about killing Osama bin Laden, assassinating him? And President Bush was comparing the way he felt before September 11 to the way he felt after September 11. And he said, my blood was not nearly -- I was not as on point. The end of the quote was, my blood was not nearly as boiling as it was in the aftermath. Of course that's understandable. None of our blood was nearly as boiling as it was in the aftermath of September 11 once he had masterminded that horrific attack on our country.

KING: By the way, Bob Woodward has a new book coming out on the war and it will be out on the 19 of April. He will be on "60 Minutes" on the 18th. His first live primetime appearance will be on this show as with Karen Hughes tonight. We'll be live with Bob Woodward....

HUGHES: You get all the good guests, Larry.

KING: We try. We'll be live with Bob Woodward for the hour on the 19th. We go to Hamilton, Ohio. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. Welcome back, Karen. We missed you.

HUGHES: Well, thank you so much. I promised the president when I left the White House, that I would travel with him the last few months of the re-election campaign.

KING: By the way, this is the first time she's taken calls, right, on the air. You're doing well.

HUGHES: That's true. Thank you.

CALLER: I am getting tired of this no weapons of mass destruction sound. I think President Bush did the right thing in going into Iraq and freeing the Iraqi people from the terrorist dictator. I guess my question is to you, Afghanistan has now calmed down to some degree. Do you think Iraq will eventually calm down? Do you think the Iraqi people will physically help the U.S. troops disband the terrorist factors in Iraq? Thank you.

HUGHES: Absolutely, I think that's what will happen. What they're dealing with right now is one very radical cleric who has mounted an illegal militia and is basically trying to undermine the Democratic process there. The Iraqi governing council that we are working with, composed of Iraqi leaders themselves has condemned in broad terms, any act like that, designed to subvert the Democratic process there. You know, this is never easy. It wasn't easy in Germany and Japan after World War II. It wasn't easy in our own country.

The work of building a democracy is hard, but everything I have been -- heard and understand from people who are actually working in Iraq is there's tremendous progress being made. Despite the horrible violence that we all grieve and mourn for the loss of lives, that in other parts of the country, reconstruction is underway. I have talked with several of our men and women in uniform who have been in Iraq. And I have yet to find one who doesn't think that we're doing the right thing. Almost all of them have told me, when I have had private conversations with them, after they've come back.

I said, what do you think?

What do you think?

You were there.

Are we doing the right thing?

Everybody has said yes, we are.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Karen Hughes. Get in a few more phone calls. Don't go away.


KING: As we come back, you're looking at the situation room. I guess this is 9/11.

HUGHES: It is. And that's a very famous picture because there are so many women in it. And I was proud there were more senior administration women than any administration than in the history of our country. You see Condoleezza Rice the national security advisor, Mary Madeline and of course, me.

KING: Was Cheney, talking to the president?

HUGHES: I believe so in that picture. I believe so.

KING: Orlando. Orlando, with Karen Hughes. Hello.

CALLER: Karen, my question to you is, why is it that -- hello?

KING: Yes, go ahead.

CALLER: Karen, my question is to you is, why is that it the administration is so harshly attacks anyone that questions or possibly criticizes this administration?

And, also, along with that, have you received criticism or attack based on the book that you have just written?

HUGHES: I don't really think so. My book is really much bigger than just the political process. When I talked to my editors about writing the book, I wanted to write about things that were important in life. About priorities, about family, about the struggle we all face to balance our career with our family. I had been surprised by the resonance of my decision to leave the White House. I had people stop me everywhere and talk to me about the sacrifices they have made for their own children, or they turned down promotions or -- I had a lot of men. I was surprised how many men stopped to talk to me about the struggle to balance career and family. So, I view my book as a bigger picture. Of course, I talked about what it was like to work in the White House. I talk about September 11th. I talk about my friend, the president. But it's not just a political book. I think that distinguishes it from some of the others. And I...

KING: Why do they attack everybody?

HUGHES: I wish he was still on the line to ask what does he mean by that.

KING: Well, there seems to be -- Clarke speech and there's an attack.

HUGHES: What attack?

We disagreed with his characterization, and Larry, I was there.

KING: Do you think the ads against Kerry are not attacks?

HUGHES: Let me just put it this way. In the political process, you can have disagreements on facts and issues. That's what my advice to the White House after Mr. Clarke's testimony was to confine our disagreements with him to the facts and the issues. I think he presented a very distorted view. I was there. I saw for myself what was happening. And I don't think what he said was what was really happening. And I was in meetings with the president. He was not always in meetings with the president. I was. So I think it was a distorted view. And I think understandably that upset people who felt like he was not painting an accurate view of the administration.

KING: That's different than painting him as an appointed spy of the Democrats.

HUGHES: Let me talk about -- who knows?

Who know, he said he voted for Al Gore. I don't know why he did it. I would not have advised him to speculate about why he did it. That's up to him. But I think, there's plenty of evidence to refute him on the facts. Let's talk the political debate real quickly.

KING: We only have a minute.

HUGHES: Who has called who crooked and a liar?

You'll never find President Bush resorting to those personal at tax. You will never find President Bush using the bible, using scripture as a political weapon as Senator Kerry has done twice now he has quoted scripture to attack the president. There's no place for that in American politics. I think the personal attacks have got to stop. And It's not -- there's a difference between sharp disagreements on the issues and those kind of sweeping personal attacks, which I think there's no place for.

KING: Do you expect it to get worse?

HUGHES: I hope not. I know it won't for President Bush's side. He will debate sharply on the issues, but won't engage in name calling or personal attacks. KING: Always good seeing you.

HUGHES: Larry, thank you very much for having me.


KING: For sure, we'll see you in New York at the convention.

HUGHES: Absolutely. Absolutely, I'll be there.

KING: Karen Hughes, counsel to the president, wife and mother. Author of "Ten Minutes from Normal." I'll be back to tell you about tomorrow night. Don't go away.


KING: Tomorrow night an incredible story, Polly Mitchell kept prisoner by her own husband for 10 years. A story you are not going to believe. Polly Mitchell tomorrow night.

And now, he's back from the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) observance to observe Tuesday night with us. He's the host of "NEWSNIGHT." He's our man. We'll be at the Yankee opener won't we. Aaron Brown joins us now at NEWSNIGHT. Go Mr. B.


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