The Web      Powered by
powered by Yahoo!


Return to Transcripts main page


Condoleezza Rice Testifies

Aired April 8, 2004 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: the national security adviser's day in the hot seat.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There was no silver bullet that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks.

ANNOUNCER: Condoleezza Rice testifies about the Bush administration's war against terrorism.

RICE: I just don't buy the argument that we weren't shaking the trees enough.



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.



National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice today told the 9/11 Commission that if Richard Clarke really had suggestions about fighting terrorism, all he needed to do was come talk to her.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, of course, blaming your underlings is a time-honored tradition among Washington weasels, but Dr. Rice has no one but herself to blame for the many contradictions in her testimony today.

We will get to Dr. Rice's day in the hot seat right after the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday told a briefing -- held a briefing in which he told reporters that there is not a broad- based Shiite uprising in Iraq. Rumsfeld said there is a fanatical band of -- quote -- "thugs, gangs and terrorists" -- unquote -- who are following the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. But he said there is no broad-based uprising. At almost the exact same moment Rumsfeld was saying that, though, U.S. intelligence officials were telling "The New York Times" the very opposite. Intelligence officials said there is in fact a broad-based uprising among the Shiites. They said the revolt extends beyond Mr. Sadr's following and represents a growing hatred of Americans among the Shiites.

So, this we know for certain. Somebody in the Bush administration is lying to the American people. Now, either it's Mr. Rumsfeld or it's the officials who talked to "The Times." And I have to say, given Mr. Rumsfeld's history of misleading statements on Iraq, I know who I believe.

CARLSON: You know, I...


CARLSON: I think -- I think it's appalling and it's unuseful to accuse people of lying when essentially this is a judgment call. I happen to think it looks like Iraq is falling apart. But it's not clear. Even people on the ground who I speak to today in Iraq aren't sure, those who are actually watching it, whether it's broad-based or not. It looks broad-based to me, but to accuse the guy of lying...



BEGALA: Why doesn't he say he's not sure, then?

CARLSON: No, no, because that's his judgment.


BEGALA: ... just tell the truth.

CARLSON: It might be people with different judgments. It doesn't mean he's lying.

BEGALA: He's lying.

CARLSON: Well, as Iraq slips deeper into chaos, the rest of us wait to learn what exactly John Kerry would do to fix it. Kerry himself still won't say. Daily, he reminds us that George W. Bush is very evil.

But ask John Kerry how the U.S. should handle the radical Shiite cleric leading the murderous insurgency and Kerry ignores the question, doesn't even bother to respond. "New York Times" reports say that Kerry has -- quote -- "no plans to explain his Iraq policy," because of course he doesn't have an Iraq policy.

Instead, here is what Kerry told CNN yesterday -- quote -- "Right now, what I would do differently is -- I mean, look, I'm not the president and I didn't create this mess, so I don't want to acknowledge a mistake that I haven't made" -- end quote. Huh? (LAUGHTER)


BEGALA: Whatever that means. Whatever it does mean, it's not good enough for a man who wants to be president. It's not even close to good enough.

CARLSON: It's not even the end of the quote, Tucker. You're a better reporter than that.

He went on the next sentence to say the president needs to step up and acknowledge that there are difficulties and that the world needs to be involved and they need to reverse their policies in countries that were not involved in supporting us. They're not going to be part of the reconstruction. He went on and on.

CARLSON: What does that mean? It doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean anything.

BEGALA: It means internationalize the burden. It means spread the responsibilities, bring some help in.


CARLSON: That doesn't mean anything, Paul. No, that doesn't mean anything. It's just air. We need a real plan to fix this. It's out of control.


BEGALA: We do, and we need the president to get a new plan, Tucker.


CARLSON: That's so dumb.

BEGALA: No, it's unfair to take one sentence


CARLSON: It's not unfair. His -- today in "The New York Times," his campaign has said...


CARLSON: ... they're not giving an Iraq speech. I want to hear his plan. What is it?

BEGALA: I want to hear Bush's plan first.

Well, the Bush White House, speaking of our president...

(APPLAUSE) BEGALA: The Bush White House has actually gone to court to seek to overturn -- to seek to overturn, that is -- a judge's ruling that American POWs held hostage by Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War are entitled to nearly $1 billion in damages. Some of those POWs were beaten. Some were tortured. Some were starved. All will be denied compensation if Mr. Bush has his way.

The former POWs are suing for damages from Iraqi assets that were frozen back in 1990. Now, Mr. Bush insists that these assets should be used in what he calls the rebuilding of Iraq. Of course, that includes lucrative no-bid contracts to giant corporations like Dick Cheney's friends at Halliburton. So, in the Bush-Cheney era -- get this -- Halliburton is entitled to billion-dollar no-bid contracts, but heroic POWs who suffered for their country at the hands of Saddam Hussein are entitled to nothing.

You know, the POWs should have played it smart. They should have had the foresight to be contributors to the Bush-Cheney campaign.

CARLSON: You know what?



CARLSON: If George W. Bush -- if George W. Bush gets reelected, I believe it will be partly because the left has gone completely insane. And Halliburton is how you know.


CARLSON: Halliburton has nothing to do with anything. You may disagree with what they've done. You may think they charged too much for water, food and fuel. But the idea they're at the center of this conspiracy with Cheney, it's so crazy.


CARLSON: Why can't you see that?


BEGALA: Bush is seeking to deny recovery to POWs and use the money for rebuilding Iraq, which a lot goes to Halliburton.

CARLSON: It has nothing to do with Halliburton.

BEGALA: Of course it does. They're rebuilding Iraq. They're trying to, anyway.


Well, for years, many people have suspected that columnist Jimmy Breslin is a fraud. And now they know for certain. Yesterday, Breslin wrote a column for "Newsday" in which he quoted conservative activist Lou Sheldon. In Breslin's version, Sheldon accuses gays of kidnapping children.

Here's the quote: "They proselytize. They come to the door, and if your son answers and nobody is there to stop it, they grab the son. They run off with him. They take him away and turn him into a homosexual" -- end quote.

Well, it sounds, of course, like a parody of the left-wing version of conservatism. And, in fact, that's exactly what it is. Sheldon says he's never even seen Jimmy Breslin. Breslin says the two have indeed met one time 12 years ago. The columnist admits he took no notes during that alleged conversation. Instead, Breslin, who is now in his mid 70s, claims to have remembered all 11 lines of the exchange verbatim in order for more than a decade without ever once writing them down.

Well, tell us another one, Jimmy Breslin. Actually, don't.

BEGALA: Actually, keep telling the truth, Jimmy Breslin, about these right-wing thugs.

CARLSON: That's a lie. Don't you care?

BEGALA: He is a great American, a great journalist. And I believe Jimmy Breslin over the Reverend Lou Sheldon.


CARLSON: You honestly believe


BEGALA: Do I believe Jimmy Breslin?


BEGALA: Yes, I do.


BEGALA: He is a great man.


BEGALA: A great journalist, a great columnist.


BEGALA: I love him.

CARLSON: As someone who has written all his life, I can tell you, it's not plausible that for 12 years you could remember



CARLSON: ... verbatim...

BEGALA: Something that psychotic, I would remember for 12 years, yes.

CARLSON: That's crazy. How can you...


BEGALA: I love Jimmy Breslin. And I...

CARLSON: But he's lying. Doesn't that bother you?

BEGALA: No, he's not. He's being besmirched.


BEGALA: ... a great guy.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice says this country was not -- simply not on a war footing being September 11, but the woman who was the national security adviser during the worst breach of national security in American history today offered no policies, conceded no mistakes in her testimony before the 9/11 Commission.

In a moment, we will debate Dr. Rice's testimony with two of the savviest national security strategists in the business.

And later, the best campaign slogan at least I have heard since people were saying, reelect Bill Clinton.

Stay with us.



CARLSON: Welcome back.

In her testimony before the 9/11 Commission this morning, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice endured nearly three hours of testimony on Capitol Hill, including snarling and even shouting from some commission Democrats.

Rice explained what most Americans already assumed, that the known threats prior to September 11 were not detailed enough to act upon. Osama bin Laden, not the Bush administration, is responsible for the murder of 3,000 Americans.

Well, in the CROSSFIRE to assess Rice's day on Capitol Hill, former National Security Council spokesman P.J. Crowley, now a senior fellow at the Center For American Progress, and former "New York Times" foreign correspondent Cliff May, now with the Foundation For the Defense of Democracies.

BEGALA: Gentlemen, good to see you both.



BEGALA: Cliff, it seems to me the news of the day is about the August 6 president's daily briefing.

On August 6 of 2001, our president was on vacation in Crawford. Every day, every president receives a briefing from the CIA, the president's daily briefing. That came up a lot today. Dr. Rice suggested it was -- and I'm quoting her here -- "a historical memo," not a warning of a threat to America.

But under questioning and under oath, she revealed the title of that secret memo, which was this: "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States." Now, first off, is that not a threat? And, second, shouldn't they release it?

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: First of all, if you know bin Laden is about to attack, but you have no idea where, but you have no idea how, you don't have the intelligence, tell me, you, tell what you do about it.

BEGALA: That's a different thing. That's a valid point. But that's not what Dr. Rice said. She said, oh, it was just a historical document. It didn't have anything to do with


MAY: It is. It's historical.

BEGALA: It's historic.

MAY: The threat from bin Laden, as you all know, did not start in 2001.

BEGALA: Right.

MAY: It started probably in 1993 when the World Trade Center was attacked for the first time. It sure started in 1996 when he declared war on the U.S. Did you have as your aim when you were in the Clinton White House the elimination of al Qaeda? No, you didn't. I don't blame you for that.


MAY: The elimination of al Qaeda, was that ever your strategy?

BEGALA: Was that Bush's?

MAY: It should have been -- it was not Bush's. It's was not Clinton's. And, in fact, my thesis is -- because I'm not going to get partisan about this.


BEGALA: The question is, should they release the president's daily briefing?


MAY: As a precedent, it's a bad idea.


MAY: My guess is, they're going to do it.

But I'm going to say one thing that's not partisan. But it's important, because we shouldn't be making a commission, whose job it is to learn lessons, instead take the role of laying blame. Ever since 1979, when our embassy got taken in Tehran, '83, when we were bombed in Beirut, we have not had a good strategy on terrorism to defeat this threat. We only had it after 2001 and now we've got to pursue it and stop laying blame.

BEGALA: And now we're invading Iraq.

CARLSON: Now, P.J., I'll tell you what I learned today which I didn't know.



CARLSON: For weeks, I've listened to Democrats on this show attempt to blame President Bush for 9/11. And they say, by contrast, the Clinton administration did this marvelous job fighting terrorism. And, as an example, they say the millennium bombing threat was stopped by crack Clinton antiterrorism tactics.

Instead, we learned today from Condoleezza Rice, here's what really happened.


RICE: I don't think it was shaking the trees that produced the breakthrough in the millennium plot. It was that you got a -- Dick Clarke would say a lucky break. I would say you got an alert customs agent who got it right. And the interesting thing is that I've checked with customs, and, according to their records, they weren't actually on alert.


CARLSON: See? And isn't that exactly -- isn't that exactly the point, that it was a lucky break, it's wonderful? But isn't it time to stop blaming people for 9/11 and stop turning this into some sort of partisan mud fest, when it shouldn't be?

P.J. CROWLEY, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, look, the fact is that the attacks were stopped in 1999 because counterterrorism had become a real priority, you know, for the Clinton administration. We had begun to rewire the government, rewire the response to this. We find out from the Bush administration today that we wanted the strategic review. It was a convenient exercise, so they didn't have to really take any action. What we find out today is that, although there were 33 meetings of the principals, plenty of time to talk about national missile defense, China, Russia, other things on their agenda, there was no time until the September 4.

CARLSON: Wait. Wait. Wait.


CARLSON: Back up. Wait.

CROWLEY: There was no time until September 4 to focus on bin Laden. Real leaders don't shake trees. Real leaders don't do meetings.


CARLSON: Hold on, P.J. You sort of -- you blew past the facts here. You just said that...

CROWLEY: But the Clinton administration had the priority beginning in 1993.

CARLSON: Really?


CARLSON: Then I wonder if you could answer this simple question that you're ignoring.


CROWLEY: ... 1993.

CARLSON: Let me ask my follow-up question.

If it's true that vigilance on the part of the Clinton administration stopped the millennium bombing plot, then why wasn't customs on alert?

CROWLEY: I think that customs...

CARLSON: It's sort of a good question, isn't it, you've got to admit?


CROWLEY: Well, first off


BEGALA: Customs was on alert.

CARLSON: So Condoleezza Rice is lying?

CROWLEY: That requires us, actually, to take Condoleezza Rice on faith, which I'm not willing to do. I'm glad she was under oath, but here's one of the reasons I'm not.

She was asked today about a plan that Richard Clarke, President Bush's top counterterrorism expert and Clinton's before, had presented a plan, I think about four or five days into Bush's term to roll back al Qaeda. She denied that it was even a plan. Here was the very testy exchange she had with Senator Bob Kerrey, who I think caught her misleading the commission.

Here's Dr. Rice.


RICE: We were not presented with a plan.

BOB KERREY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, that's not true. It is not...

RICE: We were not presented. We were presented with...

KERREY: I've heard you say that, Dr. Clarke, that 25 January, 2001, memo was declassified, I don't believe...

RICE: That January 25 memo has a series of actionable items having to do with Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance.

KERREY: Let me move to another area.


BEGALA: Cliff, it wasn't a plan. It was a series of actionable items. Have you ever heard more weasel words in your life?



MAY: You know, I'm surprised. You're somebody -- you're somebody who has actually worked in the White House. So I know you know better than this.

Let's say -- let's just suppose that the plan said, I know, let's send special forces in to take out al Qaeda in their training camps, a great idea. Where would they have launched from? Not Pakistan, because it wasn't allowed. And the State Department wouldn't be in favor of it, because the State Department still thought there were moderate elements in the Taliban.

Look, the most important thing we know from Condi Rice


BEGALA: What is the difference between a plan and a series of actionable items?


MAY: Because, if you want to send special forces in, which God knows I wish Clinton had done during the 1990s.


MAY: Because, after all, there were thousand of terrorists.


MAY: Let me finish. Let me finish.

BEGALA: I just


MAY: There were thousands of terrorists trained, trained...

BEGALA: Translate for me here.

MAY: There were thousands of terrorists were trained in training camps in Afghanistan during the 1990s. We never sent special forces in for the same reason. I understand why, because it required a place to send them in from.


CROWLEY: I agree. I agree with Condi Rice that the government wasn't on a war footing. One of the reasons was, she didn't even bother, we find out today, to get a briefing on military options after they discovered the Cole was in fact attacked by bin Laden.


CARLSON: Let's go back to the beginning here. Now, you -- and I'm a little surprised, but you appear to be taking the Democratic line that Bush is responsible for 9/11.

MAY: You're not saying that. You're not saying that.


CARLSON: That's the implication of everything that is being said here. And that is that this administration's negligence is responsible for 9/11.

I want to confront you with an admission by the administration's chief critic. And that of course would be Dick Clarke. He was asked two weeks ago by former Senator Slade Gorton, if in fact we did everything you suggested, would that, is there the remotest chance that all of that would have prevented 9/11. Dick Clarke's response, one word, "No."

(CROSSTALK) MAY: My turn. My turn.


BEGALA: Respond.

CROWLEY: Look, the fact is, during the Clinton administration, counterterrorism had, in fact, become the No. 1 priority of the administration.

And you talk about customs being on alert. Sometimes luck happens because it is in fact a priority. This administration has said, oh, this was a priority. And yet they find time for national missile defense. They find time for China-Russia.


MAY: Peter, you found time for Kosovo and Bosnia.



CROWLEY: And Europe is today -- is unified.


MAY: You juggled more than one thing.

CROWLEY: The fact is, the strategic view was an excuse for no action. Today, we learned they did absolutely nothing before 9/11.



CARLSON: Hold on. I have not had a chance. Just very quickly, since we're almost out of time, three opportunities to take Osama bin Laden into custody, the Clinton administration had, turned down all three.


BEGALA: We're talking about Dr. Rice's testimony


CARLSON: Oh, no, I'm interested.


BEGALA: .. back to Condoleezza Rice's testimony.


CARLSON: Well, you don't want to talk about it because it makes you uncomfortable.


CROWLEY: That is spin. That is spin by the


CARLSON: It's not spin.

CROWLEY: ... who are in fact terrorists and in fact we struck in 1998.

MAY: An aspirin. With bad intelligence, you thought it was a weapons of mass destruction plan.


MAY: It wasn't a lie. It was bad intelligence. An aspirin factory.

CROWLEY: The people who know the intelligence stick with this...


BEGALA: I'm going to ring the bell. I want to ask Cliff May a very simple question. I want to come back to Dr. Rice's testimony, which is really why we asked you guys to come on here.

Tim Roemer, a former congressman who is a member of the commission, took on this argument that the Bush administration did everything they could. Nobody thinks that the Bush administration is responsible for 9/11. Good lord. Nobody says that.

MAY: Good for you.


BEGALA: But I think Roemer blows them out of the water today.


BEGALA: Just listen to Congressman Roemer talk about what they did and did not do.

Here's Tim Roemer today from the hearing.


TIMOTHY ROEMER, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR NATIONAL POLICY: The principals meet 33 times in seven months on Iraq, on the Middle East, on missile defense, China, on Russia. Not once do the principals ever sit down, you and your job description as the national security adviser, the secretary of state, the second of defense, the president of the United States, and meet solely on terrorism.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BEGALA: A short response, Cliff.

MAY: The short response is this. President Bush came into office. He said, I want a comprehensive strategic plan. I don't want to swat flies. For the next few months, they were developing it.

If they had developed that plan in 24 hours, we didn't have the intelligence. We didn't have the FBI. We didn't have the immigration. We didn't have the means to take on the terrorists. If you couldn't do it during eight years under Clinton, Bush couldn't do it


BEGALA: We did it for eight years.


CARLSON: All right, we're going to take a quick break.


CARLSON: Next, in "Rapid Fire," we will ask our guests, who are still talking, if applause was out of place at today's 9/11 hearings.

And, in just a moment, Wolf Blitzer will update us on the fighting in Iraq, where today we saw the first use of an inhumane new tactic. He'll explain what it is.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, history on the stand. Public accountability from the White House over the September 11 terror attacks in the form of the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. We'll have comprehensive coverage of her testimony this coming hour. And I'll speak live with two commission members.

A disturbing new tactic for insurgents in Iraq. Foreigners are being taken hostage. And dramatic new images, casualties on the ground, and the pain of families at home -- those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Welcome back.

Time now for "Rapid Fire," where we ask questions faster than the Bush administration can shift blame or point fingers over 9/11.


BEGALA: Our guests, Cliff May of the Foundation For Defense of Democracies and Colonel P.J. Crowley, retired United States Air Force, now of the Center For American Progress. CARLSON: P.J., I don't know if -- I'm sure you saw this morning, but Richard Ben-Veniste just came off as a smarmy partisan lawyer, really just the worst.


CARLSON: Doesn't his presence make there this look like a partisan inquisition? Why did Democrats pick someone like that?

CROWLEY: Well, I think that all 10 commissioners are very upset and very frustrated and rightfully so about the lack of cooperation from the Bush administration on this commission. And, of course, today, now that we know about this August 6 memo or briefing to the president and what's in it, we know why the White House has been so scared about releasing documents.

BEGALA: One of the things that Richard Ben-Veniste, in a terrific job today, did was point out that Dr. Condoleezza Rice was a woman who could recall from memory a speech Bob Kerrey gave four years ago, couldn't recall if she had ever told the president of the United States about al Qaeda sleeper cells in the U.S., couldn't even recall if the president ever met with the FBI director between August 6, when he was warned about the terrorist plots, and September 11. Doesn't that shoot in her credibility?

MAY: No, it was a speech that was memorable because you had Bob Kerrey making the connection, making the connection

BEGALA: But don't you think sleeper cells in America would be kind of memorable?

MAY: Making the connection between Saddam Hussein and terrorists. And I think


BEGALA: Do you believe her when she says she doesn't remember talking to Bush about sleeper cells?


CARLSON: P.J. -- I'm sorry to interrupt you.

BEGALA: I don't.


MAY: You know what? Every time somebody doesn't something and every time somebody disagrees with you, Paul, that doesn't mean they're lying.


CARLSON: Now, P.J., will you do me a favor?

BEGALA: She had a week to prepare. CARLSON: Here's my question to you. Next time you see Bob Kerrey, would you on behalf of me thank him for telling people to stop applauding during the hearings this morning?

CROWLEY: Absolutely.


CARLSON: It was the greatest of the morning.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

CARLSON: Amen, Bob Kerrey. Thank you very much.

We are completely out of time.

Can you name John Kerry's campaign slogan? Of course you can't. But, coming up, we'll reveal a campaign slogan you will never forget. It is daring. It is risque. Better yet, it is indecent. Don't go away.


CARLSON: Finally, a candidate for West Virginia secretary of state has an eye-catching slogan: Vote naked. Considering that the candidate is 89-year-old Ken Hechler, it's less appealing than it sounds.


CARLSON: Hechler says he adopted the slogan "Vote naked" -- quote -- "to demonstrate that I can speak the language of young people," many of whom are naked.


BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again tomorrow for another show. Have a great night.



International Edition
CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise With Us About Us
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.
Add RSS headlines.