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Analysis of Bush's Press Conference

Aired April 13, 2004 - 21:37   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: President Bush making his case on Iraq and his pre-9-11 handling of terrorism. Only hours after Attorney General John Ashcroft capped a big day of testimony before the 9-11 commission. Now, with their first reaction to the president, 9-11 commission Chair Thomas Kean and Vice Chair Lee Hamilton. We also get first reaction from Debra Burlingame. Her brother was captain of the plane that hit the Pentagon September 11. And from Bill Harvey. His wife was killed in the World Trade Center tower one. And from family members of soldiers killed in Iraq.
Plus, the latest on that U.S. civilian taken hostage in Iraq. All next, on LARRY KING LIVE.

Let's start with our commission chairman and vice chairman. Chairman Kean, what did you make of the press conference, overall?

THOMAS KEAN, CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: Well, I thought the press conference was well done. It was -- most of it was on Iraq. Very little of it was on our hearings. But I think the president made a good case for his point of view. A good case for why the troops should stay in Iraq. And a good case for, in his point of view, the war in Iraq. But our issue, 9/11, got very little attention.

KING: And Congressman Hamilton, were you surprised at that, that 9-11 was a very small part of this?

LEE HAMILTON, VICE CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: Well, the president commented on 9/11 several times, but the overwhelming issue at the moment before the American people is the war in Iraq. So the president's news conference and his remarks at the beginning of his news conference clearly focused on where the American people were. You can't have the kind of pictures we've seen on television about the violence there. You cannot have the kind of casualties we've suffered in recent days without the American people being heavily focused on Iraq. No surprise to me.

KING: Chairman Kean, you heard from the attorney general today. And there was conflicting testimony with the former FBI guy over who said what to when. When you head a commission, and it's he said/she says, who do you believe?

KEAN: Well, eventually we have got to sort it out. You seek for any corroborating testimony, if somebody heard somebody say something to somebody else, I suppose you can put it together. But that's not the most important things we're talking about. I mean, the most important thing we were talking about really today was, are the intelligence agencies of the United States, the FBI and the CIA, do they work? I mean, we talked about a presidential daily briefing that came up from the CIA. Was that intelligence meaningful? Did the president get the right information? Or did the president get junk, in a sense?

That's the kind of thing we're talking about. It's absolutely vital for this world we're moving into that the FBI and the CIA work. That they're really good agencies. They haven't been. The question is whether they will be in the future.

KING: What's the cure for that, Congressman Hamilton, for that imbalance?

HAMILTON: Well, we're looking hard at that. And I don't think either the chairman or myself want to try to make a judgment about that now.

I'm encouraged by the fact that the president has apparently an open mind with regard to the structure and the intelligence community. Condi Rice, when she testified the other day, emphasized that there were a lot of structural defects or structural reasons for not getting the kind of information around that Governor Kean referred to a moment ago.

So we're looking at a variety of options. We had a lot of advice on it today. We'll have some more tomorrow as to how best to organize the federal government so you get the kind of flow of information to the top that you need. And the problem here, of course, is that the U.S. government, at any moment in time, receives millions of bytes of data and you've got to bring all of that data together. You've got to collect it. You've got to analyze it. A lot of it is in foreign languages. And you've got to disseminate to it the right people at the right time. That's a huge task.

KING: Governor, when do the president and vice president testify?

KEAN: In a short time. We haven't given out the date because we haven't given out the day of any of our private hearings. But very shortly.

KING: Are you optimistic that some firm conclusions are going to come from this commission? Some things are going to be changed and that tomorrow will be better than yesterday, vis-a-vis intelligence?

KEAN: I'm an optimist. I do feel that these intelligence agencies may be dysfunctional at the moment, but the reforms the current director of the FBI are making are very, very meaningful. I think we're learning some lessons on this commission, which will enable us to make recommendations to make the American people safer. I am convinced, I really am, that through our work and through the work of a lot of other good people that this will be a better country and that we will be a safer country in the future. Our recommendations are going to be very meaningful, I believe.

KING: You know the Congress well, Congressman Hamilton. What do they do with this report when they get it? Do you expect swift action?

HAMILTON: Well, I hope they implement it. But, of course, we're a long way from that. I do know that the Congress will look seriously at our recommendations. They understand the quality of the commissioners that we have. I think they have an appreciation of the amount of work that has gone into it. The data that has been received, the documents that have been reviewed, the witnesses that have testified. So I think we come before the Congress as well as to the White House with some, I hope, stature which will help us implement some of our recommendations. But, Governor Kean and I are both committed to the task of trying to see that the recommendations are, in fact, implemented. We don't want to just file a report. We want to see some good come out of it.

KING: Couple other quick things. Governor Kean, when does it end?

KEAN: We're going to end toward the end of July. We actually have a statutory deadline now that's been extended toward the end of August. But we plan to get our report done well before the end of July and hopefully submit to it the American people by then.

KING: Congressman Hamilton, is the report made public immediately or is it given first to the president without being made public?

HAMILTON: We have to, under the law and under our agreements with the White House, we send the report to the White House for the purpose of declassification only. Only the president can declassify information. They will make suggestions, if necessary, about classified material. They will not be making judgments for us. Our report will be our report. And it will not be the White House report.

KING: And it comes to the public in total, Governor Kean, with those that affect security taken out. And then what happens?

KEAN: Hopefully, we will -- I think they're going to be -- if it's a unanimous report and I think all of us hope it will be a unanimous report -- we're going to have ten commissioners from around the country pointing out to people the value of our recommendations, what it will mean for the country. We'll hopefully be testifying before the United States Congress.

There are a lot of good people there who are willing to listen to our recommendations. We got a presidential campaign coming up. The president's openness to our making some changes in the intelligence arena is very welcome news. I hope that Senator Kerry will also look at it the same way. And that maybe we can start to get a consensus in this country, get the politics out of it and really start agreeing on what we can do to move this country forward and make it safer for the future.

KING: Congressman Hamilton, from what you've learned thus far, and again, we're not near through, was 9/11 preventable?

HAMILTON: I think if a lot of things had happened, and if the breaks had gone our way, you can put together a whole list -- I mean a very long list -- of opportunities that we missed for one reason or another. If some of those opportunities had been seized, if we would have had a break or two, then I think we could very well had a different result but -- than 9/11.

But you can't be sure of that. You can't be absolutely sure that, even if you had seized some of those opportunities, it would have stopped 9/11. What we're going to focus on are the facts prior to 9/11. We're going to identify some of these missed opportunities. But the thrust of this report is not going to be looking backward. The thrust of this report is going to be looking forward. And trying to make recommendations in a very specific way that will help make the American people safer.

KING: Thank you Governor Thomas Kean and former congressman Lee Hamilton, the chairman and vice chairman respectively of the 9/11 commission. When we come back, we'll be talking with relatives of people who lost their lives in Iraq and as we go to break, the president makes his case for their going to Iraq.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now is the time. And Iraq is the place in which the enemies of the civilized world are testing the will of the civilized world. We must not waiver. The violence we are seeing in Iraq is familiar. The terrorist who takes hostages or plants a roadside bomb near Baghdad is serving the same ideology of murder that killed innocent people on trains in Madrid. And murders children on buses in Jerusalem. And blows up a nightclub in Bali. And cuts the throat of a young reporter for being a Jew.



KING: Quick program note. Senator John McCain Thursday night, we're back at our regular time 9:00 Eastern. Bob Woodward, his first live appearance for his new book. There will be an earlier taped appearance on "60 Minutes." His first live appearance will be Monday night with us. Next Tuesday night Senator Hillary Clinton.

Joining us now in New York is John Wroblewski and Joanna. John's son and Joanna's husband was Marine 2nd Lieutenant John Thomas Wrobleski. John, died last week from a wound suffered in Ramada Iraq. He will be interred in Arlington later this month.

And in Hinesville, Georgia is Ivan Medina. His twin brother Army Specialist Irvine Medina (ph) died in Baghdad November 14th, 2003 when his convoy hit an explosive. He's a veteran of the army, deployed in Kuwait and Iraq and he opposes the war.

John and Joanna, what did you make of the president tonight, John?

JOHN WROBLEWSKI, SON KILLED IN IRAQ: Mr. King, first let me say that on behalf of Joanna and myself and my family, our hearts go out to all the daughters and sons that have given their lives. And also to the 9-11 families who have suffered through everything they have suffered through. I support the president. I thought what the president said tonight was very good. Some of the messages that he said and some of the points I think that he made were excellent. I feel that he's a man of great resolve, and when he said that we must not waiver, we believe in that. My son, Joanna's husband, had very strong core values. This is what he believed in. He loved god. He loved his wife, family, country, and he loved the United States Marine Corps. We supported him before this situation. We supported him through everything that he was going through. And we will continue to support our troops in all the people there.

KING: Joanna, so you have no feelings that your husband died in vain?

JOANNA WROBLEWSKI, HUSBAND KILLED IN IRAQ: No, sir. My husband died a hero. My husband died saving his Marines. And for that, I am the most proudest wife there could be. Do I want him back, sure. I would be a fool to say no. But, it's who he was, and his Marines were his sons and he wanted to bring them home. And that's what he was trying to do.

KING: Let's go to Hinesville, Georgia. Ivan Medina, his twin brother Irvine was killed. Ivan is a veteran himself.

What did you think of the president's speech?

IVAN MEDINA, TWIN BROTHER KILLED IN IRAQ: First let me say, Larry, that I want to join the other family in sending my condolences to everybody who has lost a loved one in Iraq and in September 11. But, this was another plan from the president to win reelection and show and try to get his popularity back up when the truth is, we were not needed in Iraq.

KING: So you feel that your brother did die in vain?

MEDINA: Of course not, Larry. I'm a soldier. I was a soldier. I'm proud of what I did in Iraq. I'm proud of what my brother did in Iraq. I'm proud of what my fellow comrades have done and are doing in Iraq. But this war was never necessary, Larry. We went there in false pretense that the president said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and we are not finding them. He joked about it a few months ago, and that's wrong. That was a slap to me, as a soldier, to any of the soldiers and to the families and to my brother's memory.

KING: John, does that bother you at all?

JOHN WROBLEWSKI: Quite frankly, no. My heart goes out to Ivan Medina, and we definitely feel for him. This is a free country, and everybody is entitled to their opinions. We have our opinions, and certainly he has his. We happen to support what's going on. I lost a son, Joanna...

KING: I don't mean to interrupt but his point of there not being weapons of mass destruction. Does that give you pause? JOHN WROBLEWSKI: No. I honestly believe that they will be found. I don't think it's over yet. We all know that they were there. He used them. We know they were there. The U.N. said they were there. All our allies said that they were there. So, they were definitely there. And I honestly believe that they will be found, and it's just a question of time at this point.

KING: Ivan, how did your brother approach going?

Did he support it when he went?

MEDINA: My brother and I never supported the war. I went over there because I had to do my job, and so he did the same thing. He was a proud army man, as I am, as my sister is a soldier, too. We're all very proud of what we are. But we were never in support of the war because it was under false pretense. The president lied to the American people and lied to the soldiers mostly, to go into this war. And, unfortunately, my brother gave his life. I'm very proud of him.

KING: He went against his will?

MEDINA: We all go -- we don't -- we all took the oath saying we would defend this nation, and that's what we do. And I'm -- you know, that's part of our job. And whether we like it or not, whether we agree with the president or not, we still have to go do our job.

KING: All right, Ivan, you remain with us. John and Joanna you remain with us. And we'll talk break.

And when we come back Debra Burlingame will join us. Her brother piloted American Airlines flight 77 which crashed into the Pentagon. And Bill Harvey, his wife, was killed in the attack at World Trade Center building one. And they'll join us, and John and Joanna and Ivan will remain.

Still to come, Senator Mitch McConnell and Governor Bill Richardson. Also Dorothy Baker Heinz, who's a close friend of Thomas Hamill, the United States civilian still as we best can gather, being held hostage in Iraq.

We'll be right back.


BUSH: I'm sick when I think about the death that took place on that day. As I mentioned, I met with a lot of family members. And I did the best I could to console them about the loss of their loved one. I oftentimes this about what I could have done differently. I can assure the American people that had we had any idea this was going happen, we would have done everything in our power to stop the attack. Here's what I feel about that. The person responsible for the attacks was Osama bin Laden. That's who's responsible for killing Americans. That's why will stay on the offense until we bring people to justice.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We are carrying an extra half hour of LARRY KING LIVE tonight because of the presidents press conference. Aaron Brown and "NEWSNIGHT" at the bottom of the hour. John Wroblewski and Joanna Wroblewski and Ivan Medina remain with us.

Joining us now in New York, is Debra Burlingame, here brother Charles was captain of flight 77 which crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11. In Washington is Bill Harvey, his wife Sara Manly (ph) was killed in the 9/11 attack on World Trade Center tower one. They had been married a month. And they are members of the family steering committee on the 9/11 Commission.

Debra what was your reaction to the speech tonight -- the conference following it?

DEBRA BURLINGAME, BROTHER CAPT. OF PLANE THAT HIT PENTAGON 9/11: I thought the speech was very well stated. I particularly like the more extemporaneous remarks that he made afterwards. I thought he was speaking from the heart. I felt he was speaking to the American people and I thought he was speaking to me and it meant a great deal.

KING: And to you, Bill Harvey, your reaction with your wife having been killed on 9/11?

BILL HARVEY, WIFE KILLED IN WTC ON 9/11: Larry, I thought it was a great opportunity for the president to show that they really took the threats seriously and I wasn't convinced that he did unfortunately.

KING: You are then -- feel that -- by the way were you surprised there weren't more questions about 9/11?

HARVEY: Yes, I was. You know it's very -- it's very easy to understand why Iraq is such an important topic right now but I think given the course of the 9/11 Commission hearings over the last three weeks, I was expecting more questions about 9/11.

KING: Joanna, had you heard from your husband when he was in Iraq?

JOANNA WROBLEWSKI: Yes, I had. I got three phone calls and three letters.

KING: And was he totally committed to the mission he was doing?

JOANNA WROBLEWSKI: Yes, sir. He believed in it 100 percent. He was very proud of what they were doing and he was proud of his Marines. He felt taking weapons of mass destruction to the side he felt he was doing good freeing the people a mass murderer and they were doing that and he made it a point to tell me on the phone that there were hundreds of Iraqis coming up to them every day saying thank you. Thank you for helping us.

KING: Debra, why not apparent -- I remember from last night. Why no apparent anger over what happened to your brother? BURLINGAME: Well, I don't know how you got that impression. I have a lot of anger about what happened to my brother. He was murdered. He was brutally murdered in the cockpit of his airplane and...

KING: I mean no anger at any mistakes made by the administration, obviously anger at the people who killed him but anger when you learn about misconnections, CIA not talking to FBI, FBI misconnecting, anger or frustration over that.

BURLINGAME: Well, I have to tell you I had some anger tonight listening to reporters ask this president if he felt responsible, if he wants to apologize, if he, you know, can he admit mistakes? I actually am tired of seeing this president get beat up repeatedly daily by the commission's questions, partisan questions, and by the media that breathlessly reports them.

I got to tell you I read this report. This is the first 9/11 Commission report that was done by the Senate Select and House. This has a lot of really interesting information and here's a dot to connect for Jamie Gorelick who wrote the regulations on FISA warrants and what the threshold was that those agents in Minnesota had to pass to look into Moussaoui's belongings.

Jamie Gorelick, who has asked some of the toughest questions of Dr. Rice from her perch on that commission, she wrote those regulations and, as a result of them, the onerous burdens she put on the agency, the FBI agents that were desperately trying to crack that briefcase that Moussaoui was carrying, they were not able to find that there were numbers.

There were letters in there signed by the man who owned the condominium where Khalid Almihdar and Nawaf al-Hamzi were seen in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Those are the two gentlemen who did, in fact, crack open the door of my brother's cockpit and murder him in cold blood. That letter was in there.

KING: What do you have there?

BURLINGAME: I'll tell you, wait Larry.

KING: So, you have anger. I got -- we're running out of time. You have anger at her?

BURLINGAME: I have anger at her because she has asked very partisan questions and she was part...

KING: But she was interpreting the law though wasn't she? That was her job.

BURLINGAME: She was creating guidelines and she made them extra hard because the Clinton administration was itself allergic to making mistakes.

KING: Who do you...

BURLINGAME: And took pains to make sure that suspicious people would not be offended by warrants.

KING: Who do you direct your blame at Bill, your anger?

HARVEY: Larry, there's plenty of blame to go around. I'm very hesitant to use that word. The family steering committee is a group of 12 people, I think that at this point are more curious than angry, which is not to say that there's not some anger. There is.

It is not lost on anyone in the family steering committee that the Clinton administration had eight years to deal with al Qaeda and the Bush administration had only eight months. That having been said though, I think that we would have liked to have seen evidence that the Bush administration took this threat more seriously.

KING: I wish we had more time. We're going to do a lot more on this. We thank you all very much.

When we come back Senators Mitch McConnell and Governor Bill Richardson and your phone calls, don't go away.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The country was not on a war footing and yet the enemy was at war with us and it didn't take me long to put us on a war footing and we've been at war ever since. The lessons of 9/11 that -- one lesson was we must deal with gathering threats and that's part of the reason I dealt with Iraq the way I did.

The other lesson is, is that this country must go on the offense and stay on the offense. In order to secure the country we must do everything in our power to find these killers and bring them to justice before they hurt us again.




BUSH: A desperate enemy is also a dangerous enemy and our work may become more difficult before it is finished. No one can predict all the hazards that lie ahead or the costs they will bring. Yet in this conflict there is no safe alternative to resolute action.

The consequences of failure in Iraq would be unthinkable. Every friend of America in Iraq would be betrayed to prison and murder as a new tyranny arose. Every enemy of America and the world would celebrate proclaiming our weakness and decadence and using that victory to recruit a new generation of killers.


KING: Joining us now from Louisville, Kentucky, Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Whip, Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations and a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. He's a Republican of Kentucky.

And, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, he's a Democrat of course and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and former U.S. Congressman from New Mexico.

Your overview Senator McConnell of the president tonight.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KY, MAJORITY WHIP: Well, I think he laid out a good case, Larry, for doing what we've done since 9/11, which is to try to drain the swamp. I mean the president is being criticized by some for not acting soon enough prior to 9/11 and then for acting too soon in Iraq.

I think the message of 9/11 is to the extent that we possibly can we need to deal with problems in advance. Since 9/11, we've liberated Afghanistan and liberated Iraq. That's 50 million people living in freedom who were not living in freedom two and a half years ago.

In Afghanistan, which has sort of fallen off the map lately because things are relatively calm there, they have a new constitution. They're going to have an election for president this summer.

In Iraq, as the president just emphasized again tonight, we're going to hand over the authority to an Iraqi governing entity on the 30th and they're going to move toward a specific time for a new constitution and a little after that an election. So, great progress is being made in spite of the fact that this is tough sledding when you're fighting well-armed terrorists.

KING: Yes. Governor Richardson your overview and, if you'd emphasize a little bit when the president said that there was no great urgency going on in the nation prior to 9/11.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NM, FMR. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Well, I thought the president was strong. He was resolute. He obviously has a lot of convictions and he's to be commended for that.

At the same time, Larry, I was concerned that he didn't answer some of the basic questions. Number one, what are we going to do? Who are we handing over power to June 30? The Sunnis, the Shiites they're fighting each other. Are our troops secure?

What are we doing about bringing the international community, the U.N., NATO, other Muslim troops to help us with the police and the peacekeeping? What is the whole reconstruction and transition going to happen after June 30th? How many troops are we going to need? Are we going to need more troops?

I just hope that the president in being, and I commend him for being resolute and saying we're going to stay the course, but you can stay the course and make adjustment and make changes that make sense and change our policy to make it more multinational, to have other countries share the burden, to have a plan that after June 30 does bring genuine democracy to Iraq. There are just too many iffy questions and most, most unfortunately I just worry more and more about the security and vulnerability of our troops on the ground in Iraq.

KING: Senator, is there an end game?

MCCONNELL: Larry, if I -- if I may there are 34 countries in Iraq with us, 22,000 troops from other countries. Look at how the Iraqis feel about Iraq. There was an interesting survey recently taken by the BBC, one of the most critical networks of the Iraq War and ABC, one of the most critical domestic networks in the United States of the Iraq War, a survey taken of Iraqis about how they feel about Iraq.

And, the overwhelming majority of them believe that life is better today, which is certainly not surprising since Saddam Hussein murdered 300,000 of them during his regime and, interestingly enough, when asked the question how do you feel like you're going to be a year from now, in other words are you optimistic, it was something between 70 and 80 percent of the Iraqi people that felt they'd be better off a year from now than they are today.

Clearly, Iraqis feel like they're going in the right direction. We have some problems with some gangsters over there and we're hunting them down and bringing them to justice.

KING: Governor.

RICHARDSON: Well, I don't share the optimism of Senator McConnell, who I respect very much. The images last week of the American contractors, the American soldiers, the lack of security in Fallujah, the fact that we have 4,000 Marines so near and we can't get an ambulance or fire trucks in there, the fact that we don't know the depth of the opposition that Iraqis have towards us.

Yes, I think they're much better off obviously and I'm not contesting the Senator's figures on polls but something is out there in Iraq that isn't working and all I'm saying is we don't have to paint pretty pictures to the American people. They want actions. We should stop finger pointing.

You know instead of concentrating on 9/11 on who did what and blaming whom, let's look at broad reforms like reforming our intelligence agencies, like getting the FBI and CIA to work closer together, to have a national strategic plan to deal with the problems we have in the Arab and Muslim world, to get some peace in the Middle East and finally in Iraq to have a transition plan.

KING: Let me get a break and we'll come right back. We'll include phone calls for Senator Mitch McConnell and Governor Bill Richardson.

More on this tomorrow night when LARRY KING LIVE comes back at its regular time 9:00 Eastern. Senator McCain will be with us on Thursday. We'll be right back.


CALLER: Given that President Bush is obviously in a very difficult situation and there obviously is an opinion by the American public but if the initiatives by the Bush administration were to thwart a major terrorist event tomorrow what -- how would your opinions change of the Bush administration's initiatives and, more importantly, how would the -- how do you view that the American public's views on the Bush administration initiatives toward terrorism would change?

KING: If there were a major event tomorrow or if they stopped a major event is that what you're saying?

CALLER: If they stopped a major event.

KING: Governor Richardson, supposing it became known that a major event was about to happen and was stopped, wouldn't that help the administration?

RICHARDSON: Well, yes it would but you don't want to look at this politically whether a war or major events or a terrorist attack helps politically. I think what is important is the question should be are we as a nation prepared for a terrorist attack in this country?

I'm a governor and I do think the administration has made progress in providing homeland security assistance, to first responders, to police, to others, to firemen. At the same time, Larry, I worry whether we are prepared for chemical, biological, anthrax attack on our country.

I think what we should take from the 9/11 Commission is not whose fault it was, the Clinton, the Bush administration but what do we do about the problem? How are we going to be prepared in the future to deal with a potential attack?

KING: And, Senator McConnell.

MCCONNELL: Larry, if I may.

KING: Both Chairman Kean -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

MCCONNELL: If I may, no one could seriously argue, and I don't think Bill is seriously arguing that we're not a lot better off today than we were on September the 10th.

I mean we passed the Patriot Act. We've created the Department of Homeland Security. We've gone on offense. We've liberated Afghanistan and Iraq and, even though no one would have predicted on September the 12th that we'd never -- we would not have been attacked here at home two and a half years later, we haven't been and I don't think that's an accident. I think our policies are working.

KING: And both the chairman, Senator McConnell, both the chairman and the vice chairman of the commission said that their emphasis will be on tomorrow not yesterday, do you agree with that? MCCONNELL: I think that's absolutely right. I mean we know what went wrong. Al Qaeda attacked use in 1993. We knew they were at war with us. Unfortunately, we didn't go to war against them until after 9/11. The Clinton administration had eight years and, as one of your guests said, the Bush administration had eight months.

No one really took them as seriously as we're taking them now. I think it is pretty hard to argue that the policies implemented since September the 11th have not been extraordinarily successful.

KING: We'll take a break and come back, go to some more questions for our distinguished guests Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico. Don't go away.


KING: Stone Mountain, Georgia for Senator McConnell and Governor Richardson, hello.

CALLER: Yes, sir. I was wondering if either you or the gentlemen had -- there was a report made during the transition from the Clinton to the Bush administration, I know I'm looking backwards, that there was some damage done to the computer system at all of the offices in the White House. Was there critical information that was lost during that transition that could have led to uncovering, you know, what eventually happened in New York City?

KING: Governor, do you have any knowledge of that?

MCCONNELL: I don't. I don't know about that.

RICHARDSON: Well, I -- I -- look, I do know. I think to say that in that transition period a few pranksters left some messages to the new administration it was just very...

KING: Innocent?

RICHARDSON: Prankish. It was not serious. I think one of the big concerns, Larry, is we have got to give the FBI stronger computer technology, encryption technology. I think that came through in the 9/11 hearings that we make the FBI not just totally law enforcement but give it more counterterrorism tools and it seems that they still need that. They're a very good agency, good people, but let's give them the technology to deal with counterterrorism more effectively.

KING: Pittsburgh, hello.

CALLER: Thank you. My question is President Bush tonight in his conference stated that with great conviction if he had any inkling of an attack, referring to the 9/11 attack on America, he would have taken any action he could to prevent it. My question is does the memo from August of 2001, which is now released, does that qualify as an inkling?

KING: Senator McConnell, we only have about a minute. MCCONNELL: No, I don't, good question. I don't think so. We knew al Qaeda was a dangerous force. They had attacked the World Trade Center, if you recall, in '93. They'd attacked our embassies in Africa. They'd attacked the USS Cole. We knew that they were in the country.

There was nothing really extraordinary or new in that briefing on August the 6th as was revealed when it was declassified and made public over the weekend, so we knew about al Qaeda. President Clinton knew about him. President Bush knew about him. That was not anything new and that's what the memo was all about.

KING: What do you think of the memo, Governor Richardson? We have about 30 seconds.

RICHARDSON: Well, I do believe it shows that al Qaeda was out there and that it was important that we take that threat seriously. Again, the Clinton administration, I served there. We had three missile attacks against al Qaeda. I was sent to Afghanistan to try to get bin Laden back.

The Bush people, I believe, after 9/11 have demonstrated a real seriousness. The transition period obviously was one of some problems, as Assistant FBI Director Pickard said that there was some transition problems.

KING: Thank you Governor Bill Richardson and Senator Mitch McConnell, always great having you both with us.

We will take a break and come back and I will tell you about tomorrow night and the nights ahead. Then we'll turn it over to Mr. Brown. Don't go away.


KING: Tomorrow night another major panel on 9/11 and Iraq when we return to our regular time of 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.

Don't forget Bob Woodward's first live appearance for his much expected new book is next Monday night, Senator Hillary Clinton the following night. That's next week, John McCain on Thursday.

Right now he's back from his interview with President Mubarak in Texas. He is back to anchor the NEWSNIGHT scene, a half hour late but better late than never, Aaron Brown.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. I agree with that Mr. King. Thank you very much.


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