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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Encore Presentation: Interview With Joseph Wilson
Aired November 5, 2005 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, Ambassador Joseph Wilson. He and his CIA operative wife, Valerie Plame, are at the center of the leak investigation that got the vice president's top aide indicted. And now he speaks out and takes your calls. It's his first live prime- time interview since that indictment.
It's next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Ambassador Wilson is also the author of the best seller, "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that led to the war and Betrayed my Wife's CIA Identity." It's a best seller and there you see its cover.
Before we ask all about those events what do you make of that goings on in the Senate today, ambassador?
AMBASSADOR JOSEPH WILSON: Well, I'm not a Senator, Larry. Good evening to you by the way.
WILSON: I'm not a Senator and I watched it with great interest as I hope most citizens did. I've said all along that I thought that we ought to have -- we should have had this discussion before the war but the fact that we didn't have it before the war doesn't mean we shouldn't have this look now as to the nature of the intelligence and to whether or not there was, in fact, efforts to manipulate the intelligence or twist the intelligence.
KING: Do you believe, ambassador, that this was a deliberate effort, this was rather than misinformation this was provoked?
WILSON: Well, I think it's -- in the case that I'm most familiar with, of course, the yellow cake from uranium, there were three reports that were done contemporaneously.
There was my report, there was one done by our ambassador on the ground and there was a separate one done by a four-star Marine Corps general, all of which concluded that there was no there there, that there was no reason to believe that the transaction that had been alleged in this documents that were later deemed to be forgeries had ever taken place or could have taken place.
The fact that these ended up in the State of the Union address I think in and of itself is something that's worth looking into. After all, four months before the State of the Union address, George Tenet told the White House and this is almost a direct quote, "I don't want the president to be a witness of fact on this matter because the evidence is weak and because we believe the British have exaggerated the case."
And, in fact, the deputy director of intelligence on October 1st or 2nd, again four months before the State of the Union address, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in response to a question from Senator Kyl of Arizona he said one area where we believe that the British have stretched the case beyond where we would stretch it is on this uranium from Africa to Iraq.
KING: You do not think, do you, that the president knew he was stating a falsehood?
WILSON: I don't expect the president to be the fact checker of last resort. I expect the president to take due diligence in ensuring that what's in his speech is accurate but he has a large staff that is supposed to do that for him and with him.
KING: You're a retired diplomat. The CIA asked you to go to Niger. Why did you go?
WILSON: I went because a question that was raised by the vice president was a very serious question. Now, the vice president inquired about a report, as he has later acknowledged. That report was based on documents that were later deemed to be forgeries.
But his inquiry sparked the CIA to have a meeting at which I was invited because I had a long and extensive history with Niger. At the conclusion of that meeting I was asked to undertake this mission to go out and look into whether or not I could find anything to substantiate the report.
I did so because it was a very serious question. If, in fact, Saddam Hussein had been attempting to purchase yellow cake from West Africa, there would be only one reason for him to do so. A serious question posed by a serious individual, it deserved a serious answer. The CIA tried to give him the best answer possible, as did the State Department, as did the Defense Department.
KING: Did your wife have anything to do with your making that trip?
WILSON: She did not and, in fact, one week after Mr. Novak's article appeared, I think it was on July 21st, 2003, two reporters actually called the CIA. Now, remember July 21st of 2003 was well before I was ever in a position to acknowledge her employment but these two reporters, Newt Royce and Tim Phelps of "Newsday" actually called the CIA and the CIA said to them she had nothing to do with her husband's trip.
The CIA has said the same thing to anybody who has taken the time to ask since, including most recently David Ensor, who on CNN acknowledged that senior intelligence officials had told him just recently that she had nothing to do with my going.
KING: Why do you think they were looking to discredit you? Why couldn't they just have said he gave us this report, it got in the speech by mistake, we're sorry it got in, et cetera, et cetera?
WILSON: Well, indeed that's a very good question because the day after my article appeared in "The New York Times," they basically said that. A White House spokesman called "The Washington Post" and said the 16 words do not rise to a level of inclusion in the State of the Union address. For me at that point my participation in this was over.
It was then the responsibility of others to look into why or how it got into the State of the Union address. But, obviously for the White House, it wasn't and indeed before my article even appeared it's very clear now from the indictments of Mr. Libby that both he and Mr. Rove, that's been evidenced by Matt Cooper's testimony, the "Time" reporter's testimony, that even before my article appeared these people were going out and giving my wife's name to people who had no business having it.
KING: In retrospect are you sorry you went?
WILSON: Oh, not at all, not at all.
WILSON: No. National security questions are important questions. The National Security Council was set up in 1947 precisely to look at those threats, those strategic threats to our security.
I had a certain expertise based on many years in Africa and many years during the 1990s working with successive Niger governments, both in the White House as senior director for African affairs and in then subsequently at the request of the Niger civilian authorities as they were moving from dictatorship back to democracy.
I would do it again in a minute. Nuclear weapons going off in our country kill Americans. They don't kill Republicans or Democrats. They kill Americans. These are issues we face as Americans.
KING: When you read the Novak column what was your first reaction?
WILSON: Well, it's probably unprintable. My wife's first reaction as she has said to me she felt like she had been hit in the stomach that her entire career, her adult life had been absolutely shattered.
She worried first and foremost about friends who would wonder if the Valerie Plame they had known for so many years had just been a lie and a fiction and how they feel about that. She also worried, of course, about programs and operations and projects that she might have been working on.
KING: What do you think they were hoping to gain just to discredit you, what?
WILSON: Well, I think they were trying to divert attention from the 16 words. They didn't want people to focus too hard on the case that they had made. And, as we now know, of course, they began making the case in September of 2002 when they started talking about we can't afford to wait for the smoking gun to come in the form of a mushroom cloud. Right after that you saw support for military action in Iraq surge, both in the Congress and in the polls, so this was the deal clincher for them.
KING: And you knew then when we went into Iraq we weren't going to find anything?
WILSON: No, I didn't know that. In fact, I wrote several articles on it based on my -- on my prior service in Iraq. I had served as acting ambassador to Baghdad during the first Gulf War for President Bush's father. I believed that he probably did have an arsenal of chemical weapons. I believed he probably had biological precursors and he probably still had an interest in nuclear weapons.
It really wasn't until the documents surfaced and Dr. ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said to the United Nations that the documents were forgeries that it became apparent to me that the 16 words in the State of the Union address referred to the West African country of Niger.
KING: We'll take a break. We'll be back. We'll be taking calls for Ambassador Wilson. We'll have a panel discussion later.
And, tomorrow night, former President Carter will be our guest.
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICK FITZGERALD, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR IN CIA LEAK INVESTIGATION: Valerie Wilson's cover was blown in July, 2003. The first sign of that cover being blown was when Mr. Novak published a column on July 14, 2003 but Mr. Novak was not the first reporter to be told that Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, Ambassador Wilson's wife Valerie worked at the CIA. Several other reporters were told. In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Ambassador Joe Wilson. "The Politics of Truth" is his best seller. What do you make of the indictment of Scooter Libby?
WILSON: Well, I think the prosecutor was very clear that the indictment basically means that he was impeded in his efforts to get to the bottom of this matter and therefore is indicting on obstruction of justice. I think these are very serious charges. It's a sad day for America when indictments are handed up to the door of the White House.
At the same time, it seems to me, it's a reaffirmation of our system in which the rule of law is what our whole social contract is predicated on. No man is above the law, so I celebrate -- I celebrate Pat Fitzgerald's efforts and the efforts of the Justice Department and the FBI team and, in particular, my fellow citizens who sat on the grand jury for the last two years and looked at all the evidence.
KING: Why do you think if the allegations are true, why do you think he lied?
WILSON: Oh, I have no idea, Larry. Again, I think that they would have been well advised just to deal with the 16 words. There's two unassailable facts in this matter, one are the 16 words in the State of the Union address and why they got in there and who put them in there.
And the second is why would somebody violate the national security of this country by compromising the identity of a covert asset who happened to be working on weapons of mass destruction, who went to work every day to ensure that weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, did not go off in an American metropolitan area and kill Americans.
KING: What's your wife doing now?
WILSON: Well, she's obviously not a covert officer anymore. She's still at the CIA. She's got several months until she's vested in their pension system and she goes to work every day still trying to do her best in the service of this country, as she has been for the last 20 years.
KING: You have said you would hope that Karl Rove would leave his job, therefore are you hoping he gets indicted too?
WILSON: Well, Mr. Rove, it's now clear by Matt Cooper's testimony and by contemporaneous e-mails from Mr. Cooper to his supervisor that Mr. Rove was leaking Valerie's name to members of the press before the Novak article appeared.
I find that unconscionable. I think it's a violation of national security. It may not be indictable. It may not be -- it may not be criminal but, at the end of the day, is this the standard of ethical comportment that we expect from our senior public servants? I don't believe it is. I cannot understand why the president does.
KING: By the way, Matthew Cooper will be one of our guests in the last three segments of the show when he's a member of the panel.
How do you assess the work of Patrick Fitzgerald?
WILSON: Well, I think Pat Fitzgerald is a man of the highest integrity. I've really only met him once and spoken to him on the telephone one other time very briefly but I think that he has done everything he can. I have the utmost confidence in him and in the FBI team that's assisting him and the other Justice Department lawyers who are assisting him.
It's a long, arduous process. Regrettably certain members of the -- of the White House staff, including obviously Mr. Libby but also quite possibly also Mr. Rove neglected the president's direct instructions to them that they cooperate fully with the Justice Department investigation and that's why it's taken two years.
KING: Do you think the president or the vice president just as a thought were aware of the attack on your credibility or somehow involved?
WILSON: Well, I think they -- it would have been hard for them not to be aware of it unless they were completely oblivious to the sort of editorials and the smear campaign that was being undertaken by the Republican National Committee and this administration's right wing allies.
I would certainly hope that they were in no way involved. It would be I think a travesty if what was a tawdry political payback gone awry and gone into illegality turns into a constitutional crisis. White House staff 101 says at all cost you protect the president and you protect the office of the presidency.
KING: What about those on the right who are saying that you were always anti-Bush and this was somehow involved in some sort of move to get the president?
WILSON: Well, that's simply not true. I undertook this trip to Niger several months before I ever began to speak out, several months before I even formulated my own thoughts on what our policy towards Iraq should be.
When I entered the debate on what our policy should be I brought to it the experience of having served there for two and a half years for this president's father. I bore no animus to the Republicans. I was proud of my service to this president's father.
This president's father named me ambassador to two African countries. He lauded my efforts and the efforts of our embassy in Baghdad when we were there during Desert Shield.
My objection to this administration's approach to Iraq was that I believed that a regime change war involving the invasion, conquest and occupation of Iraq would be potentially disaster.
But I always thought that disarmament was a legitimate goal. I was supporting the president when he went to the United Nations, when he got the U.N. resolution passed unanimously.
KING: Any regrets about publishing that article in "The New York Times"?
WILSON: Oh, absolutely not. In fact, Valerie and I have spoken about this just recently, as we ruminate over all of this and I believe -- I believed then when I did it and I believe it now more than ever that a citizen's responsibility in a democracy is to hold his government to account for what his government says and does in the name of the American people. We would do it again in a New York minute even if we are from California. KING: How's your wife emotionally?
WILSON: Well, you don't do what she had done for the past 20 years without being tough and she is -- she is tough. We are blessed with two wonderful 5-year-old twins. They take a lot of the sting out of what's happened to us every afternoon when they come back from school.
KING: We'll take a break. When we come back we'll include your calls for Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
And still to come a panel of Matthew Cooper, the White House correspondent mentioned by the ambassador; Senator Richard Shelby and Senator Dianne Feinstein who is going to be one of the three Democrats on that six-panel committee that came out of that secret meeting today; and Michael Isikoff of "Newsweek" -- right back with your calls for Joseph Wilson right after this.
KING: Our guest Ambassador Joseph Wilson. We go to your calls, Charleston, South Carolina, hello.
CALLER FROM CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA: Yes, thank you for taking my call.
CALLER: I'd like to ask would you know about other ambassadors around the world what they would know and think about this and what will they do to improve relationships with those countries where they are so they can assure that all wives do not hold a position with the agency? And, I must say as a daughter of a 30-year retiree, our family's thoughts are out to you. Thank you.
WILSON: Well, thank you very much. In my case, Valerie and I actually did not marry until I had completed my service overseas and was really just on the verge of retirement, so she never served with me overseas.
But I'll tell you this. A number of my foreign service colleagues have told me, former colleagues have told me that they found that their spouses are being followed around by the -- by the domestic security services as a consequence of this story, so their spouses are now seen as potential -- as potential targets for domestic security services overseas.
KING: You also told "60 Minutes" that you've had threats.
WILSON: We have. Actually, it was in response to a question because somebody else had made some mention about that. We've been working very closely for the last couple of years now with the appropriate law enforcement agencies here in Washington and we've taken I think the appropriate security measures. Certainly there is some concern and that's been looked at very carefully by people who do this for a living. KING: Wouldn't there be special people since your wife is with the CIA? Wouldn't that require special security if she's had threats?
WILSON: Well, they've done their security assessment and they've come to their judgments and far be it for me to second guess them. They're the experts.
KING: Do you believe she's well protected?
WILSON: You know we're constantly looking at it. In fact, I think we're looking at it with this latest flurry of activity we're looking at it again. Beyond that I really don't want to go.
KING: OK. Are you very worried?
WILSON: I don't worry for me and Valerie doesn't worry much for her. We, of course, worry for the kids. In my case every day since I came out of Baghdad in 1991 has been a blessing.
KING: Boston, hello.
CALLER FROM BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS: Hi, Larry. Mr. Wilson, I was curious what you think about the allegations by Democrats in the Senate today that the Senate Intelligence Committee has been dragging its heels at the behest of the White House.
WILSON: Well, that's interesting. These arguments that there was collusion or cooperation between the White House and the Senate Select Committee Republican staff have been going on back and forth at sort of sub rosa levels both with respect to the first part of the SSCI report and particularly the additional views offered by three Senators as well as the foot dragging.
I don't have any particular knowledge of that. I certainly would love to see the questions asked because some of the conclusions that were reached in the additional views really were very inaccurate and very unfair both to Valerie and to me and to the nature of the mission that I undertook.
KING: Based on your own experience are you very suspicious?
WILSON: Well, you know, again I come from California and in California, as you know, Larry, the sun comes up. The sun goes down. And the surf is good. So, we don't believe in conspiracy theories very much.
But the longer I'm back east here the more I perhaps am getting a little paranoid. But, you know, just because you're a little paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
KING: What are you doing now by the way?
WILSON: Well, obviously the book is selling and I've been going out speaking and my message I've tried to speak at university campuses and my message really is one of this is a great democracy and it's a great republic but it requires the work of all of its citizens to ensure that it remains great.
Benjamin Franklin said when he left the Constitutional Convention when he was asked what sort of government have you bequeathed us and his response was "Republic madam, if you can keep it."
And it is only through the participation of citizens and particularly those who are just coming of voting age, they need to care about the future of this country. That's really what I'm trying to impart and I hope that that's a lesson of the experience that Valerie and I have gone through over the last two years.
KING: New York City, hello.
CALLER FROM NEW YORK CITY: Ambassador Wilson, any idea who forged the yellow cake documents and the motivation? These were not third rate forgeries.
WILSON: Well, actually Dr. ElBaradei said they were obvious forgeries and his deputy said that a two hour search on Google would have told even a novice forensic analyst that they were forgeries. So, they were not great forgeries, should not have fooled the intelligence community or the White House for that matter.
I don't -- there has been a series of articles published in the Italian magazine or the Italian newspaper "La Republica" just this week. Some of those articles have been (INAUDIBLE) in some American reporting.
There are a couple of web blogs, particularly Talking Points Memo and the Left Coaster that have also taken a good look and done a study into what they think some of the possible sources of the documents might have been.
KING: In retrospect what would you do differently?
WILSON: Well, I suppose there's a lot of things I would do differently but, you know, I was put in a position where I was really trying to defend my wife's honor, my own honor, my integrity and I really know of no other way to deal with school bullies than to confront them.
I think that there is a -- there was a great attempt on the part of my critics to demonize me and to call me a partisan hack. I suppose I might have not supported or not participated in the political campaign in support of Mr. Kerry.
But I will tell you this and that is that I deeply resent the idea that people would criticize me for participating in the selection and election of leaders of this great country. We should be applauding participation not criticizing people who are prepared to take their time and make the effort to support the candidates of their choice.
KING: What do you think is going to happen in Iraq?
WILSON: I think Iraq is an absolute disaster. I talked to a newsperson who just came back from Iraq the other day who said the U.S. military is just phoning it in. I heard from another person who was in Iraq at the beginning who said we could not have manufactured a long term insurgency any better than we have in Iraq if we had tried.
I think that there are lots of things that we should be doing. First of all, we need to get Americans out of harm's way. They're not doing any good patrolling the streets. They should not be leading these 4As into these Iraqi villages.
Secondly, we should not be using Americans which will corollary the first to kill Arabs unnecessarily because we're essentially killing Sunni on behalf of the Shia and their Iranian patrons.
KING: We'll take a break and be back with a few more minutes with Ambassador Joseph Wilson, some more phone calls and then we'll meet our panel.
President Carter tomorrow night. Senator John McCain on Thursday. Don't go away.
KING: We're back with Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who I understand wants to add something about Iraq.
WILSON: Well, I just want the make the point that in talking about getting Americans out of harm's way, I don't believe that we should be withdrawing Americans who are unnecessary or -- who are necessary to the mission.
And I don't think we should be talking in terms of precipitous withdrawal. We have legitimate interests in the region. We need to position ourselves so we can better promote and defend those interests.
And we're not doing so when we've got Americans out killing Arabs. And the erosion of political support when Americans are killed, I think, makes it problematic for us to continue to have a presence there even when it's in our national security interests to do so.
KING: New Brunswick, hello.
CALLER: Yes, Ambassador Wilson, I have two brief questions for you, sir. The first one is, do you find it credible that senior White House staffers, with all their clout could not find out your wife's status within the CIA before the information broke in the press? That is, that she was a covert operative?
WILSON: Well, they obviously did. They had the information, and they leaked it to the press. So...
KING: They knew it.
WILSON: They knew it. So, that's out in the public domain now.
KING: What's the second question, sir?
CALLER: The second question is this -- Karl Rove, in the only statement that I've seen him give on this subject, says that he did not know Valerie Plame's name, and he did not leak it. Do you find that possible, that he was just parsing his words, knowing that by stating that he did not know her name, if he just simply said Ambassador Wilson's wife would have the same effect?
WILSON: That's exactly right. It is really compromising her identity. But, calling her Wilson's wife or calling her Valerie Plame or calling her Valerie Wilson. When you associate the name or the identity with CIA, you have blown her cover.
Now, I'm prepared to think the worst of Karl Rove ever since he told Chris Matthews that my wife was fair game. And that's tough for me because Karl and I go to the same church. We go to different services, we go to the same church. I know his wife's name because we get a church newsletter. So, why he wouldn't know my wife's name, perhaps he doesn't read the newsletter.
KING: Have you spoken to him at all?
WILSON: I haven't. We've been at the same service maybe once in the last two years. I go to a service that's geared towards our kids. Family service.
KING: Los Angeles, hello.
CALLER: Hello, thank you for taking my call. I want to express that I am totally outraged by what happened to Ambassador Wilson's wife. I'm also disgusted by what I consider, the manipulation and deception of the Bush administration.
And I wondered does the Ambassador have any suggestions for an American such as myself, for a way to voice my outrage? Because I'm so frustrated. I feel like writing the White House, writing my Congressman won't do any good. And an election for a new administration is so far away. Thank you.
KING: Thank you.
WILSON: Well, actually, I think that you should continue to write your Congresspeople. I think you should write letters to the editor. I think you should participate in the debate in any way that you feel comfortable doing so.
That's the essence of our democracy and if there's two lessons in this, the first lesson of course, is how a government uses information and whether or not the debate on an issue as important as war and peace was carried out based on the facts as everybody understood them or based on information that was thrown into the debate because it supported a political decision that had already been taken.
The second question really, the question about the smear campaign and the vendetta against me and the besmirching of my name and Valerie's name, goes to the heart of how we conduct public debate in a democracy.
Will we have that debate in the public square based on the value of the ideas or will one side be allowed to win because they're prepared to engage in the character assassination tactics against the other side?
KING: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, always good seeing you.
WILSON: Larry, nice to be with you. Thanks for having me.
KING: Ambassador Joseph Wilson, the author of "The Politics of Truth, inside the lies that led to the war and betrayed my wife's CIA identity."
When we come back, a major panel discussion. We'll talk about Wilson and we'll talk about what happened in the Senate today. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICK FITZGERALD, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: At the end of the day, what appears is that Mr. Libby's story, that he was at the tail end of a chain of phone calls passing along from one reporter, what he heard from another, was not true. It was false.
He was at the beginning of the chain of the phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter. And that he lied about it afterwards, under oath and repeatedly.
KING: Let's meet our panel, all in Washington. Matthew Cooper, White House Correspondent for TIME Magazine. He gave the grand jury testimony in connection with the leak, and has an exclusive first- person article in this week's TIME headlined, "What Scooter Libby and I talked about."
Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican of Alabama, former chairman and vice chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence and judiciary.
And Michael Isikoff, the investigative correspondent for Newsweek.
Before we talk about what happened in the Senate today, Matthew Cooper, what's your assessment of what Ambassador Wilson had to say?
MATTHEW COOPER, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, I guess I wasn't totally surprised. He's obviously been critical of the administration, and they of him at various times. I can't say I was shocked by that. We'll see where this case goes, Larry. It certainly had a lot of interesting turns.
KING: Senator Feinstein, what happened today?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, what happened today is, I think an explosion of frustration on the Democratic side.
And really with no notice, Senator Reid, the Democratic leader, went to the floor and made some statements and moved that the Senate go into executive session.
That was rapidly seconded by the Whip, Senator Durbin and the Senate was in executive session. Then there was considerable discussion, which obviously was confidential. What came out of it, essentially was that there would be a group of three Democrats and three Republicans who will sit down, work out a plan for progress, to discuss -- or, to move the second phase of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's investigation. And that phase has to do with the use or misuse of intelligence. And we've been trying to move that phase for the past 18 months.
And the feeling was that we were being slow-rolled, and the investigation was not going ahead the way it should be. The vice chairman, Jay Rockefeller, had written several letters, talked with the chairman, didn't feel that he had cooperation. And so, it exploded a bit today, and that was the result.
KING: And you're one of the Democrats, one of the three, right, that will serve.
FEINSTEIN: That's correct.
KING: OK. Senator Shelby, how do you react to this?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Well, I believe that this would be a proper inquiry by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Feinstein is currently a member. She was a member when I was on the committee and when I chaired the committee.
But I believe it's incumbent upon the Senate Intelligence Committee to look at the use and alleged misuse of intelligence and how it's done. I hope it will be done in a bipartisan way.
When I was chairman, I worked in -- tried to work in a bipartisan way with the other side of the aisle, in the case whoever was the chairman or the ranking member. But it's a proper inquiry.
KING: Were you angry today, or was it OK that they went into session, private session?
SHELBY: Well, obviously, as Senator Feinstein said, there's a lot of frustration going on. But there's politics going on, too. You know, you can't divorce politics from any of this up here. They're legitimate inquiries. People want to know things. And then there's politics. And I guess sometimes you use politics to get that way. Both sides do.
KING: Michael Isikoff, your investigative mind thinks certain ways. Do you think the administration was trying to control the Republican members of the Senate?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NEWSWEEK: Well, of course. I mean, the administration is not eager to have an investigation into how they may have misused intelligence. I mean, in a way, I think Senator Roberts, the chairman of the committee, may have set himself up and set up the White House, because they did promise this follow-up investigation last year when they put out the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the -- on how the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community got it wrong. They also promised there would be this follow-up probe into how the intelligence was used.
And it is clear that while the intelligence community was wrong, fundamentally, about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, whatever they said was stretched further by advocates of the war in the Pentagon and in the White House, whereas the intelligence had been sort of static on questions like the nuclear issue.
There was a new urgency given by the vice president's office and the Pentagon into the idea that there was an active reconstituting nuclear program by Iraq. That was -- went beyond where many in the intelligence community were prepared to go, and how that -- how the vice president's office, the Pentagon came to those conclusions has never been fully explored. And that's what I think the Democrats are looking for here.
KING: And Matthew Cooper, isn't this, obviously, the public's business?
COOPER: Oh, sure, Larry. I mean, you know, I think we all want to know what happened. And I don't think anyone would dispute that. I guess the question here is whether there has been slow-rolling it, as Senator Feinstein said, or whether they're working at an appropriate pace. And I guess the six senators will group together and try to hold them to account. We'll see what happens on that.
KING: Based on your experience, Matthew, do you think we were being conned?
COOPER: Well, I think Michael had it right, that there were certainly a lot of people who were wrong about the weapons of mass destruction situation in Iraq, and not just in the United States but other intelligence services around the world. I think Michael is also correct in saying that they took wrong intelligence and stretched it further, it's like that old Catskills joke about such bad food and such small portions. You know? And there was a little bit of that. And we'll see whether that was done, you know, malevolently or deliberately or not.
KING: If deliberate, that's terrible, wouldn't you agree?
COOPER: Well, yeah, I think to overstate a case for war, sure.
KING: We'll take a break and come back with Matthew Cooper, Senators Shelby and Feinstein, and Michael Isikoff. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President, enough time has gone by. I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations aren't being conducted, and in accordance with Rule 21, I now move that Senate go into a closed session.
SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: Every other time -- and again, we'll have to go back and look at the history -- there has been at least consideration for the other side of the aisle before a stunt, and this is a pure stunt that's being performed by Senator Reid, Senator Durbin and their leadership.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Senator Feinstein, I know that investigation is about to start, but would you comment on what E.J. Dionne wrote in "The Washington Post" today, that, "As long as Bush still faced the voters, the White House wanted Americans to think that officials such as Libby, Rove and Cheney had nothing to do with the leak campaign to discredit their archcritic on Iraq, former Ambassador Wilson?"
FEINSTEIN: Well, that certainly could be true. And I really think at this stage that the White House owes the American people an explanation. There are so many questions that haven't been answered. Who did -- what conversations did the vice president have exactly about Valerie Plame and her husband? What did he tell Libby? What conversations did Karl Rove have? Who did he say what to? Who gave the information to Bob Novak? Did that person have a security clearance, which would then apply the 1982 law?
The White House owes the American people an explanation. You shouldn't have to wait until there are indictments. You shouldn't have to wait two years. I mean, this thing has now reached the point -- and more fundamentally, you know, the use of intelligence, was it misused, was it stretched, was it exaggerated? In major speeches that were given, on which 78 members of the United States Senate voted to authorize use of force, based on intelligence that was wrong, based on speeches that made statements that simply were not correct. That's a very big thing.
KING: Senator Shelby?
SHELBY: Well, Larry, I think we have to go back to the basics, that the intelligence community, especially the CIA, in my judgment and the judgment of others, did not serve the administration very well in a lot of areas leading up to the Iraqi war. Were things misinterpreted? Were things stretched? Gosh, I don't know. But you've got to have a healthy dose of skepticism dealing with the intelligence community. I know from being chairman of the committee.
KING: Do you fear, Senator Shelby, that the CIA was telling the White House what it thought it wanted to hear?
SHELBY: That could be true. I know there have been some reports, I was not privy to them -- that the former director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, was saying this would be a slam dunk, that the weapons were there and everything.
Actually, you know, I voted for the war, as Senator Feinstein said, an overwhelming majority did. But, I thought there would certainly be chemical weapons and probably biological weapons. And probably evidence of some nuclear, at least hope to build some, but something's wrong, something happened.
KING: Michael Isikoff, are we ever going to get to the bottom of this?
ISIKOFF: Good question. One of the problems here is as much as the Democrats want an investigation and obviously are pulling maneuvers like the one today, they don't have subpoena power.
They can't convene hearings. It requires a Republican acquiescence. And unless the results of next year's election changes anything, that's going to be the way it is for the duration of this term. There undoubtedly will be a field day, some day, for historians, but whether we'll see real-time hearings about what happened here is far from clear.
KING: Are there enough moderate senators, Matthew Cooper, on the Republican side, to vote for hearings with subpoena power?
COOPER: At the moment, I probably guess not. But you know, you never know, Larry. I think there is obviously a growing public impatience with what's going on in Iraq and support for the war has dropped off precipitously as the casualties have mounted and the security situation doesn't seem to have gotten better. So it is not unforeseeable that that might happen.
KING: Are you going to testify at the Libby trial?
COOPER: If I'm called to, Larry, I will. You know, if I could just say for a second, it's been an odd position to be in as a journalist to be in the middle of a story.
TIME, Incorporated, for whom I work, is part of the Time Warner Empire which includes CNN, you know, fought my case all the way to the Supreme Court.
We tried to avoid my getting called in as a witness, but we lost that case. And eventually, I did testify with the permission of my sources. And you know, I testified before the grand jury and I really have no legal options to avoid testifying if there is a trial.
KING: Isn't it bad when the press is part of the story?
KING: What else can they do?
COOPER: Well, yes, I mean, it's an uncomfortable situation, Larry. I think the country -- Congress is going to have to deal with the question of how much protection to afford journalists and whether to give them the king of ability to stay out of grand juries the way we do lawyers and clients and doctors and patients and priests and parishioners.
We'll see about that. But for me, my duty and obligation is clear at this point. If I'm called to testify, I will.
KING: We'll take a break and be back with more on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE, with President Carter here tomorrow night and Senator McCain on Thursday.
Don't go away.
KING: Recent poll just in, USA TODAY/Gallup poll. We polled on Mr. Alito, Judge Alito. We asked the public, do you think he would or would not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade? Thirty-eight percent thought he would vote and 38 percent thought he would not.
When they were asked if he would not, would they want him to be on the court, 53 percent said no, and 37 percent said yes.
Senator Feinstein, have you made up your mind?
FEINSTEIN: Well, it's not a question of whether I've made up my mind. I don't make up my mind until after the hearing. We have a lot of work to do. This man has been an appellate court judge for 15 years. There are literally hundreds of opinions and dozens of dissents that staff need to go through and take a look at.
I think the point that the figures that you just revealed from the poll indicate is that the American people are strongly pro-choice. That's certainly true of my state, California, and it has been true of virtually every poll that's been taken in the United States since I've been in the Senate.
Therefore, this is a considerable question that people care about and women care about it deeply, men care about it as well. So, it will be a focus certainly of my questioning. I believe it will be a focus of the chairman's questioning as well as others.
KING: Senator Shelby, I know you're not on the judiciary. Have any thoughts about the judge?
SHELBY: I think it's an excellent nomination. I think it's in the kind of the scheme of whatever you would call it of Roberts. This is a judge, as Senator Feinstein has said, has got 15 years of experience, well educated, well respected. I personally don't know him. But I look forward to the hearings. I believe it will work out, he will be confirmed. Whether there will be a filibuster, we don't know. We hope we will not have one. But, there will be a lot of questions to answer on both sides.
KING: Michael, would you bet on a filibuster?
ISIKOFF: No, I wouldn't bet on anything at this point other than this will be a prolonged, protracted and vigorous fight.
COOPER: Yes, I think that's right. As Senator Feinstein said, there's a lot of cases to go over. I think it goes on for a while. It will be hot and heavy. But, I think at the end of the day, with the Republicans having a 55-seat majority, I think you have to say the odds are pretty good, he's going to be on the court.
KING: Michael, can it revitalize the administration?
ISIKOFF: I don't know about that. It's certainly going to be a divisive fight. I think the opponents will bring out a lot that will make this a very polarizing battle. And, you know, I don't know whether that's the basis upon which to revitalize the White House, other than with his base.
KING: Thank you all very much, Matthew -- we're out of time. Matthew Cooper, Senator Richard Shelby, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Michael Isikoff.
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