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Bloody Las Vegas Courthouse Shootout; Is Obama Keeping America Safe?

Aired January 4, 2010 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, a bloody Las Vegas courthouse shootout -- a man with a shotgun opens fire in the lobby, killing one before he is gunned down.

Could any amount of security have prevented this horror?

And then, President Obama is back from vacation and demanding answers about how a man with a bomb almost blew up a commercial jet on Christmas Day.

What should the White House do now to keep America safe?

Plus, another White House gate crasher -- someone who didn't belong at that state dinner -- got in -- and it's not these people.

That's next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening.

A deputy U.S. marshal was wounded and a court security officer killed, along with the gunman in that Las Vegas shootout.

We go to CNN's senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, who happened to be in Vegas today on his way home from covering the president in Hawaii -- I understand...


KING: Ed, what were you doing in Vegas?

HENRY: Well, I can't give you all the details, Larry. It stays in Vegas, I guess.

But in all seriousness, very...


HENRY: I was coming to get a little rest and relaxation, obviously. And the bottom line is that it was anything but. There was such a dramatic scene. I was driving near this federal building right behind me. And all of a sudden I heard a man in plainclothes, who I saw had what looked like a .9 millimeter gun shouting, "Get down! Everybody get down!" I didn't know who he was. I stopped the car. And all of a sudden I realized he was a plain-clothes police officer who had something on his radio saying that there was a shooter loose in -- in this federal building and that there was a shootout going on.

And suddenly, right after he said that, there were helicopters descending. There were police cruisers coming from every direction.

And new information we have this hour about how this played out, as CNN has confirmed with a law enforcement official that the suspect was Johnny Wicks. He's an older man. And according to this law enforcement official, he had a Social Security claim before the government. He felt -- he was angry and they believe this was the motive -- he was angry the government wasn't hearing him in this case.

Also, we're told by this law enforcement official, he burned his residence down today, this official said that suggests he planned this out, knew it was probably going to end badly.

All of a sudden, he showed up in -- on the scene wearing all black. He had a concealed shotgun and started firing in the vestibule of this federal building. It has court offices. It has U.S. Senate offices.

He hit, directly, a federal court scoff, Stanley Cooper, who was killed. He wounded a deputy U.S. marshal. An estimated 57 shots exchanged. And it played out -- he ran out of the federal building and then came across Las Vegas Boulevard here. There's cones out there that you can't see that represent every one of the bullets. They're still doing the CSI work as we speak many hours later.

He eventually made it to this building here, where there's an old school, and basically was killed in the bushes there by all kinds of federal officers who descended upon the scene -- Larry.

KING: So, Ed, there was one killed and one wounded.

How is the wounded man, the U.S. marshal, doing?

HENRY: We've been told that he's in stable condition, but there's still -- he's still getting medical care at this hour, has not gotten out of the hospital. They're hopeful, the officials we've talked to, that he's going to make it. But they're obviously still very concerned.

And the U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, put out a statement about Stanley Cooper, this federal scoff who was killed today.

I should note that in 2009, four Las Vegas police officers were killed in all kinds of separate incidents. This is a community that has experienced the loss of life among a lot of law enforcement officers just in the last year -- Larry.

KING: Yes. This shootout erupted at the start of the work day and lasted several minutes.

Here's more of the video you saw in our opening shot today, posted on YouTube.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A shooting outside of the Las Vegas courthouse. Holy (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE). Unbelievable. A hell of a morning for jury duty.


KING: The man who recorded the sound of that gunfire, Nicholas Gramenos, is with us on the phone.

Nick, when did you know something was wrong?

What were you doing?

NICHOLAS GRAMENOS, RECORDED SHOOTOUT: I was actually just -- just leaving the courthouse, Larry.

KING: You had business in the courthouse and you were leaving.

And what -- what was the first thing you spotted?

GRAMENOS: The first thing that I had actually spotted was the eruption of gunfire.

KING: Did you get a little...


KING: Were you...

GRAMENOS: That's when I initially realized something was not right.

KING: Were you scared?

GRAMENOS: You know, I can't honestly say I was scared, Larry.

I -- I really -- I'm not -- I'm not too sure how to describe how I felt, mostly just interested.

KING: But you -- you had the wherewithal to shooting it right away, right?

But don't forget the pun.

GRAMENOS: No. You're absolutely right. It's just occurred to me recently, you know, we have these devices in our pockets at all times. It's -- it's -- it's just -- it's just something I think people should take into consideration, to pass information along to, you know, the rest of the world as quickly as possible, too.

KING: Were you standing when you were shooting this? GRAMENOS: Yes, I was standing. I was walking back toward the courthouse.

KING: Thanks, Nicholas.

Another witness in Las Vegas is Bobby Scotland.

Bobby, where were you?


SCOTLAND: I was in the Foley Building, which is right across the street, just north of where the video was shot.

KING: And what did you see?

SCOTLAND: Well, what happened is I had walked into the Lloyd B. George Building, the court building. And I -- I -- for some reason, I asked, am in the right courthouse?

I don't know why I asked that. And they said no, you're across the street.

I left that courthouse. I walked down the -- the steps. From the details that I've -- I've seen, the gentleman who went into the courthouse, I passed him as I was walking to the Foley Courthouse.

I went through security, was talking to my attorney on -- on a matter and we heard the gunshots. It sounded like popcorn. It was -- it wasn't as loud as the video shows, because we were in a building. But we -- you know, I walked outside to the foyer of the entrance to the Foley Building and looked out the bay window and saw five marshals and a couple of parole officers with their guns drawn, shooting -- well, they hadn't shot. They had just finished shooting toward where the perpetrator was.

And, you know, talking to the CSOs in my building, they -- they knew Stan Cooper very well and were -- it was just a very heartfelt moment for them. They -- they lost a very good friend.

And I want to say this.

KING: Do you think...

SCOTLAND: The -- the Metro police force in Las Vegas did a -- a fantastic job today, because it could have been pandemonium with what was going on. And within probably 30 seconds of the shooting, they had 10 or 12 patrolmen going into the George Building. They had cordoned off the area. Within two minutes, there were probably 150 cops, FBI agents, ambulance and emergency services. And a lot of people were kind of freaked out, including myself.

KING: You said you think you passed...


KING: said you think -- you said you think you passed the shooter.

What do you remember about him?

SCOTLAND: I just remember, when I'm looking back at all these reports, a gentleman -- a black gentleman in a black jacket. And there weren't too many people on the street. And I remember passing -- he didn't look disturbed. He, you know, from what I saw, if -- if that is the gentleman, you know, nothing would have given me a second thought that what was about to happen happened.

KING: Yes.

SCOTLAND: And I'll...

KING: Thanks, Bobby.

SCOTLAND: know, my -- you're welcome, Larry.

I love your show, too, by the way.

KING: Thank you.

And I hope you're OK with whatever your business was with the lawyer.

SCOTLAND: Well, it was finance -- personal finance issues. And the gentleman that did this had personal finance issues. And I don't care, you should never...

KING: Yes, didn't he?

SCOTLAND: should never hurt -- take it out on innocent people like he did.

KING: You're so right.

SCOTLAND: I'm going through two years of personal finance issues and -- and you just have to work it out and talk to somebody. It's -- it's -- it's truly a shame what happened today.

KING: You're right.

Thanks, Bobby.

Ed Henry, Nicholas Gramenos and Bobby Scotland -- they're all on the scene in Las Vegas.

President Obama is back from vacation -- what's he done right, what's he done wrong during this terror crisis?

Some answers, next.


KING: We're back discussing terrorism and the return of the president from vacation. In Clute, Texas is Congressman Ron Paul, Republican of Texas. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was a candidate for his party's presidential nomination in 2008.

Here in L.A. Is Tanya Acker, political analyst and contributor the

In D.C. is Peter Beinart, senior political writer for The Daily Beast, professor at City University of New York and author of "The Good Fight: Why Liberals and Only Liberals Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again."

And in New York is Andrea Tantaros, conservative columnist and Republican strategist.

All right, Congressman Paul, how's -- how has the president dealt with this terror thing, do you think?

REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: Well, I think in about the way I would expect -- nothing too special, nothing bad, nothing real good, because I don't think we're getting to the bottom of it, because everybody is talking about war on terrorism and -- and a lot of us have come to the conclusion that terrorism is a tactic and you can't declare war on a tactic and just what are we doing?

And too often what I hear Obama saying is that we have to expand the war. You know, we're in a lot of countries over there and -- and we're using these drones to drop them on people. And to me, that's an act of war.

And we've done that in -- in Yemen. And we've done it in Pakistan. We've done it this -- this week. And I think that's the -- the real issue -- how -- how far do we expand this when -- when the declaration of war against terrorism and radical Islam -- I mean it's endless.

KING: Yes.

PAUL: It has to be more darrow -- narrowed down. We have to have a target and understand what's going on and we have to try to understand why there are people who are incent -- incentivized to come here and -- and try do us harm.

KING: And Tanya...

PAUL: And I don't think we're doing that. I don't think they did it in the Bush administration and I don't think they're doing it in this administration, either.

KING: Tanya, the president has talked about accountability at all levels.


KING: How is he doing? ACKER: Well, look, I -- I think that Congressman Paul actually just raised a number of very, very good points, because when we're talking about this war on terror, we do have to be more precise about what it is we're doing. Yemen is a very different from Iraq, which is a very different place from Afghanistan. And until we try to get our handle on some of these internal problems and why these situations are so combustible, then we're going to simply be declaring war on a tactic without any resolution.

So I think that in terms of what you're seeing on the president's approach in Yemen is, well, we can't simply drop bombs. We can't simply launch missile strikes. We do have to look at some of the -- the situation on the ground. It's a civil war. And we need to give the president...

KING: Andrea, do we...

ACKER: ...the president of Yemen some cover.

KING: Andrea, do we do enough here of cause and effect?

ANDREA TANTAROS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. I mean I -- I just want to go back to what -- what Ron Paul and Tanya said.

To say that we need to take time to get a better understanding that this is a civil war, that is -- that is completely the rhetoric that we can't hear right now. And I'll tell you why, Larry. A man almost blew up 300 people on a airplane. Now, they seem to know that they're at war with us by declaring jihad. We don't seem to be acknowledging that, at least in our administration now. And we have an opportunity to learn from the mistakes that the Bush administration made.

Look, Obama bungled the initial response. We know that. Especially, you'd think he would have learned from George Bush's visual on the golf course, but he didn't. And the biggest mistake was that he can fix it. The biggest mistake was trying this guy as -- not trying him as an enemy combatant. That was a missed opportunity.

Now we're in negotiations with him, as Brennan said. And he has an opportunity to not send these 40 Yemeni men back to Yemen. That would be the -- the best thing he could do to immediately stop the threat, because we cannot perpetually be on duty. We have to strike them...

KING: All right...

TANTAROS:'s (INAUDIBLE) that we strike them before they can even craft these attacks.

KING: Before -- before I get a break, I've got to take -- Peter, what your thoughts?

PETER BEINART, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, what does it mean by -- by to strike them? You know, we -- if we kill a couple terrorists and we kill hundreds or thousands of innocent people who then become sympathetic to terrorism?

That's why I think, ultimately, war, at least in -- in the way that the other guest is suggesting, it doesn't really make any sense. This is not primarily a military conflict. It's primarily an ideological and economic conflict.


BEINART: And the military should be used sparingly.

KING: And we're going to take a break and come right back.

Dick Cheney has been on the attack over President Obama's handling of terrorism. The White House strikes back in 60 seconds.


KING: Former Vice President Dick Cheney has been harshly critical of President Obama's handling of national security issues for months. In the aftermath of the thwarted Christmas Day bombing attack, he accused the president of trying to pretend the United States is not at war with terrorists.

Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan countered Cheney comments during a series of Sunday talk shows.



JOHN BRENNAN, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: And either the vice president is willfully mischaracterizing this president's position, both in terms of the language he uses and the actions he taken -- he's taken -- or he's ignorant of the facts. And in either case, it doesn't speak well of what the vice president is doing.

The clear evidence is that this president has been very, very strong. In his inaugural address he said we're at war with this international network of terrorists.


KING: All right, Congressman Paul, what about -- he's in -- he's in your party.

What about Dick Cheney's complaints?

PAUL: Well, I think he had his eight years and he's caused a lot of trouble for our country and he perpetuated a war in Iraq that was unnecessary and wrong-headed. So I would say that it would be best he not be so critical right now.

But I'm still not only critical of that policy -- I think the policy remains the same and we've hear it on the show tonight already. They -- they are going to attack us and they've declared war against us. And it's always they and them.

But -- but who are they?

You know, after 9/11, 14 or 15 of the terrorists came from Saudi Arabia. I mean we didn't attack Saudi Arabia, we attacked Iraq. So it -- it doesn't make sense.

And those individuals were trained -- or at least planned -- in Germany and Spain. Some of them even got trained here in the United States.

So you don't declare war against these countries and say that we have to go in and start bombing Pakistan and bombing Afghanistan and bombing Yemen. They happen to be there. That's true. But they're there because we stimulate them. We follow them to the hands of Osama bin Laden by us going there and causing people to get some angry, it helps his recruiting efforts.

He has written about this. He has said this. He says, I want the Americans to go over here and get bogged down and bankrupt their country, and besides, it will help my recruiting efforts.

KING: All right, let me...

PAUL: And we're doing exactly...

KING: We'll be...

PAUL: ...what he had planned.

KING: We'll be right back.

By the way, tomorrow night, Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of Homeland Security, will be with us.

Will the renewed focus on terror shift attention away from health care reform and other issues?

We'll talk about that after the break.


KING: Tanya Acker, is all this terror talk causing us to shift away from other things?

ACKER: Well, to some extent it is, because we're actually not talking a lot about how to fight terrorism. You know, we're listening to the folks like Dick Cheney level these extremely partisan criticisms, which I think that people on both sides suggest may be inappropriate and we should really be thinking about new tactics.

But the interesting thing is, you know, when you hear folks like Cheney and those partisans, you know, part of the problem with that critique is that it suggests somehow that that administration, you know, was infallible, that they got the terror fight right when a lot of people know that they didn't.

You know, they cut terror funding for New York City. They opposed overseas screening of cargo shipments, even after they said, you know, let this Dubai company run six U.S. ports.

So the notion that they're infallible is what I think is really rubbing some people the wrong way right now.

KING: Andrea, if this is a war on terrorism, is it wrong to criticize the commander-in-chief?

TANTAROS: No, absolutely not. And Democrats didn't seem to have a problem with it when George Bush was in office. So I guess if it's good for the donkey, it's also good for the elephant.

I mean, we absolutely need to be looking look at strategies going forward. And I hope the administration starts to look at this as priority number one.

But, Larry, given the fact that over the last year, that a majority of the American people believed that the economy should be issue number one yet Democrats continued to focus on health care, tells me that they're still going to pursue other issues, like climate change, immigration, card check, when they should be focusing on this as their number one priority when they go back to Washington.

BEINART: But, you know, Larry, this is (INAUDIBLE)...

KING: Peter -- Peter, hold up.

Peter, isn't the economy and health care intertwined in a sense?

BEINART: Well, I think they are. And, also, the economy and the health care happen to be massive of issues for tens of millions of Americans who don't have jobs and who don't have health care. And climate change also happens to be a massive peril threatening the world.

Of course terrorism is a significant issue. But, you know, what you tend to find with Dick Cheney and -- and -- and other -- other Republicans is they -- they make terrorism seem as if it's the only threat that America faces.

Let's -- let's put this in perspective. This was a much smaller attack then the one that was attempted on 9/11 -- and it failed. And I think what it -- everyone, after 9/11, thought that the -- that Al Qaeda would have much bigger attacks that were 9/11 plus, plus, plus.

It turns out they can't even execute, eight years later, a 9/11 minus.

Yes, terrorism is a threat, but we don't need to be hysterical about it.

KING: Andrea, were you laughing?

TANTAROS: Unbelievable that we shouldn't be hysterical about it when the foreign minister of Yemen...

BEINART: Yes, we shouldn't be hysterical about it.

TANTAROS: When -- when -- when the foreign minister of Yemen -- yes, until one of your family members is on a plane.

When the foreign minister...

BEINART: Actually, no, ma'am...

TANTAROS: ...of Yemen...

BEINART: ...I have close friends who died from terrorism...

TANTAROS: When the...

BEINART: I don't need a lecture about it from you.

TANTAROS: When the...

BEINART: Thank you very much.

TANTAROS: As -- as do I.

But when the foreign minister of Yemen comes out and says that there are hundreds of more men plotting attacks in Yemen on U.S. soil and we've decided to lawyer this guy up, that we've captured, and not try and get as much information from him about saving the lives of Americans and preventing future attacks, well, that's just plain stupid.

BEINART: No, no. That's called...


BEINART: ...that's called having...


BEINART: That's called having a Constitution and believing in due process, which is what makes us different from them.

TANTAROS: You can still get information...

KING: And Tanya...

ACKER: And -- and -- and but...

TANTAROS: ...with due process.

ACKER: You know, but -- but see...

KING: Hold it.

ACKER: ...the interesting thing is, because what Andrea is doing right now is what you're seeing happen on the right more generally. They're really suggesting that we've got to make this false choice between our Constitution and our values and being safe. And that's just not true. We have tried terrorists in the United States soil before. We tried and convicted Ramzi Yousef here. We tried and convicted Timothy McVeigh. We tried and convicted Richard Reid.

So now, you know, you're hearing these folks suggest, oh, well, you know, if you believe in the Constitution, you don't believe in safety, like that's just false. That's a false price...

TANTAROS: Tanya, I think...

ACKER: ...that Americans don't have to pay.

KING: Ron...

TANTAROS: I think that a majority of Americans don't give a fig about the rights of a radical Islamic extremist that we had...

ACKER: I care. No, I think a majority of Americans...

BEINART: Well, then...

ACKER: about...

BEINART: Then they're...

ACKER: ...the Constitution.

BEINART: Then they're wrong.

ACKER: I think they care about the Constitution.

KING: All right, Ron, you want to get in on this?

TANTAROS: I think they care about their lives and their families (INAUDIBLE).

PAUL: Well, how does everybody...

KING: Ron?

PAUL: How does -- how is everybody able to convict?

I mean in this country, it used to be that you were suspects and, you know, you had a -- had a -- had a trial. But now, the -- the idea -- she's advocating torture.

Can you imagine how much harm those torture pictures did to us?

Boy, I am absolutely positive that there was a great deal of harm done in the Muslim world to radicalize thousands because that was the image of America. From the little bit of information they might have gotten by waterboarding and undermining the goodness of America that we are now the torturers of the world. Now we -- both parties accept the Bush Doctrine that you have preventive war and you go out and you start wars and march around and attack countries and torture people. That -- this is not what America is all about.

This is what we have to change. We were supposed to have some change, but unfortunately, we're maintaining the status quo. And we have to address the subject of the Bush Doctrine of preventive war, because if we continue to do that, we will be bankrupt our country. This costs a lot of money.

KING: All right, let me get a...

PAUL: And it is related to health care...

KING: Let me get a...

PAUL: When you put a trillion dollars overseas, there's a trillion dollars less here to help people at home.

KING: Let me get a break.

We'll talk more about the president's return right after this.


KING: Let's get in a call for our panel. St. Petersburg, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Yes, thank you. I have two questions basically. The one is, first, has there been an official declaration by Mr. Obama in the case of Afghanistan? Then, second of all, what are we going to do when we start trying all these terrorists after two years, three years? The numbers get up to 1,000, 2,000? How many are we going to put into the criminal justice system then?

KING: Peter, we haven't declared any war in Afghanistan, have we?

BEINART: In fact, Obama has said we're at war several times.

KING: We haven't declared war through Congress?

BEINART: No, although some people refer to the September 14th, 2001 declaration of war that ultimately -- after 9/11, and soon after that we went to war in Afghanistan. I think it pretty clear we are at war in Afghanistan.

PAUL: Larry, may I interject?

KING: Go ahead.

PAUL: There was no declaration after Iraq. There was some authority given. As a matter of fact, I thought it was important. I thought that would restrain us from getting into these unnecessary, unwinnable wars. Because in the committee I brought up the amendment that says, this amendment is to declare war. If you want to go to war, vote for it. Nobody voted for it, including myself. But the point was that if you're serious, declare war, get the people and the Congress behind it, and then you're really into it. They don't want that. They don't want the responsibility of that. The Congress doesn't even want to do it. They want to give it to the administration. And if it doesn't go well, they can criticize the administration. That's one of our biggest flaws; we don't declare ware and we're in war all the time.

KING: Andrea, do you think the president should have come back sooner?

TANTAROS: Yes, I do. I think he should have. As I had before, Larry, George Bush faced so much criticism when he was on the golf course that day. We all remember those images. You'd think Obama would have learned from that lesson, but he did not. I think from a PR perspective, on optics perspective, it looked really bad.

Now he needs to come back and take this issue extremely seriously. I think one of the mistakes he also made was almost running a campaign, a PR campaign and messaging through press release and sending out the surrogates on his behalf. When he did come out, we know that he bungled his statement by saying this is one isolated extremist and he looked ignorant.

But it's my take that because Janet Napolitano and Robert Gibbs said that the system works, that this was a collective message strategy on behalf of the White House, that they absolutely got wrong.

KING: Tanya?

ACKER: What's interesting is that Michael Chertoff said on Sunday, along with the last head of CIA -- they talked about that response that Janet Napolitano made. One of the things is that most folks know -- she's recanted it. I find it so interesting this need to seize on that to sort of suggest that the administration doesn't care about the war on terror. Most people know that there have been a number of foiled attacks this year. I think this attack certainly --


ACKER: One second. There were lapses. There should have been better screening mechanisms. By the same token, by and large, our system has worked in terms of foiling some of these other attacks. So I just -- I think we have to be careful about trying to use this in order to, you know -- again, I disagree with Andrea. I don't think we should get hysterical.

TANTAROS: Janet Napolitano is the one who said to call it an overseas contingency operation.

ACKER: We need to have an important, coordinated, concerted strategy. But that doesn't mean we have to react disproportionately to what happened.

KING: We have certainly not heard the last of this. The view from inside US security experts. We'll meet Secretary William Cohen, Fran Townsend and Jack Rice next.


KING: Joining us now are Fran Townsend, the CNN national security contributor, served as chief anti-terrorism and homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush. Our old friend William Cohen was secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration. He's chairman and CEO of the Cohen Group. It works with security and defense firms, and many work with the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA. And Jack Rice, former CIA officer, now a journalist and syndicated radio host.

We start with Secretary Cohen. How do you rate the president's handling of all this?

WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I try not to rate him as much as to say there were obvious mistakes that were made. I think he should be up-front about it, say not mistakes were made, but my administration made some mistakes, and I accept full responsibility for that.

To go in and look and examine and see where the failures were, I would go back to what Howard Baker said during the old Watergate days, in which he said, ask the question, what did we know and when did we know it? I think a reframing of that, what did we need to know, what did we do about it or fail to do about it? Those are the questions that are really important, Not whether we rate him a success or failure. If he fails, we all fail, and the terrorists do succeed in getting through.

So we want to focus our attention on how to make the system better and to admit that we made mistakes here and we have to fix it.

KING: Jack Rice, Tom Kean, who chaired the 9/11 Commission, was a guest with us last week. He said yesterday that the Christmas day terror suspect probably did us a favor. Did he have a point?

JACK RICE, FMR. CIA OFFICER: Well, I think the logic is that the president does have to acknowledge those failures, as the secretary just put it. Without question, there were failures in place here.

But I think the real question is, what were those failures? The way I see this, one of the biggest problems that we face is we spent more than a trillion dollars since 9/11. We've invaded multiple countries. We've killed thousands of people. And, in the end, the real problems that we have here involve the analysis and the synthesis of the information we actually have right now. It's the inability to connect all those proverbial dots, that's the problem we have right now.

KING: Fran, tomorrow the president meets with the national security team, a bunch of people gathering together. Is this going to be an important get-together? Do you expect some changes?

FRAN TOWNSEND, FMR. HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: I don't know that you'll see changes themselves, Larry, coming out of that meeting. I can tell you I'm happy to not be in this particular meeting in the situation room in the White House because I expect it to be a pretty unpleasant meeting. It was clear when the president came out and made the second statement when he was in Hawaii, where he acknowledged sort of systemic and individual failures, he was pretty angry. We hear repeated comments from those in the White House that he's pretty hot about the whole thing and about the failures. And he's determined to get to the bottom of it.

So I expect that while he'll listen to his cabinet secretaries and agency heads about what they knew and didn't know in answering Secretary Cohen's questions, I expect they will hear from him that he's not happy and he expects this to get fixed pretty quickly.

KING: Bill Cohen, is the Department of Homeland Security working?

COHEN: It's got a very tough job to do. The department itself contains many individual agencies. I don't think they've been fully integrated yet. I think it's obvious that information wasn't shared across various agencies domestically, not to mention MI-5 and Britain not sharing information they had. That's really what the 9/11 Commission was focused on. How do we break down the silos. How do we share information vertically and horizontally so we have a complete picture, as complete as we can.

One final caveat is, no matter how good we get, the terrorists are always going to be able to find a weakness at some other point. If it's not in the air, it will be cargo. If it's not by cargo, it will be by train. So we're always going to have to be adjusting and getting better to stay one step ahead, or at least try not to fall too far behind them.

KING: Jack, passengers flying into the United States from 14 countries with terrorism problems are going to get closer screening. The TSA has announced 13 of those countries are Muslim majority nations. A Muslim group is saying this is religious profiling. Is it going to work?

RICE: No, I don't think it is. I actually think this is a disaster, from my perspective. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. If we have decided that we're going to to target them simply because they're Muslims, it isn't good enough. If you look at what Chertoff has said, if you take a look at what Hayden has said, if you take a look at what this president, the last president and others have acknowledged, the problem isn't that they're Muslims or that they're Arabs or that they're from a particular country. It has to be based upon what they have done. We have to look at their actions.

If we don't do that, we risk the possibility of alienating the good people. Look, if we can go after the bad people, so be it. But we have to find a way to convince the rest, the vast majority of people of the Middle East and Africa and every where else that we're on their side. If we make the wrong decisions, it is actually going to make it much, much harder for us.

KING: American boots on the ground in Yemen, is that just a matter of time? Back in 60 seconds.


KING: We want to get your thoughts, all three of you, on Yemen. We start with William Cohen. He was secretary of defense. Are we getting ready to go in there?

COHEN: Well, I hope not. I hope that we exercise some restraint and provide logistic support, intelligence, other types of support activities, a very limited commitment of manpower. I would say that the lower the profile and the less footprint that we have, the better, and put it in a support role.

Secondly, I think we shall internationalize this stuff. Looking at it as if it's the United States responsibility, we have an international community. Everybody has something at stake here, and that is security. And everybody should be contributing and not just the United States.

KING: Fran, what do you think?

TOWNSEND: I agree with the secretary. I expect what you will see -- we provided some military and intelligence and law enforcement training to the Yemenis during the prior administration. That has not only continued, but I think you're going to see more of that. We provided training to their coast guard. You will find other military and special operations capability, I expect, on the ground there, but not a large uniformed military presence.

The second point is the greatest regional ally that we have is Saudi Arabia. They have a real interest. They see the problems across their border with Yemen. They see gun trafficking. Some guns were brought from Yemen into Saudi Arabia, where they were used to attack our consulate in Jeddah several years ago. There was a recent assassination attempt against Mohammed Denaya (ph), the head of the Saudi Counter-Terrorism Police. It was the same kind of bomb, by the way, in that assassination attempt as was used on the Northwest airlines flight on Christmas day.

So they have a greater understanding. They're closer to the problem. And they can be a tremendous asset to us in addressing the threat coming from Yemen.

KING: Jack, how do you rate this conflict with Yemen?

RICE: Larry, the real problem that we see with Yemen is something that I think we could find in Afghanistan. We could find this in Somalia and other places around the world, too. This is a failing state. We see two civil wars, one to the north and one to the south. We see an incredibly weak government. They have water issues. They have oil issues. They have funding issues. They have all of the problems. What this results in is al Qaeda can use this as a vacuum to operate.

The problem is I'm seeing a lot of pressure right now inside the administration to move forward, to do more. If they open up a third front -- and the argument is, well, al Qaeda is operating there -- then we're going to follow that same logic of the failed state argument. Are we prepared to go back into Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, all of the places with weak central authority? Are we going to go in and do the same thing there?

We can barely handle two wars right now. Are we prepared for a third, fourth, or fifth seriously?

KING: Bill, a couple of other things we'll cover with the three of you. Bill, former secretary of Defense, the president when running for election said he would close Guantanamo. Would you?

COHEN: I think the issue with Guantanamo is that it had become such a toxic symbol to much of the rest of the world. But, frankly, the issue for Guantanamo is not so much where it was, it's that there was no oversight. Had there been sufficient oversight, it wouldn't have had the abuses that took place.

He's committed to closing it. I think he will have to close it. But right now he needs to take a pause to take a look to see where he puts those individuals, under what circumstances, whether they're going to have trials in civil court, criminal court, or whether they're going to be under military tribunal type of approach.

I think that with all that's going on now, he needs to take just a respite and analyze exactly where we are and where we need to go, in terms of dealing with the issue.

KING: Fran, in this battle, is there an occasion where you would suspend constitutional rights?

TOWNSEND: No. I mean, this is an area where I think both the current and prior administration would agree. This is not -- we are a country of laws, and the most sacred document under guarding all of that is our Constitution. No one ought to be advocating for the suspension of your constitutional rights.

The question is, what can we do within the limits of our Constitution? We have to utilize every aspect of national power, whether it's military, law enforcement, intelligence, economic, diplomatic, all of it. I think that the president -- the current president is looking for a way to make that balance where he can both use all of our authorities, while also respecting our Constitution and the laws of the United States.

KING: Jack, quickly, could that CIA killing have been prevented?

RICE: I think you're always going to have problems like this. It's an incredibly dangerous place to work. The CIA has to get very, very close to assets it's trying to acquire. This is much different than what the military does, because they don't have to get as close. The agency is always going to be a very dangerous place to work, and Afghanistan is a very dangerous place to operate, regardless. You're close to the Pakistani border. It gets very brutal.

I'm just back from the region myself. I saw it, first hand. KING: Thank you all very much. We'll be calling on you again. Good to see Bill Cohen again, too.

COHEN: Good to see you, Larry.

KING: Turns out there was a third party crashers at that state dinner some weeks back, and you've invited into the discussion in 60 seconds.



KING: Dan Lothian is our CNN White House correspondent. Anita McBride served as an assistant to President George W. Bush and chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush. She's in Washington. Dan is at the White House. Laura Schwartz, in Chicago, served as the director of events in the White House social office in the Clinton administration.

Dan, you want to get us up to date on the new crash story?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, yeah. We got this statement from the Secret Service this morning. They were pointing out that now a third individual did manage to make the way into the White House here, to that state dinner in November. This person, according to the Secret Service, went to a local hotel where the Indian delegation was meeting, and then hopped in a vehicle there and came into the White House.

Now the Secret Service says that they did go through -- that individual did go through a security screening, and they don't believe that at any time that individual got into the receiving line or had a chance to meet the president or the First Lady.

But it's under investigation and clearly another embarrassing situation here for this White House, which we're talking about security issues, national security, and now a third individual managed to get in here, an individual who was not on the list.

KING: Dan, thanks so much. Dan Lothian, one of the best reporters in the business, our CNN White House correspondent in Washington.

Now let's talk with Anita, who was an assistant to President George W. Bush and Laura, who served as director of events. How could this happen, Anita?

ANITA MCBRIDE, CHIEF OF STAFF TO FIRST LADY LAURA BUSH: Well, this is just unbelievable. I'm sorry to hear that this has happened, yet again, that we're talking about this since November. Another person that was able to breach the security at the White House. We all need to be concerned about this, about protecting the president, the first family, and protecting the White House.

I think -- obviously, this was turned up in the investigation that the Secret Service was doing, and identified that someone was able to get on a bus from the Willard Hotel with the Indian delegation. And I think this is a question, too, for the State Department and the office of protocol. Was there a visits officer there going through the list, matching up the list from the White House with the protocol office, to see that the people getting on that bus with the official delegation, coming to the White House, which, by the way, go to another entrance -- not the entrance where all the other guests were coming in. How did they get on that bus and get past everything?

KING: Laura, is the fact that he was with a delegation make it seem sort of semi-logical that he could get through?

LAURA SCHWARTZ, FMR. WHITE HOUSE DIR. OF EVENTS: Not really, Larry, because there's a protocol officer with that delegation all day. That same foreign delegation that comes to the dinner at night goes there also in the morning. Some of them participate in the bilateral discussions with the president and his delegation. But these folks at night sometimes have a plus one. They sometimes are allowed to bring guests, the foreign delegation.

So you would have some people popping up to get on that van, whether it's part of the prime minister's motorcade or they go ahead of the prime minister over to the White House. It's really odd to have somebody on that bus that you hadn't seen during the day or that wasn't on the list. There's always Secret Service at the boarding of that bus, because they hand wand them to make sure they aren't carrying anything that could be of danger to the president.

That van isn't driven by any pedestrian. It's driven by somebody usually from the State Department motor pool that's cleared. Somebody's been with that van all day. There can't be something planted, as far as a device or a bomb of that sense.

But it really is surprising. But the good thing is they are investigating. They have turned up these things. As long as they have no more incidents from that time in the future, I think this memory will start to evaporate. But when another story comes up like this a month later, it does nothing to help.

KING: With three Secret Service members put on administrative leave, we'll ask the ladies if they think someone at the White House should be asked to leave.

By the way, if you have something to say about this show or any other, go to Click on the blog and tell us what you think. We'll be right back.


KING: Anita McBride, should someone at the White House bite the bullet here?

MCBRIDE: Larry, look, let's remember the White House is a national treasure for us as Americans, and access to the complex, and particularly public access is an important symbol of our freedom. I think the White House has already acknowledged, and we all know, it's a shared responsibility between the staff and the Secret Service to protect the president, protect the occupants and protect the complex.

So I think everybody shares in the responsibility. We understand that. I know the White House understands that as well. Again, the investigation isn't complete. I think let's let all the facts come out and the right decision will be made.

KING: Laura, is it a -- you're not a lawyer I don't think -- is it a crime to raid a party?

SCHWARTZ: Right, I have crashed a wedding -- no, I haven't. Wait, there was that one time. Really, Larry, I think you have to look at the repercussions. Honestly, you know, will other countries still want to visit us? Absolutely. They may ask further questions about our screening process and the guest list, but they're still going to come. Those are questions that the United States asks as we go other places.

You know, as far as the legal battle, of course the Salahis were asked to testify coming up in January on the 20th. They're pleading the Fifth Amendment. You know, lying to a federal agent, perhaps.

But, again, Larry, going forward, I don't think we're going to see these incidents. I think the White House and the Secret Service have learned their lesson. The ambassador of protocol at state is very capable. I don't think we're going to be talking about this under a different situation.

KING: You agree, Anita?

MCBRIDE: I sure hope so. I think everybody is feeling very, very concerned about what has happened over all of these months, and have there been other breaches of security? I think that's a fair question to ask.

And I think that, yes, I would agree. I think everybody is going to make absolutely sure whatever weaknesses exist in this system are going to be fixed. I mean, the White House -- we have -- we all live in a post-9/11 world. I've been in and out of the White House working there since 1984. I've seen dramatic changes in access to the White House. This is the reality of how we have to live. So nobody takes us anything less than very, very serious.

KING: Thank you both very much. Anita McBride, assistant to President George W. Bush, chief of staff for Laura Bush, and Laura Schwartz, director of events in the White House Social Office during the Clinton administration.

Speaking of security, Michael Chertoff, who's been mentioned a few times on tonight's show, the former director of Homeland Security, will be our special guest tomorrow night. Right now, it's Anderson Cooper and "AC 360." Anderson?