Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Larry King Live
Interview With Alberto Gonzales; Interview With James Risen
Aired January 16, 2006 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, does the government need permission to spy on Americans it suspects are talking to terrorists? We'll ask the United States Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and two Senators who will hear him testify about it.
Plus, James Risen, "The New York Times" reporter who broke the story and Russell Tice, the former National Security Agency employee who says he was a source for that story, all next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We begin with the Attorney General of the United States Alberto Gonzales. He's with us at our studios in Washington. General, Al Gore said today that President Bush repeatedly and persistently broke the law with the NSA domestic spying program and he wants a special counsel named to investigate. What are your thoughts?
ALBERT GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I didn't see the speech of the former vice president. What I can say is that this program from its inception has been carefully reviewed by lawyers throughout the administration, people who are experienced in this area of the law, experienced regarding this technology and we believe the president does have legal authorities to authorize this program.
I would say that with respect to comments by the former vice president it's my understanding that during the Clinton administration there was activity regarding the physical searches without warrants, Aldrich Ames as an example.
I can also say that it's my understanding that the deputy attorney general testified before Congress that the president does have the inherent authority under the Constitution to engage in physical searches without a warrant and so those would certainly seem to be inconsistent with what the former vice president was saying today.
KING: General, doesn't the idea of spying run against the grain of Americans?
GONZALES: I think, Larry, people need to understand that this is a very targeted and limited program that the president has authorized. We have to put this in context. Of course, we're talking about the most horrific attack on our soil in the history of this country, 3,000 lives lost on September 11th.
The president pledged to the American people that he would do whatever he could within the Constitution to protect this country. It has always been the case since we've had electronic communications that in a time of war this country engages in electronic surveillance in order to get information about the enemy.
We need to know who the enemy is. We need to know what the enemy is thinking. We need to know where the enemy is thinking about striking us again. And so absolutely, this president is going to utilize all the tools that are available to him to protect this country and I think the American people expect that of the president of the United States, who is the only public official charged, not only with the authority with the duty of protecting all Americans.
KING: Originally I think you were supposed to testify in secret and then the administration changed that. Do you know why?
GONZALES: There was never an agreement as far as I know regarding my testimony in secret. I had a conversation with Chairman Specter about coming before the Senate Judiciary Committee and explaining the legal authorities for this president to authorize these activities and we're working on a day.
As far as I know, I don't believe that date has been set. I believe it will be sometime after the State of the Union. Of course, we're obviously focusing on other issues, such as a confirmation of Judge Alito to the Supreme Court, the authorization of the Patriot Act, which of course is another valuable tool in protecting this country.
But, I'm anxious to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I'm anxious to talk to the American people about the importance of this program and the legal authorities that support this program.
KING: Senator Specter, though, did say he is troubled by it did he not?
GONZALES: Well, I haven't seen Senator Specter's comments.
KING: "The Wall Street Journal" reported that today.
GONZALES: And, again, I don't know what's been reported. We'll have an opportunity to come before the Senate Judiciary Committee and to lay out the case for the president's legal authorities and he'll have ample opportunity, as will other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to ask me questions about these legal authorities and I'm looking forward to it.
KING: General, isn't there a happy medium? Isn't there a way to get quickly to a judge who signs off on a warrant to tap or listen in? Isn't there a way to do that quick?
GONZALES: Larry, whenever you involve another branch of government in an activity regarding electronic surveillance, inherently it's going to result in some cases in delay. Perhaps in straightforward cases we can get authority relatively quickly but not all of these cases are straightforward and it's very, very important that the president has the agility and the speed to gather up electronic surveillance of individuals that may be in contact with the enemy.
And again, the FISA process, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that supervises our authorities under that act has been a very valuable tool in fighting the war on terror but it is one tool and the president has directed that we make available to him all the possible tools provided under the law and that's what we have done in this case.
KING: Can you say, general that actions have been prevented by these actions?
GONZALES: I believe that we can, Larry. I can't say it publicly. I can't give examples publicly. These are highly classified. This is a highly classified program but we have briefed certain members of Congress regarding the operations of these activities and have given examples of where these authorities, where the activities under this program have been extremely helpful in protecting America.
KING: Are you assuring that American citizens with nothing to hide have nothing to worry about?
GONZALES: Well, again, as the president indicated, and I'm only talking about what the president described to the American people in his radio address, we're talking about communication where one end of the communication is outside the United States and where we have reason to believe that a party on that communication is a member of al Qaeda or is a member of an affiliate group with al Qaeda.
And so, as the president said if someone in the United States, if you're an American citizen and you're talking to al Qaeda, we want to know why. I think it's very, very important that we know about communications that are occurring within the United States to folks outside the United States that may be affiliated with al Qaeda.
We know that on the attacks, with respect to the attacks on September 11th, we had the enemy here in our country and they obviously communicated with each other in order to initiate those attacks and that's why it's so very, very important that we have electronic surveillance of communications involving the enemy.
KING: Back to former Vice President Gore asking for a special counsel to investigate, would you object to that?
GONZALES: Well, I don't know why -- I don't know why there would be a need for a special counsel at this time, Larry, because what I can tell you is that from the very beginning, from its inception this program has been carefully reviewed by the lawyers at the Department of Justice and other lawyers within the administration and we firmly believe that the president does have the legal authority to authorize electronic surveillance in order to gather up foreign intelligence particularly, Larry, when we're talking about foreign intelligence of the enemy in a time of war.
KING: Thank you so much, general. It's always good seeing you. GONZALES: Thank you, Larry.
KING: That was General Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General of the United States. He previously served as White House counsel to President George W. Bush.
And when we come back the man who kicked all this off James Risen, the security -- the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who covers national security for "The New York Times," author of the best seller "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration." He's next. Don't go away.
KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who covers national security for "The New York Times," James Risen. He, along with his colleague Eric Lichtblau, broke the story of the NSA spying program last month. And, he's the author of the controversial new book "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," there you see its cover. It's a major best seller. Your reaction to what General Gonzales had to say.
JAMES RISEN, "NEW YORK TIME" REPORTER: Well, I think that's the -- what he -- he presented the argument that the administration has been making and he did it in a very concise and succinct way.
And I think that that's the argument that they will be making if there are hearings next month on this issue that this is really a necessary part of the war on terror and that you can't rely on the old laws like FISA, the laws that require you to go to a court to get a search warrant in order to conduct domestic eavesdropping.
KING: And what do you say to that?
RISEN: Well, I think the -- you know, I'm just a reporter trying to report on what's going on. I think the critics of the administration argue that what they have done is skirt the law and that they've raised constitutional and legal issues that go really beyond the substance of the eavesdropping program to get into the broader issue of how far is the president's powers under the Constitution go? How far can Congress reign in those powers? And, I think it's a -- it's one of those fundamental moments of constitutional questions.
KING: How about his point that Clinton did it?
RISEN: There was a -- he mentioned the Aldrich Ames case in I think it was 1994 or '93 while the investigation of Aldrich Ames, who was a Soviet spy, was ongoing. Janet Reno authorized a physical search of Ames' house without a search warrant.
Under the FISA -- under the rules at that time the attorney general could authorize a warrantless physical search of a house. After the Ames case, it's my understanding that Congress changed that and closed that loophole and so that now that kind of search couldn't be done under the law.
KING: How do you take it those who are criticizing you for breaking this?
RISEN: Well, I think, you know, one of the things that's really important in this country that separates us from other countries is vigorous investigative reporting I think is absolutely critical to a healthy democracy. And, if we can't have -- we have to have a debate about issues like this and frankly I don't care how the debate comes out. All I wanted to do was let the American people know the story.
KING: But in breaking it you knew you're causing a stir.
RISEN: Well that's what happens when you -- when you find out something big. I mean people within the government came to me and said they were deeply troubled by what was happening. They thought, there were a number of people in the government who believed that something possibly illegal was going on and they believed that this was important for the American people to know.
KING: Now what part did Russell Tice, who will be with us in the next half hour with our panel, play?
RISEN: Well, I can't discuss any of my sources right now. I can't discuss...
KING: But he can.
RISEN: I can't discuss anything about our sources that we've used for this story but I can say that I believe the sources who helped us in this story were true American patriots. They came forward in a way that for the best reasons possible.
I think this was a classic whistle blowing, the exact opposite in my opinion of the Plame case, the Valerie Plame case, where, you know, there was this whole thing, an effort to go after Joe Wilson and then the reporters got caught up in protecting sources who had gone after Wilson.
KING: That they were being used.
RISEN: This, I think is the exact opposite. This is where people have come forward, whistle blowers in the government who believed that something illegal was happening.
KING: Do you have a fear you're going to be forced to name them?
RISEN: I certainly hope not but I plan to protect my sources.
KING: All right, how did it first come to you without telling the source?
RISEN: Well, there were people who came to me who, as I said, were deeply troubled and also came to Eric. Eric and I sit next to each other in the Washington Bureau of "The New York Times" and both of us began to hear separately that people were deeply troubled about something. We began to compare notes and we realized we were onto something and we began to work together.
KING: When you went to administration sources for a comment what did they say?
RISEN: Well, it took a long time to get to that point and, you know, I don't want to get into all the details of how we -- we got to this point but -- but there was -- I think the end result was a story that no one has disputed and no one has...
KING: There's no one who has questioned this factually?
RISEN: Right, right, I don't think there's anyone who has -- who has questioned the accuracy of our reporting.
KING: When I asked the general if it's abhorrent to Americans to be spied on...
KING: The answer was rather I guess he defended what the administration is doing while agreeing it's abhorrent. Don't you think it's abhorrent?
RISEN: Well, I think it's important to remember this is Martin Luther King Day that we're celebrating the life of Martin Luther King. In the 1960s, the FBI eavesdropped and wiretapped him.
KING: They did.
RISEN: And that took...
KING: Under Robert Kennedy's authorization.
RISEN: Right. It took a long time for us to know all the facts of that and at that time it was -- it was done for what were considered national security reasons. We don't know yet whether there have been any abuses of this program but you have to remember the history of domestic eavesdropping and domestic wiretapping and also remember that in this program there's been very little oversight outside of the Bush administration and so no one knows yet what the full extent of the program was.
KING: Has national security replaced or has war on terror replaced national security as the convenient statement of patriots?
RISEN: Well, I wouldn't want to go that far. I just think that we are in a period much like the early Cold War period where we were not exactly sure of the extent and the scope of the threat we faced. If you remember the early Cold War, the late '40s, early '50s, it was very uncertain how bad, how -- what was the Soviet threat and so there were a lot of abstract considerations about that.
Today, I think we're in a similar position. What is really the nature and the full extent of the terrorist threat? And, I think as a country we're still feeling our way through that and we're going back and forth and it's difficult to tell. KING: Our guest is James Risen, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. The book is "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration." We'll get in a few phone calls for James.
And then our full panel at the bottom of the hour, don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This program has targeted those with known links to al Qaeda. I've reauthorized this program more than 30 times since September the 11th attacks and I intend to do so for so long as our nation is -- for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As soon as this massive domestic spying program was uncovered by the press, the president not only confirmed the story was true but in the next breath declared that he has no intention of stopping or bringing these wholesale invasions of privacy to an end.
At present we still have much to learn about the NSA's domestic surveillance. What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Tough charge.
RISEN: Yes, it is. I guess that was today.
KING: Today. Were you surprised to hear that?
RISEN: A little bit, yes, it's interesting because a lot of the Democrats on the Hill have not gone that far and have, you know, been more restrained.
KING: You write in the book that the CIA had pre-war proof that Saddam's WMD program was inactive?
RISEN: Well, there was -- what I write about is a special program that the CIA had to send relatives of Iraqi weapon scientists who were living in the west back to Iraq to talk to their relatives.
And I talk about one case in particular, a doctor from Cleveland, a woman doctor, who was asked by the CIA to go back to Baghdad and meet with her brother, who was an Iraqi -- who had been an Iraqi nuclear scientist when the nuclear program was active. And he told her they hadn't had a nuclear program in -- she went to Baghdad and he told her they hadn't had a nuclear program since 1991 and the end of the Gulf War and he was surprised that the CIA didn't recognize that.
She came back to Washington and told the CIA that and they clearly didn't believe her or the other relatives who came back. And the reports were never fully distributed throughout the government.
KING: Let's take a call for James Risen, the author of "State of War," Pikeville, Kentucky, hello.
CALLER FROM PIKEVILLE, KENTUCKY: Yes, Mr. Risen...
CALLER: ...I'm just wondering do you know of any provision where the last administration to this administration under Bill Clinton, we had Bob Barr and Lindsey Graham and Bill McCollum, you know, they stated the law was the law and no one is above the law, yet this president seems to have a problem with that. You know what he's doing is clearly against the Constitution.
KING: What's the question?
CALLER: Well I want to know if he knows of any provision that would allow this president to break the law whereas the last administration, Mr. Clinton, was not allowed to break the law.
RISEN: I think the interesting legal question, I'm not a lawyer but from the research I've done there have been the FISA law, which was put in place in 1978 that required court-approved search warrants before there were -- you could eavesdrop on American citizens.
Presidents in the past have written, quietly written executive orders saying "We reserve the right in extreme circumstances to conduct warrantless eavesdropping." Those executive, I don't know if they were orders or just opinions, had been written by previous presidents.
As far as I know that was -- they were never exercised. That authority was never exercised by any president before now. The question is does the Constitution give the president broader authority under national security and emergency circumstances that allow him to skirt FISA and I think that will be up to the courts and Congress to decide.
KING: Idabell, Oklahoma, hello.
CALLER FROM IDABELL, OKLAHOMA: Hello. Larry, I have a two-part question. I'll be brief.
KING: Go ahead, sure.
CALLER: First question if -- the attorney general said that the president had the legal authority to do this, if that was the case, then why the secrecy? Second part, why did it take a year for this story to become public? Thank you.
KING: Thank you.
RISEN: Yes, I think the administration's argument about why they wanted to keep it secret is that they thought that they needed to keep it secret so that the terrorists wouldn't know they were being listened to.
I think the critics argue that today al Qaeda knows or suspects that they are -- their cell phone and e-mail traffic is being monitored and so that argument is debatable.
On the question of why "The New York Times" held the story for a year, I've agreed with the paper not to get into all the internal deliberations except to say that I think it was a great public service when we did publish it because now we can have this debate about the substance of this issue.
KING: Were you part of the discussions to hold it?
RISEN: Yes, I was involved in the discussions but it was not my decision. It was the decision of the management of the paper.
KING: Did you disagree with it?
RISEN: I can't get into all that right now but I do think that it was -- I'm very happy that they did publish it because I think it was a great public service.
KING: Did you know, you obviously knew it would cause the clamor it caused?
RISEN: No, actually...
RISEN: ...I thought it was a good story but I didn't think it was going to be this big. I was surprised how big it was.
KING: This is a tremendous story.
RISEN: Yes, it's a good -- it's a very good story but I mean the impact has been much bigger than I expected. It's, you know, when you write a story and you've been working on it for a while, I remember Eric Lichtblau and I talked to each other beforehand and said what do you think? Do you think people are going to notice this or not? So, you never know. You never know.
KING: What did it do for the book?
RISEN: It's good I guess. It's good.
KING: Thanks, James.
RISEN: Thank you very much.
KING: James Risen, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and the co-author of "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration."
When we come back Senators Hatch and Feinstein; Russell Tice, the former NSA employee who has identified himself as a source; Michael Isikoff of "Newsweek" the investigator journalist; and David Gergen that's all ahead. Don't go away.
KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE.
We've got an outstanding panel to discuss this, in Washington Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, member of the Select Intelligence Committee and Judiciary; Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and, like Senator Hatch, a member of both those important committees; Russell Tice, the former National Security Agency employee, identified himself as a source for "The New York Times" story that revealed warrantless eavesdropping.
Michael Isikoff, the investigative journalist of "Newsweek." And in Palm Beach, Florida, David Gergen has served as adviser to many presidents. He's editor-at-large "U.S. News & World Report."
Before we the senators' reaction, Russell, why did you decide to come forward?
RUSSELL TICE, FORMER NSA EMPLOYEE: Well, a couple of reasons. I've kept this under my hat for a long time, but with the case coming forward as far as what is coming out in "The New York Times," I felt that I could come forward and talk to the press finally.
And ultimately there was a barrier that was in my way that I can't really explain that was lifted from me, ultimately. And that was the other reason. But unfortunately...
KING: ... Did you work on the book too?
TICE: Well, I haven't written any books yet or...
KING: ... Did you work with the writers?
TICE: I talked to both Eric and Jim about NSA, but we talked about technology and I haven't told them anything that is classified.
KING: Senator Hatch, what's your read on all of this?
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Well, these are serious questions and serious problems. We all, of course, want the president to have the ultimate authority to be able to protect us here in this country. And we're in a war that is unlike any other war we have ever seen. But on the other hand, we're also concerned about civil liberties and protection of our own privacy in our own homes. And that's a real concern. There are some very, very intricate and difficult legal questions here.
And I think it is ridiculous for anybody to say that they can be solved either one way or the other without an awful lot of consideration. So we're going to have to really look at this. And Senator Specter has called for hearings on the legal questions. And, of course, I think in the Senate, Chairman Roberts is working to have hearing on the Intelligence Committee as well on the intelligence questions.
KING: So you're not ready to make any prejudgment here?
HATCH: Well I can see where the law, you know -- I can see where people could be very upset under the law and think that the president may not have acted appropriately.
But I also can give you plenty of cases where it seemed to back up the right of the president through his inherent powers to protect the nation from terrorism. And of course, the fact that we pass a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in Congress, that's very important. And it should be abided by.
However, that Congress cannot take away the inherent powers of the president and there appear to be under a number of cases such inherent powers in this area.
So the question is, what can we do to make sure that the rights of privacy of American citizens are protected while we take it to these terrorists around the world and do everything we can to keep them from doing terrorist acts on our domestic property?
KING: Senator Feinstein, what do you think?
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think this. First of all, everyone wants any connection to al Qaeda or any terrorist organization to be subject to the full extent of the law and the president should have his authority.
All many of us say is, "Well, do it legally." And the fact of the matter is that I don't think he has plenary power. They've connected it to the authorization to use military force which was a brief resolution passed seven days after 9/11, which gave the president the ability to use military force against organizations or groups outside of the country.
Shortly before the vote, it is my understanding that the White House or the attorney general called Senator Lott and I believe Senator Daschle and said they wanted to add a section that was inside the United States. I know Senator Daschle said no. And there was no proposal to add a section.
The FISA law is a criminal statute. It encompasses all electronic surveillance in domestic America of Americans. And I can't understand why the administration didn't use one of the escape hatches -- there are two in FISA. One is 15 days after a declaration of war. The second is the attorney general has the right to move ahead with a tap for 72 hours and then go before the FISA Court.
The FISA Court has disproved very few requests. Therefore, what concerns me and I heard the attorney general earlier address your questions, and I don't really think he addressed them very well. Why didn't -- the FISA Court is secret. Nobody knows. Terrorists wouldn't know. Why not use the court?
KING: Michael, what do you think of this story?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NEWSWEEK: Well I think it's actually -- I agree with Jim Risen 100 percent, it was a very important public service "The New York Times" performed here. You know, it's worth noting that the White House and the administration has argued that there are checks built in. They don't have to disclose anything about this program because we had -- they had congressional oversight, they had informed leaders of Congress.
But with all due respect to the senators here, the fact is that neither Chairman Specter or the Senate Judiciary Committee, nor members of the Senate Intelligence Committee generally understood what this program was all about, what was told to the congressional leaders was extremely limited. They didn't understand it.
I spoke a week or so ago to Senator Daschle, who said that when he was informed about it, it was in a -- it was in a very limited briefing by Vice President Cheney. No notes were allowed. No staff was allowed. He didn't fully understand what he was being told.
But he couldn't ask any questions after he left the room. So one can ask, what sort of oversight is that? Now as a result, only of "The New York Times" publication of the story, the Senate Judiciary Committee is going to have hearings, the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to have hearings so there will at least be some sort of review of what the administration has been doing here. And that has to be, I think everybody would agree a good thing, that there be some careful review.
KING: By the way, both of our senators sit on both of those committees. David Gergen, your view of this?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Larry, the president and the executive branch certainly need the authority to listen in and check the e-mails of all the bad guys who may be connected to al Qaeda, whether they are foreign or Americans.
I don't think that's in question. The question is how it's done. I'm mystified that the president chose not to use the system that has been in place, that other administrations have used quite successfully or if this system that Congress set up is inadequate, why didn't he go back to the Congress and ask for it to be amended so it could be used appropriately and there wouldn't be scrutiny?
I must tell you, Larry, as someone who worked for Richard Nixon, and where that badge proudly, I am nonetheless suspicious when I hear any administration start it talk about the inherent powers of the presidency as if they're unlimited.
My experience and I think the entire experience of the public is that when the executive branch begins to collect information on individual Americans for one legitimate purpose and that -- and there's no check on that, then somebody else is going to come along and that administration or a subsequent one and use that information for mischievous purposes to smear somebody, to invade their privacy, to misuse that information in a way that really does hurt other people. And I think that's the basic concern we ought to have here. There ought to be some checks on the way this is done.
KING: We'll take a break and be right back with lots more. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This program is conscious of people's civil liberties, as am I. This is a limited program, designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America. And I repeat, limited. And it's limited to calls from outside of the United States to calls within the United States, but there are -- but they are of known numbers of known al Qaeda members or affiliates. And I think most Americans understand the need to find out what the enemy is thinking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I call upon members of Congress in both parties to uphold your oath of office and defend the constitution. Stop going along to get along. Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of American government that you are supposed to be under the constitution of our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Russell Tice, a former National Security Agency officer, who wants to testify before Congress about all of this, about a super secret black world or special access programs, when you started doing what you had to do or were apparently were ordered to do or asked to do, did it make you uncomfortable, Russell?
TICE: Well, most of these programs are very beneficial to the security of our country. It is just the potentiality of abuses, and I think abuses have happened that I think need to be addressed. And apparently we have very little oversight. So that's sort of what I want to bring to issue to Congress.
KING: Senator Hatch, will some of the sessions be in secret?
HATCH: Well, no question that the sessions with regard to the intelligence committees will be in secret. And we may even go into executive session or a secret session with regard to the Judiciary Committee.
But I'm not sure the administration is going to, you know, elucidate what happened here to the Judiciary Committee. I think they may even balk a little bit at doing it for the intelligence committees.
Because once you tell members of Congress, sometimes these type of problems get out there, and it could be very, very detrimental to the national security interests of our country and to the protection of a awful lot of our sources and methods.
KING: Senator Feinstein, did Al Gore go too far?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I'm not one to comment yes or no. But I think he raised a very real point. And I think there is very deep concern in this country. You know, this isn't the first instance of a kind of arrogance of power.
And what concerns me is that we don't have the kind of supervision that they're is supposed to be with respect to intelligence. I was just saying to Senator Hatch, in late December of 2001, we passed an amendment to the National Security Act that essentially provided a methodology for reporting and writing to the intelligence committee. That covers everything except covert activity. That wasn't followed either.
The thing about this program is nobody knows how many people. Nobody knows whether there is a database kept. Nobody knows for how long people are tapped. Whether it is an American getting a call from overseas, are the people that American calls then tapped?
And I have a hard time understanding, and I wish someone from the administration would explain it to me, why they couldn't go to the FISA court. And if they said, look, we have this computer, we believe the owner is complicit in terror, there are a number of numbers in it. We want to tap those numbers. I can't believe that the FISA court would say no.
It is all in secret. No one knows who the numbers are. But it is oversight, and it does provide a check and a balance.
KING: Michael Isikoff, do you expect much out of these hearings? Do you think this is going to unravel?
ISIKOFF: Probably not. Because I don't expect that the administration witnesses will disclose very much about the program or answer the kinds of questions that Senator Feinstein is raising here. Certainly not in public. They may do so before the intelligence committee in secret. But, you know, all of those issues remain.
One thing that could and possibly may come out of it is the sort of legal arguments and rationales behind it. I know Attorney General Gonzales said earlier on your show that these programs had been--that this program had been reviewed and approved by senior lawyers in the White House and Justice Department.
But the fact is those same lawyers also have articulated a string of legal theories and memos that when they became public, due to aggressive investigative reporting, it became quite controversial and in some cases and most notably the torture memo of August 2002 by the Justice Department was withdrawn by the administration once the legal reasoning was shown to the public. They couldn't withstand public scrutiny.
So to say that those same lawyers signed off on it and approved this program may not be comforting to all members of Congress.
KING: We'll be right back with more.
Let's check in with Anderson Cooper. He is going to "Anderson Cooper 360" at the top of the hour.
What's up tonight, Anderson?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, hey Larry. At 10:00 Eastern time, two convicted murders on the run. The men breaking out of an Alabama prison after overpowering guards and stabbing one of them 15 times in a desperate bid to escape. Dogs are called in. Search teams are out in force.
We're live from the prison with the latest, and we'll talk to the local sheriff about how dangerous these men really are.
Also, Larry, two teens turn themselves in after a violent spree in Florida. Beating homeless men with baseball bats, killing one of them. Tonight we're trying to learn more about these kids and what led them to such random violence.
We're also going to try to find out how teens are capable of this kind of thing,and if teens are more violent today than ever before. That's at the top of the hour--Larry.
KING: Thanks, Anderson.
Humans never cease to amaze us. We'll be right back with more right after this.
KING: David Gergen, the polls seem to indicate that the public is about 50/50 on this. Does that surprise you?
GERGEN: Not really. I think that Americans are legitimately concerned about their security, and this is a, as Senator Hatch said as the program opened, it is very hard to understand the laws. In this area they are very arcane. And so I think a lot of the stuff about--we talk about FISA courts, and about a month ago nobody had ever heard of a FISA court. So I don't think so.
But I do think as people understand what is at stake here, and they go back to Jim Risen's point at the beginning--earlier in the program, on the day when we commemorate Martin Luther King, it is worth remembering that originally wiretaps were ordered up for Martin Luther King for national security purposes. People questioned whether he was a communist and that sort of thing.
But what happened? Pretty soon it led to abuses. You know, the FBI and the Democratic administration ordered up wiretaps of his motel rooms and hotel rooms around the country, collected the information, sent it to -- collected tapes, sent them to Coretta Scott King and tried to blackmail him. Some even suggest he might want to take his own life.
Those are the kind of abuses that you cannot permit. I don't care whether it is Democrat or Republican administration, power can corrupt unless it is checked. And that's the issue here is how do we put checks on it?
There is a lot of data already collected. Is Congress not going to act new and put safeguards on the data that has been collected here in last few months so it won't be used by somebody for mischievous political purpose in the future. That's a big issue.
KING: Senator Hatch, don't you fear that?
HATCH: Yes, I think David Gergen makes a lot of very important points there.
On the other hand, we're living in an age that is like no other age. We have just been discussing here that we probably will have to face terrorism the rest of our lives. You know, the president is leading the fight against terrorism. We want to do everything we possibly can.
But on the other hand, should we not have some constraints so that the privacy of individual citizens in our society will be protected? Be frank with you, the attorney general mentioned that Jamie Gorelick, the deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, made it very clear that the president has a right to do warrantless searches under certain circumstances. And I believe that is probably true.
And I think I can give you the case laws to establish that particular principle. But in all honesty, the real issue here is what are we going to do as Congress. Are we going to oversee this matter and do it properly and make sure that our American citizens privacies are protected? Or are we just going to, you know, ignore it?
There have been eight times or 12 times when heavyweight members of Congress, leaders in Congress, have been informed about this program. And, you know, they're the only ones that have been informed. And I wouldn't talk about what I know about it anyway because it is the most highly classified matter in our government today.
KING: Senator Feinstein, you think this is going to-- battle will be drawn along political lines? FEINSTEIN: Oh, I don't think so. I think this really crosses party lines. I think people are very concerned. After all, we have a fourth amendment that protects people against warrantless searches. This isn't a war against a state. It has lasted for four year now. It is apt to go on for the rest of our lives.
Are we going to have unsupervised, unwarranted wiretapping of Americans, databases kept, for possibly decades with no supervision, no oversight, and no court approval? I think the answer that most people would say is that they want reasonable oversight. They want a reasonable balance.
Yes, the president should protect us. But he should use the law wherever possible.
HATCH: But I need to point out there is an exception in the fourth amendment that means you should not have unreasonable searches and seizures. The question is what is reasonable. This is, again, a legal question that we're going to have to resolve. And I hope we can do it in a way that will please the American citizens.
KING: We'll be right back with more on this very important issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is a vital necessary program. Now, some say well maybe this isn't a war. Maybe this is just a law enforcement operation. I strongly disagree. We're at war with an enemy that wants to hurt us again, and the American people expect the commander in chief to protect them. And that's exactly what I intend to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Mr. Tice, your career is probably over. Are you angry?
TICE: Well, you know, when this first came out, of course, I was angry. You know, how could you not be? You're a whistle-blower, and you do what ultimately you're supposed to do. And you are retaliated against , and your career is done. So, you know, if I were to say that I was a real happy camper about it, I think you could definitely say I would be a bit loopy.
KING: What do you make of the fact that they removed your security clearance last May and called it psychological concerns?
TICE: Well, I just like to say bunk to that. You know, nine months prior to that I went to my routine psychological evaluation at NSA, and they declared me to be perfectly normal like every other psych eval. I have ever had in my career. Nine months later, when they have a reason to retaliate against me, all of a sudden they find me to be mentally ill. I think there is a bit of a question there. KING: Michael Isikoff, why don't you think the attorney general and others won't tell us what they have accomplished from this already? You know, like we got this guy.
ISIKOFF: Right. Well, I think, you know, they would say that would tip off and disclose aspects of the program that they still want to use to catch other bad guys.
But for--the problem is it just makes it hard to evaluate since you don't know the particulars. And you don't ultimately know what the standard is they're using for when they approve these warrantless searches.
What is the standard that triggers, yes, we can do it in this case. No, it doesn't meet that standard? We don't know what it is. So, therefore, it is almost impossible from this vantage point to know what to what extent there may or may not have been abuses.
KING: We know, David, that Secretary Kissinger tapped people that worked for him. Do you think this could go further than that and government employees will be tapping each other?
GERGEN: Well, I think if it is unchecked, that--sure. That is the problem. We don't know. And it has no--there are no limits to it. But I think that the Congress now holding these hearings, I do believe that these hearings will be productive in a sense that the administration will be on guard against it, and I think abuses will not occur in the near term as a result.
I think the larger issue that is still lingering out here, Larry, and whether these hearing, and Senator Hatch and Senator Feinstein are going to be right in the center of this, whether these hearings are going to lead to a reassertion of congressional authority or whether Dick Cheney and others in the administration are going to be able to succeed in expanding presidential authority.
And I think that is a huge issue that is hanging over this. I keep wondering whether, in fact, the administration sort of said the hell with FISA, in part, because they really saw an opportunity to assert their authority in this area and assert to the commander in chief authorities.
KING: Thank you all very much. Senators Hatch and Feinstein, you will be seeing a lot of them in this. Russell Tice, Michael Isikoff, David Gergen.
Tomorrow night, we will look at the motion picture "Brokeback Mountain," an extraordinary epic getting a lot of attention. We'll take a look at "Brokeback Mountain" tomorrow night.
We also want to extend our best to former President Gerald Ford, who is in the hospital here in California tonight. He is 92 years old. He has pneumonia. And he is on I.V. antibiotics, and we wish him nothing but the best. Former President Ford hospitalized. He was hospitalized on Saturday.
"Anderson Cooper 360" another interesting session coming up about, what? Kids on the lamb, other people caught, what is going on?
COOPER: There's two people charged with murder who are on the run tonight, Larry, that is true. One of our top stories.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com