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updated 3/1/2006 11:34:12 AM ET 2006-03-01T16:34:12

New polls show that the American people do not support the president on the deal to let six major U.S. ports fall under the control of a company controlled by the United Arab Emirates, a Middle East country.  A recent CBS poll show 70% of American's opposed to the deal.

Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan is the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, which held hearings yesterday on national security threats.  He also sits on the Homeland Security Committee, and the Intelligence Committee.  Senator Levin joined Chris Matthews to discuss the reasons why Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to the U.A.E. ports deal.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, 'HARDBALL': Senator Levin, you represent a pretty regular state, if there is one—a lot of guys who own guns, who own boats, sort of rough and ready people out there.  Are they confident of this president‘s leadership? 

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D) MICHIGAN:  No.  They‘ve lost a lot of the confidence because of the failures of this administration to show leadership and to just be competent.  This most recent decision relative to transferring port operations to a foreign country is deeply disturbing, and what is also disturbing is that the administration ignored our law which requires a formal investigation, should there be national security concerns as a result of a proposed transfer, and requires that investigation before the transfer. 

Now what they‘re doing is, they‘re going to go ahead with the transfer and then have the investigation afterwards—a so-called investigation—but that‘s putting, really, the cart before the horse. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there any way you‘ll feel comfortable with the United (Arab) Emirates company, Dubai Ports World, controlling our ports on the East Coast? 

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LEVIN:  I start with a real nervousness about a foreign government owning operations—port operations—because they are so critical to our national security.  Our vulnerability is in our ports, perhaps more than any other place, including our airports.  We have so many of our containers are not looked at.  And so I start with a very serious feeling of presumption against foreign government ownership of any port facility. 

That doesn‘t mean if there‘s a thorough investigation, I can‘t be persuaded, but the problem with this investigation is that it‘s a charade if it comes after the transfer.  And as of right now, while they say there‘s going to be a formal investigation, the transfer is going to go ahead apparently before this investigation has begun, much less before it‘s completed. 

MATTHEWS:  Oftentimes, Senator, when you argue in Washington here about an issue, there‘s a middle ground.  One side says spend 10 billion (dollars), the other side says spend 8 (billion dollars), you spend 9 (billion dollars).  Is there a middle of the road position here, or is it up or down on this company—this state-owned company—running our ports? 

LEVIN:  I think it ends up with the administration making a decision up or down.  Hopefully the Congress will insist on a role in that decision.  But there‘s a bipartisan—very serious bipartisan doubt, not only about the transfer to a foreign government, but also by the failure of the administration to follow our law.  You know this administration, I‘m afraid, has a track record of not wanting checks and balances and trying to find ways to get around our laws.

And there‘s a deep feeling in the Congress, a growing bipartisan feeling, that it‘s important that there be checks and balances, and that the administration abide by our law, which is very clear in this case, that if there‘s a national security concern—and there obviously is and was, just talk to the Coast Guard, just talk to a number of other people inside the administration—they obviously raised concerns.  That‘s why the letter of assurances came, in order to address national security concerns.  So once those concerns are there—and they were there, here—that must trigger the investigation which this administration tried to bypass. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you confident of the British company, the P&O company that was running these ports all these months now? 

LEVIN:  I didn‘t have any reason to have questions about it.  No questions were raised.  But Video: Americans Against the Deal when it came to the transfer to Dubai, the 9/11 Commission, for instance, raised some very serious issues as to what Dubai‘s failures were in the war on terrorism, prior to 9/11.  They raised a number of points in the 9/11 Commission report.  They said, for instance, that Dubai or the Emirates was one of three countries that recognized the Taliban, they said that President Clinton tried to persuade the Emirates to strike any relationship, cancel any relationship with the Taliban—that ran into a dead end. 

There was also a front company for the major proliferator of nuclear material, a man named A.Q. Kahn from Pakistan—that front company was in Dubai.  The 9/11 Commission raised a number of other concerns.  They ought to be looked at, and they weren‘t looked at here, because I specifically asked this committee that gave approval of this whether they‘d even talked to the 9/11 Commission, and they had not. 

MATTHEWS:  When you hear the word through the grapevine is that the people in charge of this interagency panel that decided to okay this direct investment by this Dubai company, they all had tin ears or deaf ears.  They raised no concerns.  Does that bother you that people in this administration don‘t seem to have political antennae? 

LEVIN:  Sure it does.  This is the security of the United States, and it‘s got to be first and foremost, before investment—by the way, I heard the secretary of the Treasury the other day talk about the importance of foreign investment.  Security has got to come ahead of investment.  It shouldn‘t even be discussed in the same breath and the idea that they would not talk to the 9/11 Commission—they being the committee that approved this thing for the administration—did not talk to the 9/11 Commission that had raised serious concerns about this government‘s failures relative in the war—taking action in the war on terrorism.  That failure, it seems to me, speaks volumes about just the lack of competence of this administration.

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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