Video: 9/11 widows react

updated 4/8/2004 7:58:23 PM ET 2004-04-08T23:58:23

Four women who lost their husbands in the attacks on the World Trade Center— Kristen Breitweiser, Patty Casazza, Lorie Van Auken and Mindy Kleinberg— fought for the creation of the 9/11 Commission.  MSNBC's Chris Matthews talked to them on Thursday, after Condoleezza Rice's testimony, to get their reactions. Read a partial transcript of this interview:

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST, HARDBALL: Are you satisfied with what you got from Condi today? 

KRISTEN BREITWEISER, WIDOW OF 9/11 ATTACK: No, I think obviously we need to get more answers from her.  I would have hoped that the commissioners would have asked more pointed questions, more questions about the substance of the threats that we were facing, more about the intelligence community, what they knew where, where the breakdown of the intel information occurred, why the national security advisor did not know that planes could be used as missiles.  That’s her job. 

MATTHEWS:  She said it right up front, didn’t she? 

BREITWEISER:  She did. 

LORIE VAN AUKEN, WIDOW OF 9/11 ATTACK:  We also know that people stopped flying domestically.  Ashcroft stopped flying.  Pentagon officials stop flying the day before September 11.  They were warned not fly on September 11.  We think San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was told not to fly.  That’s all domestic.  You know, everybody keeps telling us how they were focused outward. 

MATTHEWS:  You’re talking about before 9/11 they were warned? 

VAN AUKEN: Yes.  Yes, right. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the July briefing that was on domestic agencies? 

MINDY KLEINBERG, WIDOW OF 9/11 ATTACK:  You know, what’s unbelievable about that is that nobody followed that up.  I mean they say that they told the FAA and they told the FBI, but nobody at the FAA did anything. 

Nobody stepped up the protocols and procedures during that threat period.  Nobody at the FBI knew that this threat was there. 

And I would have liked them to continue to ask her, because apparently, she didn’t feel that was her responsibility. 

MATTHEWS:  You once said that she was either lying or she’s incompetent. What do you think of her now?  Do you think that’s still a fair judgment, I mean if it ever was one? 

BREITWEISER:  I have to say, with a laundry list of questions that that Commissioner Lehman asked her, she said she didn’t know a lot of things.  And I would question what exactly did she know? And if she didn’t know it, who else would know it? 

It’s her job to know that information.  It’s her job to relay that information to the president and to actually, in our opinion, inform the public. 

If the public was better informed in the summer of 2001, lives would have been saved.  Maybe the attacks wouldn’t have been prevented; but lives would have been saved. 

My husband was in Tower II.  If he knew that it was a terrorist attack, he wouldn’t have stayed in the building. 

We spoke to a pilot’s wife, and we asked her, what do you think happened?  And she said "I wish he knew that these guys knew how to fly the plane."  She told us that they [pilots] were trained that they were indispensable so they wouldn’t fight a hijacking. 

Video: 9/11 Widows on Bush, Cheney testimony

MATTHEWS:  How far did that information get up to the ladder to the president? 

VAN AUKEN:  You know, that’s the question we have, the urgency question.  In “Bush at War,” it was quoted that Bush said he felt that al Qaeda was important but not urgent.  Whose job is to convey urgency to the president if not the national security advisor, getting information from the intel. agencies up to the president?

PATTY CASAZZA, WIDOW OF 9/11 ATTACK:  And it’s also disingenuous for the national security advisor to say she couldn’t have imagined planes being used as weapons. 

In July, the president, Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Karen Hughes, and Karl Rove attended the general summit in Italy.  The national security advisor of that nation was aware of an assassination attempt to be committed upon our president and the leaders attending that G8 Summit in July. 

How do you forget, two months later, the threat of your life, the president’s life, and not think that that threat could actually follow you home to the United States? 

MATTHEWS:  Were you surprised at the lack of attention during the last couple of hours on what the president knew and what he did?  It seemed like the questions did not get to the commander in chief.  I mean I’m just noticing that.  Have you noticed that, Mindy? 

KLEINBERG: Well, you know what -- it seemed, whether someone not telling us, whether they didn’t ask the appropriate questioning, but, yes, it seemed like he wasn’t getting the information that he should have been getting.  This commission was created so that we could take a look at the vital flow of information and decide where the breakdowns are and then fix them. Somewhere along the way, you could see that people were not getting the information they needed to get-- whether it was the field agents, whether it was the airline security personnel, or whether it was the president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me start with what I think was the best testimony today.  It was the forced testimony at the hands of Richard Ben-Veniste, who is a professional prosecutor.  And, by the way, I think a lot of people who were watching this didn’t understand what was going on. 

He was insisting on the rules of the courtroom:  "Answer the question; you’re the witness here."  And he treated her a little rough because he wanted those answers, and she, at each case, wanted to give an essay answer and a discourse and a distraction at some point, and even a digression.  And he says, 'No, I want specific answers to specific questions.'

Let me ask you about what your reactions were in hearing them.  Were you surprised to hear that the document given to the president in briefing on August 6, a month before, was entitled “bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States”? 

He didn’t say warn.  He asked what the title was.  The direct question – she didn’t want to give a direct answer.  How did that hit you? 

VAN AUKEN: Yes, well, we’ve known for a long time that that was the title of that briefing.  They’ve been trying to keep that a secret from the public.  They tried to keep it secret in the joint intelligence committee report.  You know, that pretty much says it all. 

MATTHEWS:  How did you get this info?  Because I haven’t had it.  Lisa Myers had.  I hadn’t had it.  How did you know the title of this document?  I do think it sounds like – it’s sounds like a preview at the movie theater. 

CASAZZA:  And you combine that with George Tenet saying it’s going to be a spectacular attack or Richard Clarke... 

MATTHEWS:  And you’ve got suspicious behavior in the United States. 

CASAZZA:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  You’ve got al Qaeda people in the United States.  You’ve got a guy trying to learn how to fly a plane, once it’s in the air but he doesn’t want to know how to take off or land.  He wants to learn how to hijack. 

KLEINBERG:  And he’s in custody.  You know what?  I think that, for the past two years, America’s been operating under the misnomer that "we couldn’t have known, this was a surprise, nobody knew anything."  And what people are learning today is that that’s not true. 

MATTHEWS:  Were the dots as hard to connect, after today, as they seem before today? 

BREITWEISER:  No it’s not.  No it’s not. 

MATTHEWS: Do the dots seem closer after today? 

BREITWEISER:  You know what?  It’s not hard to do in retrospect.  It’s not Monday-morning quarterbacking.  You have the director of the CIA on the morning of 9/11, whose first response was "I hope this doesn’t have anything to do with that guy taking flight lessons."  He was referring to Moussaoui.

BREITWEISER:  And you know what?  Condoleezza Rice--  It’s her job to not have that Grand Canyon [of intelligence between the director of the CIA and the president].  It is her job to fuse that information in one fusion center.  And, you know what?  She didn’t do it.

MATTHEWS:  The president of the United States is briefed every morning by Tenet.  Tenet has a mind set, which is triggered, "I know what I’m looking for, and when it comes, I’ll know what it looks like." The president thought nothing – it connected nothing to him.  Does that mean he was poorly briefed? 

KLEINBERG:   Either [the president] he was poorly briefed or he was a good actor.  I mean, he remains in a classroom.  OK?  When that plane hit that first building, if they were so briefed and they had an August 6 PDB and we had just been through a summer of threat, then shouldn’t the dots have connected right there at that moment for him, for Donald Rumsfeld, for General Myers? 

All of them, in their testimonies, or in their discussions or in their books, have talked about how it wasn’t until after the second plane went into the second building or it wasn’t until after the Pentagon was hit that they realized what was going on. 

Where is there a breakdown in communication? That you had an intelligence community with their hair on fire and yet a hijacked plane hits a building and… 

BREITWEISER:  And nobody reacting. 

MATTHEWS: Let’s go through the points mentioned.

Condoleezza Rice today said that she’d never been briefed on planes being used as missiles.  She reiterated that today, even though we know that Richard Clarke – and this has been uncontested – had prepared as far back as 1996 for planes being used as missiles at the Atlanta Olympics. 

BREITWEISER:  Not only the Atlanta Olympics, but they were doing workups for the Utah Olympics.  So you know what?  How does she not know that?  You take the G8 Summit… 

CASAZZA:  The only thing you have left at the end of the day is your integrity.  And, clearly, she had all the warnings she needed.  She should have told the president, even if she was unsure.  It’s the president’s responsibility to really protect and serve this nation.  He’s the commander in chief. 

And on the morning of 9/11, even when the nation was fully under attack, our nation didn’t have a military response until after the Pentagon got hit.  That was a full hour-and-a-half after the first plane was known hijacked.  How is that possible? 

MATTHEWS:  Let me get back to one thing that we learned just today from Condoleezza Rice.  A direct question to her from Richard Ben-Veniste, pointed question: did you ever brief the president about the al Qaeda? 

And she, after a lot of meandering here – and I guess she had to do it – got to the point of saying, well, "we didn’t think there was anything that needed to be done there. "

Now, the question – and the tough question to you - what do you think the president of the United States should do if he were told by Condi Rice?  Apparently she doesn’t remember telling him.  Is the president of the United States personally supposed to go out and say let’s go catch the al Qaeda guys in the United States?  What’s he supposed do? 

CASAZZA:  They should have been following the al Qaeda cells anyway.  We had prior attacks.  It’s their responsibility to thwart all attacks.   We were spending, I think, $30 billion a year on national defense prior to 9/11.  Where did that money go? 

MATTHEWS:  According to what we heard this morning, the FBI was pursuing those al Qaeda guys.

VAN AUKEN:  They weren’t bringing the principles together.  They were not shaking the information out of the trees.  We knew Moussaoui was under arrest August 16. 

MATTHEWS:  We also know that Tenet knew that. 

VAN AUKEN: Yes, we know that Tenet knew that. 

MATTHEWS: I want to talk to you about the people who may have dropped the ball. 

VAN AUKEN:  Well, my first reaction is there’s another part to Condoleezza Rice’s statements, which was that they were focused on traditional hijackings.  And they did nothing to thwart a traditional hijacking on that day either. 

So when a plane misses its mark in the sky – you have a very crowded Northeast corridor – you can’t have errant planes running around there.  Nobody sent up a fighter jet to go see what was happening, not to shoot the plane down, but to intercept it.  So I don’t understand, if they were focused on traditional hijackings and even had that as a warning inside the PDB, why they were so slow to respond. 

KLEINBERG: Right.  And the other thing that strikes me is that they’re talking about the FBI and the CIA not speaking to each other. Historically, that has been the case.  What I don’t understand is that, considering that we knew that there was this threat, OK, why they didn’t have them in a meeting? 

You know, Richard Clarke said that during the millennium plot, they had all of the principals involved in a meeting together to make sure that they could overcome that stone wall.  Why couldn’t we do that?  And why did they poo-poo it and they say no big deal and we didn’t need the meeting?  How did they know that?  Maybe if the FBI, the CIA, and the attorney general and everybody was in one room and they were talking about all of the issues – and where the threat was coming from-- they would have been able to pull at these threads. 

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