updated 4/15/2004 3:38:36 PM ET 2004-04-15T19:38:36

Guests: Kristen Breitweiser, Lorie Van Auken

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Welcome to this special edition of HARDBALL. 

I‘m Chris Matthews. 

Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet testified before the 9/11 Commission this morning and said it would take five more years to build the kind of clandestine operation that the U.S. needs to infiltrate organizations like al Qaeda. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR:  We‘ve spent an enormous amount of time and energy transforming our collection, operational and analytic capabilities.  First thing I would say to the commission is that the care and nurturing of these capabilities is absolutely essential. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  In about 90 minutes, FBI Director Robert Mueller will testify before the 9/11 Commission.  We‘ll bring you Mueller‘s testimony starting at 2:30 Eastern time.

And in just a few minutes, President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will hold a joint news conference at the White House. 

Right now we‘re joined by “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman, who is an MSNBC News political analyst, he‘s also, of course, “Newsweek”‘s, and Dana Priest is with “The Washington Post,” and HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster joins us, he‘s in the hearing room on Capitol Hill.

Let me go to David Shuster for sort of the smell of the crowd today.  What was it in the air today or in the water they were drinking that made so many commissioners kowtow to the chief witness this morning, George Tenet? 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, it‘s not clear.  Perhaps it was because Tenet had said in his prepared statement that in fact there are major hurdles that they have to get over and the commission sort of agreed.

But the electrifying moment this morning, Chris, seemed to be when Tenet talked about August 2001, and he revealed to a dumbfounded Commissioner Roemer that Tenet never spoke with President Bush, he never met with President Bush in Texas.

And remember, this was at a time when Tenet and President Bush had been meeting almost every day in June and July.  In the spring tenet had said that because of the warnings from al Qaeda, that Tenet‘s hair was on fire.

The president had seen a stream of reports warning about al Qaeda.  But all of a sudden in August the president goes off to Texas, George Tenet stays in Washington, they don‘t talk.

We also learned today, Chris, that George Tenet said that the briefer, the August 6 Presidential Daily Brief was a CIA briefer, Tenet was not involved.  We also learned that Tenet learned about Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker, in late August, but never mentioned it to really anybody outside of the CIA.

There was a principals meeting early September.  Tenet never talked about it then.  And sort it was really sort of dumbfounding in a sense that here after everything that had been going on that summer, there‘s George Tenet simply not talking to the president at all. 

Is it Tenet‘s fault, is it the president‘s fault for not following up? 

That‘s one of the questions that is hanging in the air.

A couple of other things, Chris,  that came out this morning.  We learned that the CIA knew back as far as 1997 that, in fact, al Qaeda had threatened to fly a plane with explosives into a U.S. city.

This was part of the National Intelligence Estimate.  There were specific threat reporting, according to the CIA.  We also learned that the CIA believed in 1997 that the 1993 shooting of a Black Hawk helicopter in Somalia, that that was the work of al Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden‘s surrogates—Chris. 

Well, let‘s go to—let‘s take a look right now at when Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste pressed—what happened when he pressed George Tenet, what more he could have done with Zacarias Moussaoui.

By the way, the CIA director would refuse to admit on the record today that he talked to former Senate Intelligence Chairman David Boren the morning of 9/11, and mentioned the fact that he knew about the Moussaoui case.

Let‘s take a look, though. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSIONER MEMBER:  You had information in August that came from the FBI regarding an Islamic jihadist in the United States named Zacarias Moussaoui.  Given the threat level, given the knowledge about planes as weapons, given the fact of Moussaoui‘s arrest, why was it that you didn‘t put the question of prosecuting Moussaoui to the side and go after the information which may well have led to unraveling this plot? 

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR:  I‘d have to go back and look at all—when we talked in private session, we wanted to come back to Moussaoui.  I have not gone back and reviewed all of that data at the time as to why I would make a decision to forego prosecution.

That‘s not a call I could make, but I—Commissioner, I want to go back and prepare and look at all of the things that were on the table at the time and I would be happy to sit down with the commission and walk through everything that was happening at the time. 

And I‘m not trying to duck, but we need to sit down and go through this. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Dana Priest, you cover intelligence agencies.  Why would the CIA director refuse to go on the record and say he knew about Moussaoui, this guy was taking flight training, although he had never flown a Piper Cub and a 747, he wanted to fly the big planes, why did he refuse to admit that on the morning of 9/11 he shared that information? 

DANA PRIEST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well the question wasn‘t that, the question was in August, why didn‘t you tell somebody else, why didn‘t you—actually, the question was ridiculous.  I hate to say that, I‘m respectful of the commission, but it is not George Tenet‘s call to set aside prosecution. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘ll come right back with you.  Stay with us, Dana Priest.  We‘re going to the president now, he‘s with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the White House. 

(INTERRUPTED BY LIVE EVENT)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go right now to Dana Priest of “The Washington Post.  You know, those of us who have watched the progression between President Bush senior, the 41st  president of the United States, and the 43rd president, there‘s quite a dichotomy between the relations with the state of Israel.

George Bush senior was known as the guy who held up a $10 billion loan guarantee for housing in Israel, unless Israel agreed to not continue building settlements on the West Bank.

There you have the son, or  the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush, who is out there saying that Sharon is the best thing since sliced bread.  That‘s a hell of a difference isn‘t it? 

PRIEST:  Well, it certainly is.  And of course, he‘s been waiting at the sidelines to say that while the Israelis and Palestinians duke it out themselves.  I think it‘s good to see, and lots of Middle East experts who worry about Iraq being a pull on terrorists in the region believe that the president and the administration has to get more central into this discussion of resolving the conflict.

What you saw here today was an effort to do that by also giving the Israelis some more of what they wanted, including the settlements, maintaining some settlements in the Gaza and West Bank.

MATTHEWS:  Can anybody—can you suggest, Dana, as an observer of this development here, do you believe that the president of the United States would in any way try to be honest broker between the Palestinians and the state of Israel on this eve of a presidential election?  Wouldn‘t that be highly unlikely for him to get tough in any way Israel given the political circumstances? 

PRIEST:  Yes, it would.  And if you look at his track record, he has not done that at all throughout his whole first term.  So I would not expect that, no.

MATTHEWS:  I want to talk about this thing.  I hate to stay with you Dana, but I want to stay within this point.  You‘re out to make a point.  Why would the CIA director, George Tenet, not share his information about the Moussaoui flying lessons in Minneapolis with the rest of the agency or with the president?  What do you think?

PRIEST:  It was a low level.  At that time, he did share to the commission that it was given to him in August 26 is what he said.

The question to him, though, is why didn‘t he remove that as a criminal case?  Which is really an inappropriate question to ask the central—to ask George Tenet, as the head of the CIA.  That‘s a question for the Justice Department.

And I think you could look at these commission hearings and take a lot of really inappropriate questions.  One of them in which someone asks Tenet whether he thought it would be appropriate to put domestic terrorism operations under him. 

And he said, “No, not at all.  I don‘t think that‘s appropriate.”

MATTHEWS:  It was an odd day for the commission, not a good one.

We‘ll be back with Dana Priest and Howard Fineman.  And later, we‘ll also check in with two women who lost their husbands on 9/11 and get their reaction to George Tenet‘s testimony this morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right, the 9/11 hearings.  Welcome back to our special edition of HARDBALL.

This morning at the 9/11 hearings, commissioner Tim Roemer, former Democratic congressman, pressed CIA Director George Tenet on why he and President Bush didn‘t speak at all throughout the entire month of August 2001, the month before 9/11. 

Let‘s take a look at the Q and A here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIMOTHY ROEMER, 9/11 COMMISION MEMBER:  You don‘t see the president of the United States once in the month of August?

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR:  He‘s in Texas, and I‘m either here or on leave for some of that time, so I‘m not here. 

ROEMER:  So who is briefing him on PDB‘s?

TENET:  The briefer himself.  We have a presidential briefer.

ROEMER:  So—but you never get on the phone or in any kind of a conference with him to talk at this level of high chatter and huge warnings during the spring and summer to talk to him through the whole month of August?

TENET:  We talked to him directly throughout the spring and early summer almost every day. 

ROEMER:  But not in August?

TENET:  In this time period, I‘m not talking to him, no. 

ROEMER:  Does he ever say to Dr. Rice or somebody else, “I want to talk to Tenet?  Tenet is a guy that knows this situation, has been briefing me all through the spring and the summer.  Tenet understands this stuff, his hair has been on fire, he‘s been worried about this stuff”?  Is that ever asked or are you ever called on to...?

TENET:  I don‘t have a recollection of being called, Mr. Roemer, but I‘m sure that if I wanted to make a phone call because I had my hair on fire, I would have picked up the phone and talked to the president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Howard, once again the dangerous allusion or image of a sleepy sheriff‘s office in the summertime.  The president is on vacation, the CIA director is on vacation or on leave, as he calls it.

They got warning on August 6 that bin Laden is determined to strike inside the United States.  That elicits no action, apparently, based on the hearings so far, by the national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, by the president, or George Tenet, who also knew about this guy taking flying lessons, this Middle Eastern guy. 

What action do these people take?

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC ANALYST:  Well, they don‘t take any, Chris. 

It‘s kind of a mundane fact, but a crucial one, that in August during the end of the summer of threat, really in away...

MATTHEWS:  Who gave it that name?

FINEMAN:  I don‘t know how, but it‘s become—it‘s become part the lexicon along with shaking the trees an pulsing the system.  That in August people went on vacation. 

Now, on July 27, according to one of the memos that was released yesterday, Richard Clarke ironically said to his higher ups, the main threat spike abroad has ended.

So Clarke sort of turned down the volume little bit, although he cautioned everybody to remain on alert. 

Then everybody goes away on vacation.  George Bush is a man who believes in his Crawford vacation.  They‘ve just gone through Genoa, and the, you know, the G-8 summit.  They had the threat spike abroad...

MATTHEWS:  Of airplanes attacking.

FINEMAN:  ... of airplanes attacking, all this other stuff, so basically people went away in August. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

FINEMAN:  That‘s what happened.

MATTHEWS:  Dana, you cover intelligence matters as well as other things for the “Washington Post.”  Try to give us a picture of what you see as the president getting briefed by the CIA.

Apparently a low-level analyst or a middle level analyst delivers these—these PDB‘s to the president with he‘s on vacation.  Does George Tenet have no other alternative person at a high level to talk to the president about intelligence?

PRIEST: The president‘s briefer is somebody who he comes to know, because it‘s the same person all the time and he can switch out if he feels like he‘s not going to have an honest rapport with that person.

So the person who is giving him the briefing is someone he‘s used to, he‘s comfortable with.  And Tenet gives the briefing sometimes, but the briefer still comes in with Tenet if he is briefing. 

The other thing I want to point out about August and why it is so shocking that they didn‘t talk, in fact, it caught Roemer by surprise, he didn‘t even know what to ask—is they of course have 24-hour communications.  They can get on the phone, either one of them and...

MATTHEWS:  But did they?

PRIEST:  No, they did not.  And to me that just turns on its head everything we‘ve heard up until now about how the president and Tenet were so close, how they relied on one another, how the president asked him many times in the summer prior obviously now we know, prior to August, are they going to strike here?

And he was reading a whole slew of reports that the commission referred to yesterday that had titles like “Bin Laden‘s Threat is Real,” “Bin Laden Plans Advance.”  It doesn‘t say the advance vis-a-vis the United States, but it‘s not specific this that regard. 

And obviously the president had it in his mind to say, “Do you think he‘s going to strike here?”  And for neither one of them to follow up is really very surprising. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard, I think still think the interesting question today although they were sleepy hearings today, they did elicit that fact that the president made no effort to communicate with the CIA director after being briefed on the dangers of al Qaeda attacking inside the United States. 

FINEMAN:  Didn‘t attempt to contact the CIA director.  Apparently made no effort to contact the FBI or to sort of pulse the system on his own about those 70 field investigations that were going on. 

I mean, the government was taking August off.  The terrorists weren‘t.  That‘s basically what was going—that was basically what was going on here.  And for the most part, the volume was still intense about the possibility of a threat.  It was still there.  It wasn‘t just shut off come August 5 or August 6.  It was just the opposite in that August 6 memo.

MATTHWES:  There‘s an odd defense here of—by George Tenet of his working in tracking down al Qaeda.  It‘s a total confession that he failed utterly, 1,000 percent failure.  He said we never penetrated the 9/11 plot overseas. 

Was that complete lay-down confession, what protected him from any kind of serious inquiry today, because it was so total.  We failed utterly and completely and don‘t expect any progress on this front for another five years, because we won‘t be able to penetrate even up until then. 

PRIEST:  Well, you noticed that he also said we had people inside Afghanistan, which actually makes—that statement, almost more telling, is that they had people in Afghanistan.  They were working with eight tribes there, they said, plus they had 50 percent of U.S. sources were U.S.  sources and not foreign sources inside the country.  And yet they still could not penetrate the plot. 

I think going back to your first question, why was everyone so deferential to Tenet, is because he has been, at the same time he‘s been answering questions about 9/11, he‘s been in charge of operations against bin Laden, to capture bin Laden.  And he‘s made progress in that regard both in Afghanistan and somewhat in Iraq.  And so I think people are being deferential to him and the changes that he‘s made in the agency since 9/11. 

MATTHEWS:  Dana, what‘s the best—Dana, what‘s the fastest way to catch the bad guys, overseas or till they get here, when they get here?

PRIEST:  What‘s the best way to catch them?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PRIEST:  Is using foreign intelligence services.  It‘s not using U.S.  spies.  That is what he‘s admitting to. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Howard Fineman.  We thank you Dana Priest of the “Washington Post”. 

Up next, we‘ll check back in with two women who lost their husbands on September 11 and get their reaction to today‘s testimony by CIA Director George Tenet. 

And then 2:30 today Eastern Time, FBI Director Robert Mueller will testify before the 9/11 commission. 

Big afternoon here on HARDBALL.  You‘re watching a special edition on

MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR:  We made good progress across intelligence disciplines.  Disruptions, renditions and sensitive collection activities no doubt saved lives.

However, we never penetrated the 9/11 plot overseas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL.  We‘re joined right now by Kristen Breitweiser and Lorie Van Auken.  Both lost their husbands in the 9/11 attack. 

Kristen, did that surprise you, that total lay-down admission by the CIA director, no progress, no hope, could never get inside of al Qaeda?

KRISTEN BREITWEISER, 9/11 WIDOW:  No, I mean, I think he hinted towards that the last time he testified that, you know, obviously they owed the American people and the families much more. 

I think what he said today was that they did infiltrate Afghanistan.  They did have some agents on the ground there.  But unfortunately in the summer of 2001, all of the hijackers were in America at that point and, really, I think that it was up to the FBI To find them here. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the FBI is going to take the fall here, Kristen?

BREITWEISER:  I don‘t know.  I think that certainly the FBI has some explaining to do with their failures to...

MATTHEWS:  Why is everybody so nice to the CIA?

BREITWEISER:  I don‘t think I‘m being nice to the CIA.

MATTHEWS:  No, everybody on the hearing was.  Do you have a problem with the CIA or not?

BREITWEISER:  You know what?  Obviously I have some problems with the CIA, but I do know at the same time that Tenet did declare war with bin Laden back in ‘98.  And you know, obviously he saw it as a priority, and he was shouting from the rooftops in the summer and spring of 2001.

Nevertheless, there are some glaring problems that need to be addressed and I would have hoped that the commission would have asked those pointed questions to Director Tenet. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, George Tenet was asked today about the statement he made about Moussaoui—that was the guy making flight lessons out of Minneapolis—to David Boren on the morning of 9/11 when he did admit some knowledge of that character trying to get flight lessons. 

Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROEMER:  In the Woodward book you say immediately upon learning of the 9/11 attacks that it‘s al Qaeda, and you mentioned somebody in a flight school.  I assume that‘s Moussaoui; is that correct?

TENET:  These are words attributed to me.  I don‘t recall that piece of it, but I know I got up immediately and said, “It‘s got to be al Qaeda.” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Lorie Van Auken, why do you think he said that odd way of saying something?  I know those words were attributed to me.  He didn‘t deny them.  He didn‘t agree to them.  He didn‘t say anything except I know those words were attributed to me.

Why do people talk like that?  Why don‘t they say, “I said it or I didn‘t say it”? 

VAN AUKEN:  I can‘t answer that.  You know, we read everywhere that that‘s what he said and certainly the Woodward book.  I would hope that, you know, Bob Woodward would have done a good job in checking his facts.  But you know...

MATTHEWS:  Well, if he didn‘t do a good job of checking his facts, you‘ve got to believe that George Tenet would have corrected him right at that moment, today.

VAN AUKEN:  Kristen, do you want to say something about that? 

BREITWEISER:  You know, obviously he didn‘t correct it as a misstatement, so one would have to assume that it was a valid statement. 

And of course that raises problems, because we know that Mirad (ph), the gentleman that we heard testimony about in the spring of 2001, attended the very same flight school as Moussaoui, that they apparently picked up in the middle of August in 2001.

And there are questions there because Mirad (ph) was interested in flying planes into buildings, which would have been certainly enough dots to connect for the CIA and the FBI.  And we need to find out why that wasn‘t put together. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, speaking of dots, we heard this morning about a whole series of events that triggered the notion of planes flying into buildings.  And that certainly contrasts with the rather sweeping statement of Condi Rice a couple of weeks back that no one could have imagined planes being used as missiles. 

For some reason, I have to say, it wasn‘t helpful, the president last night again said that.  No one could have imagined using planes as missiles, when in fact we‘re getting a whole stream of testimony about that concern. 

Here‘s—By the way, here‘s commissioner Ben-Veniste talking about that NORAD, that the agency had considered a scenario where planes were used as missiles and flown into the Pentagon. 

Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER:  A couple of months before September 11, we know that there was a planning session by NORAD where military officials considered a scenario in which a hijacked foreign commercial airliner flew into the Pentagon.  Months before.  And so people clearly were thinking about this possibility. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Kristen?

BREITWEISER:  Yes?

MATTHEWS:  Well, look how far we‘ve come, thanks to your pestering of the United States government. 

We‘ve come from a government which absolutely denied that they could even imagine planes being used as missiles to a government that is coughing up all this information: NORAD, the plans regarding the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, the plans regarding the G-8 meeting that summer of 2001.

It‘s funny how everybody, when tickled a little bit, starts coughing and getting information out.  Talk about it if you will. 

BREITWEISER:  Chris, I think that one of the things that we need to get answered now is that at the end of that statement made by Ms. Rice is the fact that they were expecting a traditional hijacking.  Which raises the question, why then, expecting a traditional hijacking in the summer of 2001, NORAD was still in a post-Cold War posture looking out. 

We had absolutely no air defense over New York and Washington.  The F-16‘s were very, very late.  The FAA was late in notifying NORAD.  We need to find out why we were ill prepared for a traditional hijacking, which Ms.  Rice has raised was what they were expecting. 

VAN AUKEN:  Can I add something to that?

MATTHEWS:  Sure, go ahead, Lorie.

VAN AUKEN:  You know, we‘re women and I think that for us, we don‘t play shoot them up as young kids.  We basically, you know, will lock the door if we see a problem or get a dog or buy an alarm.  We think about defense. 

And one of the things that, you know—We understand the offensive side of all of this, but we have always asked the question, why were we so undefended on 9/11?  And I think that still needs to be asked, and the commission still needs to look at it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘re going to be right back with Kristen Breitweiser and Lorie Van Auken. 

You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Kristen Breitweiser and Lorie Van Auken, who lost their husbands during 9/11. 

Let me ask you, Kristen and Lorie both, what you thought of the “Wall Street Journal” article by Dorothy Rabinowitz today, blasting you two, saying that widows during the blitz of London during World War II would never have blamed Churchill for their husbands being killed, whereas you folks are blaming the United States government. 

What do you make of that, Kristen?

BREITWEISER:  You know, honestly, I think there is a nuance that needs to be understood.  I‘m well aware of the fact that 19 hijackers killed my husband.  And I‘m also well aware of the fact that my government failed to mitigate any damage. 

I don‘t think the government killed my husband.  I think that they failed to save lives.  And I think if you do a truthful, constructive examination of the failures that occurred that day, you would learn that there were things that could have been done that would have saved lives. 

If you look towards the rescue workers in New York and the uncommon valor that they showed, if you look toward the gentleman from Morgan Stanley, that is the same effort, the same insight that I would have hoped that our government would have had with regard to NORAD, with regard to the FBI and the CIA, the FAA, the INS.  And unfortunately, that didn‘t occur. 

MATTHEWS:  You wanted to see more initiative like we got from the RAF during World War II?

BREITWEISER:  Listen, I heard a lot of talk about not having actionable intelligence.  Where was the initiative to make the intelligence that they had actionable?  That‘s someone‘s job. 

MATTHEWS:  The president, you mean?

BREITWEISER:  That‘s someone‘s job to say—to turn to the intel agencies and say, “Make it actionable.”

MATTHEWS:  Are you concerned that the president and the CIA director didn‘t talk in the entire month of August before 9/11?

BREITWEISER:  You know, the president was on vacation.  I think what‘s scary is that we have announced to the terrorists that there‘s a nice time to attack us, and that‘s the month of August when everyone is on vacation and at the transition period when we have a new administration coming in. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BREITWEISER:  And I‘m hoping that the commission will address those loopholes and those time periods so that that doesn‘t happen again. 

MATTHEWS:  Lorie, your thoughts about the “Wall Street Journal” piece, written by Dorothy Rabinowitz, trashing—well, blasting you women for coming out against—so critically of the government?

VAN AUKEN:  You know, we are—we‘re saying the things that we think are right to say.  We feel really what we‘re doing is patriotic because we see problems that were not being addressed. 

And I think in some way we‘ve actually been vindicated, because everybody is saying that the commission is actually doing some very good work.  We‘re finding structural problems with different agencies.  And nobody was looking at this. 

So I think we‘ve been vindicated in asking for the 9/11 commission. 

And the funny thing is we know a lot of reporters but we never met this woman.  So I don‘t even know who she is. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, she‘s a columnist.  By the way, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  And you‘re getting it.  Thank you very much, Kristen Breitweiser and Lorie Van Auken. 

I‘ll be back in 30 minutes for more live coverage of the FBI Director, Robert Mueller‘s testimony.  That‘s coming up at 2:30 before the 9/11 commission.

Tonight, 7 p.m., HARDBALL once again, Mr. Slade Gorton and Jamie Gorelick.  They‘re going to be with us on HARDBALL tonight at 7 p.m.  See you then. 

END   

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