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MEET THE PRESS Sunday, August 15, 2004
GUESTS: Senator PAT ROBERTS, (R-Kan.)
Chairman, Senate Intelligence Committee
Representative JANE HARMAN, (D-Calif.)
Ranking Member, House Intelligence Committee
Wall Street Journal
U.S. News & World Report
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Andrea Mitchell - NBC News
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MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS
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TELEVISION PROGRAM TO "NBC NEWS' MEET THE PRESS."
MS. ANDREA MITCHELL: Our issues this Sunday: the president picks House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss as the new director of Central Intelligence.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: He's the right man to lead this important agency at this critical moment in our nation's history.
MS. MITCHELL: Will the Senate confirm his choice? How will Congress tackle the 9-11 Commission's recommendations for intelligence reform? And how safe is the homeland from a terror attack? We'll ask the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Pat Roberts, and the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democrat Jane Harman. Roberts and Harman, exclusively on MEET THE PRESS.
Then, the shocking resignation of New Jersey's governor.
GOV. JAMES McGREEVEY, (D-NJ): I engaged in an adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony.
Ms. MITCHELL: And only 79 days until the presidential election, the candidates engage in rapid response across the nation's swing states.
PRES. BUSH: When you give us four more years, this economy is going to be stronger, more small businesses, better and higher paying jobs.
SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA): There's a very simple reason that we have gone four years without a plan to our economy, without a real plan to fix it. No one in the White House thought anything was broken.
MS. MITCHELL: Insights and analysis from our political roundtable: John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal, Anne Kornblut of The Boston Globe, Jon Meacham of Newsweek and Roger Simon of U.S. News & World Report.
Then, let the Games begin, as a unifying Olympic torch is lit in Athens.
Our MEET THE PRESS Minute looks back at the historic appearance of Jimmy Carter threatening a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games right here on MEET THE PRESS.
PRES. JIMMY CARTER: If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan within a month, I would not support sending an American team to the Olympics.
MS. MITCHELL: But first, we are joined by the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Pat Roberts, and a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman.
SEN. PAT ROBERTS, (R-KS): Thank you, Andrea.
MS. MITCHELL: Senator Roberts, you're going to schedule hearings the beginning of next month. Will Porter Goss be confirmed?
SEN. ROBERTS: I think, yes. We will have hearings. I know some people that have already expressed concerns. He's gotten some very key Democrat support, and he also has, or there have been some concerns raised. But that's why we have hearings. And so we're going to start on the 8th. I feel very confident that he will be nominated, he will be approved, and we want to expedite it. Senator Rockefeller and I have both agreed that we need to expedite it. We have a lot on our--just a lot on our plate, both Jane and the House and myself and the Senate. We have a 9-11 Commission report to get done. We have the Intel Authorization Act to get done. And so we want to expedite this, but we want to do a careful job.
MS. MITCHELL: Congresswoman Harman, should Porter Goss be confirmed?
REP. JANE HARMAN, (D-CA): Well, that's up to the Senate, Andrea. I have served with him for years in the House. He has been the chairman of the committee for the eight years that I've been on the committee. I think he should be asked some tough questions in the Senate, and I know that he will be, about his independence from the White House, about his commitment to civil rights and about especially his commitment to implementing the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission. But at the end of that, my guess is that with the unanimous support of the Florida delegation and a lot of other folks, he will probably be confirmed.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, let me show you both what the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Jay Rockefeller, said to Tim Russert only one month ago when Porter Goss' name was first floated by the White House. Let's take a look.
(Videotape, July 11, 2004):
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Is Porter Goss one of those names?
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER, (D-WV): I'm not getting into names.
MR. RUSSERT: The chairman of the House Intelligence...
SEN. ROCKEFELLER: I don't think that anybody who should be up for consideration should have a political background.
MS. MITCHELL: Senator Roberts, following that comment by Senator Rockefeller, you said this. Let me take you back to what you said then.
SEN. ROBERTS: Yeah, I know what I said.
MS. MITCHELL: You said, "Porter Goss? That trial balloon went up and Senator Rockefeller got out his BB gun and popped it out of the sky. We do not want a partisan fight right before the election. Apparently, if you have the vice chairman firmly opposed to the nominee, I don't think that's a very good starting point."
What's changed since then?
SEN. ROBERTS: Well, Andrea, that was then and this is now and...
MS. MITCHELL: Only four weeks. How time flies.
SEN. ROBERTS: Well--and also that quote is wrong. I said, "A Red Rider BB gun," instead of just a BB gun.
MS. MITCHELL: OK.
SEN. ROBERTS: But I think...
MS. MITCHELL: I take your point.
SEN. ROBERTS: ...that Jay had some concerns about partisanship that he and I have talked a great deal about this. He wants to expedite the hearing. He may not vote for Porter, but we both have agreed that we're going to expedite the hearing. That's why we have hearings. Just because you happen to disagree with somebody on an issue, and I haven't agreed on every issue with Porter, but, my gosh, I've known him 16 years--eight in the House; eight in the Senate. We talk every week. Jane and I talk every week, and we agree on far more than we disagree. I think he's a good man. He's been a military intelligence officer. He's been a CIA intelligence officer. He served as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. I think he is qualified simply because he is a congressman shouldn't disqualify him for that position.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, a lot of Democrats believe that should be disqualifying, and one reason is because of what happened on the floor of the House during their intelligence debate over intelligence spending, and this is what happened on the floor of the House. Let's take a look.
(Videotape, June 23, 2004):
REP. PORTER GOSS, (R-FL): That kind of statement just before no votes on supporting the intelligence community happens to have been made by such distinguished members of the Congress as Senator John Kerry.
REP. HARMAN: And to see the chairman of this committee, my friend, Porter Goss, distort the record on the floor of the House, is really surprising to me, stunning to me.
MS. MITCHELL: Stunning to you, Congresswoman Harman. Do you believe he is too partisan for this job, that there should not be a politician in this job?
REP. HARMAN: Well, I wouldn't say there should not be an elected person in the job. I believe that--and I think Porter Goss would probably agree that the actions of the House Intelligence Committee, the majority staff in particular this year, have been extremely partisan.
MS. MITCHELL: But he's in charge of that stuff.
REP. HARMAN: I thought the floor debate was regrettable on the intelligence authorization bill on the House side. I think he should explain what he did on the floor of the House and some other comments that he's made this year because it is critical that he be able to tell truth to power in the job of director of central intelligence. And it is critical that he be independent from this White House. And those questions will be asked, and there'll be, I think, a tough set of confirmation hearings. And if at the end he satisfies senators' questions about him, then he will be confirmed. I predict he will, but the other point, Andrea, is that the CIA is one of, as we call them now, 15 stovepipes in the intelligence community, and the bigger issue is: Are we going to find a way to integrate those stovepipes into one intelligence community, not just a bunch of separate actors?
MS. MITCHELL: Well, before we move on to that, though, just to button down the issue of Porter Goss, you've worked alongside him. Do you support him? Do you believe that he ought to be confirmed? I know you don't have a vote on it, but do you believe he should be confirmed?
REP. HARMAN: Well, I said for a long time--and this is still my view and I've said it personally to Porter Goss, that my candidate to replace George Tenet was no one. And what I meant by that is that we should revamp the job first. I think the president has missed an opportunity to truly step up and explain in detail his view of the way to integrate these 15 stovepipes. By nominating Porter Goss, he is putting a permanent person in place. It may just be for a few months of the CIA, but I think it's a missed opportunity.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, the Democrats are in a bit of a bind. Let me show you how The New York Times phrased it. The Democrats really have been outfoxed, if you will, by the president on this, because the Democrats are afraid to come out against Porter Goss. The New York Times said that the "Democrats Don't Plan to Block Confirmation of CIA Nominee. Privately, some Democrats said the nomination put them in a difficult political position. The CIA has already gone two months without a replacement for George Tenet as director. The Democrats said that if they opposed the Goss nomination they expected that the White House would cast them as obstructionists who were delaying prosecution of the war on terror."
So is this just a political calculation, Congresswoman, because Democrats are afraid to go up against the White House on this right now?
REP. HARMAN: Well, I don't know which Democrats are cited in that story. I wasn't one of them, and I don't have a vote in his confirmation. But my view is that this is the wrong fight. The right fight is: Is this White House going to step up? Is Congress on a bipartisan base going to step up and fix problems that have been clearly identified by a number of very thoughtful investigations, including the Senate Intelligence Committee, most recently the 9-11 Commission, and also the 9/11 joint inquiry on which Pat Roberts and I and many others served also. So I think that to get stuck in a fight about Porter Goss after tough questions have been asked of Porter Goss is not where we ought to be this fall. We ought to be implementing the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission.
MS. MITCHELL: Senator Roberts, one of the issues is: What job is he being confirmed for, if he is confirmed? There are reports--we had a report as well as Newsweek today--that, in fact, the White House eventually intends, according to White House lawyers, by executive order, to make him the national intelligence director.
SEN. ROBERTS: I know nothing about that. I've been in touch with the White House, as has...
MS. MITCHELL: But how would you, as the chairman of the Senate committee, feel if they tried to go around the Senate and elevate him to national intelligence director?
SEN. ROBERTS: That's not going to work, and that's all speculation. And...
MS. MITCHELL: It won't work?
SEN. ROBERTS: Well, I just don't think that bucket holds any water. He's going to be nominated and he will be confirmed as the director of central intelligence. Now, the reason that we're doing that--I have every confidence in John McLaughlin. He's the acting director. He's a good man. He's very skilled. He has expertise. He does not want the job to be the permanent director. We have a threat warning right now that's very high. We have a situation where we're worried about an attack prior to the election, vis-a-vis the Madrid attack. We have a situation in Iraq that is very, very serious. We have a situation in Pakistan. We need a full-time director of central intelligence.
I think probably what you're going to get into is a situation where Porter would serve past whatever administration would come in, whether it be George Bush or John Kerry. And the key about Porter, again, is that he has this experience. You can't find anybody that's been a military intelligence officer, also a Central Intelligence Agency intelligence officer, and the chairman, understanding the politics of this, of the House Intelligence Committee. He is a good man. I understand that, you know, people have differences. I have differences all the time. But it doesn't mean that that person couldn't serve in a very fine capacity, regardless of what the president tried to simply appoint them to. So we will have the hearings. They'll start on Tuesday. Jane is exactly right. There'll be tough questions. He'll answer them. He'll be prepared. And he'll be confirmed.
MS. MITCHELL: Tuesday the 8th of September?
SEN. ROBERTS: Yes, ma'am.
MS. MITCHELL: Now, Senator Roberts, let's talk about intelligence reform, because one of the criticisms that some people have of Porter Goss is that he opposed the 9-11 Commission, he opposed some of the recommendations, initially, for intelligence reform. The 9/11 report has become almost sacrosanct in Washington. It's politically incorrect to even question it. But some critics, including former CIA Director Bob Gates, say, "Why go ahead with revamping the whole system now? Why not take time? Why do it in an election year?" What is your view as to how quickly one should move, and whether you could be making a mistake, whether changing the whole system might be asking for more problems?
SEN. ROBERTS: Well, there's always a chance that Congress can make a mistake. Sometimes we even have trouble...
MS. MITCHELL: Has that ever happened?
SEN. ROBERTS: ...you know, figuring out, you know, when to adjourn. But we're going to do this. And we're going to do this probably the last week of September, first part of October. Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman have that responsibility on the Senate side. We have primary responsibility on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Jay Rockefeller and I and our staff, 22 professionals, the same people that did the study on the prewar intelligence on the WMD--and it took us one year, and we got 17-to-0 on that vote, so it was a very bipartisan effort--not that we didn't have any strong differences of opinion.
But this is very historic, Andrea. We have tried 10, 11 times to reform the intelligence community. And each time, we have failed. We have the 9-11 Commission. We have public support. I think we have a lot of reasonable accommodation, House, Senate. We are going to introduce--we have draft legislation to give to the Government Affairs Committee. We're working with the 9-11 Commission. We're working with the White House. Senator Rockefeller and I and 22 good experts have put this legislation together. Jane has a bill. It deserves our utmost attention. So I think we can get this done, and I hope we can get it done on a bipartisan basis. Yes, it's happening during an election year, but this issue transcends politics and the terrorist does not wait. This year we have to move, and we have to move now.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, didn't the White House have an opportunity two years ago? General Brent Scowcroft, who is the president or the chairman, I should say, of the president's Intelligence Advisory Board, had recommended that there be action taken. He sent that recommendation to the National Security Council, and nothing was done. The centerpiece of his plan was similar to what has now been proposed, no matter what you want to call it. The Washington Post in July of 2002 wrote that "The [presidential] panel, led by retired Gen. Brent Scowcroft, chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, quietly presented its recommendations to the National Security Council in March . ...Scowcroft favors removing the three largest defense intelligence agencies ... from Pentagon control. Scowcroft would transfer authority over these agencies to a newly empowered DCI"--director of central intelligence--"who would have actual budget and administrative control over them."
But the chief opponent to Scowcroft's plan, then and now, was the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Congresswoman, can there ever be intelligence reform as long as you've got the Pentagon and, I should say, Armed Services Committee chairmen in both houses, firmly opposed to moving any of that military intelligence money over to a central intelligence chief?
REP. HARMAN: Well, let me say several things about this. We've tried to do this for 50 years, Andrea. It started in 1955 with the Hoover Commission that recommended one person in charge across the intelligence community.
SEN. ROBERTS: Followed by Truman, by the way.
REP. HARMAN: We are operating under a 1947 business model invented to fight the Communist menace. The wall came down in 1989, 15 years ago. We should have reformed this, and in fact it was tried by then-Senator David Boren, who was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Dave McCurdy, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and blocked by Dick Cheney when he was secretary of Defense. It's come up again in all of these reports as you mentioned.
MS. MITCHELL: And he has consistently opposed it?
REP. HARMAN: He has consistently opposed it, and Rumsfeld, I think, is still opposed.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, let's take a look at what Secretary Rumsfeld had to say about this. I believe this was last March.
(Videotape, March 23, 2004):
SEC'Y DONALD RUMSFELD (Defense Department): I've heard arguments in the wake of 9/11 that we need to consolidate all the intelligence agencies and put them under a single intelligence czar. In my view, that would be doing the country a great disservice.
MS. MITCHELL: Senator Roberts, is he going to be able to veto any real meaningful intelligence reform?
SEN. ROBERTS: Well, he won't veto it, but he'll certainly weigh in with his personal feelings. You have to have at least a separation from the Pentagon and the Defense Department of tactical intelligence. I'm talking about the intelligence used by all the services. Then out of the 15 agencies that do comprise the intelligence community, there are about four or five of them that come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense. Now, the key question is, do you move those over to the national intelligence director? Do you give the national intelligence director, the new--does he have the authority for the budget? Does he have the authority to hire and fire? Does he have the authority to reprogram? Does he have the authority to move all sorts of personnel?
Now, you can do that without moving them over or you can take that step. The legislation we have introduced, there's a plan A and a plan B, and we're going to have to work through it with the Government Affairs Committee, with the 9-11 Commission, and with the administration. That may be a tall order, but everybody knows that now is the time to do this.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, Congresswoman Harman, you've got legislation in, but one of the criticisms of your plan is that you don't give full budget authority to this new head of the intelligence community.
REP. HARMAN: Well, let me say, Andrea, that the time to reform is now. It's way past time. The question is how. And Bob Gates, whom you cited, believes that reform is necessary too, but he questions how. Nine of us, all nine Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, introduced a bill on April 1 to provide Goldwater-Nichols for the intelligence community. That means a jointness structure that we have already in the military and have had for 20 years, that is, a way to coordinate, integrate, the activities in the case of the military all the four military services, here all 15 intelligence agencies.
Pat Roberts is talking about the tough issues about, whether you have budget execution authority or just budget reprogramming authority. I could go either way. The 9-11 Commission is for a stronger national intelligence director. But we need to focus on these questions in legislative markup hearings in the Senate and in the House. The House is way behind the Senate in terms of bipartisan on this.
MS. MITCHELL: One of the reason why everyone is behind and why there is so much partisanship is, of course, this is an election year. And speaking of blame and politics and partisanship, the Bush campaign now has a new ad coming out tomorrow. We're going to show it for the first time here today. Let's watch it and get your reaction.
(Videotape, Bush/Cheney campaign ad):
Announcer: As a member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Kerry was absent for 76 percent of the committee's hearings. In the year after the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Kerry was absent for every single one. That same year, he proposed slashing America's intelligence budget by $6 billion.
MS. MITCHELL: Now, in fairness, the Kerry campaign says, to rebut that, that Senator Kerry did attend private sessions. Senator Roberts, you were there. Did he attend private sessions or was he not present?
SEN. ROBERTS: Well, I'm not going to get into whether he was there or not. Senator Rockefeller and I and the committee would have to agree to release the attendance records for...
MS. MITCHELL: Well, it should be a matter of record, though, if you can...
SEN. ROBERTS: Well, it's in a closed hearing. But here's the point. Jane Harman and Pat Roberts sat there day after day after day in the original 9/11 investigation hearings. Presence, being there, is extremely important. I found out in my eight years, especially the first two, that you really had to get up ahead of the curve to understand what is going on. The easiest way out of this is for John Kerry and John Edwards to request of Senator Rockefeller and myself to release the attendance hearings; not only the public hearings, which they have rebutted, but the closed hearings.
Now, we have a lot of members on the committee. We have 17. That's probably too many. That's one of the things we'd like to fix, to cut down the number. But I'm not going to get into that because it is a committee rule that has to be approved by the vice chairman and the chairman in terms of attendance.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, has he been a hard-working member?
SEN. ROBERTS: They should request it. They should...
MS. MITCHELL: Because that's one of the credentials he cites in his campaign.
SEN. ROBERTS: Well, hard-working member is in the eyes of the beholder. I'm just saying that John Kerry and John Edwards could ask Jay and myself to release the attendance records. It is important because you have to be in attendance to learn the job.
MS. MITCHELL: Congresswoman, you are the ranking Democrat on the House side. How would you feel if some of your members showed up as infrequently as Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards have?
REP. HARMAN: Well, I don't know what the facts are on the Senate side. I really can't speak to that, and I think we'll just have to wait and see.
MS. MITCHELL: But they clearly have not been at the public sessions.
REP. HARMAN: But what I would suggest is, as the silent witness of the 9/11 families demands, that we step up and move these recommendations. I do care what John Kerry and John Edwards and President Bush and Pat Roberts and a lot of other people are saying now, and I do care that we show the ability to act in Congress. Our oversight...
MS. MITCHELL: But he's touting this as one of...
REP. HARMAN: Well...
MS. MITCHELL: ...his major credentials, both of them are.
REP. HARMAN: ...I haven't heard John Kerry tout this. I've heard him tout his service in foreign policy...
MS. MITCHELL: Oh, in speeches and in advertisements.
REP. HARMAN: ...as one of his major credentials, and I've heard him...
MS. MITCHELL: No, in advertisements, he's touted, Congresswoman, that he is a member of the Intelligence Committee, that this is a credential.
REP. HARMAN: All right. Well, I just can't speak to that specifically. But I can say that he has thought a lot about these recommendations. I've talked to him about these recommendations. It is my view that we should be back in special session, that we should be moving legislation, which has been drafted by the minority leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, to implement the 9-11 recommendations, and then we should improve that legislation. There are good ideas on a bipartisan basis to make the national intelligence director concept work better. But I think the 9/11 families and the American public will measure us on 9/11/04 by whether or not we're able to act. And sadly, the House and Senate, at this point, haven't yet acted.
MS. MITCHELL: Now, let's talk about terrorism. Americans are justifiably confused about their safety. Senator Roberts, should they be very concerned about a pre-election attack?
SEN. ROBERTS: Every American should be concerned. Everybody on the Capitol, when we have alert after alert after alert, certainly is concerned. The so-called chatter--that's the intelligence word--has a lot more texture to it. Some of it is dated, and some of it comes from sources that are much more immediate. We're very concerned about a possible attack prior to the election. I am concerned about an attack, say, tomorrow. Now, what you do is you raise that level, and you let all of the first responders from Washington to Kansas to California know exactly where we are. Yes, they should be concerned. Now, should they be afraid? Should they be scared? No. They should go about their business. We're seeing the Olympics on right now. And we hope and pray that there will not be an attack. But, yes, there is a threat. Yes, it is real. Yes, we should be concerned.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, over the past several weeks, it appears that people in Pakistan have been rolled up; al-Qaeda in the UK, as well as here. Is there a resurgence by...
SEN. ROBERTS: That's a success, by the way, by the intelligence community.
REP. HARMAN: I agree. But I think we're sending mixed messages about what to do. I mean, just as Senator Roberts said, people should be concerned but go about your business. I think our threat warning system doesn't work. I think people need to be given more specific information about what to look for and what to do and...
MS. MITCHELL: Should the administration not have publicized these so...
REP. HARMAN: Well, that was a tricky call. Because they were warning, as they should have, first responders in the targeted communities, and they knew the information would leak. So they wanted people to get the whole story. That was a good thing. But how we warn people needs work. The Israelis seem to do it better than we do. There is some learning around the world that we should absorb.
MS. MITCHELL: Although they still suffer greatly from terrorism.
REP. HARMAN: They do.
MS. MITCHELL: It hasn't prevented that. Has a current plot been busted, Senator Roberts?
SEN. ROBERTS: A current plot? Oh, I think we have discovered a lot of information, more especially in the Pakistan area, and by the way, they are really working very closely with us, and I think that President Musharraf is an absolute hero along with the intelligence folks that he has and they're latched up with our CIA. They're doing a very good job. It is that kind of--What?--treasure trove of information that has led us to raise the alert and...
REP. HARMAN: But...
MS. MITCHELL: Well, one thing, Senator, that President Musharraf has just told Time magazine today is that there was apparently an al-Qaeda second-string summit of some sort in March of 2004 in Waziristan. Can you discuss that?
SEN. ROBERTS: No.
MS. MITCHELL: You can't confirm that?
SEN. ROBERTS: Yeah.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, President Musharraf has revealed this.
SEN. ROBERTS: But let me just say something. If Jane and I sat down on a yellow tablet--or it could be a white table--on a yellow tablet and said, "All right. What do you think that this attack will be?" My first guess is they're going to go back to heavy motorized vehicles and explosions, 'cause that's what they do best. Maybe airplanes. And then you get into a whole panoply of all sorts of possibilities: ports, cyberattacks, agri-terrorism, so and so forth.
So as these reports do come in, it's very difficult to get that specific. To go out to Kansas City and say, "OK. First responders, be aware of this." We're doing the very best we can.
Let me say one other thing. The snapshot we have right now of the Intelligence Committee with all the talk about stovepipes is one heck of a lot different and better than the snapshot we had back in with regards to 9/11. Are we there yet? No. Do we do need to do better? Yes. Do we do need the 9-11 reforms? Yes. The Intelligence Committee on the intelligence side has legislation. We are sharing it with other people. Jane has legislation. I think that we can get this done by the end of September or the first part of October.
MS. MITCHELL: And let me ask you whether you think we are seeing a re-emergence of an al-Qaeda leadership. Here, as the front page of The Washington Post from yesterday, said, "The wave of arrests and intelligence discoveries in Pakistan in recent weeks that led to a new terrorism alert in the United States caught many U.S. officials and outside experts by surprise. It revealed a network of operatives connected to past al Qaeda operations and aligned with Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the imprisoned mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The new evidence suggests that al Qaeda is battered but not beaten, and that a motley collection of old hands and recent recruits has formed a nucleus in Pakistan that is pushing forward with plans for attacks in the United States, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials."
Are they regrouping, Congresswoman?
REP. HARMAN: I think they are. They're an enormously resilient organization. Plus, they're not the only bad guys on the planet, and they have loose horizontal affiliations among them. They're organized digitally, and we're organized in an analogue way. And we have got to change the way we do business. We've got to reorganize our intelligence structure. We've got to improve oversight in Congress.
I want to commend the FBI. The joint terrorism task forces are doing a great job. I'm sure Pat Roberts agrees with me, but there's more to be done, and we've got to fix our threat warning system so that people really are empowered with information about what to look for and what to do. That doesn't work and the risk of threat fatigue is real and then we'll be surprised and harmed in ways that we might be able to prevent.
MS. MITCHELL: All right. We have to leave it right there. Congresswoman Harman, Senator Roberts, thank you both very, very much.
SEN. ROBERTS: Andrea, thank you very much.
MS. MITCHELL: And coming next, Bush-Cheney and Kerry-Edwards roll through the swing states. Our political roundtable with John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal, Anne Kornblut of The Boston Globe, John Meacham of Newsweek and Roger Simon of U.S. News & World Report, all coming up on MEET THE PRESS.
MS. MITCHELL: Our political roundtable and an Olympic MEET THE PRESS Minute with President Jimmy Carter after this brief station break.
MS. MITCHELL: Welcome, all. Well, we have a real debate now about who would be a better commander in chief. This is Senator Kerry, followed by an immediate response from Vice President Cheney. Take a look.
(Videotape, August 5):
SEN. KERRY: I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side.
VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive. President Lincoln and General Grant did not wage sensitive warfare, nor did President Roosevelt, nor generals Eisenhower and MacArthur. A sensitive war will not destroy the evil men who killed 3,000 Americans and who seek the chemical, nuclear and biological weapons to kill hundreds of thousands more. The men who beheaded Daniel Pearl and Paul Johnson will not be impressed by our sensitivity.
MS. MITCHELL: John Harwood, who won that round?
MR. JOHN HARWOOD: Well, I think that was an advantage for the Bush campaign. I talked to a senior Bush strategist yesterday who said they're going to exploit some of these iconic moments of Kerry showing characteristics that they want to use to contrast with the resolve that Bush is credited for in many quarters of the American public. One was when John Kerry said, "I would have--I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it," and the back-and-forth over his vote authorizing force against Iraq. And this was one of those cases where he used a word that played into the stereotype of sort of a soft, wimpy Democrat, and they're going to milk that for all it's worth. They need to, because George Bush has got real problems on the domestic front.
MS. MITCHELL: Of course, George Bush has also used the word "sensitive," but that gets kind of glossed over. Anne Kornblut, you've been out with the Kerry campaign. You've watched him in action. Why is he having such a hard time explaining his vote on Iraq?
MS. ANNE KORNBLUT: Well, he's been getting a lot of tough questions about it, obviously. It's a great question. There are a number of editorials today asking him to be a little clearer about it. He seems to have fallen into a few traps. Bush asked him to say yes or no, would he regret his vote in hindsight, and he actually responded to it directly. But I would say on the question of the word "sensitive," it's not a debate that's over yet. We had John Edwards come out a couple days ago and defend John Kerry. It's part of the sort of rhetorical back-and-forth that they're having. George Bush was using the phrase "turn the corner" for a while, and Kerry fought him on that. And so each of them is sort of parrying and sparring over specific words that they then drop and abandon.
MS. MITCHELL: Roger, I see you nodding.
MR. ROGER SIMON: "Sensitive" is the kind of word a French candidate for president would use. It's not a word that Kerry needed. He went one adjective too far in responding to that question. George Bush has, indeed, used the same word in approximately the same context, but no one has ever accused George Bush of being overly sensitive about anything. John Kerry has been accused of being overly sensitive and overly nuanced. And he had just spent a week in Boston emphasizing strength, how he would be a stronger commander in chief, a stronger defender of the homeland. The last thing he wanted to do was turn the focus from strength to sensitivity.
MS. MITCHELL: Jon Meacham, what do you think about the way the Bush campaign has zeroed in on this? Let me show you--well, we showed earlier the new ad from the Bush campaign on intelligence and Kerry's record on that. They really are trying to undercut this, because they're concerned about their own numbers, aren't they?
MR. JON MEACHAM: Oh, absolutely.
MS. MITCHELL: John Kerry came out of the Boston convention having improved his position, at least in terms of his credibility on commander in chief.
MR. MEACHAM: Absolutely. He became a credible commander in chief there, so I think the word "sensitivity" was like throwing sirloin in front of a bunch of hunting dogs for the Bush White House. It was a gift to them, in many ways, and it does fit into, as John was saying, the narrative that they're constructing that this guy is the Hamlet of Boston. You won't be able to trust him to pull the trigger. He may have been a hero 30 years ago, but in this dangerous world we live in, he's not the guy you want standing on the wall. That's their case, and they are going to push it and push it and push it, because the things on the home front aren't as strong.
MS. MITCHELL: Do you think that this new ad that we showed earlier on intelligence and his attendance at the Intelligence Committee hearings is going to have an impact?
MR. MEACHAM: Sure. Sure. This is all about six undecided voters somewhere. You know, if I were an undecided voter in a swing state, I would call Karl Rove and see if I could get my house painted and my lawn cut, because the assiduous courting of these folks is going on. And I think the intelligence votes, the national security side, is very, very important.
I have a theory about this, that there's a silent sliver. It's not a silent majority, but a silent sliver, of 2 or 3 percent of Bush-Cheney voters who may not want to tell pollsters they're Bush-Cheney voters because they don't want to appear to be swaggering sort of in the cowboy camp. But frankly, when it comes right down do it, they may want someone whom they know is going to pull the trigger against terrorists.
MS. MITCHELL: And John Kerry still has to close that gap...
MR. MEACHAM: Right, and these are not...
MS. MITCHELL: ...with those...
MR. MEACHAM: Yes. Right.
MS. MITCHELL: ...undecided voters?
Kerry, of course, made his military service in Vietnam the central metaphor of Boston, of the convention, and now we've got these ads by the Swift Boat Veterans, the so-called 527 ads, and they've been very prominently placed, and of course we then replay them. But John Harwood, they are paid for by prominent Texas Republicans, yet they get around the campaign finance law by claiming that they're non-political.
MR. HARWOOD: Yes. And George Bush was a little bit weak in denouncing them when he had the opportunity before Larry King the other day.
MS. MITCHELL: He had several opportunities, exactly.
MR. HARWOOD: He did. And he actually cast this in the context of all of these outside groups, and did not repeat what John McCain had suggested, which is that these ads ought to come down.
Look, I don't think that Republicans are going to get all that far with this tactic. John Kerry's medals came from the United States government, and questioning his Vietnam service seems to be perhaps a useful tactic to try to erode some of the gains that John Kerry has made. He's clearly in a lot of the polling that we've seen established with the American people that they consider his experience qualifying him to be president, but I don't think that's the strongest ground for them to play on.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, Anne, you've covered him for many years, John Kerry. What is the truth of his record? They're also now raising questions about whether he spoke incorrectly when he claimed to have been in Cambodia during the war.
MS. KORNBLUT: Which is still something that there's a bit of back and forth over. The truth of his record, the criticism that's coming from the Swift Boat ads, is that he betrayed his fellow veterans. Well, that's a subjective question, that he came back from the war and then protested it. So, I mean, that is truly something that's subjective. What I can say is that it does seem to have fired up at least a very small sliver of the Republican base. When we were out with Kerry in Oregon over the past few days, we started to see some more protesters showing up with signs outside the Kerry events, talking about his military record, talking about him as a war criminal. And so I think to the extent--I'm not sure it will actually do anything with swing voters, but I think to the extent that it gets people--conservatives doubting Kerry's record, we're going to hear more of it.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, one issue about what you saw in Portland, Oregon, is that you've got very different campaigns now. George Bush, the president, going to these town meetings with preselected people asking questions that appear to have been prompted by the campaign. You were out, Anne, with John Kerry in Portland, and they claim to have 40,000 people. That's what was reported. Very large rallies, not as controlled. Is that a correct take on it?
MS. KORNBLUT: Well, sure. They're certainly not as monitored. And the numbers, I'm usually very skeptical of the numbers that we're told at...
MS. MITCHELL: Sure.
MS. KORNBLUT: ...events, but it was actually quite overwhelmingly, undeniably. I think by the very definition of the kinds of events that the president wants to stage, they want to invite loyal Republicans. The last thing he needs as president is to have a questioner stand up and ask an obnoxious question at an event. But to be honest, Kerry isn't getting a lot of challenging questions either. To the extent that his events are open, it's so that people can go and cheer for him, not ask him really challenging questions.
MR. HARWOOD: But, Andrea...
MS. MITCHELL: Yes, John.
MR. HARWOOD: ...there is a dramatic contrast in the strategy that these two campaigns are pursuing. John Kerry is spending a lot more of his personal time and his advertising dollars in battleground areas, in swing areas of the country. George Bush is spending a lot more time in the Republican base trying to drive up his margins among base voters in hopes of counteracting the advantage that John Kerry has developed among Independent moderate voters.
MS. MITCHELL: Which tells you that the Bush campaign is very insecure about where they stand right now. Right, Roger?
MR. SIMON: Yeah. I'm not so sure there's this silent slither. They seem very worried about the Republican base. And as Dick just said, this is where John Kerry has been campaigning.
MS. KORNBLUT: I'm not so sure that it's worry, though. I think they would describe it as a different political approach, that they want to drive up--as John said, they want to drive up their numbers in rural conservative areas and get the numbers extremely high, the three million evangelicals or whatever it is.
MR. HARWOOD: It's not that they really have problems in their base. It's they're trying to expand that base.
MR. MEACHAM: But, remember, if Bush holds the table because of reapportionment, he wins, everything he won in 2002, including Florida, because there are 18 more Electoral College votes in those states.
MS. MITCHELL: But right now, according to many polls, he is behind in several battleground states that he won last time, so...
MR. MEACHAM: Right. But I think you'll see the money going there. I think there are lots of debates about which states to spend the most time in for the president.
MS. MITCHELL: Jon Meacham, what...
MR. HARWOOD: And he's also got numbers in the mid-40s, which are dangerous for an incumbent because a lot of the undecided vote ends up rolling to the challenger in a situation like this.
MS. MITCHELL: Those late deciders...
MR. HARWOOD: Yeah.
MS. MITCHELL: ...end up going the other way. Jon Meacham, what about the role of John McCain? Now, we saw that they were almost kissing buddies...
MR. MEACHAM: They were. They were. Yeah.
MS. MITCHELL: ...out there this week when McCain campaigned. There's the moment, the kiss on the top of the head.
MR. MEACHAM: Right. Right.
MS. MITCHELL: We all covered South Carolina...
MR. MEACHAM: Right.
MS. MITCHELL: ...four years ago.
MR. MEACHAM: Right.
MS. MITCHELL: We know exactly what John McCain really thinks about George Bush. So what's going on here?
MR. MEACHAM: I think that George Bush loves John McCain, because every time he appears with McCain, he's the anti-Ashcroft. Basically, a picture of Bush and McCain says to these Independent swing voters we're talking about, "I'm not a nut. I'm not a right-wing guy. See? McCain will hang out with me. He's the Teddy Roosevelt Republican."
And I think McCain is doing this because he is a genuine, believing Republican in his Republican Party, which is a TR Republican Party. And if you've had the life experience that John McCain has had, endurance and standing and fighting for what you believe in is certainly the great lesson that comes out of McCain's life.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, Roger, we're going to see this in New York at the convention.
MR. SIMON: Right.
MS. MITCHELL: We're going to see John McCain. We're going to see Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudy Giuliani.
MR. SIMON: Right.
MS. MITCHELL: We're going to see a lot of Republicans who disagree with George W. Bush on abortion...
MR. SIMON: Right.
MS. MITCHELL: ...on gay rights, and at the same time, you're not going to see a lot of conservatives. They're going to be kept very much out of it.
MR. SIMON: These are iconic figures in the Republican Party, and John McCain is one of the few individuals whose reputation has been enhanced by running a losing presidential campaign. He's almost a folk hero. The question is really what is John McCain getting out of this? The rumor is that he might get Donald Rumsfeld's job. But the irony is he might get offered that job from John Kerry, too. He might be one of the few people who could have the job no matter who wins.
MR. HARWOOD: But you know, Roger, I think John McCain may not have given up his own dream of being president. If George W. Bush loses, John McCain would be in a strong position to run, even at a relatively advanced age and...
MS. MITCHELL: And he's proved that he's a loyal Republican.
MR. HARWOOD: ...he's earning bona fides of those conservative Republican voters right now.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, let's talk about some of the other areas of vulnerability that the Republicans fear and that the Kerry campaign is clearly trying to exploit. Tax fairness. This week, the Congressional Budget Office, which is non-partisan, reported this week that there really is a disparity--no big surprise here--between the effects of the tax cut. Let's take a look at this chart. The wealthiest Americans, those whose incomes average $182,000, saw their share of federal taxes drop from 64.4 percent of total tax payments in 2001 to 63.5 percent this year while middle-income taxpayers saw their share of federal tax
payments increase. John Howard, clearly this is also because the richest people pay more taxes, but how will this resonate?
MR. HARWOOD: Well, George W. Bush's tax cuts have never been all that popular with the public. Everybody likes getting a few dollars in their pocket. But if you poll on this issue, the American public is very, very ambivalent about these tax cuts and this gives John Kerry another piece of ammunition to say to all those voters who are worried about their economic futures, worried about outsourcing jobs going overseas, look, George Bush is not helping you. He's helping other people.
MS. MITCHELL: Roger, what about oil prices? $46 a barrel. Unprecedented. Staggeringly high energy prices.
MR. SIMON: Right.
MS. MITCHELL: Isn't this a sleeper issue that is potentially going to explode in the next couple of days, weeks?
MR. SIMON: It's bad news for the president. George Bush may have a limited ability to affect oil prices, but we don't elect presidents in this country to fail or give us excuses. We expect them to do things. And we haven't fully felt the ripple effect of higher oil prices. Oil prices need to go up just a few pennies a gallon for school districts who can't pass on the rising costs to schoolchildren for busing children every morning. Their budgets increase by tens of thousands and, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars. And this has a depressing effect on the economy that's already depressed.
MS. MITCHELL: Now, briefly let's talk about the other big story towards the end of this week, the political shocker of the week, New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey's surprise revelation and resignation. Let's take a look.
(Videotape, August 12, 2004):
GOV. McGREEVEY: And so my truth is that I am a gay American.
I realize the fact of this affair and my own sexuality, if kept secret, leaves me, and most importantly the governor's office, vulnerable to rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure.
MS. MITCHELL: Jon Meacham, did he confess as a matter of conscience or did he confess because there is another scandal, a corruption scandal, that he is trying to suppress?
MR. MEACHAM: OK. I think they're not mutually exclusive. I think it was a very poignant press conference, one of the more memorable ones, but there is, in fact--you know, I'm a Southerner and Southerners always say, "When it comes to political corruption, thank God for New Jersey." So in some ways, that's very much what's going on.
MS. MITCHELL: Southerners and "Soprano" fans.
MR. MEACHAM: Exactly. Exactly. I think he's got--several of his top fund-raisers are under investigation. There was an indictment filed on July 6, which has a wonderful scene of the governor allegedly using the code word Machiavelli to signal someone in the meeting that it would be OK to do a certain contracting deal. So there's a case where this is love, money, sexual identity, all coming together in this very, I think, painful human drama in many ways.
MS. MITCHELL: Roger, does this help the Republicans at all by accentuating the values debate and potentially keeping this fight going in New Jersey at least?
MR. SIMON: I doubt if it puts New Jersey in play. Kerry has a double-digit lead there. I didn't come away from this like so many people feeling it was poignant or this guy was being ingenuous. I thought it was the most disingenuous announcement I had ever heard. I read the statement five or six times and saw it. You still can't figure out why the guy is resigning from what he said, "I'm a gay American." Well, you don't have to resign because you're a gay American. "I've had an adulterous affair." Well, Lord knows you don't have to resign because you're in an adulterous affair in America. "Because I might be subject to blackmail"--well, if you admit it, you're not subject to blackmail. "Well, all the pressure on my family and my job, but I'm staying in it for 90 more days." I mean...
MS. MITCHELL: That's the issue that the Republicans in the state are now raising.
MR. SIMON: Come on. Why didn't he just say, "I put my lover on the public payroll. The guy was not qualified for the job. That was wrong. I'm sorry. I'm resigning"? That would have been to me both honest and poignant.
MS. MITCHELL: And finally, of course, the California state Supreme Court invalidated more than 4,000 gay marriages in San Francisco on the narrow grounds that the mayor didn't have the right, and does this help the Republicans at all by re-energizing that values debate?
MS. KORNBLUT: Well, of course, it goes back--John Kerry has spent a lot of time on the campaign trail talking about the real values that we stand for as Americans and, you know, the real values that he and John Edwards stand for, trying to take that word away from President Bush. And so on the one level, yes, I do. I don't think it puts California in play; like New Jersey, it's well out of their reach. But at any time when they're talking about social issues, that's good for the president and for the Republican Party.
MS. MITCHELL: You know, Bill Safire said last week on this show that it's all going to go down to the debates. John Harwood, do you agree, briefly, that we're not going to really know where this is going until after the debates?
MR. HARWOOD: Both campaigns agree that we're likely to move, after the Republican convention, from the narrow Kerry lead we see now to a more or less even situation after Labor Day; likely to stay that way through the fall, and the debates are going to be where John Kerry can either convince Americans that he's ready to replace George W. Bush, who a lot of Americans have misgivings about, or not.
MS. MITCHELL: OK. Thank you all. We're going to have to leave it right there.
And coming next, our MEET THE PRESS Minute from 24 years ago, with an Olympic demand by then-President Jimmy Carter.
MS. MITCHELL: And we're back. On Friday, the 2004 Olympic Games began in Athens, Greece, with broad international support. But 24 years ago, the opening ceremonies for the 1980 Olympics showed a very different scene, as a U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Games kept many countries from participating. In January of 1980, then-President Jimmy Carter came on MEET THE PRESS to make the dramatic announcement. Interestingly enough, he also suggested a permanent site for all future Olympic Games: the place where they all began 3,000 years ago.
(Videotape, January 20, 1980)
PRES. CARTER: Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I've sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee, spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan, that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to an alternate site or multiple sites, or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan, within a month, I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics.
It's very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets' invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece.
MS. MITCHELL: The International Olympic Committee instantly shot down Carter's proposal to move the Games from Moscow, calling it legally and technically impossible. Carter followed through on his promise, though, to boycott the Games, and 65 nations joined the United States in sitting out the 1980 Olympics.
And we'll be right back.
MS. MITCHELL: That's all for today. And stay with NBC for continuing coverage of the Olympic Games from Athens. Tim Russert will be back next week. We'll be airing at an earlier time on some stations due to NBC's Olympic coverage, so be sure to check your local listings or our Web site at www.mtp.msnbc.com for special air times.
If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.
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