MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the president digs in again on Iraq.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: We will never back down, we will never give in and we will never accept anything less than complete victory.
MR. RUSSERT: What does complete victory mean for U.S. troops and the Iraqi people? With us, a strong supporter of the war and potential presidential candidate in 2008, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. Then more than four years after this horrific day, the September 11 Commission is issuing the final report on America's preparedness. With us, the chair and vice chair, former Republican New Jersey Governor Tom Kean and former Democratic Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton.
But first, Iraq. Anxiety across America is high as the death toll now reaches 2,128; wounded and injured, more than 15,000. We welcome a staunch proponent of the war Senator John McCain.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R-AZ): Good morning, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, the war in Iraq. The president said that we will accept nothing less than complete victory. What is complete victory?
SEN. McCAIN: Complete victory at least in my view is a flawed but functioning democracy in Iraq. I think it's hard to expect us to have a perfect democracy there but one that the people of Iraq will support, economic development, restoration of infrastructure and law and order and the Iraqi military and security personnel being able to take over most of the responsibilities for Iraqi security. And I think it's going to be long and hard and tough.
MR. RUSSERT: Years?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, when I say years, I think that it's very possible within the next year or two that you could see this transition taking place, but the American troops being a supplement rather than being replaced by, in other words, most of the effort being carried on over time by the Iraqis, but it's going to be tough. And I think that one of the many mistakes that have been made is to inflate the expectations of the American people beginning three years ago that this was going to be some kind of day at the beach, and I never believed it was going to be, and to this day, I don't believe it. I believe the consequences of failure are horrific. I believe the benefits of success are magnificent.
MR. RUSSERT: The New York Times reports today that the president's speech, message is crafted in part by a college professor from Duke who specializes in the public opinion, attitudes towards the war. Does that disturb you?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, I think you always have got to figure out how you can best put your case in a most effective fashion, but I do believe the president did several things in this speech. I think he was much more specific. And by the way, he's going to give three more speeches on this subject. He was much more specific about the plans that we have. He admitted that errors have been made, and I thought he did a very good job on that speech. Was it exactly what everybody wanted? No. But I think it's important that he do this and have follow-up speeches.
MR. RUSSERT: The Washington Post editorial page which had supported the war wrote this on Thursday. "...the strategy supposes a series of successes in the next 12 months that approach the miraculous: the appearance of tens of thousands of capable Iraqi troops; the brokering of a political accord among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds; the formation of a workable democratic government; an acceleration of reconstruction; a significant decline of the insurgency; and a 40 percent reduction of U.S. forces. But what if Iraqi leaders refuse to compromise, and instead split the country into several pieces? What if Iraqi forces fail to control the insurgency in the areas where they have taken over?"
Are we going to ask the Iraqi security forces to do what we've not been able to do and that's secure the country?
SEN. McCAIN: I--look, progress has been made in many parts of the country. In the north, it's relatively peaceful. Most of the areas in the south, there's significant progress. The Sunni triangle continues to be a problem. I hate to look at casualties and attacks and those kinds of numbers because then you get into the numbers game which isn't always accurate. I believe that this election on December 15 will be important. Iraqi people have a government that they elected. And I believe that you can see continued progress. Look, I'm very nervous about the future. I do believe we've made progress. I think it was a terrible mistake when we didn't have enough troops there and we paid a very heavy price in American blood and treasure because of the secretary of defense's failure to recognize the obvious and that was...
MR. RUSSERT: Isn't that the president's failure? He's the commander in chief.
SEN. McCAIN: Well, I--all of the responsibility lies in everybody in positions of responsibility. Serious mistakes are made in every war. Serious mistakes were made in this one, but I really believe that there is progress being made, that we can be guardedly optimistic but I think we have to understand that it's very, very tough and hard. But, you know, you're just--I always--I generally agree with The Washington Post editorial policy on this issue. Suppose it does break up into three different factions? Shia and Sunni live together in Baghdad. They're not separated geographically. The Kurds become some independent country, the Turks are never going to stand for that. That is a recipe for chaos if you see Iraq split into three divisions. And I know everybody talks about it. Was Winston Churchill or a British colonel who said "Draw the lines"? Iraqis identify themselves as Iraqis.
MR. RUSSERT: The difficulty is our only exit strategy appears to be, as the president said, when the Iraqis stand up, Americans stand down.
SEN. McCAIN: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Iraqis are not standing up as quickly as we need them to do. Jim Fallows wrote a long piece in the Atlantic Monthly.
SEN. McCAIN: I saw it.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me read it for you and our viewers a little bit. "In short, if American troops disappeared tomorrow, Iraq would have essentially no independent security force. Half its policemen would be considered worthless, and the other half would depend on external help for organization, direction and support. Two-thirds of the army would be in the same dependent position, and even the better-prepared one third would suffer significant limitations without foreign help. The moment when Iraqis can lift much of the burden from American troops is not yet in sight. ...Measured against what it would take to leave Iraqis fully in charge of their own security, the United States and the Iraqi government are losing ground. Absent a dramatic change--in the insurgency, in American efforts, in resolving political differences in Iraq--America's options will grow worse, not better, as time goes on."
SEN. McCAIN: Well, I have great respect for Jim Fallows. I have a different view of the progress that's being made. I do agree that there are difficulties, particularly that there's not diverse ethnicity in any of these units, which leads to a militialike situation. But I do believe that the training is improved. The Iraqi military is performing pretty well. Their biggest problem right now is they don't have the infrastructure that goes along with an army that can stand by itself, and that's another mistake that I think that we have made. I guess I'm getting a little repetitious, and I apologize for doing so, but I think that our commanders, General Abizaid and others who have been on this program, would attest to the fact that we are making progress. We are not making the progress we wanted to. And when we talk about premature withdrawals, without it being in concert and conformity with the situation on the ground, then I think that's a recipe for serious problems.
MR. RUSSERT: But it's going in--now on three years.
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: American kids are sent to boot camp...
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...trained for a couple of months and sent to Iraq.
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Why can't we demand the same of the Iraqi kids, and if they don't do it, tell them it's their country that's going to suffer?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, we are recruiting Iraqi young people and they are serving, and they are taking significant casualties. As you know, one of the sort of not too perceptible changes that has taken place-- there's more attacks now on Iraqis than there is on American military. So they are serving, they are dying, they are fighting, and yes, there's a problem with leadership. The NCO is nothing like what we have in the United States Army. But we have also seen some pretty good performances in places like Fallujah, Mosul and others. But again, we are paying--continue to pay a heavy price for not having enough troops to bring the situation under control, which allowed places like Fallujah and others to become hotbeds and centers of insurgent activities.
MR. RUSSERT: We've been reluctant to publicize the number of enemy who's been killed.
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Should we do that?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, I think we should give the American people all the information that we possibly can. Again, I remember it was only a few dead enders, and the last I checked, it's about 20,000 have been killed. There also are--continue to be some falling across the Syrian border, as you know, but I'm not sure that that's the root of the problem. The root of the problem is that people within some of these areas have not been able to live normal lives. We went in, in basically search-and-destroy operations--kill insurgents, leave--and then they come back. We need to control areas, expand those areas of control so that people can live normal lives and they can have a safe environment in which to exist and raise their families. We haven't done enough of that, but part of that had to do with not enough troops.
MR. RUSSERT: Not enough troops: one of the misjudgments made. I want to go back and revisit a little bit of this. Three days before the war began, Vice President Cheney was on this very program. He said we'd be greeted as liberators. And I said, "Mr. Vice President, what if there's a long, bloody insurrection?" He said, "That will not happen. We will be greeted as liberators." I asked about the cost of the war. Lawrence Lindsey, the economic adviser to the president, said it would cost $200 billion. It's now $250 billion. And that...
SEN. McCAIN: And Mr. Wolfowitz said that it would be paid for with Iraqi oil revenues. Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Oil revenues, Mr. Wolfowitz said. And in terms of troops, General Shinseki said it would take hundreds of thousands for years to come, and that was said--wildly off the mark. You were on the program...
SEN. McCAIN: And he was fired.
MR. RUSSERT: Some say not--it was not tied to his resignation. But the fact is on whether we were greeted as liberators, on troop levels, on the cost of the war--three fundamental misjudgments by the administration. Is that fair?
SEN. McCAIN: I think it's fair. I would point out that there was a period of time after the initial military success where things were pretty quiet in Iraq, where we sort of had a hiatus period where the Iraqi people were going to see what happens. They allowed looting to take place, and they allowed almost a chaotic situation in some parts of the country, which--people first of all want security. That's their first requirement.
Mistakes are made in wars. General MacArthur told Harry Truman that the Chinese wouldn't come across the Yalu. That's one of the reasons why we tried to avoid them. We need to fix those problems. I think that many of our military leaders over there, some who are there and some who are not, unfortunately, have done a great job with what they had. And I, again, would assert that in the next six months to a year--I've said it here on MEET THE PRESS. I'll probably read it again--you will see significant progress made by the Iraqi military, and we are pretty much on the right track in many areas, but it's going to be tough.
MR. RUSSERT: March 30, 2003, you were on MEET THE PRESS...
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and said, "I believe that this conflict is still going to be relatively short."
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: That was overly optimistic.
SEN. McCAIN: That was overly optimistic, and I believe that the--by the way, I do believe we were greeted as liberators in many respects in many parts of Iraq. We really were. I remember the statue coming down and people being freed from prisons, etc. But it was not only overly optimistic; it was wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: You also said that "the American people are strong and steadfast in support, and I think it will remain that way." That has not happened.
SEN. McCAIN: No, but I think the American people still don't want premature withdrawals, and I understand their frustration. I also believe that we still did the right thing by going there, because I believe that Saddam Hussein, if he were still in power, with the sanctions not holding, that he would be attempting to acquire and eventually use weapons of mass destruction.
MR. RUSSERT: You've often said that Americans were encouraged after September 11th to take a trip and go shopping.
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that this president has taken the country to war? Not sent the military to war, but has galvanized and united this country and brought it to war?
SEN. McCAIN: I think the president has done a good job. I think he's tried to--and particularly last week at the Naval Academy--given a very articulate presentation on the challenges that we face. I think it would be wrong for me to sit here and say we've done everything right and, you know, this has been unnatural or--you know, accidents that took place. We've made serious mistakes, and I'm frustrated by them, and most Americans are, too, but most Americans, I think, still appreciate that if we had some kind of premature withdrawal, that the consequences would be very severe. And I'd also suggest--and again, I'll probably--I'm not in any way concerned about saying this--that we will probably see significant progress in the next six months to a year.
MR. RUSSERT: And if we don't? And if we don't? If six months, a year from now it's status quo, would you then consider withdrawal of the American troops, saying the Iraqis simply aren't willing to stand up?
SEN. McCAIN: I would say that we would have to evaluate our strategy, but we also have to consider the consequences of failure. If we fail--don't take my word for it. Take Zarqawi's. Zarqawi's and bin Laden's version in history is that we were driven out of Vietnam, we were driven out of Lebanon, we were driven out of Somalia, and they're going to go after us in the United States of America. Now, that's not my saying, that's not anybody else--that's what they're saying. This is why there's so much at stake here. This is why I made a controversial comment that this is more important than Vietnam was. The Vietnamese weren't going to come after us. These people are dedicated to our extinction.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you something that John McCain said describing a war situation: "And we have a horrific strain on the men and women in the military. We can't keep our pilots. We're lowering our recruiting standards. It's a very serious situation. And to have another one of these extended, unending burdens placed on the men and women in the military has some consequences. All I'm saying is: Let's develop a strategy overall and let's also then develop an exit strategy for this particular situation."
That was February 14, 1999, Kosovo. That's exactly what the Democrats are saying about Iraq.
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: Aren't they saying things that should be said and should be listened to?
SEN. McCAIN: Mm-hmm. Well, I guess this is true confessions. I was wrong about Kosovo. I was right about Bosnia. We did the right thing in Kosovo by going in there and stopping ethnic cleansing. And we haven't done what we should be doing in Darfur and some other parts of the world, by the way. But I--if there's a strategy for withdrawal, it is success. It is the formula that the president described last week and the one I just described to you. I'm not for keeping troops there forever. I hope--I wish we could take them out tomorrow. It's not a question of whether we want to withdraw or not. We all want that. The question is: Will conditions on the ground dictate whether we withdraw or not and when we withdraw, or will it be some arbitrary date? I say conditions on the ground.
MR. RUSSERT: Should we send more American troops and do we have the troops to send?
SEN. McCAIN: I've wanted to send troops. I still think we should have more troops there. But it's not going to happen. And that's just reality. It's not going to happen. But we really needed to expand the size of the Marine Corps and the Army so we didn't have this terrific strain on our Guard and Reserve, particularly our Guard units.
MR. RUSSERT: Hillary Clinton has written a four-page letter to her constituent supporters. It says "I take responsibility for my vote, and I, along with a majority of Americans, expect the President and his Administration to take responsibility for the false assurances, faulty evidence and mismanagement of the war. Given years of assurances that the war was nearly over and that the insurgents were in their `last throes,' this Administration was either not being honest with the American people or did not know what was going on in Iraq."
Is that accurate? They were not being honest or did not know what was going on?
SEN. McCAIN: I think there were many people, including our military leaders over there, who gave a very accurate assessment. General Abizaid has been on this program and I thought--and has testified before Congress, giving a very accurate estimate. Was the Pentagon way too optimistic? Of course, they were. And, again, mistakes were made. But mistakes are made in every conflict, and the key to it, as I say, is fixing them. And I believe that--one of the things, aspects, of this is that--and it is important. The young men and women who are doing the fighting believe they're serving a noble cause. Their morale is high. The ones that have been wounded want to go back. And I'm very proud of the fact that they're steadfast in this effort to bring democracy and freedom to people that have never known it.
MR. RUSSERT: Do we need fresh look, fresh eyes? Do we need a new defense secretary, in your mind?
SEN. McCAIN: I don't know. That's up to the president. The president is the one who decides who he wants to be established...
MR. RUSSERT: Would you recommend it?
SEN. McCAIN: No. Because--I can't recommend it because it's up to the president. I've had strong disagreements with the defense secretar--secretary of defense, but it's not good for anybody for me to get in open confrontation with the secretary of defense. I've had disagreements, but I don't think it's appropriate for--it's the president who decides who serves him.
MR. RUSSERT: You gave an interview to Byron York in the New Republic magazine and he writes this: "John Kerry, McCain says, doesn't have `the strength to see it through.' And John Murtha is `a lovable guy,' but `he's never been a big thinker; he's an appropriator.' ...McCain tells me that Murtha has become too emotional about the human cost of the war. `As we get older, we get more sentimental.'"
That's pretty--you don't think John Kerry has the strength to see the war through?
SEN. McCAIN: That was a bit out of context. I said that I believe that John Kerry has gone from more troops to now pre-emptory withdrawal of troops and I don't agree with him on that. I don't--if I said--I think he's a good man and he's a friend of mine. We just have a fundamental disagreement.
In the case of John Murtha, again, John Murtha's a great patriot. He's a great patriot. And I've always respected and admired and had great affection for him. I just disagree with him. And I...
MR. RUSSERT: You said he's becoming too emotional.
SEN. McCAIN: I think he has become emotional, and understandably so. He goes to funerals. He goes, as many of us do, out to Walter Reed and he sees the price of war. And I think that that has had some effect on him, as it has many Americans.
MR. RUSSERT: "As we get older we get more sentimental."
SEN. McCAIN: I do. I...
MR. RUSSERT: Murtha's seventy...
SEN. McCAIN: I plead guilty.
MR. RUSSERT: Murtha's 73. If you were elected president in 2008, you'd be 72. Would it be an emotional John McCain?
SEN. McCAIN: I hope I would be sentimental. I love to be sentimental. It's one of my favorite pastimes.
MR. RUSSERT: But those are pretty tough words for the Democrats. Is this a new John McCain...
SEN. McCAIN: No. No, look...
MR. RUSSERT: ...who ran in 2000 as a maverick and now wanting to win Republican primaries, is...
SEN. McCAIN: No. No.
MR. RUSSERT: ...getting a little tougher on Democrats?
SEN. McCAIN: Look, that's one article. I have expressed my friendship with John Kerry for a long period of time. I've expressed my respect and affection for John Murtha over time, too. I don't--I'm not going to be any different.
MR. RUSSERT: The Pentagon, in fact, was paying Iraqi journalists to publish articles favorable to the United States' position. The Los Angeles Times first reported it. The Pentagon has now admitted it. Should they stop it?
SEN. McCAIN: If these are accurate stories and written by legitimate people, then I don't think there's anything wrong with it. If they are not accurate and they are made up by different people, then, of course, it should be stopped.
MR. RUSSERT: But here we are trying to teach democracy...
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and freedom of the press...
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and lack of state-sponsored censorship if you will and we're paying Iraqis to print articles?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, I don't know if that's a standard practice or not in Iraq. If these are accurate stories, we should make every effort to get them out if they're accurate. We're in a propaganda war where this is a war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people as well. I think we need more details as to exactly what went on, but if it's legitimate...
MR. RUSSERT: But in principle you have not problem paying the Iraqis...
SEN. McCAIN: But if that's the standard procedure in Iraq, if that's what you need to do to get a story in one of these newspapers, but it has to be accurate and it has to be done by a legitimate person. I understand these are men and women who serve in our military that are responsible for these stories. If that's the only way you get stories in, then I'm not terribly offend by it, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the whole issue of torture. The Wall Street Journal reported that you've met three times with national security adviser Stephen Hadley...
SEN. McCAIN: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: ...to try to work out an arrangement. Is that true?
SEN. McCAIN: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: You said that you want to ban cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
SEN. McCAIN: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Will you accept any compromise on those words?
SEN. McCAIN: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Then you must--the White House must accept your position?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, we're in discussions about other aspects of this to try to get an agreement, and frankly, I'd like to wait until we see whether those discussions are successful or not. I have great respect for Steve Hadley and we've had some very frank and open discussions on this.
MR. RUSSERT: How can you compromise on torture?
SEN. McCAIN: I won't. We won't.
MR. RUSSERT: The vice president said that you wanted to protect an option for the president to prevent another terrorist attack. Is that something you could accept?
SEN. McCAIN: The problem with that is that the next time an American soldier is captured, then an exception will be made in that case and it will be turned over to the secret police. No. Brief and yet, I saw a man I love and admire more than almost anyone in the world, General John Vessey, fought in numerous battles and numerous wars, was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, battlefield commissioner at Salerno--to make a long story short, I said, "General, how do you feel about torture?" He said, "No information that we could obtain through cruel, inhumane or torture could in any way counterbalance the damage that's done to the image of the United States of America by doing it." He said it better than anybody I've ever heard.
MR. RUSSERT: Porter Goss, the head of the CIA said that "The CIA's interrogation methods are `unique' but don't involve torture, agency chief Porter Goss says. ... Without elaborating, Goss suggested that some techniques that would be restricted under McCain's bill have yielded valuable intelligence."
SEN. McCAIN: Well, they've also yielded intelligence that was used in one of the president's speeches-- in speeches concerning the threat of weapons of mass destruction that was later recanted which, of course, did enormous damage in that respect. This kind of information is unreliable and there may be some cases where they have found out valuable information. Look at the damage that's being done to us right now in the eyes of the Europeans when, according to media reports, we're keeping prisons in what used to be Eastern European countries. That's hurting us very badly. Now, I think some of our European friends are a little hypocritical because they're not nearly so condemning of Sudan and other places where this treatment is practiced regularly but it's hurting us very badly.
MR. RUSSERT: So no compromise? Cruel, inhumane, degrading for the military, the CIA, anyone?
SEN. McCAIN: Yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: The deficit. David Walker, the U.S. comptroller general, said, "It's a tsunami that's about to hit our shores..."
SEN. McCAIN: It is.
MR. RUSSERT: "...and that we have to reimpose meaningful budget controls on both the tax and spending sides of the ledger." Do you, John McCain, believe that in order to bring this deficit under control long term, we're going to have to reduce spending and increase taxes?
SEN. McCAIN: I don't know if we have to increase taxes or not, but I certainly do know that we have to cut spending. And before we increase taxes we'd better go to the American people with clean hands. When you're spending $24 billion in pork-barrel projects on a highway bill, including a bridge to nowhere, how can you say, "We're going to raise your taxes"? You've got to--this whole pork-barreling, earmarking, as it's called, issue has lurched completely out of control. And then we're going to have to look at what revenues are about, but we're also going to have to look--I'm sorry to tell you, we're going to have to look at Medicare, Social Security, the entitlement programs. This Medicare prescription drug bill we passed is going to spiral out of control. So we're going to have to look at all those across the board.
MR. RUSSERT: The federal government's commitment, Senator, has gone from $20 trillion in 2000 to $43 trillion now, with a Republican president, Republican House, Republican Senate. Everything, in your mind, has to be on the table--Medicare, Social Security, tax increases, spending cuts, everything?
SEN. McCAIN: Everything has to be on the table. But again, before we talk about tax increases, we've got to get spending under control. I mean, if you don't get spending under control and you just increase taxes, then you're going to have more spending, OK? So--and, again, I wish that every American could listen to David Walker, the head of the Government Accountability Office. He'll tell you these liabilities are $11 trillion for Social Security, I believe it is; $40-some trillion for Medicare. American working men and women today are not going to have the same benefits that retired Americans have today, period.
MR. RUSSERT: Period?
SEN. McCAIN: Period.
MR. RUSSERT: There's going to have to accept changes?
SEN. McCAIN: There's going to have to be changes.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to corruption, and here's a headline from the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Lobbyist Jack Abramoff helped fuel conservative successes, but his dealings could lead to a powerful ethical fallout ... Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed, antitax guru Grover Norquist, members of Congress, administration officials, and a host of lobbyists have been drawn into Senate or Justice Department investigations of Abramoff's lobbying activities. ... The Abramoff story `is breathtaking in its reach,' [Sen. John] McCain said."
Do you expect indictments?
SEN. McCAIN: Oh, sure. And lots of them. This is--this town has become very corrupt. There's no doubt about it. And we need lobbying reform. We need to have some reform of lobbying. But the system here, where so much is done in the way of policy and money, in appropriations bills where line items are put in in secret, which nobody knows about or sees until after they're voted on, is the problem. That's the problem today. So therefore, someone who wants some money or a policy change hires a lobbyist who is well connected. They go to the appropriate subcommittee or committee, appropriations, and they write in the line item. That part has to be fixed, I think, as much as anything else.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, you said you're going to follow the money, but are you also going to investigate which legislators may have taken money and used that to influence legislation, to write into law what you're suggesting...
SEN. McCAIN: Tim...
MR. RUSSERT: ...the behavior of senators, your colleagues? Are you going to investigate them?
SEN. McCAIN: The--I will not, because I'm a chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. This was brought to our--this whole thing started--was brought to us--attention by some disgruntled tribal council members in a small tribe in Louisiana, and we took it as far as we thought was our responsibility, which is where the money ends up. I'm not as--we are responsible for Indian affairs. We have an Ethics Committee. We have a government--we have other committees of Congress, but we also have a very active media. And believe me...
MR. RUSSERT: Does the Ethics Committee work?
SEN. McCAIN: I don't think...
MR. RUSSERT: In all honesty?
SEN. McCAIN: I don't think the Ethics Committees are working very well. The latest Cunningham scandal was uncovered by the San Diego newspaper, not by anyone here...
MR. RUSSERT: Duke Cunningham, the congressman from California.
SEN. McCAIN: ...in Washington.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that some legislators have committed a crime?
SEN. McCAIN: Well, I don't want to--everyone deserves the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. I'm not a judge and jury.
MR. RUSSERT: But there's strong evidence to suggest that.
SEN. McCAIN: There's strong evidence that there was significant wrongdoing, but I'm not a judge or jury.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think some legislators may be indicted?
SEN. McCAIN: All I know is what I read in the media. We stopped in the Indian Affairs Committee with where the money went, and that was our--the extent of our responsibilities.
MR. RUSSERT: But you fully expect law enforcement officials to take it to the next step as to whether or not it influenced legislation?
SEN. McCAIN: Everything I read indicates that, but I have no communication with the Justice Department and what they're doing.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you going to run for president?
SEN. McCAIN: We'll hear it here first. I'll let you know in a year or so.
MR. RUSSERT: After the '06 elections?
SEN. McCAIN: Yeah, sometime after that we'll make a decision. Until then, I'm not considering it.
MR. RUSSERT: You're considering it.
SEN. McCAIN: I mean, I'm not going--thinking through the process.
MR. RUSSERT: What will be the major factor?
SEN. McCAIN: Whether I think my qualifications and capabilities match the priorities of the United States and its--and the voters.
MR. RUSSERT: We'll be watching, Senator John McCain. Thank you for your views.
SEN. McCAIN: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, the chair and vice chair of the September 11 Commission, Republican Tom Kean and Democrat Lee Hamilton. They're deeply concerned about America's vulnerability four years later. Are we prepared for another terrorist attack? They are next right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: The September 11 Commission chair and vice chair. What have we learned these last four years? Are we prepared for another attack? After this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Governor Kean, Congressman Hamilton, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
FMR. REP. LEE HAMILTON, (D-IN; Vice Chair, 9-11 Commission): Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me take you back in the middle of the presidential campaign, July 22, 2004, outside the White House. Here's President George Bush greeting and accepting your report. Let's watch.
(Videotape, July 22, 2004):
PRES. BUSH: These two men bring a commonsense approach to how to move forward.
And the report that they are about to present to me puts out some very constructive recommendations, and I look forward to studying their recommendations and look forward to working with responsible parties within my administration to move forward on those recommendations.
MR. RUSSERT: "To move forward on recommendations." In all honesty, Governor, what grade would you give the president for adopting and enacting your recommendations?
FMR. GOV. THOMAS KEAN, (R-N.J.; Chair, 9-11 Commission): We're going to grade everybody. We're not going to grade the president. But what we've said is that we've not moved forward to the extent we should. We've made some progress, very little progress in some areas. It's not a priority for the government right now. You don't see the Congress or the president talking about the public safety is number one, as we think it should be, and a lot of the things we need to do really to prevent another 9/11 just simply aren't being done by the president or by the Congress.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that you were being, in effect, used by the president during the campaign with that photo op?
MR. KEAN: Oh, I don't think we were being used. He accepted our report. We were happy he did. What we're concerned about now is that these recommendations more than four years after 9/11 are still not being done. People are not paying attention to them. And if they're not put into place, we are very vulnerable as a people to another attack.
MR. RUSSERT: You both wrote an op-ed piece September 11, 2005, just two months ago, and this is what you pointed out. One, "Allocate `first responder' funding on the basis of risk, not politics." Two, "Complete critical risk assessments mandated by the Intelligence Reform Act." Three, "Provide reliable radio spectrum for emergency responders." Four, "Establish a unified Incident Command System."
Congressman Hamilton, has any of that been done?
MR. HAMILTON: Well, certainly not enough. On the question of setting aside part of the radio spectrum for the first responders, there's an important bill pending right now in the Congress. We hope it will be approved within the next few days. It really approaches scandal to think that four years after 9/11, the police and the fire cannot talk to one another at the scene of the disaster.
MR. RUSSERT: We should--tell our viewers about that. The District of Columbia police and fire could not speak to Arlington, Virginia, Alexandria, Virginia, over at the Pentagon. During Katrina, local, state and federal officials could not communicate with each other because the bands on which they were trying to communicate were not compatible.
MR. HAMILTON: Absolutely. This is a no-brainer. From the standpoint of responding to a disaster, the key responders must be able to talk with one another. They could not do it on 9/11, and as a result of that, lives were lost. They could not do it at Katrina. They still cannot do it. And we think this is-- must be urgently considered and approved. Now, that's not the only problem.
MR. RUSSERT: Will it get fixed this week?
MR. HAMILTON: I don't know.
MR. KEAN: No.
MR. HAMILTON: It's a close call.
MR. KEAN: No, it's not...
MR. HAMILTON: We don't know.
MR. KEAN: It's not going to be fixed this week because the best hope we have is a bill that fixes it by '09.
MR. HAMILTON: Oh, yes.
MR. KEAN: Now, '09 is not soon enough. Actually, the leader on this has been your previous guest, John McCain, who understands this issue, has been fighting for it, but the special interests have prevailed up to this point.
MR. RUSSERT: How about first responder funding on the basis of risk, not politics? People in--per capita spending in Wyoming, more than New York, and--which is higher risk for terrorists.
MR. HAMILTON: We've had some of this money spent to air condition garbage trucks. We've had some of the money spent for armor for dogs. This money is being distributed as if it's general revenue sharing. We want that money distributed according to the best information we have about the risks and the vulnerabilities. The money should flow to protect the lives of the American people. It is not now being done and should be done.
MR. RUSSERT: Who's accountable? Who's accountable?
MR. HAMILTON: Right now, the Congress is accountable. The president supports our recommendation. The Congress has this before it this week as well, and we think it's critically important it be adopted.
MR. RUSSERT: Complete critical risk assessments mandated by the Intelligence Reform Act. You ask that Homeland Security go out and look at nuclear power plants and chemical plants and make a risk assessment. Why hasn't that been done?
MR. KEAN: Well, they did something that's totally inadequate. It doesn't set the priorities out, it just sets basically vague guidelines what the priorities should be. And you can't allocate funds properly until you know what your risks are, and that's what we're trying to get people to do, and that's mandated by the law and they just have not done it. When you put these things together--right now, by the way, the bill we just talked about is a 5-5 vote in the Conference Committee in the Senate. If one more senator votes the right way, we can get risk assessment done. So we're very close to that one. It'll be decided this week.
MR. HAMILTON: See, the key problem here is making hard choices. What we do is continue to talk about hard choices. We don't make the hard choices, and the hard choices require us to do what Tom said, and that is make distinctions, the priorities: This needs to be protected, that we don't have sufficient funds to protect.
MR. RUSSERT: Washington, D.C., is a higher risk, New York City is a higher risk than perhaps a rural community in Utah or in Wyoming.
MR. KEAN: That's absolutely right.
MR. HAMILTON: We know what the terrorists want to do. They want to kill as many Americans as possible. That means you go after New York City, not rural southern Indiana. It means they want to strike the symbolic targets of America. They have said this. That means you protect the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol and not other places.
MR. RUSSERT: Establish a unified incident command system.
MR. KEAN: That is so important and we saw it. Katrina. I mean, there was such confusion at that point. It's at state, local, everybody else. Nobody knew who was in charge. Nobody knew by the way who was in charge on 9/11 when people responded to the World Trade Center. Police, fire, Port Authority--nobody knew who was in charge. The same thing happened in Katrina. We suggested every single state, every single locality, you've got to know who's in charge. We have Bloomberg doing that now in New York. Other leaders have got to do it. One person's got to be in charge.
MR. RUSSERT: It sounds like on these four areas, it's an F. Is that fair?
MR. KEAN: Well, we may be giving grades tomorrow and I'll tell you there are more F's, unfortunately than there are A's.
MR. HAMILTON: But if these two bills are passed...
MR. KEAN: Yeah. Yeah.
MR. HAMILTON: ...on radio spectrum and allocation of funds, the grades will quickly switch...
MR. KEAN: Yeah.
MR. HAMILTON: ...to a B or an A. So some of these things can be corrected quickly. Others cannot.
MR. RUSSERT: The Transportation Security Administration has made a decision that they're going to allow scissors with a blade of four inches and tools of seven inches or more be allowed to take them on airplanes. Is that a good idea?
MR. KEAN: Personally, I don't think so. I don't think we have to go backward on here. They're talking about using more money for random checks. I don't think random checks are very good anyway. That's pulling out your grandmother because she came up on a computer. That's not what we should be doing. And to switch--and by the way, talking about TSA, four years after 9/11, there still isn't a unified watch list, in other words, of terrorists. Terrorists coming through the airport may still not be spotted 'cause the agencies still haven't gotten together. There's still not a unified watch list.
MR. HAMILTON: On the question of the scissors, I think that's a tough one. One of the things we said in the report is that you should make a judgment as to what the high risks are. I worry more about what's in the cargo container than the people on the airplane today. So we said that one of the really great risks are explosions taking place in the cargo hold. We have to get much, much better than we are today at being able to detect those explosions. Now, the TSA, the Transportation Security Agencies, they can't do it all. You have to allocate resources, so judgments have to be made. I'm a little skittish as I guess Tom is about a four-inch or three-inch scissors. Remember the hijackers were very sophisticated people.
MR. RUSSERT: Box cutters.
MR. HAMILTON: Well, they knew you could get on an airplane with a four-inch blade but not a six- inch blade. They knew that.
MR. KEAN: And they used them.
MR. HAMILTON: And they used that information. So you have to anticipate a very sophisticated enemy here as they were prior to 9/11.
MR. RUSSERT: The sky marshals and the flight attendants are opposed to this change.
MR. KEAN: Yeah.
MR. HAMILTON: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Why don't we listen to them?
MR. KEAN: I think we should. They're the people who deal with this every day, but you mentioned the cargo hold. You know, we've got--we've now developed machinery that can detect some of these explosives going into the cargo hold but we haven't installed it yet. And it doesn't do any good being invented and not installed.
MR. RUSSERT: I can just see my dad and millions of other Americans sitting here watching this program this morning saying, "What is going on?" It's been four years since September 11. You had your commission. You met, had a bipartisan unanimous vote, had these recommendations to allow emergency responders to talk with one another...
MR. KEAN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...to give more money to areas of high risk, to have a unified command center and nothing's been done. What is the problem? Seriously, who's accountable?
MR. HAMILTON: Well, we've asked ourselves that question a good many times. I think in general what we will say tomorrow is that there is a lack of a sense of urgency. And that's what impresses us overall. I think what happens is sustainability is a very tough thing in our government just because there are so many competing priorities. We've got a war going on. We've got three wars going on, one in Afghanistan, one in Iraq and the war against terror, and it's awfully hard to keep people focused on something like this. What Tom and I and the other commissioners are saying is we have to get back to a real sense of urgency about protecting the safety and the security of the American people.
MR. RUSSERT: Two other big issues you raise: the "Nonproliferation: the maximum effort by the U.S. government to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction; public diplomacy, defining the U.S. message."
How is the government doing on those?
MR. KEAN: Well, there's some progress on trying to secure nuclear sites, but not enough. We're talking about doing it in 14 years. Nobody thinks we have 14 years. Bin Laden has said he wants to use nuclear weapons to attack the United States. So that's got to be a much higher priority. We should be able to do that in two or three years, if it's on top of the priority list. I think we can. And the second one you mentioned, we've got to look at our image in the world and we've got to do things differently. We've got to talk about public education for people in some of these countries. We've got to talk about the kind of image we have and the things we do to create that image. If we don't, there are going to be more terrorists created than the ones we're now killing.
MR. RUSSERT: Does the debate over torture help that?
MR. KEAN: Debate over torture doesn't help that at all. I mean, for us to be talking in the United States about whether or not we should torture people--we recommended very strongly in the report international standards that every country would go along with on how you treat.
MR. RUSSERT: International standards.
MR. KEAN: International standards...
MR. HAMILTON: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: International standards.
MR. KEAN: ...on how you treat prisoners. We've got to do that. This is doing us no good.
MR. RUSSERT: A few weeks ago I had the former director of the FBI, Louis Freeh, on this program, and he was very pointed on some comments about your commission. And he wrote this piece for The Wall Street Journal. Let me walk you through it: "Why Did the 9-11 Commission Ignore `Able Danger'? Recent revelations from the military intelligence operation code-named `Able Danger' have cast light on a missed opportunity that could have potentially prevented 9/11. Specifically, Able Danger concluded in February 2000 that military experts had identified Mohamed Atta by name (and maybe by photograph) as an al-Qaeda agent operating in the U.S. Subsequently, military officers assigned to Able Danger were prevented from sharing this critical information with FBI agents, even though appointments had been made to do so. Why?...
"Was Able Danger intelligence provided to the 9-11 Commission prior to the finalization of its report, and, if so, why was it not explored? In sum, what did the 9/11 commissioners and their staff know about Able Danger and when did they know it? ...the 9-11 Commission inexplicably concluded that it `was not historically significant.' This astounding conclusion--in combination with the failure to investigate Able Danger and incorporate it into its findings--raises serious challenges to the commission's credibility and, if the facts prove out, might just render the commission historically insignificant itself."
MR. HAMILTON: Well, that's a big "if" on the end there. Look, we looked at Able Danger very, very carefully. We do not think there was anything there of great significance. Now, something could come out in the future. I don't know. But in Mr. Freeh's article he did not present any new evidence at all. Our investigators were informed about Able Danger. We requested all of the documents relating to Able Danger. We reviewed these documents. We had investigators meet with some of these people in Afghanistan and other places. The bottom line is that they can furnish no documentary evidence to support their charges that they had a chart, for example, with Mohamed Atta's name on it. It is...
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Weldon of Pennsylvania says he gave that chart to the national security advisor.
MR. HAMILTON: And the national security advisor denied that he ever got it. That was the assistant, Stephen Hadley, not Condi Rice, at the time. We have not seen that chart. We have not seen Mohamed Atta's name in any documentation prior to 9/11. Believe me, we know the name of Atta and we would have been alert to it. We just need evidence to support these charges. We don't accuse anyone here of bad intentions. But the people that have brought forward this information have not given us any documentation. They were not involved in the analysis of it themselves. Their recollections in some respects--for example, the whereabouts of Mohamed Atta--simply are not accurate. We have documentation to show that. So we need to have more evidence, and Mr. Freeh's article simply did not bring forward any new evidence. We concluded--the staff concluded, not the commission--that this information was not valid, that there was too much doubt about it.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you agree with that?
MR. KEAN: Yeah. We had an awful lot of people coming forward, 50 or 60, saying they saw Mohamed Atta here, they saw Mohamed Atta there; they had this and that. There was absolutely no evidence to back this up. There still isn't any evidence to back it up. If people want to look into it, they're welcome to. We still haven't seen the evidence to indicate it. We saw every file. The Pentagon denies it. They say they haven't gotten any information. The White House...
MR. HAMILTON: White House denies it.
MR. KEAN: White House denies it. Nobody brought the congressional investigation any information. Nobody gave any information to the 9/11 Commission to back this up. If this is true in any way, it's a monstrous conspiracy. I haven't seen any evidence to back it up.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to go back to your original report. You found that there was no connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that was "operational." And you found that there was no evidence that the--Iraq cooperated with al-Qaeda in developing or carrying out attacks against the U.S. Is that accurate?
MR. KEAN: That's correct.
MR. RUSSERT: So there's no suggestion that Iraq was, in any way, shape or form, involved with September 11?
MR. KEAN: No, and we can find no evidence whatsoever, and we came out with that statement clearly.
MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, if one year from now we have exactly the same report in terms of all the factors I raised with you this morning, what would you say?
MR. HAMILTON: I'd be extremely disappointed.
MR. KEAN: And extremely worried that we may have had another attack at that point because some of these things weren't done.
MR. HAMILTON: We believe another attack will occur, and we had better get to it and protect the American people.
MR. RUSSERT: Not if but when.
MR. HAMILTON: It's not a question of if. We know what their intent is. They've expressed it over and over again.
MR. RUSSERT: And are we prepared?
MR. HAMILTON: We've...
MR. RUSSERT: Are we prepared?
MR. HAMILTON: No, we are not as well prepared, as Tom put it early on, as well prepared as we should be. There is plenty of room for improvement, and we've got to get with the task.
MR. KEAN: And God help us if we have another attack and we haven't done some of these things.
MR. RUSSERT: Who has to grab hold of this? Is it the president?
MR. KEAN: It's the president and the Congress. It's our government. And there are things we talked about today that Congress has to do; there are things we talked about that the administration has to do. First of all, the safety of the American people has got to be their number one priority. There is nothing more important.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you now out of business?
MR. KEAN: We're going out of business as of December 31.
MR. RUSSERT: That's it.
MR. KEAN: That's it.
MR. RUSSERT: Never to be heard from again.
MR. KEAN: As individuals, we're going to be around, but...
MR. RUSSERT: And your son is running for the United States Senate of New Jersey.
MR. KEAN: Our son is--my son is running for the United States Senate. Good candidate, by the way.
MR. RUSSERT: OK. We need equal time for the Democrats, but that's--Governor Tom Kean, Congressman Lee Hamilton, thanks very much.
And we'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: Start your day tomorrow on "Today" with Katie and Matt. Then the NBC News with Brian Williams.
That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.