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PLEASE CREDIT ANY QUOTES OR EXCERPTS FROM THIS NBC TELEVISION PROGRAM TO "NBC NEWS' MEET THE PRESS."
MEET THE PRESS Sunday, July 25, 2004
Guests: State Senator Barack Obama, (D-Ill.),Democratic Convention Keynote Speaker, Democratic Candidate for U.S. Senate, Illinois
Former Governor Thomas Kean, (R-N.J.) Chair, 9-11 Commission
Former Representative Lee Hamilton, (D-Ind.) Vice Chair, 9-11 Commission
Tom Brokaw; NBC News
Moderator/Panelist: Tim Russert, NBC News
This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with:
MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday, Barbara Jordan, Mo Udall, Mario Cuomo, Bill Bradley, Ann Richards and John Glenn all gave the keynote address at a Democratic convention. Tuesday night, this man, the Democratic nominee for United States senator from Illinois, will take center stage at the 2004 keynote. Our guest, Barack Obama. Then the September 11 Commission issues its final report. With us the chair, former New Jersey governor, Thomas Kean.
MR. THOMAS KEAN: Any person in a senior position within our government during this time bears some element of responsibility for our government's actions.
MR. RUSSERT: And the vice chair, former Indiana congressman, Lee Hamilton.
MR. LEE HAMILTON: Who is in charge? Too often the answer is, no one.
MR. RUSSERT: And then we'll be joined by NBC's Tom Brokaw. He interviewed Senator John Kerry this week and he's covered every Democratic convention since 1968.
But first, the man who will give the keynote address here in Boston on Tuesday night, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from Illinois, Barack Obama. Welcome.
STATE REP. BARACK OBAMA: Thank you so much for having me.
MR. RUSSERT: What do you hope to achieve on Tuesday night?
STATE REP. OBAMA: What I'd like to do is talk about the vision the Democratic Party has for this country. You know, I think that there's enormous strength in the country, enormous resilience in the country, but people are struggling, and as I've been traveling throughout Illinois over the last 18 months, what I've been seeing are people who are concerned about their economic security, concerned about their ability to pay for their health care, their kids, sending them to college, and if we can project an optimistic vision that says we can be stronger at home, more respected abroad, and that John Kerry has the message and the strength to lead us in that fashion, then I think we'll be successful.
MR. RUSSERT: In 1988, a young man from Arkansas named Bill Clinton gave a nominating speech. It went on for 33 minutes. At the 31st minute he said, "In closing," and the place erupted in applause. How long is your speech?
STATE REP. OBAMA: It will be less than 20 minutes, closer to 15.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you something that you said to the Atlantic Monthly, which comes out tomorrow. "`Sometimes Kerry just doesn't have that oomph,' [Obama] said, punctuating the thought with a tight-lipped shake of the head and a clenched fist."
What does that mean?
STATE REP. OBAMA: Well, I think that, you know, early on in the campaign, and this was an interview that took place several months ago, you hadn't gotten a sense of John Kerry as the man, and I think this convention is going to be consolidating the impression that we've been getting over several months that this is somebody who's going to be fighting for working families, somebody who has the strength to lead internationally. This is somebody who has the life experience as a soldier, as a prosecutor, as a lieutenant governor, and for two decades as a U.S. senator, who is as well prepared as any candidate has ever been to lead our country to the kinds of promise that I think all of us hope for.
MR. RUSSERT: Is he too cautious?
STATE REP. OBAMA: I don't think he's too cautious. I think that when you run for president, it takes some time to ramp up. And this is somebody who historically has always hit his marks when it counted. And I think what we're going to see at this convention during the next several days is people really getting an impression of his strength, his ability to lead, and I think that the viewers who are just starting to tune into politics during the convention time, I think this is a demarcation point where people can arouse themselves and say, you know, "Let's take a look at the candidate seriously." I think they're going to be very impressed with what they see.
MR. RUSSERT: Traditionally, the keynoter is a governor, a senator, a congressman. You're the first state legislator in the history of the party. The New York Times said this today: "Already seen as a rising star within the party, Mr. Obama could win wide acclaim or dim his fortunes."
Are you nervous?
STATE REP. OBAMA: You know, I used to play basketball, and if you weren't a little nervous before the big game, you probably wouldn't play a good game. So I think the adrenaline's going to be pumping, but I think we're going to be well prepared. I'm very happy with the speech. And what I'm going to be trying to do is tell the stories that I'm hearing on the campaign trail about workers who are being laid off and are looking for jobs that can support their families, about young women and men who want to go to college, have the will, the drive, but don't have the money. If I'm as eloquent as they are when they tell me what their hopes and dreams are, then I think I'll be successful.
MR. RUSSERT: You wrote a book about your life, "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance." It's quite interesting. Your dad was from Kenya.
STATE REP. OBAMA: That's correct.
MR. RUSSERT: Your mom was a white woman from Kansas.
STATE REP. OBAMA: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: They were married in Hawaii.
STATE REP. OBAMA: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: Your dad and mom named you Barack, which is Swahili for "Blessed by God"?
STATE REP. OBAMA: Right. Yeah. It's a typical biography for an Illinois politician.
MR. RUSSERT: But your dad left and you were two years old.
STATE REP. OBAMA: Yeah. Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: And you were raised by a white mom and white grandparents.
STATE REP. OBAMA: Yeah. Right.
MR. RUSSERT: What was it like being someone who was part African-American being raised by white parents?
STATE REP. OBAMA: Yeah. Well, you know, fortunately, I think, it was in Hawaii, which is a state that is known for its diversity of cultures. And as a consequence, I think I had the benefit of not having some of the polarization that was taking place during the middle and early '60s as a child. And it wasn't until I got older where I think I had to grapple with some of those issues of identity. And I write about it in the book, the fact that I went through an adolescent rebellion that embraced some of the worst stereotypes of young African-American men, and rejected school, dabbled in drugs, didn't focus on my future. But, fortunately, I think that my family had such strong values, very much Midwestern values, that I pulled out of that funk, and was able to succeed in the future.
And part of the reason I wanted to write about this book was to indicate that my story is not that unusual. There are young men and young women all across the country who have enormous potential but don't always have the second chance, and the helping hand that I had. And that's what I think John Kerry and John Edwards are going to be talking about during this convention.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the Democratic Party selected you in part because they wanted to present an African-American young rising politician?
STATE REP. OBAMA: Well, I think that John Kerry cares a lot about diversity in the party. And I think that certainly made a difference. I also think that the manner in which we won our primary in Illinois was a hopeful sign, because the conventional wisdom was that I would get the black vote and then a sliver of white vote, and instead we won in places people didn't expect us to win, in suburban areas, in rural areas. And it indicates that people are really ready for a message for change. What they want is somebody who has a positive message, who has a tone in their politics that says, "We can disagree
with the other side without being disagreeable." And I think that's the kind of message that John Kerry is going to be projecting at the convention during this week.
MR. RUSSERT: President Bush did not go to the NAACP convention...
STATE REP. OBAMA: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...but did go to the Urban League...
STATE REP. OBAMA: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...where he tried to give some advice to African-American voters. Let's listen.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm going to ask African-American voters to consider some questions. Does the Democrat Party take African-American voters for granted?
Is it a good thing for the African-American community to be represented mainly by one political party? A legitimate question.
MR. RUSSERT: Does the Democratic Party take African-American voters for granted?
STATE REP. OBAMA: I don't think the Democratic Party takes the African-American voters for granted. Now, I'm happy that the president spoke at the Urban League. I think he should have spoke at the NAACP. I want Republicans to compete for the African-American vote. I think the reason that they're not getting the African-American vote--it's not because African-Americans aren't open-minded, it's because the Democrats have consistently championed those issues, civil rights issues, voting rights issues, concern for working families that are of greatest concern to African-American voters. And I think
that speeches are good, but ultimately people want to see people walking the walk and not just talking the talk. And that's what--when you look at John Kerry's record and John Edwards' record, they represent the kinds of policies that are of importance to African-Americans, and I think that's the reason they're going to do very well in the African-American community.
MR. RUSSERT: In the state of Illinois, 77 percent, three out of four, black children born are born to unmarried mothers.
STATE REP. OBAMA: It's heartbreaking.
MR. RUSSERT: What do you do about that?
STATE REP. OBAMA: Well, I think that some of it is just making sure that African-American men have access to jobs. And, you know, there's been the devastation as we lose manufacturing across the state of Illinois that disproportionately hurts African-Americans, blue-collar workers, who used to be able to support a family with an unskilled job. That's no longer possible. So we got to have a base of economic security within the African-American community and in other communities in order to build strong families.
There's also the cultural component that I think I'm happy to talk about when I'm in the community. You know, we have to make sure that we're taking responsibility for our children, we have to make sure that we're encouraging high achievement. And one of the things that I try to avoid is this either/or approach to solving the problems of this country. I think there are questions of individual responsibility, but I think that there are also questions of societal responsibility that have to be dealt with.
MR. RUSSERT: Bill Cosby, as you well know, was in Chicago a few weeks ago and talked about this.
STATE REP. OBAMA: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me share that with our viewers and come back and talk about it.
STATE REP. OBAMA: Absolutely.
(Videotape, July 1, 2004):
MR. BILL COSBY: Hey, men, let me tell you something. Your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day. It's cursing and it's calling each other niggers as they walk up and down the street. They think they're hip, they can't read, they can't write, 50 percent of them. They take it into the candy store. They put themselves on the train and on the buses and they don't even care what color or what age somebody else is. It's about them and their cursing and grabbing each other and laughing and giggling and going nowhere. And the book bags are very, very thin 'cause there's no books in them.
MR. RUSSERT: Very strong language.
STATE REP. OBAMA: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you agree with it?
STATE REP. OBAMA: I understand the basic premise that Bill Cosby was talking about, and I think he's right about it, which is what I just spoke about, that there's got to be an element of individual responsibility and communal responsibility for the uplift of the people in inner-city communities. And, you know, the best example I think is an education. He mentioned the issue of the book bags are thin. One of the things that when I speak to parents, I say, "I'm going to insist on making sure that we've got decent funding, that we've got enough teachers, that we've got computers in the classroom, but unless you turn off the television set and get over a certain anti-intellectualism that I think pervades some low-income communities, our children are not going to achieve."
MR. RUSSERT: That's what Cosby said. It's the parents. He said they're buying their kids $500 sneakers but won't spend $200 for Hooked On Phonics.
STATE REP. OBAMA: Well--and I think that it's legitimate for public figures to talk about these issues. It's not a function of being liberal or conservative. I think it's just common sense. We have to also hold our government accountable for making sure that we've got the kinds of support that parents and children need to succeed, and that's one of the things that's going to be focused on I think at this convention. John Kerry cares about the values of America. He has faith in communities and their ability to work to better themselves, but he also knows that government has a role to play in making America strong.
MR. RUSSERT: But mothers and fathers should be accountable and responsible for their children.
STATE REP. OBAMA: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: Let's me turn to the war in Iraq. Do you believe that it will be a central issue in this campaign?
STATE REP. OBAMA: I think it's going to be important. As I travel around the state, one of the things that is striking is that this is the first war I think since the Vietnam War where every community, particularly in rural areas and in downstate Illinois, are directly affected. They've got reservists, National Guardsmen, the sons, daughters, uncles, aunts of people who are over there for 18 months. They don't see an exit strategy. I think they're deeply troubled in retrospect about how we got into the war, and I think that one of the most important things that John Kerry is going to have to offer is the ability for his
administration to be able to set a new tone, re-establish the kinds of relationships with our allies that allow us to internationalize the reconstruction process, make sure that Iraq succeeds and allow our troops eventually to get out.
MR. RUSSERT: In 2002 in October, you gave a speech at an anti-war rally and said this. "What I am opposed to is the attempt by potential hacks like Karl Rove"--the president's political adviser--"to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income - to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression. That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics."
You seem to say that George Bush took a country to war, lost nearly 900 Americans, 5,000 wounded and injured on politics?
STATE REP. OBAMA: What I think is that it was an ideologically driven war. I think that George Bush was sincere and is sincere about his desire to maintain a strong America, but I think there was a single-mindedness to this process that has led our country into a very difficult position. It's a consequence of that single-mindedness that we did not create the kind of international framework that would have allowed
success once we decided to go in. And I think that John Kerry is going to be establishing those relationships that allow us now, looking forward, to execute in Iraq and make sure that we are respected abroad and succeed in the difficult but now bipartisan process of making sure that we have a stable Iraqi government.
MR. RUSSERT: But you're not charging that President Bush sent men and women to die for political reasons?
STATE REP. OBAMA: No, I don't think that's the case. As I said, I think that this administration is sincere but I think it's misguided.
MR. RUSSERT: You also said this: "...I also know that Saddam possesses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history."
The nominee of your party, John Kerry, the nominee for vice president, John Edwards, all said he was an imminent threat. They voted to authorize George Bush to go to war. How could they have been so wrong and you so write as a state legislator in Illinois and they're on the Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees in Washington?
STATE REP. OBAMA: Well, I think they have access to information that I did not have. And what is absolutely clear is that John Kerry said, "If we go into war, let's make sure that we do it right. Let's make sure that our troops are supported. Let's make sure that we have the kind of coalition that's necessary to succeed." And the execution of what was a difficult choice to make was something that all of us have to be concerned about. And moving forward, the only way that we're going to be able to succeed is if, I think, we have an administration led by John Kerry that's going to allow us to consolidate
the relationships with our allies that bring about investment in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: But if you had been a senator at that time, you would have voted not to authorize President Bush to go to war?
STATE REP. OBAMA: I would have voted not to authorize the president given the facts as I saw them at that time.
MR. RUSSERT: So you disagree with John Kerry and John Edwards?
STATE REP. OBAMA: At that time, but, as I said, I wasn't there and what is absolutely clear as we move forward is that if we don't have a change in tone and a change in administration, I think we're going to have trouble making sure that our troops are secure and that we succeed in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: We can't withdraw the troops immediately?
STATE REP. OBAMA: I don't think so.
MR. RUSSERT: At the Chicago convention in 1996, you said something that caught my eye. "Chicagoans, [Mr. Obama] says, have grown especially jaded watching the Democrats raise cash for this month's national convention in Chicago. `The convention's for sale, right,' Obama says. `You got these $10,000-a-plate dinners"--Gold--"Circle Clubs. I think when the average voter looks at that, they rightly feel they've been locked out of the process. They can't attend a $10,000 breakfast.'" "`They know that those who can are going to get the kind of access they can't imagine.'"
A hundred and fifty donors gave $40 million to this convention. It's worse than Chicago, using your standards. Are you offended by that, and what message does that send the average voter?
STATE REP. OBAMA: You know, I think that politics and money are a problem in this country for both parties. And I don't think there's any doubt about that. One of the things I'm proud about, though, is that when you look at John Kerry's record, what you know is here's a person who is consistently voting on behalf of what he thinks is best for America and the country. I don't think a convention changes that. I do think that the more we as Democrats can encourage participation from people who, at this point feel locked out of the process, the stronger we are. One of the strengths of our party has always been the fact that we are closer to the average Joe, the guy who is trying to make a living, the
guy who's trying to send his kids to college and pay his bills. And if we are actively reaching those folks and talking about the policies that we have to make this a stronger country, to make us more respected abroad, then I'm absolutely confident that we'll do well in November.
MR. RUSSERT: Is it possible to do that? You've raised $10 million in your campaign. Won't those high-roller donors all have access to you more than the little guy?
STATE REP. OBAMA: You know, one of the things I'm really proud of is that our base of donors is mostly made up of people who gave us 25, 50, $100 contributions. We've got about 15,000 people who contributed to this campaign through a grass-roots effort. And so I feel very confident, and I've got an eight-year track record in the state Legislature to back it up, that when I vote on issues, and when I'm listening to my constituents. What I'm looking for are the people who I think need the most help and deserve the kinds of support that government needs to provide them.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you going to be a liberal Democratic senator? The Republican leader in the Legislature in Illinois said that you're to the left of Mao Tse-tung.
STATE REP. OBAMA: Yeah. That was a little overblown, particularly since I had co-sponsored about five bills with the guy. You know, the rhetoric of Washington has filtered down into the state legislatures across the country, but I'm really not somebody who's comfortable with liberal-conservative labels. I think what the American people are looking for are common-sense solutions. I think they want to get beyond a lot of slash-and-burn politics.
I think one of the most encouraging things about John Kerry's campaign is the degree of hopefulness, reflected in his choice of vice president. I think he's got a story to tell about how we want to make sure that every child in America can tell the same story I tell or the same story you tell or the same story John Kerry tells. Which is that this country remains the greatest on Earth, not because of the size of our military or the size of our economy, but because every child can actually achieve as much as they can dream. And that is what is most exciting about this convention: thinking about how we can make that
happen for more kids.
MR. RUSSERT: Barack Obama, we thank you for your views. We'll be watching Tuesday night and we'll be watching your campaign between now and November in Illinois for the U.S. Senate.
STATE REP. OBAMA: It was a great pleasure. Thank you so much.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, the September 11 Commission. We'll talk to both the chairman and vice chairman. Could that day have been prevented? And our Round Table: Tom Brokaw. This is his 10th Democratic convention and he interviewed John Kerry, Democratic candidate for president this very week.
MR. RUSSERT: The September 11 Commission report, and Tom Brokaw on political conventions and his interview with John Kerry after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. The September 11 Commission report was released on Thursday. I sat down with the chair and vice chair in Washington on Friday afternoon.
The September 11 Commission report, Chairman Kean, you had said last year, "I do believe September 11th had to happen." Do you believe it was preventable?
MR. KEAN: I think if every single thing had gone differently, if, you know, the FBI had passed up information, if the border security guards had done their job, if some of those people had been kept off the plane who had been watch-listed, any number--if it had all gone differently, there was a good chance that it wouldn't have happened. But it's speculation. It's my opinion. We don't have any speculation in that book. Everything in that book is based on fact so the speculation that it might not have happened wouldn't be there.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the actual report and what you say about both the Clinton and Bush administrations. "Terrorism was not the overriding national security concern for the U.S. government under either the Clinton or the pre-9/11 Bush administration."
Despite the attack on the World Trade Center in '93, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the embassies in Africa and in the middle of the 2000 presidential campaign the USS Cole attacked, October 12, killing 17 Americans. How could terrorism not be the top priority of either Clinton or Bush?
MR. KEAN: You know, you could have add five other events to that--the plans to blow up the Holland Lincoln Tunnel, the attack at the Los Angeles airport, the attack that was foiled in Beirut that they were trying to kill Americans. There is such a list to these, and also we know at that time they had capabilities. They had the command and control system, they had the money and so the answer is, nobody put it together. Nobody put it together for the presidents, nobody put it together for the intelligence committees
or the Congress as a whole, nobody put it together with the American people.
MR. RUSSERT: The report goes on to say this, Mr. Hamilton: "What we can with confidence is that none of the measures adopted by the U.S. government from 1998 to 2001 disturbed or even delayed the progress of the al Qaeda plot. Across the government, there were failures of imagination, policy, capabilities and management."
What does it mean, a "failure of imagination"?
MR. HAMILTON: We just didn't think that people hated us so much that they wanted to kill us in large numbers. We could not imagine flying an airplane into the World Trade tower. There had been some hints of it, some people had spoken to it, but generally we just could not imagine that sort of thing happening and we did not prepare for it. So that was, I think, maybe the principal failure that we had, a lack of imagination. And the advice that we got again and again was to have policy-makers let their imaginations roam, think about what the scenario might be, and prepare to defend against it.
MR. RUSSERT: Four times there were recommendations within the White House that the United States government attack al-Qaeda. At one time Sandy Berger, the national security adviser, wrote, "No," in one of the memos. Chairman Kean, do you believe that the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton inhibited his ability or neutralized his ability to deal with terrorism?
MR. KEAN: I don't believe so. They were an immense distraction, obviously, but in each of those cases, as you go over them one by one, they lacked what they call--and the term they always use now is actionable intelligence. In other words they thought bin Laden was in a place, they wanted to fire a cruise missile at him, because we couldn't do anything out of Pakistan or Iran or any of the bordering countries, so it had to be a cruise missile, and they thought he wouldn't be there next three or four hours. We didn't know that. Or the school next to where he was or a mosque next to where he was and they didn't want to take the danger of missing him and blowing up innocent people.
And in each case they tried to work with tribesmen, surrogates, and then they decided, well, the information they had from those surrogates wasn't reliable. So it was actionable intelligence. In each one of those occasions that was really the conclusion they came to, and they just--they came close to pulling the trigger, and then sort of pulled back, and said, "We just don't have enough information to do it."
MR. RUSSERT: There are allegations against Mr. Berger that he took top-secret documents out of the National Archives. Were any of those documents that he took important to your investigation that you may have not seen?
MR. HAMILTON: We've seen all those documents.
MR. RUSSERT: All the drafts of the post-millennium, postmortem memos.
MR. HAMILTON: We believe we've seen all the documents. The documents went from the archives to the White House to us. And we're quite sure that we've seen all of the documents in full. The chairman I think made not one but two inquiries of staff to make sure that we had all those documents, and we're very sure that the final report, the integrity of it, is not compromised in any way because of that distraction.
MR. RUSSERT: After September 11, Richard Clarke, the head of terrorism at the White House, did a postmortem, and he said, "Let's go back four months, let's go back eight months, let's go back 18 months." Was there ever a memo written of that postmortem?
MR. KEAN: I don't remember seeing any, no. We're not able to find one. So I don't think there was. I mean, he mentioned it, but no document seems to exist, and we were able--I mean, we had wonderful access in the end. I mean, we were able to see every single document we requested and every single document in the files and we didn't find that.
MR. RUSSERT: When we look back at September 11 and what it did to us as a nation, as people emotionally, financially, and you write the cost to the terrorists. This is what the report days. "The 9/11 attacks cost somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000 to execute. ... To date, we have not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks."
Miniscule amount of money when compared to the damage done, but why haven't we been able to follow the money trail?
MR. KEAN: Well, they had--bin Laden had, we figured, a lot of money available, millions and millions and millions of dollars available at that point. Some of it obviously was funneled for this operation. But we recommend--one of the things we note is that right now we have been spending a lot of energy in the government to dry up sources of funding. What we suggest in the report, just what you just said, that it might be more productive to spend more time following the money, because you can disrupt plots, you can find out what's going on if you can follow these money trails. Because we'll never--if it only costs 400 to $500,000 to pull off an operation like this, we'll never dry up all the money. But by using the money trail, we may be able to catch some of these things and break them up.
MR. RUSSERT: There seems to be a stronger connection between Iran and September 11 and the hijackers than Iraq. Is that fair?
MR. HAMILTON: I think it's fair, but you can overstate those connections. In both cases, you did have ties, you did have contacts--we use the word contacts--between Iran and al-Qaeda. We think Iran facilitated the transit of some of these hijackers into Afghanistan and out. They didn't stamp the passports in a way that might arise some suspicions. So there are contacts, but the conclusion that we draw is that al-Qaeda executed 9/11. We do not think Iran or Iraq had a concrete, collaborative,
cooperative relationship in the execution of 9/11.
MR. KEAN: Or any knowledge of it to the best of our knowledge.
MR. HAMILTON: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: But in light of that lack of direct connection between Iraq and September 11, do you see the war in Iraq as a distraction from the war on terrorism or as a legitimate front of the war on terrorism?
MR. KEAN: Well, this wasn't, of course, the subject of our work, so we didn't get into Iraq very much. What we're--and, you know, my personal view is if--you know, it's a gamble in Iraq. If Iraq works out the way the Bush administration and others hope it will, it could transform the Middle East. If it doesn't, it could be a source of continuing problems and irritation and a home for future terrorists. What we do do is say there are three countries you've got to worry about: Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
And those are the three most volatile countries that if they were to go the wrong way could create another haven for terrorists and some real problems for the United States of America. So we'd better darned well pay attention to those three places and worry about how we're spending our money, how we're dealing with them diplomatically and how we're going to help them.
MR. RUSSERT: Those three you give a higher priority than Iraq.
MR. HAMILTON: Well, what you want to do is avoid having any country build a sanctuary and Afghanistan, Pakistan at the moment are probably the two leading possibilities for that. When you think about foreign policy towards this problem of terrorism, one of the first things you put on your list is you've got to stop these people, and the best way to stop them is to don't let them build up sanctuaries so that they can develop the skills they need to attack us.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the way we respond to attacks on September 11 and where we are now. This was in the commission report. "While leaders in Washington believed that the fighters circling above them had been instructed to `take out' hostile aircraft, the only orders actually conveyed to the pilots were to "ID type and tail.'"
The notion of F-16s intercepting the airliners was misjudgment largely? It couldn't have happened?
MR. HAMILTON: Well, there was apparently a lack of excellent communications because the decision apparently was made by the president to shoot down the civilian airliners. Both the president and the vice president involved in that made in communication between the two, but it didn't get to the pilots. And so one of the questions is why not.
MR. KEAN: But there were some planes authorized by the Secret Service who were ready to shoot them down. Now, to me that's command-and-control problems and the communications in Air Force One weren't any good. I mean, the president had a lot of problems communicating, and so we asked him about that. He said he thought those had been fixed, but there was so many problems in that day, so many rumors, so much of what he called the fog of war, that he was getting misinformation from a number of different areas when he was trying to make decisions.
MR. RUSSERT: And here we are nearly three years later and these are some of the press reports we've seen. "Air-Security Communication Still Spotty Despite Safeguards. ...a recent series of false alarms showed that once the network was activated information failed to flow rapidly to officials in the field. As a result, authorities responded slowly, sparked confusion or overreacted in the handling of at least four incidents in the past year, including one involving an international airline flight. The latest misstep
occurred June 9 when a plane carrying the governor of Kentucky entered Washington airspace for Ronald Reagan's funeral, surprising the TSA and prompting the evacuation of Capitol buildings."
And this. "For security officials, a key factor is how little time they had to identify [Kentucky Governor Ernie] Fletcher's aircraft and make critical decisions. One senior federal security official who has studied the incident said the chances of shooting down the plane would have been `50-50' given the time sequence," which prompted you to say this Governor Kean, "It gave me the jitters. What it basically said was that although people are telling us these problems have been fixed, some of these problems are still out there."
This is three years later and we're not sure that we can protect Washington air space.
MR. KEAN: That's the case. And that is obviously extremely worrisome. We don't think a number of the problems that we identified in our report from 9/11 have been fixed and that's the urgency of our report really. It says, you know, now is the time. We cannot wait any longer with everybody telling you that attacks are coming and may be coming very soon. Not to have these problems fixed is intolerable.
MR. RUSSERT: Now is the time. Your report came out on Thursday, and on that very day Congress left for a six-week vacation. What signal does that send to the American people?
MR. HAMILTON: Well, not a very good one, in my mind. We all agree on the urgency of this. We all think that if we do not act quickly, we increase the risk to the American people. We all agree that the status quo is unacceptable. We think we put forward serious and worthy proposals. We don't know if we've got everything right or not. It's a complicated business trying to make these recommendations.
But what we would not accept is the position that everything's fine, the status quo is OK. So we want to convey to the Congress--and, of course, they've got plenty of problems on their plate, as does the president. We want to convey to them: This is urgent. This is really important for the American people. Get your house in order. Act on these things as quickly as you possibly can. And every day that passes is a day of increased risk if we do not make changes.
MR. RUSSERT: One of the widows who lost her husband on September 11 said to me yesterday, "Why can't Senator Kerry and President Bush meet and say, `We're going to spend the next three days coming to agreement on what has to be implemented right now and not be out there campaigning'?" Pretty good idea?
MR. HAMILTON: Pretty good idea. That's what the commission did. Five Republicans, five Democrats, very different political views; we came together. We agreed. We put before the nation an agenda for action. And I think it's a pretty good example.
MR. RUSSERT: Based on that--and this is a very serious question--if the president came to Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton and said, "You know, I've been thinking about this. We're going to need a new national intelligence agency, and I want both of you to run it, because you can work together and you can show the country a Republican and Democrat can lead us through in a bipartisan way our most difficult challenges." Would you do it?
MR. KEAN: I'd do anything with Lee Hamilton. We've established a partnership here that is...
MR. HAMILTON: Extraordinary.
MR. KEAN: ...extraordinary.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you do it?
MR. HAMILTON: Oh, well, Tim, that's a very speculative question. I'd have to think about it. I've had a marvelous experience working with Tom Kean, and I think it's been a productive one, but that's a presidential call.
MR. RUSSERT: When you say that people you talk to say they're absolutely confident we're going to be attacked again, in a big and a major way, why do they say that? Why are they so sure?
MR. HAMILTON: Because of intent.
MR. KEAN: Yeah.
MR. HAMILTON: It's very clear these people want to kill us. Because of capability. They have the capability to strike us. Because of the environment in which they live. I picked up the paper this morning and saw that 100 percent of the Egyptians are hostile towards the Americans. That's the environment in which this terrorism is growing. And there isn't any doubt, if you put all of these things together and then add it to an open society and our vulnerabilities, that an attack is likely.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you surprised we haven't been hit since September 11?
MR. KEAN: Yeah, I really am, particularly as--the problems we still identified in the report. I mean, this system is not fixed. Our biggest weapon of defense is our intelligence system. And if that doesn't work, our chances of being attacked are so much greater. And so this--our major recommendation is to fix that intelligence system and do it as fast as possible.
MR. RUSSERT: I couldn't finish this interview or not read this report without thinking of what you wrote on page 14 about the passengers on United Flight 93, who, because of a pitched battle that they started with the hijackers...
MR. KEAN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...forced that plane to go down in the fields of Pennsylvania rather than destroy either the Capitol or the White House. Truly amazing American heroes.
MR. KEAN: These are heroic people and we should remember them as such.
MR. HAMILTON: And this is one of the best lines of defense we have against terrorism. If you're seated on an airplane and the fellow next to you lights up a match to put to his shoe, jump him. And the American people are more alert to that now than they were, and I think it's a very strong line of defense against terrorism.
MR. RUSSERT: Lee Hamilton, Thomas Kean, we thank you for your views. We thank you for your report.
And when we come back, Tom Brokaw, who has covered 10 Democratic conventions, and interviewed John Kerry this very week.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back in Boston, the site of the Democratic convention. I am joined by my colleague at NBC News, Tom Brokaw, his 10th Democratic convention.
MR. TOM BROKAW: Thank you. Nice to be here.
MR. RUSSERT: We've been talking to our voters all across the country, Tom, with The Wall Street Journal doing some polling. Here's what we found out. If the election held today, George Bush, 47, John Kerry 45, Ralph Nader, 2. Look at these numbers by party, Tom; so striking. Democrats, Bush 8, Kerry, 86, Nader, 2; Independents, 33 Bush, Kerry, 45, Nader 6. Why is Bush still ahead by 2?
Ninety-three percent of Republicans say they will vote for George Bush, only 3 percent of Republicans for Kerry, 1 percent for Nader. John Kerry has an opportunity this week at this convention to try to get his Democratic base up even more.
MR. BROKAW: Yeah, not only is he going to be able to get his Democratic base up even more, but I think the most encouraging number for him is that 45 percent of the Independents who like him. Those are going to be the swing voters in this election. You begin to hear about some Republicans who say they don't think that they can vote for George Bush again, but they're mostly in states that are not going to go for Bush. We have to sort those numbers out from the electoral map, Tim. That big matchup 47-45, whatever it is, is what happens in the red states and the blue states that will really make the difference.
MR. RUSSERT: You know, Tom, when you see George Bush ahead by 2, we asked some specific issues in the poll, and look at this: The future of the economy. Is it strong? And our voters tell us 31 percent yes, in trouble, 58. On weapons of mass destruction, did President Bush do all he could do to make sure that the intelligence was accurate? Yes, 40; no, 56. And was the war in Iraq worth it, worth the cost? Yes, 43; no, 47. Economy, weapons of mass destruction, the war, all negative numbers for George Bush, but he still beats John Kerry.
MR. RUSSERT: That's because I think that the American people are still making up their minds about John Kerry, and that's why this week is so important to him. He has to connect to them, not only on the policy issues of what we can do about the economy and especially what he can do about national security after this reality check came out this week, the 9/11 report, but also, are they comfortable with him? Do they feel that he's an empathetic figure in their lives?
And you know those of us who've been following him for most of his political career, that's always been the big question mark about John Kerry. Great resume, a bright guy, obviously, but is there a comfort level that the American people want to have in the White House with him? And I know that he knows that that's a big piece of what he has to accomplish here this week.
MR. RUSSERT: So the September 11 Commission report, which was widely seen as being a difficult challenge for George Bush to deal with, you now believe is also a challenge for John Kerry?
MR. BROKAW: It is. You know, you look at the focus reports around the country, those groups that people are talking about, and they say, "I don't know whether he can do a better job than George Bush has done in protecting us from terrorism. I want to hear what he has to say about that." He has been an outspoken opponent of the conduct of the war in Iraq. The question a lot of people may have is, and I'm not sure that this is absolutely true: Is this just another one of those conventional anti-war Democrats who's going to be a little bit soft on national security?
In the last 48 hours especially he has talked outspokenly about how he sees the urgency of what's recommended in this report, and I think that within the Kerry campaign, they get it, that they've got to move forward swiftly with a plan to deal with terrorism, and that attack that we're told is not just possible, but probable, and of a greater magnitude. I can't remember a campaign, Tim, in which we've gone into the fall when a bipartisan commission after an exhaustive study says, "America, be prepared."
MR. RUSSERT: It's coming.
MR. BROKAW: It's coming. That's what the bottom line here is. And that's what has to be taken seriously here, and I think the American people are. And I know that both campaigns are, as well; it's a matter of then how they execute it.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to talk about Iraq. And you sat down on Wednesday with John Kerry and talked to him about it. He's walking a tightrope. Let's listen.
MR. BROKAW: Let me ask you about Iraq. The insurgents obviously are going after the interim government and the idea of sovereignty. If this interim government comes to the United States and says, "Look, we're in danger of being toppled here. We're going to need more American troops on the ground in Iraq," would you support that idea?
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Not in a vacuum, not all by itself, without doing the other things necessary that this president should have done to protect our troops in Iraq and to maximize the opportunity for success. This president, I believe, has lost credibility, sadly, with too many players that are important to making this a successful long-term effort, at least cost, at least cost in lives and at least cost in dollars to the American people. So I would want to make sure that we're doing this in a way that just doesn't feed a dark hole.
MR. RUSSERT: Delegates at this convention, Tom, are against the war, period. But John Kerry has to look beyond this convention hall and navigate a middle road.
MR. BROKAW: In fact, that's--not just me speculating there. That's a realistic possibility that they may have to ask for more troops at some point. When I was in Iraq recently, I talked with Rick Sanchez, who is the outgoing American military commander, and the way that the military's describing it is they're going to put replacements in before they send the troops home. So we'll have a larger bulge right around the date of the election. There will be a kind of an overlap.
But will we need additional troops and will we need more special troops to deal with all the hostage-taking that is going on now? Are we going to have to break some of the politically correct rules in places like Fallujah and dealing with Muqtada al-Sadr? These are very difficult questions because this is a canny and ruthless insurgency that we're dealing with. We've made an enormous investment in sovereignty and this interim government, and if the insurgency brings it down, then all hell breaks loose, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: This convention is largely about speeches. There's no other suspense in it. You asked John Kerry what he had to achieve at this convention. And this is what he told you.
MR. BROKAW: Senator, at the end of this week in Boston, what will the American people learn about you that will surprise them?
SEN. KERRY: Well, I don't know if it will surprise them, Tom, but they will learn two things, primarily. Number one, they'll learn my strength, my loyalty, my passion for our country. They'll learn about me personally as a father. But equally importantly, or more, they'll learn about my plans to lead America to a better place. We can make this country stronger at home. And we can be respected in the world again. And I have a plan to do that. And they'll know that.
MR. RUSSERT: And, Tom, his running mate, John Edwards, gave a series of short network interviews. This is what he said the difficulty and the challenge confronting this ticket.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: What's happening is this is just an unknown. They know President Bush. They know what's wrong with him, and they know what's right with him. And what's happening between now and the election is that they will get to know John Kerry.
MR. RUSSERT: Got to define himself in a real way.
MR. BROKAW: That's right. That's why it's the first rule of politics, as you know, you don't let your opposition define you. You get out and define it at a time when the campaign really begins, which it begins here in Boston this week.
I've been doing this for a while, as you said. The nerve endings of this country are exposed. You have an incumbent president who is a very strong candidate. Whatever else anyone may think about him, he loves the political process and he's got a good operation. Against an energized Democratic Party, a man who's been through a very difficult time in the primaries, so we're in for a Donnybrook, I think. And I don't mean that just in terms of a sports metaphor. These are huge issues that the country is going to
have its future defined here in the next several months and it's encouraging to me see how the voters now are engaged on it. I do think that right at this moment it's a handful of votes in a cupful of states that both campaigns are going after. We're still kind of one country, two nations, pretty polarized, when you look at the parties themselves.
MR. RUSSERT: Conventions have changed. Let me take you back 24 years ago.
MR. BROKAW: How about it?
MR. RUSSERT: Here's 1980, Tom Brokaw in Detroit, Michigan, a real '80s guy there, that madras tie, the late Tom Pettit behind you. That convention, Tom, we had Ronald Reagan negotiating with Gerald Ford, a former president, to be his vice president, almost a co-presidency. That was an exciting convention.
MR. BROKAW: It went on all night long, and at one point, Jim Thompson, who was on the 9-11 Commission, was governor of Illinois, and Bob Ray, who was the governor of Iowa, pulled me aside and they had Reagan-Ford buttons. They said, "It's a done deal." I went on the air with them. As soon as I finished, Bob Dole grabbed me and he said, "What did they say?" And I said, "They told me it's a done deal." He turned me around, he said, "It's not a done deal." I put him on the air, and he said, "I am leaving here to go to the hotel immediately."
He ran over to the hotel and they took down that operation, and not too many moments later, Chris Wallace of NBC was able to say, "It's Bush," and it was George Herbert Walker Bush who had been settled on at the last possible moment, but there was great suspense, the country was engaged, we were as well. There's nothing that will happen here this week that will remotely resemble that. Everything has been sanitized and put through the John Kerry campaign operation. Same thing will happen with the Republicans when they meet as well. They don't want to take any chances anymore. They want to reduce these conventions to a kind of infomercial for the candidate and get out of here with what they hope will be a large television audience and no damage done.
MR. RUSSERT: All the more reason that the 30 percent of the American people who don't know John Kerry are going to watch on Thursday night. There's a lot of pressure on Mr. Kerry.
MR. BROKAW: There is a lot of pressure and I've rarely seen a candidate come before a party, Republican or Democrat, under these circumstances and fail. When you look back on it, Al Gore did himself a lot of good four years ago. I think that George Bush did himself a lot of good four years ago when he appeared before the convention. He was more impressive than just a former president's kid who'd gotten the job as governor of Texas. I think he probably helped himself out. So that's why conventions still are important. I'm not saying that they're not, but they don't have the kind of vitality that they used to have.
MR. RUSSERT: Tom Brokaw, thank you. I'll be with you all week long.
MR. BROKAW: You will be.
MR. RUSSERT: And this has to be Grandma Jean Brokaw's favorite Roundtable ever on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. BROKAW: I hope so.
MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: Join NBC and MSNBC all week long for coverage of the convention here in Boston. That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.