In her first interview in nearly two years, former attorney general for the Clinton Administration, Janet Reno sat down with Dan Abrams to speak out about the Clinton Administration and the 9/11 Commission Report. She also talks about her feelings on the current administration and her reactions concerning the blame for Report placed on her for the 9/11 attacks.
DAN ABRAMS, HOST, ‘THE ABRAMS REPORT’: Did you make major mistakes in terms of not recognizing the threat that al-Qaeda posed?
JANET RENO, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: I go back over everything I could have done and I don’t see that I in any way minimized the threat of al-Qaeda. It was constantly before us and we pursued it as vigorously as possible. We sought Pfizer warrants whenever appropriate. We did so much, but it is important to continue the effort and to make sure that the Bureau is trained in intelligence gathering and intelligence sharing that they understand the working relationship that should exist between the criminal justice side of the house and the intelligence community.
That is what so critical is if we are going to prevent tragedies like this in the future. What I did, for example, when we received information, when people needed to be involved, I was there, I sometimes worked late into the night, made myself available to FBI agents where there were critical issues involved. I constantly checked with the Bureau to see whether they were reaching out to all the offices around the worlds. I tried to make sure that they had translators and interpreters that could understand the nuances of the language. I pursued every lead that I could to make sure we were prepared I can’t speak for what happened in 2001, but I can speak for what we tried to do during the time I was in office.
On the Clinton Administration being blamed for 9/11
ABRAMS: What is your reaction to those who have just come out and blamed the Clinton Administration, your roles as Attorney General, for allowing things to get to the point that they did and they say which led to 9/11?
RENO: Nobody has indicated to me what lead to 9/11 occurred previously. What lead to 9/11 was a failure on the part of the people involved at the time faced with the information they were receiving from around the world, faced with the fact that there might be a threat against the United States and anybody who looked at the intelligence information that had been received before and after, should have been prepared and cognizant of the fact that their could be an attack on the United States.
On Ashcroft as Attorney General
ABRAMS: How is John Ashcroft doing as Attorney General?
RENO: I’ve not been briefed on all the issues he has to deal with, so I can’t really comment.
ABRAMS: Looking at the situation from an outsider’s point of view, how do you feel he is doing his job?
RENO: Mr. Ashcroft set a tone for the justice department when he suggested early on in an appearance before the judiciary committee, that people who have disagreed with what the administration was doing, was somehow lesser patriots. It’s important to have a full discussion, a respectful discussion, without blaming people or categorizing them as somehow lesser patriots.
We could do so much if we can sit down together talk out the issues relating to the Patriot Act, understanding that we have got to preserve our civil liberties, because that is the reason freedom is worth fighting for.
On the Patriot Act
ABRAMS: Are you supportive on all the provisions of the Patriot Act?
RENO: I have advocated when I was in Washington for many of the provisions of the Patriot Act. I think it’s important to understand that there are other provisions with respect to search issues that give me cause for concern and I think they can be addressed if we would only sit down and talk them out.
On enemy combatants held in Guantanamo
ABRAMS: Enemy combatants are becoming something very controversial for this administration. The administration is basically saying there are going to be times ever people who are U.S. citizens, we don’t want to take them to criminal court, we’re not going to call them prisoners of war, but we need to detain them in an effort to prevent them from committing acts of terrorism. What do you make of it?
RENO: I believe strongly, that if the government takes somebody into custody, a citizen of this country, that our constitution and our processes are strong enough to withstand attack and that anybody who is taken into custody should be charged for a crime, they should know what they are being held for, they should have access to their lawyers, the should not be incommunicado with respect to their families unless there are particular circumstances involved and this country has shown that we can deal with issues like this through the processes of the constitution.
On the Bush Administration’s biggest mistakes
ABRAMS: If President Bush and John Ashcroft were to invite you to the White House and they were to say Attorney General Reno, what do you think is the biggest mistake we have made so far? What would you say?
RENO: I would love that opportunity but I wouldn’t talk about the biggest mistake that they’ve made so far. I would talk about how we could sit down with people on the White House Staff, people from the Justice Department and go through the Patriot Act and see how it could be mended to address the issues that the administration has and address the concerns people have for civil liberties.
I would talk about how we can best share information. There are so many opportunities that we can pursuer and there are people in the White House who are people of good faith. These people have worked on issues like the ones addressed and understand them. I think they could do a great deal toward bridging the gaps of misunderstanding that have played the discussion of how we protect against terrorism.