Guest: Zoe Lofgren, Ernest Istook, Lally Weymouth
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight, Tom Brokaw who is stepping down this Wednesday as anchor of “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” talks about his front-row seat to history. And the future of journalism. Plus “Newsweek‘s” Lally Weymouth, who just got back from the Middle East on life after Arafat. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. On Wednesday, Tom Brokaw anchors his last nightly news broadcast capping an extraordinary 21-year run. Earlier today, I spoke with him.
MATTHEWS: Tom Brokaw, thanks for joining us on HARDBALL. You know this event going on, this election dispute, horrendous dispute in Ukraine, you covered the fall of Berlin Wall, is this part of attempt by the old Soviet types to try to control the old empire including Ukraine?
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: I think Putin is trying to consolidate power. He does not want that very politically important, strategically important and resource-rich Russian Republic to go to reformers who may be a threat on his (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Everything he has been doing a little bit undercover because we are so distracted here with Iraq and all of our other considerations—is to consolidate power in the hands of this old KGB agent, those were his instincts. One of the things that Gorbachev—I thought it was in a way his fatal flaw was that he thought he could hold the old Soviet empire together and it is—it did come apart. Now they‘re trying to piece it back together in some fashion. So many of these Republics, Chris, are run effectively by what we call the people who were Communist party officials in the Soviet Union days and they knew where the levels of power were and how to exercise it and they have gone back into the system again.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the home front. We have had a big fight ongoing now through this week and through next week on Capitol Hill over how to put together an intelligence operation that protects us from another 911. How is it going?
BROKAW: I have a slightly contrary point of view to a lot of people.
I think it is worth taking some time and making sure that we get it right. I think that some of the consideration on the part of Republican committee members is that they don‘t want to give up their power and that‘s part of it. The president finds himself between a political rock and a hard place because he resisted the idea of the 911 commission and then it was so effective and the families became such a potent political force that he was forced to come back and say, look, I would like to get this thing down.
But as we have learned with the Patriot Act and some other of the legislation that was rushed through right after 9/11. It‘s better if we take a little time. Make sure that we‘ve got it right. There is chaos at the CIA right now. Porter Goss has gone in there. He was given a mandate by the president to reform the organization and a lot of career officers are leaving, including the specialists who don‘t have political considerations whatsoever. We went through this once before and the man who was appointed to be the director of CIA at that time was George Herbert Walker Bush, the president‘s father.
MATTHEWS: I read your interview wit the “TIME” magazine about the failure of the reporters to adequately cover the rise of the terrorist threat. Any thoughts on that?
BROKAW: I do. You know, look, if you just connect the dots between the attacks on Tanzania and the embassies in Kenya, the USS Cole, and going all the way back to the Ronald Reagan years, the first big attacks on the marines when they were in Beirut. We didn‘t deal with this as a global threat of some kind. We dealt it with it episodically. There were people in Washington, at the FBI and other places who said terrorism is real. And unfortunately, I think that we didn‘t take it as seriously as we needed to have. But we have put on pictures of Osama bin Laden, talked about who he was, what his anger was with the United States, but we didn‘t make it part of the agenda, I think as profoundly as we should have.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it‘s a bigger challenge for journalists to try to get to the bottom of a lot of these things, the American people rooted for the Mujahiddin and knocked the Soviets out of Afghanistan and all the time they were an emerging force which going to cause an east-west jihad.
BROKAW: It‘s not something that the western culture has an easy time working its way through. I have spent a long time in that part of world and the long and short history is complicated, you run into a lot of dead ends and the old line about, you know, the enemy of my friend and all that. That all comes into play here.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the east-west rivalry between us and the Russians is over or it may recur?
BROKAW: I don‘t think—I think it‘s over in the larger sense. But what I think is in our interest is for Russia to be stable and make progress economically and politically and not to have a closed society again for a variety of reasons. I think Putin has a very taxing job before him to try and turn that ship around. And a lot of the olygarchs have gone in there and they‘ve taken a lot of the money out of it, but still, I honestly believe that it‘s in Russia‘s best interest to have more openness, not less. That they are going to go through a difficult passage and I think we have to pay more attention to the kind of difficulty that we‘re going through. Every time during the Clinton administration when we send them aid money it would disappear down a dark hole and pop up in somebody‘s secret bank account in Zurich.
MATTHEWS: The president said he can see into Putin‘s soul.
BROKAW: I have a difficult time believing that. I spent time with Putin, I wouldn‘t make that claim. I had a dinner for him here in New York where he came and had a very robust conversation with a lot of reporters who were very familiar with his part of the world. A guy who spent most of his life as a martial arts expert and as a KGB agent. That tells you a lot about who he is.
MATTHEWS: A lot of cover there.
BROKAW: He is a lot of tough guy. And for someone who is so slight, in martial arts, he is apparently a champion at what he did. So he knows about the exercise of power.
MATTHEWS: Along those lines, back when you started to cover the White House, back in the 1970s, the Carter administration and the Reagan administration, do you think the coverage by reporters was more adversarial, more aggressive than it is today with President Bush.
In that world of the White House press room or is...
BROKAW: I started covering during Nixon, so it was in the middle of Watergate. So it was going to be adversarial. Before that it wasn‘t adversarial. With Lyndon Johnson you had the old lines of press corps against the old lion of American politics Lyndon Johnson even though Vietnam was underway at that time. There were some difficult moments but not nearly like what it was during...
MATTHEWS: Was that better for the country, to have it tougher back and forth.
BROKAW: I think it‘s better for the country to have a tougher back and forth. I don‘t think it can be form alone. If you are going to pick a fight with the White House press secretary, make sure that it has real meaning. Don‘t do it just to show off to your fellow members of the White House press corps. Make sure that you think it through, that you are not just in some kind of improv theater there in the White House press briefing room.
MATTHEWS: How would you rate this White House for its press management?
BROKAW: It has been very good, I think.
MATTHEWS: I mean, tough, like you read about Cheney saying no “New York Times” reporters on my trips. That kind of stuff.
BROKAW: I think they have been too tough. The idea that this White House has not given Tom Friedman a long, in-depth interview is astonishing to me. I have had a very good relationship with them, I have gotten to interview the president a lot. I have had access on the phone and other areas and I have been very vigorous in my discussions with them. But no reporter that I know covering national politics and the international policies that are of such great concern today know as much about them as Tom Friedman does and they have completely shut out the “New York Times.”
MATTHEWS: How do we get good journalism at a time when the White House is proficient at this sort of manipulation that they can cut out somebody that important or anyone?
BROKAW: Part of it is that the best journalism doesn‘t come from within the White House press briefing room. It comes from reading the documents and working from the outside in and from the bottom up. What you have the White House press corps for is not—I‘m not demeaning what they are doing because I was a member of that press corps but is keep track of what the president is doing on a daily basis beyond the trips. Some of it is in case something untoward happens that you‘re there but give big picture policy. You also have to be covering the administration from the documents and from the bills that are sent up to the Hill and the kinds of appointments that they have and things that are done out of the sight of the White House press briefing room.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about other kinds of strategic reporting. We had Neil Schien (ph) during the Vietnam War, a great reporter, we had David Haverstein (ph) one of the great journalists ever, that kind of strategic reporting, not day to day, not embedment but out there saying, let‘s think this through in a different level, do you think we miss some of that during our current war in Iraq?
BROKAW: No, I think we‘re doing pretty well with that. Having been in Baghdad, I know what the restrictions are just in terms of moving around. It‘s an extraordinarily dangerous place, much more than Vietnam was. There is just no sanctuary anymore for any of these people. We‘re seeing that in the combat casualties that we‘re getting too many reports of every day. But I think Jim Miklaszewski and David Martin and the other people covering the Pentagon have been doing a good job of standing back and saying...
MATTHEWS: See the whole thing.
BROKAW: ... this is a big picture here.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it‘s the role of the anchor person, or the anchorman, to make a big call like Cronkite did back in the Vietnam War? I think it was about ‘68 when he said, we‘re not going to win this thing, I‘ve just come back? Is that too big a call for an anchorman, to say something like that?
BROKAW: I think what you do is you let the facts make the argument. You know, I went over there, and last year, and one of the things that I said was that it the test of our success in Iraq will not be in the first phase of so-called major combat, but what comes after. I was just looking again at some...
MATTHEWS: These elections, for example .
BROKAW: ... right, these stories that I was doing, and I talked to General Sanchez at the time—and this was in July of last year—and I said, how much time do you have? Because I had been hearing a lot from CIA and other people who were on the ground there that they felt they only had 30 to 60 days to get it right or it could come unraveled on them. And he said that at that time, and I made that a big piece of our reporting, that they believed the tipping point was coming unless they get it right. Well, the tipping point did arrive and it tipped over, and we are in a fair amount of chaos, trying to work our way towards these elections. And I think that‘s the next tipping point.
MATTHEWS: If the Sunnis refuse to participate, if they are joined by the Kurds, is that a catastrophe?
BROKAW: It‘s a huge blow to the integrity of the elections.
MATTHEWS: And therefore we should hold them or not?
BROKAW: That‘s not for me to say.
MATTHEWS: That‘s a policy call, I‘m sorry.
BROKAW: That‘s a big—that‘s a big policy point.
MATTHEWS: But in terms of what was expected of this campaign...
BROKAW: But if they are held, if they‘re held, I don‘t think anyone will believe in the integrity of the outcome of them, because the Shia have an obvious majority and they‘ll run it. It was a big problem.
There were some other things said during the campaign as well. The president kept saying we have 100,000 people trained in the Iraqi national security forces, both national guard and police—well, we didn‘t have. You know, we had maybe 25,000 people who were capable of taking their place beside the American troops. When you look at the Fallujah operation, that was an almost entirely American operation, despite the announcement of Don Rumsfeld going in that this invasion is being led by Iraqi forces, who are assisted by American and coalition forces.
MATTHEWS: Yeah, that was optimistically said.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, I‘ll ask Tom Brokaw about his rival, Dan Rather.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Now, more of my interview with Tom Brokaw.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a tough question about your colleague and I know you respect him a lot, Dan Rather. He is going to step down next spring. What do you think went wrong with that reporting on the documents down in Texas? Was it the source, the producer, or the fact that the managing editor stuck with the story too long? He just wouldn‘t—he wouldn‘t say we‘ve had it with this story?
BROKAW: I guess it was a combination of all. But I have been saying, in fairness to CBS News and Dan and the others that are involved, is that they have a big investigation under way. We‘ll know the results of that. On the face of it, a big mistake was made. They know that at this point. And they hung onto the idea that these were authentic documents, in my judgment far too long.
MATTHEWS: Like those little ‘th‘s that appeared next to the numbers weren‘t the normal Sergeant Kramky‘s (ph) typewriter keys.
BROKAW: They would raise a lot of flags, and they did for us here.
We‘ve now looked at them.
MATTHEWS: Right. You saw them, the documents.
BROKAW: Yes. But having said all of that, you know, look, no member of his generation has been—had as many big stories as Dan Rather has had. You can‘t take that away from him.
Now, you know, Dan and I have been personal competitors for a long, time. He is a hot reporter.
MATTHEWS: He is a risk taker, isn‘t he?
BROKAW: He is a risk taker.
MATTHEWS: He gets out, trying to take the shot.
BROKAW: Lightning rod for controversy. He‘s done some things that I‘ve raised my eyebrows on. Why would you do that?
But having said all that, you know, a life is a mosaic. It has got a lot of parts to it, and I think you ought to look at it in that fashion.
MATTHEWS: Do you think, I mean, you and he and certainly Cronkite, you know, have created the nightly news—I guess you go all the way back to the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) news, you go all the way back—but in terms of big numbers, you have had the big audiences. When you leave, are some lights going to go out in terms of viewership? Are people just going to say, I‘m not going to look at that particular institution, the evening news, anymore as much as I used to?
BROKAW: Well, not in the Brian Williams‘ household they are not going to go out. No...
MATTHEWS: Do you think it‘s something about just the tremendous personality...
BROKAW: I think we have to be careful about projecting that, because I really think, you know, that it‘s—what we have learned is that these broadcasts can be dynamic. In some households they may go out, in other households they may come on. And I think we owe it to Brian to let him go earn his place in all of that, and let the audience make a judgment about whether they are going to turn the lights on or off.
MATTHEWS: I wasn‘t thinking about the NBC transition as much as the idea of the habit. The habit. When people are getting home at 7:30, people, both spouses are working, that it is—you have to almost be retired to be available at that time—and some markets, as you know, have them coming on—your program coming on even earlier, you know, for the early bird special folks, at 5:30 at night. How can working people live that?
BROKAW: But when I was working in Los Angeles, one of the things that we learned—there used to be just the 6:00 news, and then the 6:30 “Huntley-Brinkley Report.” When we went on the air at 5:00 in the afternoon—and they now go on I think at 4:00 -- is that there was a huge audience at 5:00, because of just what you‘ve described. There is a shift and another shift and another shift that comes after that. People are pouring into the system.
Yes, some people get home at 7:30. Other people get home at 3:30 in the afternoon, and they‘re looking for something that isn‘t...
MATTHEWS: You mean the guy that goes on—on work at 6:00 in the morning, for example.
BROKAW: Yeah. And it‘s not just the guy, you know. School teachers have those kinds of schedules, in some cases. Firemen do. Retailers do. Hospital workers do. So we‘re not an 8:00 to 5:00 nation anymore.
MATTHEWS: Yeah, it‘s interesting. Let me ask you about your pal, Dick Ebersol, and this tragedy. Is it hard to report on friends?
BROKAW: Yeah, it is. I just—my heart—I can barely talk about it.
BROKAW: It‘s a real nightmare. I know his family very well, and I know Susan, and I actually knew Susan before she and Dick were married, and I know how much their boys mean to them, and it‘s hard.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s pray for the best. Tom, thank you.
BROKAW: OK, thank you.
MATTHEWS: Thanks for coming on the program.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, the battle on Capitol Hill over intelligence reforms. Can President Bush use his power to push House Republicans to overhaul the nation‘s intelligence system? You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The bill aimed at reforming intelligence after 9/11 is in limbo on Capital Hill.
HARDBALL correspondent, David Shuster has the latest.
DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After losing 3,000 people on 91/1, an overhaul of the nation‘s intelligence community seemed inevitable. And following the 9/11 Commission hearings and reports, the legislation produced by Congress looked like it would pass easily. President Bush endorsed the changes. The Senate passed them 96-2. And most House members including most Republicans said the overhaul had their support, thank to the support of the 9/11 commissioners.
FMR. GOV. THOMAS KEAN (R-NJ), 9/11 COMMISSION CHAIR: This bill will pass. The question is whether it will pass now or after a second attack.
SHUSTER: The problem involves a few crucial desertions. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposes the bill and told Congress the secretary of defense should maintain control of intelligence data and agency budgets.
“It is my recommendation that this critical provision be preserved.”
And now, House Speaker Dennis Hastert refuses to bring the bill to the floor without a few of his top congressional allies. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, says the bill would interfere with the military‘s chain of command. James Sensenbrenner, chairman of Judiciary Committee, says the legislation leaves gaps in homeland security.
We need to tight be up our driver‘s license provisions and our immigration laws so that terrorists cannot take advantage of the present system to kill thousands of Americans again.
KEAN: I mean, we recognize that he wants this very, very badly. But to hold up every single one of these other provisions to make the American people safer for this one provision or two provisions to me doesn‘t make any sense.
SHUSTER: The 9/11 Commissioners noting the administration‘s support for the overall bill, believes the president should be doing more to reign in Meyers. And the commissioner would also like the president to call Dennis Hastert, because while it‘s not unusual for a speaker to focus on party unity, this speaker‘s effort to solidify his own Republican leadership position has left lawmakers grumbling about national interest. In his first term term, President Bush faced option from top Republican, but still passed the McCain/Feingold campaign finance legislation.
In 1993, President Clinton signed NAFTA even though 60 percent of House Democrats voted against it. And President Clinton later promoted and signed welfare reform despite the opposition of half the Democratic Caucus.
On the intelligence reform bill, the 911 used this appearance to ratchet up the pressure on President Bush and said that time is running out.
LEE HAMILTON, 9/11 COMMISSION VICE CHAIR: If you reject this bill, then you go back to the status quo, the structure of the intelligence community unchanged since before 9/11. And it is not likely to be changed for six months or more.
SHUSTER (on camera): But right now, all of this is about just one thing, the political capital of President Bush. And whether he intends to use anyway any of it, as he promised during the presidential campaign to reform the nation‘s intelligence community—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
When we come back, two members of the Congressional committee on homeland security on the fight for intelligence reform.
You‘re watching HARDBALL ON MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Can President Bush break the congressional impasse over intelligence reform and get Republican holdouts to agree to a deal next week before the new Congress is sworn in?
Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren is a member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security. And Republican Congressman Ernest Istook of Oklahoma also sits on the Homeland Security bill.
Congresswoman Lofgren, The question is, is the president behind the reform bill as encouraged by the 911 commission, which would create one intelligence director?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, he says that he is.
And if he is telling us the truth, he ought to make those Republican chairman toe the line and get this bill on the floor. If it gets on the floor, it will pass overwhelmingly.
MATTHEWS: Congressman Istook, what‘s holding this up? Why don‘t we have a—everybody seems to agree that you want to have unified command, sole responsibility for intelligence gathering at the top, so the country can know who is responsible.
REP. ERNEST ISTOOK ®, OKLAHOMA: Not everybody does agree.
MATTHEWS: OK. Who opposes that?
ISTOOK: Well, shifting around the nameplates and putting somebody else in nominal charge doesn‘t fix the problem.
The problem is better communication between the security services and the intelligence services, which we passed in legislation already a couple of years ago. There is concern that you might cause problems if you say only one person presents their viewpoint, rather than having different viewpoints that are filtered up to the president through his national security adviser.
So there is also a great concern about leaving out some of the other recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, getting the entire country, not just the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the entire country, involved in the issues of borders security, which was in the House bill, but was left out of the House-Senate version.
So I agree with Chairman Sensenbrenner of Judiciary. We have got to address border security and immigration reform. And I agree with Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, that we could be hurting the military by undercutting the chain of command with this legislation.
MATTHEWS: It‘s hard to figure out, Congresswoman Lofgren, whether the president is really playing this hardball style, because we have got Chairman Sensenbrenner telling “Newsweek” this week that the president was extremely low-key in his push with regard to unifying the command under an intelligence director. Is that the sense on the Hill, that the president is not really playing tough on this, in terms of getting a unified command?
LOFGREN: Well, he says publicly that he is in favor of the bill that came out of the Senate. I also favor that bill and I think it‘s clear if the speaker were to put that bill that has passed the Senate on a wide bipartisan margin on the floor, it would pass.
Why the president doesn‘t just insist on a vote is beyond me. He is the president of the United States. His party rules Washington. They have the House, the Senate, the White House, so I really think if he is telling the truth to the American people that he favors this bipartisan bill out of the Senate, then he needs to insist to the speak theory that it be put up for a vote.
And if it is put up for a vote, I‘m sure it will pass.
MATTHEWS: It was Ross Perot, Congressman, who used to say measure twice, cut once. Is this a case where we‘re better off, the country and the Congress, if we take time, rather than to try to get something done before Christmas?
ISTOOK: I think that‘s a great example. What is the rush? Some people want to do it, frankly, for political posturing purposes. They want to say, we have done something, even if that something may be cosmetic and doesn‘t really improve the coordination among the different intelligence services, which is what we really need to be doing.
Understand, the 9/11 Commission, when we had hearings before the Congress, they made it clear to us that their recommendations are not writ in stone. They‘re not coming down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets writ with the finger of God. That is their recommendations. And the Senate bill doesn‘t address the recommendations as fully as the House bill, which includes border security and immigration reform.
LOFGREN: Well, I don‘t think—I mean, certainly, all of us are entitled to our opinion and to cast our vote. But I think there were only two no-votes on in the Senate on the bill that‘s been sent to us. The president says he is for it. The secretary of defense says he is for it. I think that we deserve a vote.
This has not been rushed. I mean, the 9/11 Commission report has been in print for months. We had hearings in August. This bill has been out there for a very long time. And I think, you know, there is some turf battles going on in the Pentagon. I think that the country deserves an up-or-down vote in the House.
I am flying back to Washington next week. I would like to be able to vote on the Senate bill when we meet next Tuesday, and I think the country deserves no less than that.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s look at the two issues that have been raised here. The first issue, I raised, which is the question of what the military, the defense intelligence agencies should have someone in their chain of command going down to the battlefield reporting to someone else in Washington under the leadership of the national intelligence director.
Some in the military believe, Congressman, that that would violate the chain of command and you would have divided command out there in the battlefield. Is that your concern?
ISTOOK: I think there is a very legitimate issue of that.
And let‘s remember, too, putting one person, saying all intelligence has to filter through one person, is not a formula for success. One person is not going to be able to assimilate and coordinate all the information. What we have to have is that coordination among the multiplicity of agencies, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the White House national security adviser and so forth. The president does not need only one viewpoint.
ISTOOK: He needs coordinated viewpoints, but not all from one source.
MATTHEWS: If the president reads something in the newspaper on some dispatch from a friend who is an ambassador, any information he gets, he hears something is buzzing out there in, say, Jakarta, he worries about it. And he worried about that connection perhaps with Iraq. He is putting, like most thoughtful people and certainly leaders like presidents put things together. Should he call the CIA director or should he call the national intelligence director? I‘m confused myself about this.
MATTHEWS: Who would you call if you were Congress...
MATTHEWS: If you were president of the United States in the middle of the night and you‘re worried about something and you heard it happened in Pakistan, who would you call?
ISTOOK: I would call my national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, in this case, who is supposed to be doing that coordination and to be able to channel the president to the right place.
MATTHEWS: But she still has to put him on the phone with the person in charge who he wants to get the straight skinny from, right?
ISTOOK: Chris, one person cannot command all the details.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s the question.
ISTOOK: There‘s too much out there.
MATTHEWS: Congresswoman, if you are back checking on something in your director and you hear something is wrong, there‘s a plant about to close or somebody is losing a contract or somebody is getting screwed by an agency, you call a number of people to find out what is going on. Why would you want to trust one person to tell you what is going on in the entire world?
LOFGREN: Chris, clearly, the president can call anybody he wants to.
But this is not about who the president is going to call. This is about organizing the government in a way that actually works. We know that before 9/11 and really since then, nothing has changed, that our intelligence system...
ISTOOK: It has changed.
LOFGREN: ... has broken. It remains broken. And we have this bipartisan commission that who did such fine work.
And they have told us really in no uncertain terms. Governor Kean, he‘s a Republican former governor who chaired the commission. This is his prediction. We will either make this reorganization now or we will do it after the next attack. But something has to happen along these lines.
ISTOOK: I think that is scare tactics.
LOFGREN: I‘m just quoting the chairman of the commission.
ISTOOK: And think it‘s scare tactics.
LOFGREN: I think it‘s important that we have an up-or-down vote on this, that we don‘t continue to stall and delay.
LOFGREN: We need to start action on this, Chris.
ISTOOK: Remember, we have already passed legislation to improve coordination. And let‘s give that a chance to work before we say, oh, we have got to stop and reorganize again.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s come back and we‘ll have some more thoughts from both of you Congress people when we come back, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California and Congressman Ernest Istook of Oklahoma.
And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing. Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, the battle over intelligence reforms on Capitol Hill, plus, “Newsweek”‘s Lally Weymouth, just back from the Middle East, on the prospects for peace after Arafat.
HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We‘re back with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and Congressman Ernest Istook of Oklahoma. Both are members of the Select Committee on Homeland Security.
Both of you, I want you to respond to this query most people have had since 9/11. That is the fact that on the morning of 9/11, the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee David Boren, now the president of the University of Oklahoma, was having breakfast with George Tenet, the head of the CIA. And when Tenet got the word that we had been hit, he said, I hope it isn‘t those guys getting flying lessons.
Now, apparently, the head of the CIA knew about these guys taking flying lessons or certainly the one person out in Minnesota trying to learn how to fly big planes who would seem to be an odd candidate for such training and yet the president didn‘t know about it. The president said that must be one crazy pilot or something or one bad pilot.
Congressman Istook, why was the president of the United States out of the loop in terms of what was being suspected before 9/11 and what can a new system do to make sure that he gets the word, not just the CIA director getting the word on what the FBI is up to, but that all it goes to the president? That‘s your concern, I believe.
ISTOOK: Chris, it‘s the same thing that you would tell people about where do they get their news. Do they rely only on one source? Do they only read the local paper? Do they only listen to ABC? You want them to listen to MSNBC.
You want them to get their news from a multiplicity of sources. The same is true with the president. He needs to hear not just from one person that decides what is worthy for him to hear, but from different voices. Now, the intelligence agencies need to be coordinating among themselves.
If the CIA has information, they should be passing that on to the other agencies as well. It‘s that information sharing that is incorporated in legislation that we already passed a couple of years ago. That process is what needs to be refined and improved, not think that somehow everything is going to be solved by giving somebody a title so that frankly some people would want to use them as a political scapegoat if anything went wrong in the future.
MATTHEWS: Well, what‘s wrong with—Congresswoman Lofgren, what is wrong with having a scapegoat? I would like to know why the CIA knows something and the FBI knows at its field level.
ISTOOK: There‘s a lot of scapegoats in the 9/11 Commission report, not just one.
MATTHEWS: Why don‘t we find out who is responsible?
You say, Congressman, that it‘s up to the national security adviser to the president, in this case Condi Rice, to make sure all the information gets to the president. Well, then she is responsible now, you are saying, for failing to do so on 9/11. Somebody must have been responsible.
LOFGREN: Well, nobody was held accountable.
The fact is, Chris, that I think it‘s more important for other parts of the agency to know, for example, about the terrorists taking flying lessons than it is the president. It would be great if the president knew.
ISTOOK: I agree.
LOFGREN: But why was that guy there on a visa? Why wasn‘t he arrested? Why didn‘t we connect the dots between our intelligence information?
That is what this reorganization is about, is to make sure that all the elements of our law enforcement as well as our spy agencies work well together.
LOFGREN: And I think that the bill out of the Senate is directed to do that, which is why the president has said he is for that bill. The astonishing thing here is that we have the president, the Republican president of the United States gets a bill through the Republican Senate and he can‘t get it through the Republican House. It‘s bizarre.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Congressman Istook.
We know the president‘s CIA director, George Tenet, the former CIA director, knew that bin Laden—or he knew that some people were up to try to learn flying lessons. He also—somebody knew because the president got the memo to that effect on August 6, before 9/11, bin Laden to attack within the United States.
MATTHEWS: Why didn‘t that all come together?
ISTOOK: That information sharing and that coordination is what we have already addressed through legislation to do some restructuring of intelligence services, not by creating a so-called intelligence czar at the top.
But let‘s remember, just like the 9/11 Commission said, if we do not have the state and local law enforcement involved in this, including the issues of what is happening with people that are here illegally, not letting them get driver‘s license and other phony I.D.s, 15 of the 19 hijackers could have been departed if we had the stricter standards that are part of the House bill on border security and immigration reform.
MATTHEWS: OK, simple question to both of you. Why do the states of this country give people driver‘s licenses to people in this country illegally, which they can use for security pass to get them into every airport?
ISTOOK: The House bill tries to stop that. The Senate bill does not.
MATTHEWS: Why does any state want to be so felonious as to give driver‘s licenses to people that will use them to get on airplanes? Why would any state do that?
LOFGREN: Chris, I think the question of whether we‘re going to have a national I.D. card, which is really what is being discussed here, deserves a debate, but it doesn‘t deserve to hold up this entire bill. This bill needs to be up for a vote.
MATTHEWS: Well, don‘t we already have a national I.D. card? It‘s called a driver‘s license. It gets you on an airplane.
LOFGREN: Well, it can, although that is actually, as a matter of fact, not a matter of law right now..
MATTHEWS: Well, I‘ll tell you, I fly constantly, as you do.
LOFGREN: Yes, I know. I know that.
MATTHEWS: And every time you get on a plane—I guess you have a congressional I.D.—you show a driver‘s license. You‘re on that airplane.
MATTHEWS: You‘re on the airplane. So, in other words, it operates as a driver‘s license.
Why do we let people pass as people in this country legally when they are not in this country legally? I don‘t get it.
ISTOOK: Well, that‘s what the House bill tries to address.
LOFGREN: The question, Chris, is not just the national I.D. card issue, but a number of other extraneous immigration issues that we should have a debate on, we should vote yes or no.
But we should not hold up this entire intelligence bill for that issue, because those recommendations are not included in the 44 recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. We should go ahead and have an up-or-down vote on this. And then let‘s reserve for the beginning of the 109th Congress the debate over the national I.D. card. I think it deserves a debate.
MATTHEWS: OK. I think hell will freeze over before we address the issue of illegal immigration in this country.
ISTOOK: The 9/11 Commission said we should, and I agree.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Congressman Ernest Istook.
ISTOOK: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, “Newsweek”‘s Lally Weymouth on the future of peace in the Middle East after Yasser Arafat.
MATTHEWS: Senior editor and special diplomatic correspondent for “Newsweek” Lally Weymouth just spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the new PLO leader, Mahmoud Abbas, about Yasser Arafat‘s death.
Her exclusive interview runs in this week‘s “Newsweek.”
Lally, thanks and welcome back to America.
LALLY WEYMOUTH, SENIOR EDITOR & DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK”:
Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: This is an amazing thing. We were talking before that you, in the space of a couple days, you met with the new Arab leader in the Palestinian territories.
MATTHEWS: And the Israeli leader.
What‘s your mood, your bottom-line mood, after meeting both about the prospects of meeting the president‘s goal of a two-state solution in four years?
WEYMOUTH: Well, I think it‘s quite positive. At least I think there‘s hope, which there never was when Arafat was alive.
I think Mahmoud Abbas, or Abu Mazen, as we know him, has always been against terror. He has said that terror—he was against terror because he felt the intifada didn‘t work. It didn‘t advance the cause of the Palestinian people. And I think Prime Minister Sharon of Israel has taken a really daring step with his plan to withdraw both settlers and settlements and the Israeli army from Gaza, which is immensely controversial, I can‘t tell you how controversial, in Israel.
The settlers are up in arms. Everybody—it‘s very popular with the Israeli population at large, but it‘s not popular in its own party and it‘s immensely unpopular with the settlers. And his life is at risk, actually. There are assassination attempts on his life.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen. Does he have the stuff?
You say he doesn‘t believe in terrorism as a tactic. But does he have the fortitude, the steadfastness, to say, I‘m going to form what I can here of a Palestinian entity, a state, ultimately a sovereign state, and I‘m going to kill Arabs who violate the treaty with Israel, because it‘s the only way I can keep the state sovereign? Is he willing to do that, kill Arabs who enter Israel and try to kill Israelis?
WEYMOUTH: Well, I think that‘s what Prime Minister Sharon would—that‘s the question Prime Minister Sharon would like to know the answer to.
And I think Mahmoud Abbas, or Abu Mazen, made it very clear that right now—he made it clear that right now the armed men on the West Bank do not report to him or are not under his control. Arafat had something like 17 security services, and so his job in the next couple months—and he‘s going to be elected on January 9 -- is to get those armed men under his control. They exist.
MATTHEWS: These are the uniformed brigades of the Palestinian...
WEYMOUTH: Right, of Fatah and Hamas and so on and so forth.
MATTHEWS: Hamas? He can get Hamas under himself?
WEYMOUTH: I didn‘t say he could, but I said this is his job, I mean, is to—is to try to get the armed men that exist on the West Bank under his control.
MATTHEWS: In uniform and out of uniform, both.
WEYMOUTH: Well, in uniform. There are a lot of people in uniform with guns. And he‘s got to get them to answer to him and he‘s got to be able to control terror, as you suggested.
MATTHEWS: So he‘s got to be able to control the militia who are loyal to Fatah and to Yasser Arafat and also Arafat‘s enemies.
WEYMOUTH: Right. Exactly.
MATTHEWS: That‘s quite a tall order, isn‘t it?
WEYMOUTH: Well, he said, if I had to take over Gaza tomorrow, I couldn‘t do it.
Now, the Israelis were not impressed by this answer. They said, well, wait a minute, Mr. Abu Mazen. Before, you had an excuse. You said it‘s because Arafat is controlling the security services. But what‘s your excuse now? You have to do this. If you can‘t do this, what are you? So, in other words, that is the test, the test that you suggested.
MATTHEWS: Right. Well, I think it comes down to this, because, if you cut a deal with another country, another people, the only way the deal means anything is if you can control your side, or else what are you giving the other side?
MATTHEWS: You‘re not giving them any assurances that you can protect them from your own people.
WEYMOUTH: Well, I think Abu Mazen is at least a good bet, whereas Arafat was a bad bet. He didn‘t want peace. He was a terrorist.
I think Abu Mazen would like to at least, in my estimate, like to bring about some kind of arrangement with Israeli. And Sharon is making it easy for him by trying to evacuate Gaza. Now, what‘s going to make it difficult for Sharon is that the parties within Israel, the Labor Party and his own party, are trying to—they all have their grievances.
The Labor Party, Shimon Peres wants to enter into a unity government with Sharon. Sharon can‘t allow that because the Likud Party, his party, won‘t let Peres enter the government. So then Peres says, OK, let‘s have elections, because, otherwise, I‘ll lose to Ehud Barak, the former prime minister, who now wants to be prime minister again. So there are a lot of petty concerns in both parties. No politician wants to lose power.
And so, the tragedy, I think, would be if Sharon is—if Sharpton‘s government, which really could advance the peace process, is brought down by internal party bickering.
MATTHEWS: So you have two parties in Israel, the Likud bloc, and you have Labor, both of whom were torn apart by the ambitions of either Ehud Barak for a comeback or for Bibi Netanyahu to try to defeat Sharon at some point in the future.
WEYMOUTH: Yes. That‘s right. Exactly.
MATTHEWS: And he‘s to the right of Sharon and Bibi. What about the Labor Party? Which is the more dovish party? Which is the more dovish candidate in Israeli politics? Is it Ehud Barak, the former prime minister, or is it Shimon Peres, the former prime minister?
WEYMOUTH: Well, I don‘t think that it‘s a matter of being dovish. I think it‘s a matter...
MATTHEWS: Who is most open to a deal with Mahmoud Abbas?
WEYMOUTH: I suspect they‘re both probably open, but I think Peres would like to enter the government. Sharon can‘t do it. He would like to do it. He likes Peres. But the Likud won‘t let Sharon have Peres come in.
WEYMOUTH: So Peres is worried he will lose to Barak. So, therefore, he wants elections because he thinks, if he has them sooner rather than later, he has a better chance of winning the election. And it‘s kind of petty. It‘s not really about noble goals like withdrawal or peace or this or that.
MATTHEWS: Four years. The president was very clear. He rarely does this, but he said—on a foreign policy issue—but he said, within the second term, he‘s going to have a two-state solution. That will require one of the Israeli leaders and one of the Palestinian leaders, presumably Mahmoud Abbas, to deal. Betting odds right now?
WEYMOUTH: I think the betting odds are better than they‘ve ever been, actually.
MATTHEWS: Are they even?
WEYMOUTH: I think so, and especially if Prime Minister Sharon can remain in power through 2005, which is when the disengagement from Gaza...
MATTHEWS: It takes a strong man of the right to cut the deal, you‘re saying.
WEYMOUTH: I think so.
He said to me that he‘s the only person in the country that can do it. And I think he‘s right. I don‘t think—the settlers are threatening his life.
MATTHEWS: Oh, that‘s terrible.
WEYMOUTH: And I think he‘s willing to stand up to them. And I think that he‘ll evacuate them. Whether they want to be evacuated or not, he‘ll do it.
MATTHEWS: Peacekeepers tend to get killed in that part of the world, don‘t they? Yitzhak Rabin. Anwar Sadat.
WEYMOUTH: Yes. It‘s very worrying, I think.
MATTHEWS: It‘s a terrible place to be a moderate.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about moderation. Do you think the Israelis will take action against Tehran because of its continued efforts to—off-and-on-again, I should say, efforts to try to build a nuclear capability, a nuclear weapon?
WEYMOUTH: I think it‘s an excellent question. And I can‘t make up my mind as to the answer.
I‘ve talked to a lot of people, including the prime minister, about the prospect of Iran having a nuclear weapon. And they say, this is unacceptable. Now, some people say they are not going to do anything about it. But they certainly imply in interviews now—you could say that‘s for the sake of the Iranians—they certainly imply that there‘s a good chance that they could retard the progress of a nuclear program in Iran if they did something within the next, say, 12 months.
MATTHEWS: An attack like back in ‘80, ‘81.
WEYMOUTH: It‘s more complicated.
MATTHEWS: I know, because it‘s distributed all around the country, the material, right. Yes.
WEYMOUTH: Right. But, I mean, I wondered if they might not do it when I left Israel.
Anyway, thank you, Lally. They may probably not now, rather than probably yes, attack.
WEYMOUTH: Yes. I would say 50/50.
MATTHEWS: OK. That‘s where you‘re at.
Lally Weymouth knows more than most, more than 50 percent of us, no less than her. Anyway, thank you very much, Lally Weymouth, a great report.
WEYMOUTH: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Tomorrow on HARDBALL, the fight for the head of the Democratic Party. We‘re going to meet Mark Brewer, who is chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party and leader of the Association of Democratic State Chairmen. He wants to use the chairmen to get together to pick the next DNC chief.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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