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In the Crossfire

Missed clues or 9/11 blame game?

(CNN) -- Government officials, politicians and family members of September 11 victims are assigning blame for officials' failure to act on warnings in the weeks before last year's terror attacks. Will there be political fallout for the Bush administration? Two senators join hosts Robert Novak and James Carville to debate the view from Capitol Hill.

NOVAK: The White House acknowledges that President Bush received a warning last summer about possible airline hijackings involving followers of Osama bin Laden. The news has provoked a frenzy of 20/20 hindsight here in Washington.

Now in the "Crossfire", Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

CARVILLE: Senator Allen, Senator Durbin, I want to throw out a couple of ideas to both of you and -- tell me whether or not you think it's a good idea or not so good an idea. We'll start with you, Senator Allen, and then ask Senator Durbin to respond.

People have suggested that the president in the very near future, like the next four or five days, hold a primetime news conference and stand up and answer all questions about what he knew and -- et cetera, et cetera. Do you think that's a good idea or not too good of an idea?

ALLEN: I don't think that's -- I don't think it's necessary. I think the White House will cooperate with Congress as we try to determine what happened. But, most importantly, what we need to do is learn what we need to do in the future to improve our law-enforcement capabilities at the federal as well as working with the state and local.

CARVILLE: Do you think it's a good idea?

DURBIN: If you've been in Washington over the weekend, you know that when Condoleezza Rice comes in at 4 this afternoon to answer what was on the news last night, it's a big story in the White House.

The president's going to face this. Whether he wants to face it in four days, five days or two weeks, ultimately, he's going to have to answer some questions.

CARVILLE: Let me throw another -- one more out here. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain and Connecticut Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman pushed their legislation to create an independent citizens commission to investigate these and other factors surrounding the attacks. Do you think you'll be voting for this, Senator Allen?

ALLEN: I think that -- I don't know if we'll have to vote on anything, but anything that comes up that will help in this investigation, I think, is important. And how -- whether -- I don't think a press conference is the way to do it.

CARVILLE: But you'd be for -- you want to know what happened?

ALLEN: The concept behind that is probably all right, and I think the White House is going to cooperate as best they can. Now please understand -- when you have a citizen's commission or even a congressional one, there are some sensitive information matters that cannot be revealed because, again, we're at war, and we still are trying to prevent it.

NOVAK: Senator -- Senator Durbin, I want to ask -- you're a very sophisticated operator on this scene. I want to give you a little scenario on...

DURBIN: I'm being set up here.

NOVAK: ... what's happening right now. I think I know what's happening, and I think you'll agree with me. What has happened -- why is all this stuff coming out right now? What has happened is that the Senate committees are coming closer on investigation.

They've been given classified material, and there are certain people who want to cover their posteriors. There are people in the FBI, maybe the CIA who said, "Hey, I -- I put out something to warn them. It's not my fault. It's the other guy."

They leak the stuff, and then you have this feeding frenzy. Is that a pretty good analysis?

DURBIN: There's a lot of truth to it because what happened -- when the Joint Intelligence committees, House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, started this investigation, we requested tens of thousands of documents, and as these the documents were released by the FBI and the CIA, somebody took a look at them, and they said, "Oh, my goodness. The July 10th Phoenix memo. We're turning this over to Congress. The whole world's going to see this."

You know, I'm not -- I think your analysis of it is not too far from the truth. Somebody said, "We'd rather get our side of the story out." So they picked -- out of seven- or eight-page memo, they picked three sentences, and the FBI released them and said it wasn't that big a deal. I have seen it. It was a big deal.

And we're going to see as these documents that are being analyzed, there is going to be more and more revelation. I hope it's not for finger pointing or political purposes but to make this a safer...

NOVAK: You hope it isn't?

DURBIN: I hope it is not.

NOVAK: Honestly, senator?

DURBIN: Hard to believe, but I think...


DURBIN: ... our obligation's to make this country safer, and we have to make it safer with a stronger FBI and better intelligence gathering.




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