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In the Crossfire

9/11 warnings: Watergate revisited?

(CNN) -- Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat and member of the Select Intelligence Committee, steps into the "Crossfire" with hosts Robert Novak and James Carville over partisanship and what the White House knew before the September 11 attacks. Are there legitimate questions to raise or are Democrats trying to make political hay out of the issue?

NOVAK: This was your leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, the Democratic leader of the House, on Thursday when this 9/11 warning came out. Let's listen to what he has to say.

(Videotape clip begins)

GEPHARDT on tape: The reports are disturbing that we're finding this out now. I think what we have to do now is to find out what the president, what the White House knew about the events leading up to 9/11, when they knew it, and most importantly, what was done about it at that time.

(Videotape ends)

NOVAK: Now that had implications of Watergate. Now just three days later on Sunday, he's on Fox News and this is the same guy, your leader. Let's listen to him.

(Video clip)

GEPHARDT on tape: You know, I think sometimes people overreact to things and think we're in a political campaign. I never, ever, ever thought that anybody, including the president, did anything up to September 11th other than their best.

(End video clip)

NOVAK: Now tell me, who do you follow? The Gephardt of last week, or the Gephardt of Sunday?

HARMAN: Well let me -- first of all those are clips, and I've been in a lot of negative political campaigns, you know that campaign against me for governor, and you can take pieces of what people say and make them look terrible.

So let's start with that, but I was in an event with him today and what he stands for is what I just said, which is developing a homeland security strategy. Looking backward for the purpose of getting it right this time, the stakes are too high to make this partisan.

NOVAK: But see, James wants to use this as a method of just knocking the hell out of President Bush. Would that -- that'd be a mistake politically, wouldn't it?

HARMAN: That'd be a mistake? It'd be wrong -- it's not -- it's not the correct thing to do.

CARVILLE: You don't think it's wrong -- you think it's wrong to find out what happened?

HARMAN: No ...

CARVILLE: ... if a minority leader said everybody did their best, you think the FBI did their best leading up to September 11th?


CARVILLE: Of course not ...


CARVILLE: Well then why is he saying that on television?

HARMAN: I don't know why he's saying it on television. What is the right thing to do is to look back over 20 years; the first act of terrorism in the modern era was against our Marines in Lebanon in the Reagan administration. Four administrations, we haven't got it right yet. We've got to get it right now.

CARVILLE: But shouldn't the American people ... the American people who pay for the CIA, who pay for the FBI, who pay for everything, what's the problem with them knowing what mistakes were made? We have an airplane crash. We do a postmortem.

HARMAN: Nothing. Nothing.

CARVILLE: And what's the problem with them knowing what the president -- now I don't think the president -- obviously it's idiotic to think that he knew this was going to happen, didn't do anything about it, but I think a logical question is should he have known, given what was happening?

HARMAN: Well, should the system have been fixed earlier, probably yes, but now the goal, James, is to fix the FBI, fix the CIA, connect them to each other, have a digital database, not just these separate little data sources, so we can put all the data together, have a really smart group of people across Cabinet lines looking at this data to draw the right connections and find out ahead of time next time.

NOVAK: But can I just quickly, we don't have much time, but I want to just ask you, you know what did he know and when did he know it, that's a Watergate line. It's not appropriate here, is it?

HARMAN: ... used that a couple of times. Well a lot of people say -- I'm sure James is going to say that if Bill Clinton were still president we'd have filed the impeachment articles. That would be wrong too. This is not what we should be doing. What we should be doing on a bipartisan basis is getting it right.




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