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Interview With Pat Buchanan; Interview With Jane Harman

Aired December 10, 2001 - 19:30   ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, should you get to see Osama Bin Laden's confession on tape? And did the Clinton administration miss a good opportunity to get Osama Bin Laden? We'll ask President Clinton's national security adviser.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, chairman of the American Cause. And in Los Angeles, Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman, ranking member of the terrorism subcommittee. And later, in Phoenix, former Clinton National Security Adviser Samuel Berger.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. You have Osama Bin Laden on tape admitting to friends his responsibility for the carnage of September 11, even bragging about it.

Wouldn't you rush this evidence to a waiting world? Well, not if you ran the Bush White House. The president's aides have given a variety of reasons for not immediately releasing this little video. Though CNN now has learned it its supposed to be put out on Wednesday. But why the delay? Does it make any sense -- Bill Press.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Pat Buchanan, I'm generally for putting anything on the air anybody wants to put on the air. But I think in this case the White House may have a good point. Look. We know who this guy is. We know what he's responsible for. We've heard all of his garbage before. Why give this scum Osama Bin Laden any more air time?

PAT BUCHANAN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, that's not it, Bill. The problem is, I think the administration has maybe oversold this tape. It's a confession. Bin Laden exults in what has been happening. The fact he knows ahead of time some of the hijackers don't even know they are going to die. He knows the second plane is coming.

This is a confession, a smoking gun. It has been built to the skies by the administration. They have got to deliver it.

If they don't deliver it, I think they are in deep trouble. And I think everyone will suspect it's a phony. They've placed their whole game here -- which I think is a mistake -- on this tape. They have got to show it.

NOVAK: Congresswoman Jane Harman, now you have heard the explanations by the White House -- many of them why -- they didn't put it out immediately. You even heard Bill Press's, which believe it or not was worse than the White House explanation.

As a member of the anti-terrorism subcommittee, do you have any explanation why as soon as they got this and showed it to members of Congress and they have been watching it -- they haven't even been doing their work, they've been watching it day after day. Why didn't they put it out to the public?

REPRESENTATIVE JANE HARMAN, (D) CALIFORNIA: Well, I don't think they should put it out now. I think the three key words are need to know. The public has no need to know this information. and I worry that for the same reasons they didn't release earlier tapes there could be secret gestures, something he's wearing, the smile on his face -- at least I hear he's smiling -- something in the background that tips off this large worldwide network, the sleeper cells we know are out there, including in this country, and that leads to a second wave of attacks. Why do this at all?

NOVAK: But, Jane, let me ask you something. Why would the president of the United States say we got the confession? Wolfowitz and Cheney say we've got the smoking gun, it's there. You can't believe it. He admits it. He confesses. And by the way, nobody can see it.

What is the impact of that in the Arab world if we won't show it after we have built it up as the smoking gun?

HARMAN: Well, they will have to explain themselves. But my call would have been don't talk about this except in low-key terms. Say we have got what purports to be more evidence. We don't know. The tape -- maybe they know. I don't know whether the tape is phony. It was placed there for us to find.

There's ample evidence to show that this guy is guilty, and what was found in the safe houses in the last couple weeks certainly should do it for anyone in the world who had a question out there. The guy is guilty. We don't need this tape.

PRESS: But, Pat, let me -- you said that people may not believe this tape, believe what they have got unless they put it out there. Let me -- let me suggest that it may be just the opposite. Because what we have heard about this tape is that it's like amateur hour video, that the quality is bad. It stops and it starts. You know, it jump -- it jumps around.

Now, I mean, look, you're former a communications director...

BUCHANAN: Well, you can't...

PRESS: the White House. Let me ask my question. You know how important it is when you put the message out that the message be credible and believable. If they put this sloppy piece of video out there, isn't it possible people will think they -- we doctored that video?

BUCHANAN: Look, this -- the communications director at the White House should have looked at that tape. And if it's that bad, he should have held it back and then played it low key and then let the impact of it hit.

You have got this tape being sold by the president of the United States as manifesting this man's evil and everything about this person, that he's a killer, you can't believe it. Everybody is anticipating the smoking gun. They've got to produce it, Bill.

NOVAK: Jane Harman, as a matter of fact, there are a lot of people who claim around the world -- not exactly in California or -- or Washington, D.C. -- who claim they are not sure that Osama Bin Laden was --was responsible for it. They are not sure that he really did it.

You see that throughout the whole Arab world. So let's listen to what Vice President Cheney said the other day in regard to this situation.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have known that all along. There has been some dispute in some quarters about it. But this is one more piece of evidence confirming his responsibility for what happened on 9/11.


NOVAK: This is the vice president of the United States saying this is confirming evidence. Why not give it out to these -- to these naysayers around the world who say "gee, Osama didn't do it?"

HARMAN: Well, let me start with the fact that we carefully built our case over two and a half months. It's been a very good job of handling the foreign piece of this war, and I think the naysayers are very few. Certainly the -- the demonstrations in foreign lands are very few.

And I don't think there are that many people who still doubt this, Pat -- Bob. And my view is this risks embarrassing us and it risks a second wave of attacks, which is the critical piece that's -- that's on my mind and should be on the mind, I think, of everyone in this -- and I assume on the mind of President Bush.

BUCHANAN: Jane, let me ask you this. Wolfowitz, number two at Defense, said this weekend to Wolf Blitzer, we had absolutely clearcut evidence before that tape turned up, evidence that we presented to every friendly government in the world that makes it absolutely clear that the al Qaeda organization was responsible.

Why didn't they show it to the Taliban then? The Taliban said, "if we get the information, we'll turn him over." Why didn't we call their bluff? Say, "here's the white paper, fellows." Turn it over to the world. This shows exactly why this guy was involved. Now, tell the Taliban turn him over. They didn't do it then. The Arab world would have said "Well, the Americans got the evidence. Why don't you turn him over?" Our moral case -- which I think very strong, I agree with you, Jane -- would have been so much more powerful.

PRESS: Well, one of the reasons they didn't is because apparently -- again, Jane, I'm sorry -- but one of the reasons they didn't is because we don't have the experts in the Arabic language, either in the White House or the CIA.

BUCHANAN: That's nonsense.

PRESS: That's what the...

BUCHANAN: How do you know it's a powerful...

NOVAK: That's nonsense.

PRESS: Well, how about if you...

BUCHANAN: ....and influential a tape if you can't translate it?

PRESS: But imagine -- but imagine the risk of putting something out there saying it says one thing when an Arabic...

NOVAK: Jane -- Jane Harman...

PRESS: Can Pat respond, please, before you pitch in?

BUCHANAN: Imagine the risk of having the president of the United States say, "This is explosive" if you don't have anybody to translate it.

PRESS: Isn't that worth taking the time to get the translation right?


NOVAK: Jane Harman -- Jane Harman, you know, this is a political thing that's been going on.


NOVAK: I'm sure you're sophisticated enough to understand what is happening. There was a -- an argument in the White House between the politicians on the one side who want to put it out and these national security people who if their pants were on fire they wouldn't tell you about it. They don't want to put anything out.

HARMAN: Well...

NOVAK: Just a minute. They don't want to put anything out. And they have been coming up with all these explanations and finally they leak to all the networks this afternoon that we are going to put it out on Wednesday when we find a good Arabic translator. Are you going to tell me the U.S. government doesn't have at its beck and call a -- an Arabic translator?

HARMAN: The transcript is available. I haven't been back in Washington. I'm in L.A. But I know I can read it in the House Intelligence Committee.

I think a much better strategy would still be to share this with people on a classified basis, not to put it out in the public. And Bob, the only thing I can think of is somebody is stung by this attack on Ashcroft that all of his new procedures are in secret, so now we are going to be out in public with something.

But I think this is the wrong thing to take out to the public and I think the national security folks -- who get an A from me for the way they're waging this war -- are on the right side of this one.

PRESS: Speaking of the national security, Pat, last question on -- on this issue. This is -- this came from a private home somewhere in Afghanistan.


PRESS: We don't know the source. But there is concern that by putting this tape out there we reveal the source and also shut ourselves off from getting any -- possibly more of these videos. Isn't that a serious concern?

BUCHANAN: That -- that is a consideration. You protect your sources and methods. But this is so important now. The president of the United States has elevated this, the vice president has elevated it.

This is the smoking gun that proves America was morally right. Protect your source. Get him out. Give him witness protection. Put him out there with Sammy the Bull or whatever his name is. And then show that tape to America. The American people have a right to see it now.

NOVAK: Pat Buchanan, we are almost out of time. But I want to ask you a question. We have -- the second half of this show we are going to go to Sandy Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser. Do you think the Clinton administration was culpable for this intelligence failure and this failure of policy that resulted in this catastrophe?

BUCHANAN: I think the Clinton administration did not pursue the war on terror the way it should have after those atrocities in Kenya and Tanzania. I think the attack in Sudan and the attack in Afghanistan were things designed to divert attention from the president's personal problems and I think his performance was -- his performance was appalling, with all due disrespect.

NOVAK: Ms. Harman, do you have a word to say on that?

HARMAN: I think the blame game is a waste of time. This crowd was in power for nine months before 9/11. But I would prefer to say there were good people with inadequate tools. We are fixing the tools now, and we'll fix the problem.

PRESS: OK. Pat Buchanan, good to have you back in the CROSSFIRE.

BUCHANAN: Pleasure.

PRESS: Thank you very much. Congresswoman Jane Harman, thank you so much for joining us out there in Los Angeles.

And when we come back, President Clinton had several opportunities to seize Osama Bin Laden, but he didn't. Did he blow it? Next, former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger steps into the CROSSFIRE.



SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON: And I know from personal experience how absolutely focused the president was on this and the kind of action that was taken.


PRESS: That was Senator Hillary Clinton yesterday on "Meet the Press." And welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

It's one thing when conservatives like Rush Limbaugh charge that President Clinton ignored several opportunities to shut down Osama Bin Laden and is therefore partly culpable for September 11. But it's another when a former Clinton supporter like businessman Mansoor Ijaz makes the same charge.

Here to explain why the Clinton administration didn't or couldn't do more, former President Clinton's national security adviser Sandy Berger, joining us from Phoenix -- Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Sandy Berger, David Rose, writing in "Vanity Fair," made some very startling accusations. and let's take a listen to one of them.


DAVID ROSE, REPORTER: The documentary record is quite clear. The U.S. was offered intelligence on Bin Laden and al Qaeda, and repeatedly it refused it. And the most dramatic example came right after the 1998 embassy bombings, when the Sudanese arrested two suspects for that -- for those bombings in Khartoum. They offered them to the FBI.


NOVAK: Mr. Rose says that you were offered this information by the Sudanese intelligence service and refused it. Why did you refuse it?

SAMUEL BERGER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We never refused anything from the Sudanese, Bob. I find it very interesting that these stories are being spun after September 11, when the president is talking about what to do about state sponsors of terrorism -- Sudan being one of the worst.

We never turned down anything from the Sudanese. The Sudanese continually to -- directly and through friends like Mr. Ijaz would say, "if you just ease up on us, we'll help you." And we met with them in Khartoum, in Addis Ababa, in Washington, in New York. They never produced anything, Bob.

NOVAK: You are referring to a man -- Mansoor Ijaz -- who with all due respect might have been a friend of the Sudanese, but he was also a friend of the -- the Clinton administration. In fact, he was given access to the administration right into January of -- of this year.

And in writing in the "Los Angeles Times" the other day, Mr. Ijaz said the following. "Clinton's failure to grasp the opportunity to unravel increasingly organized extremists, coupled with Berger's assessments of their potential to directly threaten the U.S., represent one of the most serious foreign policy failures in American history."

And Mr. Berger, Mr. Ijaz says he made six trips to Sudan to try to make an arrangement to get this information from this -- the intelligence service into your hands and -- and he has -- he has a great deal of contention that you said no on each occasion.

BERGER: Well, I know Mr. Ijaz was close to Mr. Turabi and Mr. Bashir, the two leaders of Sudan, but we had direct contacts with the Sudanese through the FBI, through the CIA, through the State Department. And we would and say, "where -- where are the goods? Help us if you want us to ease up."

This is a -- this is a brutal regime, Bob. This is a regime that is engaged in a civil war. It's bombed its own people, it's enslaved its own people. It was involved in an attempt to assassinate President Mubarak. So their representations that if we would just be nicer to them they would help us were not enough. We said, "show us something." Repeatedly...

NOVAK: He said...

BERGER: Repeatedly, from 1996. We were not going to use a businessman -- who we now know is associated with companies that have business interests in Sudan -- as our channel. We had direct channels with Sudan and they never produced a darn thing.

NOVAK: Mr. Ijaz claims he had no business interest in Sudan. Do you -- do you deny that?

BERGER: Well, no, I think that he told the "Washington Post" that he in fact -- at least the "Washington Post" in 1997 said that he -- that he did, that he was on the board of a company, Canadian company that had oil interests in Sudan.

And that's really -- whether he did or did not, the fact of the matter is Bob, that we were -- our pants were on fire, to use your diplomatic phrase, about Bin Laden, particularly after '98.

We tried to attack him and kill him when we had intelligence where we thought we knew he -- where he would be. Unfortunately, as -- as we've seen recently, it's very difficult to get predictive intelligence. And we had a continuing effort to get him thereafter. And so this was not something that we were taking lightly, by any means.

PRESS: Well, Sandy, I want to ask -- Bill Press here -- let me ask you about that. Because certainly after the destruction of the World Trade Center and the -- at the Pentagon, we have seen a full- scale military attack on Osama Bin Laden and the al Qaeda network and the Taliban.

But the 1988 -- 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were also an attack on U.S. property and yet why didn't we see the same kind of full-scale military effort to get Osama Bin Laden after the 1998 bombings as we saw this year from President Bush after 2001?

BERGER: Because September 11, Bill, has -- has galvanized and changed the world. We did not have the help, for example, of Pakistan, which was the supporter of the Taliban, or Uzbekistan or Tajikistan or the countries around Afghanistan. We didn't have the capacity to operate inside Afghanistan as we can -- as we can now.

Let's remember back in 1983, our Marine barracks were -- were blown up, 243 Americans were killed. We didn't bomb Lebanon. The fact is, we did -- we have some opportunities now by virtue of the fact that the world has been galvanized by September 11 that weren't there then.

But we -- we were focused intensely on terrorism. We doubled it -- we doubled the terrorism budget. We froze assets. We put sanctions on the Taliban. We broke up plots to blow up the Holland tunnel, the Lincoln Tunnel, assassinate Pope John Paul, blow up Los Angeles Airport. We were on this case.

PRESS: But, Sandy, I have heard you say that you missed Osama Bin Laden in the strike in Afghanistan by one hour. But that was only one strike. I mean, didn't you -- did you really expect to get him the first time? And why didn't you continue? Why wasn't there a follow-up?

BERGER: Because...

PRESS: And looking back, don't you regret that you didn't do more?

BERGER: You are always dependent on intelligence. And the intelligence that we had at that time, we acted upon. The president authorized the use of force. We attacked the camp. We killed apparently 20 or 30 of his operatives.

We missed Bin Laden. From that point on, we had a persistent effort to track and monitor -- and if we ever had actual intelligence -- the authority to go after him again.

But unlike today, when we are inside Afghanistan able to conduct a war from inside Afghanistan -- and we are still finding it difficult to get Bin Laden -- we didn't have that kind of access back in '98 and '99. But it was not for lack of trying.

NOVAK: Mr. Berger, I have to intervene and say that at the time of that -- of the bombings, of attempting to get Osama Bin Laden, which all the military people I know say were very weak and very puny, this -- there was at that time a scandal -- or an alleged scandal -- going on about President Clinton where he had just admitted he had lied under oath.

And there was a tremendous -- and with that admission and that crisis in his political presidency -- political crisis in his presidency coinciding with the bombing, the credibility of the bombing in the minds of some people was undermined.

When -- when you decided this was a time to bomb, were you aware of the president's political difficulties at that point?

BERGER: We didn't -- we decided that it was a time to bomb, Bob, because we had intelligence that said Bin Laden was going to be at a particular location at a particular time. That's what drove the timing.

This attack was recommended by the military. It was in a sense designed by the military, and all of the president's national security advisers recommended it. I don't think that Secretary Cohen or Secretary Albright or myself -- or any of the president's advisers -- would in any way recommend the use of force for anything other than national security reasons.

NOVAK: Thank you very much, Samuel Berger. We appreciate it. When we come back, we'll give you, the viewers, a chance to fire back at us. And you won't -- you won't believe the awful things the viewers are saying about poor Bill Press.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Tonight, something just a little different. You get the chance to make the closing comments. We have received so much e-mail lately that we thought we should share some of the bile with you.

PRESS: All directed against you, I should hope.

NOVAK: No, no, no. Here's one from Bob Gray, Mr. Press. I love this. He says, "I believe that Bill Press is the most arrogant person I have ever seen. Why is a person of his character allowed to interview anyone, since he is smarter than any of his guests? His remarks are not even reasonable to a sane person." PRESS: Actually, thank you, Mr. Gray. Actually, Bob, as you know, I'm a very decent person, a very gentle person. The only time I might get obnoxious or arrogant is when you goad me into it and I'm just trying to sink to your level.

NOVAK: You know what I would call that? Spin.

PRESS: Spin? It may be. But Bob, you'll be glad to know that not all the e-mails are directed against me. I could not have written a better one than Ron Beasley.

Ron Beasley says, quote, "I was offended and shocked by a comment that Robert Novak made on CROSSFIRE about unemployment. He stated that if we extend unemployment benefits, people will simply put off the search for work. It shows that the Republicans" -- although you are a Democrat -- conservatives, let's say -- "are still hopelessly out of touch with mainstream America. My unemployment represents less than one-third of my take-home pay. The Robert Novaks have no grasp of reality."

Well said, Mr. Beasley.

PRESS: Mr. Beasley ought to go out and find a job instead of writing e-mails to CNN.

PRESS: Bob, why is giving money to the rich investing in America and giving money to the poor down the drain?

NOVAK: Because -- because we've got to separate the productive and nonproductive elements of society.

PRESS: You better watch out walking the streets when you call all those people unproductive. Do you got another one?

NOVAK: Oh, it's my turn. I forgot. I liked that -- I liked the one with me so much...

PRESS: Go on. You like to zing me. Go for it.

NOVAK: Steve Brandon writes this: "It is obvious that Bill Press believes that President George W. Bush can do no right. Democrats can do no wrong. I suspect that he believes his hero, Al Gore, would have handled the response to the World Trade Center attack in a completely different -- and to Bill Press, more appropriate -- manner. He is intellectually dishonest..."


NOVAK: "...but really doesn't care because his dishonesty makes him too much money." You are in this for the money, aren't you, Bill?

PRESS: I would just say Al Gore would have handled this as well as George W. Bush. Any president would have risen to this occasion, in my judgment.

Last one, quickly: "On CROSSFIRE, Robert Novak" -- this from Daniel Gruber. "On CROSSFIRE, Robert Novak, that most rabid critic of Israel, stated that Hamas is not a terrorist organization but a party of freedom fighters. He also stated at the same time that the entire rest of the world shares his opinion. Boo-hoo to you."

NOVAK: No, no. I misquoted. I said Hamas -- to Hamas they're freedom fighters and there are many Arabs who share that opinion.

PRESS: All right. Right or left, we were -- right or wrong we want to hear from you. Our e-mail address is Send in e-mails.

I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.




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