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Transcript: Sens. Roberts, Rockefeller on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published November 14, 2005 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a transcript from "FOX News Sunday" that aired on Nov. 13, 2005.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Well, the war of words this week over pre-Iraq war intelligence was as intense as anything we heard in last year's campaign. For more, we turn to two senators on the front lines of this debate, Intelligence Committee Chairman, Republican Pat Roberts, and Vice Chairman, Democrat Jay Rockefeller.
Senators, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."
SEN. PAT ROBERTS, R-KAN.: It's always a pleasure. Thank you.
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER, D-W.VA.: Thanks, Chris.
WALLACE: The president put the issue, as we've been saying, of pre-war intelligence back on the front page this week, firing back at Democrats who charged that he misled, lied the country into war. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important for politicians to throw out false charges.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Senator Rockefeller, pre-war intelligence was a big issue in the last campaign, widely debated. George Bush won that election. There are now 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Is it really useful to go back over what Dick Cheney or someone else said in 2002?
ROCKEFELLER: It absolutely is useful, because if it is the fact that they created intelligence or shaped intelligence in order to bring American opinion along to support them in going to war, that's a really bad thing. We should not be reported — it should not ever be repeated.
WALLACE: Let me ask you, Senator Roberts, and there's a big if there, but if the Bush administration — if there's any indication that the Bush administration misled this country into war, isn't that always a legitimate issue?
ROBERTS: Of course it would be, but we've had our own investigation, the WMD inquiry, and the (inaudible) report in Britain and the WMD Commission all saying that there wasn't any manipulation or pressure.
WALLACE: But this is a different question. That's manipulation, getting the analysts to say something. This is the question of what they did with the evidence they had.
ROBERTS: Well, what they did with the evidence they had was the assumption that our national security was at stake and they went to war. Now that we learn that there was a worldwide intelligence failure, I think a lot of us would really stop and think a moment before we would ever vote for war or to go and take the military action.
But a lot of this is a rehash of what we have done. I think the good news is that the intelligence committee on the Senate side with Jay and myself — we are united in purpose. We will finish the Phase II report. We have been working on that very issue, and so I...
WALLACE: When are you going to finish it?
ROBERTS: Well, we want to get it right. We started clear last December. February we had a lot of other things that were going on. We kept working on it. We have achieved agreement in the committee.
And so we had hoped that we would do it, Jay, before we would leave the — you know, the session, but we all agreed last week let's get this thing right so that we can put the question that you raised to bed.
WALLACE: OK. Senator Rockefeller, the president says that Democratic critics, like you, looked at pre-war intelligence and came to the same conclusion that he did.
In fact, looking back at the speech that you gave in October of 2002 in which you authorized the use of force, you went further than the president ever did. Let's watch:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROCKEFELLER: I do believe that Iraq poses an imminent threat, but I also believe that after September 11th that question is increasingly outdated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Now, the president never said that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat. As you saw, you did say that. If anyone hyped the intelligence, isn't it Jay Rockefeller?
ROCKEFELLER: No. I mean, this question is asked a thousand times and I'll be happy to answer it a thousand times. I took a trip by myself in January of 2002 to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, and I told each of the heads of state that it was my view that George Bush had already made up his mind to go to war against Iraq, that that was a predetermined set course which had taken shape shortly after 9/11.
Now, the intelligence that they had and the intelligence that we had were probably different. We didn't get the presidential daily briefs. We got only a finished product, a finished product, a consensual view of the intelligence community, which does not allow for agencies — like in the case of the aluminum tubes, the Department of Energy said these aren't thick enough to handle nuclear power.
They left that out and went ahead with, "They have aluminum tubes and they're going to develop nuclear power."
WALLACE: Senator, you're quite right. You didn't get the presidential daily brief or the senior executive intelligence brief. You got the national intelligence estimate.
But the Silberman commission, a presidential commission that looked into this, did get copies of those briefs, and they say that they were, if anything, even more alarmist, even less nuanced, than the intelligence you saw, and yet you, not the president, said that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat.
ROCKEFELLER: The Silverman commission was absolutely prohibited by the president in his charge to them — he appointed them — from ever looking at the use of intelligence, whether it was misused, whether it was massaged to influence the American people to go along with a decision which he had long ago already decided to make.
WALLACE: But didn't they come to that conclusion which I just stated, that the presidential daily brief was, in fact, more alarmist and less nuanced than the intelligence you saw?
ROCKEFELLER: I don't know, because I never get to see, nor does Pat, the presidential daily brief. All I know is that we don't get the intelligence that they do.
We are called the Senate Intelligence Committee. We get a lot more than the rest of the Senate, but it was incomplete as to what the president gets, and it was obviously entirely wrong, which raises the question of why was it wrong.
WALLACE: Well, but that isn't the question. The question isn't why was it wrong. I mean, you've already dealt with that in phase one. The question here is did the president make statements in bad faith or did — in good faith or did he hype, did he cherry-pick?
What about this question, Senator Roberts, about whether or not — well, the fact is you didn't get the same intelligence. Is that a legitimate concern?
ROBERTS: Well, it may be a concern to some extent. I don't share Jay's view that there's that much difference between the PDBs and the information that we get, which is very similar to the senior executive intelligence brief.
I think what happened, if you read the Robb-Silverman report, that it was repetitive. It was a lot like the slam dunk statement by former CIA director George Tenet, who also believed, I'm sure, that there was an imminent threat.
I think that again, you know, this administration looked at the available report by the entire community, as we did, and said it was a danger to our national security, and they went to war.
Now, one of the things that I'd like to point out is that we had the same information on the aluminum tubes at the time we went to war as the time that we took another look and said whoa, wait a minute, this isn't adding up. Not only ours, but the British, not only that, but the French, not only that, but the Russians, not only that, but the Israelis.
This was a worldwide intelligence failure. And as a result, I think everybody mistakenly believed in that product. If you can't believe the national intelligence estimate of 2002 handed to the Congress, if, in fact, that's not factual, that's what we're trying to do today.
We don't accept this intelligence at face value anymore. We get into preemptive oversight and do digging in regards to our hard targets. That's the difference between then and now.
WALLACE: Senator Rockefeller, I want to play another clip from your 2002 speech authorizing the use of force, this time specifically on the question of Saddam's nuclear program. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROCKEFELLER: There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years, and he could have it earlier.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Now, by that point, Senator, you had read the National Intelligence Estimate, correct?
ROCKEFELLER: In fact, there were only six people in the Senate who did, and I was one of them. I'm sure Pat was another.
WALLACE: OK. But you had read that, and now we've read a declassified...
ROCKEFELLER: But, Chris, let's...
WALLACE: Can I just ask my question, sir?
WALLACE: And then you can answer as you choose. That report indicated there was a disagreement among analysts about the nuclear program. The State Department had a lot more doubts than the CIA did about whether he was pursuing the nuclear program. You never mentioned those doubts. You came to the same conclusion the president did.
ROCKEFELLER: Because that — first of all, that National Intelligence Estimate was not called for by the administration. It was called for by former Senator Bob Graham, who was chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Dick Durbin.
We didn't receive it until just a couple of days before we voted. Then we had to go read it and compare it to everything else that we thought we'd learned about intelligence, and I did make that statement. And I did make that vote.
But, Chris, the important thing is that when I started looking at the weapons of mass destruction intelligence along with Pat Roberts, I went down to the floor, and I said I made a mistake. I would have never voted yes if I knew what I know today.
WALLACE: Well, but a lot of people are not — that's not the point of the investigation, Senator.
ROCKEFELLER: Chris, it is always the same conversation. You know, it was not the Congress that sent 135,000 or 150,000 troops to...
WALLACE: But you voted, sir, and aren't you responsible for your vote?
ROCKEFELLER: No. I'm...
WALLACE: You're not?
ROCKEFELLER: No. I'm responsible for my vote, but I'd appreciate it if you'd get serious about this subject, with all due respect. We authorized him to continue working with the United Nations, and then if that failed, authorized him to use force to enforce the sanctions.
We did not send 150,000 troops or 135,000 troops. It was his decision made probably two days after 9/11 that he was going to invade Iraq. That we did not have a part of. And yes, we had bad intelligence, and when we learned about it, I went down to the floor and I said I would have never voted for this thing.
WALLACE: But my only point, sir — and I am trying to be serious about it — is as I understand phase two, the question is based on the intelligence you had, what were the statements you made.
You had the National Intelligence Estimate which expressed doubts about Saddam's nuclear program, yet you said he had a nuclear program. The president did the same thing.
Forgive me, Senator Roberts, and I don't want to put words in your mouth. I get the feeling you think this is a waste of time.
ROBERTS: No, I don't think it's a waste of time. There are five provisions in regards to phase two. And let me point out that in 1991, when David Kay, who led the Iraq Survey Group, took a look after the first Gulf War, they indicated that Saddam Hussein was 18 months away from a nuclear capability, which would have endangered Israel.
Then we had the inspectors there, clear up until 1998. They left. Now, what would you think if you were an analyst or if you were working a collection effort with our intelligence, say, community after the inspectors left?
Everybody thought he was going to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction. That was my thought. I had grave reservations about the war in regards to after you've won what you've won, but I was convinced that he had the WMD. I don't know what I said. You don't have me down there on the floor because I don't think I said anything.
But to give Jay some credit, at least everybody thought up to that point that that was the case. But we did vote for regime change. We did vote to go to war. And we continued to vote on appropriations to conduct that war.
So there is responsibility among members of Congress, regardless of what they said back then and some of the criticism now, and I have to agree with the president that it's 20/20 hindsight through a rearview mirror that's a little cracked and a little partisan in regards to the lines in that mirror.
WALLACE: All right. I want to switch — we're running out of time — to the terror attacks in Jordan this week. Excuse me. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has claimed responsibility, as we know, for the attacks, and Jordanian security officials believe, in fact, he was involved.
Senator Roberts, from the information you're getting, has he now eclipsed Usama bin Laden in Al Qaeda, and how seriously do you take this issue of him perhaps setting up separate fronts in terrorism going beyond the borders of Iraq?
ROBERTS: I think it's extremely serious. It's like a franchise operation. You have second generation jihadist groups all across the world. Mr. Zarqawi, in terms of controlling this insurgency or directing it, is public enemy number one. We should make every effort to get him. We are.
It's very difficult, as you know, whether it's Usama, or whether it's Zawahiri, or whether it's Zarqawi. But it shows you again that I'm not sure people understand our adversary. This absolutist religion that allows people to conduct murderous things — that's a different kind of adversary than we've ever had before. He's leading it. And we should understand what kind of adversary we are opposed to.
And we should understand what kind of adversary we are opposed to.
WALLACE: And finally, Senator Rockefeller, I want to play you a tape made by — a statement made by U.S. General Rick Lynch this week. Take a listen to it, if you will, sir.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJOR GENERAL RICK LYNCH, SPOKESMAN, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCES, IRAQ: We believe Zarqawi is on the ropes and we believe it's only a matter of time till we defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Senator, from the information you're getting, is that true?
WALLACE: Is Zarqawi on the rocks?
ROCKEFELLER: No. In fact, it's one of my absolute frustrations throughout this entire process. Usama bin Laden, Zarqawi — we have not taken down either one. Now, Usama bin Laden is up at 15,000 feet somewhere and is hard to get to. Zarqawi is in Iraq. He's in Jordan. He's been there all along. He started up in the northeast section. He's never left it.
And he is the great Al Qaeda threat, in my judgment, these days, as opposed to Usama bin Laden, and our good intelligence now, after 1998, and our good intelligence and our good military have failed to bring him in. I don't understand that. And I think that's a direct question that the president ought to be asked. Get Zarqawi, and our problems are going to start diminishing very quickly.
WALLACE: Gentlemen, we're going to have to leave it there. Senator Robert, Senator Rockefeller, thank you both for coming in.
ROBERTS: OK. Thank you, Chris.
Sunday—we’ll get the latest on the battle over Trump’s cabinet picks and a preview the first orders of business for the 115th Congress from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It’s a Fox News Sunday exclusive.