Transcript: Sen. Harry Reid on 'FNS'

Written by Chris Wallace / Published December 18, 2005 / Fox News Sunday

The following is a transcribed excerpt of "FOX News Sunday," Dec. 18, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: And joining us now in an exclusive interview, the Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid.

Senator, thanks for coming in. Good to have you here.

U.S. SENATOR HARRY REID, D-NEV., MINORITY LEADER: My pleasure.

WALLACE: You just heard Secretary of State Rice say that this eavesdropping campaign that the president has authorized is, one, important to protect Americans, two, is constitutional, and sometimes setting up these intercepts, these wiretaps, is too urgent to go to the courts. Your response.

REID: First of all, Chris, you know, I don't like the terrorists. They're evil. We should do everything we can to eradicate them. The New York Times report of this program has been ongoing for some four years. The president certainly — this is his. He's done it. Congress has not been involved in it.

I think all you need do is look at former Chairman Bob Graham of Florida, who was chairman of the Intelligence Committee. He was interviewed on "Nightline" a couple of nights ago. And he said during his tenure as chairman of the committee, he was never informed about any domestic eavesdropping. He said that he thought it was wrong and it was unconstitutional.

Now, I believe that the committees with jurisdiction in the Congress — and this Congress has done very, very little oversight. And I saw even today Jim Davis, who is the chairman of a committee in the House, said they've neglected their oversight responsibilities.

There should be investigations and hearings relating to this by the committees of competent jurisdiction.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you directly, because the president says the congressional leaders were briefed repeatedly over these four years. You've been the Senate minority leader for several years. Were you ever briefed on this?

REID: The president can't pass the buck on this one. This is his program. He's commander in chief. But commander in chief does not, I don't think, trump the Bill of Rights, and that's what this — Congress has not been involved in setting up this program. This is totally a program of the president and the vice president of the United States.

WALLACE: And do you believe that this violates the Bill of Rights?

REID: Bob Graham...

WALLACE: Well, I'm asking you, sir.

REID: Well, that's why I think we should have some committees look into this. I'm not going to speculate on a story in the New York Times, but Bob Graham, who everyone acknowledges is one of the finest members who's ever served in the Congress of the United States, says that he wasn't told about it when he was chairman, and...

WALLACE: But I want to ask you directly, Senator, because, you know, you're raising an issue about consultation. Were you ever briefed on it? Did you ever object?

REID: Listen, the program has been in effect. It's been in effect for four years, according to the New York Times. I was briefed a couple of months ago. The program had been in existence a long time prior to that time.

This is something that's the president, the vice president, and there is no way he can pass the buck. The vice president came up to talk to us one day this week. I wonder if they checked that off as one of the times that they consulted with us. There were four members of Congress there. Maybe that counts for four of the 12.

This is the president's responsibility and the vice president's, and they cannot pass the buck.

WALLACE: Now, you have said that you believe that there should be congressional investigations of this program. You were also very concerned about the leaking of the identity of Valerie Plame, the CIA operative.

And what I want to ask you is are you going to seek an investigation of who leaked this story, which I think you would agree is certainly much more damaging to national security?

REID: I don't know which was the more damaging, but I think whoever leaked this should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and I say prosecuted, because this is more than a civil problem.

WALLACE: All right. Change of subject. You voted this week to block renewal of the Patriot Act, and as we mentioned with Secretary of State Rice, key provisions of that act are due to expire by the end of the year.

After the vote on Friday, you talked at a Democratic Party meeting, and let's take a look at what you had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REID: Think of what happened 20 minutes ago in the United States Senate. We killed the Patriot Act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Senator, is that really something to celebrate?

REID: Of course it is. The fact is that I voted for the original Patriot Act. It was the right thing to do. And the Patriot Act that I talked about there, at least some semblance of it, came out of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate unanimously. It passed the Senate unanimously. It was an improvement over what we had.

It was sent to the House of Representatives and came back in a fashion that I thought was very bad, as did a bipartisan group of Senators. Now, keep in mind what we're talking about. Two thousand and three, New Year's Eve in Las Vegas. Hundreds of thousands of people come to Las Vegas. And do you know that those people that came to Las Vegas had their credit cards looked at, they had what rooms they stayed in, what cars they rented.

Now, what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, but not in this instance. It's in some federal data bank. That's what the Patriot Act is doing to the American people. And we have to make sure that big brother doesn't take over this country.

And yes, I think it was good for the American people that we stopped that conference report. It was a good thing we did it, and the president of the United States has a responsibility of extending this. We've agreed to extend this for three months.

To think that this is as important as it is — and I voted for the original Patriot Act — that he's going to let it expire — a bipartisan group of senators defeated cloture on this, because it was not a bill that's good for the American people.

WALLACE: All right. Let's take a look at what the president had to say about the vote in the Senate to block the Patriot Act. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: That decision is irresponsible. And it endangers the lives of our citizens. The senators who are filibustering must stop their delaying tactics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Aren't Republicans going to be able to say, as they did in 2002, when Democrats blocked the creation of the Homeland Security Department, and they beat you around the ears and whipped you in the election — aren't they going to be able to say here are Democrats once again weak on the war on terror?

REID: As I stated early on in this interview you and I had, I'm opposed to evil terrorists as most Americans are. But we still believe in this little thing called the Constitution. And as you heard speech after speech on the Senate floor, the American people deserve our Constitution.

And if the president's talking about irresponsibility, and he believes that this Patriot Act is so important, why wouldn't he extend it for three months to let Senator Specter and Senator Leahy try to work out the differences? If...

WALLACE: And what's the answer to that question?

REID: If the Patriot Act is not in effect when this Congress recesses for this session, the responsibility is on the shoulders of the president of the United States, because he is playing politics. If he thinks this is important, as I think it is, extend it for three months.

WALLACE: Okay. Let's talk about Iraq. You've been very critical, I think it's fair to say, of the president's conduct of the war on Iraq. But when you look at those pictures from this week of 11 million Iraqis going to vote, millions of Sunni choosing the ballot box over violence, don't you have to acknowledge that we're making progress in the war there, sir?

REID: The election is important. And it was a good election. We had election some time ago, and from the time we had that election till today, 700 Americans have been killed in Iraq. Thousands have been wounded, a third of them grievously wounded — blinded, missing arms and legs.

It's important now that we have this election. I'm proud of the people of Iraq. It's good they turned out to the polls. But it's important now that everyone understand from now to four months, constitution must be amended.

What we're saying is this war, which has taken the lives of 2,200 American soldiers, is costing the American people approaching $300 billion, $2 billion a week. I think it's important, as indicated in a bipartisan amendment that passed the Senate — 79 senators said the war in Iraq must change course.

The president wants to maintain course, meaning there forever. That isn't the way it should be. The amendment also said...

WALLACE: Well, I'm not sure that's quite fair to say, Senator. I mean, the fact is he's talking about building up the Iraqis. He's going to give a speech to the nation tonight building up the Iraqis so they can — what's the Democratic — well, let me ask you, what is the Democratic plan?

REID: Well, I was explaining that when I was so...

WALLACE: Excuse me.

REID: ... not rudely interrupted. Our plan is one that passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis: Change course in Iraq. The year 2006 must be a year of significant transition, and the Iraqi people must get their political house in order. They must be able to defend themselves and eradicate the...

WALLACE: But wouldn't the president...

REID: ... the terrorists that are there.

WALLACE: ... agree with all of that?

REID: Well, if that's the case, then he has to tell us how we're going to get there. That, Chris, is what he has refused to do — what he has refused to do.

He refuses to tell us how many battalions are trained to handle the war themselves. We've been told a couple of weeks ago it was one, 1,800 people. He needs to give us — if it's four — he believes it should be four rather than one, or 10, tell us that.

Even his own commanders on the ground acknowledge that the Democrats have changed...

WALLACE: But isn't this...

REID: ... the course of the debate.

WALLACE: Recently he talked about...

REID: But for us, the debate would still be...

WALLACE: ... 120 battalions, sir, 80 that can support, 40 that can take the lead.

REID: No, no. No, no. There is one. The people on the ground said there is one battalion that can fight alone. One. Eighteen hundred soldiers. No question about that. That's what they've said on the ground.

And the president simply refuses to acknowledge that we — the last speech he gave, he used the word "victory" 14 times. What does that mean? We're all in favor of victory. We're in favor of a political victory.

We're in favor of doing something — you know, right now, Chris, we're producing — the Iraqis are producing less oil now than before the war, less electricity now than before the war.

WALLACE: Sir, would you set a specific timetable for getting troops out?

REID: No. And what we have here — the Democrats agree that there should be a change of course, that next year should be a time of significant transition. And of course, everyone believes that there must be troop withdrawal, and there's differences to when they should come out.

I don't believe in timetables. But I do believe in benchmarks. And the president has refused, refused to give us benchmarks. That's why he doesn't have support for what's going on in Iraq.

WALLACE: Finally — we've got about a minute left — there's been a lot of talk that Democrats next year might be able to repeat the success of Republicans back in 1994 and seize control of Congress.

Back then, Republicans came up with a plan, the so-called Contract for America, a plan for reforms that they would engage in, that they would commit to. Are Democrats going to do that in 2006, create a plan and go to the public and say this is...

REID: Chris, we all acknowledge, I hope, that together America can do better than what we've done. The most corrupt Congress in the history of the country — we have such significant problems with what's going on in this country, and we believe there should be energy independence.

We think that we should get rid of the corrupt leadership we have. We believe that we should do something with pensions. We believe there should be something done with education, and we have a program.

And by the time the elections roll around in 2006, the American people will understand better — they already understand, but they will understand better the difference between Democrats and the corrupt Congress we now have.

WALLACE: I just have to pick up on this, because you've been mentioning corruption several times here. One of the biggest scandals in Washington right now involves Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist who's under investigation, and his clients.

It turns out that you received $66,000 in campaign contributions from Abramoff and his clients. Some of your colleagues...

REID: Chris, Chris...

WALLACE: May I ask the question?

REID: Don't try to say I received money from Abramoff.

REID: I've never met the man, don't know anything...

WALLACE: But you've received money from...

REID: Make sure that all your viewers understand — not a penny from Abramoff. I've been on the Indian Affairs Committee my whole time in the Senate.

WALLACE: But you've received money from his firm. You've received money from some of his clients. The question I'm asking if I may get the question out, Senator. Some of your colleagues, both Republican and Democrats, have given back campaign contributions that had any taint of Abramoff to it. Are you going to do so?

REID: Well, first of all, Chris, make sure that — again, I'll repeat, Abramoff gave me no money. His firm gave me no money. He may have worked a firm where people have given me money. But I have — I feel totally at ease that I haven't done anything that is even close to being wrong.

And I'm going to continue doing what I've done for my entire tenure in Congress. My record — any money that I've received — it's a federal law. You can look who gave it to me, how much, when they gave it to me, and what their occupations are.

So don't lump me in with Jack Abramoff. This is a Republican scandal. Don't try to give any of it to me.

WALLACE: Senator Reid, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you so much, and please come back soon, sir.

REID: OK.

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