This partial transcript from Hannity & Colmes, October 24, 2001 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House.
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COLMES: Welcome back to HANNITY & COLMES. I'm Alan Colmes.
Still to come tonight: Is Capitol Hill safe after anthrax strikes at the heart of our government? Former Congressman Bob Livingston will join us.
First: Traces of anthrax have been discovered at the White House's off-site mail delivery. Was this an attack on the president? And is the White House safe from another attack? Joining us is former White House chief of staff John Podesta.
Welcome, John. Good to have you back on HANNITY & COLMES.
JOHN PODESTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Good evening, Alan.
COLMES: What can you tell us about the White House, how mail is delivered and how vulnerable it could be in this set of circumstances?
PODESTA: Well, as you made it clear, mail is first sent to an off-site facility, where it's screened, where it's X-rayed before it actually gets to the White House, and a good deal of attention takes -- goes into
making sure that the delivery is safe. That includes packages that are sent to the White House, as well.
But as you also noted, there were anthrax spores were found at that site...
PODESTA: ... so apparently, the White House was the target of at least some malicious activity and presumably, that may have been at least intended for the president.
COLMES: You know, I've heard a number of people take some shots at the Clinton administration, saying they didn't do enough about this, they were distracted. I -- there were efforts to really combat bioterrorism, to put bills before Congress to fight this, the bombing of the Sudan, the aspirin factory that may have been not an aspirin factory. I mean, in hindsight some of this looks like maybe the administration was on the right track, after all.`
PODESTA: Well, obviously, we had some intelligence in the Sudan about what was going on in that factory and chemicals that were perhaps precursors to chemical weapons at that factory, and that's why we went forward with that strike. With regard to the overall approach, we were the first administration, I think, to take this bioterrorism threat seriously. We added a lot of money into our budget to build up stocks of drugs, to direct...
PODESTA: ... CDC to do more control of biopathogens and to work with the FDA to improve our public health system, to train first responders to get in and work with people in 150 cities.
COLMES: And wasn't there some resistance, in terms of how much the administration wanted to do, some Congressional resistance from both parties, in terms of how much you wanted to put into this?
PODESTA: Well, you know, I think that there is always a struggle, if you will, with Congress, in terms of trying to get the funds that we thought were appropriate versus what they wanted to appropriate and their priorities. But overall, I think we did reasonably well in making the case and getting the money to begin the process which I think is the platform on which this administration is building.
COLMES: Interestingly, Spencer Abraham fought to abolish the Energy Department in 1999. He now heads it and wants to give it more power. John Ashcroft fought against expanded wiretap authority. Now he's fighting for that as attorney general. It's interesting how minds have changed, positions have changed based on positioning.
PODESTA: Well, you know, I -- it's good that they learned is all I have to say. We fought for some of those wiretap provisions that Attorney General Ashcroft has put before the Congress, and now the House has passed and it looks like the Senate's going to pass, like, for example, the roving tap provisions and others. So you know, I'm glad they're on the -- we're all on the same side of the street, at this point. And I think that the American people have come together to try to fight this new threat and -- and you know, we welcome them to the fight.
COLMES: In terms of how easy it is to get mail or to spread anthrax through the mail, I wonder if we've been told the truth or whether they even knew how dangerous it could be up front at the CDC, because now it seems like more of a threat than initially they indicated.
PODESTA: Well, obviously, I think that Surgeon General Satcher said that this morning, that they didn't really quite anticipate what could happen by anthrax coming through the mail, the exposure to the postal workers. And unfortunately, we're living through a real-time experiment. We're living in a brave new world. And we're just going to have to learn each and every day and do the best job that we can. I think the medical professionals are trying to do the best job and make the right calls in these circumstances.
HANNITY: John, welcome back to the program. Sean Hannity here. Well, wasn't that bombing that you referred to just moments ago, during the Clinton administration -- wasn't that, what, three days outside of a deposition around the impeachment, the Monica Lewinsky scandal? Isn't that true?
PODESTA: You know, Sean, you could bring anything back to anything, but it was a couple of weeks after the embassy bombings in Africa.
HANNITY: All right, but -- but it was...
PODESTA: And that was what was relevant.
HANNITY: within three days, if I recall. I'm just -- I'm asking. I'm not being as accusatory as you may think. I'm asking.
HANNITY: It was within the -- because there has been...
PODESTA: It was within several days of that.
HANNITY: It was. All right. So -- but -- but there has been criticism, as Alan pointed out, that the administration perhaps didn't do enough. Now, the president's been out there, the former president, saying
that he came within -- he thought, within one hour of getting Usama bin Laden. Well, Byron York, writing a piece for "National Review" online, interviewed the military general in charge of that operation, and he said
it was a million-to-one shot. Those are his words, not mine. Why would there be such a disparity between what Bill Clinton says and what the general in charge of the operation says?
PODESTA: Look, we attacked the camps in Iraq [sic]. There was -- and I think this is, at this point, fairly well known. There was to be a meeting there. + It looks like the leaders of al-Qaeda had dispersed from
that meeting at some point, maybe an hour, maybe several hours before that. But I think the intent of the mission was clear.
HANNITY: Right. But -- but why would there be a different characterization? I mean, I...
PODESTA: Well, I don't know...
HANNITY: That's a huge disparity...
PODESTA: You know...
HANNITY: ... between one hour and a million-to-one shot. You'd agree with that.
PODESTA: Look, I don't -- I haven't seen the piece that you're referring to.
PODESTA: I don't -- so, you know, I'm not going to sit here and debate...
HANNITY: All right...
PODESTA: ... those facts. I know the facts. The facts are that there was intelligence that the leadership of al-Qaeda...
HANNITY: All right...
PODESTA: ... including bin Laden, might be there, and we took the shot. And unfortunately, I think, from the historical perspective, unfortunately, they had dispersed, and he was not there.
HANNITY: All right. Well, look, you know what? We have a -- we let our audience decide, but there is a different point of view and there seems to be that disparity. Let me ask you -- there's been all these reports about Sudan offering to hand over Usama bin Laden to the Clinton administration and that the reason it didn't work out was because of technically, legally, the administration wasn't so sure they were able to do that. Is that true?
PODESTA: I wasn't in the White House at the time. It was -- so I only know really what you've read in the newspaper, which is that...
PODESTA: ... which is that there was no case that could be developed in order to hold bin Laden in the U.S. at the time. We tried very hard to get him to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, in the end, didn't take him, and he -- and the Sudanese let him go, and he got to Afghanistan.
HANNITY: Yeah. Let me ask you -- all right, John, you're a strong partisan. You're a staunch defender of Bill Clinton and for your point of view, and -- and I guess that -- that's quite admirable. Now you've had another president in here for a while, and he's managing this war. How do you assess how George W. Bush has handled the job?
PODESTA: I think he's doing a very good job. I think that the prosecution of the war is going quite well. I think he's been a leader of the American people. He's pulled together a bipartisan coalition in
support of him on Capitol Hill, and I think he has the support of the American people.
HANNITY: All right, well, we -- we appreciate that -- that point of view. Does that mean you're a member of the vast right-wing conspiracy?
PODESTA: Sean, I think...
COLMES: You know...
PODESTA: I think I'd leave that to you, based on the questioning this evening.
COLMES: You're looking at the vast right-wing conspiracy right there.
HANNITY: Hey, by the way, I was not part of the crowd that booed Hillary. I was not there...
COLMES: John, thank you very much. You did it from afar.
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