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Rep. Richard Gephardt on Fox News Sunday

Following is a transcripted excerpt from Fox News Sunday, May 19, 2002.

TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS: Welcome back. Now joining us from Los Angeles, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt. Also here with questions, Brit Hume, Washington managing editor of Fox News.

Leader Gephardt, you've just heard the vice president say that he thinks the investigation being conducted right now by the intelligence committees of the House and Senate is sufficient, and furthermore, that he doesn't think the White House should send up the presidential daily brief that the president saw on August 6.

What is your reaction?

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-Mo.): Well, first, I think the investigation that's going on is a good one. It needs to continue. We might want to look at adding to that an investigation that includes outsiders, so that we can get this information out sooner. The present inquiry is not going to report to the Congress until the end of the year.

And again, I think we've got to improve our performance. That's what he said, and that's what I agree with. I think we've got to do better. And if an outside inquiry would help and get the information out faster, that would be a good thing.

As far for the daily briefing, he's probably right. I don't know that you want all that out in the public, quickly, raw data. But we do need the right people within the administration to better share information, again, so that we can keep this from happening in the future.

SNOW: His concern about an outside inquiry is that there could be the disclosure of sources and methods. Would you, therefore, recommend that if there is an outside look at this, that it be conducted secretly?

GEPHARDT: Well, I think you can put together an outside group that includes members the administration, perhaps members of Congress as well, that can analyze this information quickly. I don't think you need to get into the public the methods of getting information. I agree with him, you want to be able to get further information, so you don't want to compromise any of your methods. But we've done some of this in the past. I think we can do it now.

Again, I think what's important right now, that the administration came out with some warnings today. I think that's the kind of thing we need to look at. Are we coordinating this information correctly? Are the right warnings coming out? Are we getting all the raw dated collated and put together in the best possible way we can do it?

The first responsibility of government is to keep our people safe, and we've got to do better at that.

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: Congressman Gephardt, it's a little unclear to me what you're talking about here. Are you talking about a parallel inquiry being conducted by people other than the ones on the two intelligence committees on the Hill that would have public hearings, no public hearings? What, specifically, do you have in mind here?

GEPHARDT: I think that you can get this information put together, using some outside people, some members of Congress, some members of the administration as a blue-ribbon panel of experts to try to get, again, the performance of our government improved...

HUME: Public hearings?

GEPHARDT: ... as quickly as possible.

HUME: Public hearings?

GEPHARDT: I'm not sure you need public hearings.

HUME: And you're talking about...

GEPHARDT: I think...

HUME: ... what kind of completion date?

GEPHARDT: I think they ought to do it as quickly as they possibly can, so they can make valid recommendations to everybody for how our performance may be improved so that we can do better in the future. The vice president said a few minutes ago, and I agree with him, that we've got some problems and lapses and we can do better.

I gave a speech on the floor a week after 9/11 and I said the government failed. We all failed. We can't just place blame. That isn't going to get us anywhere. We know we failed and we got to do better, and we got to do everything humanly possible to try to improve the performance of everybody involved in this.

SNOW: Mr. Gephardt, are you talking about a working group here? I'm like Brit, I'm a little — I'm not sure exactly what you're talking about. It sounds like you're talking about a working group that would include members of Congress and members of the administration, so they could figure out what information each body needed to share with the other.

SNOW: Is that correct?

GEPHARDT: I think you can call it what you want — a task force, a working group, a commission — but its purpose should be to analyze what happened in the past and to make valid recommendations to the agencies, to the president, to the Congress for how we can better coordinate all the information that's out there, perhaps how we can better obtain information, and then how it can be better presented to the public and to all the officials that are involved, again, to prevent acts of terrorism.

HUME: Mr. Leader, let me take you back to comments that you made the other day when all of this was first becoming known. And you said — and I think we have a graphic of it that we can put up on the screen so that people can read along with us — "We need to know what the White House knew, when they knew it, what they did about it and why this didn't come to light until now."

The first question about that is, I suspect you recognize, perhaps when you said it, how redolant that language is of the Watergate era and the famous, classic question, what the president knew and when did he know it, first voiced by Howard Baker.

Was that what you had in mind?

GEPHARDT: No, what I had in mind and what I've always thought is that we need to improve our performance...

HUME: Gotcha.

GEPHARDT: ... we need to prevent acts of terrorism.

HUME: That's all you had — is that all you were thinking about when you phrased that the way you phrased it?

GEPHARDT: This — you know, I think sometimes people overreact to things and think we're in a political campaign. This is not about politics. This is about doing better in the future.

And we need to be willing to look at all the facts. We need to look at who did what, who knew what and what they did about it, so that we can improve our performance.

I never ever, ever thought that anybody, including the president, did anything up to September 11 other than their best. The question is, how do we do better?

9/11 was a failure. The government failed. We all failed. And we owe it to the families of these victims and to future potential victims of terrorism that we do everything we can to make sure this never happens again.

SNOW: Do you think the vice president overreacted?

GEPHARDT: You know, you get into the normal back and forth, and it kind of — it looked like, I guess, for a few days like a political campaign. I just don't think that's what this should be about.

I told the president on 9/12 in the White House that in this matter of fighting terrorism he had to trust us and we had to trust him. I think we've done that. I think we both tried to do that, we've all tried to do that, and we got to keep on doing that. We can't break out in partisan fighting and bickering. We've got to work with one another and try to find the answers so that we can do better. We got to put facts out in front of people. And we got to do our dead level best to make sure the terrorists are defeated.

HUME: Congressman, there was some surprise expressed at the surprise that was expressed at this information. Your comment that I just read back to you earlier suggested, you know, we didn't really know about all this. Let me refer to you comments by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss. Let's listen to what he said about all this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE PORTER GOSS (R-FL): Mr. Gephardt said that we didn't have information. In fact we do have it. And it's just apparently that Mr. Gephardt didn't know about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: All right. Now, the suggestion has been made by him, by Senator Shelby and others that this information that was written into the presidential daily brief, that you heard Vice President Cheney talk about, was also in a different form but nonetheless same information briefed to the members of the Intelligence Committee at the time, in fact a day later.

If that's the case, doesn't that take some of the apparent surprise or at least the reason for the surprise out of the equation?

GEPHARDT: Well, Brit, as I understand it, there were reports from the FBI from Phoenix. There were reports from Minnesota. I don't know whether they got into the president's daily brief.

HUME: Well, you heard the vice president indicate that they did not.

GEPHARDT: I understand that. And I don't know all of what was in the president's daily brief. My understanding is it was different than what we had, that there was a different set of information that he had.

But put all that aside. This is precisely what the inquiry hopefully will find out and that we can deal with. What information is coming? Who is coordinating the information? What does the president in the White House have? What does the Congress have? And then we can improve the entire performance with everybody that's involved in these matters. That's precisely what we need to know.

HUME: How do you do that and convey it to the public without disclosing what the information is and thereby, of course, leading the organizations that may want to know what we know and how right back to the sources?

GEPHARDT: Well, Brit, you don't need to tell the public where you got the information. But if you...

HUME: But the mere fact of having it conveys something, doesn't it?

GEPHARDT: I understand, but if you correctly collected information and given it to the right people, they can make a better judgment of what the public needs to know. I would like the president and the CIA and the FBI to have told one another before 9/11 about the Phoenix report and about the Minnesota report.

I think the FBI probably should have dealt with this information and gone to the flight schools and trying to find out if the initial report had any credence and if there was anything they could do to get at these people who were up to no good.

GEPHARDT: This is precisely why we need a very serious inquiry and then an analysis of what went on, and then give a recommendation to everybody for how we can improve our performance.

SNOW: Mr. Leader, do you think that if members of Congress had seen that Phoenix memo, in which an FBI agent said "We've got a problem here, we have some Arab citizens going to U.S. flight schools and some U.S. citizens of Arab descent going to these flight schools and it looks worrisome," and the Minneapolis memo about Zacarias Moussaoui, if you had had both of those, would things have been different?

GEPHARDT: I don't know that. I haven't seen the report, so I don't know exactly how it was couched, what it said, what somebody could have done with it.

But I do think that the kind of intensive analysis that I'm talking about could at least get us on the track to really solving these problems. We need to make, I think, better coordinated use of raw information that's coming from the field, and we need to have a real understanding of who needs to have that information on a real- time basis so that they can begin to take some serious actions.

I think we're doing better with that since 9/11. I hope we are. But I think we can do better yet, and that's what this should be about.

SNOW: Finally, do you think this color-coded warning system that the FBI has put together works?

GEPHARDT: I'm not sure that it does. It's a difficult proposition. You can't give too many warnings so they have no value and no effect on the public. By the same token, as we've just been saying, we need credible, clear-time information to go to the public.

I think that it needs to be examined in the light of everything we've just been talking about. I think we need the best people we have in this country to analyze how we're doing this and how we can improve it and then make recommendations to the president, the FBI, CIA, all the other agencies, and to the Congress for how we should proceed in the future.

We have to do better, we can do better. We must defeat the terrorists. It is our greatest responsibility, and I hope and believe we're going to do that.

SNOW: House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, thank you so much for joining us.

GEPHARDT: Thank you.