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Transcript: Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean

The following is an excerpt from "FOX News Sunday," March 28, 2004.

CHIRS WALLACE, HOST: We want to discuss this week's hearing with the chairman of the commission, former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, who's in our New York studio, and here in Washington, Vice Chairman and former Congressman Lee Hamilton.

And, gentlemen, thank you both for coming. Good to have you both with us.

FORMER CONGRESSMAN LEE HAMILTON: Good morning.

FORMER NEW JERSEY GOV. THOMAS KEAN: Good morning.

WALLACE: Governor Kean, let me start with the last area that I was discussing with Secretary Rumsfeld. We're still fighting the war on terror. U.S. troops are still on the front line. Does this kind of exercise make sense in this current environment?

KEAN: I think it does. Because, by investigating fully all the events on what is probably one of the greatest tragedies in American history, trying to find out all of the facts, getting them on the table, will inform us enough to be able to come up with serious recommendations, so that hopefully we can do better in this war and we can make the American people safer. That's the bottom line.

WALLACE: Governor, you were quoted this week as saying that nobody has clean hands. I want to ask you at week's end, what did you learn from this week's testimony? What questions were raised for you?

KEAN: Well, we learned a lot. We learned about failure of diplomacy. For too long, administration after administration, we thought somehow that the Taliban was going to give us, somehow, permission to get bin Laden, or get bin Laden out of the country or put him into a neutral country. We tried and tried and tried on that one, and we failed in every way. And we kept on trying, even after it became fairly obvious that the Taliban would rather give up their country than they would bin Laden.

And the second thing we learned about all the military options, none of which, really, were used. Whether you should put in a strike force, whether you should put a rocket under to try to catch bin Laden. And in all cases, everything was ruled out. What we didn't seem to have is a strategy to win, how do you get this man?

WALLACE: Congressman Hamilton, fill in any blanks. What did you learn this week?

HAMILTON: Well, I learned that our leaders are very reluctant to use force. I learned that there was an amazing amount of agreement between the Clinton and the Bush administrations on the basic facts leading up to 9/11. I learned how hard it is to integrate all the aspects of the war on terrorism — diplomacy, intelligence and law enforcement and all the rest — and make it an effective policy.

I learned that making that policy and making the tough choices is a very difficult matter, and that the hindsight that we in the commission are exercising is easy compared to the choices policymakers have to make at the time with incomplete information.

WALLACE: Congressman, let's talk about Richard Clarke. I know you're still investigating, but when you see these apparent contradictions between what he was saying when he was still in the Bush White House and what he has told you in the commission now, has his credibility been damaged?

HAMILTON: I've known Dick Clarke for a good many years, probably a couple decades. He's a very serious man. He's made some very serious charges. He's a master of the bureaucracy. He has had a focus on terrorism that is remarkable, some might even say an obsession with it.

And he's made two fundamental charges: One is we fought the wrong war. That is not the business of the commission. The business of the commission is his second charge, which you had on tape a moment ago, and that is, did we give high enough priority to the war on terrorism in the Clinton and in the Bush administrations?

We haven't made a final judgment about that, but that will be an important part, maybe the most important part, of our findings.

WALLACE: Governor Kean, same question to you. And more specifically, do you feel at week's end that Richard Clarke's credibility has been, in some sense, undermined?

KEAN: Well, what you've got to recognize is that we not only had what you saw as public testimony, we've had 15 hours of testimony in private from Richard Clarke, to put that in context. We've also had private testimony from Condoleezza Rice, from all the public you heard in public and a great many more. We've seen over a thousand witnesses now that we've taken testimony from.

And what we've got to do as a commission is sort all that out. And that's not easy. It's a little early for us to try to draw conclusions, but that is one of our jobs. And in our final report, we will be able to draw those conclusions.

WALLACE: Governor, as we mentioned earlier with Secretary Rumsfeld, the top congressional Republicans are now talking about declassifying Richard Clarke's testimony before a congressional inquiry two years ago.

Have you or your staff had access to that? And if so, can you tell us whether or not it contradicts what he told your commission?

KEAN: Yes, we have had access to the full record of the congressional inquiry. We've gone through it — actually, when we started, when we were first appointed, the first thing we got, and the first thing we had to get, was that whole record of that congressional inquiry on intelligence.

And I think it would be a little wrong for me today — if they haven't declassified it yet, I can't really comment on it.

WALLACE: Can you even tell us, though, whether or not it contradicts what he's saying now?

KEAN: To be totally honest with you, I looked at that testimony almost a year ago, and I'd have to review it myself before I came up with any conclusions.

WALLACE: Congressman, what do you think about this idea of declassifying and releasing Clarke's testimony before that earlier congressional inquiry?

HAMILTON: I can't make a judgment about that at this point in time. Declassifying is a very technical business, and it has to be done by real experts on national security and on sources and methods with regard to the intelligence community.

In general, my feeling is that you ought to release just as much information as you possibly can. But I can't make a judgment about a particular document that's over two years old.

WALLACE: Governor, more bookkeeping to do here. There are a lot of issues before your commission right now.

The White House has offered to have Dr. Rice answer more questions but under the old ground rules: in private and not under oath. Are you willing — well, first of all, will you ask her to appear? And secondly, are you willing to accept those conditions?

KEAN: Well, first of all, we will accept any testimony from Dr. Rice that she has to offer. She was very, very forthcoming in her first meeting with us. She answered every question that we asked her, and she answered it well. She's offered to give us more time, and offered to give us more time at that point. So we're very grateful for that.

But we do feel unanimously as a commission that she should testify in public. We feel it's important to get her case out there. We recognize there are arguments having to do with separation of powers. We think in a tragedy of this magnitude that those kind of legal arguments are probably overridden.

So we are going to accept, I believe — at least I would recommend to the commission accepting any testimony Dr. Rice gives us under any conditions, but we are still going to press and still believe unanimously as a commission that we should hear from her in public.

WALLACE: Governor, when you say that you're still going to press, I take it, though, you're not going to issue a subpoena, you're not going to insist that she testify in public?

KEAN: Well, as a full question of subpoenas, first of all, is whether they're the best way to get the information you need, and secondly, under the doctrine of presidential privilege, whether it would be successful.

We've only got a certain life on this commission, and to get into a court battle over a subpoena we don't think is really appropriate right now, or will it help us leading to our conclusion, so we can issue a report in July, which is now our mandate.

WALLACE: Congressman Hamilton, your deadline for issuing this report is now less than four months away. Do you know when you're going to be interviewing President Bush?

HAMILTON: No. We do not know precisely when we are going to be interviewing President Bush. We will interview him. We will interview Vice President Cheney. We will interview former President Clinton, former Vice President Gore. But the precise date of our interview with President Bush has not yet been set.

WALLACE: Governor Kean, as I understand it, the president says he will only speak to the two of you. Why not the full commission?

KEAN: Well, we would like him to speak to the whole commission. We believe that all commissioners are equal, frankly. Lee Hamilton and I are vice chairman and chairman, but we've got eight colleagues all working very, very hard, and all trying to do an independent, bipartisan job in this investigation.

So we would like to see the president and the vice president speak to every member of the commission. So far, however, he's said he'll only speak to the two.

WALLACE: And finally, Governor, neither of you did much questioning this week, in the hearings this week. Are you both prepared to ask the president difficult questions?

KEAN: Yes, we're prepared not only to ask difficult questions, but I think we're prepared also to get any questions — if the ground rules stay the same, we're prepared to get any question that any other commissioner or staff member has, to take those questions into the White House. And Lee Hamilton and I will make sure that every one of those questions gets answered, no matter how long it takes.

WALLACE: And, Congressman, your response to that?

HAMILTON: Look, our job is to produce a report. We've got to strip out as much as we possibly can of the partisanship. We've got to move this debate away from charges of being tough or being soft. We've got to get at the specific facts. We've got to take the heat out of the discussion, so that we can understand what happened. That's our job in the weeks ahead.

I think, under Governor Kean's leadership, we will do that. And the commission has had a remarkable record of bipartisanship up to this point, largely, I think, because of the governor's leadership. We've got to continue that. And the events of the past few days will not deter us from getting out a good, solid, bipartisan report.

WALLACE: Gentlemen, thank you both very much for joining us, and we look forward to talking to you again when you issue your final report this summer.