Terror Tactic?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 9, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: President Bush is reminding us Thursday that Al Qaeda not only wants to strike again, but they have tried since 9/11, revealing the details of a plot foiled in 2002 to hijack a plane and fly it into an L.A. skyscraper, one that's lost in the smog there on that live picture from Los Angeles. It is the tallest building on the West Coast.

This news comes a day after Sen. Hillary Clinton knocked the White House for not doing enough in the War on Terror and for failing to kill "the tallest man in Afghanistan," Usama bin Laden.

Are both parties trying to use terror to get ahead? Republican strategist Terry Holt joins us now, he's a former senior adviser to the RNC, and P.J. Crowley, former special assistant to President Clinton for national security affairs.

Now, P.J., there are a lot of people accusing the president of using this news Thursday, sort of laying out a card when he needs it politically. He's got some NSA controversy, it's time for a Patriot Act renewal, but, in fact, doesn't this news illustrate why he needs both of those security tools?

P.J CROWLEY, FORMER CLINTON SPECIAL ASSISTANT: Well, John, I think that nothing happens in presidential speeches by accident. So the fact that the White House Thursday decided to drop into the speech details of an event that happened four years ago that was foiled three years ago and was mentioned last fall and also subject of the 9/11 commission is curious.

I think you have to look to the backdrop of the NSA situation. And there, I think the White House ...

GIBSON: The Patriot Act is up right now, too. I mean, they're squabbling about that this very second.

CROWLEY: Sure. But this particular plot involved great work by the CIA, not great work by the NSA. And so I think they wanted to create a kind of connectivity between this terror surveillance program and the plot in 2002 that doesn't exist.

GIBSON: Well, do you have a problem with connectivity? I don't.

CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the two things are unrelated.

GIBSON: They're the same kind of thing. They may be a different color, but they're the same animal. This all illustrates why we want to be on our tippy toes with these guys.

CROWLEY: Well, certainly. And I think from the Senate hearing earlier this week, you found strong bipartisan support for what the NSA is doing. But we have to make sure that they're ...


GIBSON: Isn't this like, "Yes, of course. Yes, we're laying out this thing because we want to illustrate what happens if we don't have these NSA programs or Patriot Act or whatever."

TERRY HOLT, FORMER RNC ADVISOR: And who cares about the cynics who question why it came out? It's an excellent example of why the country has to stay vigilant, why people have to continue to have a sense of urgency about national security, about the War on Terror. Who cares why it came out? It is an important example of what it's going to take to stay on our toes and stay on offense in the War on Terror.

GIBSON: Well, Terry. I'll tell you why they actually care, Terry. Because every time they stick their neck out and say, "These things really aren't necessary," the president plays one of these cards. And it makes his critics look kind of foolish.

HOLT: Well, and you know, the president is in a tough spot because success for the president is that we don't have these catastrophic terrorist attacks, that we are prepared, and we do foil them. And with that comes the sense that the urgency or the level of our preparedness in the War on Terror, we let our guard down.

So he has this double-edged sword of having to keep the country on its toes and foil attacks without having the attacks on the front page every day. It's a tough position to be in, but this story makes the case that we need to continue to have these tools in place to fight the war.

GIBSON: P.J., doesn't it make the case?

CROWLEY: Well, John, let me pick up on something the mayor said. And Terry's exactly right. The country does, in fact, have to stay on its toes.

It's ironic that at a time where the president's pointing to an ongoing threat against a building like the Library Tower, that in the president's budget going up to the Hill this week, they propose to cut by 26 percent the Homeland Security grants that go to cities and states so, in fact, they can guard the kind of critical infrastructure we're talking about here.

So the irony is that as homeland security becomes more important to us, in fact in critical areas, the president is not putting resources ...


HOLT: That's a political smoke screen. We could have a separate debate about the budget priorities in this president's budget this year and whether he's doing the right things. But I don't think that's at all related to whether or not, in an overall way, this administration has stayed on point, where the Democrats have sort of waffled all over the places.


GIBSON: Terry Holt and P.J. Crowley, thanks to both of you guys. Keep fighting that War on Terror. We'll talk to you later.

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