Sen. Schumer on Planned Port Takeover

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 20, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Resetting our "Big Story," the White House is allowing a company from the United Arab Emirates to run several major U.S. seaports. Lawmakers from both parties think it's a bad idea for homeland security.

Joining us now, a major critic of the deal, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer from here in New York State.

I've now heard from Chertoff, from Snow, Secretary Snow, from Secretary Rice that all of the checks and double checks and triple checks have gone down and this is not a security problem. Why do you think it is?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: Well, you know, you don't have to be a genius to know that a country that's had a nexus with terrorism, United Arab Emirates — two of the hijackers came from there; the money was laundered through the banks from there — is going to be a potential security problem.

And, you know, the check that they did was a preliminary short check. It was done in secrecy. No one knew it was happening. It was done ahead of time. They almost never do this ahead of time.

And I'll tell you one other thing. This committee, John, CFIUS, has always had a proclivity, an inclination to take economic issues and diplomatic issues ahead of homeland security issues. And if you look at who's on it, there are people, you know, the State Department, OK, they're concerned with diplomacy.

GIBSON: Treasury Department.

SCHUMER: Treasury Department's concerned with economics.

GIBSON: But let's say ...

SCHUMER: So is there a smoking gun? Do we know, oh, that Mr. So-and-So is the executive vice president? No. But it's just obvious that this should take more care, not less care than the usual contract.

GIBSON: Sometimes you're blessed. They give you a political target to shoot at.

SCHUMER: You know? Can I be honest? I have not tried to make this political. When I first criticized it, I went up with Tom Coburn, a majority of Republicans. I'm working with Peter King. I just like to, you know, being a New Yorker ...

GIBSON: Yes, sure.

SCHUMER: ... second largest port ...

GIBSON: OK. Let me ask you this though. It was a British company that's been running it. What would happen if the president says, "OK, we're killing this deal. Guess who's going to come in here and run these ports?" Suppose it's Halliburton.

SCHUMER: Yes, well, you know, again, security above all. There are other issues, but after 9/11, you know, my motto has always been you can't be too careful. They weren't very careful here. It seemed sort of casual.

And the issue, some people say, "Well, why didn't people object to a British company?" Maybe we should have. But this has brought it all to light.

I think outsourcing and security are in general a bad combination, but Britain doesn't have a nexus with terrorism that the United Arab Emirates has.


SCHUMER: So it's all kind of obvious. What's not obvious is why they've dug themselves in on this. Why couldn't they say, you know, this committee is not the president of the United States. It's a bunch of, you know ...

GIBSON: Senior bureaucrats.

SCHUMER: ... senior level officials, not even cabinet secretaries. Why couldn't they say they made a mistake? Go back and reexamine it. Give it the full 40-day ...


SCHUMER: Is there any good answer to that?

GIBSON: Here's an underlying question though. Why isn't there an American company willing to do this and there hasn't been for years?

SCHUMER: Well, I don't know. But you know what? If there were money out there to do it, there would be an American company willing to do it. I don't know why it has gravitated the way it has. No one has followed this before. This Dubai company bought it. But you know what? You know, they say God works in mysterious ways. Now let's go back and examine all of these contracts.

GIBSON: Listen, Senator, so what about this? And I mention it just now. If there are national companies that do national work, that represent whole nations that work around the world, you know, if you're in the construction business, you compete against Bechtel and Halliburton all around the world.


GIBSON: The French, the Germans and so forth. Suppose it is Bechtel or Halliburton that comes in and says, "Well, we can operate that thing." Are you going to object if they ...

SCHUMER: If they can do the best job and they get the contract on the merits, absolutely not.

GIBSON: So if it's going to be the UAE, you'd take Halliburton, if that's the choice?

SCHUMER: Yes. And, look, the bottom line is this. The objections to Halliburton have been that there were no-bid contracts and then they found that they made large amounts of profit. It wasn't Halliburton, per se. It was why did they get a no-bid contract?

GIBSON: Lastly, Senator, I mentioned it, but this has to ...

SCHUMER: Yes, but I'd take Halliburton over UAE at this point, if I had to take a choice right now, this one or the other.

GIBSON: There would be no complaints? There would be no complaints about Cheney? There would be no inside dealing about Cheney, the former executive of Halliburton?

SCHUMER: If it's the choice of those two, I'd pat them on the back.

GIBSON: All right ...

SCHUMER: Meanwhile, he's choosing UAE.


GIBSON: What about the politics of this? Isn't this a gift for Democrats?

SCHUMER: I suppose it is. I mean, everywhere I go I've been out front on this issue, so maybe it's not typical. But everywhere I've gone, Republican audiences — I was praised by Michael Savage, who usually likes to take my skin off little bits at a time.

I mean, so I guess so. But again, my goal, everything I've done on this I've tried to do in a bipartisan way. And my goal is to get it undone, not to win political advantage. You know, homeland security, you think of all the people who were lost, let's be careful.

GIBSON: Sen. Chuck Schumer, thank you very much. Appreciate you coming in, Senator. Thank you.

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