Sen. Susan Collins on UAE Port Deal

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," February 28, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee says she's more convinced than ever that the process was truly flawed in approving this port deal. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine joins us now.

Senator, I know you had hearings Tuesday. Are you still of the opinion that the deal is flawed?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-MAINE: What I'm more convinced of than ever is that the process was flawed. The law requires a 45-day full investigation to be done whenever there's a transaction involving a foreign country that has implications for our national security.

Unfortunately, that kind of in-depth review was not done. And thus, we really don't have a good answer to the questions about national security.

GIBSON: Senator, you know, Tuesday, I think it was, Bill Kristol was quoted as saying — and I think we have the quote; we'll put it on the screen — "You have a Republican senator quoting probably out of context one sentence from the Coast Guard report," and I think he was referring to you.

Do you think you did quote it out of context when you quoted the line that the Coast Guard said they couldn't be sure that security was assured?

COLLINS: No. And if you look at exactly what the Coast Guard report said, it raises very legitimate red flags about personnel issues, operations issues and issues of foreign influence.

What's most significant about the Coast Guard review is it said that because of major intelligence gaps, an assessment of the threat posed by the transaction could not be completed.

Now, I think what perhaps Mr. Kristol is referring to is the Coast Guard overall did not weigh in with a final objection, despite raising these red flags. But these red flags are important ones, and they are in the unclassified section of the report.

I quoted it exactly. It's at the end of the report, so it obviously replies to all the conclusions that came before it. And I just don't see how these significant intelligence gaps could have been closed in the time between when the report was issued, on December 13, and when the committee in charge issued its assurances letter on January 6.

GIBSON: Senator, what is the difference between the British company running the port and the UAE company running the port?

COLLINS: Well, first of all, the British government does not have a mixed record on terrorism. The UAE does. In fact, the 9/11 Commission tells us that the UAE — despite being a very valuable ally in many ways in the war against terrorism — has also been a base of terrorist operations, planning and financing.

So this is a country that has had a mixed record. I'm not saying that this transaction should never go through. I'm saying we don't have enough information to make that judgment because the administration short-circuited the process and did not do the full investigation that is clearly required by law when we have a transaction of this nature.

GIBSON: All right. Senator, people who oppose this deal or object to it are being called xenophobes, demagogues and sometimes even racists. If people were going to level that charge at you for having questions about this deal, what would you say?

COLLINS: Well, that deeply offends me. And I think it should offend anyone who has raised legitimate questions about whether a proper security review was done of this proposed deal.

And I think it's very unfortunate, and it portrays a bad image to the Muslim world when people recklessly throw around charges like that. There's certainly nothing in my background that would ever suggest that I was in any way anti-Muslim or anti-Arab.

And I think that's very unfortunate that the motives of those of us who have raised legitimate questions, questions very similar to the questions raised by the United States Coast Guard, are having our motives impugned.

GIBSON: Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, as always, thank you very much.

COLLINS: Thank you, John.

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