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Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on Passage of Terror Detainee Bill

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," September 28, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Just a short time ago, the United States Senate passed a bill with rules for detainee interrogations in trials, sending the bill to President Bush for him to sign into law. This is seen by many as a victory for the White House who had been pushing for this version of the bill over other alternatives considered by the Senate.

Also tonight, the Senate voted to close debate on the long-awaited 700-mile-long fence along the border with Mexico. Cloture passed by a vote of 71-28, which means that there will be up-or-down vote 30 hours from now, as per Senate rules.

Joining us now from Capitol Hill with more on these late-breaking developments, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Senator, welcome back to "Hannity & Colmes." Thanks for being here tonight, sir.

SEN. BILL FRIST, R-TENN., SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Great to be with you, Alan. Thank you.

COLMES: Here's one of my concerns — and, by the way, I don't think Democrats have stood up enough on this detainee bill. The president can decide not to release somebody who stands trial and is even acquitted until the perceived threat is over, even if that person is acquitted. This can apply to American citizens.

Are you going to be happy when a President Hillary Clinton or any Democratic president of your choice or not choice, as the case may be, has this level of ability of power that's never before existed in our government?

FRIST: Well, Alan, I think it really does reflect that we are in an age and an era post-9/11, where we're talking about a new sort of opponent, a new sort of the war criminal, somebody who right now we call then enemy combatants, but the sort of people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who's down in Guantanamo Bay now, who allegedly and likely did mastermind the plot that killed 3,000 Americans.

And the American people get it: We don't want to be treating these terrorists, these enemy combatants, who have assassinated and engaged in killing Americans in such a brutal way. We don't want them to have everyday rights of American civilians right here. These are war criminals.

COLMES: Well, that's right, sir, if the person is truly a terrorist. But if someone is acquitted, they can be detained. If they're acquitted, they can be detained.

FRIST: Well, they're — yes, and that's the way it's been in every war. And what's unusual about this war is we don't know exactly when it's going to end. Wars in the past may last a year, or three years, or four years, or five years.

But you're exactly right: Somebody can be detained for the duration of that war. Again, these are people, these are enemy combatants, people that have been picked up on the battlefield with ill will or creating acts against the American people.

COLMES: We don't even have a declared war. Congress never declared war. Also, the government doesn't have to charge anybody, doesn't have to use — military tribunals can keep them. A perfectly innocent person has no way to prove that they're innocent and no recourse to do so, and some question whether this could stand a constitutional test.

FRIST: Well, you know, we'll wait and see, but you are right. People can be detained. But the legislation we passed in the Senate now just a couple of hours ago and that will be signed by the president, because the House has passed this exact same bill, for the first time sets up these military commissions, these terrorist tribunals, that with a lot of rights given to these detainees, the trial justice — trials can be carried out. Justice can be carried out.

And that's a step forward. Up until now, we couldn't even try these people. They basically could be held or they could be held for the duration of the battle, but now we'll have military commissions set up, terrorist tribunals, to try these enemy combatants.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Hey, Senator, welcome back to the program. Thanks for being with us.

Also, you just voted to shut off debate on a bill that will, in fact, direct the building of 700 miles of fence on the U.S. southern border with Mexico. This is a significant development, in my mind, knowing how important this issue of immigration is to the voters 40 days from now.

FRIST: You know, Sean, what we're doing this week is focusing on homeland security, the security of the American people. And we're doing it by passing so-called appropriation bills to fund our troops overseas. We'll pass that at 10:00 in the morning.

We'll passed the bill — like the bill we just discussed on military commission — to equip or give the tools to our government and to our military to prosecute this war on terror. And we're also going to pass a port security bill — I'm very hopeful — within in the next 36 hours, again securing our borders. And then this border security bill, we got what we call cloture, but what that means is, within about 26 hours from now, we should pass a border security bill that means, within 36 to 48 hours of leaving here, we will have passed 700 miles of fence, UAVs, cameras along the border, $1.2 billion to build that fence, an additional 4,000 border agents, an additional 4,000, on the border, an additional 10,000 beds, detention beds, to house those people who we capture.

And that's action. That's what the American people want.

HANNITY: I think it's a defining issue. I think it will be in the campaign. Now, the president's in support of a compressive plan, amnesty, guest-worker, but he'll sign this bill, correct?

FRIST: Yes, he will sign this bill. And I, too, recognize that this is the first step. This isn't the only step. You can't just build a fence. You do have to address things like worksite enforcement. We can't have employers hiring people illegally. We need to enforce that law. And we need a strong temporary worker program in this country, legal temporary worker program. Those are yet to come, but this is a strong, major first step. We've got a lot more to do.

HANNITY: Senator, we've got a lot of close Senate races. We're watching very closely. I want your thoughts generally and, more importantly, I'd like you to weigh in on what's going on in the state of Virginia. You know Senator Allen well. He's been a congressman, a senator, a governor. And here we are, 40 days out of an election, it seems to me racial politics once again brought into this. Your thoughts?

FRIST: Yes, I think so. First of all, big picture, I feel very good. First of all, we need to get out of Washington, D.C., and really paint that message very clearly of the contrast of moving America forward, based on principle and prosperity, or moving backwards, and obstruction, and partisanship, which we see here on the Senate floor.

And really it's going to boil down to that contrast of winning the war on terror verses the Democrats who want to cut and run or surrender or defeat, of energy independence versus energy dependence, of lower taxes versus higher taxes. The contrast is there. We need to voice it better, spell it out better. And if we do, we're going to be very successful in these elections.

Then, coming to Senator Allen, you're absolutely right. I've had the pleasure of working with him every single day. He's a man of strong character, strong integrity, a man I have huge respect for. And, yes, there are a lot of allegations out there. He's answering each and every one. How much of it is slander, how much of it is false accusation, I think ultimately will come out in the campaign.

HANNITY: We're going to get into it later in the campaign. The same allegation now is made against his opponent, and his opponent has pretty much admitted that he's used that word. And we know that Robert Byrd has used the word. So there appears to be a double standard.

Let's ask very quickly: Tennessee, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Pennsylvania, where do you look at these tough Senate races? Do you think you'll win these all? Are you afraid you're going to lose some?

FRIST: No. I think it will probably be consistent with what's happened over history, and that is, in a second midterm election, the party of the president will lose a seat or some seats, but I think we're going to do much, much better. We're going to stay in the majority absolutely for sure. I have no question about that.

We have a lot of work to do, and there are a lot of seats in play. But if we can message well, and we can show that contrast of lower taxes verses higher taxes, winning the war on terror verses cutting and running, a culture of life verses a culture of Hollywood, we're going to win. We know where the American people are.

HANNITY: Last question: cherry-picked, selective information leak to The New York Times, released. The damage, in your view?

FRIST: Well, the damage wasn't very significant. But what it did mean is that this report had to be declassified. And once that was declassified, it became very clear of the spin, of the cherry-picking that is wrong, that I think is dishonorable. I do think we have to step back and say, "Somebody is leaking. They shouldn't leak. And if they continue to leak, it's going to make this country less safe."

COLMES: Did the administration cherry-pick with its release?

HANNITY: Thanks, Senator. We appreciate it.

COLMES: Senator?

HANNITY: Thank you very much.

FRIST: Thank you. No.

HANNITY: Thank you, Senator.

COLMES: All right, thank you very much.

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