This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," August 31, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge recently raised eyebrows when he accused the Bush administration of politicizing the terror alert system after 9/11. IN his brand-new book, Secretary Ridge describes the days leading up to the 2004 election when a new videotape was released by UOsama bin Laden.
Now Ridge said after the release of that video that Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recommended that the administration raised the terror alert level. But Ridge disagreed and writes in his book, quote, "There was absolutely no support for that position within our department. None. I wondered is this was about security or politics."
But now Secretary Ridge is claiming that passage is being blown way out of proportion. And here's what he had to say earlier today on "Good Morning America."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM RIDGE, "THE REST OF OUR TIMES" AUTHOR: A lot of people are hyperventilating about that passage. This was one of several times that the process worked. People express their opinion. The process worked. We didn't go up — that's — and it was designed so that nobody could pressure anybody to do anything. A consensus was reached.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HANNITY: And joining me now is author of "The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege and How We Can Be Safe Again." He is the former governor of the great state of Pennsylvania. Served as this country's first secretary of Homeland Security, Governor Tom Ridge is with us.
Governor, good to see you. Welcome to the —
RIDGE: Thank you.
HANNITY: Welcome to the studio. Good to see you.
RIDGE: Thank you.
HANNITY: First of all, there's no war on terror anymore. It's an overseas contingency operation.
RIDGE: I noticed that. I noticed that. One of the biggest problems is I think we have right now is the sense of complacency that's crept in and in place we see is a luxury we can't afford.
You know, I started as Homeland Security secretary and obviously was a counter-terrorism expert but I've learned a lot along the way. We need Americans to understand that they are strategic factors that are patient. They don't set their watches like you and I do according to the western time table. We're still in the cross hairs. And complacency is not a —
HANNITY: Well, you're right about this, and I want to get to that, because this is important. Because I think we are now in a pre-9/11 mindset. I think Barack Obama is weakening this country and making it vulnerable. And I'll get your thoughts on it.
Let's deal with our opening here.
RIDGE: Sure. Absolutely.
HANNITY: And this is —
RIDGE: I figured you would.
HANNITY: Well, because — look, this is serious.
RIDGE: Of course it is.
HANNITY: If John Ashcroft and Donald Rumsfeld were suggesting to you, when you said, is this about security or is this about politics, you also concluded it also seem possible to me and others around that table that something could be afoot other than the simple concern of this country's safety.
RIDGE: By the way it's — first of all, thank you for putting the words — some of the words up on, but I think you need to read the context of the entire chapter. But the seriousness is the notion that there was an accusation against two men met with whom I dealt with on a fairly regular basis.
Every day I met with Attorney General John Ashcroft. We had a routine. We went in and talk to the president and the vice president. This dramatic secure video on the eve of the national election was not unlike other secure videos we have when we were discussing threats.
Everybody makes a judgment call. These are tough calls. They are tough decisions. I think we made the right decision. But I mused because I was a secretary and we were unanimous within the department. We just don't see it. Others were arguing strongly for it, as they had done one way or the other before.
RIDGE: I mused in the book, not accused. I don't suggest anybody's motives.
HANNITY: But that's.
RIDGE: ... were anything other than trying to secure America and I do think people All right hyperventilating about it.
HANNITY: Wait a minute. Let me ask you.
HANNITY: Because you really do suggest that in — you said, is this about security or politics? Here's my point to you. This was right after Usama bin Laden releases a tape. Don't we not always worry when there is a tape that's released that that tape may have a coded message to trigger an attack? It might be — it's set off a cell?
So that's a reasonable argument.
RIDGE: Well, it is a reasonable argument. I'm not doubting that their strong advocacy on that instance as it was in other instances was based upon their belief that we needed to raise the threat level. I don't doubt that for a moment. I'm not suggesting anything. But I mused at the time when I wrote the book since I would be in charge of overseeing the consequences of going up, if there was something there that I did not see.
At the end of the day on this occasion, Sean, on every other occasion when people argued one way or another.
RIDGE: We made the right decision.
HANNITY: Then why did you put in the book.
RIDGE: That's what's important.
HANNITY: ... that it might have been about politics?
RIDGE: Because — perhaps I was — I was musing in the book, as I was trying to think back on those discussions.
RIDGE: That I — I didn't keep a diary. Is there something else that I am missing or my department's missing? Pure and simple. It's not an accusatory statement. Wasn't intended to be. And if people want to talk about it in that fashion, in this world — see, security is not black and white. Unfortunately, a political regime and sometimes the commentary is black and white, wrong or right. That's not the way we worked.
HANNITY: You talk about Max Cleland campaign and you talk about the darkest — possibilities of terrorism. Used the term character assassination.
RIDGE: Actually I was wrong to do that to Max Cleland.
HANNITY: Well, Max Cleland was a war hero.
HANNITY: Nobody was disputing that.
RIDGE: Right. But to you suggest he wasn't a patriot.
HANNITY: Well, I didn't.
RIDGE: He lost three limbs at Khe Sanh. End of discussion with me.
HANNITY: Yes, but.
RIDGE: I'm a Vietnam veteran.
HANNITY: But he voted against the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
RIDGE: That doesn't mean he's not a patriot.
HANNITY: No, no. Who questioned his patriotism?
RIDGE: The article — the television commercial, as I recall, kind of took his picture and then superimposed bin Laden on it. Come on.
HANNITY: Well, but...
HANNITY: In other words, was he being weak? Was that a bad decision?
RIDGE: No. I don't think a man who lost three limbs on a battlefield should be deride, derided and concluded as a weak person.
HANNITY: No, well, — weak and as much as was that a bad decision, bad judgment?
RIDGE: You can question his judgment, but not his patriotism. And I think it was a fairly — look, I.
HANNITY: I'm almost out of time.
RIDGE: We could have sent a message in a much more decent way and respected this man's service to the country. Saxby Chambliss is a friend of mine. I'm glad he was elected. I just wished we would have done it differently.
HANNITY: Is Barack Obama bringing this country to a pre-9/11 mentality?
RIDGE: Well, I worry about the sense of complacency. I worry about when the attorney general is saying that the men who were responsible for interrogating in the aftermath of the horror of 9/11 are now being investigated, potentially, by a special prosecutor. They were told they should do it. They were told they could do it under the law and they did it.
HANNITY: Governor, thank you. Appreciate it.
RIDGE: They're wrong. Thank you.
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