Senator Chuck Hagel on His New Book 'Tough Questions, Straight Answers'

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," March 26, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has been a staunch critic of the war in Iraq since 2003. In his brand new book "America Our Next Chapter," the Nebraska senator goes beyond his usual critiques and offers solutions to repair America's image abroad. Joining us now, Senator Chuck Hagel. Senator, how are you?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Sean, thank you.

HANNITY: You know, we're coming at this — I'm critical of Senator McCain, he is not conservative enough. You may not support him because he is not — because he's too conservative especially on the war, right?

HAGEL: Well, I don't know if you define your position on the war based on your conservative credentials. I mean, there are some pretty significant conservatives out there the late William F. Buckley was a pretty significant critic.

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HANNITY: And later — later as related to the war.

HAGEL: You can and George Will and others. So I don't think you can — at least I don't see it that way. I have always defined my position on the war based on what I think our interests are.

HANNITY: No one is questioning your sincerity and we're not going to do that here. Senator, I am mad at the Republican Party. As a matter of a fact, I'm reregistering in New York as a conservative.

I consider myself a Reagan conservative. I predicted year out that they would lose power in 2006 because I think they have abandoned their principles on spending. They haven't given a solution to our energy independence. They haven't controlled our nation's borders. They're not — the earmarks, they have got worse than the Democrats. If Republicans continue down this path, they deserve to lose, don't they?

HAGEL: Well, sure because the power is in the hands of the party that controls the Congress and the White House. And here in a Republican Congress, for most of the last seven years, and certainly administration, we have run up a third of the nation's national debt. No Child Left Behind, we have added hundreds of billions of dollars to Medicare spending.

HANNITY: Prescription drugs. You were against that.

HAGEL: I was against that, I voted against it. I voted against No Child Left Behind. I voted against the real big government type programs.

HANNITY: The Republicans with earmarks. I think the biggest disagreement we have is going to be on the war on terror and as I was reading the book, it was making me mad. You talked about the president and weapons of mass destruction. You had one paragraph in particular. I'm thinking, wait a minute, Hillary made that argument. Ted Kennedy made that argument. John Kerry, Bill Clinton in '98. And we have evidence that he used weapons of mass destruction with dead children, the Kurds in the north. Why shouldn't we have figured that he still was pursuing those programs in light of how he treated the inspectors?

HAGEL: Sean, if you read both of my chapters on Iraq in my book, I go into some considerable detail.

HANNITY: I read them.

HAGEL: Number one, we should have allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to finish their job, which I was told by the president he was going to do that, by other senior officials and many of our members of Congress were told.

We didn't do that. They were the only ones in there. They were the only ones that really knew it. I was told as I mentioned in my book by former prime minister of Lebanon, the late Hariri, that he had no weapons of mass destruction. All of our Arab allies told us, including President Mubarak of Egypt.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Senator, when the president said he would let the IAEA finish and didn't, did he lie to you?

HAGEL: Well, lie is a tough word. I have always tried to be responsible with my language. And I have never accused the president of lying. I would say this, that his administration certainly misrepresented, starting with the fact when we were told, many of us, including me, that this administration had not made a decision to go to war. At the time of the resolution vote in October of 2002, in fact, now we know that that is just not true.

COLMES: You don't want to use the word lie, that is a strong word. But that's what you are implying?

HAGEL: You can take any meaning out of that that you want, but I think — almost six years now after this, we have a pretty clear record of what they said and what they didn't say.

COLMES: You also say in the book that Dick Cheney cherry picked intelligence and used fear to promote war sloganeering. That's a pretty strong charge against him.

HAGEL: Well, he did. And if you recall the war speech that he gave the National VFW Convention in August of 2002, the day after that speech I called Colin Powell and I said to Colin Powell, what's going on? You are going to war? Powell said no, the president has made no decisions. I said that war speech that Cheney gave is very, very clear. Cheney was doing that all the lead up to the invasion.

COLMES: So they knew - you felt they were going to do it anyway and they were not leveling with people like you?

HAGEL: I don't think that they were direct and honest at all with what they were telling us versus the planning that was going on in the inside.

COLMES: We are going to talk just a moment about these congress people who went to take a trip to Iraq and it turns out some of the money through an organization, a nonprofit group, was funded by Saddam Hussein.

Can you fault those congress people as if — they had no idea where the money was coming from. Does Jim McDermott, does he get faulted for that? Thompson, does he get faulted for that?

HAGEL: I don't know the specifics of the trip. But I would tell you this and I can only speak for myself. I can't speak for any other member. Before I take a trip, I always find out who is paying or who does it involve. I don't know if they did that they were lied to, again, until the facts are in. I don't want to say anything more than that but, it is a responsibility of a member of Congress to find out who is funding a trip, especially if you are going to Iraq.

COLMES: Senator, thanks so much, best of luck with the book. Thanks for being here tonight.

HAGEL: Thank you.

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