'Special Report' Panel on White House Commenting on Christmas Day Bomber Suspect

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This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from February 3, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


REP. PETE KING, R-NY, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Was that cleared with you whether or not it's appropriate to discuss publicly that two family members are cooperating or urged him to cooperate?

DENNIS BLAIR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: Again, Congressman King, I'm not going to comment on the internal processes for this investigation right now. The level of the political dimension of what to me ought to be a national security issue has been quite high. I don't think it's been particularly good, I will tell you, from the inside.

BILL BURTON, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I will say that the reason that people were told about the success of these interviews didn't have anything to do with politics. We made the determination that it was a good idea to make sure that people knew that our sources and that our methods here were working.


BAIER: Well, the White House held an interesting briefing late last night at the White House about how the Christmas Day bomber was handled in the early hours.

They provided some information saying that he is still talking to investigators and also saying that FBI agents went to Nigeria where they met with the suspect's family. Then the family cooperated and helped to continue the round of questioning, to help facilitate it, some of what came out of that briefing.

You saw the national intelligence director there commenting on what he said was the politics involved in this whole issue. And here's a statement late today. "The DNI did not criticize the administration in any way. The assertion that he did is simply wrong."

But what about the politics and national security implications here? Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Jennifer Loven, chief White House correspondent for the Associated Press, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Jennifer, what about this briefing and their defense, the White House defense of telling all that they did?

JENNIFER LOVEN, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, one thing we have to remember is that the DNI, Dennis Blair opened a door here. Last week in a hearing in Congress he was asked if the Christmas bomber suspect was still talking, and he said yes. And that sort of opened the door to these conversations, and the decision, as you described last night, for the White House to describe some of what is happening in those interviews.

So, he opened the door, the White House walked through it. And I think, you know, they realize that there is a political problem. They are also worried, frankly, I'm told, that the suspect will stop talking. They're worried that Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula will realize that it's being watched more closely and perhaps may change some of its tactics or locations as a result.

BAIER: Steve, Bill Burton there in for Robert Gibbs said this is not about politics.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think it is about politics. I think the suggestion is that — I mean, the reason to put this out, I think if Jennifer is correct, and I have no reason to believe she is not, is that Blair opened this door, they walked through it. They wanted to get this out and explain because reporters were asking why this was the case.

But, look, they are under siege right now. I mean they are, I think, being criticized by mostly Republicans but also some on the left for their handling of this. And the criticism is well-deserved. They cannot give a straight story on what exactly happened, and they can't further explain why they didn't get more information from Abdulmutallab at the time.

You had Eric Holder sending a letter to congressional Republicans, to Senator Mitch McConnell today, in which he basically doubles down and says "This is our policy. If you don't like it, too bad. We Mirandized him quickly. We had to do it. The law suggests we have to do it. The FBI policy suggests we have to do it. And we are confident that we didn't miss any intelligence."

I think that's a silly argument on its face. Of course you missed intelligence if you only interrogated him for 50 minutes.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: In that letter Holder also talks about he followed the precedent of the Bush administration. It's true that with Richard Reid, the guy who tried to blow up a shoe, he was Mirandized, he was treated as a civilian. But it was a mistake. It happened three months after 9/11, and the military, the commission system hadn't been established.

BAIER: He also wasn't tried. He pled guilty.

KRAUTHAMMER: And he pled guilty.

Here we are eight years later where we know that's not the way to go, and they repeat the error and defend it.

They also had said there was a meeting — Holder said there was a meeting on January 5th involving the president, all the senior members of the security cabinet on this issue, and nobody even raised the issue of having him held under the laws of war.

Now, this is sort of inexplicable. There are two cases in the past in which we originally arrested somebody under civilian rules and then we transferred him into military custody. One is Jose Padilla and the other is Salakala Omari (ph), the first an American and the second a Qatari.

That has been done. We had the option. We had the option all the time of undoing the original error of telling him he had his right to remain silent.

And why it wasn't — why it was done in the first place is a mystery and why it wasn't undone and why nobody at a senior level, including the president, had suggested undoing it and having him interrogated without him having the right of silence, is really quite puzzling.

BAIER: Holder does say that in that letter — and there was an exchange between Senator John McCain and the defense secretary yesterday in which Gates was pressed about whether he did support this effort to charge the Christmas day bomber as a criminal.


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think that — I think we did not have the high level interrogators there that we now have protocols in place to ensure would be present in such a situation.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: And do you believe it was possible in 50 minutes to exhaust the possibilities for getting — and getting all of the information that was needed from the Christmas bomber?

GATES: I'm just not in a position to know the answer to that, senator.

MCCAIN: I see. Again, media reports state that you thought so. It is your view that absence enhanced interrogation techniques that the intelligence community provides no value in the interrogation of a terrorist?

GATES: No, I don't believe that.


BAIER: Jennifer, does that show anything about where the defense secretary was in this meeting on January 5th? Maybe he just didn't weigh in?

LOVEN: I'm not sure. It does seem a little mysterious, doesn't it?

I will say this — we are having this debate here and on the Hill and at the White House about whether he should have been Mirandized, whether he should have had a lawyer, how he should have been questioned.

Yet, the White House is, and I think will continue to, point to the fact that intelligence is coming out of these interviews and that it wouldn't be guaranteed if he were treated as an enemy combatant that any more information or better information would be gotten through that method.

The FBI figured out a creative way, apparently, to get him to talk by involving his family, and I think that there has to be some credence given to the fact that they are being successful. Maybe it's delayed, maybe it's not exactly the way some people would think would be the most effective way to get information, but that's very hard to know.

BAIER: There is just a question about the time from Christmas...

LOVEN: Correct.

BAIER: ... to last Thursday.

HAYES: It's a five-week period. That's not insignificant. I think Jennifer characterized the White House argument quite accurately.

The problem I think is that intelligence is perishable. As we've talked about before on this program and elsewhere, it's an iterative process. You take information you get, you test it, you bring it back, you test it again. And the earlier you do this, the more likely you are to get fresh, actionable intelligence.

But, even beyond that, Eric Holder, back in 2002, was asked about how likely it was to gain good information, good intelligence interrogating someone — in this case it was John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, once he had a lawyer.

And Holder said, this is January 28th, 2002, "It's hard to interrogate him at this point now that he has a lawyer and now that he is here to the United States. To the extent that we can get information from him, we should." That totally contradicts what Holder said today in his letter to Mitch McConnell and it contradicts the heart of the administration's argument that we didn't lose any intelligence by not interrogating him quickly.

BAIER: Iran can't seem to make up its mind whether to cooperate or confront the U.S. and its allies. We will discuss this after the panel after the break.



IRANIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (via translator): The scientific arena is where we could defeat the west's domination.

BURTON: A launch like that is obviously a provocative act. But the president believes that it's not too late for Iran to do the right thing, come to the table with the international community, and live up to its international obligations.


BAIER: Well, Iran today blasted a research rocket into space. That rocket contained a mouse, two turtles, and a can of worms. But it was really the duel use prospect of this that raised some eyebrows in the intelligence community here in the U.S.

What about Iran, where we are and where we are going? We are back with the panel. Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: There has been a lot of activity, and it all has to do with a week from tomorrow is the anniversary of the revolution, and opposition leaders have called for huge demonstrations.

So what you are getting activity by the Iranian dictatorship — a, the launch to get national support at home, but also to intimidate us. If you can put a mouse into space, you could put a nuke in New York, in principle.

Secondly, they hang nine demonstrators I think this week from the previous protests as a way to warn anybody who might want to come out.

And, third, we got kind of an oblique statement from leader Ahmadinejad that they might be willing to consider this uranium exchange. But, he said, only for part of a year, less than half a year.

Even the French foreign minister has spoken about this as an empty gesture, a way of delaying any serious negotiations and a way of gaining time, which is exactly what it's done over the last now year since Obama came into office.

Our policy of negotiating is a complete, embarrassing failure. That statement by the spokesman was truly embarrassing, it was so weak, inviting the Iranians doing the right thing when they're killing people in the streets and continuing with their Iranian enrichment.

Our only hope on the nuclear issue or any other is a revolution, and to help that revolution ought to be our task.

BAIER: Jennifer, on that front, Vice President Biden said in an interview this week that Iran was sewing the seeds of its own destruction, asked about the demonstrators and how it's treated them. But as far as sanctions and actual action by this administration, where is the administration?

LOVEN: I think they are actually quite close to unveiling something publicly at the Security Council and bringing it up for a vote. They have been working behind the scenes and put out their drafts. They have been taking it to various other members of the Security Council to gate their support and get their support.

Russia is much closer to being on board, perhaps completely on board, than they used to be with Iran. They used to be, along with China, one of the countries that stood in the way. They are not seen as a problem anymore in getting a tougher new sanctions package. China is sort of the remaining question mark.

And there is a lot of encouraging — on the public front, there is not a lot to be encouraged about, but I think behind the scenes both China watchers and folks inside the administration think they will probably get China on board.

One thing I would say to what Charles said, I think it's worth noting that it's an incredibly large leap between a mouse in space and a nuke in New York. And if they were closer to that research rocket being a real piece of getting them closer to that, they would have put a monkey on it. They would have — you know, that's a pretty big leap to make.

KRAUTHAMMER: It's not the size of the payload, it's a question of the pay load but can you achieve orbit? If you can...

LOVEN: It is also very much a size of the payload. It's a technological — It's a ginormous gap.


BAIER: Let's quickly talk about what we heard from the intelligence director this week on Capitol Hill, saying Tehran is keeping the option open to develop nuclear weapons, but we don't know if Iran will decide to build a nuclear weapon. This is different than what we have heard from the president before.

HAYES: Right. He said that he wasn't going to weigh in on whether they have a nuclear weapons program, which I thought was somewhat intentioned with what the president said back in September when he announced the secret Iranian enrichment facility of Qom, and he said what they have built here is essentially inconsistent with a peaceful nuclear program.

Now, you talk to people who know the intelligence and know it well, they say, well, the president went too far. It's not really that the intelligence community is not willing to go far enough.

But the other thing that wasn't discussed, and, you know, people — it's amazing to me that after September 11th, eight years after September 11th, nobody wants to talk about this, but the other thing that happened at the briefing yesterday was that the DIA director talked about Iran's support for terrorists and insurgency who are targeting Americans in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

It's like it's become an asterisk in our national discussion of Iran now that they're targeting our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and we're willing to spend time, and the previous administration did this too, negotiating with them.

BAIER: That's it for the panel, but stay tuned for delayed reaction from one person intelligence officials pay attention to.

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