The Truth About Clinton and Bin Laden

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," June 21, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY HOST:  In the "Unresolved Problem" segment tonight, the 9/11 Commission (search) will release its report in a few weeks, as you know.  But President Clinton is already publicly speaking out about what he did or didn't do to neutralize Usama bin Laden.

Here's what he said on "60 Minutes."


BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We broke up about 20 Al Qaeda cells.  We arrested some of their people.  We prevented several terrorist incidents, including an (UNINTELLIGIBLE) plane flying into Los Angeles to blow up the Los Angeles airport over the millennium, to blow up sites in the Middle East as well as the United States over the millennium.


O'REILLY:  Well, Dan Rather might have mentioned that Mr. Clinton only said bin Laden's name five times publicly after the first embassy bombing in 1998.  President Bush never mentioned bin Laden's name publicly prior to 9/11.  Joining us now from Washington is P.J. Crowley, a former special assistant to President Clinton for international affairs, and Richard Miniter, the author of the book "Losing Bin Laden: How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror."

Now I just want the audience to know that I am on record as saying both presidents did not do enough, were not proactive enough to get Bin Laden.  That is my opinion.  Now I'm going to referee this thing here between you guys.  Mr. Miniter, you heard Bill Clinton on "60 Minutes" saying basically he did all he could.  Do you buy it?

RICHARD MINITER, AUTHOR:  Well, he did do a lot.  All the statistics he cites are accurate.  One thing that Clinton gets wrong is saying that there was a plane that was going to fly into Los Angeles airport and blow it up.  He's obviously a little confused about that.  There was a solitary bomber, a guy named Ahmed Rassam, who was to blow up LAX.  He was arrested at the border by a customs official with a sharp eye.

But what he's overlooking, what Clinton should be saying -- and I think it would do Clinton good to lay out his entire record, the good, the bad, and the ugly, to really get some distance and get some sympathy from people by being honest and candid for once.  If he laid out the whole record, he would have to admit there were 12 opportunities Clinton had to kill or capture Usama bin Laden.

Three of those opportunities came when a Predator (search) aircraft over Afghanistan (search) spotted him.  And in real time the CIA was able to watch Bin Laden move to Kandahar and other places on live video. Yet the president couldn't make up his mind to take Bin Laden out.

There are other opportunities when the Northern Alliance tried to kill Bin Laden.  And the Clinton administration actually told them to stop.  The American government doesn't believe in assassinations.  And the Northern Alliance shouldn't try to carry that out.  So the Clinton record is a lot more mixed than Clinton himself would admit.

O'REILLY:  OK.  Mr. Crowley, it's disturbing to hear Mr. Miniter, who is a very thorough researcher, all right, say that the CIA was watching Bin Laden live time and that President Clinton would not make the call.  How do you reply?

P.J. CROWLEY, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT CLINTON FOR INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS:  Well, first of all, I like the title of Richard's book.  I wish he had saved it for the book that's coming out in September, "Losing Bin Laden: The Story of the Bush Administration." If you compared the Clinton administration to the Bush administration...

O'REILLY:  But I don't want to do that.  We'll do that when the book comes out.  Let's talk about President Clinton and not deflect the issue.

CROWLEY:  Remember, Bill, that President Clinton was focused on terrorism throughout the eight years of his administration.  he first World Trade Center bombing occurred 37 days after he took office, and rather than entertaining a kind of a blame game that some conservative critics are doing now with President Clinton, he went to work.  Within weeks we had arrests, indictments, ultimately convictions, and then from that point forward, the president was focused on terrorism throughout his entire tenure.

O'REILLY:  All right, but to my understanding, if the CIA had this guy live time on a Predator, saw Usama bin Laden in Kandahar (search), watched him walk around, and then alerted the White House and the White House would not give the order to kill the man, all of what you're saying, Mr. Crowley, about the terrorism and the awareness that President Clinton had, why wouldn't he do that?

CROWLEY:  From 1998 on, as the president also said in the interview last night, he had signed several findings that allowed assets to take out Bin Laden if we had the opportunity.  We never had that kind of actionable intelligence.  Now you have to also remember that the president did, in fact, take...

O'REILLY:  Well, is Mr. Miniter wrong then by saying this?

CROWLEY:  The president did take military action in August of 1998, in the aftermath of the East Africa bombings.  We got unlucky.  We thought we had a track on bin Laden.  It turned out not to be true.  But we were poised to take action from 1998 on.  And as the president said last night, he regretted that we didn't get him.

O'REILLY:  All right.  Now, Mr. Miniter, I want to be very precise here.  Based on your information, what year did they have this bead on bin Laden?  When was that?

MINITER:  There were three opportunities, 1999 and 2000...

O'REILLY:  All right, so this is well after the embassy bombing on the Cole when as Mr. Crowley rightly pointed out President Clinton said we have got to get this guy.  But Mr. Crowley...

MINITER:  Well, can I say one brief thing, Bill?

O'REILLY:  Go ahead.

MINITER:  It's a matter of -- it's not just my reporting, it's a matter of record.

O'REILLY:  Oh, I know that.

MINITER:  It has been reported to the 9/11 Commission, "The Washington Post" has also reported this.  The three spottings of bin Laden by the Predator are unanswerable...

O'REILLY:  And that's why I said you were a thorough researcher.  Mr.  Crowley isn't disputing what you say.  He's just not explaining -- and I really wish he would.  If you don't know, Mr. Crowley, I understand.  But if President Clinton was that proactive and recognized the threat, why on three occasions would he not give the order to kill Bn Laden when they had him in his -- in their sights?

CROWLEY:  And I don't think that -- I think that Richard is suggesting that the information that we had or the interpretation of the Predator video that we had was as definitive as it was.  In each of those three cases, the president's advisers cautioned that the intelligence was not sufficient to have the attacks go forward.

O'REILLY:  Mr. Miniter, is that true?

MINITER:  Well, I mean, this is -- I have heard differently from other members of the Clinton administration.  Let's put it like that.

O'REILLY:  All right.  So he's...

MINITER:  Also one thing he's not saying...

CROWLEY:  But Richard, this is also a matter of testimony before the 9/11 Commission.  This was a subject that they probed in detail.

O'REILLY:  OK.  So...

MINITER:  But we have the videos.  Why doesn't the 9/11 Commission review -- release the videos and let the American public decide how accurate those videos are?

O'REILLY:  Where are those videos now, Mr. Miniter?

MINITER:  Oh, you're asking me?  I believe they are still held by the CIA, but the 9/11 Commission is certainly able to review them if they wish.

O'REILLY:  Boy, that sounds like something I'd like to take a look at, Mr. Crowley, what do you think?

CROWLEY:  Yes, and I'll tell you what, I think that probably the 9/11 Commission might want to do that.  It has been the Bush administration that has been fighting the 9/11 Commission and its access to a lot of information that allows it to do its job.

O'REILLY:  All right.  The Bush administration fought this -- look, we're going to call the CIA tomorrow and we'll find out where this video is.   Because I think -- look, I think, as I said, that neither man, Bush or Clinton, really was aggressive enough.  But if you had three times, Mr. Crowley, when the CIA called the White House and said, we've got him in our sight and all three times he says, no, that's a big story, sir.

CROWLEY:  But now wait a second, though.  You also...

MINITER:  And Richard Clarke (search) confirmed these three sightings.

CROWLEY:  That's right, but the time lag that goes between the time that the Predator sights what might be Bin Laden and the time it takes to queue up the cruise missiles in the submarine off the coast, in that time lag, things do change.  I think...

O'REILLY:  OK.  Well, we're going to find that, how's that?  We'll find out.  We're going to call the CIA.  We're going to call the commission tomorrow.  We're going to find out where the video is.  And we're going to find out.  And if they won't give it to us, then we will be mad and we will tell everybody.

Gentlemen, fascinating discussion.  One of the most interesting discussions we have had on The Factor in weeks.  Thank you very much both.

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