Transcript: Sen. Dick Durbin on 'FNS'

The following is a partial transcript of the March 19, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Joining us now to discuss Iraq and other national security issues is the number two Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin, who joins us from Chicago.

And, Senator, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday".

SENATOR DICK DURBIN, D-ILL.: Good to be with you.

WALLACE: Let me start by asking you the same question I asked General Casey. On this third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, how's the war going?

DURBIN: Well, let me say first I want to thank the general, as you did, and all the troops in uniform for their service to our country and risking their lives every single day for us.

Having said that, I think that the political leaders in Washington have failed when it comes to our policy in Iraq. They misled us into believing there were weapons of mass destruction and connections between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. None of that existed.

They did not provide the necessary troops, the necessary equipment and the necessary leadership at a time when we need it. We've lost over 2,300 of our bravest and best Americans to date. There's no end in sight.

And as you said in the opening segment, even our own ambassador is acknowledging the fact that we've opened Pandora's Box and the leaders have said in Iraq that we're facing nothing short of civil war. Here we are, on the third anniversary, with no end in sight.

WALLACE: Well, let me play the other side of that equation, if I can, Senator. This week one of the top generals in Iraq said that U.S. forces should be able to hand over 75 percent of the battle space to the Iraqis by the end of the summer.

Isn't that precisely the kind of significant transition that you Democrats have been calling for?

DURBIN: And the clip that you played earlier from General Casey — the same promises were made a year ago. The real test of when the Iraqis are ready to defend themselves is when they replace American troops who come home. Otherwise, this is all rhetoric.

And I've spoken to leaders in our military just this week in my office who have told me over and over again they just made serious mistakes in the beginning. They assumed that if they just ramped up the number of Iraqis who were going to be called defense forces, that was all they needed to do. It isn't enough.

We still don't have Iraqi forces ready to stand and fight on their own. When American troops start coming home, then the president can start pointing to pride with Iraqi replacements.

WALLACE: But, Senator, when you hear General Chiarelli, when you hear General Casey today saying he agrees that 75 percent of the battle space is going to be owned by Iraqis by the end of the summer, are you saying you don't believe it?

DURBIN: Well, I hope it's true, but we've heard this before. The real test is when American soldiers come home. We've heard this for years now. And this administration has no plan and has no strategy.

The Senate said in a strong bipartisan vote, 79-19, this had to be a year of transition, a year when the Iraqis took control of their own security and showed us the kind of leadership in their government that indicates that this will come to an end in a peaceful and democratic way.

WALLACE: This week, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser to Jimmy Carter back in the '70s, accused the Democrats, his own party, of political desertion on Iraq. And let's put up his quote, if we can.

He said, "Democratic leaders have been silent or evasive. They have not offered an alternative to the war in Iraq. It's easy to criticize." Senator, you talk about the lack of an administration plan. What is the Democratic plan? And be specific. What's the Democratic plan for Iraq?

DURBIN: I'll be very specific. But I can tell you, to start with, failed policies such as the one we have in Iraq gives us few options. And we understand that. We've been painted into a corner in this situation.

WALLACE: Well, that's criticism, sir. What is your plan?

DURBIN: Well, hold on, if you will, please. What we propose and what Senator John Warner accepted as a bipartisan approach in the Senate includes the following. This year, 2006, a year of transition, where the Iraqis take control of their own security and defense.

Secondly, the Iraqis are put on notice they have to form a government that embraces all of the factions within Iraq so that we can see finally a government of unity leading to some sort of progress for the people of Iraq.

And finally, we have to have from this president accountability, clear accountability, where he says every three months what progress is being made. His first report, incidentally, was not an encouraging one. It's an indication that despite all the rhetoric, we have not made progress this year.

WALLACE: But saying a year of significant transition, with all due respect, sir, is just a phrase. I mean, you know the situation there. There are 133,000 troops on the ground.

Is it the Democratic plan that you could get all of them out by the end of the year, 30,000, get under 100,000? What's the Democratic plan?

DURBIN: My wish is to bring the troops home as quickly as possible.

WALLACE: Well, that's everyone's wish, sir.

DURBIN: Withdrawing them tomorrow is not realistic. But I will say this. We believe that if this president has a plan, and I'm not sure that he does, that it will be demonstrated by the end of the year that Iraqi forces will replace American forces. If they do not, it's further indication of the failure of this administration.

WALLACE: Senator, I want to change subjects on you. Democratic Senator Feingold this week called for censuring President Bush for the NSA's warrantless wiretap program.

Given the fact that the president briefed congressional leaders of both parties, given the fact that he got specific legal authorization for this program from the attorney general, do you flatly disavow the idea of censuring the president?

DURBIN: I'll tell you point blank that to argue that there was some sort of a briefing of members of Congress is to ignore the obvious. Ninety-six senators have not heard any details of what is happening with this warrantless wiretap.

In addition, there are only eight members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are now being given some sort of a briefing.

Let me tell you what I believe led to Senator Feingold's censure resolution, the utter frustration that this Republican Senate refuses to ask the hard questions in oversight of this administration about this war, about the use of warrantless wiretaps, about statements made by the president to the American people that there'll be no wiretapping without court orders.

We know now that in many of these instances, the American people deserve answers. And this Republican Senate has refused to do it. I think that's why Senator Feingold introduced this resolution. It's been sent to the Judiciary Committee. It could be heard as early as next week.

WALLACE: Senator, have you been briefed on the NSA warrantless wiretap program?

DURBIN: No, I have not.

WALLACE: And my understanding — in fact, I'm sure that Senator Feingold has not either. But Diane Feinstein is one of the few Senate Democrats who has, in fact, been briefed on the program, and I want to put up what she said this week.

She said, "The administration would be well advised to brief the full Intelligence Committee. I think it's a very impressive program." Senator, it seems that the senators who are criticizing this program the most are the ones who know the least about it.

DURBIN: Let me suggest to you that we have a law that this president and every president should follow. We want the president and this administration to wiretap those who would threaten the security of this country, but we want this president and every president to follow the law, not to break the law.

And even though Senator Feinstein and I have had a brief conversation, she couldn't go into any details because of the classification. She says she thinks this is an important program. Well, we have a law that the president should follow if this program is going to make America safer.

WALLACE: Well, but the fact is, I mean, you make it sound — when the administration proposed this law for the first time back in late 2001, early 2002, they briefed congressional leaders, including Tom Daschle, the Senate minority leader.

DURBIN: But to suggest that a briefing of two or three members of the United States Senate means that the president can break the law is completely wrong. This president...

WALLACE: Then why didn't Tom Daschle — why didn't the Democratic leaders do something about it?

DURBIN: Having served on the Intelligence Committee, I can tell you they put you in a box. They tell you the secret information and then say you're sworn to secrecy. You can't repeat it.

So to suggest that you can then hold a president or any member of the administration accountable publicly would mean that you'd have to break the law and leak information to the press, which many of us are loathe to do, as we should be. So we're in a terrible situation here, being given information and you can't do anything with it.

At this point, we have heard from Senator Specter, the Republican leader of the Senate Judiciary Committee, there is no constitutional basis for this warrantless wiretap. We have heard statements by the president that have misled the American people about this program.

We clearly need the oversight of a Senate Intelligence Committee which has abdicated its responsibility. It has become a partisan cover-up operation. I'm sorry to say that. But we should have a fully engaged bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee taking a look at this warrantless wiretap.

WALLACE: Senator, Republicans say that the censure proposal is the leading edge of a Democratic plan to impeach this president if you regain control of Congress in 2006. And in fact, Senator Feingold has not dismissed the notion. Take a listen.


SENATOR RUSS FEINGOLD, D-WIS.: I think this actually is in the area of an impeachable offense. I could be — I think it is right in the strike zone of what the founding fathers thought about when they talked about high crimes and misdemeanors.


WALLACE: Senator, as a Democratic leader, do you rule out impeachment of the president if the Democrats regain control of Congress?

DURBIN: I don't believe that that is even a valuable discussion at this point. But I do believe it's valuable that Senator Feingold is moving us forward to finally be a catalyst to have the kind of hearings and the kind of deliberations as to what lies behind this warrantless wiretap situation, how this president can avoid the law, which is very clear on the subject.

Now, I think it really calls on the members of the Senate — it should have long before the Feingold resolution — to take initiative, but this Republican Senate has refused in most instances the kind of oversight that is very fundamental and basic to our government.

The real exception I want to add is Senator Arlen Specter, who in the Senate Judiciary Committee did have two public hearings on the issue. But more needs to be done by a Senate Intelligence Committee which has refused to even take up the oversight of this program. That is something that I think the American people deserve.

WALLACE: Senator, you said that the impeachment question is not a valuable discussion to have now. You didn't rule it out.

DURBIN: I can't rule anything out until the investigation is complete. I don't want to prejudge it. But if this president or any president violates the law, he has to be held accountable, and that accountability, of course, is in the hands of the United States House of Representative and the Senate.

WALLACE: So you're saying that impeachment is a possibility.

DURBIN: I'm not ruling it in or out at this point in time. I think, in fairness to our government, and to be as honest as I can be, we need more information about the nature of this program and whether, in fact, it violated the law. If we find that it did...

WALLACE: Senator, I want to follow up on this, because I'm a little bit surprised. You're saying that President Bush, who is the commander in chief in a time of war — you're not ruling out the possibility that he has broken the law, committed high crimes and misdemeanors, and could be subject to impeachment.

DURBIN: Chris, you're trying to put words in my mouth, and I'm not going to go there.

WALLACE: No, you said you're not ruling it in or out.

DURBIN: No, sir. What I'm saying is that we need an investigation. We have a responsibility to ask the hard questions, to find out what the nature of the program is and whether the president violated the law.

You want to move it to some extreme. I can understand that's what happens on these Sunday morning talk shows. I'm not going there. But I do know that as a member of the Senate, we all have a responsibility to hold every president accountable.

If this president has broken the law, if he has violated the constitution, that is a very serious charge.

WALLACE: And at this point, from what you know, do you believe that, in fact, he has violated the law and violated the constitution?

DURBIN: At this point, I can find no explanation from this administration to justify this warrantless wiretap.

WALLACE: So the answer to my question as to breaking the law and violating the constitution?

DURBIN: Well, I'm waiting for more information. And you would think the information would be forthcoming, as Senate Judiciary Committee hearings and Senate Intelligence Committee hearings would give us that information.

Unfortunately, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has refused to engage the kind of oversight which we expect of that traditionally bipartisan committee.

WALLACE: Senator Durbin, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you so much for joining us today.

DURBIN: Thank you.