Transcript: Sens. Kyl, Reed on 'FNS'

The following is a rush transcript of the January 10, 2010, edition of "Fox News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Joining us now to assess what the nation needs to do to prevent future terror attacks are two leading senators on national security — from Phoenix, Jon Kyl, the second ranking Republican in the Senate, and with us here in studio, Jack Reed, a senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

Gentlemen, before we get to national security, I do want to ask you about the controversy we were discussing in the last segment.

Senator Kyl, do you agree with GOP Chairman Michael Steele that Harry Reid should resign?

SEN. JON KYL, R-ARIZ.: You know, Harry Reid has said a lot of insensitive things for which he's had to apologize.

I agree with Michael Steele's comment that there's a double standard. And whether Trent Lott should have resigned, I think, is a great matter of — we should be reflecting on that now. I he should resign, then Harry Reid should.

My tendency is that when these people apologize, if you know what's in their heart, they shouldn't. But I'd like to see the same standard applied to both.

WALLACE: Senator Reed, I should point out you're a different Senator Reed than Harry Reid. You're Jack Reed.

SEN. JACK REED, D-R.I.: I'm Jack Reed, yeah.

WALLACE: What about this — this argument that if it was fair for Trent Lott to resign, then Harry Reid should step down? And when we say resign, not as a senator but as the majority leader.

REED: Well, as I recall, there was huge pressure by President Bush for Senator Lott to step down. And the context of his remarks — again, recalling — was an apparent, maybe inadvertent, commendation of Senator Thurmond's activities in the '50s and '60s, where he was a staunch opponent of the civil rights legislation.

I think that's a totally different context. Harry Reid made a misstatement. He owned up to it. He apologized. I think he is mortified by the statement he's made. And I don't think he should step down. I think he's a valuable member of the Senate and someone who's going to continue to lead.

WALLACE: All right. Let's go back to the reason we invited you here, which is national security. And let's go through the main reforms that the president proposed this week and is planning to implement — prioritize and pursue threats, beef up intelligence on Yemen, review the visa and watch list system, and enhance screening at airports.

Senator Kyl, are you satisfied that this is the right response, that this is sufficient to keep the country safe?

KYL: Well, it's part of the right response, but you'll see a lot of review and report and enhance and pursue. What's really needed is a renewed sense of urgency.

On December — or, excuse me, on January 8th, the USA Today editorialized, and the last line in the editorial was what we need is a new or renewed sense of urgency, which the president has failed to supply.

And I think that's right. You don't see the sense of urgency, for example, when one of his top intelligence advisers says to the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, "Go ahead and go on vacation" the day after this event occurred on Christmas Day.

You don't see that renewed sense of urgency when the president allows the attorney general to indict the individual rather than to gain intelligence from him. When you indict him, you immediately read his Miranda rights, you give him a lawyer, and he stops talking.

That — you know, you can pursue a court action against this person later on if you want to, but right now the key thing is intelligence.

And when the president says, "we are at war," what he needs to do is back that up with a sense of urgency and instruct the people that work for him that they've got to treat this like a war, including gathering all the intelligence you can gather, and that means questioning people such as the Christmas bomber over Detroit.

WALLACE: Well, let me just — and I'm going to bring in Senator Reed in a moment. Let me just follow up on the first part of your comments about a sense of urgency in terms of personnel, because the president talked a lot about accountability.

Do you feel, Senator Kyl, that either the Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano or Michael Leiter, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center who went on that skiing vacation, or presidential adviser John Brennan, who said that Leiter could go on the vacation — should any of them be fired?

KYL: I think the president was right when he said, "The buck stops with me." The problem is he can't be fired right now. And so what he's got to do is provide a sense of urgency with these people who work for him.

And I don't blame them as much as I do him. And I don't blame the people in the CIA, for example, or the counterterrorism center as much as I blame the heads of those groups, who obviously are reflecting the sentiments of the president, which is, "We can just treat these people as common criminals and forget the intelligence they can provide to us and still win a war," as he says, "that we're in."

And you can't do that. You've got to get intelligence, and then it's got to be actionable. And he's right that he's the person responsible for setting the tone of this.

WALLACE: Senator Reed?

REED: Well, first of all, the FBI immediately questioned the suspect in the Christmas bombing, or attempted bombing. They obtained actionable intelligence. And they made a decision after that, the local prosecutors, that the individual should be tried in civil courts.

Senator Kyl talked about a double standard with respect to Harry Reid's comments. There's a double standard here. When Richard Reid was discovered trying to detonate a bomb on a transatlantic flight, it took President Bush six days to comment, and the comments were more laudatory to the crew.

And by the way, we should, in fact, command the flight crew and the passengers who really saved a potential disaster.

But the situation is such that the president has focused on terrorism and counterterrorism more than any other president. He took office under the specter of that. He is taking steps. He was candid...

WALLACE: Are you really saying that he's focused more on terrorism than George W. Bush?

REED: I think he came into office with the notion that the whole — the major existential threat to the United States was the terrorism attacks in the country.

There was a profound emphasis on Al Qaeda and terrorism up until, I think, the decision to go into Iraq. And then the operations in Iraq consumed all of the energy.

The situation in Yemen has deteriorated over the last several years because of a concentration on Iraq, a concentration on efforts that are tangential at best to Al Qaeda. So this president, I think, understands that the existential threat to the country are bands of Al Qaeda terrorists.

WALLACE: All right. I don't want to re-litigate the Bush years, but let me ask you about a specific decision that Jon Kyl talked about that has stuck in a lot of people's craw, and that is the decision to charge Abdulmutallab as a criminal defendant instead of as an enemy combatant.

Yes, he did talk, but only for 30 hours. And the fact is, according to a lot of interrogators, 30 hours is not enough. Why not? What's the — let me ask you it this way. What's the downside to continuing to treat him as an enemy combatant?

REED: Well, first of all, we have charged and, in many cases, convicted hundreds of individuals since 9/11 in our civil courts as criminals. And I think one — and it's an effective way to seek justice.

Two, it takes away the aura that the Al Qaeda elements try to project, that these are soldiers, these are warriors, these are carrying a fight on. They're criminals.

WALLACE: But if — but if this guy had information that there were more Abdulmutallabs in the pipeline, isn't that the most important thing, not a P.R. move or...

REED: It's not a P.R. move. The FBI initially interrogated him. They're the professionals. They made a determination that they had obtained actionable intelligence. That has been described by several people.

The issue of how do you dispose of this case, I think, is one — the most effective and fairest and surest way to get justice. We have had 200 people tried in our civil courts. Three have been tried in civil commissions.

The civil commissions are still under constitutional scrutiny because of Supreme Court decisions. If we want — and I think we do — the maximum punishment applied in the swiftest way, this is the way to do it.

WALLACE: I want to talk about one other very controversial step that the president has taken, which goes back to this question of urgency.

The president has suspended any more transfers of detainees from Guantanamo to Yemen, but he stands firm on his overall policy. Let's watch.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.


WALLACE: Senator Reed, do you really believe that if Guantanamo disappeared tomorrow that Al Qaeda would either stop or have any trouble recruiting people to carry out these attacks?

REED: No, I don't. I think one of the reasons they've been successful in recruiting people is the fact that Guantanamo has become a public relations propaganda nightmare for the United States.

WALLACE: But they're recruiting people on Andalusia and the fact that it was taken from the Moors in the 15th century. If Guantanamo disappeared tomorrow, they still would be pursuing it.

REED: Well, I think the presumption here, or the inference, is that if Guantanamo is closed that these individuals not — who are dangerous will not still be held. That's not the case. There are...

WALLACE: No, I'm talking about whether they're going to recruit. He was saying that it was a recruiting tool.

REED: Well, I think it is a recruiting tool. I mean, there are people who are not only recruiting, but one of the ironies here is that two individuals released by the Bush administration from Guantanamo are the leaders now in Yemen in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

WALLACE: Let me bring — Senator Kyl?

KYL: Yeah. That's always the argument, "Well, some of the people the Bush administration released went back to fighting us, too." That's true. The Bush administration was under a lot of pressure to let some of these guys go because there were a lot of them at Guantanamo. And it simply shows that you have to be very careful if you do release them.

Now, having learned those lessons from the Bush administration, you'd think the Obama administration would not be talking about closing Guantanamo and letting all these guys go, or at least trying to return the bulk of them to some other country.

I am glad that at least we got a wake-up call here and the president decided that he would at least suspend the releases to places like Yemen. But there are other places as well where these people have been sent, and the recidivism rate is apparently very high.

We're trying to get that from the administration. They haven't been very forthcoming about exactly what's going on with these people released, but it appears to be at least a third of them going back to the battlefield.

WALLACE: All right. Gentlemen...

KYL: Knowing that...

WALLACE: Gentlemen, let me...


WALLACE: ... let me just interrupt, because we've only — really got less than a minute left, and I'd like you to split it evenly.

Senator Kyl, you first. Should the U.S. become more involved militarily in Yemen now that we find out that this is a new dangerous front for Al Qaeda?

KYL: Well, it depends what you mean by "militarily." We need to help the Yemeni government, and you need to do that in whatever way works best under the circumstance.

Again, though, the urgency here is not just with a place like Yemen, but it's how you deal with things like closing Gitmo, like trying these people in civilian courts rather than gaining the intelligence that you need from them.

That's the sense of urgency that I think we need going forward.

WALLACE: And, Senator Reed, you get the final word.

REED: We have to be engaged in Yemen. The question — and I think Jon's right — is how do you do it. It has to be, I think, a very, very small footprint. It has to be more about intelligence, more about special operations, in collaboration with the Yemeni government.

It's a country that has profound problems — a civil war, poverty, running out of resources. It's an area that we can't ignore.

WALLACE: Senator Reed, Senator Kyl...

REED: Thanks, Chris.

WALLACE: ... I want to thank you both so much for coming in. Please come back.

KYL: Thank you.

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