This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, April 13, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.
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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Is there anything we could have done to stop the attacks? Of course I've asked thatquestion, as have many people in my government. Nobody wants this to happen to America. And theanswer is, that had I had inkling whatsoever that the people were going to fly airplanes into buildings, wewould have moved heaven and earth to save the country, just like we're working hard to prevent a furtherattack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VAN SUSTEREN: President Bush just hours ago taking questions from the media on the missionin Iraq. Joining us in Washington, Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard," and Ceci Connolly of "The Washington Post."
Ceci, how tough were the questions and did the president answer every single question fully andthoroughly?
CECI CONNOLLY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Let me be redundant, the president did not answer every question. I don't know about fully and thoroughly, but there are some that he just absolutely ducked.
A couple of them -- one I have to give a plug, my colleague Mike Allen asked him why it was that both he and Vice President Cheney must appear before the 9/11 Commission together, a little bit of sort of a buddy movie feel to it. And he completely ignored that question.
He was asked a couple of times upon reflection what sort of mistakes did he think he had made orif he took personal responsibility or he felt any need to apologize...
VAN SUSTEREN: Why do we ask those questions? I mean, I actually thought -- I mean, thatwasn't getting any information out. I mean, I could see the tough questions are why are you going in therewith Cheney, and is June 30 really a hard date. and what are we doing in Iraq, but where have you messedup?
CONNOLLY: Well, except that it was interesting in that he basically said, gee, you stumped me.I wish I had gotten that question in advance, which you would think that given that he's had two-and-a-halfyears' time to reflect on 9/11, he might have had some thought like that.
VAN SUSTEREN: The president at least is supposed to show some strength at these pressconferences. And actually that didn't bother me as much as I thought that we didn't get all the answers on,for instance, why is he going in there with Vice President Cheney before the 9/11, why not go separately?He's giving his enemies ammunition.
BILL KRISTOL, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Maybe he should have Vice President Cheneywith him at his press conferences or they should always go places in tandem, you know? It's kind of thesafety in numbers.
Well, we know why he's doing it, he's doing it because he's worried that if he does it separately --and the 9/11 Commission has degenerated, I think, into such a gotcha exercise that if they interview thepresident one place and then vice president the next day, and the president says something slightly differentfrom the vice president, there will be a big brouhaha.
VAN SUSTEREN: But they're not recording this. They're not even recording it.
KRISTOL: Well, they're taking notes. There will be a transcript, there will be note-takers.
VAN SUSTEREN: Actually, I don't even think there is a transcript. I think one person is allowedto take notes or something.
KRISTOL: Well, with Bush (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Anyway, I don't why they're doing it. Theydidn't consult me on it. I don't know that it's necessary, but I don't know that it matters.
But I think on the 9/11 Commission stuff he's fine. I mean, at the end of the day people are notgoing to decide that George W. Bush was culpably negligent, I don't believe, in his handling of terrorismissues before 9/11.
His administration was not doing everything it could have been doing, in retrospect, nor was theClinton administration. I think that ends up washing out. Iraq, I think, was the big issue in this pressconference. That's what he devoted his entire opening statement to.
And I thought, Iraq, he did one thing very well, he showed resolve, which really is necessary. Heis -- a foreigner watching that, an Iraqi watching that, American watching that does not now think that we'regoing to pull out of Iraq. So that was extremely important.
I would say in terms of explaining what we're going to do to win, there I don't think he did as wellas he could.
VAN SUSTEREN: How do you explain that?
KRISTOL: Well, I think we need -- I mean, it sort of depends on what you think -- I think we needto radically increase the number of troops. I think it's a serious crisis, not just a bump in the road. I don'tknow that the president agrees with that.
He left the option open to increase the number of troops considerably. But generally speaking I'dsay there were more expressions of we can't lose than a theory of victory, an explanation of how it is we'regoing to win.
CONNOLLY: Sure, sure, I agree with that, that there were not many specifics. Interesting, Greta,in terms of Iraq, I think there were a certain number of very familiar kind of Bush statements, the "we'regoing to stay the course," "these people love freedom and want their independence."
VAN SUSTEREN: But how do we achieve that is -- I think, is what we're looking for.
CONNOLLY: But he really -- he didn't get at the "how do we achieve that." The other thing,though, that was striking, I thought, this evening were a couple of new kinds of themes that you heard fromPresident Bush.
First of all was the fact that he said more than half a dozen times, these are tough times. Herecognized over and over again. He actually said at one point...
VAN SUSTEREN: Was he asked six times that question which would lead to that answer?
KRISTOL: No, no.
CONNOLLY: As a matter of fact, Greta, it was one of the very first sentences out of his mouth inthat opening statement. That's how he began, by saying, these have been tough weeks.
He also made a comment, nobody likes to see dead people on television screens. That's a strikingacknowledgement from a president who normally has really put forth this very confident, even upbeat,optimistic kind of air.
The other thing that he made references to were the Iraqis being occupied. He has steadfastlystayed away from that phrase. And tonight he said, they don't like being occupied, and I wouldn't like beingoccupied either. Those are surprising admissions out of this president.
VAN SUSTEREN: We have 30 seconds now. I'll pick you up after we come back from break, butyou were shaking your head.
KRISTOL: No. I agree. I think these are tough times. It was important thing to say. It lays thepredicate. And to then say, not that this president will ever admit any mistakes, but to say, you know what,we did some things wrong over the last year. We're going to fix them. If we need more troops, we're goingto send in more troops. And we're going to do so aggressively. And so I think he's laid the groundwork forsome change of course in Iraq, which is good.
VAN SUSTEREN: Bill, Ceci, stand by. We're going to take a quick break.
And coming up, what surprised the 9/11 Commission the most about today's testimony? Twomembers of the commission are here.
And later, the showdown with Muqtada al-Sadr. American troops are closing in on the Iraqi clericas we speak. We'll have breaking news live from Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My message today to those inIraq is we'll stay the course. We'll complete the job. My message to our troops is we'll stay the course andcomplete the job, and you'll have what you need. And my message to the loved ones who are worried abouttheir -- their sons, daughters, husbands, wives is your loved one is performing a noble service for the causeof freedom and peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Back now with more of the president's speech tonight withBill Kristol of "The Weekly Standard" and Ceci Connolly of "The Washington Post."
Bill, take it away.
BILL KRISTOL, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, just on that, I mean -- I think one of themore effective things in the press conference, especially if you like the president in the first place, is to seehim sort of being emotional and sincere. And he really is. And you feel it. He believes this. He's not beingcynical.
He thinks it's really important that we win in Iraq. He thinks it's important we stay the course. Thesacrifices are worth it. They're worth honoring. And that part, I think, is impressive.
The thing that bothered me the most in the press conference was -- I don't know how to say this. Itwas a lack of presidential leadership. I mean, did we need more troops? Well, whatever General Abizaidasks for he's going to get. Well, President Bush is the commander in chief, not General Abizaid. He'ssupposed to weigh the advice and the recommendations of many people, including General Abizaid, andmake that decision.
How should the hand-off work on June 30? Well, Mr. Brahimi from the U.N., the former Algerianforeign minister is there. He's going to work that out.
What about the FBI and their reporting about the pre-9/11, you know, investigations? Well,they're supposed to give me, the president, the right information.
There's a certain passivity, I think, in terms of accepting recommendations from all these peoplewho work for him. And I think when we're in a real crisis, like we are in Iraq, he needs to personally makedecisions. Now maybe he is and maybe publicly he's just being sort of deferential to his generals and to theU.N. representatives.
But I think at this point he really needs to step up and make a few decisions.
CECI CONNOLLY, "WASHINGTON POST": That even is striking. You know, even tonight when theyasked about the reference in that now famous PDB of August 6, 2001, where there's an assertion that therewere 70 ongoing FBI field reports, which we now are learning was definitely an exaggeration.
And asked about it tonight, he sort of said, "Yes, somebody mentioned that to me today. Yes, I'mwaiting to get some information on that." Well, gosh, I mean, why wasn't he or some of his other topleadership asking that question over the past two and a half years?
VAN SUSTEREN: I would have taken the offensive more on that and say, "Look, you know, I'mnot trying to duck anything. I've only been in office eight months, but Congress is supposed to beoverseeing these organizations. You know, where are they? They've been asleep at the wheel, too.
I want to be more aggressive on that, because he sort of, you know, I don't know.
KRISTOL: He's the chief executive, and I do think in private, he is a pretty aggressive chief executive.When you talk to people in the White House, they say he makes decisions, he pushes people.
In public, he's decided this kind of somewhat stand-off, I'll take advise. General Abizaid, he tellsme whatever troops we need. Brahimi, he's the U.N. guy. He'll work out the decision.
But I'm worried about that, because the truth is Abizaid, for example, has informally gotten everysingle in the world from the secretary of defense that he wasn't supposed to ask for more troops. And wedon't have enough troops. And we haven't had enough troops for a long time.
The president's now going to have to change that. And I think it's better to change it fast and in abig way than gradually to increase the troops and maybe not deal with the progress effectively as we could.
VAN SUSTEREN: And sending more troops, what does that do politically, Ceci, if he's going topull the trigger on that on, sending more -- first of all, I don't know when we're going to get them, butassuming we have them.
CONNOLLY: Well, I think that the first thing that's already occurring is some are staying longerthan -- than they had believed.
VAN SUSTEREN: Which is not going to make some of those people very happy who are overthere, who get an extension.
CONNOLLY: Certainly not. I'm getting e-mails from the relatives already. Absolutely. That waswhat I was just about to say. Some of those family members that's out there, that thought they were going tobe seeing husbands and wives any day know, that's going to be extremely difficult.
I think that, if it is possible to increase the number of truths and rapidly get the situation back undercontrol, get that security that President Bush was talking about tonight. Politically that will be not only findbut a good maneuver.
If, though, this continues to drag on in the summer, approaching convention time, it will be anextremely difficult political situation.
KRISTOL: Well, it's still better to win with more troops than to lose with fewer. Look, my-- the fundamental criticism here, as if God knows what I think. And I think the president should hold thesecretary of defense, with all due respect, accountable.
The president stressed today, we're now in a war fight. Since 9/11 we're in a war fight. In whathuman issue (ph) have we gone from peace to wartime and not increased the size of the peacetime military?
We are now going to have a touch time coming up...
VAN SUSTEREN: Hey, Bill...
KRISTOL: ... with the two divisions that are necessary. We're going to have to draw out of Koreathe 3rd I.D., which just came home. It's going to have to be reconstituted before it's sent back.
It's going to be a mess, and it's going to be a mess because President Bush says we went to warafter 9/11, but Don Rumsfeld had these theories about how we didn't need ground troops anymore, and hewas wrong.
VAN SUSTEREN: Bill, Ceci, thank you both very much.
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