This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," February 23, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: A short time ago, I spoke with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the controversial port deal that has created so much controversy in our nation's capital.
HANNITY: Mr. Attorney General, good to see you.
ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good to see you, Sean.
HANNITY: We appreciate you being here. Let's start with the ports issue. It's gotten a lot of news. You were on the Committee on Foreign Investment, part of the vetting process. There's been a lot of controversy over this, even within Republican circles.
Is there anything to be concerned about? Tell us about that vetting process.
GONZALES: Well, it's a very thorough vetting process that we're required to go through, in connection with acquisition of a U.S. company by a foreign company or by a foreign country that may impact in an adverse way the national security of our country.
The Department of Justice is a member of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. We have 30 days to do our own independent review and see whether or not we should raise an objection to the transaction going forward.
And so the department, like the other members of the committee, did our own independent assessment and made the determination that we had no reasons to raise an objection to this transaction going forward. We, all of us, have as our objective to ensure that our national security is not impaired in any way by this transaction.
These transactions, we had 60 that were approved by CFIUS last year, something like 50 the year before. So this is not something that is unusual or rare. We engage in these kind of evaluations all the time. And we're very careful in evaluating this transaction.
I think part of the problem is that a lot of people don't have information about the parties involved, about the transaction, about the security measures that are going to be imposed in connection with this transaction. And I'm hopeful that, as we get more information out to the public and the Congress, that people will become more reassured about this transaction.
HANNITY: Let's talk about that, because I think the question a lot of people have is, is 30 days long enough? This committee was first formed and created in 1988. It formally has only rejected one of 1,530 transactions in that time. What do you say to the critics who say, in that sense, it seems rubber-stampish?
GONZALES: I would say it's not rubber-stampish. We take this responsibility extremely seriously. The reason why there is such a high approval rate is because we do work with the parties.
And to the extent that we have concerns, we seek assurances from the parties. The parties make certain representations, certain agreements to the United States government that assures us that the national security of this country will not be compromised. And to the extent they can't give us those assurances, from the parties, the transaction doesn't go forward.
And so, again, always the focus on ensuring that the national security of this country is protected.
HANNITY: The president has made the case that, since 9/11, the United Arab Emirates has changed. But yet, they still do not formally recognize Israel. They were one of only three countries that recognized the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The 9/11 Commission report refers to Dubai on multiple occasions, pointing out that a lot of the money — their banking system filtered a lot of the money for operational planning for the 9/11 attack and a lot of the transportation hub was used out of the UAE.
Are you convinced that all of those matters have been fixed? And how troubling is it if they won't recognize Israel? Does that show, in some way, that they're influenced by more radical elements?
GONZALES: The president said that this country is a country that's played by the rules. It has been an ally to the United States in the War on Terror. Michael Chertoff and the Department of Homeland Security, they have the primary responsibility of ensuring that our ports are secure. And so DHS has taken the lead in ensuring that the national security is not in any way compromised by this transaction going forward.
The department, as all the other agencies involved in the CFIUS process, we conduct our own evaluation as to whether or not, are there any criminal investigations that may be affected by this transaction? We do a background check on the owners, on the directors. So we do our part in ensuring the national security of this country is not compromised in this transaction going forward.
HANNITY: Does the non-recognition of Israel show, somehow, an influence by radical elements?
GONZALES: Again, Sean, we have followed the process required by the statute. Our collective judgment is that this transaction does not imprecate the national security of this country.
HANNITY: Customs and the Coast Guard are going to handle security at the ports. And the president's made a very big point of bringing that to the attention of the American people.
What exactly do they do to ensure that a terrorist could not infiltrate or get hired in some way and sneak some type of either dirty bomb or plan some type of strategic attack against the country? What is done specifically?
GONZALES: They do the same thing they would do with respect to if an American company was operating the port. I mean, there are procedures in place, regulations that have to be followed, security measures that are in place that everyone in connection with a port is expected to follow.
In addition to that, it's not just the Coast Guard, and it's not just Customs that's involved in ensuring the security of the ports. We have local authorities that are involved, and they also play a very important role in ensuring that a terrorist is not hired.
HANNITY: We've got word on a couple of things. Number one, the president talked about an attack that had been thwarted and planned for Los Angeles. More importantly, there were the arrests this week of the three in Ohio. What can you tell us about that? And can you specifically refer to any of the intelligence gathering techniques that have been in the news a lot lately that were used to capture these three people?
GONZALES: Well, I can't go beyond the facts of the indictment, Sean. We have a process in place, and I would say as a matter of practice and ethical consideration, I can't go into facts that are beyond the indictment.
What I can say is that we feel very strongly in this case. We believe this is a case that deserves to be brought. We believe these individuals represented a threat to the United States of America, as set forth in the indictment.
And we're not going to do anything, and have not done anything, to jeopardize the investigation or this prosecution in the manner in which we've collected information or intelligence that has helped us move forward with this investigation.
HANNITY: You were talking earlier this week. You said the three defendants educated themselves on how to make and use explosives and suicide bomb vests.
Is this something that is most probably inevitable, inasmuch as the 9/11 Commission says it's a matter of when, not a matter of if? Do we see the things that are happening in Israel? Is it our great fear that this is coming to the United States? And was this, in your view, in your estimation, what the plan was here?
GONZALES: What I can say, Sean, is that, as the president has said, America is safer today because of the many things that we've done to make America safer. But we are not yet safe.
And I read the intelligence reports every morning. And am I worried about another attack? All of us in government are worried about another attack. And that's why we're doing everything we can do to ensure that America is safer.
HANNITY: All right. Let me move on. Can you say to some extent, when we look at the whole NSA program — and you've commented extensively about it — I mean, is it possible now that it has been revealed, that you would disclose to the public, for example, that information that lead to the arrest of, say, these three individuals, that it was gained by warrantless surveillance, as other people say it, and you would argue constitutional surveillance?
GONZALES: As soon as we can give out more information about this program, we will. We believe there is a good story to tell here, Sean. We believe this program has been effective, has been valuable, and these are the words from General Mike Hayden, the deputy director of national intelligence, from Bob Mueller, the director of the FBI.
But we have to be careful about talking too much about the successes of this program and operational capabilities relating to this program. Much of the program has not been discussed publicly. It remains an effective program.
We believe it has been compromised to some extent by the disclosures and by our discussions about the program, but it remains a valuable tool, and therefore, for that reason, I'm limited about what I can say about it.
HANNITY: We'll have more of my interview with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in just a moment.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Welcome back to "Hannity & Colmes."
We now continue with Sean's interview with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
HANNITY: In your Wall Street Journal piece, you said, "With the recent leak of the NSA's terrorist surveillance program." Does that take away one of the best tools we have in our arsenal in combating terror, the fact that this was even reported on in the first place?
GONZALES: In order to win the war on terrorism, we have to win the war of information. Information is so very, very valuable. This is an important tool in gathering up information.
This is a very smart enemy. They watch what we do. They listen to what we say. They listen to our discussions, and they can't help but be affected by reading every day and hearing everyday discussions about this program and possibly how this program is operated. So it has made a difference.
HANNITY: You said that, after September 11th, when Congress gave the president authority — you basically said they were only confirming the constitutional authority that the president already had, which was to use all necessary and appropriate force.
Can you explain this, because it's even gone as far — we had a congressman on the program last night that thinks we need to take it — we need to investigate the possibility of impeaching the president over the use of this intelligence program, that they bypassed the FISA court, et cetera.
But you're saying this only really reaffirms the president's inherent constitutional authority. Can you explain that in detail?
GONZALES: First of all, let me just say that talk about impeachment, in this particular case, is ridiculous. This is about a commander-in-chief using authorities that have long been used by other commanders-in-chief in a time of war to engage in electronic surveillance of the enemy.
GONZALES: Ever since we've had electronic communications, and particularly during a time of war, presidents have authorized the electronic surveillance of the enemy.
People assume that once Congress passes FISA that's the end of the discussion, but you also have to see what Congress has done subsequent to the passage of FISA, and we say that if you look at the authorization to use force, that is a subsequent action by the Congress authorizing this kind of surveillance.
And also, of course, you have to look to see whether or not the statute is constitutional as applied.
HANNITY: Is it?
GONZALES: Well, I think there were some serious questions as to whether or not this statue — if the intent is to limit the ability of the president of the United States, the commander-in-chief, during a time of war to engage in electronic surveillance of the enemy, I think there are some serious questions here.
I mean, that is a core commander-in-chief power, and it is something that has been long-recognized by tradition, long-recognized in the courts. The last court to look at this issue has indicated that — this is the FISA Court of Review — has indicated that to the extent that the FISA would limit that power, that that encroachment could not stand.
HANNITY: You know what is interesting? The war of words, sometimes you'll hear people that have opposed the president's use of this, what I would argue, too, is a constitutional power, they'll say it's a domestic spying program, and the administration will say it's a terrorist surveillance program.
GONZALES: It is not a domestic spying program, because every communication — the program the president has authorized is the surveillance of communications where one end is outside the United States. That is an international communication. That is not a domestic communication.
HANNITY: In other words, it has to — that was one of the main conditions that you pointed out, that it had to be somebody believed to be related to a terror organization, i.e. Al Qaeda, they had to be calling from outside the United States was one of the main criteria.
GONZALES: One of the parties had to be outside the United States, and there had to be reasonable grounds to believe by a career professional out at NSA that a party to the communication is a member of agent of al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization.
HANNITY: All right. Last question about this: You know, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, Democrats are arguing it had a provision in there that you could go to this secret court and that you could get permission and you could even do it, what, 72 hours retroactively.
HANNITY: Why do you say that that is not necessary in this particular case, especially in light of the authorization of Congress immediately after the 9/11 attack?
GONZALES: First of all, before the attorney general authorizes emergency authorizations, but before I can grant that verbal authorization, I have to be satisfied that every requirement under FISA can be satisfied.
And in certain circumstances, that can be very time-consuming. We sometimes don't have days. We sometimes don't have weeks. We sometimes don't have months to go up on surveillance of a communication involving Al Qaeda. Sometimes we only have hours.
And FISA has been a very important tool in the war on terror, but it is not an effective tool under certain kinds of circumstances.
HANNITY: You enjoying the job?
GONZALES: This is a great privilege to serve the United States of America and the American people. Yes, I love my job.
HANNITY: Do you get to see the president a lot?
GONZALES: Not as much as I used to, but as Andy Card would say — the chief of staff — when I need to see the president, I get to see the president.
HANNITY: You get to see him. And then you get to go before Congress and have fun with some of those congressional committees, which...
GONZALES: You know, it's part of the job, and I think it's important to try to educate the American people through these hearings about what we're doing and why.
HANNITY: Mr. Attorney General, thank you for stopping by.
GONZALES: Thanks, Sean.
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