This is a partial transcript from "HANNITY & COLMES", June 18, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: This week the 9/11 commission declared that there was no link between Saddam's regime in Iraq and the attacks of September 11. Then earlier today, Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that his nation provided the United States with evidence of Saddam's plans for terrorist attacks in the United States.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): After the events of September 11, 2001, and after military operations in Iraq, Russian Special Services and Russian intelligence several times received such information, information that official organs of Saddam's regime were preparing for terrorist acts on the territory of the United States and beyond its borders.


COLMES: And so, was Saddam really a threat? And if so, were Iraqi ties to al Qaeda part of that threat?

Joining us now, the author of "The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America," Stephen Hayes.

Stephen, thank you for being with us.


COLMES: Why do you suppose it is that Vladimir Putin is saying he had intelligence saying that Saddam was a threat to the United States? We said we already knew that; he didn't give us information we didn't already know. But at the same time Putin refuses to state that the war with Iraq, our war, was justified? Why would that be?

HAYES: I think it's a strange development and potentially a big development. I mean, if we can determine that this intelligence that they passed to the U.S. was credible, that Saddam was indeed considering or plotting to attack both inside the United States and outside the United States, obviously that may change some minds on whether the war was justified.

COLMES: But apparently not Putin's, because he was asked directly, and he would not say the war was justified between the United States and Iraq. And he was adamantly against us going in there in the first place.

HAYES: Yes. It's hard to reconcile. I mean, the only thing I can think of is that perhaps he thought that there were other ways to do it, you know, whether it means more localized strikes, eliminating the -- the threats themselves, blowing up the plots. I think there are a number of possibilities.

And let's not also forget that the Russians had pretty significant business interests with the former Iraqi regime. So he may have just done a simple cost benefit analysis and said at the end of the day, "I think it's more important for Russia to be able to continue to do business with Saddam's regime than it is to engage in a full out war with -- with Iraq."

COLMES: Right. But in terms of links with al Qaeda, evidence Exhibit A is this guy al-Zarqawi. Al-Zarqawi is operating out of northern Iraq in a part not controlled by Saddam Hussein, and George Tenet himself said that Zarqawi and Saddam did not have a relationship.

HAYES: Well, I missed George Tenet's statement on that. I don't think he said that. What Tenet actually said...

COLMES: He did.

HAYES: What Tenet said on a number of occasions was that al-Zarqawi was operating in Baghdad with two dozen Egyptian and Islamic Jihad terrorists as early as May of 2002. That was in Colin Powell's report.

COLMES: I'll give you a direct quote. Tenet said, "I did not suggest operational direction and control. He thinks of himself as independent and derives sustenance from them." That is exactly what Tenet said.

HAYES: Sure. Which part if that where -- did Tenet say that he wasn't in Baghdad?

COLMES: Not operational control, the same thing the 9/11 commission said. There was not operational...

HAYES: Alan, you're confusing -- You're confusing the issues here. Because Saddam didn't have operational control does not mean that al- Zarqawi was not operating in Baghdad.

He may not have been taking direction from Saddam in Baghdad, but clearly he was operating in Baghdad. In the fact he had telephone intercepts suggesting that it was -- that the environment there was good.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Steve -- by the way, welcome -- Stephen, welcome back to the program.

The liberals' beloved 9/11 commission, we have Chairman Tom Kean. Were there contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq? He answers yes.

Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, Democrat: "There were connections between al Qaeda and Saddam."

John Kerry, he said, "President Bush misled us about those things." Isn't it time for him to apologize for accusing the president of lying, now that we have indisputable evidence to the contrary?

HAYES: Boy, I think the Kerry -- the Kerry campaign may have made a serious mistake in getting out in front on this of what I consider to be pretty erroneous reporting -- news media reporting about what, in fact, the commission statement found.

You know, one of Kerry's senior advisers this evening actually suggested that Dick Cheney might be unfit for office for continuing to suggest that Iraq and al Qaeda had a relationship.

I mean, they're really going out on a limb here, and it seems like they want to engage on this battle.

HANNITY: Well, Vice Chairman Hamilton says there was, and so does Tom Kean. They say there was. And in spite of the false news reports and biased media.

Here's what bothers me about these liberals in general, Stephen, and this is in part what you tried to point out with the truth in your book.

Hillary Clinton in 2002 said, "Saddam has given aid and comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members." She said that in 2002.

You have John Kerry, who said, "Saddam's weapons of mass destruction are a threat. We need to disarm him." He said that in 2003. He said, "Leaving him unfettered with nuclear weapons, with WMD's, is unacceptable. If you don't believe Saddam is a threat with nuclear weapons, you shouldn't vote for me."

You see they -- Now when George Bush says any of these things, he's the only one that said them. And George Bush is a liar and George Bush misled, because they politicized this war so that they can get their power back, at a time where Americans are being beheaded.

HAYES: Look, I think you're right. I mean, you can go back and look at the Clinton administration's statements from the late 1990s, and they linked an Iraq -- Iraq to an al Qaeda-linked facility, chemical weapons facility, in the Sudan, and they were rather emphatic about this. I mean, no fewer than six...

HANNITY: Hey, Stephen, forget the late '90s. In 2003, John Kerry said, "We need to disarm Saddam Hussein, a brutal, murderous dictator. Iraq's WMD's pose a real and grave threat to the U.S."

He said that in 2003. And now he criticized the president yesterday, saying that George Bush misled on this issue. And he made that argument one year ago. And the press is giving him a pass.

HAYES: Well, I think the press has given him a pass. I mean, I think this -- Like I said, I think the Kerry campaign, engaging so ferociously on this and the Bush campaign showing no sign of backing down, the White House showing no sign of backing down, it seems to me, we have reached a critical point in the campaign.

The question is, would this have been a serious war on terror, leaving Saddam Hussein in place? And I think John Kerry has, interestingly, seems to suggest that it would be OK if Saddam Hussein remained in place. That doesn't mean that he was pro-Saddam or anything else. But it's a very interesting debate. The terms are pretty clear.

COLMES: Steve, we've got to run.

I think the key is whether there was an operational link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. That is the key issue here. I think we'll have to -- I'm sure we'll be debating this in the days to come.

HAYES: Sure.

COLMES: Thank you very much for coming to the show.

HAYES: Thanks, Alan.

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