Tackling the Rice Testimony

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," April 8, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O’REILLY, HOST: Now for the top story tonight. We're pleased to welcome the chairmen of the 9/11 Commission (search), Thomas Kean (search), the former governor of New Jersey and the vice chair, former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton (search).

Governor Kane, we'll begin with you. Did you learn anything from the Rice testimony you didn't already know?

THOMAS KEAN (R), 9/11 COMMISSION CHAIR: I didn't learn a great deal, but then we'd ... her four or five hours in private. So we had a lot of this testimony. The point of a public hearing really is not as much for the commission as to learn something as to let the public know what we've already heard.

O'REILLY: OK, and fair enough. But the problem with these hearings is that now most Americans think that they're politicized and partisan. And indeed, they are. When you had Clarke on, you had the Democrats kind of prodding him, giving him a soft soap, and the Republicans grilling them. Then you had Rice today, governor, and you had the Republicans soft soap. And the Democrats like [former Watergate prosecutor Richard]  Ben-Veniste (search) and [former Nebraska Senator Bob] Kerrey grilling her. So I don't know if this is good for the commission, sir.

KEAN: I don't know if we had too much soft soap today. I honestly think the questions from commissioners, both Republicans and Democrats were pretty tough. And...

O'REILLY: But surely you saw a difference between Ben Venisti and Kerrey's questions than the Republican guys?

KEAN: Well, there's a difference in style, but you're talking about one is a trial lawyer.

O'REILLY: Yes, but he was...

KEAN: That's the way he talks. You don't know -- he would talk that way to you.

O'REILLY: Of course he would. He'd slap me. But he wasn't a trial lawyer when Clarke went on there. He was a soft soap guy. And what I'm trying to say to you is I don't know whether this is doing the country a lot of good.

Congressman Hamilton, how do you see it?

LEE HAMILTON, 9/11 COMMISSION VICE CHAIR: If you look at Dr. Rice's testimony, it's very constructive. It's very factual. The tone of it, at least from my point of view, was very good. It was not a partisan statement. It was a strong defense of the Bush counterterrorism activity prior to 9/11.

Now I think you're right. I think some of the questions had a partisan edge to it, but the Commission is not immune from the environment in which we live. We're all former politicians. But I saw some pretty tough questions put to Dr. Rice by some of the Republicans. And I saw some...

O'REILLY: Can give me an example of one of those questions?

HAMILTON: Well, take the questions by John Lehman. When John asked Dr. Rice, were you aware, were you aware, and she kept answering no, no, no. And it showed a major fault line in our policy prior to 9/11. The stove piping phenomenon, where one hand didn't know what the other hand was doing.

O'REILLY: Well, all right, but we already know that. Look, all I want to -- look, I admire you guys and what you're trying to do because we need this. We need to have a very clear, particularly for the families, a very clear idea of what happened and what didn't happen.

But what it is is a bureaucracy that's almost impossible to get through in the executive branch. Now you talked to Bill Clinton today, governor, in private. Did you learn anything from him that you can share with us?

KEAN: We learned a great deal from him, not frankly that I can share with you because it was meeting in private. A lot of it was about information that is confidential and is -- in fact we have to keep it confidential by law. But he was forthright. He was forthcoming.

O'REILLY: Can I assume, governor, that he took the same tact that Dr. Rice took, is that they had general warnings, but nothing specific?

KEAN: He took -- he talked about general warnings, but he also talked about a lot more. And this was a fulsome four hours. And of course, we had talked to Dr. Rice before, so we knew what was coming. We had not talked to the former president before.

O'REILLY: Are you going to put him under oath?

KEAN: I think there's a lot of new information.

O'REILLY: Are you going to put him under oath so we can see what he has to say?

KEAN: No, in general, we have not put our witnesses that have come in private under oath, unless there's a direct contradiction between what they say and what some other witness says. And then we do ask them to go under oath. There were no contradictions today.

O'REILLY: All right, Congressman HAMILTON, so the United States people will never know what President Clinton told you guys today? Is that fair?

HAMILTON: I don't think they're going to know in full. Now in all of the over 1,000 interviews we've been conducted, they've been conducted in just exactly the same manner here. We're not publicizing those interviews.

In this case, you do have a very special problem. And that is when you're talking to a former president, anything that person says, that former president says is broadcast all over and has a big impact on American politics and on world politics. We wanted to know what Bill Clinton could tell us about the counterterrorism policy of his administration. He was quite candid about it, the strengths of it and some of the weaknesses of it. And he was very, very careful in his comments. And he respected, we respected his right to privacy in this matter because we learned an awful lot more from him by doing it privately.

O'REILLY: All right. Now -- but if the American people don't know what Bill Clinton told you, and I guess you're going to talk to Cheney and Bush together, that's coming up, right, in secret, as well?


O'REILLY: OK. If the American people don't know what these men tell you, then is that fair because we're the targets of the terrorists. See? We're the ones that are in danger. Shouldn't we know, governor?

KEAN: Well, you're going to find out a lot about what they told us in the report I guess that will inform the report. Now whether we quote them exactly is another question. We might do that probably after talking to them beforehand. But the whole reason for this is so we can write a report to make the American people safer. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the full story of 9/11.

O'REILLY: Are you going to quote -- all right, are you going to quote Bush and Clinton in that report? Or are you just going to keep it general?

KEAN: We may well quote them. We'd want to check anything with them before we quoted them to make sure we had it accurate. But we may well quote them if it's important to make a point.

O'REILLY: All right, I got it. Now we're going to bring you guys back. I have some controversial questions for you when we come back. Is that OK?

KEAN: That's OK.

O'REILLY: All right. We're just warming up here. And we appreciate your taking the time. We'll be back in a moment with the governor and the congressman.

And later, what do we really know historically about Jesus of Nazareth? Right back.



BOB KERREY, FMR. SENATOR: Let me also say this document of Fox News earlier, this transcript that they have, this is a background briefing. And all of us that have provided background briefings for the press before should beware. I mean, Fox should say occasionally fair and balanced after putting something like this out, because they violated a serious trust. All of us, all of us had come into this kind of an environment and provide background briefings for the press, I think, will always have this as a reminder that sometimes it isn't going to happen, that it's background.


O'REILLY: Continuing now with our lead story, we're talking with the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Governor Thomas KEAN and the vice chair, former Congressman Lee HAMILTON.

What's the matter with this Kerrey, Congressman HAMILTON? I mean, you know, we broke a story that is extremely important for the American people to know, that Richard Clarke had contradicted himself in 2002, contradicted his testimony in front of you. And Kerrey doesn't like that? What's the matter with him?

HAMILTON: Well, Bob Kerrey can speak for himself. I think I would say that he's been an important member of the commission and a very good one.

O'REILLY: Well, aren't you happy, congressman, that you know that Richard Clarke contradicted himself two years ago while working for the Bush administration? Don't you want to know that?

HAMILTON: What I want to know are the facts. And I'll make up my mind at a later time about any contradictions.

O'REILLY: OK, but if you don't know the contradiction, then how can you make up the mind about the facts?

HAMILTON: My own...

O'REILLY: OK, but I was offended by Kerrey's attack. And I thought it was blatantly partisan.


O'REILLY: And if you want to know the truth, you've got to know what Clarke had said in the past, do you not?

HAMILTON: No question. You have to know what Clarke has said in its entirety. You have to know what Dr. Rice had said in its entirety. And my own cast of mind, I can't speak for everybody, but own cast of mind, when you're dealing with very different stories on very key points, you ought not to jump to a conclusion too quickly.

O'REILLY: That's fair enough. That's fair enough.

HAMILTON: You need to assess it.

O'REILLY: You need to have all the facts, Governor KEAN. And I think the 9/11 Commission should take Fox News channel and Jim Angle out to dinner. They did -- he did you a great service by pointing out a contradiction of Richard Clarke that you needed to know about. Am I wrong, sir?

KEAN: I have no problem with finding that out. I was glad to find it out myself, but I don't know if we got enough money for dinner.

O'REILLY: All right, but what about but what's wrong with Bob Kerrey? He didn't want to find it out.

KEAN: Well, we're not of all one mind in this commission.

O'REILLY: That's obvious.

KEAN: You know, and we're going to come together, hopefully. And we're going to get a bipartisan report. But we're not -- we don't agree on everything.

O'REILLY: You should have fired him then, governor.

KEAN: That's not the chairman's prerogative.

O'REILLY: All right, I just want to clear that up that Kerrey man, he got to whip himself into shape, because -- and now, this is a serious point. Kerrey, and for a lesser extent, Ben-Veniste, although I really liked the way Ben-Veniste questions. I wish he would question everybody the same way.

All right, he's a tough questioner. He's a "Factor" kind of guy, but he's a partisan. But Kerrey himself I think has hurt the committee, Congressman HAMILTON, in the sense that millions of American people now think it's a partisan deal. And you know, Clarke has divided the country. And Clarke came on heavily against Bush. I thought that was unfair. I think both Bush and Clinton are responsible for this debacle. What say you, sir?

HAMILTON: Oh, I don't think I would be so naive as to say there's no partisanship involved here, and that we don't have some real outbreaks of partisanship from time to time. But I really do think it's not characteristic of the commission's work.

Governor Kean has been an extraordinary leader of the commission. He plays it as straight as anybody possibly could. We've had a number of votes, not a large number, but we've had a number of votes on the commission. Not a single one of them have broken on partisan lines. There's a good camaraderie. There's respect for one another in the commission.

And our job, the job for Tom Kean and myself is to try to ratchet down the partisanship, get us focused on the facts...

O'REILLY: Absolutely.

HAMILTON: ...as much as we can, which, by the way, are much more broadly agreed upon than might meet the eye.

O'REILLY: All right, and let's talk about that the last couple of minutes.

HAMILTON: OK, and then try to build a consensus.

O'REILLY: Right. But I don't think you're going to have any problem with that. And correct me if I'm wrong. We'll start with you, Governor Kean. The bureaucracy in the executive branch of government in this country is almost impenetrable. So Richard Clarke (search) had a hard time getting his case foot in front of George Bush. But that's been every president we've almost ever had. It's a really tough deal to get the president's attention. Would that be accurate?

KEAN: That would be accurate.

O'REILLY: OK, Congressman Hamilton, because of that very thick bureaucracy, the threat of al Qaeda was not brought to the attention of President Bush in the first seven or eight months of his administration, correct?

HAMILTON: Well, I don't know that I'd agree with that. I think that there were a number of warnings in the intelligence information that flowed to the president, that gave him some information. Now we're trying to assess how deep, how urgent, how strong that information was. But to say none at all went to him, I think, is an overstatement.

O'REILLY: OK. Dr. Rice's contention, governor, is that it was all general information. I don't know whether that's true. I do know that President Clinton at eight years, and al Qaeda grew in ferocity and strength. And I spoke to President Clinton face-to-face. And I believed the man. I mean, he didn't know that this attack was going to happen and neither did President Bush. They didn't know. Because if they did, they would have stopped it, correct?

HAMILTON: That's correct.

KEAN: That's correct.

O'REILLY: All right now, CIA FBI, they're the ones who didn't share information. And that's where the system broke down, I believe, mostly. Congressman Hamilton, am I right or wrong in that?

HAMILTON: Well, no, I think you're basically right. I -- and not just confined to those two. But what you really have here is, it seems to me, a systemic problem. The government receives huge quantities of information. Millions of bytes of data every hour or so, often in languages other than English. And then to collect that information, to analyze it, and to disseminate it to the right people at the right time is a task of enormous proportions.

O'REILLY: Yes, especially when you hate each other and you don't talk to each other, and you're all trying to take credit for everything, as that was what was going on. Governor...

HAMILTON: Well, especially...

O'REILLY: Go ahead.

HAMILTON: ...especially when you have institutions and bureaucracies...


HAMILTON: ...that for years and years have worked in their own domain.

O'REILLY: And share in their own interest, not always in the interest of the nation. And I think that's...

HAMILTON: And as Dr. Rice said today, sharing the information is a very key part...

O'REILLY: Right.

HAMILTON: ...of developing a good counterterrorism policy.

O'REILLY: Last question for you, governor. When do you think the whole report is going to be able to be read by the American people?

KEAN: By the end of July. I can't give you an exact date because the administration or the president's people have got to review the report. That's the law.

O'REILLY: Right. End of July.

KEAN: So as soon as they finish that review, it'll be out.

O'REILLY: OK, I hope you guys will come back and talk to us. You're welcome any time, but certainly when the report comes out. Thank you very much, gentlemen. Enjoyed the conversation. Thanks for being candid.

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