Was the Ball Dropped During Sept. 10 Era?

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes", March 23, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Sean joining us from the latest stop on the Hannitization of America tour, Grand Rapids tonight, Sean.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Hello, Alan. Good to see you, my friend.

COLMES: And we get right to our top story.

Officials from both the Bush and Clinton administrations testified before the 9/11 commission today about how they handled intelligence on the Al Qaeda terror network and Usama bin Laden.


MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I can say with confidence that President Clinton and his team did everything we could, everything we could think of, based on the knowledge we had to protect our people and disrupt and defeat Al Qaeda.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We were not given a counter terrorism action plan by the previous administration.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: There were three occasions following the attack on the camps and Sudan, but in each and every one of those occasions, it came back on a second look saying we don't think that we've got enough here.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Imagine that we were back before September 11, and that a U.S. president had looked at the information then available, gone before the Congress and the world, and said, "We need to invade Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and destroy the Al Qaeda terrorist network," based on what little was known before September 11.

How many countries would have joined? Many? Any? Not likely.

COLMES: Joining us from Washington, former speaker of the house and Fox News political analyst Newt Gingrich. Mr. Speaker, based on what we -- first of all, good to see you. Thanks for being here tonight.


COLMES: Based on what you've seen here, what do you glean from what's been said about the 9/11 -- from the 9/11 commission?

GINGRICH: Well, I think first of all that Secretary Rumsfeld probably captured perfectly where we were if somebody wants to slow down and be honest about it.

Afghanistan is a landlocked country. It is bounded on the north by former parts of the Soviet Union. It has China to its east. It has Iran to its southwest. It has Pakistan to its south.

I can't imagine anybody on August 1, 2001, successfully launching an American military operation of large scale into Afghanistan. The world changed on September 11, and as a result our options changed with it. So let me start with that.

Second, I think it's very telling that, unlike their former adviser Richard Clarke, neither the secretary of State nor the secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration wants to get into any kind of finger pointing.

They understand that for eight years they wrestled with this. They didn't find a solution. They don't predictably want to spend a lot of time defending what they failed to do or what they did.

And I don't think you're going to see them pointing any fingers at President Bush or Vice President Cheney or Secretary Powell or secretary Rumsfeld because they know that there were very few good options. And they know that in fact the Bush administration had begun to work in central Asia to create some covert opportunities that had not yet come to fruition on September 11.

COLMES: It's fair to think, I think there should be finger pointing on neither side and we shouldn't be blaming our fellow Americans of either party for this.

Let me put up on the screen for you and our viewers what Thomas Keane said three months ago prior to this current attention the commission is getting. They said, "As you read the port, you're going to have to have a pretty clear idea what wasn't done and what should have been done. This was not something that had to happen. There are people that, certainly, if I was doing the job, who would certainly not be in the position they were in at the time because they failed. They simply failed."

That's pretty indicting, it seems, of somebody, saying this didn't have to happen.

GINGRICH: I think first of all, Governor Keane modified that dramatically with 12 hours later and realized that what he had said was much too strong.

You know, there was a tragedy in Madrid 10 days ago, after almost three solid years of effort. There was a tragedy, near tragedy tonight in Iraq despite very strong effort.

This is a very hard problem. Tracking down and defeating terrorism is going to take a very long time. And I don't think any honest person can say with certainty that there were any set of things we could have done prior to September 11.

Were there indicators? Yes. Were there steps we could have taken? Yes. Could we do better? Yes. But I think it's going to be very hard to finger point and say there was a -- that the following four decisive things would somehow have avoided September 11. I don't think it's true.

HANNITY: Mr. Speaker, welcome back to the program. As always we appreciate you being with us.

GINGRICH: Good to be back.

HANNITY: I think there is one case to be made that I think needs to be analyzed. One of the things that's bothering me early on here is the commission is almost rejecting outright any possibility of investigating the issue of whether or not the Sudan offered the Clinton administration bin Laden on a silver platter on a number of occasions.

Now, we've interviewed people like Mansoor Ijaz, who negotiated that deal, has gone on record saying in fact yes, he was offered on a silver platter.

And Bill Clinton himself, I'll give you a "Newsday" account and I have a tape of it but it's very similar. In 1996 -- he made these comments, by the way, in August of '02. And he acknowledges that the Sudan did offer bin Laden to us when he said, "when the Sudanese released bin Laden, Bill Clinton said, 'he had not committed a crime against America, so I did not bring him here. I pleaded with the Saudis to take him. They could have, but they thought it was a hot potato and they didn't. And that's how he ended up in Afghanistan."

Don't you think that if, on three or four separate occasions, as has widely been reported now, that our country rejected taking bin Laden when offered, isn't that the biggest, single biggest mistake we've made in this whole terror issue?

GINGRICH: Well, it was certainly a mistake, and I agree with you that I think the commission should have looked at the roots of September 11. The roots of 9/11 didn't occur in the Bush administration, and the roots of 9/11 go back at least into the Clinton years if not earlier.

And I think it's a big mistake for this commission to have a very narrow, truncated look at what happened and what could have been done differently.

Certainly, there were opportunities to go after bin Laden in '96, again later, I think in '98 and '99. There were opportunities to do things that were very positive in shrinking the role of terrorism in the world. And I'm for all those things.

But I think the commission is ending up much too narrow a focus, and I think in the end the commission will report and then it will go away and we'll go on to new topics. I don't think this commission is going to unearth very much.

HANNITY: Mr. Speaker, I want to ask you this. This new book by Mr. Clarke that is out there, he accused Condoleezza Rice, I think he was particularly vicious towards her, of having never heard of Al Qaeda until he mentioned it to her in early 2001.

Quote, he said, "Her facial expression gave the impression she'd never heard of al Qaeda before."

Well, I have a tape of Condi Rice. She was on a WJR radio interview in Detroit with David Newman, and I want to play this because it contradicts that frankly mean spirited lie that's in this book. Go ahead.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Usama bin Laden do two things. The first is you really have to get the intelligence agencies better organized to deal with the terrorist threat to the United States itself. One of the problems that we have is a kind of split responsibility, of course, between the CIA and foreign intelligence and the FBI and domestic intelligence.

There needs to be better cooperation because we don't want to wake up one day and find out that Usama bin Laden has been successful on our own territory.


HANNITY: Pretty amazing, isn't it, Mr. Speaker?

GINGRICH: Well, you have to start with the idea that Dick Clarke is a giant ego in a small job.

You know, one of his complaints was that the president didn't meet with him personally. And the White House came back and pointed out that every single item in his memo had been acted on. But he apparently got lots of meetings with President Clinton but no action. And he liked meetings more than he liked action.

So this is a book of a bitter person who wanted a bigger job, didn't get it, and if you read -- the parts I've read are all self-centered. It's about -- it's about the world anti-terrorist campaign as defined by Dick Clarke despite 70 stupid people who were working near him, and it's an amazingly petty book.

HANNITY: Isn't it also amazing, too, Mr. Speaker, you could just sense and feel in the mainstream media, that they want this guy to be successful. They want this attack to stick. They didn't go back. It was hardly pointed out that he was a disgruntled employee who didn't get the promotion that he wanted.

They hardly pointed out the inconsistencies in the book. Nobody found the tape that I just played for you that shows that he was dead wrong in his observation and knowledge of what Condoleezza Rice knew.

But you would think it's the second coming the way some people are reacting to this book.

GINGRICH: Look, people on the left are so eager to beat President George W. Bush that they would embrace virtually anything or anybody that they thought would embarrass or hurt the president.

So I think you just have to get up every morning and understand The New York Times is eager to do anything it can to hurt the president, and doesn't particularly care about details.

Now in the case of Clarke, he spent eight years advising President Clinton and the Clinton administration on counter terrorism.

The Cole incident occurred during that period. The two African embassy bombings occurred during that period. You know, Clarke has a lot to answer for, and interestingly, this is one of those cases where I think Dr. Rice kept him on because she was trying to keep continuity, because she was taking terrorism seriously and she didn't want to disrupt him.

COLMES: You know, he's been viciously attacked by this administration, personally attacked by this administration. He also served Reagan and Bush 41. He's been painted as a partisan. He voted for Bush in 2000.

He's not an ideologue, and he's been personally attacked and for the most part the bulk of what he says has not been refuted by the administration. They've just gone after the guy personally. Is that the appropriate...

GINGRICH: No, wait a second. I listened to one interview last night with Dan Bartlett of the White House, and he went step by step repudiating what Clarke had said.

But take the example, Alan, that was just used about Condi Rice. Why would a man like Dick Clarke insult Dr. Rice, who had been Stanford provost, who had been on the National Security Council, who's not only brilliant but was very well informed? Why would he have such a sneering kind of attitude in his book? It doesn't make any sense.

COLMES: ... why he and O'Neill and a bunch of other people have come out, David Kay's report, that have refuted the claims made by this administration. It's one report, one person, one former, I guess, disgruntled, if you want to use it, employee after another.

And rather than actually dealing with the heart of what's being said and explaining why we were misled or why we were not told about, you know, where the WMD's are, about links to al Qaeda. rather than deal with those accusations, people are personally attacked because the administration doesn't like what they're saying.

GINGRICH: Well, in the first place, David Kay said in his testimony to the Senate that Iraq was actually more dangerous than we thought at the time, that he was delighted that President Bush had made the decision to invade, that they had explicitly violated the U.N., that they clearly were in violation of the Security Council resolutions. So let's get the facts straight.

Second, in the case of Dick Clarke, Clarke makes a series of allegations that I think are frankly false, that they're not true. And they're a reflection of Clarke's own ego and the notion that if he wasn't in the room and didn't count.

And frankly when you work with people in the caliber of Colin Powell and Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and President Bush, now they make lots of decisions based on having read your memo. But they don't necessarily think they need to have coffee with you to make it valid.

HANNITY: All right. Mr. Speaker, always appreciate having you on the program. Thank you for being with us.

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