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Video: Donilon, Giuliani, Chertoff, Hayden, roundtable

updated 5/8/2011 12:26:28 PM ET 2011-05-08T16:26:28

MR. DAVID GREGORY: This Sunday, a special edition of MEET THE PRESS: The U.S. and the world after Osama bin Laden.

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(Videotape)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: Our strategy is working, and there is no greater evidence of that than justice finally being delivered to Osama bin Laden.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: The big questions now: Are we safer? Is al-Qaeda a diminished foe? Should the U.S. accelerate its withdrawal from Afghanistan? And did Pakistan knowingly shelter the most wanted man in the world?

(Videotape)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA): How could bin Laden have gone undetected living next door to Pakistan's equivalent of West Point?

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Joining us for his first appearance on MEET THE PRESS, the president's national security adviser, Tom Donilon. Then, the ongoing debate. Does bin Laden's death and the intelligence gathered to find him vindicate the Bush administration's aggressive counterterror policies? With us, former director of the CIA during the Bush administration, Michael Hayden; former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff; and the mayor of New York City during the 9/11 attacks, Rudy Giuliani. Finally, the political impact. The ultimate commander in chief moment for Obama. Is it a game changer for 2012 as a still unsettled Republican field holds its first debate? Our roundtable weighs in: associate editor of The Washington Post and author of "Obama's Wars," Bob Woodward; presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin; the BBC's Katty Kay; and columnist for Time magazine, Republican strategist Mike Murphy. Announcer: From NBC News in Washington, MEET THE PRESS with David Gregory.

MR. GREGORY: Good morning.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: The raid on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, last Sunday not only resulted in the killing of the world's most wanted man, it provided U.S. intelligence officials a treasure trove of data showing, they say, that bin Laden had remained highly active in directing al-Qaeda in the decade since 9/11. Among some of the items released by the U.S. government yesterday afternoon, five videotapes showing never seen before images of bin Laden. Several include actual or practice messages to the American people, and one shows a gray-bearded bin Laden huddled under a blanket flipping through what appears to be news footage of himself on television. The audio from the seized tapes was not released by the government, officials saying it's an effort not to further spread bin Laden's anti-American propaganda. Shortly after the tapes were distributed to the press, I sat down with the president's national security adviser, Tom Donilon. Mr. Donilon, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. TOM DONILON: Hi. Thank you, David. Glad to be here.

MR. GREGORY: Good to have you here.

MR. DONILON: Thank you.

MR. GREGORY: Bottom line what you're learning, based on new information, new intelligence from this raid. We've referenced the videos just a moment ago.

MR. DONILON: Well, couple points on that. First of all, as you know, the forces, when they went in Sunday night, obviously took out Osama bin Laden, but also gathered up all the material that they could for exploitation by intelligence services, first point. Second is the scale of what we've got here. This is the largest cache of intelligence derived from the scene of any single terrorist. It's about the size, the CIA tells us, of a small college library.

MR. GREGORY: And what does that mean? What does it actually tell us? We look at the video that we showed before...

MR. DONILON: Yeah, yeah.

MR. GREGORY: ...you see Osama bin Laden looking at images of himself on a screen.

MR. DONILON: Yes.

MR. GREGORY: Where is that actually happening, and when? Do you have an idea?

MR. DONILON: Yeah. I, I, I don't have an idea with respect to the timing that I can share with you at this point. But let me say three or four things about it, all right?

MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

MR. DONILON: Point one is it indicates to us that in addition to being the symbolic leader of al-Qaeda, that Osama bin Laden was involved operationally in strategic direction, in the direction of operations, including their propaganda efforts, obviously.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. DONILON: Right.

MR. GREGORY: Propaganda's one thing, though. What, what leads you to believe that he's actually operationally in control? Because that would be something different than what intelligence officials have believed over the several years.

MR. DONILON: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I can tell you at this point--again, and we're just at the front end of this, David.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. DONILON: And you know me well enough to know that I'm not going to say anything I don't--I really haven't had a chance to study at this point, right? We're just starting to go through this treasure--this, this large cache of information. And we'll learn as we go along. We'll have, hopefully, information about our ability to, additionally, tactically and strategically defeat al-Qaeda. But if we develop any information about planning or imminent threats, obviously, we will act on this. But it is important, it is important, that Osama bin Laden--and I can tell you this, based on the initial look at this material--had an operational and strategic direction role, which makes the raid last Sunday night and the event last Sunday night all the more important in terms of our ultimate strategic goal, which is the strategic defeat of this organization.

MR. GREGORY: But, again, you talk about the propaganda value. There were some additional tapes that the government released as well...

MR. DONILON: Yes.

MR. GREGORY: ...of bin Laden making addresses, one purportedly to the United States.

MR. DONILON: Yes.

MR. GREGORY: These were--that he had prepared. But based on what, do you say, that he was effectively still calling the shots for al-Qaeda?

MR. DONILON: Well, based on the information that we've seen, the initial, initial pass-through information.

MR. GREGORY: Specific plots?

MR. DONILON: I don't want to get into details.

MR. GREGORY: OK. But we know that there was some discussion, at least aspirationally, of an attack on the rail system in the United States, perhaps on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

MR. DONILON: And to the, and to the extent that we hear information like that, we obviously make the appropriate notices and take the appropriate actions.

MR. GREGORY: Where there were--there were references to specific plots?

MR. DONILON: I don't want to get into the details of what we found.

MR. GREGORY: All right, let's talk about the threat now. How worried are you about retaliation for the killing of bin Laden?

MR. DONILON: Well, we--sorry. A couple of points. The president said, when he announced the action to the nation last Sunday night--and this is a significant achievement in terms of our ability to defeat the al-Qaeda organization, which is a principle counterterrorism goal of the United States. But as the president said the other night, this is not the end of the effort against al-Qaeda, and we fully expect the threat to continue, and we'll continue to press our efforts. Indeed, after the raid and the killing of Osama bin Laden last Sunday night, we'll continue to press very hard and take every opportunity we have as this organization tries to survive.

MR. GREGORY: But do you specifically fear retaliation?

MR. DONILON: Well, at this point I don't have a specific thing to talk to you about at this point, but obviously in our planning before we undertook the raid, we thought hard about specific kinds of actions that, that could be taken. And that, and, and you saw the rhetoric at the end of last week, which is to be expected. And as the president said Sunday night, it's absolutely critical for us to remain vigilant as we continue to press this organization.

MR. GREGORY: The, the larger question, Mr. Donilon, was captured I think by that Newsweek cover this week in a special edition: "Mission Accomplished: But are we any safer?" Was this a death blow to al-Qaeda?

MR. DONILON: Well, I think at this point--I don't--I think at this point we can't declare al-Qaeda strategically defeated. They continue to be a threat to the United States. But we have taken a really important milestone in terms of taking, taking down this organization. Now...

MR. GREGORY: Are they a leaderless operation at this point?

MR. DONILON: Well, at this point they have to work--they'll, as an organization will have to work themselves through some sort of succession. And al-Zawahiri is the--has been...

MR. GREGORY: Ayman al-Zawahiri, who, who--it's coming out, according to intelligence officials--may not have been and may not now be a particularly popular figure within al-Qaeda.

MR. DONILON: I think our assessment is that he is not anywhere near the leader that Osama bin Laden was.

MR. GREGORY: And, therefore, can al-Qaeda still be as potent without a strong leader like bin Laden was?

MR. DONILON: I think it's a real blow. Let me say two things about that. Number one, we assessed at the end of last year, given the efforts that we undertook at the beginning of the administration, following on the efforts of the prior administration, that al-Qaeda was in the weakest shape it had been in since 2001. And with--now, but still a dangerous organization. And with the steps that we took with the assault on the compound in Pakistan and the killing of Osama bin Laden, they are even weaker still. And we will continue to press this as we, as we push towards--as I, as I phrased, a strategic defeat of this organization, which is our national goal.

MR. GREGORY: Let me talk about Pakistan.

MR. DONILON: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: Back in November of 2001, after the 9/11 attacks...

MR. DONILON: Yes.

MR. GREGORY: ...President Bush went to Fort Campbell, where President Obama just spoke on Friday, and he had a very clear message about what was then labeled the Bush doctrine. And this is what he said.

(Videotape, November 21, 2001)

FMR. PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: America has a message for the nations of the world. If you harbor a terrorist, you are a terrorist. If you train or arm a terrorist, you are a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist or fund a terrorist, you're a terrorist, and you will be held accountable by the United States and our friends.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Is Pakistan guilty of harboring Osama bin Laden?

MR. DONILON: Well, at this point I can tell you directly that I've not seen evidence that would tell us that the political, the military, or the intelligence leadership had foreknowledge of, of bin Laden.

MR. GREGORY: But how could they not know is what members of Congress from both parties are saying.

MR. DONILON: No, I understand. I understand that, right? But at this point we've not--I haven't seen evidence that would indicate that they had foreknowledge of this. That's the first point. The second point, though, is the fact which you're alluding to, is that Osama bin Laden was in this town for six years, 35 miles away from the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad, in a town that was known as a military town, where they had an important military academy. This needs to be investigated. The Pakistanis have said they're going to investigate it. This is a very big issue in Pakistan right now. How could this have happened in Pakistan? We need to investigate it. We need to work with the Pakistanis, and we're pressing the Pakistanis on this investigation.

MR. GREGORY: If we find out...

MR. DONILON: And the intelligence, by the way...

MR. GREGORY: If the government finds out that Pakistan harbored Osama bin Laden, what are the consequences?

MR. DONILON: Well, let me--I don't want to speculate with respect to a hypothetical at this point. I do want to say something else, though.

MR. GREGORY: But--hold on one second. That's not a hypothetical. That is the object, the subject of your investigation into Pakistan right now.

MR. DONILON: Yeah, but I don't--I, I think that, I think that we should find the facts first, right? That's the first thing I want to say.

MR. GREGORY: But the president's not going--he had a visit planned, he's holding off on that until you learn more?

MR. DONILON: We--there's not a visit on his schedule at this point, right, to go to Pakistan, but there wasn't be--at this point in terms of scheduling before the events of last Sunday.

MR. GREGORY: But will Pakistan be held accountable, should what President Bush alluded to, that they were harboring a terrorist? If that proves to be the case, will they be held accountable?

MR. DONILON: Well, I think that we, I think that we've indicated that, that, that we will act to protect our interests. And with respect to Pakistan, I want to put it in perspective. It's really important to do this. We've had, we've had differences with Pakistan. The harboring--there was some support network in Abbottabad, Pakistan, which--that supported bin Laden. We haven't seen evidence that the government knew about that. But they need to investigate that, and they need to provide us with intelligence, by the way, from the compound that they've gathered, including access to Osama bin Laden's three wives, whom they have in, in custody. But it is important to underscore here that we need to act in our national interests. We have had difficulties with Pakistan, as I've said, but we've also had to work very closely with Pakistan in our counterterror efforts. More terrorists and extremists have been captured and killed in Pakistan than any place else in the world.

MR. GREGORY: But you still didn't trust them enough to share the details of the operation beforehand.

MR. DONILON: Well, that's, that's not a matter of trust or not trusting, and let me address that. It's a matter of operational security. When the president was briefed on this operation and the suspicion that we had that the compound in Abbottabad was probably housing a high value target and it developed to be our assessment was Osama bin Laden, he said from the beginning we have to have the absolute tightest operational security on this. Why? Let's still finish the answer. Why? One, because if it leaked at all, he would've been out of there. Right? And two, obviously, we have an obligation to protect the safety and security of our operators. So we, we only shared this operation with a very small circle within our own government. And to share it with any government outside the United States would've been to lose control of dissemination, which would not have been in the national interest. And it's an extraordinary aspect of this operation, as you know, that we were able to maintain the operational security for as long as we did.

MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the ongoing debate about how we got to this moment.

MR. DONILON: Sure.

MR. GREGORY: The debate about how the intelligence was gathered originally that ultimately left--led the government to find bin Laden, to carry out this raid.

MR. DONILON: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: And whether there was a level of vindication for the aggressive counterterror policies of the Bush administration. Charles Krauthammer wrote this in Friday's Washington Post, his column. "Whence came the intelligence that led to Abbottabad? Many places, including from secret prisons in Romania and Poland; from terrorists seized and kidnapped, then subjected to interrogations, sometimes `harsh' or `enhanced'; from Gitmo detainees; from a huge bureaucratic apparatus of surveillance and eavesdropping. In other words, from a Global War on Terror infrastructure that critics, including Barack Obama himself, deplored as a tragic detour from American rectitude." Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense secretary of the Bush administration, said this on Fox this week.

MR. DONILON: Mm-hmm.

(Videotape, Wednesday)

MR. DONALD RUMSFELD: I think that anyone who suggests that the enhanced techniques--let's be blunt, water boarding--did not produce an enormous amount of valuable intelligence just isn't facing the truth.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: How do you respond?

MR. DONILON: Yeah. Let me say a couple of things. First of all, I'm not going to comment on specific pieces of intelligence and the source, point one. Point two, I can tell you this, that the intelligence achievement here, the intelligence assessment that was brought to President Obama beginning in the summer of last year with the result of hundreds of pieces of intelligence over many years by the CIA and other institutions in the government, no single piece of intelligence led to this. David, that's not the way this works. Right? Over time, you have professionals combing through this and, and the, and the case goes cold and it heats up again, right, you know.

MR. GREGORY: But there's a specific point.

MR. DONILON: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: Did harsh interrogation help in the effort to ultimately identify where he was?

MR. DONILON: No single piece of intelligence led to this. Now, we had intelligence...

MR. GREGORY: But both things could be true.

MR. DONILON: I know. Let me answer the question.

MR. GREGORY: But can you address my question.

MR. DONILON: Yes.

MR. GREGORY: Did harsh interrogations...

MR. DONILON: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: ...help in the hunt for bin Laden?

MR. DONILON: I'm not, I'm not going to comment on specific intelligence except, except to say the following, that intelligence was gathered from detainees, it was gathered through interrogation, it was gathered from other liaison services, it was gathered technically, it was gathered through human sources, right, over time. And it was gathered, by the way--and this is a very important point I think for your viewers and for Americans generally to understand--this was an effort across two administrations. Indeed, many of the same professionals who worked for President Bush on this project work with us today. Right? So it is not a matter of, of partisanship. And indeed, one of the messages I think that goes out from this is this, that the United States, about its goals, has persistence and determination. That the United States does what it says it's going to do and, very importantly, last Sunday night the world saw, it has the capabilities to do so.

MR. GREGORY: Couple of final points about the operation, the now famous photograph of the Situation Room.

MR. DONILON: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: You're standing in the back with your arms crossed as you are watching this incredibly risky and dramatic scene play out.

MR. DONILON: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: The raid on the compound. And the details that emerged proved to be incorrect in part. They had to be corrected.

MR. DONILON: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: How did that confusion come about?

MR. DONILON: Yeah. Let me address that. It is, it is not surprising that in the wake of a military operation some of the initial reports will be confused and not precisely accurate. We tried to put out information as responsibly and as timely as we could to you and, and others in the press and to the public. When we got corrections, as we continue to work through this, we've put out refinements and corrections to try to get the stories accurate as possible, but that doesn't detract from the overall arc of the story, which has been clear since Sunday night, that we had an intelligence achievement here, we had an amazing military operation, and Osama bin Laden was killed Sunday night. That all was absolutely true, and the arc of that story, despite the fact that there had to be some refinements--which is not unusual, David, as you know, in covering these things or an action like this--don't detract from that.

MR. GREGORY: Final point.

MR. DONILON: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: You were with the president at Fort Campbell...

MR. DONILON: Yes.

MR. GREGORY: ...when he met privately with the heroes who pulled off this operation.

MR. DONILON: Yes.

MR. GREGORY: I'm curious, did he want to know who pulled the trigger?

MR. DONILON: I don't want to get into--I don't want to get into the specifics of the briefing. This is what I can tell you, though.

MR. GREGORY: It's my understanding that nobody would admit to actually pulling the trigger because part of the culture of the Navy SEALs is...

MR. DONILON: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: ..."Look, we're all a team here, there's no, there's no single person."

MR. DONILON: Right. And, and it was very much a team presentation. And he was briefed. It's very interesting, not by the brass, but by the operators. He was briefed on every moment of the operation from the moment they took off from Afghanistan to the moment they returned. And every action that they took, everything they saw was fully briefed to the president yesterday, and it was, it was a very moving moment. You know, he said yesterday to them, he said, "This is the small--the finest small fighting force the world has ever seen." And it was. And it was. It was a circumstantial case on the intelligence. It was 50/50 on the intelligence. And I observed this, and the president said this to these, to these folks yesterday. I think what tilted the decision was 100 percent confidence in their capability.

MR. GREGORY: We'll leave it there. Mr. Donilon, thank you very much.

MR. DONILON: Thank you, David.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: And we turn live now to three men who have worked on the front lines on the war on terror: the former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, former director of the CIA Michael Hayden, who now both work as principals of the Chertoff Group, a strategic advisory and risk management security firm; and from New York, the mayor of New York City, of course, during the 9/11 attacks, Rudy Giuliani, now head of Giuliani Partners. Welcome to all of you. General Hayden, I want to start with you.

MR. MICHAEL HAYDEN: Sure.

MR. GREGORY: The news here that Mr. Donilon talked about. This is the largest trove of data from any single terrorist that the government has found. What are you learning now that we didn't know before?

MR. HAYDEN: Well, I think they're going after it in several levels, David. The first thing you want to find out is imminent threat information. The second layer of detail you want to find out is locational information and al-Qaeda leadership. And then the third--and this is the long-term effort--you're essentially creating an encyclopedia of how al-Qaeda operates, what their system is, their tactics, their techniques, their procedures. This is wonderful, not just in its size, but we have not gotten what we call SSE, sensitive sight exploitation, going in and getting materials on al-Qaeda leadership for several years. So it's big and it's new.

MR. GREGORY: It was, it was the understanding of the intelligence

community, Secretary Chertoff, that after 9/11, he, he no longer became

operationally involved.

FMR. SEC'Y MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: Now, we're seeing these videos, difficult to know, but you heard Donilon say, "No, we think he was more directly in control." What do you think that means?

SEC'Y CHERTOFF: Well, I think it's going to cause us to evaluate a little bit more about what the leadership structure is and what his role was, and, and particularly to look at the material that's being exploited and to see whether there are, in fact, leads that can take us to protect against future attacks. That being said, we always knew, and I think it's still clear, that there was a cadre of very experienced leaders below bin Laden. People like...(unintelligible)...or Abu Faraj al-Libbi, or al-Awlaki in Yemen. And those are still in place. And so part of what we need to do is try to understand what their tactics and strategy are based upon the material that we find in this treasure trove.

MR. GREGORY: Mayor Giuliani, the question of what this represents against al-Qaeda, death blow or something else, this is certainly a significant development.

SEC'Y CHERTOFF: A very significant development. Removing a leader of the significance of, of this man is, is extraordinary. I mean, this is like removing a Hitler or a Stalin in the middle of those, of those conflicts. He's going to be very hard to replace. And it, it's a symbolic blow for an organization that feeds a lot on emotion. This is a decentralized organization that's tied together by their feelings and emotions. So removing this man will help a lot. But it's not a death blow by any means. I mean, this is a pretty decentralized organization. Over the last couple of years they've been operating in Yemen, other places. So they're not operating just one place. And I think they're particularly angry at us right now. So, long-term, this is a fabulous, terrific development, making us safer. Short-term, it presents some very substantial risks, which I think the administration is aware of.

MR. GREGORY: Secretary Chertoff, I want to play you a piece of an interview I did this week as part of our Press Pass conversation of--something we do weekly that's up on our Web site--with Steve Coll, the author of "Ghost Wars," who knows al-Qaeda so well. Asked about what al-Qaeda's still capable of and this is what he said in part.

(Videotape)

MR. STEVE COLL: Al-Qaeda is a resilient organization, but it is not spreading or growing. So it has the capability to carry out attacks such as the one we saw Christmas before last where an al-Qaeda affiliate did try to blow up and almost did blow up and American airliner with several hundred people aboard. Now, that is, I think, a fair approximation of its capacity. Once in a while, it could kill hundreds of people. That ought to get our attention, but it need not be the basis for organizing every aspect of our national life or our national defense.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Do you agree with that or not?

SEC'Y CHERTOFF: Well, I don't know if I would agree that it's not spreading. I mean, I think if you look over the last few years, you've seen a greater presence of al-Qaeda or an affiliation with al-Qaeda in North Africa, obviously in Yemen and Somalia, and even in parts of Central Africa. I think what's interesting is this: We don't know to what extent the strategy of going for the big attack, which we've always presumed was a core element of the strategy, was driven by bin Laden personally. Now that he's gone, there may be an opportunity for some others who have different views about the style of attacks to begin to shape the strategy. For example, does that mean more Mumbai attacks, where instead of blowing up an airliner you're bringing simultaneous armed attacks on a number of different facilities? So while this is, on the one hand, a great advantage, eliminating bin Laden, on the other hand, we have to be more careful than ever to look at what may be tactical changes in how they move forward.

MR. GREGORY: General Hayden, are you concerned that they didn't capture him alive?

MR. HAYDEN: No. I mean, it, it might have provided some intelligence advantages, but I doubt very much more than we're going to get from the documents and the hard drives and the discs and so on. No, I understand quite well. And then you would have, then you would have had somebody in our custody, and that would have been in the news every day and motivating people. Perhaps people now will be less interested in coming to kill us because of some of the videos that we've been able to show.

MR. GREGORY: Let me follow up with all of you on this other ongoing debate that I asked Mr. Donilon about, interrogations, the counterterror policies after 9/11, specifically waterboarding. General Hayden, isn't it something of an open question as to whether that--you can tie that moment to this moment? In other words, harsh interrogation, waterboarding of suspected terrorists ultimately led us to bin Laden? Can we make that declaring statement?

MR. HAYDEN: I, I wouldn't, I wouldn't describe it that way. I'd describe it the way Director Panetta has done in some public commentary, that one of the key threads that we began this from about four years ago came from information from CIA detainees. And all of those particular detainees did indeed have enhanced interrogation techniques used against them. So you, you can't deny that we got valuable information from these folks. Now, Director Panetta went on to say it's just an open question whether we, we may have gotten them from other means. But the fact of the matter is, we did it this way and this way worked.

MR. GREGORY: Mayor Giuliani, but you heard a declarative statement from Secretary Rumsfeld who said anybody who questions whether waterboarding worked is simply denying facts. How can he make that assertion with such, with such certainty?

FMR. MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI: Well, obviously, you can't make it with certainty unless the administration reveals all the data, which they're not.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

MAYOR GIULIANI: But I, I thought Mr. Donilon's failure to answer your question spoke very loudly about the fact that waterboarding, enhanced interrogation techniques, played a significant role in this. Maybe not the critical role, maybe the critical role, but certainly a significant role. And it just makes sense. I mean, these, these kinds of materials are not obtained easily, and this tremendous amount of material...

MR. GREGORY: But it, it may make sense.

MAYOR GIULIANI: ...ought to have to come from enhanced techniques.

MR. GREGORY: It, it may not make sense. I mean, isn't, isn't that the point, Secretary Chertoff, which is, look, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times. And based on reporting this week in NBC News and outside, he never gave up the truth about the courier that led to bin Laden. So there is, there is still this debate that doesn't get settled through killing bin Laden. Would you agree with that?

SEC'Y CHERTOFF: Well, as you, you know, there will be people who will

never be persuaded one way or the other about this. And I'm not going to--I don't think I can add anything to it. My...

MR. GREGORY: But it's a question of whether it's knowable.

SEC'Y CHERTOFF: Right.

MR. GREGORY: Is it objectively knowable?

SEC'Y CHERTOFF: I'll tell you what is knowable, David. Go back 10 years. I was head of the criminal division on the day of 9/11, and at that point in time, we had a national security apparatus that was stove-piped, that didn't have the ability to integrate information and to act on it in a timely way. Both presidents deserve a lot of credit for maturing the apparatus over 10 years to the point that, as Tom Donilon said, the president could have confidence that this apparatus would work, taking the intelligence, operationalizing it, and moving in real time. That--all the pieces of that are part of the puzzle. Some of them some people will like, some of them people won't like, but it's their totality that gave this president the tools that he was able to use to kill bin Laden.

MR. GREGORY: General Hayden, let me ask you about Pakistan.

MR. HAYDEN: Sure.

MR. GREGORY: Was Pakistan specifically helpful to the United States with information that ultimately ID'd the couriers that led to bin Laden?

MR. HAYDEN: I--there is nothing in my personal experience that would prompt me to say yes. Pakistan has helped in some other areas.

MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MR. HAYDEN: We've captured terrorists in the settled areas of Pakistan, by and large years ago, not more recently, by and large. But I'm not aware of any Pakistani help that led to the events of last weekend.

MR. GREGORY: Did Pakistan harbor a terrorist?

MR. HAYDEN: Well there is a terrorist in Pakistan that seemed to feel like he was very safe. And, as Mr. Donilon said, they've got a lot of questions to answer and the burden of proof is on them.

MR. GREGORY: Mayor Giuliani, you heard Donilon say that it's Pakistan that's going to investigate this, and this is a big deal in Pakistan. What are the ramifications for this as more becomes clear about what they knew and when?

MAYOR GIULIANI: The ramifications are huge because Pakistan is a critical country. It's a country with nuclear weapons. If bin Laden could have this kind of access to the government and get this kind of protection--if that's the case, we don't know that it is--what does that say about the security of the nuclear weapons? And what does it say about the military force there and how, how, how secure it really is? So this has huge implications. And before we all comment on it, we better, better be right about it.

MR. GREGORY: I want to ask quickly about Afghanistan as well, General Hayden. There are going to be people who say, "Hey, wait a minute, let's focus narrowly on counterterror, as this president did. Let's, let's accelerate that withdrawal from Afghanistan."

MR. HAYDEN: I think we need to see how this plays out, David. This is not a singular event that then has us making a sharp break left or right. We'll see what the impact of this is. There are lots of reasons for what it is we're doing in Pakistan. Going after bin Laden...

MR. GREGORY: In Afghanistan.

MR. HAYDEN: I'm sorry, in Afghanistan. Going after bin Laden is, is but one of them. Let's see what happens to this network now. Let's see what they do. As Secretary Chertoff said, we could get a lot more biodiversity, so to speak, in the kinds of threats coming after us. If bin Laden did have such a controlling hand, now you're going to have more independent actors and perhaps more agile actors. So let's wait.

MR. GREGORY: What happens now? I mean, are these guys on the run? From an operational point of view, does our tempo increase as these guys are now under pressure to move?

MR. HAYDEN: Our, our tempo should increase. The rule, the rule in warfare, reinforce success. This could be a bit of the pursuit phase, and we should, we should press the fight.

MR. GREGORY: Mayor Giuliani, I want to take you back to the end of this week. This president, nearly a decade after President Bush, visited ground zero after 9/11, returns. And, of course, you were there with him as he met with firefighters and family members of the victims. And there was another image that was so poignant this week from, from Sunday night of firefighters looking at the ticker tape in, in, I don't know if that was lower Manhattan or Times Square, "Osama bin Laden is dead." Describe what it was like. And is there a measure of emotional symmetry 10 years later to have him visit?

MAYOR GIULIANI: There sure is. I had lunch with the president and, and the firefighters who he met with, and it was a very emotional and a very satisfying experience. I think they felt a burden lifted from them. Hard for them to describe. I mean, it doesn't bring back our loved ones. It doesn't bring back those tremendous heroes that saved this country on September 11th. But there's no mistaking the fact that there's a burden that's been lifted from them. They can look at this somewhat differently now. And I think all of them, whatever their political persuasions, had great admiration for the president's courage in making this decision. This was a risky decision to make. The president made it, he made it correctly, including the decision, I think, to dispose of bin Laden's body so that wouldn't become a cause celeb. So I think these men, these firefighters and police officers that he met with, are men who exercise bravery every day in their lives, I think they admire that in the president.

MR. GREGORY: Does it impact at all, Mayor Giuliani, your thinking about

running for president next year?

MAYOR GIULIANI: No. Not in the slightest. I separate the two things. This was an American achievement. Two presidents get great credit for it. I also thanked President Bush this week because, no matter what, what about the debate, no matter what you come out on the debate of--about waterboarding, no doubt, all of the work he did and the changes he made in intelligence brought this about. And President Obama's improving that, and his decision-making brought it about. It's a great achievement for both presidents, both political parties, all Americans.

MR. GREGORY: And you're still considering a run for the presidency?

MAYOR GIULIANI: Not, not right this minute, but, yes, I am.

MR. GREGORY: All right. We'll leave it there. Thanks to all of you very much.

MAYOR GIULIANI: Thank you.

SEC'Y CHERTOFF: Thank you.

MR. HAYDEN: Thank you.

MR. GREGORY: And coming up, what will the president's bold decision to go after bin Laden mean for his political capital on the Hill and his political future in his re-election bid? Could this be a game change for the race for the White House next year? Our roundtable weighs in: The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, the BBC's Katty Kay, and Republican strategist Mike Murphy.

(Announcements)

MR. GREGORY: Coming up, what does this leadership moment mean for the president, and for Republicans trying to defeat him next year? Our roundtable is here, and they'll weigh in--Mike Murphy, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Katty Kay and Bob Woodward--right after this brief commercial break.

(Announcements)

MR. DAVID GREGORY: We are back now and joined by our roundtable: columnist for Time magazine and Republican strategist, the bow-tied Michael Murphy this morning; presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin; the BBC's Katty Kay; and the associate editor of The Washington Post, author of "Obama's Wars," Bob Woodward. Happy Mother's Day to you, ladies. I will start with that.

MS. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Thank you.

MS. KATTY KAY: Thank you.

MR. GREGORY: Bob Woodward, what do we now know that we didn't know before. You reported exclusive details over the weekend in The Washington Post.

MR. BOB WOODWARD: Well, we know that this was a 10-year hunt that was very frustrating for everyone at the highest level and at the operational level. But what--I think, in a way, in the intelligence world, it's a triumph of middle management and the culture of persistence of, for years, taking this raw intercepts, you know, translating, listening, going back, connecting the dots, and then finally discovering and finding someone calling the chief courier for bin Laden, who literally had to leave that compound and drive 90 minutes before he could put the battery in his cell phone--operational security--and then they found out about that, and they said, "Aha, this is the guy we've been chasing for years."

MR. GREGORY: This guy was not hiding in a cave, and now intelligence officials are telling us, no, he was still operationally in control. What does that mean?

MR. WOODWARD: Well, yeah, we're going to find out more about that.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

MR. WOODWARD: I'm a little skeptical. That--I don't think he was giving runner orders. I think he was involved in, in looking at--but, but what, what happened that and what's so significant is the frustration. People said, "Look, bin Laden and al-Qaeda is winning the war psychologically, and we're going to keep trying to get him." And they realized that bin Laden would make a mistake, they would get complacent, and, and that's exactly what they did in taking--I mean, in a way, being holed up in that compound was smug. It was raising a middle finger to the United States and saying, "Hey, look, we're hiding right under your nose."

MR. GREGORY: Doris Kearns Goodwin, Time magazine had the latest cover of a threat eliminated, going back over the years all the way to Adolf Hitler. And when we talk about the leadership moment for Obama, I thought Bob Kagan at Brookings, the Brookings Institution, a conservative voice, said something very interesting about what this means to President Obama. Watch this.

(Videotape)

MR. ROBERT KAGAN: The American people have an interesting quality in their character which you can trace all through their history. They want their presidents to be men of peace, but they also want to know that, if necessary, the American president can kill.

(End videotape)

MS. GOODWIN: I think that's right. I mean, think of two of our most lovable presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, what was his slogan? Speak softly and carry a big stick. This was a big stick. Eisenhower, having won World War II, could then take enormous pride in the fact that not a single soldier had died in combat during his time. So I think what happened in this thing is, it's not just the public perception of Obama that's strengthened now because he acted as commander in chief, but you never know what happens internally to a president when they take a risky thing and it works. JFK took control of his presidency after the Cuban missile crisis. This guy will now take control of his presidency. I think he's going to be able to trust his own judgment even more than the military, and that's huge psychologically. And America feels better again. I mean, that's the huge thing that we don't know about how long that will last. But our prestige and our sense of ourself is now heightened for a while, and everybody wants that.

MR. MIKE MURPHY: No, I believe you have to give him credit. He took the harder choice. It's easier to push the Predator button, a lot less risk. And he took the risky choice, but he got the jackpot. And I--you have to give him credit for that. You know, now we have Osama bin Laden's diary, and we know most of what he knew, which means we know a lot. And al-Qaeda finds itself in a horrible two-way squeeze: the death of their figurehead and, we now know, more operational leader, their intelligence in our hands; and the Arab Spring on the other side making their ideology less popular. So it's not over. This is a huge victory. And it proves, I think, since 9/11 going forward, under two presidents, the machine worked. It made mistakes, it self-corrected. Those middle management people are dogged, and they deserve our respect. They're the best of public service, both in the military and the CIA. And it worked, we got him.

MR. GREGORY: One of the big debates that came out this week, Katty Kay, was over whether or not to release a photo of bin Laden. And we have the results of a new poll that we have conducted. And look at this, backup for the president's decision, 64 percent saying the photo should not have been released. And indeed, the, the, the tapes that came out are proof that we were there, and we got him. And not to say--to say nothing of the fact that al-Qaeda confirmed it.

MS. KAY: Which is certainly why the White House released the tapes...

MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

MS. KAY: ...to confirm to those who might be around the world doubting this. And there certainly are doubters. You know, I've spoken to moderate Muslims this week who have told me, "I'm not sure that Osama bin Laden was really killed there. Maybe he died a long time ago. How do we know the Americans were there?" And when I say to them, well, if we release photographs, would that change your mind? No, no, no, because they can have Photoshop.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

MS. KAY: So I actually don't think that many doubters--you know, this is a world of conspiracy theorists, and I don't think those who doubted that American went in on Sunday night and killed Osama bin Laden would have had their minds changed. And I think the president was right in saying that those very graphic photographs could have inflamed Muslim sentiment. And one of the extraordinary things I think we've seen this week, David, is that there hasn't been retaliatory attacks so far. We have not seen huge demonstrations in Afghanistan, huge, violent demonstrations in Pakistan against the United States for taking this action. And those--the release of those photographs could have sparked something in a, in an area of the world that is already on a tinderbox.

MR. GREGORY: Bob Woodward, you have to look back to Obama the campaigner, who said, "If I had actionable intelligence, I would move in to Pakistan whether they wanted me to or not." He was heavily criticized for that. And here he is in October of 2008, again, with that singular focus on what would guide his foreign policy. This is what he said.

(Videotape, October 7, 2008)

PRES. OBAMA: We will kill bin Laden, we will crush al-Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: He resets the hunt for bin Laden. He, he increases forces in Afghanistan. That was a campaign promise kept.

MR. WOODWARD: It was. And back 18 months ago when he was making his Afghanistan decisions to add 30,000 troops, he was saying in these top secret meetings in, in the White House, the poison is in Pakistan. He authorized top secret lethal, covert action in Pakistan and around the world. And he has really ramped up the effort to be tough because he thinks that's going to end all these wars faster and send the message to al-Qaeda and their sympathizers, extremists, that, you know, as he has said, "We're, we're coming after you. We don't forget."

MR. GREGORY: Right. Let me get a break in here. I want to come back and talk about some of the follow-up questions. Afghanistan, what it means specifically for the 2012 race. Does the euphoria pass? Back with our panel right after this.

(Announcements)

MR. GREGORY: We're back with our roundtable. Doris Kearns Goodwin, the question of Afghanistan. Why are we still there? I think a lot of Americans are wondering whether mission has been accomplished now with bin Laden dead. Here was a cartoon that caught our attention from The Press of Atlantic City, Rob Tornoe. So you see two soldiers, the first says, "Think we'll put all--pull out of Afghanistan now that we've killed Osama bin Laden?" The second one says, "Sure. Like how we pulled out of Iraq after we killed Saddam?"

MS. GOODWIN: Well, I think the interesting thing, though, is that when Obama made the decision about Afghanistan to increase the troops, he was still burdened by his own campaign promise that this is the war that has to be fought vs. Iraq. Now that Osama is killed, which was the reason why he was in Afghanistan, it gives him more leeway. I don't think it means like that second soldier said, "OK, we're going to come right out." But I think he can trust his own judgment more now, and he doesn't have to be burdened by the past. He can look at it much more rationally and make the decision on what's best for us.

MR. GREGORY: He--but he'd like to come out anyway.

MS. GOODWIN: Exactly.

MR. GREGORY: I mean, in reality.

MS. GOODWIN: That's in his head.

MR. MURPHY: I think the politics of Afghanistan are going to collapse on both sides. They're already very soft on the Democratic side. I think the public has had enough of the war. You can argue the policy one way or another. I think you're going to see in the Republican primaries it emerges as an issue. I mean, military victory often has political hangovers. Though, ultimately, the election's going to be about jobs, and that's the war he's not winning.

MR. GREGORY: Well, you know, you bring that up. Let me show the unemployment numbers that came out on Friday. This is something different, we'll get to the unemployment in a second. Approval numbers show an increase for the president, up 11 points, up 9 points in The Washington Post. This is from the FT that showed some of the headlines about Obama and his political standing. One shows, "Obama gains bullet-proof credentials," "Raid boosts president's reputation on security." As you see it there.

MR. MURPHY: Right.

MR. GREGORY: But this can be a fleeting moment.

MR. MURPHY: It reminds me of after, you know, the first Iraq war. When the president's favorable was really high and the economic unhappiness, the wrong track, was almost equally as high. There was a Marist poll number out about two weeks ago, disapproval on handling the economy, also 57 percent, highest of his administration. If a year from now that perception in the country hasn't changed, he's incredibly vulnerable on re-election.

MS. GOODWIN: And the Democrats should put a poster up, just like "Remember Pearl Harbor," "Remember the Maine," "Remember George Bush #1." Don't let hubris get in your way.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

MS. KAY: I think that his foreign policy is going to be an issue in the 2000--a defining issue in the 2012 campaign. It'll probably be because there's bad foreign policy news rather than because there's good foreign policy news. These are halos that can dim very fast. But if the White House can make the transition from this being a policy victory and an operational victory to this being a character victory, then I think you do have a substantial shift in the president's fortunes. That if he can be seen as somebody who does not lead from behind, as we've heard recently, who is decisive, who is somehow more in tune with the security of America and defending the Americans, then I think that will be an important issue during the campaign and will make it harder for a Republican going up against him to say, "We have a weak president who is not acting in our interests."

MR. GREGORY: Bob Woodward, there was the, The Economist cover this week too, which was very forward looking because it has, of course, Osama bin Laden there. But it says, "Now, kill his dream." The proving ground for that is this Arab Spring. And what can this president now do to have a positive influence on that?

MR. WOODWARD: Well, that's the crapshoot. You just don't know. And as, as we're all hinting at, you know, this--of course, this is very good news, but very good news is rarely followed by better news. It's followed by bad news. And things can happen in Arab Spring. In the White House, it's the--is it Yemen? Is it Libya? Is it Egypt? Is it Saudi Arabia? All of these places, they're explosive. Pakistan is still a powder keg of the region. But I, but I think Katty's right. They're--it's not the foreign policy issues, necessarily, though something might explode. Presidential elections are run on character, and the, and the character trait that has emerged here, it may--it sure is a positive at the, at the moment is nerve. There is--a nerve matters in the presidency. People want to have a sense the president is out there looking for me. If he can take that nerve and translate it to the economic decisions, it will be a good for him.

MS. GOODWIN: Indeed, I think, when you, when you make a presidential choice, it's a mosaic. It's not as much as the midterm is, which you're judging the message and you're mad at people and you're mad at the economy. And this has put one part of his presidential leadership into great focus. And I think you're right, if it translates into other decisions that he makes. The problem is that the media saturates so much. Look, Trump is gone now. Trump was our big talk.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MS. KAY: Right.

MS. GOODWIN: Birthers was our big--who knows what will be saturating us between now and then.

MR. GREGORY: Sure.

MS. GOODWIN: But still, character lasts.

MR. MURPHY: Yeah. There's a lot of history yet to be made. One, on the foreign policy front, he's had a huge victory. But the stakes are now high. Pakistan is a mess. And he's got to navigate the politics of that where we've got to keep a relationship there because a fragile regime of nuclear weapons and no leash at all is worse than what we have now.

MR. GREGORY: Sure. And I do want to put up those unemployment numbers.

The news from this week.

MR. MURPHY: Yeah, ultimately...(unintelligible).

MR. GREGORY: The end of a busy week. But it does show that the unemployment rate is 9 percent. There were creation of almost 250,000 jobs, a lot of that in the private sector, which is the story that the administration wants to keep telling. But, again, 9 percent unemployment.

MS. KAY: Well, the economists look at the number of jobs created. They say that that's actually the positive trend, and that the 9 percent figure is less important, although, of course, as you say, that's the public figure. We know that the administration would like to have unemployment rate down at something like 8 percent or below when it gets to the 2012 election. And I think that Mike's absolutely right. When it comes to people voting in 2012, it's going to be about jobs. It's going to be about gas prices. And the president is vulnerable there. And the surprise is that the Republicans have not come up yet with a clear figure to run against him.

MR. MURPHY: But the key is it's always a referendum on the president. And there's one rule of gravity in American politics: If the voters perceive you can't run the economy, they fire you.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. MURPHY: And he's got time to make a case, but he is vulnerable. And I think we'll be looking at this in the rearview mirror as a great accomplishment, but not what the election is about.

MR. GREGORY: Is it a referendum, Bob, or is it a always a choice?

MR. WOODWARD: Well, you know, happily, we don't know the future.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah.

MR. WOODWARD: And, and even those wise souls at the table here...

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. WOODWARD: ...don't come close to knowing the future.

MS. GOODWIN: And it's going to be between two guys.

MR. WOODWARD: And, and I thought something Panetta said to the people going in to, to the compound in Pakistan was pretty good, "Go find bin Laden and get the hell out." And some of these things, like the Afghan war, the Iraq war, some of the domestic issues, I think sometimes you have to--presidents need to make decisions and then get the hell out. We need to limit what's on the agenda.

MR. GREGORY: All right. We're going to leave it there. We will take a break but come back in just a moment with our trends and takeaways segment, a look at what made news over the course of this program this morning and what's ahead this week. Right after this break.

(Announcements)

MR. GREGORY: We are back with our final moments with our roundtable and our Trends and Takeaways segment. The big news that's hitting the newswires this morning from our interview with Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, based on what is actually being learned through the raid on the Osama bin Laden compound in Pakistan. This was a key takeaway.

(Videotape)

MR. DONILON: It indicates to us that in addition to being the symbolic leader of al-Qaeda, that Osama bin Laden was involved operationally in strategic direction and the direction of operations, including their propaganda efforts, obviously.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. DONILON: I think at this point, we can't declare al-Qaeda strategically defeated. They continue to be a threat to the United States, but we have taken a really important milestone in terms of taking, taking down this organization.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Throughout the week, of course, and during the program this morning, there is a conversation going on online that is throughout the world. We've been monitoring TweetDeck this morning. Big topics, as you can imagine, that we'll show you on the big screen. Osama bin Laden, President Obama, and, Bob Woodward, the role of Pakistan. Tom Donilon told me this morning, I could tell you directly, he's not seen evidence that would lead us to believe that the political, military or intelligence leadership had any foreknowledge that bin Laden was there. That's still the key question, though, right? MR. WOODWARD: Yes. And I think actually the information they have is stronger. They have really good, solid intelligence that the president of Pakistan, Zardari; the head of the military, General Kayani; and the head of the intelligence service, General Pasha, did not know in advance. And they are the, the key elements here, but he--but Donilon also said something very important. There was a support structure there in Pakistan...

MR. GREGORY: For him, yeah.

MR. WOODWARD: And the expectation is, "Let's find that."

MR. GREGORY: Mike Murphy, some political notes as well. Rudy Giuliani on the program saying, no, he still is considering a run for 2012.

MR. MURPHY: Mm-hmm.

MS. GOODWIN: Not at this moment.

MR. GREGORY: Yeah. But at some point, he still will. Is there room for him this time?

MR. MURPHY: I don't, I--there's room. There's always room. He's famous. He has a certain base. I don't think he'd get nominated. He ran last time, campaign didn't work out. He could get in. He could be a factor. I don't think he's one of the three or four major...

MR. GREGORY: What about Jon Huntsman? He spoke in South Carolina over the weekend here.

MR. MURPHY: Mm-hmm.

MR. GREGORY: His initial foray...

MR. MURPHY: Yeah.

MR. GREGORY: ...as a semi-candidate here. What do you make of him?

MR. MURPHY: I think he's almost certainly going to catch on in the media. There's always room for somebody to be new and interesting. I think he has a chance to catch on in New Hampshire later in the year. Whether or not he can roll that to the nominations is an open question. We have to see how he performs. But I put him at the top of the second tier of the candidates, along with Pawlenty. And then you've got Romney and maybe Daniels as the two strongest.

MR. GREGORY: All right. I'm going to leave it there. Thank you very much.

MR. DAVID GREGORY: Before we go, happy Mother's Day to mine, to yours, and, of course, to my Beth. There are two other mothers that we're thinking about this morning, as well, Jane Gillis and Diane Foley, who are spending this Mother's Day, unfortunately, worrying about their children, American journalists Clare Gillis and James Foley, who have been detained by government forces in Libya for more than a month now. And we're thinking about them as well.

That is all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's

MEET THE PRESS.

Photos: 64 years of ‘Meet the Press’

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  1. First ‘Meet the Press’ photo

    December 4, 1947: The earliest photograph in existence of the longest running television program in history. Sen. Robert Taft was the guest on "Meet the Press" that day, less than a month after the program debuted on NBC television at 8 p.m., November 6, 1947. James A. Farley, the former postmaster general and former Democratic National Committee chairman, was the guest on the first broadcast. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. All women

    December 10, 1949: With Washington's leading male reporters otherwise occupied at the men-only Gridiron Dinner, "Meet the Press" presented its first all-female program. Moderator (and program co-founder) Martha Rountree, panelists Doris Fleeson, May Craig, Judy Spivak and Ruth Montgomery question the guest, Democratic politician India Edwards. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Billy Graham

    March 6, 1955: Rev. Billy Graham’s first "Meet the Press" appearance. He tells panelist (and program co-founder) Lawrence Spivak "anything that makes any race feel inferior ... is not only un-American but un-Christian." (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Jackie Robinson

    April 14, 1957: Jackie Robinson, the first man to break the racial barrier in Major League Baseball, also becomes the first athlete to appear on "Meet the Press." Robinson joins moderator Lawrence Spivak in a discussion about civil rights and Robinson’s work with the NAACP. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Eleanor Roosevelt

    October 20, 1957: Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in one of her six "Meet the Press" appearances. Here she talks about her trip to the Soviet Union. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Robert Frost

    December 28, 1958: Poet Robert Frost was introduced by moderator Ned Brooks as "the poet of all America. Indeed, it can be said that he is the poet of all mankind." Two years later, Congress awarded Robert Frost a gold medal in recognition of his poetry, saying it enriched the culture of the United States and the philosophy of the world. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Fidel Castro

    April 19, 1959: Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro appears on "Meet the Press" during his first visit to the United States since the revolution. Castro was annoyed that permanent panelist and producer Lawrence Spivak would not allow him to smoke cigars in the studio. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Martin Luthur King Jr.

    April 17, 1960: Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., pictured here in one of his five "Meet the Press" appearances. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. John F. Kennedy

    October 16, 1960: After this interview, then-Senator John F. Kennedy calls Meet the Press the nation's "fifty-first state." (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Jimmy Hoffa

    July 9, 1961:This first "Meet the Press" appearance by Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa had to be rescheduled several times due to Hoffa’s string of indictments. After the interview, Hoffa was furious about being asked whether his insistence on dealing only in cash and keeping few records gave the appearance of impropriety. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Edward Kennedy

    March 11, 1962: Edward Kennedy’s first appearance on the program. The potential Senate candidate was coached by his older brother, President John F. Kennedy. President Kennedy and his aide Theodore Sorensen prepared "Teddy" for his “Meet the Press” debut by staging a run through of questions and answers in the Oval Office. On the day of the program, President Kennedy delayed his departure from Palm Beach in order to watch the show, but later told his brother that he was almost too nervous to watch. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Bob Dole

    July 16, 1972: Bob Dole and "Meet the Press" moderator Lawrence Spivak prepare to discuss the break-in and bugging of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate. Former Senator Dole holds the record for the most appearances on “Meet the Press” in a career that included service as a Congressman, Senator, RNC Chairman, vice presidential candidate, Senate Majority Leader and finally, Republican presidential nominee. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Prime Minister Wilson

    September 19, 1965: "Meet the Press" conducts television’s very first live satellite interview. The guest is British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Ronald Reagan

    September 11, 1966: Ronald Reagan, making his first bid for public office, appears on "Meet the Press" with his Democratic opponent for the governorship of California, the incumbent Gov. Edmund G. Brown. Reagan appeared on "Meet the Press" seven times -- all before he was elected president. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Robert Kennedy

    March 17, 1968: Senator Robert F. Kennedy makes his ninth -- and final -- appearance on "Meet the Press" with Lawrence E. Spivak. Kennedy was assassinated in California less than 3 months later -- shortly after claiming victory in that state's Democratic presidential primary. He was 42 years old. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. John Kerry

    April 18, 1971: John Kerry, then a former Navy Lieutenant, makes his first "Meet the Press" appearance as a spokesman for Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He has since appeared on the program as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts 21 times. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Golda Meir

    December 5, 1971: Golda Meir, prime minister of Israel, appears on “Meet the Press” with moderator Bill Monroe to discuss the continuing instability in the Middle East and the prospect of meeting and negotiating with Egypt’s leaders. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Prime Minister Gandhi

    August 24, 1975: Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in one of her seven appearances on "Meet the Press" before her assassination in October 1984. After she was elected Prime Minister in 1966, Gandhi grew more concerned about her television image and contacted "Meet the Press" to request makeup samples used during her appearance on the program. The program’s makeup artist consulted her notes and sent Mrs. Gandhi a complete makeup set -- including sponges and instructions for application. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Gerald Ford

    November 9, 1975: President Gerald Ford becomes the first sitting American president to appear on the program. President Ford accepted the invitation as a tribute to "Meet the Press" co-founder Lawrence Spivak, who was making his farewell appearance as moderator of the program. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Jimmy Carter

    January 20, 1980: In one of the most dramatic newsbreaks in the history of "Meet the Press" President Jimmy Carter announces that the U.S. would boycott the Moscow Summer Olympics because of the presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Despite initial outrage over Carter’s proposal, 60 nations eventually joined the boycott. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Richard Nixon

    April 10, 1988: In his first Sunday interview in 20 years, Former President Richard Nixon reacts to a comment on "Meet the Press. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Tim Russert's first show

    December 8, 1991: Tim Russert makes his debut as moderator of "Meet the Press." He has since become the longest-serving moderator in "Meet the Press" history. In the center of this photo is then-intern Betsy Fischer, who is now Executive Producer of the program. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Dan Quayle

    September 20, 1992: "Meet the Press" permanently expands from a half-hour to a one hour program. Vice President Dan Quayle is the guest. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Shaheen and Whitman

    February 2, 1997: The broadcast breaks television history as "Meet the Press" becomes the first network television program ever to broadcast live in digital high definition. Governors Jeanne Shaheen and Christie Todd Whitman share a light moment on the set that day. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Bill Clinton

    November 9, 1997: President Bill Clinton appears in studio on "Meet the Press" to mark the program’s 50th anniversary. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Al Gore

    December 19, 1999: In a live Democratic presidential debate, Vice President Al Gore challenges former Sen. Bill Bradley to a "Meet the Press agreement" to have weekly debates in place of running political advertisements. (Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Dick Cheney

    September 16, 2001: Five days after the September 11th attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney joins moderator Tim Russert in the first live television interview ever broadcast from Camp David. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Senate Debate Series

    September 22, 2002: "Meet the Press" kicks off its "Senate Debate Series" with the Colorado Senate race: Republican Incumbent Sen. Wayne Allard vs. Democratic Challenger Tom Strickland. At the end of the election cycle, the series of three senate debates was awarded the prestigious "USC Walter Cronkite Journalism Award" for "Excellence in Broadcast TV Political Journalism." The debate series continued in 2004 and 2006. (Alex Wong / Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. George W. Bush

    February 8, 2004: President George W. Bush kicks off his re-election campaign in an Oval Office interview with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press." Robert Novak went on to write about the interview, "no president ever before had been subjected to such tough questioning in the Oval Office." (Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. James Carville

    November 14, 2004: In another "Meet the Press" first, Democratic strategist James Carville cracks an egg on his forehead to demonstrate he's got "egg on his face" after his projected outcome of the U.S. presidential election was wrong. Carville predicted 52 percent of the vote for U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), 47 percent for President George W. Bush and 1 percent for Ralph Nader. (Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Jim Webb

    November 19, 2006: The first edition of "Meet the Press" to be available via video netcast on the show’s Web site. U.S. Senator-elect Jim Webb (D-Va.) joins moderator Tim Russert on that program. (Alex Wong / Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Barack Obama

    November 11, 2007: "Meet the Press"celebrates its 60th anniversary live from Des Moines, Iowa with Democratic Presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) for the full hour. (Eric Thayer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. June 15, 2008: The chair of late moderator Tim Russert sits empty on the set during the first MTP taping following Russert's death. He died June 13, 2008 of a heart attack while at the NBC News bureau in Washington. He was 58 years old. (Alex Wong / Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Colin Powell

    October 19, 2008: A record-breaking 9 million viewers tune in to see Gen. Colin Powell, a Republican, announce his endorsement of Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama. (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. President-elect Obama

    December 7, 2008: President-elect Barack Obama makes his first Sunday morning television appearance since winning the election to discuss the challenges facing this country and the upcoming transition of power. (Scott Olson / Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. David Gregory

    December 7, 2008: Interim moderator Tom Brokaw announces that David Gregory has been chosen as the new moderator of the show. (Alex Wong / Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Rendell, Schwarzenegger & Bloomberg

    March 22, 2009: Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Penn.), Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared exclusively on Meet the Press one day after meeting with President Obama to discuss the economy. (Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images for Meet the Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Hillary Clinton

    July 26, 2009: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears for a full-hour on Meet the Press. It's her first appearance on the program since joining the Obama administration. (William B. Plowman / NBC Universal) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. President Obama

    September 20, 2009: President Barack Obama sits down with David Gregory at the White House for Obama's first MTP appearance since taking office. (Pete Souza / The White House) Back to slideshow navigation
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