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updated 4/25/2004 11:28:47 AM ET 2004-04-25T15:28:47

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PLEASE CREDIT ANY QUOTES OR EXCERPTS FROM THIS NBC TELEVISION PROGRAM TO "NBC NEWS' MEET THE PRESS."

NBC News

MEET THE PRESS

GUESTS: Bob Woodward, Washington Post, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Ambassador to the United States

MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert, NBC News

This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS(202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)

Meet the Press (NBC News) - Sunday, April 18, 2004

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  This book, "Plan of Attack," raises new questions about the war in Iraq.  Where are the weapons of mass destruction promised by the director of the CIA?  Why did Colin Powell support the war despite misgivings and say Vice President Cheney had a fever for war? And has George W. Bush bet his presidency on the war in Iraq?  With us, the author of the best-selling book in America, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post.

And what was the role of Saudi Arabia and this man, our guest, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan?  Woodward and Bandar only on MEET THE PRESS.

Bob Woodward, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. BOB WOODWARD (Author, "Plan of Attack"):  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  "Plan of Attack"--what do you think the most important information is in this book?

MR. WOODWARD:  Wow, everyone reads it differently.  That's what struck me in the week that it's been out.  Somebody at Brookings like Ivo Daalder will say, "It is a devastating indictment of Bush and the way they ran the war," and Joe Klein in Time magazine today will say, "Bush jumps off the page as this kind of unflappable leader."  So this was the best effort I could make to find out what really happened.

MR. RUSSERT:  Have you learned anything since the book has come out that you wish was in the book?

MR. WOODWARD:  Yes, actually I have, and the whole question now in Iraq is: What about the aftermath?  What was the planning?  And in the book, there is a meeting, March 10, nine days before the war starts, in which the president is briefed about the aftermath and they decide they are only going to get rid of in the Ba'ath Party about 1 percent of the people.  As we know, they totally disband the Army, contrary to what the plan was.

One of the things I've learned in the last week--and you may want to ask your next guest about this--is Prince Bandar and the Saudis told the administration and the president that the way to stabilize Iraq is to pay everyone in the military three months' pay and this will get them on board, that the total cost would only be $200 million, which is not much given that we're spending $5 billion a month.  And I understand that was briefed to the highest level, and it might have been the thing that would have saved the tragedy that's going on now.

MR. RUSSERT:  And provided security in Iraq.

MR. WOODWARD:  That's right, and it would have been very inexpensive.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the book.  This is a briefing on Friday, December 28, 2001, just a little more than three months after September 11. Tommy Franks goes and briefs the president.  "General Tommy Franks turned to the principal reason for the meeting [with the President] that day, the Iraq war planning.  ...The first slide and page said in bold letters:  HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL PLANNING.  The plan ...  was nothing less than a new concept for a war with Iraq ..."

Here we are a little bit more than three months after September 11 and the war planning is in high gear.

MR. WOODWARD:  Let me say that Rumsfeld is working on it sometimes daily, and Tommy Franks, who is also running the war in Afghanistan, is in briefing Rumsfeld weekly and briefing the president monthly.

MR. RUSSERT:  Was the diplomatic track also in high gear at this time?

MR. WOODWARD:  No.  In fact, they didn't start the diplomatic track until August.  And one of the things the president said--he was worried in August and September of 2002 that they had not established the diplomatic role:  What was Powell going to do?  What was the U.N. going to do?

MR. RUSSERT:  That was December of 2001.  Here's Tommy Franks in May of 2002, five months after he had briefed the president with that highly confidential plan.  Let's watch.

(Videotape, May 21, 2002):

Unidentified Man:  If you get the green light to go into Iraq, how many foot soldiers would you like to have and how long would it take you to marshal all these forces in preparation for an invasion?

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS:  That's a great question and one for which I don't have an answer because my boss has not yet asked me to put together a plan to do that.

(End videotape)

MR. WOODWARD:  Not so.  I mean, not only is it not so but two months before that, Tommy Franks on February 7 had personally briefed the president and said, "Here is a war plan you can execute."  He was not recommending it, but it was ready, it was on the shelf, they could do it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the weapons of mass destruction, and this is the scene in the Oval Office Saturday, December 21, 2002:  "[CIA Director] Tenet, [Deputy CIA Director] McLaughlin went to the Oval Office the morning of Saturday, December 21, [2002].  The meeting was for presenting `The Case' on" weapons of mass destruction.  "There was great expectation.  In addition to the president, Cheney," Dr. "Rice, [White House Chief of Staff] Andy Card all attended. ...When McLaughlin concluded, there was a look on the president's face of, What's this?  Then a brief moment of silence.  `Nice try,' Bush said. `I don't think this is quite - it's not something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from.'  Card was also underwhelmed.  The presentation was a flop. ...  Bush turned to Tenet.  `I've been told all this intelligence about having WMD and this is the best we've got?'  From the end of one of the couches in the Oval Office, Tenet rose up, threw his arms in the air.  `It's a slam dunk case,' the" director "said.  It was unusual for Tenet to be so certain.  From McLaughlin's presentation, Card was worried there might be no `there there'...  The president told Tenet several times, `Make sure no one stretches to make our case.'"

Now, that's December of 2002.  Less than three months later, the president stood before the nation and said this:

(Videotape, March 17, 2003):

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:  Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  What happened in those 90 days that changed the president's mind?

MR. WOODWARD:  He should have followed his instinct.  When it didn't smell right, when he said, "Hey, now wait a minute, that's the best you've got?" he should have said, "Time out.  Let's stop everything."  Because what Tenet was saying was merely a reaffirmation of what the CIA had said in all of its formal reports on weapons of mass destruction.  He should have called in the experts--Bob Gates, who was the CIA director for his father--and said, "Look at this.  Go back to square one.  What have we got, because it doesn't look right."  And, of course, they did not do that, and now we have not found any weapons of mass destruction.

MR. RUSSERT:  The president telling George Tenet, "Make sure no one stretches to make our case."  Did the president himself stretch?

MR. WOODWARD:  Well, his argument is, and Cheney's argument is they relied on the CIA.  The CIA made a mistake.  Now, I track in some detail how they made that mistake and why.

MR. RUSSERT:  You also, in talking to the president, say, "Many people, including your supporters, are saying, you know, `Where are the weapons of mass destruction?'"  He gets a bit defensive and said, "Well, you travel in circles."  He's not really concerned about not finding weapons of mass destruction.

MR. WOODWARD:  That's what he says.  I mean, he has to be.  It was the key rationale for war, and we have not found it.  My sense, the country is in shock about it.  We went to war over something that didn't exist.

MR. RUSSERT:  Secretary of State Colin Powell--you capture this scene.  This is a conversation between the president and the secretary of state.  Here is Powell:  "`You are going to be the proud owner 25 million people,' he told the president.  `You will own all their hopes, aspirations and problems.  You'll own it all.'  Privately, Powell and" his top deputy Richard "Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule:  You break it, you own it.  `It's going to suck the oxygen out of everything.'  So as not to sidestep the politics of it, he added, `This will become the first term.'  The clear implication was:  Did the president want to be defined this way?  Did he want to run for re-election on Iraq war?"

Colin Powell had deep, deep misgivings about this war.

MR. WOODWARD:  That's right.  And his theme was, "Be careful.  Let's be cautious."  And the president listened, and again here is a moment, I think, when the political scientists are going to come and say, "Now, wait a minute. Your secretary of state issues as dire a warning as you can get that you are going to own another country."  And they did go to the U.N., but the whole question goes back to:  What is ownership?  How do you fix it?  How do you deal with the army?  How do you deal with the security services?  And as I said earlier, I was stunned and quite frankly I am a little embarrassed I did not have this in the book, but the Saudis would say, "Look, it's cheap.  You give people three months' pay."  And you know the Middle East and you know Iraq, and there's a certain truth to that, that you stabilize everything and you have a police force and a security force in place and, you know, this is the problem we have now.

MR. RUSSERT:  Despite Secretary Powell being somewhat semi-despondent, I think is the phrase you used in the book, he went to the United Nations and made the case against Saddam Hussein, in favor of his possession of weapons of mass destruction, and key elements of that case have now proven to be faulty.

MR. WOODWARD:  That's right.  And he spent four days going through the CIA intelligence on this, Powell did, and he was very skeptical.  He called in his deputy, Armitage, and he said, "You're coming with me," on a Sunday, and they asked questions and they didn't go far enough.  They weren't skeptical enough. I think when Powell made that presentation, he believed it.

MR. RUSSERT:  You also say that Colin Powell said that Vice President Cheney had a fever.  What does that mean?

MR. WOODWARD:  Just totally focused on al-Qaeda, terrorism, Iraq, possible links.  Interestingly enough, the other person who thought that Cheney had a fever was Karl Rove.

MR. RUSSERT:  You know, as the president and vice president prepare for testimony before the September 11 Commission this week, there's been a lot of discussion about why are they appearing together?  Your paper has critics saying this morning that it's a ventriloquist act, and on and on.  And yet you capture the Bush-Cheney relationship in a much different way.  And here's the book:  "On a few occasions, Karl Rove"--that's the president's principal political adviser--"and the president had discussed the news stories that Cheney was really pulling the strings and running things behind the scenes. Some of the White House communications people worried about this.  Bush laughed.  Both of them had seen how deferential Cheney was.  `Yes, Mr. President,' `No, Mr. President.'  It was no different when the president and Cheney were alone.  When the president wasn't around, Cheney often referred to him at `The Man' saying, `The Man wants this.'  Or, `The Man thinks this.' Cheney was a forceful, persistent advocate, but the president decided.  The clearest evidence of that was Cheney's strenuous objection to going to the U.N. to seek new weapons inspection resolutions.  The president had gone against his advice.  Cheney had saluted."

You kind of found evidence different than the caricature that some create.

MR. WOODWARD:  Well, Bush is the president, and as we've learned throughout history when you get that office, there is a deference that everyone shows you.  And it's not remarkable that the vice president would be one of those people.  He knows, and the Constitution makes it clear, the authority of the office rests in one person, not a committee, not the West Wing, not the National Security Council, one person.  And I think Cheney recognizes that.  A guess?  I try to avoid guesses.  I'll bet they won't go together.  I think they'll realize that this reinforces a notion.  It's going to be private, top-secret testimony.  And, you know, when I interviewed Bush for hours, Cheney wasn't there.  You know, he can deal with it.

MR. RUSSERT:  But...

MR. WOODWARD:  And he should show that, and I suspect he will.  It's a guess.

MR. RUSSERT:  But Cheney did push hard for the war?

MR. WOODWARD:  Oh, I asked George Bush about it, "You know, what did Cheney do?  What did he say?" and it's, "Well, we'd meet all the time, we'd talk all the time," kind of like he's right up here, and he just says that Cheney was a persistent advocate that Saddam was a threat and we had to deal with him.

MR. RUSSERT:  We'll talk the politics, his re-election campaign.  This is, again, 2002, December of 2002.  "Rove," Karl Rove, "was flown to Crawford for part of the holiday.  ...Rove had with him a PowerPoint presentation on the strategy, themes, timetable, overview plan to win reelection.  ... Opening his laptop, he displayed for Bush in bold letters on a dark blue background: PERSONA."  And the first three he listed:  "Strong leader, bold action, big ideas."  Then he listed issues, and the first three:  "War on terrorism, homeland, always on economy."

In many ways, the presentation of the war on Iraq is an attempt to reinforce those political qualities:  strong leader, bold action, big ideas.

MR. WOODWARD:  Yes, exactly.  I mean, it's right there.  When I saw this, it connected about six roads for me.  And you see it time and time again, and I think that's why the White House recommends the book, though it shows lots of warts and lots of problems, and I think as people get into it and look at it and debate it, they're going to say, "Wait a minute, what happened here?"  But it shows Bush in charge.  It shows him more than a strong leader.  You ask President Bush about doubt and, you know, it--because Tony Blair said he had doubt when people sent him letters saying that they hated him because their son died in the war in Iraq.  You ask Bush this.  No doubt, none, none whatsoever.  And as somebody who had a lot of time to work on this, I went around and I asked people, I said, "You know, any kind of hand-wringing sessions?  Any private moments of, you know, `Gee, is this the right thing? Was this a mistake?'"  I found none.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the role of Saudi Arabia.  This was the scene on January 11, 2003, three months before the country was told we're going to war: "From their almost daily conversations, Cheney had come to realize that the president had made his decision.  ...  He agreed with Rumsfeld that they had to look people in the eye and say, `This is going to happen.'  ...  One key country that had to be notified and brought along was Saudi Arabia.  ... Cheney wanted personally to communicate a decision to the Saudis.  ...  Cheney invited Prince Bandar to his West Wing office on Saturday, January 11. Rumsfeld and" Joint Chiefs of Staff "Chairman Richard Meyers also there.  For Bandar, there was no way the Saudis could be directly involved in the war if this was only saber rattling.  ...  The Saudis would lose bigtime if Saddam survived.  Rumsfeld looked Bandar in the eye and said, `You can count on this.'  Rumsfeld said, pointing to the map, `You can take' this `to the bank. This is going to happen.'  ...  `Saddam, this time, will be out?' Bandar asked skeptically, `What will happen to him?'  Cheney...replied, `Prince Bandar, once we start, Saddam is toast.'"

You were absolutely convinced by the tone of that briefing that the president had made up his mind in January to go to war?

MR. WOODWARD:  That he was telling people, there is no doubt about that, and what is important after that, Prince Bandar asked for a meeting with the president to reaffirm what he had been told and the president told Prince Bandar, "Their message, the Cheney-Rumsfeld message, is my message."  Now, most significant is, beyond words, what really happened.  The Saudis then--you know, whether people like it or don't like it, they are an ally, and they opened up their country to help us in this war.  And, in fact, Bandar's right-hand man after this meeting made a secret trip with a CIA covert team over the entire 500-mile Iraq-Saudi border to scout and plant listening devices and intelligence packages, and the country was open to Special Forces and so forth.  So action followed words.

MR. RUSSERT:  Prince Bandar said on television--well, he also had been told that no final decision had been made--but he called you late last week and said what?

MR. WOODWARD:  That--you know, I mean, he ought to speak for himself.  I have absolute confidence in what's reported here and what is the point of all of this.  I mean, you don't have Don Rumsfeld saying, "You can take this to the bank.  That is going to happen."  You don't have Dick Cheney saying not if this starts but once it starts, "Saddam is toast."  I think there was absolute clarity when Bandar left that meeting that it was going to be war.

MR. RUSSERT:  Didn't he tell you there was wink-wink?

MR. WOODWARD:  Yeah, I mean, that there might have been something said before for cover, but the reality is in those words and then the action, which is very significant.

MR. RUSSERT:  One of the things that you've written in your book that has now become part of the presidential campaign is the whole idea of the Saudis and oil prices.  Let me show you a portion of the interview with Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes" and then come back and talk about it.

MR. WOODWARD:  Sure.

(Videotape "60 Minutes," April 18, 2004):

MR. MIKE WALLACE (Host):  Woodward told us that Bandar has promised the president that Saudi Arabia will lower oil prices in the months before the election to ensure the US economy is strong on Election Day.

And you also say Bandar wanted Bush to know that the Saudis hoped to fine-tune oil prices to prime the economy in 2004.  What was key, Bandar understood, were the economic conditions before a presidential election.  Oil prices are at an all-time high.

MR. WOODWARD:  They're high and they could go down very quickly.  That's the Saudi pledge.  Certainly over the summer or as we get closer to the election, they could increase production several million barrels a day and the price would drop significantly.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Is that a political deal?

MR. WOODWARD:  No.  I don't think--and interestingly enough, Prince Bandar went public, it turns out, on April 2nd when he went to the White House and had a meeting with the people there--I believe the president--and said, "Our goal is to do this," and then he went out on the driveway in the White House and said, "Our goal is to have oil prices below $30 a barrel."  So in a sense hide in plain sight, if you will.  And what's interesting and I think what distresses people is that they haven't delivered on that.  Oil prices are really high.  There are interesting questions about whether the Saudis can actually do this now because of refining problems in this country.  But they have not delivered on that, and, you know, we will see.  I mean, it will be most interesting if all of a sudden oil prices do go down and gasoline prices at the pump are much less as we get into the fall election campaign.

MR. RUSSERT:  You mention the president not having any doubt.  You have a scene where you ask the president about whether he had consulted or sought the advice of his father, former President Bush, and this is what you write, quoting the president.  "You know, he is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength.  There is a higher father that I appeal to."  That's a very powerful statement.  Is there a sense in terms of the president, in terms of having no doubt, of God very much being on the side of the United States, God willing us to do this?

MR. WOODWARD:  Actually, before that he said--and he's quoted in the book saying, "I will not use God to justify war," and so I don't think he is.  And I think that was an honest statement.  What baffles me is that he did--and I asked him this very directly, and we got in kind of a back and forth that was a little contentious, that he didn't ask his father who'd been president, who sat in the Oval Office, who decided to go to war against Saddam Hussein, and the president went back and forth about that.  I mean, here's the one man--I would suspect that if John Kerry becomes president, has to go to war, he might even consult former President Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, because here's somebody who's done it, who can kind of say, "This is the road to take.  These are the mistakes.  This is what you would look at."  This President Bush says he did not.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before you go, you say that you interviewed 75 key players, including the president, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense. Many viewers have sent me e-mails saying, "How did Woodward recapture the exact dialogue?"  How do you do that with such certainty?

MR. WOODWARD:  The president would say, "This is what I said."  When I said to Colin Powell about war, he said, "Time to get your war uniform on."  That's quite memorable.  There are notes.  There are documents, some contemporaneous notes.  There are transcripts of phone calls, and if you look through the book, you will see there are lots of quotes, but there are more indirect quotes where people are not sure or I'm not sure of my documentation.  So I just, in an indirect way, say what they said at these meetings.  But when there are quotes like Rumsfeld's quotes and Cheney's quotes, I found after three decades of doing this, there are certain experiences you have where somebody uses language and it sears itself into your head and it never goes away.  Those are the moments I have attempted to capture.

MR. RUSSERT:  Bob Woodward, we thank you very much for joining us.

Coming next, Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia.  He responds.  And then we remember the extraordinary Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory, who died this past Wednesday.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia after this brief station break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Prince Bandar, welcome to MEET THE PRESS.

PRINCE BANDAR BIN SULTAN:  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  As I showed Bob Woodward's book, January 11, 2003, you're briefed by Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, about the war in Iraq.  That's two months before the American people were told.  Do you think that's strange?

PRINCE BANDAR:  Not at all, because at that time, the options were either the United Nations solution will work and Saddam will respond to it, or that will mean serious consequences which definitely meant ultimately will be war.  And you don't make plans the night before you go to war.  It takes time to plan. And my country is next door.  There's 500 mile of borders with Iraq.  And we were interested to know what's going on.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is Bob Woodward correct that you advised the president to take $200 million and buy off, in effect, the Iraqi army, pay them for their service, buy their loyalty, and that they could be a security force right now in Iraq?

PRINCE BANDAR:  I don't talk about my conversations with the president or--but I believe that would have been the right way to go.  There's no point of Monday-morning quarterbacking now.  What we need now to do is to make things work.

MR. RUSSERT:  In terms of oil supplies, this is the exact captions from Bob Woodward's book:  "`I'm worried about the adequacy of the oil market,' the president stated, expressing concern for the world market's ability to absorb temporary shortfalls during a war in the Middle East.  The ripple effect in the U.S. Economy could be gigantic, and he asked about the excess production capability of the" United Arab Emirates "and Saudi Arabia.  Saudi oil policy could be the saving grace.  According to Prince Bandar, the Saudis hoped to fine-tune oil prices over 10 months to prime the economy for 2004.  What was key, Bandar knew," was "the economic conditions before a presidential election, not at the moment of the election."

Senator Charles Schumer of New York has called on the president to revoke your diplomatic visa for interfering in the presidential election of 2004 by promising the president that you might lower prices before the November election to help his cause.

PRINCE BANDAR:  So what's the question, Tim?

MR. RUSSERT:  Did you, in fact, make such a promise to the president?

PRINCE BANDAR:  I did not.  The president talked with me for months about the high oil prices and how that could be damaging to the American economy and the world economy as it's recovering.  And I informed him my government's policy, which is to maintain oil prices between $22 to $28.  And we prefer $25 as sort of a medium, and that's the extent of that.  There was no deal, no election--no connection to the election.  And this is not the first time.  In 2000, President Clinton asked us to do the same thing because the prices were getting too high, above $30.

MR. RUSSERT:  But in October of 2000, crude oil was $35 a barrel, so you didn't keep your end of the deal.

PRINCE BANDAR:  Well, there is a reason, because it's not a matter of crude. The reason you have high prices in the United States is the refineries are not enough to refine.  There is a one-million-barrel shortage of refined products. So even if tomorrow we send you all the oil we have as crude, it will not change the facts here.  Do you know, Tim, that the United States has not built a refinery for about 15 years?  And like our oil minister said the other day in Dallas, we are willing to invest in refineries in the United States of America and that will be really the best route to go.

MR. RUSSERT:  What do you think the price of Saudi oil will be in October of 2004?

PRINCE BANDAR:  I wish I know, but I can assure you now we've been working very diligently to make sure that the prices will go down below $28, and this is a public position we have taken.  We convinced OPEC to agree with us on that.  And I don't understand; what's so wrong with oil prices going low?  I thought that is good for America, American economy, for the American people, and it's definitely good for us and my country.

MR. RUSSERT:  It may be good for George Bush's re-election.

PRINCE BANDAR:  It may be good for anybody in the White House and the American people.  And we don't see the difference.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to Saudi Arabia.  Here is a photograph of 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11, all members of your country.  Two years--more than a year, November of 2002, after the September 11 hijackings, this is what your interior minister said:  "We put big question marks and ask who committed the events of September 11 and who benefited from them.  Who benefited from the events of 9/11?  I think they [the Zionists] are behind these events."

Is that the position of your government?

PRINCE BANDAR:  No.  But I don't know what circumstances this quote was made. But I can tell you the position of my government, that includes Prince Nayef.  9/11 was an earthquake.  It shook us to the roots.  It's an evil work done by evil people who were targeting your country but also targeting the relationship between our two countries.  Otherwise, is it accidental that they will choose 15 misguided young people to be out of 19 when they had a pool of so many people from so many different countries?  So it was intentional, in my judgment, to do it that way to hurt our relationship.

MR. RUSSERT:  So the Zionists were not behind it?

PRINCE BANDAR:  Zionists were not behind it, but there is a reason why people were skeptical.  If you watch 9-11--Commission of 9/11, people just could not believe that those young people who came--who were trained in caves in Afghanistan could do something so spectacular and evil and sophisticated.  The truth of the matter, we all were.  So there was doubt, is it true that those people are the ones who planned it and executed it?  Well, we discovered later that it is true.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask you about September 13.  This is the way Craig Unger wrote about it in The Boston Globe and now his book.  "...what may be the single most egregious security lapse related to the attacks:  the evacuation of approximately 140 Saudis just two days after 9/11. ... Let's go back to Sept. 13, 2001. ... American air space was locked down. ... But some people desperately wanted to fly out of the country.  That same day, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, long-time friend of the Bush family, dropped by the White House.  He and President Bush went out to the Truman Balcony for a private conversation.  ...the Saudis themselves say that Prince Bandar was trying to orchestrate the evacuation of scores of Saudis from the United States despite the lockdown on air travel." There was a flight from Tampa to Lexington.  A former Tampa cop, a former FBI agent were on board providing security.  The passengers included three young Saudis.  "The planes took off from Tampa with the first of eight aircraft that began flying around the country, stopping in at least 12 American cities, carrying 140 passengers out of the country over the next week," "24 of whom were members of the bin Laden family."

Did you talk to President Bush about allowing those Saudi citizens to go home?

PRINCE BANDAR:  No.

MR. RUSSERT:  You never brought it up.

PRINCE BANDAR:  Period.  But if you allow me, Tim, my only comment about this--the book and this quote you just read to me, in French, it's hogwash, number one.  Number two, 9-11 Commission just declared--let me read to you what they declared.  9-11 Commission released a statement that says that "The FBI has concluded that nobody--nobody was allowed to depart on these six flights who the FBI wanted to interview in connection with 9/11 attacks or who the FBI later concluded had any involvement in the attack.  The statement also says that the Saudi flights were screened by law enforcement officials, primarily FBI, to ensure that people on these flights did not pose a threat to the national security and that nobody of interest to the FBI with regard to 9/11 investigation was allowed to leave the country."

Now, the tragedy here, Tim, is that there are people who don't know how to take yes for an answer.  If the 9-11 Commission says this, if the FBI says this and you still get people coming up with books saying, but they smuggled them.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Prince, here's the question.  This is a photograph of you with the president down at his Crawford ranch.  He brought his family.  Alison Walsh of The New Yorker wrote you are almost a member of the Bush family. That was her interpretation after doing an enormous amount of research.  And 140 Saudis did leave the United States when Americans couldn't fly.  The FBI agent--the FBI spokesman, John Inurelli, said, "I can say unequivocally that the FBI had no role in facilitating these flights."  Jim Thompson on the 9-11 Commission asked Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, "Did you, the State Department authorize this?"  "No, sir."  I asked the vice president of the United States on this program, did he know anything about it?  "No, sir."  Hundred and forty Saudis leave the country two days after September 11, and nobody knows who gave permission.  You don't know anything about it.  You didn't ask anyone for permission.

PRINCE BANDAR:  No, no, no, no.

MR. RUSSERT:  You didn't facilitate it in any way.  The planes were just allowed to...

PRINCE BANDAR:  No, Tim.  No, no, no.  no.  This is becoming exotic now.  We had those people in the country, and a lot of them were relatives of the bin Laden family going to school, from teen-agers to some people in college.  And we told--asked the FBI that those people are scattered all over America and with tempers high at that time, rightly so, we were worried that somebody and emotions will hurt them.

MR. RUSSERT:  So who did you call for permission?

PRINCE BANDAR:  We didn't call for--we asked them...

MR. RUSSERT:  Who?

PRINCE BANDAR:  ...is it possible?  The FBI.

MR. RUSSERT:  You called the FBI?

PRINCE BANDAR:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  And they gave permission?

PRINCE BANDAR:  And the FBI, according to Richard Clarke in his testimony, called him and he said, "I have no problem if the FBI has no problem."  So we gathered them all in here, and then once they were here, they left.  Now, the other airplanes were for Saudi officials who were here on vacation.  And after this disaster took place, they all had to go back home to official positions. But it is not true that they were flying when Americans were not flying, Tim. Americans were flying and restrictions were lifted, but there were--I mean, the stoppage was lifted but there were restrictions.  But think about it logically.  Do you think--where are we, in a Banana Republic?  I would take 148 Saudis, put them on aircraft and smuggle them out and nobody will know? Look, people have to take yes for an answer and read what 9-11 Commission said on this.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the whole issue of terrorism and the funding of it.  This is Newsweek magazine.  Headline:  "New Questions About Saudi Money-And Bandar.  A federal investigation into the bank accounts of the Saudi Embassy in Washington has identified more than $27 million in `suspicious' transactions--including hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Muslim charities, and to clerics and Saudi students who are being scrutinized for possible links to terrorist activity, according to government documents.  ... The probe also has uncovered large wire transfers overseas by the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.  The transactions recently prompted the Saudi Embassy's longtime bank, the Riggs Bank ...  to drop the Saudis as a client after embassy officials were `unable to provide an explanation that was satisfying,' says a source familiar with the discussions."

PRINCE BANDAR:  Tim, if that was true, I think it would make a great movie, but it's not true.  We terminated--Riggs Bank problem is a regulation problem that has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia.  However, Riggs Bank and us came to mutual agreement to terminate our relationship.  As far as the embassy's accounts or my wife's account or my account, there is not one question that we had from the U.S. government of concern of what happened to these accounts.

But here is the problem.  When a story like this, that has a prince, a princess, money, terrorism, it is exotic.  The tragedy that I find when--I like this country and I like the American people.  They're fair people.  But one thing that is done in this country that really disappoints me, and I could say something stronger, is when somebody puts a story like that like Newsweek did, it's a big story.  When the two people that started all of this, Mr. Basnan and Behymi, a month ago the FBI came and said, "After two years of investigation, there is no connections.  There is no foul play."  Guess what? How many times did you make a special program about it or Newsweek have an announcement?  They didn't.

MR. RUSSERT:  Prince, the former general consul to the Department of Treasury, David Aufhauser...

PRINCE BANDAR:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...a professional, a lawyer, testifying under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Question:  "With regard to the trail of money ... and whether it leads in some cases to Saudi Arabia?"  Aufhauser:  "In many cases it is the epicenter."  Question:  "And does that trail of money also show money going to al Qaeda?"  Aufhauser:  "Yes."  "Is the money from Saudi Arabia a significant source of funding for terrorism generally?"  Aufhauser: "Yes.  Principally al Qaeda but many other recipients as well."

This was the scene in April 2002, when your king, a state-sponsored telethon--and look at these pictures--raised over $92 million and the money was "for Palestinian martyrs"...

PRINCE BANDAR:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...suicide bombers who blew up Israeli children, school buses, restaurants.  Here's the Treasury Department of the United States saying that Saudi money is funding al-Qaeda.  You're having telethons raising money for Palestine suicide bombers, and you sit here and say, "How could people say these terrible things about us?"

PRINCE BANDAR:  Yes, I say that very easily because nothing stands still.  If you are saying before 9/11 we didn't have our thing together, yes, but nor did you.  Look what 9/11 is showing.  However, since...

MR. RUSSERT:  This was April of 2003.

PRINCE BANDAR:  I understand.  Since then, since 9/11, when after we recovered from the shock, we looked at all our procedures, and we have come through and we're proud of it.  And listen to--you read to me a quote.  Let me read to you the same man you quoted in a hearing afterward said exactly the opposite to this.  Secretary Snow in public, in Saudi Arabia, and in a briefing here, says the opposite to that.  And the Financial Action Task Force of the Organization of the Economic Cooperation and Development--the OECD--just came out with a report in March.  It says:  "In the area of charitable giving, new regulations to crack down on abusers at Saudi Arabian-based charities probably go further than any country in the world."  This is done by the G-7.

MR. RUSSERT:  Here is the perception amongst many Americans:  That the Saudis--and many members in Congress, and you've talked to them as well as I have.

PRINCE BANDAR:  Correct.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Saudis play a double game.  They open up the spigot and say, "It's all right to vent your hostility towards the United States.  Just leave us in the monarchy alone."  But now the genie is out of the bottle.  But the problem is, how did people develop such hostile attitudes towards the United States?  A commission was created by Congress, and here is the report from May of 2003.  The US Commission on International Religious Freedom: "Independent studies conducted in recent months" indicated "that official government textbooks, published by the Saudi Ministry of Education, include offensive and discriminatory language, in some cases promote intolerance, hatred of other religious groups.  Major findings:  one, Islam - specifically the Wahhabi interpretation - is presented as the only true religion and all other religions are considered invalid and misguided.  Christians and Jews repeatedly labeled as infidels, enemies of Islam who should not be befriended or emulated, and referred to in eight grade textbooks as `apes' and `pigs.' Jews are" regularly "referred to as `wicked nation,' characterized by bribery, deception, betrayal,' and those who abandon Islam for another religion deserve to be killed, or at least imprisoned."

If you teach your kids that in Saudi Arabia and in the madrassas around the world, of course they're going to hate the United States and Israel.  In January of 2009--'04, 16 employees of your embassy had their diplomatic visas revoked.  Why?  Because they were teaching at the Institute for Islamic and Arabic Services over in Virginia, and our government said that we had to protect our homeland and remove them from our country.  That's the reality.

PRINCE BANDAR:  That's not true.  That's not true, Tim.  If it was the reality, I don't blame the American people to hate us, but that is not the reality.  Those people you are talking about, the 14 people, were teachers in this institute.  They were on the diplomatic list of the embassy for about 15 years.  The law has changed, so all the State Department said, "Change their visas."  So we had to send them home so they could change their visa and come on different visa.  That's all what happened there.  But...

MR. RUSSERT:  Here's your own newspaper, the Arab News editorial.

PRINCE BANDAR:  But let me...

MR. RUSSERT:  This is terribly important.

PRINCE BANDAR:  I agree with you.  Let me comment on--you read to me a long charges or comments from Congress and the reports.  If that was true, then of course our people should hate America.  But go to Zogby poll, he did.  And if you look at that polling, you will find how different the reality there from what the congressional report says.  And as far as our education is concerned, we went and looked.  Look, Tim, after 9/11, we were shaken to our roots.  It was an earthquake for us.  And it took us a long time to come out of that shock and say to ourselves, "What happened?  What happened?"  So when we looked at our educational system, here is the statistics.  We found 85 percent of the material was acceptable.  We found 10 percent was questionable, meaning it could go either way depending on the teacher.  And we found 5 percent was objectionable.  What did we do?  We cleared the 5 percent and we made sure the 10 percent that's questionable become much more--less prone to be misused, and action was taken.  It is difficult for people to keep repeating things that happened and a corrective action was taken in this.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Arab newspaper in your country, editorial:  "So, too, has the chattering, malicious, vindictive hate propaganda that has provided a fertile ground for ignorance and hatred to grow."

PRINCE BANDAR:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  Here's The Washington Post, not from before September 11.  This is...

PRINCE BANDAR:  What is the point of the Arab newspaper, though?

MR. RUSSERT:  This is this past Wednesday.  Headline:  "U.S.-Saudi relations show signs of stress; reformers labeled agents of America."  This is last Wednesday.

PRINCE BANDAR:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  Reformers in your government, according to Prince Nayef, were agents of America.  And they were arrested.  Three are still in prison.

PRINCE BANDAR:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  What does that tell us about your country?

PRINCE BANDAR:  Well, if you'll let me answer, I will tell you.  Number one, when you talk about the one before, the Arabic paper, you were saying that they were saying bad things about American, Christian and so on.  Look, have you heard some of the evangelical priests here, what they say about Islam and our prophet?  And we all have our own cuckoos and they all sometimes say the wrong thing.

MR. RUSSERT:  This is the minister of interior.

PRINCE BANDAR:  No, no, I'm talking about the item before, where you said people were saying these bad things about Christians, pigs, etc., etc.  There is a rabbi in Israel who said, "Those Arabs are snakes and they should be gotten rid of."  Now, I cannot speak for everybody in my country, nor can you speak for anybody in your country.  And if you want to take what the papers said, by golly, I wish you get half of what we get--your media that we get in our news media.  Now, the minister of interior, Prince Nayef, with the statement you made, I don't know what context it is.  If I knew, I could answer you.  But Jim Zogby made the polling that showed 91 percent of Saudis said they like America; 95 percent said that they're against bin Laden and they don't think what he did is right.

MR. RUSSERT:  All right.  We're out of time.  One simple question.  Who's more popular in your country, Osama bin Laden or George W. Bush?

PRINCE BANDAR:  We never put those--this polling there.  But...

MR. RUSSERT:  President Mubarak of Egypt said the hatred towards America is unprecedented in the Arab world.  Do you agree with that?

PRINCE BANDAR:  I made a habit not to comment on heads of states' comments. But I'm telling you about Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia, a majority of the people, over 90 percent, don't hate Americans.  Now, if you insist that they hate America, that I cannot help you with that.  Finally, I would like to make a comment about Senator Schumer.  Senator Schumer is really a much, much nicer person in private when I meet with him than he is on TV.  And, second, I have an advice for him.  Make your words soft and sweet.  You never know when you have to eat them.  But Saudi Arabia is a friend of yours for 80 years--60 years and it will continue to be.  And we are a target for the same enemy. The bombing in Riyadh two days ago was not done by Irish people.  It was done by the same people who blew up 9/11.  So you cannot tell us that we made a deal with the devil.  We didn't.  We are declared war on those bad people and we are going to get them.

MR. RUSSERT:  To be continued.  I hope you'll come back again and share your views.

PRINCE BANDAR:  Look forward to it, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  And we'll be right back with a tribute to Mary McGrory.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  One of the hardest-working and best writers in America, Mary McGrory, died on Wednesday at age 85.  She appeared on MEET THE PRESS 33 times, always with insight and always with humor.  Miss Mary McGrory, Mary Gloria, a gracious, eloquent and elegant lady.  May she rest in peace.  May God be as good to her as she was to us.

                                (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  That's all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it is MEET THE PRESS.

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