1. Headline
  1. Headline
NBC News
updated 6/20/2004 11:57:50 AM ET 2004-06-20T15:57:50

Copyright© 2004, National Broadcasting Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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

NBC News

MEET THE PRESS

Guests: Richard Ben-Veniste, 9/11 Commission member, John Lehman, 9/11 Commission member, Katty Kay, Washington Correspondent, British Broadcasting Corporation, Joe Klein, Time magazine, Robert Novak, Chicago Sun-Times

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, June 20, 2004

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  the September 11 Commission.  It says the attacks that day were met by confusion and chaos:

(Audiotape, 9/11 communications):

FAA Headquarters:  You know, everybody just left the room.

(End audiotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Why were we not prepared?  Are we now better prepared?  And what lessons have we learned from that terrible day?  With us, two commissioners:  former Watergate prosecutor, Democrat Richard Ben-Veniste, and the former secretary of the Navy, Republican John Lehman.

Then, he's back.  Bill Clinton is on tour with his new book.  With us, a reporter who has interviewed President Clinton about his book, Joe Klein of Time magazine.  Also in our Roundtable, Katty Kay of the BBC and Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times.

And in our MEET THE PRESS Minute, we remember political strategist and pollster Robert Teeter, who died this week at age 65.

But first, joining us now, two commissioners of the September 11 Commission: Richard Ben-Veniste, John Lehman.  Welcome, both.

MR. RICHARD BEN-VENISTE:  Good morning.

MR. JOHN LEHMAN:  Good morning.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the Washington Post editorial which talked about some of the staff reports we heard emerging and some of the presentations made before your commission this week.

"The latest interim report by the Sept. 11 commission describes a litany of errors and miscommunications by aviation and air defense authorities during the attacks. ...  Different FAA offices did not know that others were tracking hijacked planes.  The military was not notified of the hijackings promptly.  Given the timing of the notification, it never had a chance of actually shooting any airliners down, yet Vice President Cheney at one point believed that two planes had been intercepted.  While Mr. Cheney and President Bush authorized incoming jets to be shot down, they did so after the last had crashed, and pilots in the air never learned of the order. Communications were so poor that at one point, the military spent time chasing a plane that, it turned out, had already crashed into the World Trade Center."

And this was the rather graphic sounds between FAA command center and FAA headquarters.  Let's listen.

(Audiotape, 9/11 communications):

FAA Command Center:  Do we want to think about scrambling aircraft?

FAA Headquarters:  God, I don't know.

FAA Command Center:  That's a decision somebody's going to have to make, probably in the next 10 minutes.

FAA Headquarters:  You know, everybody just left the room.

(End audiotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  How chaotic was that day?

MR. LEHMAN:  Well, it was chaotic.  No one had prepared, no one had trained, no one had exercised for this kind of a contingency, and neither FAA nor NORAD were ready to deal with the kind of threat that was presented to them that day.  It did not work.  Although the working-level people, the guys, the controllers, the pilots in the aircraft did a superb job, the command and control was abysmal.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Ben-Veniste?

MR. BEN-VENISTE:  I agree with John.  Unfortunately, the communications had never been tested.  FAA was out of the loop for most of the time in terms of the air threat conference.  They couldn't get on the call or stay on the call. We had significant information about the potentiality for an attack against the United States homeland.  That information never got to people who could make a difference, never got to the FAA in a way that they could use it to harden the cockpits, to alert the pilots, to have the screeners look for weapons, ratchet down what people could bring on airplanes.  It never happened.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why not?

MR. BEN-VENISTE:  It just emphasizes the problems that we saw in the intelligence community.  On the report card where it says `Works and plays well with others,' F.  The intelligence community was just too stovepiped. People owned their own information.  They didn't share it.  And that informs what we need to do to make our recommendations for a safer America.

MR. RUSSERT:  There is a discrepancy, it appears, between some people who testified before the commission as to who gave the actual order to shoot down aircraft.  Was it Vice President Cheney or was it President Bush?

MR. LEHMAN:  Well, I believe what President Bush and Vice President Cheney told us in their interview that it was President Bush, that Vice President Cheney was on scene in the White House in the command center and he made the call when asked.  As soon as he got into the PYOK, which is the command center, he made the call to the president.  The president authorized, according to both the president and the vice president's testimony.  There are no logs to verify that, but there's also no reason to question their account of what happened, but it's also kind of purely academic because the order was given and the problem came in delivering the order because the order never got to the pilots in the cockpit.

MR. RUSSERT:  What's your sense?

MR. BEN-VENISTE:  I agree with John.  The president and vice president gave us their recollections of what occurred.  Unfortunately, there's no corroboration in any written account, although other things were written down contemporaneously at the time.

MR. RUSSERT:  It does say, according to Newsweek, however, that the White House was allowed to review the staff report on this subject and the White House recommended changes in it.  Is that appropriate that the White House is reviewing your draft reports?

MR. BEN-VENISTE:  Well, the White House reviews our reports for the purpose of determining whether there's any classified information that should be excised from the reports.  In this case, they went somewhat beyond that and took issue with some of what the staff had concluded.  We did not change our conclusions.  We are, of course, willing to listen up to the last minute for the receipt of any information that would be helpful to us.  In this case, they went a little beyond what we would have expected.  Interestingly, they did not object or suggest any revision to the earlier staff statement which dealt with Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will the White House review the final report before it's made public?

MR. BEN-VENISTE:  Yes, they will for the same reasons.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.  What can you tell us about that, the behavior of the crew and some of the passengers?

MR. LEHMAN:  Well, the behavior of the crew was what you would expect: resistance, disbelief.  There was clearly a penetration of the cockpit, which they had not expected, and they were able to take control of the aircraft. But as 93...

MR. RUSSERT:  They being the hijackers?

MR. LEHMAN:  The hijackers were able to get control, as they were in all of the cockpits using primarily four-inch knives and box cutters and either pepper gas or teargas, and they, in each case, had all the passengers leave the first-class cabin and stay in the back of the airplane.  But 93 was in the air under the control of the hijackers for so long that there were more than 10 phone calls made through the air phones that are on the back of each seat, and we have quite a full account, from many sources, of almost minute by minute what went on.  And it's a fairly chilling account but one that is also magnificent in the performance of these people.  They took a vote on how to react to this.

MR. RUSSERT:  These are the passengers?

MR. LEHMAN:  The passengers.  And they overwhelmingly voted to take back control of the aircraft.  And that's what they did, and we will have verbatim accounts in our report, but one aircraft, coincidentally the very aircraft, Air Force C-130, that saw the Flight 77 crash into the Pentagon also saw the aircraft, 93, as it was gyrating with the passengers struggling to get control of it.  It was waving its wings and clearly there was a struggle going on in the cockpit and also then saw it go out of control or in control into the ground.  So it was a magnificent performance.  It's not just speculation, but we have it in great detail from participants.

MR. RUSSERT:  What can you add to that in terms of the flight attendants and passengers on Flight 93?

MR. BEN-VENISTE:  They were heroic.  They had received word of what had happened with respect to the planes crashing into the World Trade Center, and they knew that this was not an ordinary hijack.  They took action that probably saved either the Capitol or the White House from the same fate as the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.  It's interesting that on that flight there were only four hijackers instead of five, and if you trace back to the fact that the 20th hijacker, the last of the muscled hijackers who attempted to enter through Orlando airport, was turned back by an alert representative of INS-- Customs--then you can say that perhaps if they had five instead of four they might have been able to resist what occurred.  But the gyrations of the wings, as John says, were perhaps the pilots' attempt to dislodge the passengers from their flight forward into the cabin to confront and overpower the hijackers.  They were determined to do that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Jim Thompson, one of your fellow commissioners, asked a question at the hearing.  He said, "If everything had gone perfectly on the morning of September 11, everybody was perfectly prepared, focused inward, scrambled, armed, all the authorization there, all the information there, would it have been physically possible for the military to have intercepted those three aircraft before they concluded their terrible mission?"  And General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD, said, "Our modeling reflects that given the situation that you've outlined, which we think is the situation that exists today, because of the fixes, the remedies put in place, we would be able to shoot down all four aircraft."

Do you concur with that, Mr. Ben-Veniste?

MR. BEN-VENISTE:  Well, I think he confused in answering that question the difference between what might have been done on 9/11 with what might be done today.  I think the only opportunity to shoot down an aircraft would have been with respect to 77 and 93, not the two that crashed into the World Trade Center first.  I don't think there was any hope of preventing that, other than, as I said, had the FAA and NORAD been alert, had NORAD not been looking outward in a Cold War posture but inward toward the potential threat of terrorist attack, perhaps that could have been avoided.  Only the last two planes, I think, had any shot of being intercepted and taken down on 9/11. Now, that we have further alert stations, now that we have further training, perhaps, although a recent event again raises questions as to whether the lessons learned have been applied in a useful way to prevent any such further attack.

MR. RUSSERT:  The recent event being the governor of Kentucky flying to Washington and there was an evacuation of the Capitol.

MR. BEN-VENISTE:  There was one event.  There was another one in New York about which we heard testimony from FAA personnel during our hearing in which again substantial questions are raised about coordination and communication.

MR. RUSSERT:  Are you convinced that we are prepared now to prevent a hijacked plane from being flown into the Capitol or the White House?

MR. LEHMAN:  Well, we're certainly better off than we were, and I think there would be a much better reaction.  But there's no question in my mind that we are not where we need to be because, for instance, there is a new player, Homeland Security and the TSA that has not really been included in the exercising.  They are now responsible for aviation safety and security.  And the command and control with this additional player, I think, has yet to be sorted out.  That was the big, big shortcoming was clear protocols, exercise protocols with communications established between the key players when a crisis like that happens, and I don't think we're completed in that link yet.

MR. RUSSERT:  But it's been three years.

MR. LEHMAN:  Yeah, well, it takes--you know, it's difficult to--when you're establishing a new agency like Homeland Security, creating a brand-new organization like TSA, and then to link it in with the domestic security system in this country.  We have developed a very efficient command and control and communications for our military and their operations abroad.  But nobody paid much attention to command and control for security within this country until this attack.

So we're really building a whole new set of protocols, procedures and equipment.  And the equipment-- for instance, we have on any Navy destroyer far better radars than the FAA has at its best site.  So we've totally neglected the infrastructure for command and control within this country because nobody thought there would be this kind of threat.  Now, we have to treat internal security just as we do military security.

MR. BEN-VENISTE:  Tim, you're right.  Three years would warrant the expectation from the American people that we would have come along further by this time.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the staff report on the relationship, if you will, between Iraq and al- Qaeda, and I'll put it on the board and read it for everyone:  "Bin Ladin also explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to Hussein's secular regime.  ...Bin Ladin is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded.  There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after Bin Ladin had returned to Afghanistan, but they do appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.  Two senior Bin Ladin associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq.  We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."

Which led to this coverage by The New York Times:  "The staff of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks sharply contradicted one of President Bush's central justifications for the Iraq war, reporting on Wednesday that there did not appear to have been a `collaborative relationship' between Al Qaeda and Sadam Hussein.  ...the commission's staff said its investigation showed that the government of Mr. Hussein had rebuffed or ignored requests from"--al--"Qaeda leaders for help in the"--'90s--"a conclusion that directly contradicts a series of public statements President Bush and Vice President Cheney made before and after last year's invasion of Iraq in justifying the war."

Do you agree with that, Mr. Ben-Veniste?

MR. BEN-VENISTE:  Yes, I do, Tim.  There are two distinct issues.  One, first of all, 9/11.  Take it to the bank, there was no Iraqi involvement in 9/11. Let's put that to bed.  That's what our commission found.  That's what our staff, which included former high-ranking CIA officials, who know what to look for, who to question, where to look.  We looked at everything available.  No connection between Iraq and the 9/11 catastrophe.

Were there contacts over time between Iraq and al-Qaeda?  Yes, there were efforts made to communicate.  We found no evidence of collaboration in any effort to mount any kind of operation against the United States' interests. And if there is additional information that the vice president has or others have, we think we should have gotten that information by now.  But if there is more information, then we are happy to look at it.  We're interested in looking at it.  We ought to look at it.  And if there's some reason to modify our position, we will do so.  But this was not an effort to discredit or modify someone else's statements.  This is a fact-finding, objective effort by a bipartisan commission to get the facts.  And that's what we've done.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you agree?  Was there any evidence of any connection of Saddam Hussein with September 11?

MR. LEHMAN:  Well, I really totally disagree with what I thought was outrageously irresponsible journalism, to portray what the staff statement--and again, this is a staff statement; the commissioners have not addressed this issue yet--to portray it as contradicting what the administration said.  There's really very little difference between what our staff found, what the administration is saying today and what the Clinton administration said.  The Clinton administration portrayed the relationship between al- Qaeda and Saddam's intelligence services as one of cooperating in weapons development.  There's abundant evidence of that.  In fact, as you'll soon hear from Joe Klein, President Clinton justified his strike on the Sudan "pharmaceutical" site because it was thought to be manufacturing VX gas with the help of the Iraqi intelligence service.

Since then, that's been validated.  There has been traces of Empta that comes straight from Iraq, and this confounds the Republicans, who accused Clinton of doing it for political purposes.  But it confirms the cooperative relationship, which were the words of the Clinton administration, between al-Qaeda and Iraqi intelligence.

The Bush administration has never said that they participated in the 9/11 attack.  They've said, and our staff has confirmed, there have been numerous contacts between Iraqi intelligence and al-Qaeda over a period of 10 years, at least.  And now there's new intelligence, and this has come since our staff report has been written because, as you know, new intelligence is coming in steadily from the interrogations in Guantanamo and in Iraq and from captured documents.  And some of these documents indicate that there is at least one officer of Saddam's Fedayeen, a lieutenant colonel, who was a very prominent member of al-Qaeda.  That still has to be confirmed.  But the vice president was right when he said that he may have things that we don't yet have.  And we are now in the process of getting this latest intelligence.

But in any case, it demonstrates the difficulty that we've had in this commission, because we're under tremendous political pressures.  Everything we've come out with, one side or the other seizes on in this election year to try to make a political point on.

MR. RUSSERT:  But there is no direct involvement, in your mind and findings, between Saddam Hussein and September 11?

MR. LEHMAN:  No.

MR. RUSSERT:  I'm going to show two tapes.  The first is Vice President Cheney from September 14, 2003, on this program, and then Vice President Cheney this last Wednesday on CNBC.  Let's watch Vice President Cheney.  First, September 14, 2003.

(Videotape, September 14, 2003):

MR. RUSSERT:  The Washington Post asked the American people about Saddam Hussein, and this is what they said:  69 percent said he was involved in the September 11 attacks.  Are you surprised by that?

VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:  No, I think it's not surprising that the people make that connection.

MR. RUSSERT:  But is there a connection?

VICE PRES. CHENEY:  We don't know.  You and I talked about this two years ago.  I can remember you asking me this question just a few days after the original attack.  At the time I said no; we didn't have any evidence of that. Subsequent to that, we've learned a couple of things.  We've learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s, that it involved training, for example, on BW and CW, that al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on those systems.  It involved the Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaeda organization.

With respect to 9/11, of course, you've had the story that's been public out there, the Czechs alleged that Mohammed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack.  But we've never been able to develop any more of that yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it.  We just don't know.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, "Capital Report," Thursday):

MS. GLORIA BORGER:  Do you know things that the commission does not know?

VICE PRES. CHENEY:  Probably.

MS. BORGER:  And do you think the commission needs to know them?

VICE PRES. CHENEY:  I don't have any way--I don't know what they know.  I do know they didn't talk with any original sources on this subject that say that in their report.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Ben-Veniste, Vice President Cheney on September 14 saying, "We just don't know if Saddam was involved and we just don't know whether or not Iraqi officials met in Czechoslovakia with one of the hijackers."

MR. BEN-VENISTE:  Well, our staff statement has again refuted the notion that there was any Czech meeting.  Indeed, the individual is now in custody, Mr. Ani, who Mohammed Atta supposedly met with in Czechoslovakia while we have pretty unshakeable evidence that Atta was in Florida.  So with the principle that someone can't be in two places at the same time as well as looking at this very carefully over time, talking to the CIA, the FBI, all those with primary information, we have come to the conclusion that the so-called Czech meeting never happened.  So we've taken a position with respect to that.  We don't get into the issue of why a substantial number of people in America, perhaps a majority at one point, thought that there was a connection between Iraq and the 9/11 catastrophe, but as you have heard here today from both of us, it is our view that Iraq, Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the planning, preparation of 9/11.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Lehman said that it's quite possible that Vice President Cheney does know things that the commission doesn't know.  You agree with that?

MR. BEN-VENISTE:  Yes, I hope he does on a current basis.  With respect to the individual that John Lehman has talked about, who is supposedly a member of the Fedayeen, the storm troopers of Saddam Hussein's former army, we don't know whether that's the same individual as an individual who had some contact with al-Qaeda operatives.  There were a lot of Iraqis, expatriates, opponents of Saddam Hussein, who joined up with al-Qaeda.  But in terms of collaborative relationship in operations targeting the United States, we have come to the conclusion that there is no evidence that we have seen to support that.  If there is additional information, we're happy to look at it, and we think we should get it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to an article in today's Los Angeles Times.  "Two allies aided bin Ladin.  Saudi Arabia and Pakistan let terrorists flourish before September 11 apparently in return for protection from attacks by al-Qaeda."  Has your commission found this information?

MR. LEHMAN:  Well, first of all, as Richard said, we have concluded on the Prague meeting.  We haven't concluded anything on the Prague meeting, and our staff has concluded, I've looked at the same evidence, and I don't reach any conclusion.  But I think it's irrelevant.  I do agree with what Richard said and I think there is a consensus that there is no evidence that we have seen that suggests that they played a role in the attack.  I think the Prague meeting is really off center in any case.

MR. RUSSERT:  How about Pakistan and Saudi Arabia?

MR. LEHMAN:  Pakistan and Saudi Arabia certainly turned a blind eye for a long period of time to al- Qaeda operations and al-Qaeda operatives in their countries.  And this is something that is a very serious long-term problem for us because they're both vulnerable regimes.  They both, because of the long-term funding of these madrassas and mosques that have been preaching this hatred, particularly in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, but all over the world, they have created an environment that makes them very vulnerable.  And they have over the last 10 years in effect been paying a kind of blackmail by allowing a kind of a free operations and maneuver and use of both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.  Now, I think that's changing in both countries, but it's very delicate.  And those are the two biggest challenges we have in confronting this jihad against us.

MR. RUSSERT:  What do you think the American people should be prepared for when your final report comes out in about four or five weeks?

MR. BEN-VENISTE:  We'll, I think, draw attention to the fact that while the intelligence community had collected a significant amount of information prior to 9/11 about the potential for an attack against the United States that that information was not utilized in an effective manner to protect our homeland, Tim.  The reasons for that include the stovepiping of our various intelligence capabilities.  That is, they did not talk to each other in any kind of horizontal way.  With respect to the FBI, they had problems communicating in a vertical way, within the FBI itself, so that information of importance could get pushed up to those who were decision-makers.

That perhaps explains why in August of 2001 in a PDB sent directly to the president, a lot of information that might have been useful for the president to know wasn't included.  Thereafter there was information of a startling nature when Moussaoui was arrested.  Islamic terrorist learns to fly.  They quickly concluded that he was a suicide hijacker, and yet that information didn't get to NORAD or to the FAA in time or at all prior to 9/11, and so it didn't make a difference.  So we will have recommendations with respect to the centralization and the cooperation of the intelligence community to get information to those who were in a position to make a difference.

In addition to that, we will have recommendations regarding the FBI, and I think Director Mueller's on the right track, but we probably will go further in our recommendations to institutionalize changes.  And Congress, the oversight of the intelligence community, we will have recommendations there to make that oversight function much more useful to the American public and much more streamlined than it is now.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will the American people be surprised by how much information was available to the government but not acted on?

MR. LEHMAN:  Well, you know, Richard has put it very well.  I think that you're going to see unanimous recommendations on the intelligence community from our commission, and they're going to be based on shocking findings of gross dysfunction in the intelligence community.  The intelligence community doesn't work.  It is dysfunctional.  It needs fundamental change, not just tweaking and moving the deck chairs or the organization boxes around.  Because the information did come in, but it not only didn't get to those who should have gotten it, but even within the intelligence agencies, it was never understood or absorbed as to what was really a priority in threats and what was not.  They couldn't distinguish between a bicycle crash and a train wreck. And this, we're spending $40 billion a year on this, and we've got to fix it, and we can.  We're going to come up with real changes that are going to be able to fix this problem, if they're acted on, and I think they will be.

MR. RUSSERT:  To be continued.  Thank you for a very important discussion this morning, and we look forward to your final report.

MR. BEN-VENISTE:  Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, Bill Clinton's new book, "My Life."  Joe Klein has read the book and interviewed the former president, and he's here.  And we'll get reaction from Katty Kay of the BBC and Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times.  And the very latest on the Bush-Kerry race as well, all coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Bill Clinton is back, his new book, and we'll look at Campaign 2004.  Our political Roundtable is next, after this station break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

Welcome, all.  Bill Clinton is back as well.  His book, "My Life," reviewed on the front page of The New York Times, Joe Klein, and let me read it in part to you:  "The book, which weighs in at more than 950 pages, is sloppy, self-indulgent, often eye-crossingly dull - the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history.  In many ways, the book is a mirror of Mr. Clinton's presidency: lack of discipline leading to squandered opportunities; high expectations undermined by self-indulgence and scattered concentration.  ...it seems, hurriedly written and even more hurriedly edited."

Joe Klein, you're the only man at this table who's read the book.

MR. JOE KLEIN:  Other than that, the review was a rave.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is that an accurate review?

MR. KLEIN:  Well, I mean, you know, it's an accurate review of almost every presidential memoir that's ever been written.  This is a presidential memoir. And, you know, it's an open secret that Clinton wanted to write two books.  He wanted to write one book about his Arkansas childhood and another book about his presidency, and he kind of has in this case.  The Arkansas sections are written, sometimes they're moving.  They're not really tremendously well-written, but they're written.  The rest of the book, though, is a kind of diary dump, you know--his account of the presidency--with the exception of the sections on Ken Starr.  You know, it's "If this is Tuesday, we must be in Northern Ireland."  And I think it's sloppy and I don't think there was very much care taken, and I think, as usual with Bill Clinton, he was rushing to meet a deadline.

MR. RUSSERT:  But in terms of Ken Starr, there seems to be an attempt by the president to portray himself as someone who withstood an attack by an organized right-wing attack.

MR. KLEIN:  Absolutely.  He doesn't use the words "vast right-wing conspiracy," but he associates himself with them.  And the striking thing to me about this is that he now wants the Starr investigation to be part of his legacy.  He thinks that it's one of his major achievements that he beat back the attempt to impeach him.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let's listen to President Clinton on "60 Minutes," which will air tonight.  Here he is:

(Videotape, "60 Minutes"):

FORMER PRES. BILL CLINTON:  I think I did something for the worst possible reason, just because I could.  I think that's just about the most morally indefensible reason that anybody could have for doing anything, when you do something just because you could.  And I've thought about it a lot, and there are lots of more sophisticated explanations, more complicated psychological explanations, but none of them are an excuse.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Katty Kay?

MS. KATTY KAY:  What I would really like to know is what Bill Clinton has learnt in the years of therapy that he's been having since his affair with Monica Lewinsky and whether that has actually changed these vulnerabilities--and, Joe, you've spoken to him recently--and whether that process that he went through of soul searching, which he appears to be so honest about in these interviews, whether that's really affected him and whether, if it were in his position to do the same things again, he would fall victim to those vulnerabilities again.  I don't know if Bill Clinton has really changed that much.  He sounds very honest.  He sounds honest, remarkably honest about his affair with Monica Lewinsky there.  But has he learnt that much?  Would he change his behavior now?  Can anyone change their behavior now through that kind of therapy?

MR. ROBERT NOVAK:  I don't think, from what I know of the book and from what I've heard on the interviews, that he's at all honest.  He gives the impression that this Monica Lewinsky--I wouldn't call it an affair--this episode was an aberration, that it was something that--he did it because he could do it, when his whole life was a life of lecherousness.  He doesn't admit the conduct he had as governor, the conduct he had as president of the United States with other women.  He can't.  I mean, then he would really say that--then he would have to lay it all out on the table.  But when people accuse the vast right- wing conspiracy of being unfair to the president because of this one misstep with this young woman, I think that's a misapplication, a misimpression being given, because I think he had a consistent record of unacceptable behavior.

MR. KLEIN:  That's not what he's saying at all, Bob.  On the latter point first, his main gripe about Starr isn't the Lewinsky case, but it's Starr's behavior up until then:  the fact that it--the excessive zeal of Starr's prosecution, the badgering of witnesses, the threatening of witnesses, having Susan McDougal spend 18 months in jail, all of that--the leaks to the press that are illegal.  I mean, you know, he makes a very strong case for Starr's abuse of power.

On the Monica Lewinsky case and the psychological point that Katty made, he now--I mean, I once described him as the analysand from hell because he would always be, like, three steps ahead of the shrink, I think, and agreeing with everything.  In this case, he's come up with a unified field theory of his whole life and he puts it in psychological terms.  And he emphasized to Michael Duffy and I twice that he really believes in therapy.  He really believes in the process.  He now says that he led parallel lives, going back to his childhood when he had to hide his anger at his stepfather and be sunny and optimistic up front.  He, in effect, says that the reason why he acted stupidly and immorally with Monica Lewinsky was that he was so angry at Ken Starr.

Now, his opponents are going to have a field day with that, and it seems like a little bit too psychological, you know, to be acceptable.  But he's going to say, as he always has maintained, "Look, I've been more candid about myself and my behavior than any other president or presidential candidate, and you guys just want more."

MR. NOVAK:  But, Joe, he does not admit the aberrant behavior with the other women, does he?

MR. KLEIN:  No, he does.  He says that he has had these inner demons that he's been struggling with throughout.  He doesn't go through chapter and verse.  He doesn't...

MR. NOVAK:  But he doesn't--but he doesn't admit it.

MR. KLEIN:  He doesn't.  But why should he?  You know...

MS. KAY:  Well, in that interview, he is very candid.  He does say it was morally wrong, he did it for the worst possible reason, because he did.  He's making no excuse for his play of power over Monica Lewinsky.  And part of his appeal, Bill Clinton's appeal, is this apparent honesty and intensity and saying--appearing to say what is the truth about his past.

MR. NOVAK:  That's what he's trying...

MR. KLEIN:  Also...

MR. NOVAK:  That's what he's trying to do.  But does he do it?

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Joe, what I'm interested in--let's move beyond sex and talk about...

MR. KLEIN:  Oh.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...talk about legality.  The Washington Post, April 13, 1999, headline:  Judge Finds Clinton in Contempt of Court.  And it goes on:  "A federal judge held president Clinton in contempt of court for giving `intentionally false' testimony about his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky in the Paula Jones lawsuit, marking the first time that a sitting president has been sanctioned for disobeying a court order.  In a biting, 32-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright of Arkansas said Clinton gave `false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process' in Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit."

MR. KLEIN:  Absolutely.  And he cops to that.  I mean, he says that he didn't tell the truth.  But...

MR. RUSSERT:  Under oath?

MR. KLEIN:  Under oath.  But he is also the first sitting president to be subjected to the kind of prosecution that Ken Starr laid on him over those five or six years.  Now, we have reported at great length about Clinton's sins, but my feeling is that, in the end on all this stuff, he's more sinned against than sinning, that the quality...

MR. RUSSERT:  By whom?

MR. KLEIN:  By Ken Starr.  The quality--we didn't spend nearly enough time reporting the overstep, the abuse of power, you know, the zealousness of Ken Starr.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you agree with that, Bob?

MR. NOVAK:  No, I don't agree...

MR. KLEIN:  I don't mean just the Lewinsky case; I mean all those years.  We never reported--why didn't we report that in 1995 Jay Stevens, a Republican, a conservative Republican, working for the Resolution Trust company, reviewed the Whitewater allegations and found that the Clintons were completely exonerated.  We never reported it.  Our coverage--and I'm speaking about myself as well as everybody else--was unbalanced and unfair with regard to Whitewater.

MR. NOVAK:  Well, with all due respect, that's exactly what the Clintonistas want to put out right now, that he was more sinned against than sinning.  As a matter of fact, you talk about Susan McDougal being treated badly.  Her late husband, in a book that he wrote with Curtis Wilkie, indicates that she was lying, she was covering up, that there was a lot of derogatory information. I don't think that the...

MR. KLEIN:  Do you believe him?  I mean, the guy is a manic depressive.  The guy didn't want to go to jail.  Do you believe him?

MR. NOVAK:  Yes, I believe him over her.  I absolutely do.

MR. KLEIN:  Because she went...

MR. NOVAK:  Joe, if I could get a word...

MR. KLEIN:  Yeah, OK.

MR. NOVAK:  ...in, please?  I don't believe that the Whitewater case was ever fully investigated.  People died.  The judge that was going to get information out was not questioned.

MR. KLEIN:  People died?

MR. NOVAK:  And as a matter of fact, Joe, I believe that Bill Clinton beat the rap on Whitewater and I think Ken Starr failed on that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you, Katty, as well this clip of Bill Clinton on Wednesday night after watching a movie entitled "The Hunting of the President," produced by his friend, Harry Thomason.  This was what Bill Clinton had to say.

(Videotape, June 16, 2004):

MR. CLINTON:  When the Berlin Wall fell, the perpetual right in America, which always needs an enemy, didn't have an enemy anymore.  So I had to serve as the next best thing.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  He believes he was the replacement of the Cold War...

MS. KAY:  For the Cold War.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...in terms of American conservatives.

MS. KAY:  And this seems to be the dichotomy of Bill Clinton.  In some ways, he seems to be so honest about himself, as we were talking about earlier, and seems to have a clear vision of himself and of his presidency, and then he seems to revert to the victim role.  And that's what I take away from that clip, is Bill Clinton seeing himself as a victim again, not using the language, of the right-wing conspiracy.  How on earth...

MR. NOVAK:  Yeah.

MS. KAY:  ...he could possibly think that he has become the replacement for the Cold War for the right seems extraordinary.

MR. KLEIN:  Could I get...

MR. NOVAK:  That fits exactly what his whole position is.  I don't believe he's a bit honest.  I think that he was caught on the Lewinsky thing, so he was forced to make certain admissions.  But about his whole life, I think that he has fabricated this whole story and the absolutely absurd notion that he is the replacement for the Cold War is a part of this whole fantastic structure.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Bob Novak, President Bush this week invited President Clinton and Mrs. Clinton to the White House and he praised on him.  Let's just watch a bit of it here.

(Videotape, June 14, 2004):

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  We're glad you're here, 42.  The years have done a lot to clarify the strengths of this man.  As a candidate for any office, whether it be the state attorney general or the president, Bill Clinton showed incredible energy and great personal appeal.  As chief executive, he showed a deep and far-ranging knowledge of public policy, a great compassion for people in need and the forward-looking spirit that Americans like in a president. Bill Clinton could always see a better day ahead and Americans knew he was working hard to bring that day closer.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Novak?

MR. NOVAK:  That turned the stomach of a lot of people, but it's in keeping with all the hypocrisy of people who hated Ronald Reagan who were eulogizing him the week before.  Now, the next day is George W. Bush saying what a fine person Bill Clinton was.

MR. KLEIN:  Look, you know, there's a balanced way to look at Bill Clinton and Katty was doing it before.  You can say that the Starr prosecution was way beyond the limits, but you can also say that Clinton is adding two and two and getting 46 by saying there was a great right-wing conspiracy.

One other point that I'd like to raise here, especially with regard to your first two guests.  One of the other things that Clinton told us was that he would have fired Louis Freeh as FBI director if it hadn't been for the media and for the fact that we would have associated that firing with the investigation of the Lewinsky scandal.  Now, that is incredibly damning because from what I can understand, the FBI was entirely incompetent, not doing anything in terms of counter-terrorism over those years.  And so in some ways, you could say that we might have had a better shot at rolling up those al-Qaeda cells if Bill Clinton had been free to fire Freeh.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, other supporters of Louis Freeh obviously disagree with that.

MR. KLEIN:  Well...

MR. NOVAK:  And there's also another theory about that.  His irritation with Louis Freeh was because of the question on his own personal behavior.

MS. KAY:  In terms of this election, though, I thought what was interesting about what President Bush was saying there is, of course, there is now the speculation about the affect that the Clinton book is going to have on the Kerry campaign.  I happen to believe that come November people are going to be voting about much larger issues than about President Clinton's book.  And you could argue that it will galvanize people on the right, it will galvanize people on the left, and should Kerry be trying to use Clinton or not, but it is true that it might remind people of a time before this president when there were record-high deficits, when the economy was strong, when the stock market was doing well, and Clinton has particularly at the moment, 'cause he's on very good form, this incredible charisma and I see that it doesn't need to be such a down side for the Kerry campaign.  But in November, people will be voting about the future, not about the past.

MR. NOVAK:  You don't think it sucks the breath out of John Kerry?

MS. KAY:  I think you can argue it either way.  But I think come November...

MR. KLEIN:  For a couple of weeks.

MS. KAY:  ...people will be out voting about more issues due the future than the past.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr.  Novak, where were you 40 years ago?  I'll tell you where you were.  Let's take a look right here on the screen.  There he is, Robert Novak's first appearance on MEET THE PRESS 40 years ago, 1964.  Who was the guest?

MR. NOVAK:  Mike Mansfield.

MR. RUSSERT:  Right you are.

And we'll be right back right after this.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.  Bob Teeter, who worked in seven Republican presidential campaigns, and for the last 15 years teamed up with Democrat Peter Hart to do polling for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, died this week at age 65.  He first appeared on MEET THE PRESS representing the presidential campaign of George Herbert Walker Bush in 1988:

(Videotape, November 6, 1988):

MR. ROBERT TEETER (Bush Campaign Pollster):  I think the biggest mistake any of us can make is to understatement the wisdom and the judgment of the American voter, and I think the voters watch the candidates all during the campaign.  They watch them campaign in the debates, they watch them in commercials, they watch them on news programs, they watch them campaign in their states, and they come around to a very sound, generalized view of which one they most trust to go sit in the White House and make value judgments for them.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Bob Teeter, smart, savvy, insightful, and a very good and very decent man.  May he rest in peace.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Happy Father's Day to all the dads, especially Big Russ.  Luke, I love being your dad.

If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

More on TODAY.com

  1. Chris Wattie / Reuters

    Chaos in Canada’s capital: Soldier killed in shooting

    10/22/2014 9:26:49 PM +00:00 2014-10-22T21:26:49
  1. Courtesy of Linda Dahlstrom Ande

    After 8 years, she took her husband's name: The beautiful reason why

    10/22/2014 3:19:56 PM +00:00 2014-10-22T15:19:56
  1. Getty Images

    It took an ultimatum to get Matthew McConaughey to say 'I do'

    10/22/2014 3:51:19 PM +00:00 2014-10-22T15:51:19
  1. TODAY

    Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski make big announcement on TODAY

    10/22/2014 2:32:46 PM +00:00 2014-10-22T14:32:46