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updated 7/11/2004 11:18:41 AM ET 2004-07-11T15:18:41

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NBC News

MEET THE PRESS  Sunday, July 11, 2004

Guests:  Senator Pat Roberts, (R-Kan.) Chairman, Intelligence Committee                        

Senator Jay Rockefeller, (D-W.Va.) Vice Chairman, Intelligence Committee  

David Broder, The Washington Post

Ron Brownstein, Los Angeles Times

William F. Buckley, Editor Emeritus, National Review

Jack Germond, Baltimore Sun

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:

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MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday: a devastating report on prewar intelligence on Iraq.

(Videotape):

SEN. PAT ROBERTS, (R-KS):  In the end, what the president and the Congress used to send the country to war was information that was provided by the intelligence community and that information was flawed.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  How could the CIA be so wrong?  Did the Bush administration intentionally exaggerate the data?  With us:  the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas and Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

Then it's Kerry-Edwards vs. Bush-Cheney.  Insights and analysis from David Broder of The Washington Post, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, William F. Buckley Jr. of the National Review and veteran political reporter Jack Germond.

But first:  The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence says the following.  "Most of the major key judgments in the Intelligence Community's October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate ...  either overstated, or were not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting."

And here with us to discuss that report, Chairman Pat Roberts, Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller. Welcome both.

SEN. ROBERTS:  OK.  Thanks, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Chairman Roberts, let me start with you.  Having read this report, bottom line, did this country go to war in Iraq based on bogus information?

SEN. ROBERTS:  I don't know about bogus information.  It was flawed intelligence.  And so consequently--and not only with the United States but shared by every other intelligence agency all throughout the world.  This was a global intelligence failure.  There are extenuating and certainly mitigating circumstances as to how this assumption train got started, but in interviewing over 200 analysts and working very hard with Senator Rockefeller and our excellent staff for over a year, we have determined beyond I think any reasonable fact that the intelligence was flawed.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me go back to October 10, 2002, Senator Rockefeller, and this is what you said on the floor of the Senate.  "Saddam's existing biological and chemical weapons capabilities pose a very real threat to American now.  ... he could make those weapons available to many terrorist groups ...

Some argue it would be totally irrational for Saddam Hussein to initiate an attack against the mainland United States, and they believe he would not do it.  But if Saddam thought he could attack America through terrorist proxies and cover the trail back to Baghdad, he might not think it so irrational."

And then you voted to authorize George Bush to go to war.  Were you duped?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER, (D-WV):  I hate to put it in those terms, but I was wrong.  And I've said for a long time now that if I know now what I did not know then, I would have voted against it.  I think there were two things.  I think there was the question that the intelligence was flawed, profoundly flawed on all subjects, not just the weapons of mass destruction but the terrorist threat, the relationship between Saddam Hussein and perhaps 9/11, something which the vice president is still talking about, but also the fact that the highest level of the administration, they were talking so much, so constantly about the threat to the nation, grave and growing, mushroom clouds. This is moving to the homeland, the president said, just about a month before the vote.  I mean, in a sense, they were exaggerating intelligence.  They were ahead of the intelligence they were getting or they weren't paying attention to the intelligence they were getting and going beyond it to try to convince the American people that war was the way to go.

MR. RUSSERT:  Should Congress have asked more challenging questions of the CIA?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  Yes, Congress should have done that, and we're looking at ways to improve our own oversight because I think 9/11 was an enormous wake-up call, not only to, you know, the intelligence committee but to the entire world.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me...

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  But the point was that the National Intelligence Estimate, which was really the 100-page sort of analysis, we in the Senate Intelligence Committee had to ask for it from the CIA.  We received that only a few days before we actually voted, and that was where all these conclusive judgments or, you know, what we thought was a fairly shoddy product was put forward.  So there was virtually no time between the receiving of the final national intelligence report and the vote.

MR. RUSSERT:  There is no more important decision for a president than to bring a nation to war, as you well know, Senator Roberts.  And Paul Wolfowitz, one of the primary architects of the war in Iraq, had this to say:  "We settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction...there have always been three fundamental concerns.  One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people.  ...  The third one by itself...is a reason to help the Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did."

If there are no weapons of mass destruction and the link of Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda is murky, at least in terms of the operational sense, then it leaves the third:  to help the Iraqis and Saddam's criminal behavior.  Do you agree with Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz it was not reason enough to go to war?

SEN. ROBERTS:  Well, that was then.  This is now.  I know I stood on a gravesite at Hillah in Iraq and looked at 18,000 bodies being unearthed, you know, one at a time; 500,000 were dead.  I think we're probably in better shape.  I know the people in Iraq are in better shape, if we can achieve the stability, which is a very tough challenge over there.  But I don't think anybody in terms of threat to regional stability, to Israel, the possibility of reconstituting--he did have the capability of the weapons of mass destruction.  I think we're better off without Saddam there.

Now, on the WMD side, no, the intelligence was flawed.  On the terrorism side, that was probably a pretty good report that we got.  We were worried about a safe haven for the terrorists that were coming in from Afghanistan, and they did provide a safe haven.  Don't forget there was the production of ricin up in the northwest part of Iraq.  In charge of links to terrorism, yes, they had contacts.  Mr. Zarqawi, Abu Zarqawi was in the country.  Operational?  No, still murky, so we really don't know about that.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Senator, if you went to the Senate in October of 2002...

SEN. ROBERTS:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and said, "We're not sure about weapons of mass destruction and the relationship between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda operation is murky, but he is a bad guy and there are mass graves, we have to go to war," would you have voted for war?

SEN. ROBERTS:  I don't know if I would have or not.  I think the whole premise would have changed, I think the whole debate would have changed, and I think that the response would have changed in terms of any kind of military plans. Very difficult to look in the rear-view mirror, 20/20 hindsight and say what you would have done under those circumstances.  Jay has indicated he wouldn't have voted for it.  Jay has also indicated that there probably wouldn't have been the votes to go to war.  I think if we went back to the no-fly zones and the resolutions by the U.N. and an awful lot of talk, I doubt if the votes would have been there.

MR. RUSSERT:  The vote was 77-to-23.  What do you think the vote would have been...

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  I don't know.  I can't do the math.  But if you take the WMD and then the weapons of mass destruction, say there was no underlying intelligence that sufficiently supported it, if you take the al-Qaeda/Saddam Hussein supposed relationship, the 9/11-Saddam Hussein supposed relationship, the underlying intelligence clearly didn't support that, there was nothing left except, as Pat has indicated, humanitarian reasons.  Would the American people have put up with the United States sending now 1,000 people to their deaths and 3,000 to 4,000 wounded?  And our soldiers doing the most

incredible, magnificent job in a war, did we put them properly in that war? Did the president of the United States put them properly in that war?  I think that's a hard case to make.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator, you said that probably votes would not be there, so...

SEN. ROBERTS:  Well, I think under the circumstances when you vote and you believe that there's an imminent threat to our national security, and we had people saying that the aluminum tubes were, you know--that they would be used for a centrifuge to reconstitute the nuclear capability, when you have a report that the UAVs posed a hazard with biological weaponry to the United States...

MR. RUSSERT:  Unmanned aerial vehicles.

SEN. ROBERTS:  Yes.  And then when you have the mobile lab, say, controversy, why yes, why you vote that way.  But again, that's, say, hindsight.  Don't forget, he did represent a threat to the regional stability.  Don't forget that he did have missiles that went over 150 kilometers, so he's threatening Israel.  Don't forget that he did work with the Palestinian terrorists and was paying ransom--not ransom.  He was paying a reward to all these terrorists. So I guess the question could have been:  If he posed an imminent

threat to the future of Israel, would we have helped?  I don't know that.

But I think that if you say, "How would you have voted then?" well, it begs the question now we're there and we have to make this work, and that's why both Jay and I are really concentrating on phase two of the report and then also on reform.  Week after next, we start the reform hearings.

MR. RUSSERT:  I want to get to that.  But the fact is the primary rationale given to the American people was that Saddam Hussein was a threat, with biological and chemical, and reconstituting a nuclear program.  The hardest question ever to answer to the 882 families who lost loved ones...

SEN. ROBERTS:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...or the 5,395 injured or killed...

SEN. ROBERTS:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  ..."Why was our son or daughter sent to Iraq under false intelligence information?"

SEN. ROBERTS:  Well, that is the thing that, you know, all of us on the Intelligence Committee live with and that's why we've worked so hard to produce this report, why I've said let the chips, you know, fall where they may and let's make the appropriate changes and let's do it very quickly, because in a dangerous world, if you're going to have a policy of pre-emption, whether it be North Korea or whether it be whatever threat we face, not only that but the threat to the homeland right now in regards to a terrorist attack, well, we have to get it right.

I do quarrel a little bit with Jay in terms of his interpretation of the administration.  Many people in the administration made very declarative and assertive comments like the mushroom cloud.  Why would Condi Rice say that? Well, if, in fact, you did have the capability of producing the weapons of mass destruction or they were there and you had a person like A.Q. Khan, that becomes sort of a Grand Central Station for a terrorist group to latch onto a nuclear weapon and then certainly could use it in any part of the world.  I think that's why she said that.  Well, obviously she got the intelligence, she made

the statement, the intelligence was flawed.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, they were connecting Saddam to nuclear development and mushroom cloud before the apprehension...

SEN. ROBERTS:  Starting in 1991 after the first Gulf War they found that he had a greater capability than they thought, and then that kept going with U.N. inspectors and it wasn't until the U.N. inspectors left that everybody assumed he would be reconstituting his weapons of mass destruction.  That assumption was wrong because we had no collection, no human intelligence in Iraq to tell us otherwise.

MR. RUSSERT:  Here's the concern:  In December of 2002 there was a briefing in the Oval Office, and here's how Bob Woodward describes it in his book "Plan of Attack."  "George Tenet, the director, and [Deputy Director] McLaughlin went to the Oval Office.  The meeting was for presenting the case on WMD. ... When McLaughlin concluded, there was a look on the president's face of, `What's this?' and 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.'  [White House chief of staff Andrew] 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, threw his arms in the air.  `It's a slam-dunk case.'  It was unusual for Tenet to be so certain.  From McLaughlin's presentation, Card was worried there might be no `There, there.'"

This is December of 2002.  The president having doubts about the quality of the intelligence information on Iraq.  What turned the corner?  How did he become so emphatic and convinced during the first three months leading up to the war in 2003?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  I think that was a substantive discussion of intelligence issues in that meeting.  My own feeling, Tim, is that--and I've felt this a long time--is that there had been a predisposition on the part of the president and his team of some of the people who surrounded him, some of the people who wrote Clinton in January of 1998 when he was president, said, look, the time for diplomacy is over.  The time for military action to do regime change has come in Iraq.  And I think that there was a predisposition.  The day after 9/11 Donald Rumsfeld was in the White House thinking about what are we going to do about Iraq?  And I think Iraq was on their mind.  I think the president wanted to be a wartime president.  I don't think he wanted to go to war.  But I think he wanted to be a wartime president.  He saw this as something we had to do.  Afghanistan was fine and that was important and

then--but Iraq is what he wanted, and that's what he got.

MR. RUSSERT:  He...

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  And in the meantime, we have created, therefore, the lowest standing of the United States in our history around the world.  More people training--trained and being trained for probably a generation or so to come to hate us and to try to hurt us abroad and here in the homeland. It's not a proud record.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Senator Roberts, December of 2002 the president expressing doubts about the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and yet three months later we were at war.  How do you explain that?

SEN. ROBERTS:  Well, we have a situation where the DCI, George Tenet--and it's very easy to go back and pick out a certain statement.  Of course, his most famous one is "slam dunk."  There isn't any slam dunk in intelligence. You don't bat, you know, 1,000 percent.  I mean, you're lucky if you bat, you know, 500 percent.

The information that was provided to the president and to the Congress that led to the same kind of assertive comments that the same critics are now blaming the president for was flawed.  What he said is what he got, and what he got was wrong, and I think he was right to challenge it at the time. George Tenet stood up and said, "It's a slam dunk case."  It was not a slam dunk case.

This thing started clear back in 1991, as I've indicated, with the discovery that he was farther ahead with his nuclear weaponry than we thought before. He was involved in a war with Iran.  He was involved, obviously, in the invasion in Kuwait.  And then, as I said, every global intelligence agency figured out, "Well, it's an assumption train."  They thought he would reconstitute the weapons and he didn't.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Rockefeller, there is a couple sentences in the report that I want to share with you because this was voted on unanimously by nine Republicans, eight Democrats.  Political pressure--"The Committee was not presented with any evidence that intelligence analysts changed their judgments as a result of political pressure, altered or produced intelligence products to conform with Administration policy, or that anyone even attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to do so."

Does that put to rest at whole discussion of whether or not the administration had a predisposition or pressured analysts?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  In no way does it put that to rest.  Pat Roberts and I both understand that this was the great fight in our committee about the report. And I voted for the report in spite of that with which I did not agree, that is the subject of pressure.  I think there was a lot of pressure.

There are various ways of doing pressure.  What we focused on in the report was, you know, if we interviewed an analyst and we're putting pressure on that analyst, did any of them complain that our staff was putting pressure on them. The answer is, "No, they didn't."  But there are all kinds of other pressures. Mr. Kerr, who is deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, did a study on this and came out with the view that there was a lot of pressure. George Tenet himself was visited by analysts who complained of being pressured, and he used the phrase, "if you want to relieve the pressure," thus

justifying the fact that there was pressure on these folks, "then don't tell them anything if there isn't new information."  But most importantly, the ombudsman of the CIA, whose job it is to listen to people's complaints said that in his 32 years of work in the CIA, he had never seen so much hammering, i.e. pressure, on the intelligence community.

Plus the fact that all during this time in advance of the intelligence that he was getting, the president and his top administrators--the top folks--you know, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, etc.--they were putting out these hair-raising, paralyzing, horrifying statements about what was going to happen, was about to come back to the homeland, the mushroom cloud.  This is pressure, folks.  This is pressure.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Roberts, let me show you some of the things, that--first the vice president. This is what he said in August of 2002:

(Videotape, August 26, 2002):

VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:  There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.  There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.  Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And then the president on October 7 in Cincinnati followed up with this:

(Videotape, October 7, 2002):

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons.  It is seeking nuclear weapons.  The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.  Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Mushroom cloud.  The vice president saying there is no doubt. Isn't that taking the data and bringing it to the next level in order to mobilize the American people to support a war?

SEN. ROBERTS:  Oh, I know a senator who said that our children should not be smallpoxed.  I know several senators who have made the same kind of statements on the floor of the Senate.  I didn't, by the way.  That doesn't mean that I didn't believe it, but there again what the president got was that kind of intelligence that was flawed and that's what he has stated.  And I think he more than anyone now understands that we have to fix the intelligence community so that we get a better intelligence product.

I want to go back to this pressure business.  We had over 200 analysts.  We asked them very specifically at my orders to ask "Was your product, was your work intimidated or manipulated or coerced, either politically or otherwise?" Answer?  "No."  Now, in the committee, there are two different ideas of pressure.  As Jay has indicated, one involves repetitive questioning.  On the repetitive questioning, in regards to the terrorism section, which is a pretty good section, they came out with a pretty good product. On the WMD section, there was not repetitive questioning and we got into Curveball and we got into aluminum tubes and we got into UAVs and we got into mobile labs and all of that, and it was a lousy product.  Now, I hope to heck that there was pressure by the policy-maker asking tough questions of every analyst, "Are you sure?" This was post-9/11.  This was, "We can't be risk averts.  We have to lean forward."  I don't think that's pressure.

Now, in terms of the IG and the ombudsman, I've talked to both and I said, "Give me names of people that you have talked to."  One of the individuals, and I won't get into this, said, "Well, I heard it in the cafeteria."

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Senator, you...

SEN. ROBERTS:  And also bottom line in terms of those statements, they indicated, "Was there any real pressure to change the product?"  Answer? "No."

MR. RUSSERT:  ...mentioned Curveball.  Secretary Powell went before the United Nations in February and talked about the evidence that he had seen about Saddam having trucks and railroad cars to be used to disperse biological-chemical weapons.  Secretary Powell then came on this program in May and said, "It turned out the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases deliberately misleading."

SEN. ROBERTS:  He's right.

MR. RUSSERT:  And you talked about Curveball.  Curveball was the son of Ahmad Chalabi, the former Iraqi exile's friend who came forward and said, "I'm a high-school--number one in my class.  I know all about this."  He was a fraud. And in the report, this is what the e-mail from the deputy chief of the CIA's Iraqi task force had to say.  "Let's keep in mind the fact that this war's going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn't say, and that the Powers That Be probably aren't terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he's talking about."

SEN. ROBERTS:  OK.  That's an isolated memo that we obviously now know is absolutely incorrect. Curveball really provided 98 percent of the assessment as to whether or not the Iraqis had a biological weapon.  Yet, the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, knew of his background.  He has a very troubled background.  Secondly, he was a single source that we did not have access to. And on the basis of that came the statement in the WMD section that Iraq had a biological capability.  That's the kind of

flaw in intelligence, and I think--I won't say willful, but the DIA should have shared that information with the CIA and the CIA should have gone from there.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator, Secretary of State Colin Powell was sent out before the United Nations and the world based on...

SEN. ROBERTS:  I know.  It was wrong.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...that information.

SEN. ROBERTS:  You couldn't be more upset or frustrated than both Jay and I. And let me tell you something else.  Curveball and all of that information that is in our report, much of it is redacted.  I can't really tell you some of the more specific details that would make your eyebrows even raise higher.

MR. RUSSERT:  With all this being said, the second phase of your investigation as to whether or not the Bush administration deliberately altered, massaged the data, the intelligence in order to mislead the American people.  Why shouldn't the American people have the benefit of your report before the November election?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  Well, let's forget the election for a moment, and I know that sounds like a frivolous thing to say, but it needs to be made very clear here that--two things.  Number one, I think, is the fact that Pat Roberts and I worked very closely together with a lot of pressure from people from both of our membership, colleagues.

SEN. ROBERTS:  Yeah, we felt pressured.

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  Yeah, we felt pressure to, you know, not do--put out this report that we did. Nevertheless, we were, in fact, under committee rules, and it was my hope from the very beginning—and we did not prevail because we are in the minority on the committee and in the Senate--to take up this whole question of what the administration said, what the administration did during this entire time.  We actually only did prewar intelligence.  That's all we did.  The whole subject of what was the administration's role, what influence did they bring upon the American people, what pressure did they

or did they not bring was never really gone into.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why not, Senator?

SEN. ROBERTS:  We agreed that our first mission was to get the report done that we, you know, had to do.  I thought it could be done in six months.  We hit a little bit of a rocky path at first.  There were some politics involved and all of that.  And then I said we ought to be able to do this in six months. Well, then it became nine months and then it became a year.  Every member had their say.  We had to work with the CIA, and as a result, our staffers had to go back thousands and thousands and thousands of pages to get it right.  We are doing...

MR. RUSSERT:  Was there any political--was there any political pressure from the White House not to do the second part...

SEN. ROBERTS:  None.  None.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...of the investigation until after the election?

SEN. ROBERTS:  None.  And they didn't even know about the second part of the--and now this thing has morphed into a change as to whether or not the administration has magnified or has changed it or has manipulated it.  The whole key was the use of intelligence.  And so consequently that is ongoing right now, as I speak, by our staff, as well as a--other priority goal which is to get at the reform measures that we must do on a very careful and deliberate basis.  But even as I'm speaking our staff is working on

phase two and we will get it done.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before the election?

SEN. ROBERTS:  I don't know if we can get it done before the election.  It is more important to get it right.  Understand, too, that it is going to an independent commission after we get our work done.  So we haven't heard the end of this by any means.

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  Yeah.  I absolutely agree with Pat Roberts that doing it right is more important than meeting the "election deadline."  I've always felt that.  I mean, there's enormous feeling about that out in the country. But we--our job is to do our work correctly.  The report that we put out is the most extensive, most analytical report of the intelligence community that's been out, I think even including the Church report.  It's respected. But we did not do the handling of intelligence, the use of intelligence, the

misuse of intelligence.  None of that did we do.  Pat said that starting as of this very day--well, I'm sorry, we've done a little bit of work on Douglas...

SEN. ROBERTS:  No, no, no.  We've been working on this since February, Jay.

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  A little bit of work on Douglas Feith.  But the work we...

SEN. ROBERTS:  We...

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  Let me finish.  The work...

SEN. ROBERTS:  I know, but we tried to have him up, and you won't have him up.

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  No, I've asked you to have him up again.  He's been up once.  Let's not get into that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, the Defense Department has written a letter saying that you unfairly charged him with unlawful conduct when there is none.

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  Well, let's find out if there is.  I mean, there's always the question whether or not that he was running a secret intelligence operation that bypassed the entire intelligence community, and the law says you've got to inform the intelligence community of anything that you're doing. Was he doing it or not?  I don't know.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before you go, the next president of the United States, the re-elected George Bush or newly elected John Kerry, is going to have to stand before this country and this world and say, "North Korea poses this threat, Iran poses this threat, and we have to do this.  And I can assure you, I have the very best intelligence to document what I just told you, my fellow Americans and citizens of the world."  How comfortable are you that the next president will be able to do that?

SEN. ROBERTS:  Since the NIA of 2002, I think that the CIA has done a great deal.  John McLaughlin has tried to indicate that.  But I also think, with due respect to the folks that think otherwise in the CIA, that we have a culture problem and somewhat of a self-denial and that has to be fixed, and that's why these reform hearings are so terribly important.  But this is an ongoing effort.  I think at that particular time if you know--right now today we are under threat in the homeland from a possible terrorist attack, and we know that this information is the highest it's been ever since 9/11, and we're working overtime, all of us, FBI, DIA, CIA, all of the 15 intelligence agencies, we're doing the very best we can.  I certainly hope and pray that we will have the very best intelligence.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will we have a new director?

SEN. ROBERTS:  I certainly hope so.

MR. RUSSERT:  By when?

SEN. ROBERTS:  I hope the administration will send somebody up.  There's four or five people that, I think, have been talked about.  It'll have to be an extraordinary nominee.  If that's the case, we will go full time into the hearings to get him or her confirmed.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will there be a new director soon?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  I agree with Pat Roberts.  There should be.  You cannot leave in an acting director for six or seven months while you wait for the next inauguration, regardless of who's elected. We cannot take that chance, as this country.  There are four or five people out there in this country who are so good, who know intelligence so well, who are so respected by both sides of the aisle that the president should put forward one of those names and do it now, let that person be confirmed, and then whoever is re-elected or elected president, they will continue to use that person.  That's the standard.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is Porter Goss one of those names?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  I'm not getting into names.

MR. RUSSERT:  The chairman of the House Intelligence...

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  I don't think that anybody who should be up for consideration should have a political background.

MR. RUSSERT:  And he does.

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you agree with that?

SEN. ROBERTS:  I don't know of anybody in Washington that doesn't have a political background of some sort.  But there's been a statement made by those on Jay's side that he is too partisan.  I don't happen to share that view. But there are a number of people who have an extraordinary background that the president could send up and that we could get confirmed.

MR. RUSSERT:  To be continued, gentlemen.  We thank you for the report and thank you for sharing your views with the American people this morning.

SEN. ROCKEFELLER:  Thank you, Tim.

SEN. ROBERTS:  Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming up next, with us the founder of the National Review, William F. Buckley, has a new book, "Miles Gone By," and Jack Germond, who has just published "Fat Man Fed Up:  How American Politics Went Bad."  They'll be joined by David Broder of The Washington Post and Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times.  Our political roundtable is next right here, coming up on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  It's Kerry-Edwards vs. Bush-Cheney.  Our roundtable is next, after this brief station break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.  Welcome all.  William F. Buckley Jr., welcome to MEET THE PRESS.  Your new book "Miles Gone By:  A Literary Autobiography."

MR. WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY:  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  And after 49 years retiring as the head of the National Review but still writing a column.  Let me talk presidential politics...

MR. BUCKLEY:  OK.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...with someone who's observed it for a long time.  Here's the latest Time magazine poll, John Kerry 47, George Bush 45, Ralph Nader, 3.5. And then this question:  "Who do you trust more to lead the country?"  George Bush 46, John Kerry 46.  How do you see the race playing out over the next couple of months?

MR. BUCKLEY:  Well, 47 percent are wrong.  Is that correct?  In other words, your job is to get them up to speed.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you see Bush being re-elected?

MR. BUCKLEY:  Well, anything can happen is the safest way to answer that.  I don't think that Bush has done anything disqualifying him.  He had a lousy intelligence system, manifestly, but nobody thinks that he acted capriciously. I think if we all had been told exactly what he was told, it's pretty logical that we would have proceeded to do what he did.  So who should we be mad at? You mentioned a moment ago he--leading people to their death.  That's true, those things happen.  If you send the fireman to a particular conflagration, and if that's not the building that, in fact, is in danger, people will get hurt.  But I don't think the parents of soldiers on that mission, A, are entitled to feel that nothing has been accomplished.  The deposition of Saddam is a sordid historical/moral event.  And two, that it was done carelessly.

MR. RUSSERT:  This is the debate, David Broder, and we see those numbers; Iraq very much on people's minds.  And, obviously, Bill Buckley's view is one that the president's people feel very strongly that Saddam is gone, and that's a big historic event.  And if the president was misled on intelligence data, he did what he thought he should do based on the information he was given.

MR. DAVID BRODER:  The institutional failure began before George Bush became president.  It happened critically on his watch, and that will weigh in the balance.  But I think it's less important politically than what happens now in Iraq.  If that situation stabilizes, if the interim government turns out to be legitimate in the eyes of Iraqis, if the fighting and the casualties decline, then I think President Bush has a good chance to be re-elected.

If it goes in the other direction, I don't think it will matter much about this debate about who was at fault on the intelligence.  Everybody knows now that the intelligence failed.  Our system failed.  That's a fact of life which everybody has to accept.  But what is not yet a fact of life is what the consequences are in Iraq.  Those consequences will have more to do with this election, I suspect, than anything that happens in the campaign itself.

MR. RUSSERT:  The other big event of the week:  John Kerry chose John Edwards as his running mate. Time magazine asked, "Who would make a better president, John Edwards or Dick Cheney?"  Forty-seven, Edwards; Dick Cheney, 38.  Upon the selection of Mr. Edwards, there was a chorus among Republicans, Jack Germond.  Let's watch speaker Dennis Hastert.

(Videotape, Wednesday):

REP. DENNIS HASTERT, (R-IL):  I thought it was an interesting choice yesterday when John Kerry picked John Edwards--you know, another pretty face to go on that ballot.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And then Bill Frist, the majority leader in the Senate, chimed in.

(Videotape, Tuesday):

SEN. BILL FRIST, (R-TN):  From an experience level, there's going to be a lot of the on-the-job training, potentially, if he were to ever serve as vice president.  And those are the words of John Kerry, in terms of an experience level.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And the president himself in North Carolina.

(Videotape, Wednesday):

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  If I could try another Edwards question, how does he stack up against Dick Cheney?

PRES. BUSH:  Dick Cheney can be president.  Next?

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  And that brought about this response from the Democratic candidate, John Kerry.

(Videotape, Wednesday):

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA):  But I'll tell you what he was right about.  He was right that Dick Cheney was ready to take over on day one, and he did, and he has been ever since, folks.  And that's what we got to change.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Here it is, July, Jack Germond, and the vice presidential discussion about Dick Cheney vs. John Edwards is front and center.  It's probably not fair to ask you about another pretty face, but go ahead.

MR. GERMOND:  I mean, this is typical of the kind of nonsense we talk about in presidential campaigns these days.  I mean, the fact is John Edwards is certainly as prepared as George W. Bush was four years ago and Ronald Reagan was and Jimmy Carter was, a lot of people.  We're not talking about things that have any meaning for voters.  That's why they don't vote because we don't talk about the things they care about.  They don't care about this stuff. This is, "Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Forget it."

MR. RUSSERT:  Ron Brownstein, we have had the report of the Senate Intelligence Committee on weapons of mass destruction and you heard that discussion.  The selection of John Edwards and juxtaposed against the performance of Dick Cheney.  Where are we in this campaign?

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  First of all, Tim, I should take a cue from Ronald Reagan and reassure my colleagues here that throughout this roundtable I will not hold their youth and inexperience against them. Look, I think that the Senate Intelligence Committee report does frame what I believe is the central issue in this campaign.  And I differ a little with Bill Buckley because I don't think that all Americans agree that any president would have made this decision based on this information.  I think that goes to the crux of the choice that they face.

I think I agree with David, that events in Iraq and more broadly in the war on terror are the central driving issue in this campaign for most Americans.  The question is:  Has President Bush's response made us safer or has it created unanticipated problems?  I think that is the pivot of this election. Obviously the economy is going to matter to a lot of voters.  Values issues which they spent a lot of time talking about in the last week are going to matter to a lot of voters especially in some of the swing states in the Midwest with the undecided voters that are remaining, but in the end, I do believe this is more than anything else a referendum on President Bush's performance and his decision to invade Iraq I think overshadows everything else he has done for most voters, pro or con.

MR. GERMOND:  Look, let me add the question that John Kerry asked about Vietnam 30 years ago is applicable now.  If you want your kid, if you have a kid that age to be killed in Iraq for what we're doing there and what we did there, if this is such a great war, such a holy cause, a patriotic cause, why isn't the president sending his daughters there?  Why aren't we seeing people rushing to go there?  It's ridiculous.

MR. BUCKLEY:  I don't think that's a fair question, Jack, because...

MR. GERMOND:  All is fair in this game.  Believe me.

MR. BUCKLEY:  ...there are casualties in every situation.  You can identify a human being who loss his life on this situation or that situation and say, "Well, now, should the firefighters have been sent there given the fact that the blaze was so trivial?" and the answer can be yes, yes.  It can be no.  I think it may be correct that Bush will be judged on the basis of, "Do we want this guy another four years because this is the record he's piled up?"  But even if they vote negatively on the question that phrased, it's not in my judgment a retroactive condemnation of what he did.

MR. RUSSERT:  Jack Germond, in your book "Fat Man Fed Up:  How American Politics Went Bad," you talk about the Republican Party and you write this: "Those who hold moderate views on social questions are barred from the [Republican] party's national ticket.  ...  Moderate Republicans, in fact, are a vanish breed in Congress and not likely to be replenished."  And yet, as Ron mentioned, the battleground states, Midwest states, Independent voters, who are the Republicans presenting in prime-time television at their convention? New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, pro-gay rights, pro-abortion rights; Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, pro-gay rights, pro-abortion rights.  Is your theory wrong?

MR. GERMOND:  All they're trying to do is paper over the ideology, the dogma of the Republican Party.  Giuliani and those issues doesn't represent--they're still going to have a platform that says you can't appoint justices who are not anti-abortion.

MR. RUSSERT:  But let me get Bill Buckley in here because he's, in effect, the father of the conservative movement in America.  What do you think of having Giuliani, Schwarzenegger, McCain as the faces of the Republican Party during this convention?

MR. BUCKLEY:  I think it's inevitable given the fact that they are as young as Mr. Bernstein and extremely effective.  I think that the ultimate strategic loss to the Republican Party of failing to act on the gay marriage amendment and sticking to their grounds on the matter of what constitutes a marriage conventionally understood would be a serious mistake.  But all the cultural organs are in this direction.

They're very hard to slow down.  I don't know whether Jack would encourage a move to authorize bestiality.  I'm sure he wouldn't as a matter of personal reaction.  But whether he would find that the Constitution, in fact, permits it becomes an open question.

MR. GERMOND:  Because if it's OK with the Constitution, it's OK with me.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Jack's point is right more broadly.  I think the cultural issues have become the glue that holds together these two coalitions.  I mean, if you look--the hardest thing to imagine is a Democratic nominee who is pro-life or a Republican nominee who is pro-choice.  There are lots of other ways in which you can sin against the party orthodox even.  On these cultural issues it really is the glue that defines these two coalitions.  The best single predictor of how someone votes is not their income. It's how often they go to church.  And it really is these social issues that I think are the hardest place to deviate from the party line on either side.

MR. RUSSERT:  And Calvin Trillin has a poem in The Nation magazine this week, David, saying this is not truth in packaging, that if you have Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani up before the Republican convention, who do not agree with the platform of that party, it's in effect suggesting to the American people the party is something that it's not.

MR. BRODER:  Buckley will correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think the conservatives mind who speaks at the convention as long as the line of succession is clear that it will be another conservative. And that's why Cheney is locked into this ticket.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  True.

MR. BRODER:  But the poll that you said...

MR. RUSSERT:  You're absolutely convinced that Dick Cheney will be the vice...

MR. BRODER:  Absolutely.  And--but the interesting...

MR. RUSSERT:  So all this talk of Colin Powell, John McCain...

MR. BRODER:  Won't happen, for exactly that reason.  But the poll that you cited is interesting in terms of what it measures about what's happened to Dick Cheney's reputation during the last four years.  Four years ago when he was chosen, there was broad acceptance among Democrats and Republicans alike: This is a serious, grown-up person who is fully qualified to be president of the United States, and we'd be comfortable seeing him if that should happen. Cheney now has defined himself out of that role, and he is seen as the most partisan, hard-line, ideological part of the Republican Party, and that's a significant change.

MR. GERMOND:  Yeah, there's a certain irony of the fact that the vice presidential problem this year is not Kerry's in choosing John Edwards.  It is the president's in having Dick Cheney, and irrevocably.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  I agree.  That poll last week was much more about Cheney than Edwards.  When Edwards was selected, half the country said they did not know him well enough to have an opinion about him.  The fact that more are saying they think he's prepared to be vice president is really more of a reflection of the problems that Cheney has run into than of Edwards' potential strength.

MR. RUSSERT:  You want to rise to his defense?

MR. BUCKLEY:  Well, is this because Cheney is especially identified with the war movement, in your judgment, or is it little mannerisms of his that creep in, like his certitude on the matter of the WMD?

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  I agree with David.  I think he's become a polari--he's become some of the most po--perhaps the most polarizing figure in a polarizing time in a polarizing administration.  I mean, he is probably as popular--he is not as popular among Republicans as the president is, but he's very popular among Republicans and an almost inverse way among Democrats.  He really has defined that by camp--by sticking, especially as you suggest, with his positions on WMD and al-Qaeda as the evidence moves in the other direction.

MR. BUCKLEY:  Like Nixon vice president before he was caught cheating.  I mean, he had that polarizing effect, didn't he?

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  It's part of the job sometimes.

MR. RUSSERT:  We're going to take a quick break and come back with a lot more of our Roundtable, right after this.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.  Let's talk about the mind-set of the American voter.  Mr. Buckley, back in 1965 you ran for mayor of New York and you were on MEET THE PRESS and you talked about the American voter.  Let's watch and listen:

(Videotape, October 17, 1965):

MR. GABE PRESSMAN (NBC News):  Mr. Buckley, you once called Harry Truman the nation's most conspicuous vulgarian.  You said of General Eisenhower that when he touches a subject, every ray of light, every breath of air is choked out. Of the Kennedy administration, I quote you:  "There are not enough psychiatrists in the country to cure this crazy administration."  And you've called President Johnson "Uncle Corn Pone."  In view of your opinions of the last four presidents of the United States...

MR. BUCKLEY:  Well, actually, I didn't say that about Kennedy.  I don't know who did.  I've said the other three, though.

MR. PRESSMAN:  Right.

MR. BUCKLEY:  I'd be glad to elaborate on them.

MR. PRESSMAN:  Well, in view of your opinions of three of the last four presidents then, what do you think of the American voter?

MR. BUCKLEY:  Well, I think the American voter is often--often has intuitions which are better than those of their own presidents.  That is to say, I think that presidents tend to--during the recent period, tend to have drawn more strength from the voters than the voters from their presidents.  As Franklin Adams once said, "I think the average American is a little bit above average," and under the circumstances, I rejoice over the influence of the people over their elected leaders since, by and large, I think that they show more wisdom than their leaders or than their intellectuals.  I've often been quoted as saying I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the Boston telephone directory than by the 2,000 people on the faculty of Harvard University.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  You stand by that?

MR. BUCKLEY:  Hear, hear, hear.  I was precocious back then.  No, I think the solid good judgment of the people is more than a mere piety, and I think that that good judgment, for instance, eased out Howard Dean, in his own gentle by firm way, and we'll have some sort of sense of it, in my judgment, two months from now, three months from now.

MR. RUSSERT:  Jack Germond, you have written in your book that after 50 years as a newspaper reporter you're fed up and dismayed that the American politics has gone sour.  But the American people have the right to vote or not vote.

MR. GERMOND:  But if we have a situation where the campaign is waged over trivial issues that don't have anything to do with anyone's life, it is less surprising that people don't vote, and I blame not just the politicians.  I blame the voters.

MR. BUCKLEY:  But you have to mention the trivial issues, Jack.

MR. GERMOND:  And--I will mention the trivial issues.  And I am blaming the press and television in particular for the kind of job we do in covering the story.  And I'll give you a specific.  A few weeks ago we were arguing about whether John Kerry had thrown away his medals or the ribbons.  Who cares? Thirty years ago he was ahead...

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  But overall do you think this year is ultimately going to be decided on trivial issues?  I mean, this is a year that the public seems very engaged in real choices...

MR. GERMOND:  I hope...

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  ...whether on the economy or the war.

MR. GERMOND:  I hope that's the case.  I hope it isn't because of John Kerry's size in the debate, for example.  We'll see.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let the debate begin on the war in Iraq, the economy and a lot of other issues.  William F. Buckley, "Miles Gone By:  A Literary Autobiography"; Jack Germond, "Fat Man Fed Up:  How American Politics Went Bad."  We thank you all.

We'll be right back.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Start your day tomorrow on "Today" with Katie and Matt, then the "NBC Nightly News" with Tom Brokaw. That's all for today.  We'll be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

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