1. Headline
  1. Headline
NBC News
updated 10/16/2005 11:05:58 AM ET 2005-10-16T15:05:58

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  Ballots in Iraq are being counted as millions turned out yesterday to vote on a new constitution.  What will this mean for violence and bloodshed and U.S. troop levels?  With us, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.  And for the Democrats, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin of Michigan.

Then, the former director of the FBI makes very serious allegations about former President Bill Clinton and the Saudis.  And the September 11th Commission is very critical of the FBI.  Our guest, the author of "My FBI: Bringing Down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton, and Fighting the War on Terror," Louis Freeh.

But first, the war in Iraq.

Madam Secretary, welcome.  Are you confident the Iraqi people adopted a new constitution yesterday?

SEC'Y CONDOLEEZZA RICE:  I'm confident, Tim, that the Iraqi people went to the polls in large numbers, apparently perhaps as much as a million more than they did in January.  I'm confident that Sunnis participated in large numbers, which means that the base of politics has expanded in Iraq.  I think we have to wait to see what the results of the referendum will be, but the fact of the matter is that they had a democratic process.  They were told that they had a chance to vote yes or no, and they went to the polls in large numbers.  And by the way, the Iraqi forces performed very well in protecting the election process, and we think there may have been fewer attacks this time, too, than in January.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you said a few hours ago you thought it probably passed.

SEC'Y RICE:  There were some early reports from the ground that the numbers looked that way, but I think--I underscored when I made that statement that we would not know until we know.  And I just want to be very clear, the key here is that the Iraqi people have expressed their views and we'll wait to see what their views are.

MR. RUSSERT:  If it did go down, it would set the political process back significantly.

SEC'Y RICE:  Tim, it's an argument I don't understand.  If it passes, then democracy has been served.  If, for some reason it does not, then democracy has been served.  It would be like saying that a referendum in the United States, because it didn't pass, that it somehow was against the democratic process.  The key here is the Sunnis have voted in large numbers.  That means they're casting their lot now with the democratic process, and one way or another, the Iraqis are going to be in a position to move forward.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me...

SEC'Y RICE:  They'll have elections in December one way or another.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me share an article from the Los Angeles Times with you and get your reaction.  The headline:  "A Central Pillar of Iraq Policy Crumbling. It does on, "Senior U.S. officials have begun to question a key presumption of American strategy in Iraq, that establishing democracy there can erode and ultimately eradicate the insurgency gripping the country.  The expectation that political process would bring stability has been fundamental to the Bush administration's approach to rebuilding Iraq, as well a central theme of White House rhetoric to convince the American public that its policy in Iraq remains on course.  But within the last two months, U.S. analysts with access to classified information have-- intelligence have started to challenge this precept, noting `significant and disturbing disconnect' between apparent advances on the political front and efforts to reduce insurgent attacks."

You agree with that?

SEC'Y RICE:  No, I don't agree with that, because you defeat an insurgency politically as well as militarily.  And, of course, there are a few, and they are not the majority of the Iraqi population by any stretch of the imagination.  Indeed, some of them are foreigners, like those who work for Zarqawi.  You are looking at a situation in which a few people can pull off spectacular attacks, can make life miserable for Iraqis, can cowardly--in a cowardly fashion kill schoolteachers and Iraqi children and attack police stations or attack, as was the case a few days ago, the headquarters of the Iraqi Islamic Party which is a Sunni party that came out in favor of the constitution, but where they have not been able to derail the political process, and where Iraqis still have gone out in huge numbers to vote despite their threats.  And, in fact, Tim, one of the facts that we're getting from the ground is that the number of attacks surrounding this referendum process were fewer than in the January 30 elections, so that's good news.

You defeat an insurgency politically as well as militarily.  It will take time.  As the Iraqi security forces are better, they will have a role.  But the Iraqi people are casting their lot with the political process, and that will sap the energy from this insurgency because an insurgency cannot ultimately survive without a political base.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me share with you some attitudes of Americans towards the war in Iraq, and here's our latest Wall Street Journal-NBC poll:  51 percent say removing Saddam Hussein was not worth it; 58 percent said we should reduce the number of U.S. troops; 56 percent feel less confident the war will be successful.  Majorities now raising huge anxieties, expressing huge anxieties over the war in Iraq.

SEC'Y RICE:  I'm quite certain, Tim, that when the American people see every day what they see on their screens, which is violence and, of course, the deaths of Americans and coalition forces, it's very difficult to take.  We mourn every sacrifice.  But the fact of the matter is that when we were attacked on September 11, we had a choice to make.  We could decide that the proximate cause was al-Qaeda and the people who flew those planes into buildings and, therefore, we would go after al-Qaeda and perhaps after the Taliban and then our work would be done and we would try to defend ourselves.

Or we could take a bolder approach, which was to say that we had to go after the root causes of the kind of terrorism that was produced there, and that meant a different kind of Middle East.  And there is no one who could have imagined a different kind of Middle East with Saddam Hussein still in power. I know it's difficult, but we have ahead of us the prospect, and I think the very good prospect of a foundation for a democratic and prosperous Iraq that can solve its differences by politics and compromise, that becomes an anchor for a Middle East that is changing.

If you look at Lebanon and you look at the Palestinian territories and you look at what is going on in Egypt, this is a Middle East that is in transformation to something far better than we have experienced for the last 60 years when we thought that we could ignore democracy and get stability and, in fact, we got neither.  So yes, it's long, and yes, it's hard, but if we quit now, we are not only going to condemn generations of people of the Middle East to despair, we are going to condemn generations of Americans to continued fear and insecurity.

MR. RUSSERT:  Syria--there are reports of increased activity on the borders of Syria between U.S. troops and Syrian troops, covert operations of U.S. operatives in Syria.  Would you like to see a regime change in Syria, and will we help bring that about?

SEC'Y RICE:  What we are focused on is getting the Syrian regime to change its behavior.  The Syrian regime is out of step with what is going on in the region, and, Tim, this is not a problem between the United States and Syria. This is a problem in which the Syrians have caused destabilization in Lebanon through their presence there for 30 years, and they finally now are out.  But the question is are they fully living up to their obligations under Resolution 1559, which we co-sponsored with the French, to not destabilize Lebanon, to not sanction assassinations in that region.

They are stirring up difficulties in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon, which is a problem for the Palestinian territories and the work that Mahmoud Abbas is trying to do in bringing a Palestinian state to bear.  And, yes, they are permitting the use of Syrian territory for terrorists to cross Syrian territory.  And by the way, in many cases they're coming through Damascus airport.  This isn't crawling across the border as they do in Pakistan or Afghanistan.  And so, yes, they're using--that territory is being used to kill innocent Iraqis, innocent men, women and children, because suicide bombers are coming through there.

So this is about Syrian behavior.  I think you will see over the next couple of weeks that we will have to address these issues in a multilateral fashion, because the reports that are coming out on U.N. resolutions about Lebanon are going to have to be dealt with, and we will see what that means for Syrian behavior.

MR. RUSSERT:  The recent earthquake in Pakistan, do you have any information that Osama bin Laden may have been killed or injured?

SEC'Y RICE:  I don't, Tim, have any information about that.  We've been concentrating on trying to help the Pakistanis deal with the immediate rescue and relief efforts.

MR. RUSSERT:  But it wouldn't make you unhappy if Osama bin Laden met his demise in that earthquake?

SEC'Y RICE:  Well, I don't know whether or not Osama bin Laden was even in the area, but hopefully the Pakistanis will be able to rebuild those areas in a way that connects them more to modern Pakistan, and I think that is a possibility.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask you a couple of questions, domestic questions.  Have you testified under oath in the CIA leak investigation?

SEC'Y RICE:  Tim, I'm not going to talk about an ongoing investigation.  I've cooperated in any way that I've been asked to cooperate.

MR. RUSSERT:  Including testifying under oath?

SEC'Y RICE:  I've cooperated in any and every way that I've been asked to cooperate.

MR. RUSSERT:  We have asked the American people about the approval of George Bush as president of the United States.  His overall approval is 39 percent. But here's a number I would like to share with you as the ranking African-American in the Cabinet, Madam Secretary.  Approve, 2 percent, disapprove, 84 percent.  How troubling is that to you that only 2 percent of African-Americans say that George Bush is doing a good job as president?

SEC'Y RICE:  Well, Tim, I don't know what to make of the polls, and I'm not myself one who tends to put much faith in polls, and what questions are asked and how they're asked.  What I do know is that this has been a president who has gone out of his way to be inclusive, not just in his Cabinet and not just in everything that he has done, but who has cared deeply about the progress of African-Americans.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why do only 2 percent of African-Americans agree with you?

SEC'Y RICE:  Tim, I'm a social scientist and until I see a poll and how its questions are asked and what the assumptions are, I'm not going to comment on a poll of that kind.  I am simply telling you that this president has an extraordinary record with African-Americans.  After all, when you look--when I come, as I am here now in London and I've been in Moscow and I've been in Paris and I've been in Central Asia, I represent the United States government. But I represent something else.  I represent the fact that the United States of America is a multicultural and multiethnic society in which we are finally coming to terms with a history in which not all Americans were always represented.  And so, I think, as an African-American secretary of state, that's special.  And by the way, the last secretary of state was also African-American, both appointed by this president.  This president's Cabinet is more representative, looks more like America, than any Cabinet, really, in our history.  So this president should--holds a candle to anyone in his devotion to issues about minorities and into his ability to--without even a hint of tokenism, to fully take advantage of the talents of all Americans regardless of race or ethnicity.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before you go, I'd like to read something from The Washington Times.  Headline:  "Americans for Rice, a group that hopes to draft Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a presidential candidate in 2008, has paid for a 60-second ad to run in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday night during ABC's `Commander in Chief,' a new show about a female president of the United States.  Iowa, of course, traditionally holds the first presidential contest, a caucus system.  The same ad appeared in New Hampshire...during the Sept. 27 broadcast of `Commander in Chief.'  New Hampshire, of course, traditionally holds the first presidential primary."

Would you accept a position on the Republican ticket in 2008?

SEC'Y RICE:  Tim, I'm flattered that people think of me in that way, but I think it was on your show that I said I don't know how many ways to say no.  I really am--I'm not somebody who wants to run for office, haven't ever run for anything.  I don't think I ever ran for high school president.  And I think I'm doing what I need to do, which is to try and promote American foreign policy and American interests, the president's democracy agenda at an extraordinary time.  And to the degree that I can do that across the world, that's what I'd better keep doing.

MR. RUSSERT:  So you absolutely will not accept a position on the ticket in 2008?

SEC'Y RICE:  Tim, I don't see it--I don't know how many ways to say no.

MR. RUSSERT:  So no?

SEC'Y RICE:  Tim, I don't know how many ways to tell people that this--I have no interest in being a candidate for anything.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, but no interest is different than no, absolutely no.

SEC'Y RICE:  No.

MR. RUSSERT:  Should they stop running that ad?

SEC'Y RICE:  Tim, again, I appreciate and I'm flattered that people think of me in those terms, but it's not what I want to do with my life.  It's not what I'm going to do with my life.

MR. RUSSERT:  Secretary Rice, thanks very much.

With us now, the Democratic senator from Michigan, Carl Levin, in his home state.

Senator Levin, you just heard Secretary Rice talking about the vote on the constitution in Iraq.  It seems as though there's a lot of uncertainty, and she said, "Well, it doesn't matter really whether it wins or loses because democracy will have been served."  Do you share that view?

SEN. CARL LEVIN, (D-MI):  Well, the process, it seems to me, is an important one.  We're glad that process took place, but the document itself is a divisive document.  General Casey, who's heading up our ground forces there, said that this is not a national compact the way it was supposed to be so that, whether it wins or loses, it leaves the political issues unsettled.  The key political issues there, including the question of how much autonomy there will be for different areas of Iraq, remain unsettled and that means that if the constitution passes, they're back to the drawing board.  They're going to give themselves four months to amend this document if it passes.  And if it doesn't pass, then, of course, they're back to the drawing board, too.

So either way they've left these key issues unresolved, and that means that the political, the political unity, which is absolutely essential to defeat the insurgency, does not exist in Iraq.  And without that political unity, they're not going to defeat the insurgents, and we're not contributing to that when we tell them that we're going to keep our troops there as long as they're needed, the way the secretary of state has said previously.  We're there as long as we're needed, that message to the Iraqis is the wrong message.  It should be, "Hey, folks, unless you get your political house in order, since it's so essential to defeating the insurgency, we have got to consider a departure timetable for our troops."

MR. RUSSERT:  But if the constitution goes down, psychologically, isn't that a setback?

SEN. LEVIN:  It is a setback, but the constitution, if it's adopted, is also a setback.  Those aren't just my words, but those are the words of our military leaders, who say that this document is a divisive document.  So if it's adopted, it is not a national compact.  They're giving themselves four months to amend this document before it's even adopted.  That is an acknowledgment, it seems to me, that this document is divisive and not unifying.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before your committee, the military commanders testified that there is only one Iraqi battalion that is fully capable and ready to stand on their own to take on the insurgents.  So how could we possibly think about withdrawing U.S. troops in significant numbers without turning over the country, in effect, to the insurgents?

SEN. LEVIN:  Well, because without a political solution, there is no purely military way to solve this problem.  And that's what our commanders are telling us.  I happen to agree with what the secretary of state said in that regard.  Without a political coming together, without their house being put in order politically, they are not going to defeat the insurgents.  And so just keeping our troops there is not going to perform the function of providing security for them.  They have got to provide their own security, number one. But they also have to come together politically.  We can open that door for them, as we have, but they're going to have to walk through it and create a nation.  We cannot build that nation for them politically.  It's their job to do it, and if they're not willing to do it, if they're not willing to make the compromises that are so necessary in order to come up with a political document that they all can agree to, then our military presence, it seems to me, is not going to do the trick.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if they're not willing to do it, a political compromise, a national unity, if you will, and the United States says, "Well, that's it, we tried, and you couldn't do it, we're withdrawing our troops," will Iraq not become a haven for terrorists all around the world?

SEN. LEVIN:  It's a haven right now, according to the CIA, as reported in a number of newspapers.  The CIA has said Iraq is now a haven for terrorists. And our presence there leads to that, contributes to that, adds fuel to the fire, gives a club to the enemies, the people who want to kill us and try to stop Iraq from becoming a nation, our presence there is contributing to that. And unless the Iraqis come together and decide they are going to defeat the insurgency and the terrorists, our presence cannot contribute to it.

Everyone wants us to succeed in Iraq.  Whether or not we agreed with our going in or not, I thought it was a mistake to go in as we did, but now that we're there, we want to succeed.  But we're not succeeding.  The course we're on is not succeeding.  There is an increasing number of insurgent attacks.  And this is a very important fact.  The number of insurgent attacks has increased over the last year, not decreased.  And so in order to change that dynamic, we've got to change the course.  We've got to let the Iraqis know that they have got to come together politically because it's their only hope of defeating the insurgents.  And our continuing military presence is not effective in defeating the insurgency.  As a matter of fact, it's contributing to the opposite effect.

MR. RUSSERT:  There are now about 150,000 Americans on the ground in Iraq. Knowing what you know about the situation in Iraq and knowing what you know about American politics, how many Americans do you believe will be in Iraq come November of 2006 when the mid-term congressional elections take place?

SEN. LEVIN:  Less than we have there now.  For one of two reasons.  Either because the Iraqis will put their own house in order, both politically and security-wise, or they won't.  Either way, there is going to be fewer troops there because if the Iraqis can handle the situation, that obviously will lead to fewer troops.  But if they refuse to put their political pieces together, if they don't make those compromises, it seems to me it's obvious that we're going to have to consider that timetable for reduction and withdrawal.

MR. RUSSERT:  Significant reduction?

SEN. LEVIN:  I would think so.

MR. RUSSERT:  Give me a number.

SEN. LEVIN:  Well, I would think that we'll have at least a third of our troops out by a year from now.  That is my guess either way.  Now, they--the president won't talk about that possibility because his slogan, his mantra is, "Stay the course."  That's the bumper sticker slogan which the American people are given by this administration.  It's not a strategy, it's just a slogan. But I think either way that American troops will be significantly reduced within a year.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me ask you about the Supreme Court.  Do you think Harriet Miers was the best choice for the vacancy being created by the retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor?

SEN. LEVIN:  Not in my book, but she may an adequate choice and she may be someone who is qualified.  I can't say that she is the best choice and when the president said that she's the most qualified person in the country, it seems to me that that is not a credible statement.  But whether she's qualified or not to be on the Supreme Court, we will know much more about after the hearings are completed.

MR. RUSSERT:  The New York Times today publishes a lengthy article about the CIA leak investigation.  Judith Miller, The Times reporter, writes that she had at least three meetings with the vice president's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, in which they talked about Ambassador Joe Wilson's trip to Africa regarding uranium and also some discussions about Wilson's wife.  What is your reaction?

SEN. LEVIN:  Well, the president assured this country that if anybody in his administration participated in the outing of this CIA person that that person would no longer be in the administration.  Since that time, the administration, the president has taken back that statement that if anyone participated they're on their way out.  He now says if anybody's convicted of a crime that then they would be on their way out.  Well, that's a different standard.  It is the wrong standard.  If there's any participation in the outing of a CIA agent, that is incredibly dangerous to our security.  It is incredibly dangerous to that person and that if there was such participation, that person should go and the president should stick to his first position and not to his more legalistic statement.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think the conversations Mr. Libby and Carl Rove had with journalists qualifies as participation as defined by the White House?

SEN. LEVIN:  I don't know.  We just don't know yet what the details are there and I don't want to prejudge that.  But the standard is the key standard here.

MR. RUSSERT:  If a member of the White House staff or the vice president's staff is indicted, should they resign?

SEN. LEVIN:  Sure, if they're indicted, they ought to step aside until that's clarified.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Carl Levin, as always, we thank you for your views.

SEN. LEVIN:  Good being with you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, former FBI director Louis Freeh and former President Bill Clinton have very different versions of what happened in this meeting, September 24, 1998, then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Bill Clinton, coming up on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  The former director of the FBI, Louis Freeh, his new book, "My FBI," after this station break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back with the former director of the FBI, Louis Freeh.

Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

MR. LOUIS FREEH:  Morning, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Your new book, "My FBI," has created a lot of debate with some of the comments you've made about the investigation regarding Khobar Towers. Let me remind our viewers, Khobar Towers, June 25, 1996, tragic scene, 19 Americans killed when car bombers blew up a facility where American servicemen were staying.

On September 24, President Clinton met with then Crown Prince, now King Abdullah--there there are in the Rose Garden--and at that meeting, President Clinton insists that he asked the crown prince for cooperation in terms of the investigation you were conducting on who did Khobar Towers and why.  And you write:  "The story that came back to me from `usually reliable sources'"--in quotes--"as they say in Washington, was that Bill Clinton briefly raised the subject only to tell the crown prince that he certainly understood the Saudis' reluctance to cooperate.  Then, according to my sources, he hit Abdullah up for a contribution to the still-to-be-built Clinton presidential library."

You were not in the room.

MR. FREEH:  I was not in the room.

MR. RUSSERT:  Who are these "usually reliable sources"?

MR. FREEH:  Well, the usually reliable sources in this case, Tim, are very senior people who had firsthand knowledge of the meeting, who have identity with the principals at the meeting.  They're not second-hand sources.  They're not hearsay people.  I did confirm it with them after the book came out because of some of the questions, and I feel very confident on their information.

MR. RUSSERT:  Were they in the meeting?

MR. FREEH:  I'm not going to identify my sources, obviously, but I think you have to look beyond that September 24 meeting and put the whole Khobar investigation into context.  The New Yorker magazine article, which was in the spring of 2001, actually corroborates the one part of the story which is that the president didn't seriously or vigorously persecute the request, the request being to get FBI agents into the prison in Saudi Arabia to talk to detainees who would ultimately tell us that the Iranian government was responsible for this attack.

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, the president, former President Clinton, has issued to NBC News a statement through his spokesman, and I'll read it for you:  "It is disappointing the level to which Freeh will stoop to sell books -- among many other untruths, he invents baseless claims about the Khobar Towers investigation.  Despite Freeh's claims about a meeting he did not attend, President Clinton pushed firmly and successfully for Saudi cooperation with the investigation, which led to the eventual indictments of the criminals, and he never asked for library funds."

I've also spoken to a National Security official--National Security Council official who says he debriefed both President Clinton and the translator, and he can confirm the president did push for cooperation and there was no mention of library funds.

MR. FREEH:  Look, the president's entitled to his denials.  This is a president that makes public denials from time to time.  We know that.  Let me just give you what we would call corroborating evidence, which is what investigators and prosecutors talk about.

For over two years--over two years--I pressed the president, his national security advisor, to pursue one simple request with the crown prince.  And the request was to get FBI agents into prison cells in Saudi Arabia, where three of the detainees who had actually performed the bombing--these are members of the Saudi Hezbollah, which is an agent of the Iranian government.  An extraordinary request.  FBI agents had never been in Saudi Arabia, Tim, let alone in a prison debriefing Saudi nationals.  For two and a half years, we got no movement on that request.  We would write the talking points for the president.  The Saudis would tell us they didn't raise it.  They didn't raise it seriously.  And nothing happened for two and a half years.

Then on September 26, at my request, former President Bush, with the same set of talking points, met with the crown prince in the Saudi residence out in McLean, Virginia, and made the simple request.  FBI agents need to get into that prison.  President Bush called me after the meeting, and he said, "I think you'll be hearing from the Saudis."  The following Tuesday at 1:00, myself, our ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Wyche Fowler, and Dale Watson, the head of my counterterrorism division, who, by the way, will confirm the information about the source, were summoned out to the crown prince's residence.  And the crown prince, referencing his meeting with President Bush, not with President Clinton, said, "I approve your request."  Turned to his ambassador and said, "Direct my brother, the interior minister, to get the FBI agents in there."  Within four weeks...

MR. RUSSERT:  But...

MR. FREEH:  ...excuse me, within eight weeks, FBI agents were in that prison.

MR. RUSSERT:  But President Clinton met with the crown prince on the 24th. Vice President Gore met with him on the 24th.  Former President Bush on the 26th.  They all could have been effective in help bringing about that result.

MR. FREEH:  Well, look, it's what we would call circumstantial evidence.  I think it's very powerful circumstantial evidence.  But there are a lot of other things going on here, too.  What do you say about a president and a national security advisor who, for two and a half years while the Khobar investigation is going on, which the president tells the American people is a critical investigation, no stone will be left unturned.  What do you say about a president who never asked me for a status on the case?  They never asked me, "Louis, what's going on?  Any progress by the FBI?"  Absolutely no interest in the case.

When I finally came back to Sandy Berger and told him we now had evidence that the Iranian government had murdered 19 Americans--killed, wounded over 300, his first reaction was, "Who knows about this?"  And his second reaction was "Well, that's hearsay."  This was an administration that was not interested in finding out that the Iranian government had blowed up--had blown up Khobar Towers.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Berger said they did, in fact, act on information and that you later acknowledged you withheld indicting Iranians until President Clinton left office, that you slow-rolled the investigation and that was not responsible.

MR. FREEH:  Yeah, well, that's nonsense.  We presented the case to the U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia who, by the way, had never prosecuted a criminal case.  And she looked at it and she said, "Louis, I don't think you have a case here."  I said, "With all due respect, I used to do this for a living.  We have a case."  And James called me when he was appointed as a prosecutor by John Ashcroft.  He indicted the case in eight weeks with the same evidence.

Now, to your other point, we prosecuted this case very hard.  We couldn't get an indictment during the Clinton administration.  And in terms of Sandy Berger's work, let me tell what you he did.  Talk about ineptness and compromising an investigation, he writes a letter--the president of the United States writes a letter to the Iranian president in 1999, a letter that says, "We think you may be involved in the murder of our 19 Americans at Khobar. Please help us or you won't get better trade assistance or foreign relations by the United States."  They never told me they were writing that letter, Tim. The president of the United States never told the attorney general and the chief investigator that they were writing that letter.

To make it worse, and to show the ineptness, the letter was supposed to be delivered to President Khatami.  They gave it to the Omanis to deliver it.  It was misdelivered.  It was delivered to the spiritual leader, who went berserk. It compromised the Saudis, because it was clear from the letter that the Saudis had told us about the Iranians.  The Saudis were never told about the letter.  This is how they prosecute the case.  It would be the equivalent of the attorney general writing John Gotti a letter and saying, "Mr. Gotti, we know a couple of your capos are involved in major racketeering cases.  Could you please cooperate with us" but not telling the U.S. attorney and the FBI that was investigating the case that such a letter was being sent.

MR. RUSSERT:  Would you be willing to debate Sandy Berger about this issue?

MR. FREEH:  Absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT:  On this program?

MR. FREEH:  Absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT:  Elsa Walsh in today's Washington Post writes a review of your book, and she says that you referred the alleged library request that you suggest President Clinton made to the Saudis to a grand jury for investigation.  Is that true?

MR. FREEH:  I spoke about it with a U.S. attorney, not for investigation.

MR. RUSSERT:  And what happened?

MR. FREEH:  Oh, I can't go into that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Was it investigated?

MR. FREEH:  I don't think it was investigated, no.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why not?

MR. FREEH:  There's a long history there that I can't go into.

MR. RUSSERT:  Newt Gingrich, Republican, former speaker of the House, said, "If the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is prepared to swear that the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, while in office, was asking for money from a foreign leader, I think that is a criminal offense of the first order and threatens the very nature of the American system."

Would you go under oath and say that you know for certain that Bill Clinton made this request to the Saudis?

MR. FREEH:  Well, Tim, I say what I said in my book on page 25.  It's reporting information from a source.  I wasn't at the meeting.  I'm not making the allegation myself.  I'm repeating it because I think it's very significant.  It's also absolutely consistent with all the other evidence with respect to Khobar.  I don't think it is a criminal offense, by the way.  It may be an ethics offense.  I do not think is it a criminal offense.

MR. RUSSERT:  But we live in an era now where, if you are reporting this and there was, in fact, an investigation and you were subpoenaed, you would have to give up the information as to who your source was.

MR. FREEH:  I'm sure I would.

MR. RUSSERT:  And you would?

MR. FREEH:  I would.

MR. RUSSERT:  Bill Clinton wrote a book in 2004 called "My Life."  And let me read it for you.  It says, "I was getting concerned about the FBI, for reasons far more important than the bureau's sex inquiries for Ken Starr.  There had been a whole series of missteps on Louis Freeh's watch:  botched reports from the FBI forensic laboratory that threatened several pending criminal cases; large cost overruns in two computer systems designed to upgrade the National Crime Information Center and to provide quick fingerprint checks to police officers all across the country; the release of FBI files on Republican officials to the White House; and the naming and apparent attempted entrapment of Richard Jewell, a suspect in the Olympic bombing case who was subsequently cleared.  ...  Freeh had been criticized by the press and by Republicans in Congress, who cited the FBI missteps as the reason for their refusal to pass the provision in my anti-terrorism legislation that would have given the agency wiretap authority to track down suspected terrorists as they moved from place to place.  There was one sure way for Freeh to please the Republicans in Congress and get the press off his back:  he could assume an adversarial position toward the White House.  Whether out of conviction or necessity, Freeh had begun to do just that."

MR. FREEH:  You want me to comment on that?

MR. RUSSERT:  Please.

MR. FREEH:  Well, it's interesting; you know, if he felt that way, he should have fired me, first of all.  He never did that.  And, you know, he didn't wait till his book to attack the FBI or try to undermine me.  It was sort of a regular routine, if you remember, at the White House, after a while.  His press spokesman would get up and they would say, "What does the president think of the director?"  And the press spokesman, using some of those same bullets and talking points, would say, "Well, the president thinks the FBI director is doing the best he can," which was a direct attack on a sitting FBI director.  I never commented on the president of the United States while I was in office, despite being attacked, being undermined.  He didn't like the FBI. He thought the FBI and the FBI director, you know, had a personal animus against him because they were always investigating him.

Well, you know what?  We were always investigating him because there were always Bill Clinton allegations.  And independent counsels were investigating him.  Ultimately, the Congress of the United States was investigating him.  He didn't get it that this wasn't personal, that the FBI director has the responsibility of conducting those investigations.  And the fact that he didn't like it, I understand it.  I wouldn't like being investigated by the FBI for seven years, either.  But the fact of the matter is, we didn't come up with the allegations.  We didn't look for things to do.  We had a lot of serious work we'd like to do besides the nonsense that preoccupied us with the president.

MR. RUSSERT:  But there was bad blood?

MR. FREEH:  Well, you'd have to ask him about that.  I didn't have any bad blood.  I didn't have any animus towards him.  I have great respect for him, anybody that holds that office.  I think, you know, he turned the office into a personal disgrace.  That was his own business.  But that didn't have anything to do with what I was doing as the FBI director.

MR. RUSSERT:  Richard Clarke, President Clinton's head of counterterrorism, said that you should have been spending your time fixing the mess at the FBI and pursuing terrorists rather than some of the other efforts that you were undertaking.

MR. FREEH:  Well, you know, we were pursuing terrorists.  We didn't get the funding that we wanted.  I talk about that in my book.  We asked in terms of new counterterrorism resources for 1998, '99 and 2000, 1,900 positions.  We got 76.  I asked for $381 million in 2000 for new counterterrorism resources, I got $17 million, etc, etc.  But that's not because the FBI wasn't focused on terrorism.  And Bill Clinton and the whole administration was focused on terrorism.  The problem with what we were doing, which became very apparent on September 11, and one of the best conclusions of the 9/11 Commission:  Neither President Bush nor President Clinton had put the country or their National Security Councils on a war footing before September 11.

What were we doing before September 11?  We indicted bin Laden twice in the southern district of New York.  I put him on the FBI's top 10 list.  In the spring of 2000, I went over to Lahore and met with President Musharraf, who was of no help, by the way.  I wanted to get custody and access to bin Laden so we could bring him back to the United States and prosecute him.  And Musharraf told me that he had spoken to Omar Mullah, who had assured me there was no terrorism going on with respect to bin Laden.  In other words, we were doing this while they were blowing up embassies, while they were blowing up warships.  They had declared and were waging war against the United States, and we didn't declare war back until September 11.  That's what was going on in the country before September 11.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Charles Grassley, Republican, said you had plenty of money and he cites the comments you made before Congress in May of 2001, where you say, "We received the human, technical and financial resources needed to keep the FBI at the cutting edge of investigations.  ...Over the nearly eight years that I have been Director, Congress has increased the FBI's budget by more than $1.27 billion...That is a 58% increase ..."

You could have asked Congress to redeploy people to cover terrorism rather than some other areas, but you didn't.

MR. FREEH:  Well, look, on the budget--and the budget is a very interesting and a very arcane process, as you know, here in Washington--I doubled the number of agents that were working in counterterrorism in my period.  I tripled our resources.  I was very thankful for those resources; I still am. But that wasn't any way to fight a war.  The FBI today has 1,400 more agents than it had when I left office, 1,400 more agents.  And the priority that counterterrorism has taken on for the FBI, which is appropriate, takes resources from civil rights cases, from white collar crime cases, from public corruption cases.  And I couldn't move people around as I wanted to.

When Congress appropriates resources, it tells us "OK, you've got 100 new agents for health care.  You've got 25 new agents for deadbeat dads cases," believe it or not.  It's very programmed and we have very, very little discretion.  One of the recommendations I made to the 9/11 Commission, give the FBI director and the attorney general the discretion to move resources around as necessary.  We've never had that.

MR. RUSSERT:  The inspector general of the Justice Department, however, said that the FBI was a significant failure, widespread long-standing deficiencies, that two of the hijackers had stayed with an FBI informant but no one ever found out about it.  Fifteen of the hijackers came to the United States, in effect, on your watch.  The chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean, said that the report is an indictment of the FBI because it failed and failed and failed.  And here's the actual language from the September 11th commission, page 76:  "Freeh recognized terrorism as a major threat.  Freeh's efforts did not, however, translate into a significant shift of resources to counter terrorism.  FBI, Justice, Office of Management and Budget officials said that the FBI leadership seemed unwilling to shift resources to terrorism from other areas such as violent crime and drug enforcement."

Fair enough?

MR. FREEH:  No, I disagree with.  And you know, while we're on the subject of the 9/11 Commission, I'm very interested, I know the country is, in the Able Danger report.  You know, we have now very honorable military officers telling the United States, Tim, that in 2000, not only had Mohamed Atta had been identified by photo and name but was earmarked as an al-Qaeda operative in the United States.  Apparently this information was brought to the 9/11 Commission prior to their report.  There's no reference to it.  That's the kind of tactical intelligence that would make a difference in stopping a hijacking. It's not the strategic intelligence, the stuff that comes out of--like water out of a fire hydrant and then in hindsight you say "Well, you missed these three molecules of water."  We're very interested in what the 9/11 Commission didn't do with respect to Able Danger.

MR. RUSSERT:  There has been a lot of criticism of the information systems at the FBI.  The 9/11 Commission said "The FBI's information systems were woefully inadequate.  The FBI lacked the ability to know what it knew.  There was no effective mechanism for capturing or sharing its institutional knowledge."

U.S. News & World Report wrote this, and this is chilling:  "Before the September 11th attacks FBI agents were still using old `386' and `486' computers and had no Internet access or FBI e-mail.  After the attacks, FBI headquarters staff had to send photographs of the 19 hijackers to the 56 field offices by FedEx because they lacked scanners.  `Top managers, including [former director] Louis Freeh, didn't use computers and weren't chagrinned about it,' says the Justice Department's inspector general, Glenn Fine."

Ron Kessler in this book "The Bureau" said that you had the computer removed from your office.

MR. FREEH:  Well, that's ridiculous.  First of all, he was never in my office.  The computer was behind my desk.  We had an abysmal information technology system and I take a lot of responsibility for that.  I asked beginning in 1993 for millions and millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars, which we never got.  They got $1 billion after 9/11.  It's a testament to the FBI men and women who made cases with a technology that was completely inferior.

But it wasn't just the technology.  Let's look at the attorney general guidelines before September 11th.  And this is my point before, Tim, and I think the commission's point, that we weren't at war.  We weren't taking this serious before September 11th.  If on September 10, bin Laden was going to hold a rally in the Sheep Meadow of Central Park an FBI agent couldn't go and stand in the crowd and listen to him, OK?  Because attorney general guidelines, which were put in place actually appropriately many years ago because the FBI did illegal things that it shouldn't have done, those guidelines would have prevented an FBI agent, Louis Freeh, from standing there and listening to a fatwa about killing Americans anywhere.

So that's where we were, and I think, you know, hindsight is great.  We certainly have plenty of it and we can learn from hindsight.  We certainly made a lot of mistakes and I made mistakes there that I'm responsible for. But the reality of it is we treated terrorism like a crime before September 11th.  And when in Khobar we didn't prosecute that case.  We didn't vigorously prosecute that case.  The reason I think that's so important is this wasn't a Hezbollah group.  This was the Iranian government that did this.  And we reached the point, Tim, where the Iranians knew that we knew they had murdered those young men and we did nothing.

MR. RUSSERT:  John Podesta, President Clinton's former chief of staff, has an op-ed piece in The Washington Post today called "Freeh's Self-Whitewash," and he says that in your book you "distinguished by shameless buck-passing. Nothing, it seems, was ever Louis Freeh's fault."  You write in your book, "I still fault myself for many shortcomings during my tenure as director.  ...You can always do the job better in hindsight, and if nothing else, 9/11 gave us all cause for that.  ...I should have done better on my watch."

What could you have done better?

MR. FREEH:  I think what I could have done better is I could have prepared the FBI better for September 11.  And I would take that right back to information technology.  And did I a bad job there.  I didn't get the funding we needed.  But it's not that I didn't know we had a problem.  It's not that I didn't understand and we didn't have people there that were conscious of it. But I didn't succeed that, and I'm very, very sorry I didn't do that.

Meanwhile, the FBI agents, the men and women of the FBI, who the American people can be so proud of, made incredible counterterrorism cases during that period.  Kansi was brought back to the United States.  He had murdered CIA people outside of Langdon.  He was arrested in Pakistan.  Ramzi Yousef was arrested by FBI agents in Pakistan, brought back to the United States for the 1993 World Trade Tower and a plan to blow up 11 airliners over the United States.  They made incredible cases.  The embassy bombing cases.  We brought people back to New York and prosecuted.  The problem was bin Laden was not going to be afraid of a marshal showing up with an arrest warrant.

MR. RUSSERT:  If there are indictments of White House officials for leaking CIA identity, should they resign?

MR. FREEH:  Sure.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mark Felt, former deputy director of the FBI, Deep Throat, what did you think of his behavior?

MR. FREEH:  You know, I don't think--I don't think he had, as some people have in those positions, no access and no ability to tell his story.  This was a very powerful member of the FBI.  This wasn't, you know, an agent locked away as a whistleblower some place.  He had plenty of access if he wanted to do what he said he wanted to do, which was to protect the country and bring that information out.  I think he should have done it at the time.

MR. RUSSERT:  So you don't think he acted appropriately?

MR. FREEH:  If it was me, I would have acted at the time.  I would have had the power and the ability to act.

MR. RUSSERT:  What were his motivations?

MR. FREEH:  I don't know.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you as Louis Freeh would have never spoken to the press as freely as he did?

MR. FREEH:  Absolutely not.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you have in this book, "My FBI."

MR. FREEH:  Well, you know, Tim, it's my story.  I didn't write my story and you can't tell your story when you're a public official.  I wanted to tell the story about the FBI because I'm so proud of them.  And I actually--to be honest with you, I got tired reading other people's books.  You know, they've got you at meetings you never attended.  They've got you saying things you never said.  This is my story and I'm very proud of it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Louis Freeh, we thank you for joining us.  To be continued.

And we'll be right back.

                               (Announcements)

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

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

More on TODAY.com

  1. NBC, Getty Images file

    Willie Geist and Carson Daly to get 'family jewels' checked on TODAY

    11/20/2014 8:49:54 PM +00:00 2014-11-20T20:49:54
  1. Jeff Kravitz / Getty Images Contributor

    Sweet! Carrie Underwood shares how she learned she's having a baby boy

    11/20/2014 6:34:22 PM +00:00 2014-11-20T18:34:22
  1. Instagram

    Go, Winnie! Danica McKellar ties knot in 'magical' beach ceremony

    11/21/2014 12:08:31 AM +00:00 2014-11-21T00:08:31
  1. Courtesy of Alina Adams

    Why I hope my mixed-race son doesn't stay 'white'

    11/20/2014 10:36:33 PM +00:00 2014-11-20T22:36:33