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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Anthrax Investigation: Interview of Sen. Joseph Lieberman

Aired October 17, 2001 - 09:10   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman's office was one of those evacuated during the anthrax investigation. The senator will also be attending a congressional hearing this morning on whether the United States is prepared to deal with bioterrorism.

He joins us this morning, from Capitol Hill.

Good to have you with us, sir.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: Good to be back with you, Paula.

ZAHN: Thank you. I've got a lot of territory to cover here.

Before we get to the issue of bioterrorism, we have just learned from a Pakistani government official that Pakistan's troops have now been put on a high state of alert, and I just want to quote what General Rashid Quereshi said, a government spokesperson, about this movement, quote, "We are ready to thwart any attempt at mischief or misadventure. We have information wherein India has moved some troops and relocated some air force assets which may prove to be a threat." What does this mean?

LIEBERMAN: It's serious. And it reminds us that Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network have based themselves in a very dangerous part of the world. Obviously, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan is itself dangerous, but the conflict between India and Pakistan longstanding over Kashmir and the fact that both of those countries have nuclear weapons, clearly, for a long time has made that one of the most dangerous places in the world.

It only gets more edgy as the conflict around Afghanistan and Taliban and bin Laden increases.

I think it's very important that Secretary Powell visited both countries, and I hope President Bush will very urgently consider appointing a high level American mediator to go over and basically move into that region and begin negotiations more actively between India and Pakistan, at least to keep the lines of communication open through us between those two allies of ours so that a misunderstanding does not lead to a miscalculation which could be disastrous to people throughout that region.

ZAHN: And after Secretary of State Colin Powell left the region, the Indian army actually confirmed that it had shelled 11 Pakistani military posts across the cease-fire line, actually destroying them. Is it enough -- I mean, first of all, do you have any confidence that the president will appoint the kind of person you're talking about to head to the region to try to massage some of this dispute?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I hope so. Since September 11, I think our entire foreign policy has quite appropriately and correctly changed. And whereas this administration had become somewhat more disengaged than the previous administration from regional trouble spots like India, Pakistan, Israel, Palestinians, I think now we see the importance, I hope, of American presence. No one can do what America can do in these trouble spots. And I really hope the president will consider that, because otherwise, our own focus on getting bin Laden and the Taliban out of Afghanistan will be greatly endangered by the prospect of a miscalculation and a flare up in hostilities between India and Pakistan.

This is a moment when, if we handle it right, we can actually turn the India-Pakistan conflict and suspicion in a positive direction and use it as an opportunity to try to bring about a resolution of the conflict between these two great nations rather than allowing it to slide into greater hostilities and even, God forbid, war.

ZAHN: Back to the issue of bioterrorism, you experienced a -- I guess I wouldn't call it a threat -- but at least the after effects of Senator Daschle's letter. Your office was evacuated at the Hart building. Is there any concern that anybody outside of Senator Daschle's office was exposed to anthrax?

LIEBERMAN: Well, there is some concern. But from all that we learned yesterday and all that was done. I've certainly been reassured that the risk is very, very minimal.

As one expert said, you can't say the risk is zero, but it's real close to zero. They have evacuated all of the offices in the ventilation corridor, including my own, that was shared with Senator Daschle's office. All of us were advised to be tested. I was. All of us were given the antibiotic, cipro, to take. I've begun to do that.

So I think there's very, very little danger here. And we're all basically going about our business, and that's exactly what we should be doing.

ZAHN: Now, wait a minute, did you say you were advised to take cipro or those other folks?

LIEBERMAN: Everybody who was tested in the Hart building -- and I think it was several hundred, perhaps close to a thousand -- were also given cipro, the antibiotic, if they wanted it and advised to take it. I was also given it, and I started to take it yesterday.

It's a preventative measure, probably unnecessary, but why not?

ZAHN: All right. We should call reference to the fact that you will be attending this bioterrorism hearing at 9:30 this morning. What are the two critical things that haven't been done that the government needs to get done?

LIEBERMAN: Well, our committee, that I'm privileged to chair, is all about government organization and effectiveness, and the big question I'm going to ask Secretary Tommy Thompson is, is the federal government well enough organized to deal now with the real threat of chemical and biological attack.

What we can see, we have 10 major agencies, countless other bureaus of the federal government, no one directly in charge. And while we're prepared, I think that lack of organization makes us underprepared. I suppose the most important additional fact is to make sure that we get enough money out there, not just for adequate research and surveillance, but for the public health workers and systems that now have suddenly become the first line of homeland defense against chemical and biological attacks, it's going to be an important hearing today, and I hope it will hope Congress and the federal government get urgently organized to deal with what seemed theoretical a month and a half ago and now, unfortunately, is real.

ZAHN: Senator, I need a real quick answer to this because I have to move on to Pakistan.

LIEBERMAN: Sure.

ZAHN: How much flak did you take for suggesting that Saddam Hussein should be taken out?

LIEBERMAN: None, yet. I mean, a lot of encouragement. Probably some mild disagreement. But my own feeling is that's phase two of the war against terrorism.

If anybody's got hostile intent against us and who we know is working on biological, chemical weapons, it's Saddam Hussein. We ought to do everything we can to get him out of power before he does very serious damage to us.

ZAHN: Senator Lieberman, we're going to have to leave it here this morning. And we will be following that 9:30 hearing very closely. Thanks for joining us this morning.

LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Paula.

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