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Senators Joe Lieberman and John McCain Hold Press Conference

Aired December 20, 2001 - 12:21   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.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: On Capitol Hill, two prominent senators in each party, Joe Lieberman of the Democrats, John McCain of the Senate, of the Republicans, are about to have a news conference announcing an inquiry into the events of September 11. Let's listen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: ... I think of two tragedies that seem comparable in some senses in their effect on the collective American psyche and on our sense of security, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the assassination of President Kennedy. They both raised similarly difficult questions. For example, why had our military, our Navy been caught unawares at Pearl Harbor? And who was Lee Harvey Oswald, and what motives did he have to kill our 35th president?

In both cases, special commissions were established to look back and try to answer those critical questions. And that's what Senator McCain and I are proposing today with regard to the attacks on America on September 11. The legislation we're introducing would create a national commission on terrorist attacks upon the United States that would, as the bill says, make a full and complete accounting of the circumstances surrounding the attacks and the extent of the United States preparedness for and response to the attacks.

In other words, how could such a plan, using airplanes as weapons of mass destruction, be so successful in achieving its deadly goals? Were opportunities missed to prevent that destruction? And what additional steps should be taken now to prevent any future attacks like that?

To be successful, this commission must have time, a first-rate staff, ample investigatory powers and adequate funding, all of which we believe we have provided for in this proposal. We want this commission to be nonpartisan and independent. It must be a hunt for the truth, not a witch hunt.

The initial weeks and months after September 11 were understandably and appropriately preoccupied with mourning and healing, and then with prosecution of the war against terrorists. But since the first stage of the war is now drawing to a close, with the defeat of the Taliban and the liberation of Afghanistan, this seems like the right time to begin in earnest the process of finding answers to our questions about what happened on September 11. Determining the causes and circumstances of the terrorist attacks will ensure that those who lost their lives on that second American day of infamy did not die in vain. The commission we propose will not only pay tribute to the victims, but hopefully ensure that their survivors and all Americans can be secure in the knowledge that their government is doing everything within its power to protect their lives and liberties. And that must include an independent search for the truth about why September 11 happened.

Senator McCain?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am pleased to join my friend Joe Lieberman in introducing this legislation that calls for a blue ribbon commission to examine the facts surrounding September 11. After Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination, the president and Congress set up boards of inquiry to investigate these tragedies and recommend measures to prevent their reoccurrence.

The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington represent a watershed in American history, the end of an era of general peace and prosperity, and a terrible awakening to the threats that lurk within and beyond our shores.

To prevent further tragedies, we need to know how September 11 could have happened and explore what we can do to be sure America never again suffers such an attack on our soil.

I believe President Bush and his team have responded admirably and with a sense of purpose in this time of trial, but neither the administration nor Congress is alone capable of conducting a thorough, nonpartisan, independent inquiry into what happened on September 11.

We're here to propose far-reaching measures to protect our people and our institutions against the enemies of freedom.

WOODRUFF: Senator John McCain and Senator Joe Lieberman at the Capitol this day, December 20, more than three months after the events of September 11, in fact, 100 days after that terrible day, are announcing that they want to see an independent, non-partisan commission, special commission, created to look into why it happened, how it happened, was there anything that could have been done to prevent it. Were opportunities missed, information missed, and above all, to look at how to prevent these sorts of things from happening.

But it sounds as if they are looking for special -- for funding from the government. They're also looking for special interrogation -- powers of interrogation so that this committee perhaps can subpoena -- or commission -- can subpoena people to get information from them. It will be interesting to see how much more support they have from the Congress and, of course, from the White House.

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