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Gephardt Holds Press Conference Regarding '9/11 Blame Game'

Aired May 16, 2002 - 10:49   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We need to get in some comments now from House minority leader Dick Gephardt on the 9/11 blame game.


REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D), MINORITY LEADER: First, the reports are disturbing that we're finding this out now. I think what we have to do now is to find out what the president and what the White House knew about the events leading up to 9-11, when they knew it and, most importantly, what was done about it at that time. And the reason getting these facts is important for the American people and for the Congress is to be able to avoid further acts of terrorism from occurring.

We have worked hard together to prevent further acts of terrorism and we need to do our very best in providing that kind of activity and work in the future. So that's what I hope will happen in the days ahead, and I hope that we'll get all the facts on the table and then be able to do a better job.

QUESTION: Given the fact that (inaudible) leader, should -- the president has intervened somewhat?

GEPHARDT: Well, I think it's early in the process to reach conclusions. There are three -- as I understand it -- three sets of facts out there that have been reported. I don't know whether they're true or not and that's why the inquiry needs to go on.

There's one report that there were general warnings to the White House before 9-11 of hijackings. There's another report that, I guess, is said to come out of Phoenix that there was even specific information about flying planes into the World Trade Center. I don't know whether that's true or not. There were other reports that there were worries about Mr. Moussaoui and what he was doing in Minnesota and what he was likely to do.

I don't know the specifics of these reports. I don't know what reports there are. That's why we need an inquiry. We need to know what information was given to the White House and what they did with it. And we also need to know why it's taken till now to find this information out. Again, we need to prevent further acts of terrorism and it's going to take a lot of hard work to do that.

GEPHARDT: We've had past instances where we think acts of terrorism were prevented. And immediately comes to mind is the millennium celebration period when you had reports of people coming in through Canada to deliver explosives, and, I guess, Los Angeles. And I think we were able to break that up and prevent it. That's precisely the kind of thing that we need to know about so that we can do better in the future.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, could this have been prevented, do you believe, based on what you know and the direction this seems to be going where we're getting more...

GEPHARDT: We don't know that. We don't know that. But again, this was a tragedy of major proportions in our country. Thousands of people were killed and the Pentagon was attacked and the World Trade Center was torn down, felled by this act of terrorism.

We obviously didn't prevent it. And you would hope that if further acts of terrorism are planned, like the millennium project, that we could be effective in keeping it from happening. That's the goal. That's what we've all been trying to figure out how we can do better so that this doesn't happen again. And the way to do better is to understand what happened in the past. Was there a failure of intelligence? Did the right officials not act on the intelligence in the proper way? These are things we need to find out.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, sir, you have been involved in probably dozens of briefings, closed-door meetings, going all the way back to September 11, and you've been told a lot of stuff that we're not allowed to know about. Did the most recent news story surprise you -- were you surprised that this piece of information had been withheld from you?

GEPHARDT: Yes. I've been surprised at a number of stories that have been out there in recent days, the stories about the Phoenix warning or the Arizona warning, the stories about the individual in Minnesota, and then this report today, which may or may not be different than those.

We had not received this information. And I think the Congress should have known this information, should know this information. And again, I think that's what we need to find out in the days ahead. We need to get all the information on the table, again, for the purpose of doing better in the future.

We have a solemn obligation, all of us in public service and in the government, to try to prevent further acts of terrorism being put on the people of the United States.

QUESTION: When you say there should be an inquiry, can you talk a little bit about what you mean by that kind of inquiry? (inaudible) to have the Intelligence Committee, you know, doing what (OFF-MIKE) or do you see something broader, what do you want?

GEPHARDT: I think this has to be something that is exposed to all the people. I don't think this can just be a closed-door, secret intelligence investigation. I think this has got to be something that everybody understands. Again, if you're going to prevent terrorism, everybody's got to be involved in it. I mean, the reason the millennium warning worked is that they gave warning to the right officials, a lot of people knew about it, and a lot of people were able to take actions to prevent that from happening. And I just don't think this is something that can be kept as top secret.

And I think we've got to understand what happened, again, so we can do better in the future, and understand if there were failures or lapses or voids in the information going out to the people that it could have gone out to to prevent this. We need to do better.

QUESTION: Can you be a little more specific about that? Are you suggesting a bicameral commission to take a look at this, are you suggesting a bipartisan committee? I mean, what form (OFF-MIKE) inquiry take?

GEPHARDT: I'm not sure. I don't know yet. I don't know exactly the right form this should take in the Congress. Obviously, the Congress has got to be involved in this. It may be that the investigation or the inquiry that's going on can be adapted to deal with this. It may be that there needs to be a new entity created. I don't know the answers to all that.

What I do know is that we need the facts on the table. We need everybody to know what happened, again, so that we can do better.

People count on their government first for safety and security. That is our most important obligation. And we've just got to do the best we possibly can. There are still terrorists out there, unfortunately, they still probably want to do harm to the United States and they still probably have the capacity to do it. And we've got to do everything in our power to prevent, to break up, to defeat terrorists in doing what they want to do.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, I've had some Republicans within the last 24 hours tell me or suggest that with the Phoenix letter and now this most recent story that they're suspicious that the folks on the other side of the aisle -- on your side of the aisle -- are up to some politicking here and getting the story out in drips and drags. Are you aware of any effort on that level?

GEPHARDT: I sure haven't known these facts, so we hardly could have been in any way involved in getting the story out. I'm sure that in a free society, the media and the press, which you all represent, are doing your job. That's what you ought to do. That's why you're in these positions. You're the fourth estate. You keep all of us honest and keep all of the facts on the table and that's what you ought to do, but we shouldn't yet jump to conclusions.

Let's, again, carefully find what the facts are, get the facts out in front of the American people and then make use of the facts to try to do better.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, do you feel that the flying public was adequately protected if this information was given to the highest level of the administration last August? First question. And second question, do you feel that people in the administration and all the (inaudible) agencies should have connected information that they received prior to September 11 in August with previous plots -- the first bombing of the World Trade Center, et cetera?

GEPHARDT: Well, I don't know the answer to all those questions. Again, what I do believe is that we ought to get all the facts out so that we, again, can do better.

We do know that we had a situation with the millennium. We had lots of apparent warnings about a millennium attack. We got the information out to the proper officials and we were able in that case to defeat the terrorists.

Now, we have reports -- I don't know the facts yet -- but we have reports that there were similar kinds of reports through various intelligence networks about what happened on 9-11.

We need to find those facts, so that, again -- we obviously didn't succeed in defeating the terrorists on that day and the flying public, a number of them, were unfortunately harmed and killed as a result of those terrorists acts, so you can't say that we probably did everything that we could do.

Again, let's prevent the next attack. Let's do better on the next possible attack by terrorists and let's get all the facts out. This is a free society. We have to have information in order to make the right decisions, and we ought to get the information out and, again, do the best we can to prevent this from happening again.

KAGAN: We've been listening to House minority leader Dick Gephardt as he holds a news conference on Capitol Hill, talking about what is being called now the "9/11 Blame Game."

New information coming out that apparently President Bush was briefed eight months ago about the possibility that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network was -- did have a plan to hijack a U.S. airliner. However, not complete information that it was planning to use it as a bomb, or fly it into a high-rise.





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