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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Senator Pat Roberts

Aired July 17, 2003 - 20:08   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Turning now to the controversy over the speech that may have helped get troops to Iraq in the first place, sources today gave CNN the names of two men who helped negotiate those now infamous 16 words alleging Iraq sought nuclear material.
Republican Senator Pat Roberts is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and was part of the closed-door hearings yesterday with CIA Director George Tenet.

Good of you to join us tonight, sir. Thanks for your time.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: Oh, thank you very much. My privilege.

ZAHN: Let's start off by talking about these two men: Robert Joseph of the National Security Council, CNN has been told, and Alan Foley of the CIA.

Should they have been responsible for inserting this language into a speech?

ROBERTS: Well, basically, the CIA is responsible for vetting the speech in regards to any classified material. We don't know the details yet, and probably won't for a while, in terms of the National Security Council and people involved. I'd rather not go into the personalities, with the exception to say that, on the Intelligence Committee, we have asked the National Security Council for permission to talk to their persons -- I'll put that in pleural -- with our -- with our inquiry staff. As soon as we do that, they may be called as a witness and they may not.

ZAHN: Let me carry that one step further, because, as you know, sir, there are a number of reports being circulated tonight that, in some way, the allegation is, the NSC was putting pressure on the CIA to insert this kind of material into the speech. Can you confirm that in fact was the case or is that something you're still unsure about?

ROBERTS: I can certainly deny it. In the five hours we had with George Tenet, who is the director of the CIA, he never made that statement. And I would not characterize the statement by the individual concerned as any pressure or any insistence. I think it was really -- it was merely recounting a conversation.

Now, of course, different senators have a different interpretation of the same thing. But, in my view, there was no pressure. ZAHN: And let's go back to another point you were making, when you were talking about your ability to talk with persons. Do you see a scenario where Condoleezza Rice might be among those that you would like to talk to about the trail here?

ROBERTS: I think that's very premature.

But I will say that we will take this inquiry wherever it goes and we'll simply let the chips fall where they may. Next week, we're going to have the inspector general of the CIA. He's going to give us a preliminary report. The week after that, we're going to have General Dayton and Dr. Kay from Iraq to report on the Iraq survey group and the status of the search for weapons of mass destruction.

In the meantime, we're going to have our staff continue to work on the timeline and exactly who was responsible for the 16 words being in the speech. Let me say, in terms of responsibility, that the CIA director, George Tenet, was very contrite. He was very forthright. He was very forthcoming. And he did take full responsibility.

ZAHN: Senator Roberts, when you say it's premature to talk about Condoleezza Rice potentially testifying before your committee, there are those who indicate because of the chain of command -- that is, would be reaching a logical conclusion. Can you just comment on that one way or the other?

ROBERTS: Well, I don't know whether it's logical or maybe illogical. There are persons involved on the National Security Council we want to talk with. We've sought authority to talk with them. We will have staff do that. We don't have people come up for hearings unless staff talks to them and we think we're making a valid judgment there.

And let's see where it takes us. I know Senator Rockefeller and I are working on a very close and bipartisan basis. It's been a very -- a very -- I guess aggressive inquiry. And we want to get to the end of it. I would like to see this done by the end of September. But let's see where it takes us.

ZAHN: And, Senator Roberts, finally tonight, what do you see as the potential fallout of all this down the road?

ROBERTS: Well, I'm not sure; 16 words in a presidential speech -- we just heard from Tony Blair, who gave an outstanding, smashing- success speech before the Congress, you've got the world in a very dangerous situation in regards to North Korea and Iran, not to mention Iraq and the reconstitution challenge that we have there, not to mention Afghanistan.

I'm not sure that 16 words in a speech really rises to the occasion that some of my colleagues think it is. It was a mistake. It should not have been in there. It was sloppy work, as far as I'm concerned, on the part of the CIA. George Tenet has taken full responsibility. Again, we'll just have to see where the inquiry takes us.

ZAHN: Senator Roberts, again, thank you for joining us tonight.

ROBERTS: You bet. I appreciate it.

ZAHN: We very much appreciate your perspective. And good luck with the very important work you have to do there.

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