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Interview With Richard Gephardt

Aired July 29, 2003 - 20:51   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Polls show a big reason for President Bush's high job rating is confidence in his ability to keep America safe. Democrats who want his job insist that confidence is undeserved. With us now is presidential candidate and former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri. Nice to see you in person for a change. Welcome.
I wanted to start off with something the president had to say about the 9/11 report, specifically the calls for declassification of some of that information involving Saudi Arabia. Let's listen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The declassification of that part of a 900-page document would reveal sources and methods that will make it harder for us to win the war on terror. Now, perhaps at some point in time down the road, after the investigations are fully complete and if it doesn't jeopardize our national security, perhaps we can declassify the 27 of the hundreds of pages in the document.


ZAHN: So at the same time the president is saying that, you now have the Saudi foreign minister urging that those pages be unsealed. What's going on here?

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not altogether sure. I do think the material should be released. I think the Saudis have real problems here. And I think we need to get to the bottom of it. I think the administration ought to put real pressure on the Saudis to both let us interview anyone who may have been connected or know who could be connected with 9/11.

I thought that about Khobar Towers. We had a devil of a time getting them to allow the FBI to go there and investigate the case.

The bottom problem we've got here is that the Saudis for years have been funding religious education, both in Saudi Arabia and in Pakistan and other places, which is basically terrorist education. The Wahhabi school of Islam, which is the clerical group that's really ran Saudi Arabia and allowed the royal family to be in power, has advocated jihad against anyone who is not a Wahhabi Sunni Muslim. And it is now beyond the point where we can just walk by this and think that they're going to solve it. It's not being solved.

ZAHN: So are you alleging this has nothing to do with sources and methods and this is all about protecting the Saudis?

GEPHARDT: I don't know that there isn't something in there that would reveal some sources. But they've got to be able to take that material out, in my view, and give us the essence of what this says about Saudi help for the terrorists, funding for the terrorists, or Saudi cooperation with the terrorists. They certainly should let our FBI people interview this individual that we think may have had something to do with the terrorists on 9/11.

My worry is that the Saudis are in a system, that they came to power with, that makes it impossible for them to really confront this problem.

We've got to urge them to do this. We've got to bring international pressure on the Saudis to change their behavior.

ZAHN: Let's move on to the advisory that became public today, suggesting that there might be another hijacking plot that is being considered by members of al Qaeda, wherever the heck they are today. How concerned are you, even at a time when -- that there doesn't seem to be the necessity to raise the national alert level?

GEPHARDT: I've been concerned since 9/11 that we were going to have further acts of terrorism. We've got to remain vigilant. We've got to worry about this. All of our law enforcement agencies need to keep focused on this. I don't know that this has any more veracity than a lot of other warnings that we've had.

One thing I do believe is that when you put these warnings out, it may deter the terrorists. It may help prevent them from doing something, because they may become fearful that they will be caught. So that's one of the reasons that you bring this information out.

We live in a democracy. People need -- they deserve to know when we have information that we think they need to know about.

ZAHN: Let's talk campaigns, which is why you're in town tonight. There is a perception that your fund-raising is lagging behind where you would have expected it to be. Are you satisfied with the amount of money you've raised?

GEPHARDT: I am. Our goal at the 1st of the year was to raise $20 million this year. We've raised $10 million in the first six months. We're going to raise at least another $10 million in the second six months. With the match -- the money you get from the FEC as match money, we'll be at $25 million. That's what we think it takes to win. And I'm getting excellent support around the country. I'm doing well in the polling nationally. I'm ahead in the polls substantially in Iowa. I think I can win the nomination.

ZAHN: Are you saying that perception is confused?

GEPHARDT: Well, I -- you know, there is always perceptions, but some of them are right; some of them aren't so right. I don't think that's a right perception.

ZAHN: How worried are you about John Dean (sic) right now?

GEPHARDT: I think Governor Dean is a great candidate. And he's a good friend and he's a very good candidate. But I think I'm going to win the nomination. I think I can win in the Midwest, which is where you have to defeat the president. That's the battle ground. We're going to win California and New York. You've got to defeat him in those industrial states in the Midwest. That's where I'm from. That's where I'm strong. I've got great support from unions and workers, and that's where they reside. And I think I can get real grassroots support to defeat the president.

ZAHN: I hate to do this to you, but we really only have 20 seconds left. You have said some very harsh things about the president that some Americans perceived as being, if not un-American, somewhat unpatriotic. How do you react to those criticisms?

GEPHARDT: I've supported this president. I told him on 9/12 we had to trust one another to defeat terrorism. I voted for the Iraq resolution, because I believed it was a way to protect our people against further acts of terrorism. But I'm going to also be critical of him when I think it's justified. I think he has not put together the right coalition internationally so that we don't have to just have our troops and a few British troops in Iraq. I think it's very important that he get that international coalition put together as quickly as possible.

I'm going to be critical constructively when I think it's necessary to do that. I don't think that's unpatriotic. I think that's patriotic.

ZAHN: Representative Gephardt, thank you for dropping by.

GEPHARDT: Thank you.


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