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CNN LIVE TODAY

Swearing on the Hill; Representative John Murtha Calls for Immediate Troop Withdrawal

Aired November 17, 2005 - 10:30   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And there is new controversy today surrounding last week's testimony by oil executives on Capitol Hill. The executives were not asked to testify under oath. Now a published report suggests statements they gave may have been false.
CNN congressional correspondent Joe Johns has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Oil executives under fire about gas prices were called to testify on Capitol Hill last week. They strolled in, sat down and started talking.

But it was a little different story in April of 1994. Back then, when tobacco executives, also under fire, were called to the Hill, they first had to raise their hands and swear to tell the truth, a lasting picture that the oil companies avoided.

However you cut it, standing with your hand in the air like that doesn't look good. But did testifying without the oath also protect the oil executives from criminal charges if they didn't tell the truth? Democrats who raised the issue got shot down by committee co- chair Ted Stevens of oil-rich Alaska.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D), WASHINGTON: Mr. Chairman, I would like the committee to vote on whether we swear in...

SEN. TED STEVENS (R), ALASKA: There will be no vote. That's not in order at all.

JOHNS: Stevens's co-chair, Pete Domenici, noted that he understood the political impact of a swearing-in picture, and that he wanted to focus instead on substance. That got Democrats mad, but it was the executives' answers to this question that brought out the knives.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: Did your company or any representatives in your companies participate in Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We did not, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To be honest... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I wasn't here then.

JOHNS: The question matters because critics of George Bush and Dick Cheney have been asking for years whether an administration run by two former oil men gave the industry a secret audience to talk through their suggestions on national energy policy.

The oil companies' denials of a secret meeting were apparently contradicted by a "Washington Post" story, a story that detailed an alleged White House document showing officials of Exxon, Mobil, Conoco, Shell Oil and BP met in the White House with Cheney aides in 2001.

Senate Democrats rushed to the cameras to demand an investigation and an explanation over why the oil company executives weren't required to take the oath.

(on camera): Why do you think it was that they were not sworn in? Was it to protect them from possible criminal exposure?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, you're asking the wrong people. We wanted to swear them in. It was Ted Stevens and Pete Domenici who were very verbal.

JOHNS (voice-over): We found Senator Pete Domenici, co-chair of the panel, on the Capitol subway.

SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R), NEW MEXICO: If, in fact they are found to have lied, the results are the same, whether you're sworn in or not. There's a -- there's a statute that applies that says, if you don't tell the truth before a committee of Congress -- that's what we had there -- then that is the same as lying under oath.

JOHNS: The same point an angry Ted Stevens made on the Senate floor.

STEVENS: To suggest that I did not administer an oath to these witnesses to help them lie to members of Congress is false, inexcusable.

JOHNS: According to the experts we spoke to, there's no difference between the penalty for lying under oath and misleading Congress. Both can get you five years in jail, assuming, of course, the executives were actually lying. All four companies in question stood by the denials of their CEOs.

(on camera): Excuse me, Senator, last question. Do you think they lied?

DOMENICI: Oh...

JOHNS: Do you think any of these executives actually lied?

DOMENICI: Look, that's not to be talked about at this point. You've got -- you've got to take their testimony. If, in fact, it's -- there is something that is indicative that they have not told the truth, then you proceed in a normal manner. You can't just outright pass conclusions on something like that.

JOHNS: Thank you, Senator.

(voice over): Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Now also on Capitol Hill, we reported just moments ago that we're awaiting a press conference being assembled by Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha, who says he is going to make a major announcement concerning the war in Iraq.

Well, CNN's Ed Henry is also on the Hill, with some insight about what is expected to be said -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Fred.

That's right, CNN has learned that John Murtha a very senior lawmaker on military issues up here on the Hill, very respected by Pentagon brass, is going to call for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq. This is the first senior lawmaker in either party, in either the House or the Senate, who has made such a dramatic statement. He's about to do it at a press conference on the Hill. He is specifically going say that he wants the troops redeployed over the course of the next six months for the safety of the troops, so that they are not all pulled out at once.

What is significant, he is a Marine veteran, John Murtha, served in the Vietnam War. He is someone, as I said, also senior Democrat on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, a very powerful subcommittee, that helps fund the troops, fund all the military needs in the country. The Pentagon brass respects him highly.

And I'm told that Congressman Murtha is also going to say that based on his conversations with military leaders, the military and the Bush administration do not believe the war can be won militarily. That from John Murtha. So he thinks this bold step needs to be taken, the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.

Remember, of course, this also follows just a couple of days after the Senate on a bipartisan basis passed a resolution saying, basically the president has to come up with a plan to end the war in Iraq. That was seen by some as a rebuke of the administration. The administration, of course, insisting it's not, that they do have a plan. We heard very sharp words from Vice President Cheney last night, and just a few moments ago, in advance of John Murtha's dramatic announcement, a very respected Republican voice, Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, did say the next six months will be critical.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I believe the next four to six months is absolutely the most critical period of this conflict in Iraq. How and why we got into that conflict is a debate. It has been taking place, but I urge colleagues to look forward to the future, to see how we can best support our forces as they, as they, each one a volunteer, fulfills the orders of the commander in chief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now that speech by John Warner was followed by another senior Republican, Ted Stevens from Alaska who said that basically he believes that it's still possible that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He said that they could have even been hidden in a bathtub. That the country is so vast, the size of California, it would be extremely hard to find the weapons of mass destruction, and then he read through a litany of statements, like Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, like former President Bill Clinton, saying that Iraq was a major threat as far back as the late 1990s. Basically the Republican talking points we've heard in recent days from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, from the vice president himself last night, that in fact Democrats were trying to have it both ways, that many Democrats voted for the war and are now coming out against it so strongly, because of the polls and the public support dipping for it.

But again, very interesting to note that John Murtha, now about to call -- the first senior lawmaker on the Hill to call for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops in Iraq. He is somebody who is not a peace activist. He voted for the war in Iraq. He served in the Vietnam War as a Marine veteran, now saying that we need to pull the troops from Iraq -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Ed Henry, thanks so much, on the Hill. Of course we're going to monitor that. And as soon as that press conference does take place, with what would be quite a stunning announcement from this senior representative, calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq. We'll be bringing that to you live, and it will be interesting, too, to hear whether indeed he will elaborate on any support he has on that proposal on the Hill.

Now also on Capitol Hill, a bit of fiscal slight of hand over a controversial bridge project in Alaska. republican Senator Ted Stevens, who already made some comments about the war in Iraq, also had threatened to resign if the Senate took $223 million promised to his state for the Gravina (ph) Island Bridge, and then instead gave it to Louisiana to help rebuild after Katrina.

In the end, Alaska was allowed to keep the money, but without specifying how it would be used.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is doing the rounds on Capitol Hill this morning, talking recovery. That's not him right there. That's Barney Frank. Meantime, Nagin met earlier today with House minority leader, Democrat Nancy Pelosi. Right now he is testifying, Nagin is, before the House Committee on Financial Services. Later this morning, Ray Nagin is scheduled to meet with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

All right, and when we come back we hope to be able to bring you more on this expected news conference involving Representative John Murtha, out of Pennsylvania. What is expected to be a stung announcement from him, asking for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq. More on that when we come right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito has a busy day on Capitol Hill. He's already met this morning with Democratic Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado. Alito is talking this hour right now with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and he has four other meetings with senators later on in the day.

Alito hopes to make a good impression ahead of his Senate confirmation hearings, which began January 9th. Groups on both sides of the Alito nomination are launching new ad campaigns, also.

And then also on Capitol Hill, as promised, here's Representative John Murtha.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: ... and I started out by saying the war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It's a flawed policy wrapped in illusion.

The American public is way ahead of the members of Congress. The United States and coalition troops have done all they can in Iraq. But it's time for a change in direction.

Our military is suffering. The future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course.

It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interest of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf region.

General Casey said in a September 2005 hearing: "The perception of occupation in Iraq is a major driving force behind the insurgency." General Abizaid said on the same date: "Reducing the size and visibility of the coalition forces in Iraq is a part of our counterinsurgency strategy."

For two and a half years I've been concerned about U.S. policy and the plan in Iraq. I've addressed my concerns with the administration and the Pentagon, and I've spoken out in public about my concerns.

MURTHA: The main reason for going to war has been discredited.

A few days before the start of the war I was in Kuwait. The military drew a line, a red line around Baghdad, and they said, "When U.S. forces cross that line, they will be attacked by the Iraqis with weapons of mass destruction." And I believed it and they believed it.

But the U.S. forces -- the commander said they were prepared. They said they had well-trained forces with the appropriate protective gear.

Now, let me tell you, we spend more money on intelligence than any -- than all the countries in the world put together, and more on intelligence than most country's GDP. And when they say, "It's a world intelligence failure," it's a U.S. intelligence failure. It's a U.S. failure, and it's a failure in the way the intelligence was used.

I've been visiting our wounded troops in Bethesda and Walter Reed, as some of you know, almost every week since the beginning of the war. And what demoralizes them is not the criticism. What demoralizes them is going to war with not enough troops and equipment to make the transition to peace.

The devastation caused by IEDs is what they're concerned about. Being deployed to Iraq when their homes have been ravaged by hurricanes -- you've seen these stories about some of the people whose homes were destroyed and they were deployed to Iraq after it. Being on their second or third deployment, leaving their families behind without a network of support.

The threat by terrorism is real, but we have other threats that cannot be ignored. We must prepare to face all these threats.

The future of our military is at risk. Our military and our families are stretched thin.

Many say the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on a third deployment. Recruitment is down even as the military has lowed its standards. They expect to take 20 percent category 4, which is the lowest category, which they said they'd never take. They have been forced to do that to try to meet a reduced quota.

Defense budgets are being cut. Personnel costs are skyrocketing, particularly in health care. Choices will have to be made. We cannot allow promises we have made to our military families in terms of service benefits, in terms of their health care to be negotiated away. Procurement programs that ensure our military dominance cannot be negotiated away. We must be prepared.

The war in Iraq has caused huge shortfalls in our bases at home. I've been to three bases in the United States, and each one of them were short of things they need to train the people going to Iraq.

MURTHA: Much of our ground equipment is worn out. And I've told the CEOs of big companies, "You better get in the business of rehabilitating equipment because we're not going to be able to buy any new equipment because the money's not going to be there."

George Washington said, "To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace."

We don't want somebody to miscalculate down the road. It takes us 18 years to put a weapons system in the arsenal. And I don't know what the threat is -- nobody knows what the threat is -- but we better make sure we have what's necessary to preserve our peace.

We must rebuild our Army. Our deficit is growing out of control. The director of the Congressional Budget Office recently admitted to being terrified about the deficit in the coming decades.

In other words: Where's the money going to come from for defense? I voted against every tax cut. Every tax cut I voted against. My wife says, "You shouldn't say that." I believed that when we voted for these tax cuts you can't have a war and you can't have a tragedy like we had, the hurricanes, and then not have a huge deficit, which is going to increase interest rates and could cause a real problem.

This is the first prolonged war we've ever fought with three years of tax cuts without full mobilization of American industry and without a draft.

And the college campuses always ask me about a draft. "Are you for a draft?" I say, "Yes, there's only two of us who voted for it, so you don't have to worry too much about it."

The burden of this war has not been shared equally. The military and their families are shouldering the burden.

Our military has been fighting this war in Iraq for over two and a half years. Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty. Our military captured Saddam Hussein, captured or killed his closest associates, but the war continues to intensify.

Deaths and injuries are growing, and over 2,079 of confirmed American deaths, over 15,500 have been seriously injured -- half of them returned to duty -- and it's estimated over 50,000 will suffer from what I call battle fatigue. And there have been reports at least 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed.

I just recently visited Anbar province in Iraq in order to assess the conditions on the ground. And last May -- last May -- we put in the emergency supplemental spending bill Moran amendment, which was accepted in conference, which required the secretary of defense to submit a quarterly report and accurately measure the stability and security in Iraq.

MURTHA: We've now received two reports. So I've just come from Iraq and I've looked at the next report. I'm disturbed by the findings in the key indicator areas.

Oil production and energy production are below prewar level. You remember they said that was going to pay for the war, and it's below prewar level.

Our reconstruction efforts have been crippled by the security situation. Only $9 billion of $18 billion appropriated for reconstruction has been spent.

And I said on the floor of the House, when they passed the $87 billion, the $18 billion was the most important part of it because you've got to get people back to work; you've got electricity; you've got to get water.

Unemployment is 60 percent. Now, they tell you in the United States it's less than that. So it may be 40 percent. But in Iraq, they told me it's 60 percent, when I was there.

Clean water is scarce and they only spent $500 million of the $2.2 billion appropriated for water projects.

And, most importantly -- this is the most important point -- incidents have increased from 150 a week to over 700 in the last year. Instead of attacks going down over a time when we had additional more troops, attacks have grown dramatically. Since the revolution at Abu Ghraib, American casualties have doubled.

You look at the timeline. You'll see one per day average before Abu Ghraib. After Abu Ghraib, you'll see two a day -- two killed per day because of the dramatic impact that Abu Ghraib had on what we were doing.

And the State Department reported in 2004, right before they quit putting reports out, that indicated a sharp increase in global terrorism.

I said over a year ago now, the military and the administration agrees now that Iraq cannot be won militarily. I said two year ago, "The key to progress in Iraq is Iraqitize, internationalize and energize."

Now, we have a packet for you where I sent a letter to the president in September and I got an answer back from the assistant secretary of defense five months later.

I believe the same today. They don't want input. They only want to criticize.

Bush One was the opposite.

MURTHA: Bush One might not like the criticism and constructive suggestion, but he listened to what we had to say.

I believe and I have concluded the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding this progress. Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence. U.S. troops are the common enemy of the Sunnis, the Saddamists and the foreign jihadists. And let me tell you, they haven't captured any in this latest activity, so this idea that they're coming in from outside, we still think there's only 7 percent.

I believe with a U.S. troop redeployment, the Iraqi security forces will be incentivized to take control. A poll recently conducted -- this is a British poll reported in the Washington Times -- over 80 percent of Iraqis are strongly opposed to the presence of coalition forces and about 45 percent of Iraqi population believe attacks against American troops are justified.

I believe we need to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis. I believe before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for mid-December, the Iraqi people and the emerging government must be put on notice: The United States will immediately redeploy -- immediately redeploy.

No schedule which can be changed, nothing that's controlled by the Iraqis, this is an immediate redeployment of our American forces because they have become the target.

All of Iraq must know that Iraq is free, free from a United States occupation. And I believe this will send a signal to the Sunnis to join the political process.

My experience in a guerrilla war says that until you find out where they are, until the public is willing to tell you where the insurgent is, you're not going to win this war.

MURTHA: In Vietnam it was the same way. If you have a military operation, and you tell the Sunnis, because their families are in jeopardy -- you tell the Iraqis, then they are going to tell the insurgents, because they're worried about their families.

My plan calls for immediate redeployment of U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces to create a quick reaction force in the region, to create an over-the-horizon presence of Marines, and to diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq.

Now, let me personalize this thing for you. I go out to the hospitals every week. One of my first visits -- two young women. One was 22 or 23, had two children; lost her husband. One was 19. And they both went out to the hospitals to tell the people out there how happy they should be to be alive. In other words, they were reaching out because they felt their husbands had done their duty, but they wanted to tell them that they were so fortunate, even though they were wounded, to be alive.

I have a young fellow in my district who was blinded and he lost his foot. And they did everything they could for him at Walter Reed, then they sent him home.

His father was in jail; he had nobody at home -- imagine this: young kid that age -- 22, 23 years old -- goes home to nobody. V.A. did everything they could do to help him.

He was reaching out, so they sent him -- to make sure that he was blind, they sent him to John Hopkins. John Hopkins started to send him bills. Then the collection agency started sending bills.

Well, when I found out about it, you could imagine they stopped the collection agency and Walter Reed finally paid the bills. But imagine a young person being blinded, without a foot, and he's getting bills from a collection agency.

I saw a young soldier who lost two legs and an arm.

MURTHA: His dad was pushing him around.

I go to the mental ward. You know what they say to me? They've got battle fatigue. You know what they say? "We don't get nothing. We get nothing. We're just as bruised, just as injured as everybody else, but we don't even get a Purple Heart. We get nothing. We get shunted aside. We get looked at as if there's something wrong with us." I saw a young woman from Notre Dame, basketball player, right- handed; lost her right hand. You know what she's worried about? She's worried about her husband, because he lost weight worrying about her.

These are great people. These soldiers and people who are serving, they're marvelous people.

WHITFIELD: You're listening to U.S. representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania, who is giving some examples to justify what he is now calling for, which is the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq, saying that this war is a failure. It's a failure in the way the U.S. used intelligence, as well.

We want to elaborate on this a bit more after we take a break. And we're going to continue to monitor his comments, U.S. Representative John Murtha out of Pennsylvania making these comments on Capitol Hill. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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