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MARGARET WARNER: For reaction to what David Kay had to say today, we turn to two members of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat, and John McCain, a senior Republican member from Arizona.
Welcome gentlemen. Let’s start with David Kay’s central contention here. And I’ll begin with you Senator Levin — that is the intelligence community was wrong. There were no stock piles of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Iraq before the war. After hearing him, are you persuaded of that fact?
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Yes. I think it’s quite clear that there were no stockpiles — as represented over and over again with great certainty by the administration — of weapons of mass destruction. It’s been quite clear for some time that that’s been the case, and the questions that we need to face are how is it possible that they were so far off in their certainty, which we heard repeatedly before the war relative to stockpiles, relative to the reconstitution of the nuclear program — relative to the connection with al-Qaida.
But, yes, I think Dr. Kay is correct in his assessment, and that is his job to make that assessment as a weapons inspector as to whether or not there were stockpiles of weapons he found out. No.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator McCain, are you also persuaded of that?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well I have no reason to dispute Dr. Kay. He’s the expert on it, but I did go through with him and point out and he agreed with me Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction; he used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and the Iranians in 1991 after the Gulf War; he had extensive stock piles of weapons of mass destruction. And most importantly, there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that if Saddam Hussein were still in power, he would be trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction and eventually use them.
So I have to accept Dr. Kay’s word. But there is no doubt in my mind that if Saddam Hussein remained in power that he would be pursuing these weapons.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Levin, David Kay did say that Saddam Hussein had never given up his ambitions and furthermore he just ran tape of him saying given how corrupt the regime had become, there was also a growing danger one of the scientists would just have sold the know-how or technology elsewhere.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: He did say that but his job is to look for weapons of mass destruction. And what he has said is that it is quite clear now, that in fact, there were no such weapons. Then the question is, if that was the reason for going to war, would be the imminent threat there would either be the use of a weapon of mass destruction or the transfer of a weapon of mass destruction.
If there were no weapons there to transfer at the time, then the question is, would it have been worth trying to get the international community to be with us on whatever action we took so we could avoid the horrendous aftermath that we now face where we are basically are there as western powers, as occupying powers in a Muslim nation? That was all predictable by many people.
And if we had not been given the policy that there are now … if we had not been given the statements over and over again by the administration, that there are now in Saddam’s possession chemical weapons, sarin gas, VX, biological weapons, he’s reconstituted his nuclear weapons, he could transfer tomorrow to al-Qaida these weapons — had that not been stated so vividly, continually, repeatedly to the American people then there would have been a different consideration as to whether or not we could have continued to contain Saddam Hussein with our policies, our no-fly policies and our sanctions and the U.N. inspections, which Dr. Kay said today were effective as a matter of fact in disgorging from him in the early 1990s those weapons of mass destruction; that becomes the issue.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Margaret, could I just say –
MARGARET WARNER: Please do.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed and supported the Iraqi Regime Change Act. Why? Because the inspectors couldn’t inspect and there was a general belief in the Clinton administration that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
So to somehow allege that this administration was the one who was fooled or befuddled or manipulated, whatever. Look, President Clinton said he posed a clear and present danger. Again, I want to emphasize, the world, America, and Iraq is far better off with this guy gone and there is no doubt in my mind from my study of him all these years that he would attempt to acquire them when the time was right.
MARGARET WARNER: So Senator McCain do you share David Kay’s concerns the intelligence was faulty and that there is something fundamentally flawed about the way the U.S. government or intelligence community investigates all of these cases of proliferation? You heard him also cite Iran and Libya mistakes made, as he said, on the other side?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Most of the mistakes have been on the other side; they’ve been made by intelligence sources. I think this is why you need and I was glad to see Dr. Kay, and I know that Carl agrees with me; we need an independent commission continue to investigate this because these questions need to be answers including why we and this administration, full the previous administration believe that Saddam Hussein’s capability was growing — why it is that we have so badly missed the mark on this and other cases.
But, also, most importantly of all, we cannot afford to have bad intelligence in the future if you want to get the support of the American people. And so I think we need an independent investigation of the smartest people we can find and find out what happened there.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: One of the most important points, if I can come in here, that was made today by Dr. Kay was exactly that. We have tried, a number of us, for many, many months to get an outside independent commission to look into this. There has been resistance by the administration, by the Republican leadership to that outside independent commission. It is the best way that we can get an objective and a bipartisan assessment of the intelligence failures and to what extent there was exaggeration of the intelligence that was given to the policy-makers.
It’s far better that be assessed by an outside independent commission; I’m glad to hear Senator McCain is now supporting that.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, let me ask you about that, Senator Levin, because you heard David Kay say all of the analysts he talked to did not feel pressured. He does not feel that the intelligence was manipulated by the administration. He said, if I had gotten the same intelligence, I would have come to the same conclusion as the president. Do you accept that or are you of Senator Kennedy’s view that it was manipulated?
SEN. CARL LEVIN: I accept that he feels that way but it seems to me there is very troubling evidence of exaggeration of the intelligence by the administration that they did receive much stronger statements, greater statements of certainty. Over and over again I went through them all today. We are certain he has this, we are absolutely certain that we know where these weapons of weapons of mass destruction are. He has reconstituted a weapons program a nuclear weapons program.
As a matter of fact as late as last week, Vice President Cheney said that the fact there were two vans discovered in Iraq made him certain that there was a weapon of mass destruction program and that these were biological weapons vans.
But Dr. Kay today said again that the assessment of the intelligence community is that those vans have nothing to do with a biological weapons program. And yet just one week ago we had that exaggeration by the vice president of the United States, and it seems to me we should remove it from this setting, if we possibly can, to an outside, independent commission to look both at the intelligence as well as the use of the intelligence and the characterization of the intelligence by the policy makers.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator McCain, do you see evidence of exaggeration or manipulation?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I do not and I believe that President Clinton in 1998 stated unequivocally that we needed a regime change because of Saddam Hussein’s continued pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, nor do I believe this president of the United States, or vice president would either.
This is a serious charge and I categorically reject it. Yes, I believe that mistakes were made and yes we need to have a review of it, but somehow to believe that two administrations intentionally misled the American people, I think is a leap of imagination that I cannot take nor do I believe the majority of the American people would … the majority of the American people are glad that the country Iraq and the world is rid of Saddam Hussein.
MARGARET WARNER: So what is your view for instance of the example that Senator Levin just cited about what Cheney said … the vice president said last week about the two trailers being mobile labs and clear evidence of weapons?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Because there’s conflicting statements by different intelligence people. I can’t account for every statement that’s made, but I can say that I do not, in any way, ever believe that the president of the United States would … or vice president would mislead the American people on an issue of such gravity.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator Levin, Senator McCain said today, well, first of all you heard David Kay saying his aim isn’t political and McCain said, I think his phrase, well, this is a highly charged political environment. Here’s my question. Members of your party running for president are out there using David Kay’s interviews that he’s given the last few days as evidence that the president misled the American public. Do you think that’s a proper use of this assessment, that it belongs in the presidential campaign?
SEN. CARL LEVIN: I’m sure that the president is defending himself as he did yesterday of intelligence so it is going to be obviously debated by both the president defending his statements presumably and Mr. Cheney’s statements and Mr. Rumsfeld’s statements and Miss Rice’s statements, and so far the absolute certainty they had that there were large caches of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That’s going to be debated in the campaign but not just by the Democratic candidates but by President Bush yesterday as a matter of fact saying that he was satisfied with the intelligence.
The reason to get an outside, independent review, as a matter of fact, is so at least in the Congress we can get that outside of any kind of a highly charged atmosphere here in the Congress. And I’m very glad that Senator McCain supports this. We’re going to bring this up again because we have tried and Democrats have almost voted entirely for it — most Republicans opposed to it and it’s essential that we try to get that outside bipartisan independent view let the chips fall where they may. As far as I’m concerned it would be better for the country that it be of a politically charged environment.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator McCain, your view of one, is it destined to be part of the campaign and two, properly so?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I’m afraid it’s going to be part of the campaign and I really worry when we impugn people’s motives. Mistakes have been made throughout our history and particularly where conflicts are concerned.
I don’t believe President Clinton did anything intentionally; I don’t believe that this president does either. But do I agree with Carl. There was false information or misestimates of intelligence — I don’t know how you parse the language — and people are responsible for that and people should be held responsible most importantly because we don’t want to move forward with a flawed process that provides the president of the United States with information which may not be absolutely accurate.
MARGARET WARNER: Senators McCain and Levin, thank you both.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Thank you, Margaret.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Thank you.