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Public Statements

MSNBC "Hardball With Chris Matthews" - Transcript

Interview

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘ve been talking about the security breach at that state dinner the other night at the White House and those two people that broke in without being invited. What we were really talking about is the possible threat it posed, obviously, to our president.

Now to more of the security breach at the White House, we turn to U.S. Congressman Peter King of New York--he‘s the ranking Republican member on the House Homeland Security Committee--and Joseph Petro, who‘s also aboard right now. He‘s a former Secret Service agent who served as part of former president Ronald Reagan‘s personal detail. He‘s also author of "Standing Next to History."

Thank you very much, Bill (SIC), for joining us. Congressman, I guess a lot of us grew up with the idea of the Secret Service from what happened to Jack Kennedy back in ‘63, and it‘s never left our hearts or our heads, you and I included, because we know how bad it can get if something goes wrong. And of course, in a cinematic way, I keep thinking of John Malkovich in "In the Line of Fire," that great Clint Eastwood movie, where the guy went to a state dinner dressed in black tie, did everything right, even paid his admission, brought his ticket, and he had a gun. He put it together when he got past the Secret Service. He made out of plastic.

You know, there are knives on the table. There‘s weapons potential for--we saw what could happen with box cutters on 9/11, as you did as a New Yorker. What are your feelings about this case? I don‘t think it‘s funny.

REP. PETER KING ®, NEW YORK: No, it‘s not funny at all, and those two should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And Chris, let me say up front, I have the utmost respect for the Secret Service. I think they do a terrific job. But obviously, something went wrong here and this was a terrible breach of security.

yes, I mean, I‘m sure you‘ve been to many White House events. I was counting up before, I‘ve been probably to more than 40 during my 17 years in Congress. And something about this doesn‘t add up. I have never been to an event where there was not somebody from either the social secretary‘s office or the legislative affairs office there, you know, standing with the Secret Service agent, uniformed or plainclothes.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

KING: And so this has to be fully investigated not so much even to find out who did the wrong thing, but why it happened and to make sure it doesn‘t happen again. I mean, the White House is making a point of saying they didn‘t have anyone there. Well, why not? I mean, I‘ve never heard of them not being there...

MATTHEWS: Right (INAUDIBLE)

KING: ... because--and to me, you know, the--the civilian there, the person who‘s from the White House, it‘s sort of like--in one case, like a last sign of defense because they can spot a phony. And secondly, they‘re also there to facilitate, in case someone like the Speaker of the House or someone who was supposed to be on the list isn‘t. So there--and I‘ve had friends of mine who were cleared to get in and they weren‘t on the list, and they had to stand aside for half hour until all the paperwork was found inside that showed that they had to get in.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Let‘s get back to Bill (SIC), an expert on this. It seems like every time I‘ve been there--I used to get invited for Christmas or St. Patrick‘s Day, like Peter. You know, we go in for the same events, except for his big congressional events.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: And we go in and they always have somebody there that says, Oh, Chris, good to see you, or whatever. They‘re nice about it, and if you have your wife with you or your spouse. Bill, it‘s always a double check. It‘s not just the Secret Service. Joseph, I‘m sorry. Joseph Petro.

JOSEPH PETRO, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Oh, I‘m sorry. I didn‘t know you were--you were--let me first thank you, Chris, for having me on. You know, I‘m not here to pile on the Secret Service, as you can imagine, but I‘m also not here to minimize what did happen. It was a mistake, but I think it should be put in some sort of perspective.

You know, these two individuals social engineered their way into the White House as a publicity stunt. We all know that. The question is whether the president was in any real danger as a result of this, and I would argue that he was not. And here‘s why.

MATTHEWS: Why?

PETRO: Here‘s why.

MATTHEWS: How do you know that?

PETRO: Here‘s why. Over the last year, the president has attended thousands and thousands of events, probably, and met thousands and thousands of people. All of those people, some of them were on lists and some of them weren‘t. So they were--some were public events, some were dinners. They were all kinds of events. What was common about all of them is everyone went through metal detectors and other screening, just as these two people had done the other night.

The president, it was--is--was at no more risk with these two as he is--as he is when he comes to the Waldorf and has dinner with 600 --

600 people...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PETRO: ... at a fund-raiser, where there are also knives.

MATTHEWS: Here is my question, though.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I‘m not here to defend the Secret Service like you are.

(CROSSTALK)

PETRO: Nobody knows who they are, because all they have to do is pay money to get in.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You‘re here defending--OK. Look, here‘s the question.

PETRO: Yes.

MATTHEWS: The guys who blew--took those airplanes under their control and killed 3,000 people didn‘t have--they went through metal detectors, too.

PETRO: That‘s correct.

MATTHEWS: So, I‘m not thrilled by that explanation.

PETRO: No.

MATTHEWS: And, number two, I did--I see these pictures, which maybe you‘re not privy to, Joseph, of them standing right next to the president.

Congressman, these people got within grabbing distance of the president. They were standing with Joe Biden, like they‘re the oldest friend in the world. They could have done anything they wanted. They could have grabbed him in a choke hold. They could have knifed him.

There were--there were knives available there for dinner. They could--there were weapons available to anyone with ingenuity, it seems to me.

Your thoughts.

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER:

Yes.

Yes, Chris, I think it was a real threat. And, again, if these had been trained terrorists or if they had been psychopaths, you know, if they were experts in martial arts, they could have, within four or five seconds, caused extraordinary damage.

And you‘re right. There are knives and forks on all the tables. There‘s blunt instruments. They could have brought anthrax or some biological or chemical weapon.

So--and, also, I think that, at a--at events such as this, you have more access to the president, more access to the vice president than you would, let‘s, at an event at the Waldorf Astoria, because you‘re considered to be part of the inner circle. You‘re there. You‘re mingling with the chief justices and the ambassadors and prime ministers.

You are right there. You can do a lot more than you could at the ordinary political events.

MATTHEWS: OK.

PETRO: Chris...

MATTHEWS: You just heard we had Roxanne Roberts on this just a couple of minutes ago, saying that, at 7:30 roughly, she informed two White House staff people--actually, before 8:00, she had talked to two White House staff people, informing both of them that these two people were not on the guest list, that they had crashed, basically.

And she did that--and she gave the names of those people. Are you going to investigate the White House staff, Congressman?

KING: Yes, because I think we have to.

And, again, I don‘t want to make this any kind of a circus. I don‘t want to make it a partisan event, but I think we have to, because I think, for the future, it‘s absolutely essential that the White House have staff there.

Now, Desiree Rogers, right out of the box, said, we had no one there, as if that was a defense. To me, why not? Why didn‘t you have someone there? Why is this different from any event that I‘m aware of in the last 15 to 20 years not to have someone there?

So, I think there should have been. And, also, again, just something doesn‘t add up, Chris. You know how tough it is to get in. I remember a few years ago, a congressman, they wouldn‘t let his daughter in because she wasn‘t on the list, his teenage daughter. That‘s how strict they were.

So, if you‘re going to be able to walk through like that, how they knew where to go, how to handle themselves, I think we have to look into the whole history as to why it happened the way it did.

MATTHEWS: Joseph, what is your experience in terms of these White House social events...

PETRO: Well...

MATTHEWS: ... and how the security is handled?

PETRO: Yes, let me say this, because I think--no one has really mentioned this.

You know, as long as I have been involved with the Secret Service, the Secret Service has never assumed--never assumed that the perimeters are always going to be 100 percent. There is always the chance that someone can get through, whether at the White House or whether you‘re somewhere else.

And that‘s why there are agents in proximity to the president, wherever he is, even in the White House. And there were agents close by the president, I‘m sure. I wasn‘t there. I didn‘t see this. But I‘m assuming the agents were close.

And they--they--well, I know, from my experiences, you watch everybody that approaches the president, no matter who they are, all the time. So, you know, that is the last line of defense.

And--and I‘m sure that was in place the other night. If someone picked up a knife, it would have been noticed, and--and an agent would have reacted, I would hope. But this is--this is--you know, there is no perfect security anywhere, even at the White House.

And--and I think the Secret Service has recognized that for a long time. And that‘s why there are agents around him, wherever he is.

MATTHEWS: What is it like today, Mr. Petro, in terms of this president? Is there a sense that there is a heightened or a lessened security effort on behalf of this president, given that what we‘re told is like a 400 percent increase in the number of threats against him?

PETRO: Well, first of all, I think that‘s an exaggeration.

I--I--my information is the threats are about--about average for a president at this stage in his--in his term. It may have spiked early on, but I think it‘s leveled out. So, Mr. Kessler was wrong about that.

Yes, this president has some unique, you know, threat risk. That‘s

obvious. But the Secret Service is well aware of that. And I--and what

I have been told from--from friends who are still there, they take this -

this risk very serious, and--and they‘re--this is the--the primary responsibility of the Secret Service.

They know how to do their job. And I think they‘re doing it quite well.

MATTHEWS: Do you think this is a case of where a police officer, in this case, the Secret Service agent, was--was pushed around by a big shot, where they just sort of feel that sense of, these are famous, important people, I better say yes, I better let them in?

Do you think there was that kind of intimidation, Congressman?

PETRO: Oh.

KING: Chris--Chris, I would hope not.

But, again, I have never seen anybody able to intimidate a Secret Service agent. Now, I have been at the White House, where you get stopped, and you get stopped cold, until they get the information that they‘re entitled to.

And let me just make it clear, I think they do a great job. That‘s why I‘m wondering what happened here, if somehow the White House was involved, because Secret Service does a great job. And, as far as President Obama, I think his--his threat level is much higher, because I remember, when he was Senator Obama, he received Secret Service protection earlier than any other candidate in our history because there was such a high level of threat.

And the Secret Service would meet with our committee on a regular basis and tell us what they were doing and how they were stepping up security, because there were so many threats against him.

MATTHEWS: Oh, OK. Thank you. Good luck.

What are your big--what‘s your biggest question going to be in the hearings this week, Congressman, your biggest question?

KING: Well, -- well, if the White House is there, it‘s when they decided not to have someone there with the Secret Service, why they decided, and, you know, do they regret not having someone there? And, also, the Secret Service, give a total chronology as to how this happened, where they went, how did they know how to go there, and who they spoke to.

MATTHEWS: I want to know why those two staffers ignored the warning they got from Roxanne Roberts of "The Washington Post" early that evening...

KING: Oh, absolutely, yes.

MATTHEWS: ... and why didn‘t do anything about it, when they heard that there were people that shouldn‘t have been there...

KING: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... because they weren‘t on the list.

Congressman Peter King, as always.

Congress--Mr. Joseph Petro, of the--formerly of the Secret Service, thank you, sir, for your joining us, and thank you for your service.

PETRO: Thanks, Chris.

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