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CNN Late Edition - Transcript

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CNN Late Edition - Transcript
Sunday, January 29, 2006


BLITZER: Hamas wins the Palestinian elections. What does the United States do now that a free and democratic vote has elected a group still officially termed by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization? Here to discuss what this means for the Middle East, and more, Delaware Senator Joe Biden -- he's the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- and Kansas Senator Pat Roberts. He's the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us.

And I'll start with you, Senator Biden. You were there. You observed the process. I assume you think it was democratic, it was free, it was fair. But Hamas was elected. So what does the U.S. do now to not punish the Palestinians while at the same time distancing itself from this new government that will be led by Hamas?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Well, the Palestinians voted for Hamas. We label them a terrorist group. Europe does. They are. Unless they change their stripes, unless they recognize Israel, unless they change their charter, I think we do exactly what the president says. We do not deal with them. Not a penny.

BLITZER: So all that, it's been $1.5 billion since '93.

BIDEN: That's exactly...

BLITZER: They're in bad straits to begin with. A lot of these people rely on this kind of international humanitarian assistance. What do you do?

BIDEN: Wolf, I think these guys are like the dog that caught the car. They did not think they were going to do this well. Now they've got a very difficult decision within Hamas. I predict to you you're going to see a real debate within Hamas, notwithstanding what the founder you're going to interview later says. I think you're going to find that they're going to have to make a tough choice whether they want to be the government, what portfolios they want, whether or not they want to attract the international community's help. But it's going to be up to them.

BLITZER: Well, Senator Roberts, you're the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. What's the latest thinking? Will Hamas come to grips with the new reality, accept Israel's right to exist, and stop terrorism?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: Well, we certainly hope so. I think that Senator Biden really put his finger on it. They have a choice to make. We do provide annual aid to the Palestinians, and a lot of infrastructure work, which we thought would be very helpful. I have mixed emotions about this. I hope that my minority view is correct. I think basically the reason that the victory came about for Hamas, 76 seats out of 142, was because they provide social services to long-suffering Palestinians.

And in addition, I think there was a lot of reaction to the former government, Fatah, where I just think that they -- you know, they felt it was out of touch, it was elite, and so they voted for Hamas. But Joe is exactly right. They are a terrorist organization. They have within their beliefs, one of their core beliefs is to get rid of Israel. Now, they've got to make a choice. They're going to have to govern. They're going to have to use the political process. And we'll see what happens.

But until that time we put that assistance on the sidelines and then we go from there. Let me just say that it is very difficult to put democracy down like so much astroturf on rocky soil, where it never been. Now, I'm glad at least there was an election. I'm not happy with the results. They are a terrorist organization. But let's hope that the people who voted for Hamas did so because of the social services, and that now will work back towards a political process that can solve this problem. BLITZER: Do you want to weigh in on that? Because I'm going to move on to Iraq, Senator Biden.

BIDEN: I think Pat's right. An election a democracy does not make. You need elections for democracy. But we have really been somewhat naive thinking that we could have elections, whether they're in Iraq or whether they're in the Palestinian areas, anywhere else in the Middle East, and form a democracy. Democracy's about compromise. It's a process. You need institutions. We have a lot of work to do.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Iraq. This past week, a huge debate developed, whether the U.S. military was stretched too thin in Iraq right now. You've been there several times. What's your sense, Senator Biden? Is the military overstretched, or can they get the job done?

BIDEN: They're overstretched. They've been overstretched from the time they walked in. I don't want to get in an argument with my buddy, the chairman of the intelligence committee, but you know, Wolf. I've been there six times. It doesn't make me an expert. But every time I've been there, from the first time I was there, the military on the ground thought they didn't have enough forces.

They didn't have enough to get the job done, and they're stretched extremely thin. And now the irony of all ironies is, they're in a position where if we do increase the number of forces there, it becomes counterproductive. It looks more like occupation. If we put ourselves in a heck of a box. So that's why we need to get to train these guys up much more rapidly, but we need a political solution.

And in my view, we're not taking advantage of the rest of the international community, putting political pressure on the various constituencies, Shia, Kurds, and Sunnis, to reach a political solution. Absent that, all the king's horses and all the king's men aren't going to keep Iraq together.

BLITZER: What's your assessment, Mr. Chairman?

ROBERTS: Well, when I've been to Iraq, I visit with General Abizaid, I visit with General Casey, I go out among the troops, especially the Marines, and I know there's been a great deal of discussion as to whether we have enough troops. But the number of troops to me is not as important as the amount of troops who are really trained to do a specific job. And I think that was one of the problems that we've had with many of the specialties -- or one of the specialty occupations that they have to do.

So it isn't so much the number of troops as, let's get the right kind of troops over there. And quite frankly at the beginning of this, I think we had a real problem. One of the good things we're hearing now is even the tribals, the Kurds, the Sunnis, the Shias, the tribals, are getting darn well fed up with Mr. Zarqawi and the insurgents and the outside influence who are killing Iraqis, certainly more so than any Americans did. And I think that's a good sign, and I think that perhaps we can get a lot more support in that regard. I agree with Joe. This is a political process. We have to work through it. This trial of Saddam is a real setback. That's getting to be a real difficult situation.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask you about that, Mr. Chairman. Is this trial of Saddam Hussein -- we saw him storming out today, his legal defense team storming out -- is this whole trial becoming a circus?

ROBERTS: Well, A, yes. But B, if you're going to have any kind of government, you're going to have to have a system of justice, and to have a system of justice you at least have to have regular order. And that's not the case right now. And so I hope that that, too, with American help and with international help, basically they have to do it, but they have to have the wherewithal to do it.

And it gets back to my earlier comment. You know, democracy is tough where we haven't had democracy. As to the level of troops, OK, let's have a level of troops where the generals say, and not only the generals, but also the people in the field.

But let's make sure that they are trained to do the job that they are sent over to do rather than just send numbers.

BLITZER: You're a key member, Senator Biden, of the Judiciary Committee. Senator Specter, the chairman, is going to have hearings starting February 6 on this domestic surveillance program, the wiretaps without warrants.

Do you believe, based on what you know right now, that the president of the United States broke the law?

BIDEN: I don't know enough of the facts. And I'm not trying to -- you know me; I'll tell what I think.

Here we are in a situation where we need more facts. Everyone agrees that he has a right to and he should eavesdrop on suspected terrorists. The question is the privacy of Americans.

We went through this before, Wolf. You remember. I was on the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee when we wrote FISA. I was one of the co-sponsors.

BLITZER: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

BIDEN: That's right. And what we did was we had extensive hearings in the intelligence community to find out what the facts were and then, based on that -- because that's uniquely suited to do this all in secret -- then, based on the report from them, we in the Judiciary Committee wrote the law that we thought would satisfy the needs of the government and protect privacy.

I'm hoping, and I suspect -- I don't know; I haven't spoken to Pat -- that the Intelligence Committee will have very serious hearings like we did before, that we will do the same thing, and we will make a judgment based on knowing what is actually transpiring.

Let me conclude by saying this: Every day, there's a new piece of information coming out of the intelligence community and the administration saying, oh, by the way, we don't have blanket searches; we don't have a dragnet out there; we only have four people making the decision, or seven or whatever, of who to eavesdrop on.

Well, the point is, we don't know what's going on. I don't know. Maybe Pat knows. We don't know.

But the idea the president of the United States can say he has absolute power to eavesdrop on anyone he thinks is a suspected terrorist as long as war is underway, which we all acknowledge will be almost forever now, without any review by anybody, court or anybody, is, I don't believe, consistent with our basic American values and our constitution. But...

BLITZER: All right. Let me bring the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Are you going to have hearings in the Intelligence Committee, Mr. Chairman?

ROBERTS: We're going to have a briefing. We're going to have it next week, with the same legal folks that are going to appear before Mr. Specter's committee and also with Joe.

Other than the four things that he mentioned that I disagree with, what I agree with Senator Biden, I am one of the ones, being the chairman of the Intelligence Committee with seven others, all of the leadership and the foreign members of the intelligence committee that are briefed, I am convinced that he does have the constitutional authority.

And here's what we have. We have a news leak by the New York Times -- and by the way, in the major media today, they make the decision on what is classified and what isn't and there isn't anything. This is a very highly classified program.

This is not domestic spying. This is a highly minimized program to prevent a terrorist attack on the United States.

And it is because, when we know within a terrorist cell overseas that there is a plot and that plot is very close to its conclusion or that plot is very close to being waged against America -- now, if a call comes in from an Al Qaida cell and it is limited to that where we have reason to believe that they are planning an attack, to an American phone number, I don't think we're violating anybody's Fourth Amendment rights in terms of civil liberties.

BIDEN: Nor do I.

BLITZER: All right. We're almost out of time...

ROBERTS: Number one, I think it's legal. Number two, it is a terrorist threat-warning capability.

It is an act of war because we're at war. It's not a crime and not the FISA court. Now, if you want to use the FISA court, that's fine for criminal proceedings.

But the time it takes for the FISA court to act may be time too late in terms of minutes and hours to protect the country from another terrorist attack.

BLITZER: All right. We're almost out of time. We only have a few seconds left.

But I have to ask Senator Biden: Will you join Senator Kerry and Senator Kennedy tomorrow in calling for a filibuster of the Samuel Alito nomination to the Supreme Court?

BIDEN: No, I did not call for a filibuster...

BLITZER: I know you didn't call for a filibuster, but will you vote in favor of a filibuster?

BIDEN: There's actually going to be a vote on cloture. I will vote one time to say that we will not -- to continue debate. But the truth of the matter is, I think this is done.

I think Judge Alito should not be on the court. He's a decent man with wrong ideas, great expansive power for the president, any president, et cetera. But we're going to be faced with a vote.

Do we continue to debate on Monday at 4:30 or not? I will vote to continue the debate for another round. But...

BLITZER: So, this is simply a symbolic statement on your part, which...

BIDEN: On my part, quite frankly, yes.

BLITZER: Because you assume he's going to be confirmed? So why go -- because this is going to divide a lot of Democrats, this whole filibuster issue.

BIDEN: It is. And I, quite frankly -- I think filibusters make sense when you have a prospect of actually succeeding.

In my view, with the number of Democrats that have announced for him, the number of Democrats who have announced they will not support -- that they will vote for cloture -- I think this is an exercise we could have done without.

If I thought it would work, if I thought it would keep Judge Alito off the bench, there was that kind of consensus, then I would support it. But I will vote this one time.


BIDEN: Because it's a matter of giving people an opportunity to go another day and to support my position -- it's consistent with my position, saying he should not be on the bench. But I think it's not the wisest approach to take in terms of deciding to try to do this.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, thanks very much for joining us. Senator Roberts, always a pleasure having you on "Late Edition" as well.

ROBERTS: Yes, sir. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.


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