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CNN The Situation Room - Transcript

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BLITZER: And joining us now, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York. He's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Congressman, I know that the House leadership, the Republican leadership is thinking of introducing some sort of sense of the Congress resolution. Condemning what?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: As I understand the resolution -- and I've seen different drafts of it -- it would certainly condemn the leaks, those who have leaked this classified top-secret information. And it calls on the media to cooperate with the government, to save American lives, not to be running with these leaks the way "The New York Times" did last December and again last week on the whole overseas financial transactions.

BLITZER: Are you more angry at "The New York Times," shall we say, "The Wall Street Journal," the "Los Angeles Times," or at those government officials, whether in the executive branch or the legislative branch, who gave this information to the news media?

KING: Wolf, I think it's equal. I think those who leaked it are absolutely contemptible. The reason I have focused my fire on the media, especially "The New York Times," is because I don't think enough debate has focused there. It's always at those who do the leaking, which is absolutely terrible, but I thought it was also important to realize that the media, such as "The New York Times," I think have failed disgracefully in their obligations and have crossed the line of responsibility to irresponsibility.

So I am outraged at "The New York Times," and I'm equally outraged, if not more so, at those government officials who have sworn an oath and have actually leaked classified information in a time of war to the media.

BLITZER: Should the Justice Department launch a criminal investigation of the leakers, those government officials who provided this information to the news media?

KING: Absolutely. The government should go all out against those who did the leaking. And one way to get them is to put "New York Times" reporters in the grand jury and ask them to reveal their sources. And if they don't, find them in contempt and put them in prison.

And I know that sounds very harsh and heavy-handed, but the fact is, we're at war, and those who are leaking are committing a terrible crime. I believe those in "The New York Times" are also guilty of a crime. But to get at the leaker, one way to do that, is to put the reporters in before the grand jury.

BLITZER: What about "The Wall Street Journal" reporters and the "Los Angeles Times" reporters?

KING: Yes, I think they should also go after "The Wall Street Journal" and the "LA Times."

The reason I'm focusing more on "The Times" is they were the ones who first decided to go with it. My understanding is, the "LA Times" and "The Wall Street Journal" were holding back and they were in discussions with the government and didn't decide to go forward until "The Times" did.

Having said that, there's no reason at all why the attorney general should not go after the reporters at the "LA Times" and "The Wall Street Journal" to have them reveal their sources. Because to me, important as the shield law and certain privileges are to the media, to me it's more important that we stop these leaks, because American lives are at risk.

BLITZER: The argument has been made, though, that there really was no damage to national security, that the information in all of those stories basically had been out there more or less almost since 9/11. You reject that argument.

KING: Yes, I do. I'll tell you why.

Obviously, the president made it clear from the start we were going to do all we could to intercept and monitor overseas financial transactions. And I'm sure al Qaeda knew we had some success at it.

They did not know, though, the full extent of the penetration we had done. They were not aware of the arrangement with SWIFT They did not realize how all-encompassing our plan was and how effective it was.

And so now we have basically turned over our plan of attack, or a plan of defense, either way you want to look at it, to al Qaeda. So now we've told al Qaeda exactly what we have. We've taken all the guesswork out of it.

BLITZER: Here's what a U.N. report in 2002 concluded. This is the U.N. al Qaeda and Taliban monitoring group report. It was released publicly. It's on the Web.

"The settlement of international transactions is usually handled through correspondent banking relationships or large-value message and payment systems, such as SWIFT, Fedwire or CHIPS systems in the United States of America." It goes on to say, "The United States has begun to apply new monitoring techniques to spot and verify suspicious transactions."

That's one argument that basically al Qaeda was already aware of the SWIFT monitoring operation.

KING: They were aware, perhaps, that we had started this, that we'd made some inroads. But again, you take people like Governor Kean, who was the 9/11 chairman, Lee Hamilton, who was the co- chairman, Congressman Murtha, none of whom has any partisan agenda. They, based on their own knowledge of it, believed that this was damaging to our national security.

Again, al Qaeda had bits and pieces. They obviously had some indication. They did not know the full story.

"The New York Times" gave them the full story. And that's where to me the real disgrace was.

BLITZER: The other argument that your critics are saying is that the Patriot Act itself, which was enacted shortly after 9/11, spoke about making sure that the United States follows the money, gets involved in intercepting international wire transfers. And let me read to you what Stuart Levy, the Treasury under secretary, said on September 22, 2004 before the House financial Services Committee.

"As the formal and informal financial sectors become increasingly inhospitable to financiers of terrorism, we have witnessed an increasing reliance by al Qaeda and terrorist groups on cash couriers. The movement of money via cash couriers is now one of the principal methods the terrorists use to move funds"

Basically, he's saying a couple of years ago they already knew the U.S. was monitoring and they're now using cash couriers to distribute their money.

KING: Right. Yes, they were to some extent. They obviously were using cash more than they were prior to September 11th, and they realize we have made progress. The point I'm making, though, is they did not know the full extent of the progress we had made, and it's not just al Qaeda itself, but also those who may be transferring money to others who will be then transferring it to al Qaeda.

So, in other words, this is a chain of transactions, and not everyone was aware of the full extent to which we had managed to penetrate these transactions. And again, we are laying it out for al Qaeda, we are laying it out for those who will be making the transactions. And again, it's not just one thing we're looking at, it's a whole system of transactions.

Al Qaeda did not know the full extent of it. And that's where it's at.

And that's why, again, people like Governor Kean and Congressman Hamilton went to "The New York Times." And also, you know, "The New York Times" can't have it both ways. They can't now say, well, this was all public information, but yet say last week they had to reveal it because it was such a secretive program.

So, you know, "The New York Times" is trying to have it both ways.

BLITZER: "The New York Times," not surprisingly, in an editorial went after you today, and they wrote this -- they said, "We would have been very happy if Congressman Peter King, the Long Island Republican who has been so vocal in citing the Espionage Act, had been as aggressive in encouraging his colleagues to do the oversight job they were elected to do."

You want to respond to "The New York Times?"

KING: Yes, absolutely. I mean, Congress was doing the oversight that it had to. The chairman and ranking members of the intelligence committees in the House and Senate, the majority and minority leaders, the speaker of the House, they all knew of this. And to me, that is the type of oversight you need.

You can't have all 535 members of the House and Senate knowing everything about every top-secret operation that's going on. Those who had to know on both sides of the aisle were told about it.

This is -- this is war. This isn't the same as a highway bill or a tax bill. This is life and death. And "The New York Times" should understand that.

BLITZER: Peter King is a Republican from Long Island.

Thanks for coming in.

KING: Wolf, thank you.


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