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President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
March 2, 2004
VP Interview with Wolf Blitzer, CNN
The Vice President's Ceremonial Office
10:44 A.M. EST
Q Mr. Vice President, thanks very much for joining us. Let's get right to Iraq, terrorism. It seems to be getting worse, what's happening today. Is it getting worse?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's a terrible tragedy, what happened today, obviously. But I think in terms of the overall course of events, that what we've seen today in these attacks are desperation moves by al Qaeda-affiliated groups that are -- that recognize the threat that a successful transition in Iraq represents.
Q When you say, al Qaeda-affiliated groups, be specific, because -- give us some evidence that this is orchestrated by Osama bin Laden.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, today we don't know specifically about this attack yet. It has the hallmarks, in my opinion, of an attack orchestrated by a man named al-Zarqawi.
Q Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's right. We've talked about him a lot before. He, at one point, ran a training camp in Afghanistan before we went into Afghanistan. He took refuge in Iraq and was there prior to our invasion of Iraq. He oversaw the poisons labs in northeastern Iraq that were al Qaeda-affiliated, run by Ansar al-Islam. He has recently written a letter to senior management of Osama bin Laden's group, al Qaeda, that we intercepted, where he talked specifically about his strategy in Iraq, and that includes, among other things, launching terror strikes against Shia in order to try to start sectarian --
Q So you see his fingerprints there.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And this looks very much like that kind of an attack.
Q Let's talk about that a little bit, because as Americans see what's going on, today being the first anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security, they see these suicide bombings in Baghdad and Karbala and other places in Iraq -- Pakistan and Jerusalem -- is it only a matter of time, God forbid, before it happens here?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We have to continue to be on guard here at home. We cannot assume because it's been over two years now since we were struck in the United States, we cannot assume there's no threat. There obviously is a threat. And we're working at it all the time. Every day the President and I get briefed every morning on the status of the threat, both overseas and domestically. And we've been able to disrupt attacks against the United States, disrupt cells, and by going on offense, we made it much tougher for them to hit us. But we have to assume they're still out there. We know they're still out there, still trying to launch attacks against the United States.
What we're seeing, in terms of these other attacks, in Casablanca and Istanbul and Riyadh and Mombasa, Bali, Jakarta, this is a worldwide enterprise; some 20,000 terrorists who went through those al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in the late '90s. And what we are seeing now in Iraq today, specifically, obviously, is an attempt to use terror to disrupt and interfere with out plan to turn over sovereignty to the Iraqis later this summer. The closer we get to standing up a democracy in Iraq, the more desperate the terrorists become, and that's why we've seen the attacks we saw today.
Q You said before the war -- and I think I'm quoting you -- you said, "There's no doubt that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. There's no doubt he's amassing them to use." The U.S. has not found any significant stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Were you wrong, or was the U.S. intelligence community giving you bad information?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: My statements tracked with what we were getting from the intelligence community. If you look at the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION and my statements, they track almost perfectly through that period of time. I think it's important here to distinguish between stockpiles and capability --
Q Because they found no stockpiles.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: They have not yet found stockpiles.
Q Do you think they still might?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Don't know. They've still got a lot of work to do before we can say we've been through all the documents and we've interviewed all of the detainees, and we've looked in all the corners of an area as big as California, before we'll be able to say there's nothing there.
The Iraqi Survey Group will be at work there probably for a couple more years before we'll be able to completely resolve all those outstanding questions. But we do know he had capability. David Kay said he had capability. David Kay said he was capable of producing biological weapons in relatively short order. He had the technology; he had the technical experts to do it; he had the basic raw materials, the labs, whatever he needed to produce biological weapons.
He had a nuclear program that had been robust back in the early '90s, remember when you and I were at the Pentagon --
Q But that was before the first Gulf War.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That was before the first Gulf War, and there was evidence that he had, according to the Agency, the reporting we got before this go-round, and the NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE was that he had, in fact, reconstituted his nuclear --
Q Let's cut to the chase -- sorry about that -- do you have confidence in George Tenet as the CIA Director?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I do.
Q Did you go over to the CIA before the war and try to influence U.S. intelligence analysts, as the accusation has been made against you that you were pressuring them to come up with an assessment that you liked, and that you ignored conclusions that you didn't like?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. That's absolutely not true, Wolf. And there's testimony from David Kay, who has talked to dozens of their analysts; the Senate Intelligence Committee, that's interviewed a couple of hundred analysts from the CIA, that they've not one single individual who felt that they were in any way coerced with respect to their findings.
My job is to go ask tough questions, and I do. I do that regularly and frequently -- either have analysts come in and visit with me on a subject, or I've been out there many, many times to pursue various and -- important topics. If you're going to advise the President of the United States, as the intelligence community does, on these important issues that can affect matters of life and death, you have to be prepared to answer tough questions. And they are. I find that most analysts respond very favorably to that. They want to explain why they believe what they believe.
So the notion that that should be a one-way flow, that the President should sit here and just receive input in, and never have any questions being asked back out, makes no sense at all. That would be a weak administration, a lousy way to run the operation.
Q The other criticism that the Democrats, a lot of Democrats are making against you involves your former company, Halliburton, which is now under criminal investigation by the Department of Defense for all sorts of potentially wrongdoing, sordid acts. And the charges you made millions of dollars working there and you're still getting, supposedly, deferred compensation from Halliburton -- is that true?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, what happened -- I did work there, but I severed my ties nearly four years ago when I ran for Vice President. Halliburton still owes me money, money that was set aside for my retirement out of my salary back in about 1999, pursuant to the Office of Government Ethics. What I've done is take out an insurance policy that will guarantee the payment of what Halliburton owes me, whether Halliburton succeeds or fails. If they go belly up tomorrow, it will not affect my financial status one iota.
So I've done everything -- I've gone farther than the rules require in terms of making certain I have no financial interest or stake in Halliburton. I don't today; I severed those ties back in 2000, and haven't had any interest since.
Q How much do they owe you?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's one more payment. I deferred half my salary to be paid out over a five-year period of time after I left the company, and there's one more -- one payment left.
Q Of what?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Of a hundred and some thousand dollars.
Q A hundred and some thousand dollars. All right, let's move on and talk about Haiti. This is a critical issue. The former President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, accusing the Bush administration of effectively orchestrating a coup against him. You're smiling, you're smirking.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I've dealt with Aristide before. When I was Secretary of Defense, we had a crisis involving Haiti. He left of his own free-will. He signed a resignation letter on his way out. He left with his security detail, on an aircraft we provided -- not a military aircraft, a civilian charter. Now I suppose he's trying to revise history. But the fact of the matter was he'd worn out his welcome with the Haitian people. He was democratically elected, but he never governed as a democrat. He was corrupt. He was in charge of many of the thugs that were committing crimes in Port-au-Prince shortly before he left.
The suggestion that somehow the United States arrested him or forcibly put him on an aircraft to get him to leave, that's simply not true.
Q So you're happy he's gone?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm happy he's gone. I think the Haitian people are better off for it. I think they now have an opportunity to elect a new government, and that's as it should be.
Q Alan Greenspan said in recent days that because of the huge budget deficit, $500 billion at least for the foreseeable future, if you want to keep those tax cuts that you pushed through Congress, you're going to have to start thinking of reducing Social Security benefits, for the baby boomers, future generations. Is he right?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I read his testimony in slightly different fashion. He talked about the current tax cuts that we've got in place; he's supportive of those, believes they ought to be made permanent, and talked specifically about those in terms of what they've done for the economy, and encouraging savings and investment and economic growth.
Separate and apart from that is the long-term problem we have in entitlements, particular on Social Security and Medicare. And those were the issues he was addressing -- the long-term that will kick in five, 10 years down the road, as we have more and more people retired and fewer and fewer people actually working to support those retirees.
Q A very sensitive issue, the President now calling for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. In the 2000 debate against Joe Lieberman, you said you thought this should be regulated by states. You said, "I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that's appropriate. I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area." Do you still believe that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I restated my position previously. The President has made a decision, partly because of what's happening in Massachusetts and San Francisco, that the administration will support a constitutional amendment. And that's his decision to make.
Q And do you support it?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I support the President.
Q I don't hear you say you believe there --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I support the President.
Q -- should be a constitutional --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Wolf, my deal with the President is that I get to advise him on the issues of the day. I never discuss the advice I provide him with anybody else. That's always private. He makes the decisions, he sets policy for the administration. And I support him and the administration.
Q The Vice Presidential running mate, the slot -- is there any doubt, whatsoever, that you will be on the ticket with the President?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Not in my mind. He's asked me to serve again and I've said I'd be happy to do that. And I think that will be the ticket in 2004.
Q How do you feel?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Very good.
Q Everything all right?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Everything is great.
Q Thanks, Mr. Vice President.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Wolf. Good to see you again.
END 10:54 A.M. EST