July 29, 2003 | Broadcast

Hardball with Chris Matthews

MATTHEWS: The HARDBALL debate tonight: Was the Saudi government somehow involved in 9/11? Twenty-eight pages of the congressional report on 9/11 is devoted to the Saudi connection but the Bush administration has refused to declassify that section for national security reasons, they say.

The Saudi foreign minister met with President Bush at the White House earlier today to press him to release the material to the public.


SAUD AL-FAISAL, SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER: We have nothing to hide. And we do not seek, nor do we need to be shielded. We believe that releasing the missing 28 pages will allow us to respond to any allegations in a clear and credible manner.


MATTHEWS: But President Bush said declassifying those pages would compromise our efforts in the war on terrorism.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It makes no sense to declassify when we’ve got an ongoing investigation that could jeopardize that investigation and it makes no sense to declassify if — during the war on terror, because it would help the enemy if they knew our sources and methods.


MATTHEWS: Andrea Mitchell is NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent.

Andrea, the bottom line is the theory is here that the Bush administration may be helping the Saudis in a way that’s hurting the Saudis by making them look guilty.

What’s the story?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I just came from a meeting with Prince Saud. He did an interview with NBC and with a group of print reporters.

And he revealed that Condoleezza Rice had asked him, during their meeting, after the Oval Office meeting, to turn over Omar Al-Bayoumi, who is one of the Saudis suspected of helping two of the hijackers.

Now this case had been closed, according to the FBI. The U.S., Great Britain and the Saudis had all interviewed this man, and he has been living in Saudi Arabia since 9/11, since returning back to the kingdom and has not been the subject of any extradition requests or anything else.

So today, after all this pressure, Condoleezza Rice at the highest levels of the U.S. government asked the Saudi foreign minister to turn him over for questioning, not to have him sent here, as we understand it, at least, from the Saudi side, but to turn him over for questioning and he said that they will make him available to the FBI and CIA in Saudi Arabia.

A very interesting development, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, it seems like the — without taking sides in this dispute, it seems like the Saudi Arabian government is doing everything it can to show that it’s got nothing in its hands. It’s basically holding out its hands and saying, “Frisk us if you want, we’ve got nothing to hide.”

MITCHELL: Exactly. Whether or not they had anything to do with 9/11 — and there’s plenty of evidence that there were at least unwitting Saudi involvement. After all, 15 of the 19 hijackers were.

But there hasn’t been any hard evidence of a direct connection prior to 9/11 with the government of Saudi Arabia.

Now this man, Al-Bayoumi, did have a government position, according to many reports, but Prince Saud tells me he did not have any connection to the government, was not an agent or otherwise employed by the Saudi government.

MATTHEWS: The Bush family has a long relation of…

MITCHELL: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: … warm relations with the Saudi family. It’s almost like dueling or friendly dynasties, the Bushes and the Saudi royal family.

Are they being too kind and hurting them by trying to cover for them when the Saudis don’t want to be covered for?

MITCHELL: Well, there’s so many layers of reality here, but that is exactly what the Saudis are saying, “Don’t help us. Don’t cover this up, because we have nothing to hide. We don’t know what’s in that 28 pages, but what people are imagining is in those 28 pages or reporting has got to be worse than the reality of what’s in there.”

And, in fact, in the preamble to the 28 pages, as the Saudis point out, it does say that there is no verified evidence, that a lot of the information there is rumor — what he called “rument” — it’s the kind of information that has not been solidly verified by the FBI or the CIA.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, Andrea Mitchell, for helping us tonight.

MITCHELL: You bet.

MATTHEWS: Steven Schwartz is author of the book “The Two Faces of Islam” and Samer Shehata is an associate — actually an assistant professor of Arab politics at the Georgetown University.

Samer, let me ask you about this debate here. Who is covering up?

SAMER SHEHATA, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: I don’t think the Saudis are covering up, certainly. I would think that the Bush — if anyone is covering up, I would think it’s the Bush administration.

MATTHEWS: Do they have something to hide about themselves or simply about our allies, the Saudis? What would be the motive to cover up, redact 28 pages of documents?

SHEHATA: Well, it might have been just policy. But it might indicate there was significant bungling on the part of the FBI or the CIA, and it also might show that the Bush administration messed up.

It should have known certain things were going on before 9/11. It should have taken action that it didn’t take, and it would look badly.

But I don’t think that the Saudis are trying to hide anything. I think it’s, in fact, extraordinary for them to say, you know, declassify this and let’s see what’s going on.

MATTHEWS: Is Saudi Arabia our ally?

SHEHATA: Saudi Arabia is our ally.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let’s go to Stephen Schwartz. Is Saudi Arabia our ally?



SCHWARTZ: They’re our rival for power and influence in the Islamic world.

MATTHEWS: Are they on our side in the war against terrorism?

SCHWARTZ: I don’t believe that they are. I think that they’re playing the same two-faced game they’ve played since the emergence of Wahabiism, which is to get us to protect them while they prepare for and carry out the Jihad against the world.

MATTHEWS: Explain how that works with regard to these 28 pages?

SCHWARTZ: Well, you know, I’d be very impressed with the so-called candor of Prince Saud Al-Faisal if it had been in September of 2001 instead of being at the end of July 2003.

I mean, I think that they know — What I’m hearing is that there’s nothing in the 28 pages that’s new. That the 28 pages talks about the involvement of the charities, the Saudi state charities, the Islamic charities and terrorism, this is all stuff we already know.

They know that it’s stuff we already know. They know that once it’s released, there will really be nothing new there. And so they’re playing this game where it’s a kind of bluffing game, not bluffing game. It’s hard to say, really, how to describe it, but I don’t think that they have anything to worry about because I think everything that’s in the 28 pages has already been closed.

MATTHEWS: So they want transparency?

SCHWARTZ: They don’t want transparency. They want to keep shuffling, backing and filling and playing a game.

The last thing they want is transparency. The last thing they want to do is admit that Al-Bayoumi, the guy who we’ve asked to question, was an employee of the Saudi civil aviation authority. The one agency in the whole government that if any agency would have known how to carry out an attack like 9/11, it would have been that agency.

MATTHEWS: Why would the Bush family, that cares about this country, be in bed with somebody who’s out to get this country?

SCHWARTZ: I think the bottom line about all this is this is a unique case in American history. We’ve never had a relationship with any other country like Saudi Arabia. We’re on difficult ground. It’s a challenging situation, and they really just don’t know what to do, and they’re taking it one step at a time and not very well.

MATTHEWS: So what’s the debate about, Samer?

SHEHATA: Well, the debate today, it’s not clear what it’s about. But I think that…

MATTHEWS: Where do you disagree with Stephen?

SHEHATA: I think that…

MATTHEWS: Tell him why you disagree with him.

SHEHATA: I don’t know if I do disagree with him on this issue. I’m sure on many others.

MATTHEWS: He thinks the Saudis are our enemies and you think they’re our friends.

SCHWARTZ: No, no. Rivals, rivals. Not enemies.

SHEHATA: Well, I don’t think anyone is the rival of the United States. And I think that the Saudi regime, certainly the royal family is the ally of the United States, and they have been the ally of the United States for quite some time.

Are there elements in Saudi Arabia who want to inflict harm on Americans? Certainly.

MATTHEWS: How do you explain the financial — how do you explain the financial money getting to the terrorists out of the coffers of the royal family?

SHEHATA: There were some very loose laws before 9/11 about charitable donations and what that money went to.

But it is the case — I think that you’ll agree — that since 9/11 the Saudis have really done a huge amount in terms of getting on top of charities, limiting money flows, arresting people.

I am a critic of the Saudi government. I think that they need to move more in terms of liberalization, in terms of transparency, in terms of political participation and so forth. But I think one has to positively engage with the Saudis. One has to encourage them to move in that direction and not to kind of, you know, name call or…

SCHWARTZ: If it were September 2001 and we were having this conversation, all of that would be correct. It’s not. It’s July 2003. Everything the Saudis have said they have done is essentially camouflage and masquerade.

MATTHEWS: OK. This is an interesting debate because we need that oil.

Anyway, thank you Stephen Schwartz, thank you Samer Shehata. And tomorrow, we’ll be hearing from a member of the Saudi government, Adel Al-Jubeir. He’s been here before. He’ll be back. He’s a senior Saudi advisor. One of the top Saudis in the country. We’ll be back with that.