April 8, 2004 | Broadcast

The Today Show

Good morning to both of you.

Mr. NEWT GINGRICH (Former Speaker of the House): Morning.

Ms. DEE DEE MYERS (NBC News Analyst): Good morning, Katie.

COURIC: Now let me start with Newt, if I could, since you’re sitting here next to me for a change. Nice to see you. What–you know, with all this breathless coverage leading up to Condoleezza Rice’s testimony, what’s really at stake here for the Bush administration in your view?

Mr. GINGRICH: Well, I think Dr. Rice has to offer a convincing case to the American people that they were looking at al-Qaeda and they were looking terrorism in a very serious way. I don’t think she can come in and say it was our first priority. I think that would be disingenuous. But they clearly were trying to upgrade what they were doing in central Asia. They were clearly developing a plan to go after al-Qaeda and Taliban and try to change Afghanistan. I think she just has to be clear and coherent and make her case.

COURIC: Why do you see–say that’s so clear that they were clearly doing this? What evidence do you have?

Mr. GINGRICH: She–well, I know at the time they were doing it, because I was involved as part of the defense policy board, but–so I think all she has to do is lay out, ‘Here’s what we inherited. Here’s what we were doing.’ The truth is that neither administration made this their all-out number one goal, and Dick Clarke himself admitted that in his testimony. They–so I–I think we have to–we have to look at what’s the past and how does it teach us about the future? And I–my sense is the commission, partly because of what’s happening in Iraq right now, is likely to take a patriotic rather than partisan viewpoint and likely to try to really, in a very serious-minded way, find out how could we do this better in the future and what lesson should we learn from this event?

COURIC: Dee Dee, what kind of impact do you think this will have on the election in November, if any?

Ms. MYERS: Well, I think that Dr. Rice will acquit herself well. We’ve seen her in many public settings. She’s always extremely prepared and extremely articulate. And I think Speaker Gingrich is right, that, you know, she’s not going to go in there and try to say this was their top priority, but she is going to argue they had a strategy. So I think in that specific context it’s not going to have a huge impact. I think the backdrop for all this, of course, is what’s going on in Iraq. And I think the commission may bore in a little bit on was the administration obsessed with Iraq prior to 9/11? Did that affect their decision-making, and did it get us into a situation now that’s very, very difficult to get out of? Was the president sort of looking off the ball at this point?

COURIC: And, in fact, Newt, what kind of impact will the increased violence in Iraq have on these hearings in your view?

Mr. GINGRICH: I think they make the hearings much more serious, and they remind us how much is at stake. I think any time you have young Americans dying, you have a sense of focusing the attention–and I think it makes a little less partisan and makes people more serious. I mean, most of the people–I know most of the members of the commission, and these are very serious people. And they are in pain this morning watching the TV news and reading the newspaper because they know the young Americans are risking their lives for this country. And I think they’re going to try to rise to that same level of serving the country when they do the commission report.

COURIC: Dee Dee, even though Dr. Rice is testifying today, for many weeks the White House refused to put her out publicly under oath, despite the fact that she had testified–rather, been–had been interviewed for four hours privately. How much damage has already been done by–by the Bush administration’s position on this and invoking executive privilege?

Mr. MYERS: I think some damage was done. I think the White House recognized that, and that’s why they decided to reverse course last week. As a–as a veteran of similar–some similar types of situations, transparency almost always wins out over secrecy, particularly when politics gets involved. In other words, the Bush administration started to look like they had something to hide about this, and I think they put that behind them. I don’t think that debate is going to have much impact going forward. But I think, certainly, the backdrop, again, of what’s happening on the ground in Iraq creates a very difficult situation for both candidates. President Bush has to come forward at some point in the near future and explain what his plan is in Iraq. How is he going to unite this fractured country? How is he going to move forward. Just who exactly are we going to turn power over to in 80 some odd days and then what do we mean by victory? How do we define victory, achieve that and get out? And because we’re there, John Kerry has a similar challenge which he’s going to have to answer the same kinds of questions with dramatically less resources…

COURIC: Mm-hmm.

Ms. MYERS: …than the White House and the administration have.

COURIC: So we’re talking about two political fronts, if you will: the 9/11 commission and president Bush and his position on Iraq and what will happen in the future. Before we talk about, briefly, what the Bush administration, in your view, needs to do vis-a-vis Iraq, were you surprised about the invocation of executive privilege, particularly given the news that in 1945, Chief of Staff Lehey testified before the commission investigating Pearl Harbor?

Mr. GINGRICH: No, no. This…

COURIC: You’re a student of history.

Mr. GINGRICH: …this administration came in with a very strong belief in the executive branch’s authority, and a very strong belief in the president’s right to have executive privilege. I think they were wrong and–and the Hart-Rudman Commission, we–we recommended strongly that if the national security adviser is going to be a public figure, show up on television and make speeches, by definition they become too important to hide. And I think that’s something down the road we’ll come back to again. I think the president did the right thing, and I think Dee Dee’s exactly right. The president, in the end, couldn’t use executive privilege while she was on the TV shows.

COURIC: We only have a few seconds left, but what does President Bush need to do to convince people–Americans, that it’s proper and right for US forces to stay in Iraq?

Mr. GINGRICH: I think the president has to indicate this is the decisive battle about whether or not we can beat people–Sadr, for example, is a man who one–should be arrested for potentially having killed a Shia cleric. And the question is very straightforward: Do we have the will and the determination to help the decent Iraqis organize and run their country? The overwhelming majority of Iraqis don’t belong to the Fallujah faction and they don’t belong to the Sadr faction and yet there’s a danger that the thugs and the murderers and the bullies and the rapists will take over again. The United States and its allies are all that stand between those decent people and that kind of a future.

COURIC: Newt Gingrich, Dee Dee Myers, thank you both.

Mr. GINGRICH: Thank you.