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Interview with Senator Charles Schumer

Interview with Senator Charles Schumer

By John King, USA - May 3, 2011

KING: Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash, Dana thank you. Now every American had a stake in the hunt for bin Laden, but it is fair to say I think for some it was more personal. For some those hardest hit by 9/11 like the families of those who worked at the Pentagon or at the World Trade Center.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is with us now live from Capitol Hill. Senator let me start with where we just left off with Dana Bash there. Good evening, sir. In your view, should the photos be released?

SEN CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Well I think there are good arguments on both sides on this one. Obviously, if you release the photos, it helps establish that he's gone. There is the issue of martyrdom and what the photos would look like. So I think on this -- look, the administration has handled this so, so well. I'd leave it up to them.

KING: You'd leave it up to them. Did you learn anything in the classified briefing today? I know you can't share classified secrets, but any highlights --

SCHUMER: No, I can't.

KING: -- broad-brush you can give us --

SCHUMER: No, it's just -- I can tell you in general, the exquisiteness with which the basic background was done, the training was done, and the raid was carried out was just incredible. You marvel at how good our military is and how good our -- you know these sort of unsung hero, the CIA. And Leon Panetta, now, in full disclosure, he was my roommate for 11 years when we were in the House. What a guy. He is just an incredible guy and our nation is lucky to have him in positions of importance.

KING: One of the things that lucky guy, you say Leon Panetta, who has got a tough job. I'm sure he feels lucky some days, not so lucky other days, Senator. He told this to "TIME" magazine today and this came up in the briefing with Congress I'm sure. It was -- quote, "it was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission. They might alert the targets."

Senator, they're supposed to be a partner in the war on terrorism or whatever we want to call it tonight. If the CIA is afraid to tell the Pakistanis about an operation like this, can you call them a partner?

SCHUMER: Well, they're half a partner. The problem with Pakistan, the country, the military, the ISI, their intelligence services, they're divided. We have some very good allies and some very good friends in Pakistan and in the Pakistani government and Army. We also have some people who are anti-American and sympathizers with the Taliban and perhaps even al Qaeda. And that's why it's such a difficult situation. Hopefully the killing of bin Laden will strengthen those who are on our side and weaken those who are against.

But it's not a secret that the military in Pakistan and the ISI are sort of filled with people who are not reliable in security. Most of them believe that Pakistan's greatest enemy is India. They're fighting a war that's 40 years too old. They should realize that the terrorists in their northwest and in Afghanistan, the Taliban are their greatest enemy and the enemy to a growing and prosperous and free Pakistan. But they're stuck in the past. I guess it's a lot easier to hate India than deal with these new problems.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHUMER: But they're a lot of them like that.

KING: Are they just stuck in the past or maybe can you make the case that their head is stuck in the sand. And it's often said of President Karzai in neighboring Afghanistan that he just doesn't get it. That he likes to blame others. That he won't confront his own problems.

I want to read to you a bit President Zardari of Pakistan wrote this op-ed in "The Washington Post" today and he says this. "Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism or worse. Yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we were pursuing. Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn't reflect fact." Am I the problem, Senator, or is President Zardari the problem?

SCHUMER: Well I think the president sort of (INAUDIBLE). Clearly you know the Pakistanis they protect the Haqqani network, which is a terrorist network. They truck around with a lot of unsavory people. But of course in that part of the world, that's not unusual. I think the problem is that what they don't see is the greatest threat to Pakistan are the rebels, are the Taliban and that's pretty objective.

So these people, I guess, you're right, John, their heads are in the sand. And let me -- this is a prediction. The greatest foreign policy problem America will have in the next decade is going to be Pakistan. It is nuclear. It is poor. It is ethnically divided and it has never had a coherent policy or even a very strong leader.

KING: Senator, you were in New York when President George W. Bush went to ground zero in the days after 9/11. It was a very emotional moment. You remember him standing on the pile of the rubble and saying, I hear you and we will get them. You were right there with the president. The current president of the United States is going to go up on Thursday to see some 9/11 families. What would you like to hear him say, President Obama say?

SCHUMER: Well I -- look, I was 10 feet away from George Bush when he piled on the rubble, and I can tell you, you know there was some speculation that, oh, this was staged. It was as spontaneous as it comes and that's what gave it its power, huge power. There was the smell of death in the air. We were all shocked and here is George Bush addressing the country and the people who were -- who had all suffered and at that point were probably just not certain where their loved ones were, that they thought some of them might be alive.

I'd like to hear President Obama. I'm so glad he's going to New York. I believe I'll be going up there as well. And I'd just like him to talk to the families about what has done and talk to America about this war on terror and how we're getting better and better and better at conducting it. We're safer and safer and safer, but we can't let up. And I think -- I mean, he was eloquent on TV Sunday night. And I think we'll hear the same eloquence on Thursday.

KING: We're watching live pictures of ground zero as we end this conversation. Senator quickly in closing, you gave great credit to Leon Panetta and I hope all Americans gives great credit to Leon Panetta and the men and women of the CIA, the men and women of the Navy SEALs and the United States military. This trail did begin; they finally started to follow this trail of the couriers back in the Bush administration. Do they deserve some of the credit?

SCHUMER: Oh, absolutely. Look, both presidents get credit and I think that even though the orders were given by Barack Obama, he had nerves of steel and did the right thing, the beginnings of what happened were laid by George Bush, and he deserves a heck of a lot of credit, too. I think the two of them, if they talked on the phone on this one would both be generous in spirit and share the credit with the other.

KING: I think it's a good time to have a little generosity of spirit. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, Senator, appreciate your time tonight. We'll keep in touch as you head back to New York.

SCHUMER: Thanks John.

KING: Thank you, sir.

 

John King, USA

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