BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Lee Hamilton, back in 1948, you won something called the Trester Award. Do you remember it?
LEE HAMILTON, FORMER VICE CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: Oh, sure. It‘s an honor given to an Indiana high school basketball player both for athletic skills, for scholarship, and you guess good citizenship. It was the most cherished award in the State of Indiana for a good many years, probably still is.
LAMB: Well as somebody who grew up in Indiana, I can remember the Trester Award like it was yesterday and it was a big deal. But it had something to do with mental attitude. Can you explain that because I want to lead that into what you‘ve done in your life?
HAMILTON: Well, I think it was an award given for the general posture or attitude that an athlete brought to the game. Was it a sportsman-like approach, was it vigorous competition, robust competition? It was not just a evaluation of your skills as a player your athletic skills but more than that what you contributed to the sport.
LAMB: So what year did you get it?
LAMB: I mean what year of your life as
HAMILTON: Senior year. I was 15 or 16 years of age.
LAMB: What did it what impact did it have on you?
HAMILTON: Well, Brian, I got it under unusual circumstances. I had been injured in the afternoon game, tore a cartilage in my knee. The orthopedic surgeon worked on it between the games, got it back into place. And in the final game, the state championship game, I played just for a few minutes and ripped it out again. So I spent the entire game deep in the bowels of the Butler Field House in Indianapolis on a kind of a surgical table trying to get that thing fixed again and we were not able to do it. So I didn‘t get to play the final game.
LAMB: Let me jump from that experience in your life all the way to the creation of the 9/11 Commission. People probably forget that there were two other people going to lead that at one point ...
HAMILTON: That‘s right.
Henry Kissinger for the Republican and George Mitchell for the Democratic side. What happened?
HAMILTON: Well, Tom Kean and I, as you suggest, were second choices. The what happened was that in both cases Dr. Kissinger and Senator Mitchell, they had conflicts of interest that did not permit them to take over the leadership of the 9/11 Commission. They‘re two outstanding Americans, of course. I think they‘d have done a marvelous job but as it turned out they did not feel they could do it.
LAMB: When did you first get questioned as to whether or not you would do it?
HAMILTON: Well, I was asked by the Senate Minority Leader at the time, Tom Daschle, who was the he may have been the Majority Leader at the time to serve on the Commission, not as chairman but to serve on the Commission. I said I would do so.
Then subsequently Senator Mitchell said he had to decline and Senator Daschle called me up and said, "Would you be the chairman?" And I said, "What are you getting me into here." And but it was such a major responsibility I felt like I should accept it.
LAMB: How did you and Tom Kean keep it non-partisan five Democrats, five Republicans?
HAMILTON: Well, it wasn‘t easy. All members of the Commission were strongly identified with the political party of their choice. We began by saying, "OK, we‘ve got to get to know one another and not as a Democrat or a Republican but as people." And so we put a heavy emphasis initially not on the substance but on social events, the amenities.
Then when we began our work we made it clear that Tom and I were not going to tolerate strong partisanship, that we wanted to emphasize the facts. It‘s amazing how much time in this town you spend arguing about the facts. Facts are not ideological, facts are not Republican and they‘re not Democrat.
So we said, "OK, let‘s ask the staff again and again what the facts are." If you can agree on the facts then making recommendations from those facts becomes not easy but somewhat easier. So we put a strong emphasis on the facts.
And we just spent hours, and hours, and hours talking. There may be another way to develop a consensus other than talking but I don‘t know what it is. And Tom, who is a marvelous leader and a very patient man, let us talk, sometimes until two, three, 4:00 in the morning. And we kept at it and kept at it and gradually we began to see things the same way.
LAMB: Anybody ever going to write the behind-the-scenes story of the 9/11 Commission?
HAMILTON: Well, we‘ve
LAMB: Is there a story to write?
already done it. Tom and I have written a book. It‘s completed now and it‘s sent to the publisher and it will come out I think in the spring or maybe the summer.
LAMB: What‘s one thing in that book that will surprise us?
HAMILTON: I don‘t know that anything will surprise us. We‘re not writing an exposé of any kind here. We‘re really addressing the question you put to me a minute ago, how did you reach unanimity of view? What were the process that we followed? What were the obstacles we had to overcome? And we spell all of that out in the book. I don‘t think there‘s anything startling that‘s going to knock your socks off when you read it.
LAMB: Was there ever a point where you weren‘t going to keep the whole group together?
HAMILTON: Oh, yes. There‘s several nights I remember driving home from downtown Washington two or 3:00 in the morning saying to myself, "We‘re not going to be able to come together on this." And but we kept trying and we eventually did come together. It took a lot of effort, lot of persistence, and a lot of patience to try to build consensus and constant dialog back and forth between and among the members, not all of which took place in the meetings. There were a lot of private meetings on the side among commissioners.
And on several occasions Tom and I just turned to two commissioners and say, "work it out," and they did.
LAMB: Go back to the Trester Award, mental attitude was the reason you got that award back in 1948. What is your how do you how do you approach all this? What 34 years in Congress, what‘s your mental attitude most of the time about how to solve problems?
HAMILTON: I guess my mental attitude is that this is a very tough country to govern and people do not always appreciate how tough it is. When I was in high school back in 1948 we had 130 million people as I recall, in the country. Today I don‘t know the exact figure but it‘s right at 300 million.
But not only that, the country has become exceedingly diverse in its make up. And keeping this country, keeping it from coming apart at the seams, is a lot harder than most people think.
So my approach has I‘ve tried to have the approach of OK, how do we bring people together here. Anybody can walk into a room when you‘re talking about a controversial topic and blow it apart. That‘s easy. I‘m afraid I may have done it myself on occasion. What is really hard and what is, I think, the key ingredient is a political skill that brings people together. And that‘s the skill that is desperately needed in politics in America today because governing this big, complicated country is tough work.
And consensus building is, in my judgment at least, the most important political skill to have, bring people together.
LAMB: Back in 1999 you served on something called the Hart-Rudman Commission they gave it a bigger name. It was Gary Hart and Warren Rudman.
Here‘s some language from that report from September 15th of 1999.
"The evidence suggests that threats to American security will be more diffuse, harder to anticipate, and more difficult to neutralize than ever before. Deterrence will not work as it once did. In many cases it may not work at all."
And when I read that my reaction was why do to all the trouble you‘re going to if deterrence doesn‘t work?
HAMILTON: Well, we wanted people to understand that you‘re confronted with a different kind of a threat. It‘s not a threat of Soviet missiles flying at you. It is a threat of a handful of people plotting and planning against you who may use all kinds of asymmetrical means. Not big bombs necessarily but plotting to blow up a train in a tunnel or fly an airplane perhaps we didn‘t think of that specifically at the time into a tower.
And so we did not think the traditional threat of wiping people out with a nuclear bomb would work. If you how do you deter a suicide bomber with a nuclear weapon? And if you‘re attacked by a terrorist bomb who are you going to attack with a nuclear weapon in return, in retaliation?
Well to ask the question is to recognize, I think, that traditional deterrents, the threat of retaliation, massive retaliation, won‘t work.
LAMB: Also in that report U.S. intelligence will face more challenging adversaries and even excellence intelligent intelligence will not prevent all surprises. You served on the Intelligence Committee and chairman and re-ranking (ph) I assume for a while. For how long?
HAMILTON: I was on the Intelligence Committee for six years. Well, the point here is that I guess there‘s two points. One is people over estimate intelligence. They think that intelligence can answer all the questions. I have a lot of respect for our intelligence capabilities but it‘s not that good. There are limitations to intelligence and people have to understand those limitations.
And secondly, here when you‘re talking about a terrorist threat what you‘re really talking about is penetrating a very small of men who speak a different kind of language, who have a very different culture, different religion, who are very clannish, who reject outsiders of any kind of description. And penetrating that target, that intelligence target is very hard work. Probably the toughest target you have in intelligence.
LAMB: So was the president right to not go to the Foreign Intelligence Court and to use the NSA to go to that core?
HAMILTON: Well, let me give that this way, first, I think at this point in time I just have a lot of questions in my mind about NSA surveillance, about national security letters. I don‘t know the answers to them. How often are we using these devices? How many people are involved? Who gets the information? What do they do with it once they get it? How do they widely do they disseminate it? How intrusive is it into the lives of people?
In other words, I look at all these news stories today and I say to myself well I‘ve got a hundred questions about that. I‘d like to know before I make final judgments about it. That‘s one reaction I have.
Number two, and this may go more directly to your question, I‘m a man of the legislative branch. I believe quite deeply in separation of powers and co-equal branches of government. I do not like the concentration of power in any one person, even a president. And I do not think any one person in our government, even a president, should be able to act without checks and balances of an independent source.
And so I am concerned about some of these things I have read about the kind of unilateral way in which they were formed and apparently implemented, and the lack of independent, aggressive, robust oversight over the actions.
LAMB: What are you instincts on why the president didn‘t go to the FISA Court in advance?
HAMILTON: Well, I think that look, these are tough questions. The president sees a threat out here. It‘s a serious threat and it‘s a kind of a unique threat which we talked about a moment ago. And he‘s worried about the Congress, the possibility of leaks of all kinds and descriptions and the fact that that might undermine the effectiveness of what he might do. So he‘s got a point of view here that people have to understand.
Now having said that, I still think if there had been the right kind of relationship between the President and the Congress that this balance between security on the one hand and liberty on the other can be worked out even with very difficult circumstances. But I don‘t see this. I hope I don‘t see it as totally from the congressional side or totally from the executive side. It‘s a tough problem.
LAMB: How often has the president called you or Tom Kean, either separately or together, into the Oval office or into the family quarters to say just tell me what you‘ve been observing?
HAMILTON: No, he hasn‘t done that. He‘s been very good to us. He‘s met with us several times in the course of the investigation of the 9/11 Commission. He made himself available to all 10 commissioners. Initially wanted to talk just to Tom and me but we insisted that he talk to all 10, gave us an entire morning as I recall, answered questions in a very leisurely way.
When we completed our report Tom and I went in to see him. We gave him a summary of the report. He was very gracious about it.
His administration, by and large, I think cooperated with us at every step. Sometimes we had some hassles over the availability or access to certain kinds of documents, but at the end of the day the Commission got what it wanted. And we felt like we had sufficient access to make the judgments we had to make.
LAMB: If he did call you doesn‘t matter what (INAUDIBLE) word is and said I want just had a chat with him and he said to you, tell me in plain English what I should do, what would you tell him?
HAMILTON: I‘d say, Mr. President, you‘ve got to make homeland security a much more urgent priority in your administration. We‘ve got several wars going on. You‘ve got a war in Iraq. You‘ve got a war in Afghanistan. You‘ve got a war against terror. Part of that war against terror is protecting the homeland.
A number of good steps have been taken. You created a new intelligence structure. You created a new Department of Homeland Security. You put a lot more money into airline passenger security. You tried to reform the FBI. A lot of things have been done, laws have been passed, but laws are not self-executing they need to be implemented.
And what the president and I‘d say the same thing to the Congress need to do is look, you don‘t have any higher responsibility, none, than protecting the safety of the American people. And although some good steps have been taken, there are an awful lot of things that have been done.
And as Katrina and other things have indicated, we‘re not nearly as well prepared as we ought to be here at home. We‘re not protecting everything we ought to protect, we‘re not protecting against different kinds of terrorist tactics that may strike us, and we just have to elevate the priority and the urgency of homeland security.
LAMB: Again, he says to give me three things that you want me to do right now. I mean he has the power of the president, pick up the phone, what three things would you want him to do right now that would make it a more secure nation?
HAMILTON: Well, at the top of the list I would clearly put the threat from nuclear weapons. That is not the most likely terrorist scenario but the consequences are so unimaginable that I would put it at the top.
We said in the report that if a bomb, nuclear weapon, went off in Grand Central Station you‘d have 500,000 deaths. Well that‘s beyond imagination. We lost 3,000 in 9/11 and think of the trauma that impacted the country with.
So I would say nuclear weapons, threat of the terrorists getting them is the number one priority.
LAMB: But what would you do about it?
HAMILTON: I‘d put more resources into it. I‘d put more people into it. We‘re spending about a billion dollars a year, I would spend $3 billion a year on it. I would put a far greater effort to secure nuclear materials. I would put a much stronger effort to develop detection equipment forthwith, immediately, urgently, to put at our borders to stop these nuclear materials from coming into the country.
LAMB: Not enough now, there‘s not enough
HAMILTON: No, absolutely not. We‘re not doing enough to detect this kind of material coming into the country. We know where most of this material is. This is a manageable kind of a problem. Most of it is in the old Soviet Union. We have a program in place. It has had modest success. But we have to accelerate it greatly.
HAMILTON: Well, secondly I think there are a number of different things that need to be done. You need to allocate funding on the basis of risk not on the basis of politics. I think that‘s underway and it‘s been slow in coming in my view but I think it‘s coming along.
LAMB: What evidence do you have?
HAMILTON: Well, Secretary Chertoff said just this week that he‘s beginning to make the hard choices and allocate the money on the basis of risk. That‘s right. The Congress needs to put that into law, incidentally.
You need to allocate the radio spectrums so the first responder can talk to one another. Four years after 9/11 and we still have not figured out how first responders can talk to one another at the scene of a disaster. That‘s very close to being irresponsible.
LAMB: Who is responsible for that?
I mean, again, the president said the president can pick up the phone and call somebody and say solve this problem now.
HAMILTON: I think it‘s solvable. There are technical aspects to it. I think to overcome what it really takes is political will. There‘s opposition to this. The radio spectrum is a very valuable piece of property. You know that, you‘re in the communication business.
But this is a no-brainer from the standpoint of homeland security. These first responders have to be able to talk to one another.
Now we‘re going to get this done. The problem from our standpoint is that it probably will not be required that a part of the spectrum be set aside until 2008, maybe later.
LAMB: Until the spectrum comes back from the television industry?
HAMILTON: Yes, until we get more cooperation from the broadcasters and from many others who are involved here.
But if we were to have an accident today, a terrorist accident today, we would be kicking ourselves all over the country for not enabling first responders to be able to talk to one another. They could not do it at Katrina.
LAMB: If it‘s that important and I noticed that throughout your reports you always mention it
why isn‘t anything being done about it?
HAMILTON: I think things are being done about it. It‘s just moving
HAMILTON: In the Congress. It‘s moving slowly. The president is right on this issue. He supported allocation of the radio spectrum. But it, again, it‘s the urgency, the political will to get it done more promptly.
LAMB: Explain more what a first responder is and
HAMILTON: Well, a first responder is the firemen, policemen, the medical personnel that come to the scene of an accident.
LAMB: And you want them all to be able to talk to one another.
HAMILTON: Absolutely, this is just elementary. We lost lives on 9/11 because our first responders could not talk to one another. We lost lives in Katrina because they couldn‘t talk to one another.
Now another part that needs to be done is unified command. You have to have someone in charge when you have a disaster. This is a tough problem, incidentally, because I think it has to be worked out ahead of the disaster. I don‘t think you can do it after the disaster strikes and it‘s not an easy one for politicians to agree on.
But here again, it‘s a very simple requirement from the standpoint of the safety and security of people. When you have the chaos that you have at the scene of the disaster somebody there has to give the orders. Hundreds and hundreds of decisions have to be made in a matter of hours right after a disaster.
LAMB: What happens right now if the worst would happen right now that you a nuclear bomb is exploded in this country who would be in charge?
HAMILTON: Well, that depends on where it explodes but let‘s say in explodes in the middle of New York. They tell me that New York has made some progress on this question of communication of first responders and on the question of unified command.
But I must say to you that I have developed a little bit of skepticism about what people claim. It is easy to say we have done this or we have resolved this, or to give me a list as a commission member saying we‘ve done the following. I don‘t doubt people‘s good intentions. What I doubt is whether or not what they say can be effectively implemented.
The important thing is not what your plans are five years down the road. The important thing is what kind of capability you have in any agency today to respond to the disaster.
LAMB: Do you get any sense at all that there is a coordinated plan in this country if the worst were to happen?
HAMILTON: We didn‘t have it in Katrina. We‘re only a few months away from that so I suspect we don‘t have it.
LAMB: Anything else you would we‘ve got three there might as well give you another chance here. Anything else the president can do by being president, you know, to change things?
HAMILTON: Well, I think I‘ve hit upon probably the key things that come to mind immediately. But the president is head of the Executive branch. He‘s got a Department of Homeland Security here that everybody acknowledges is struggling. He has to make it very clear Mr. Secretary, I‘m fully behind you. You want to change make changes in that department I‘m going to support you. Tell me the amount of money you need. I‘m going to do my very best to get the money you need. Tell me the kind of people you need and I‘m going to help you.
He‘s got a director of National Intelligence over here. We‘re trying to reshape in a very fundamental way the intelligence structure.
LAMB: You‘re talking about John Negroponte.
HAMILTON: I‘m talking about John Negroponte.
LAMB: We haven‘t seen him.
HAMILTON: It‘s a new position.
LAMB: But we haven‘t seen him.
HAMILTON: Well, what I‘m saying in response to your question about the president, the president has to say, Mr. Negroponte, I‘m behind you all of the way. When you get into a clash between yourself and the DOD, or yourself and the CIA, and so forth, bring it to me, I‘ll resolve it because your function is critical.
Everybody‘s solution to the problem of terrorism is good intelligence because good intelligence will prevent an act of terrorism. So we have to put the president has to put a very, very high priority in getting our intelligence community functioning so that information is shared across the board in all 15 elements of the intelligence community.
LAMB: You spent 34 years in the U.S. Congress, did you ever want another elected job?
HAMILTON: No. I was very content in the House. I enjoyed the House. I felt I was making a contribution there and I did not seek a Senate seat nor did I seek higher office.
LAMB: How close did you come to ever wanting to seek a Senate seat?
HAMILTON: Not very close. When at the point I would have made the decision when I was a younger member of Congress we had two Democratic senators who were good friends of mine, Vance Harkey and Birch Bayh. And I did not want to challenge them. After one of them or both of them eventually were defeated I had been in the House long enough that I felt making the switch from House to Senate really was, in my case, a demotion.
LAMB: You were rumored at one point to be considered Bill Clinton‘s vice presidential candidate. Did that get did they talk to you about that?
HAMILTON: Oh, they did indeed.
LAMB: How long? How often?
HAMILTON: Quite often.
LAMB: What did you tell them?
HAMILTON: Someday, Brian, I‘ll tell the story. I don‘t think I should at this point.
LAMB: Did you want to be vice president?
LAMB: Did you ever want to be president?
LAMB: And why?
HAMILTON: Well, you know, you‘ve got to have the fire in the belly to be president. You‘ve got to be willing to go through an ordeal that is just extraordinary in terms of seeking the office. I never had that fire in the belly. I didn‘t want to make that kind of a sacrifice.
But there was another very fundamental weakness I had and that was money. I was never a very good money raiser, didn‘t like it, didn‘t do a very good job at it. And that‘s on a congressional race where you‘re talking about a million or $2 million. President, of course, you‘re talking many multiples of that.
LAMB: If you don‘t mind me asking, though, why do you want to wait for a later time to tell the story about the vice presidential thing?
HAMILTON: Well, there‘s a lot of personal aspects to it that I‘m not comfortable revealing at this point in time.
LAMB: Have you been married most of your life?
HAMILTON: I was married the answer is yes, I was married when I was 24-25.
HAMILTON: Still married same
LAMB: How many
HAMILTON: 50 let‘s see, 52.
LAMB: How many children?
LAMB: Where are they?
HAMILTON: I have a daughter in Indiana who‘s president of the Cummins Engine Foundation in Columbus, Indiana. I have another daughter in the Washington area who does a lot of basic work for Head Start programs across the country. I have a son who is in your business in television producing. He‘s an independent producer, bicoastal, lives in San Francisco and New York.
LAMB: We see you as a member you know, the vice chairman of the the co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission but you‘ve got two other worlds you live in, Woodrow Wilson and the Center for Congress at Indiana University. Explain both of those and where does the funding come from and things like that.
HAMILTON: Woodrow Wilson Center created by Congress 1968, get about 40 percent of its funding from the Congress and the president, 60 percent we raise privately. It‘s a living memorial to Woodrow Wilson. Woodrow Wilson was the only president of the United States that had a Ph.D. degree. He was also a lawyer but he didn‘t like practicing law.
He always believed that the scholar could learn from the politician, the politician from the scholar. That‘s what we‘re all about. We have about 150 scholars come into Washington during the course of a year, preeminent in their fields, marvelous academics, great teachers. And my job in a sense is to mix them with the policy world.
LAMB: Let me ask you before you leave the Woodrow Wilson Center, how much money does it cost to run it a year?
HAMILTON: Oh, about $16 million. It‘s a very modest operation by Washington standards. But we have over six 700 meetings a year, very lively discussions, intellectually very challenging. Largely on public policy issues but not exclusively.
LAMB: Who picked you to run the place?
HAMILTON: Well, they had a committee of people who picked me. The chairman at the time was a man by the name of Joe Flom, a lawyer in New York City. And he created a search committee.
I knew very little about the Wilson Center. And then they came to visit me soon after I announced that I was stepping down from the Congress.
LAMB: I found something on the Web that was interesting, I mean on your Web site. You have a Wilson I guess it‘s called an advisory committee of some kind advisory council
HAMILTON: Yes, we do.
and the chairman is Sam Donaldson.
HAMILTON: That‘s right.
LAMB: Explain I counted about 125 members of that. Who are they?
HAMILTON: Well, they are contributors and people interested in the welfare of the Center. They come from all over the country.
We raise a lot of money, first of all, from foundations that are interested in advanced research. We raise money from a lot of individuals who contribute, many of them on the Wilson council.
The place is actually run by a board of directors. The president appoints our board of directors. A number of the positions are ex-officials, secretary of state, secretary of HHS, librarian of Congress and a number of others. But the people I think even they acknowledge who do the real work are the private sector people.
And we have a chairman, Joe Gildenhorn, Ambassador Gildenhorn. He and his board have given marvelous direction to the Wilson Center.
LAMB: So how does Sam Donaldson get to be the chairman of your
HAMILTON: Well, Sam Donaldson
is a pretty well known name and very outgoing person who has had a great interest in the Center over a period of time. He just took over the council a few weeks ago got interested some years ago when I invited him to come down there to speak. We‘ve had him participate in programs. He‘s just taken over the Wilson Advisory Council job. He‘ll do an excellent job.
LAMB: And what does that council do?
HAMILTON: Well, they give us direction, guidance, they raise money, they keep informed about the activities of the Center and make all kinds of contributions, likewise the board.
LAMB: The Center for Congress at Indiana University
LAMB: And by the way, how much time do you spend with both places?
HAMILTON: Well, most of my time at the Wilson Center. A good bit of time even at the Center I spend on the Center on Congress.
When I was in the Congress I conducted, like every member of Congress, not hundreds but thousands of public meetings. And I was impressed over and over again how often I would find myself just explaining the role of the Congress in a representative democracy.
And when I left the Congress the president of Indiana University, then Myles Brand who now heads up the NCAA athletic group, came to me and said would you create a center on Congress at Indiana University? I hadn‘t really thought about it. I thought about it. I said yes, I would. And that‘s what we‘re doing.
It has a very simple purpose and the purpose is try to explain the role of the Congress to ordinary Americans. Not to newscasters like yourself, not to academics, not to practitioners, but to ordinary people. And we do that through all kinds of devices: radio, television, op-ed pieces, Web sites, and many, many other activities.
LAMB: Is a lot of your writings
on the Center
I do a lot.
LAMB: And I notice some of the headlines on it, "It‘s Time for the Public to Fund Congressional Travel," "Congress Needs to Invigorate its Ethics System Not Weaken It," "Broken Budget Process," "Congress Depends on Civility," "Congress and Individual Liberties," "A Balanced View of Congress," "The Money Chase," Jack Abramoff. What do you think that‘s going to do to the image of the Congress in the United States?
HAMILTON: It‘s going to hurt it and it‘s going to hurt it badly, and it‘s going to hurt both political parties, and it‘s distressing. It really for a fellow like myself it‘s very discouraging.
I am deeply concerned, deeply concerned, about the impact of money on the political process. I think to put it mildly it‘s disproportionate. Money buys influence, money buys excess, and money buys results in this political system of ours.
It‘s a tough question. Rich people as well as poor people have a right to lobby, they have a right to assert themselves with their representatives. What worries me here is that the impact of money has become so great on the system that it is distorting the system and it is threatening representative democracy.
If you increase the power of a certain group of people who have a lot of money you diminish the power of others who do not have it, do not have the access, do not have the influence. How far down that road can you go without threatening representative democracy itself? I worry about that.
I think money is in some way we‘ve got to find ways and means of curbing the influence of money on the process.
LAMB: I‘ve never heard a sitting member of the Senate or the House say I was influenced by money. They always say somebody else was but never them. When you were there were you ever influenced by money?
HAMILTON: Oh, I‘m sure I was. Let me give you a simple example. I‘m busy. I come into my office. I‘ve got a list of 15 people who have called me. I‘ve got time to make three phone calls back. Who do I call back? I‘m afraid I probably called the big contributor back before I called the fellow worrying about his Social Security check in Salem, Indiana. So yes, I was influenced by it. You cannot help but be influenced by it.
You‘ve got to raise thousands and thousands of dollars every single week. And if a person says to you I‘m going to work in your campaign, I‘m going to contribute to your campaign, I‘m going to have a fundraiser at my house and so forth and then they come to you and say would you please consider this, that or the other, you can‘t ignore that.
That doesn‘t necessarily mean I or any other member of Congress was bought but it‘s a very subtle process that works here. And it clearly distorts judgments and I would not be immune from that.
LAMB: People say, I‘ve heard it many times in the last couple of months, this is business as usual, it‘s been going on since the beginning of time. There‘s nothing unusual about money and politics. Now, is that true?
HAMILTON: No. When I was elected in Congress in 1964 for the first time, the constant theme I remember was get off my back, get the government off my back. I heard it from the farmer, I heard it from the businessman, I‘d hear it from the labor unions, I‘d hear it from everybody, get the government off my back.
OK. Fast forward to 2006, what do you hear now? What you hear is can I get a tax break, can I get a subsidy, can I get a change in the regulation? In other words, there‘s been a C (ph) change in the mindset of people about government. Early on, get government out of my life; today, what can the government do for me. Now that is a huge change. And we‘re not going to switch it back to the old days I don‘t believe. Maybe there‘s some advantages to that change but there are also some big disadvantages.
LAMB: You served on the Ethics Committee in the House of Representatives when?
HAMILTON: Oh it‘s been so long ago I can‘t remember, probably in the ‘70s.
LAMB: There‘s no activity in the Ethics Committee over in the House and Senate?
HAMILTON: Oh, I was thinking of that today. I was reading these the plea of Abramoff, plea of guilty on several counts. And is said to myself, what has the House Ethics Committee done this year 2005? And the answer is nothing.
In other words, during this entire year, 19 2005 and preceding years as well, when all of this activity was occurring in the lobbying field, much of it nefarious I‘m afraid, some of it criminal, the Ethics Committee of the House did nothing. And I think you mentioned this in one of those headlines you quoted a moment ago I think the ethics process in the House of Representatives and to a large extent in the Senate as well has just broken down.
LAMB: There have been a lot of stories written in the Washington and New York papers about the system here which includes say a member or a staff member of a member having access to sky boxes at the sporting events around Washington, free meals on many, many occasions, travel to resorts around the country and staying at first-class hotels and suites and all that. Why is all that necessary?
HAMILTON: It‘s not. I would very sharply limit that.
LAMB: Why is any of it necessary?
HAMILTON: I don‘t well, look I think a person has the right to approach their member of Congress and to help a member of Congress. It‘s difficult to draw these lines.
What I would do principally is just much more extensive disclosure so that if I‘m a member of Congress and you come in to see me I ought to know exactly who you are, I know who pays you, who you represent. A lot of people will come in to a member of Congress and say I represent the Good Government of America Group. Well, what‘s that?
So I think a lot more disclosure needs to be made and lobbyists tend to resist that. But I think that‘s one step forward.
Now curbing money in the government in the process is also a very difficult matter because people have the right to lobby. But I think these sky box gifts and extravagant trips and all the rest, in addition to disclosure I would ban most of them.
Brian, I take the view that on travel, travel ought not to be funded by private groups. If a trip is worth taking from a governmental standpoint, from a legislator‘s standpoint it ought to be paid for by the government. And so I would personally favor not using government not using private money to pay for legislators‘ trips.
Now let me say that my position is probably a very small minority but I believe that‘s the way we ought to go.
LAMB: Does the public have any idea how this town works?
HAMILTON: I don‘t think so. I don‘t think the public generally fully appreciates the power of money in the process. I think they will in time but I don‘t think they do right now. The Abramoff one maybe one of the positive things that will come out of that is that people will begin to make the connection, look, there‘s a big connection here between money and result in terms of what government does. And the connection is a little too close for comfort.
LAMB: John McCain has a bill that he‘s dropped in the hopper to change some things including that if you leave Congress either a staffer or I believe it‘s both a staffer and a member
you can‘t lobby for two years. But what we‘ve seen happen are people now when there‘s a year required they go down to a law firm, they go down to a lobbying firm. They don‘t lobby but everybody around them does.
HAMILTON: That‘s right.
LAMB: And they use their names.
HAMILTON: That‘s right that‘s right. Well, it‘s become a real pattern for members to leave the Congress and go into the very lucrative business of lobbying. This is a this is a lucrative business remember. Lobbyists are highly sophisticated people, they‘re highly skilled people, they‘re good people by and large, and they‘re effective people. And they have a lot of money so they can make the system work for them very well.
You know none of that is necessarily wrong. What bothers me about it all is that many people are kind of left out of the process in the country who don‘t have access to that kind of professional skill.
LAMB: When you were in the House from Indiana, what was the district number and what was the area of the state that you represented?
HAMILTON: District number nine and roughly southeastern Indiana. The area north of the Ohio River, small town, rural, largest city was New Albany which is right across the river from Louisville, Kentucky, and a lot of county-seat towns, no metropolitan area.
LAMB: What‘s the closest you ever came to losing?
HAMILTON: Well, in 1964 when I was I beat an incumbent. That was a fairly close election. I never had a totally safe seat. I would win by 55 percent or 60 percent, sometimes a little over 60 percent, one time unopposed which was kind of a historic matter in Indiana but also a bit of a fluke. Then I won fairly comfortably. ‘94 was a fairly close election because that was an overwhelming Republican year.
LAMB: DePauw University graduate, Indiana University law graduate.
LAMB: Why did you leave Congress in ‘99?
HAMILTON: Well, in a strange sort of a way, Brian, I was getting tired of the process. Took me a long time to get tired of the process but I did. And a budget would come along and I would say to myself, ho hum, another budget coming in and we‘d go through the budget process. And I‘d gone through it 34 times.
But one incident stands out in my mind. I was getting ready to speak to a group of Democrats in Madison, Indiana, down on the Ohio River large group, several hundred and I was being introduced. And my mind was a total blank. I was tired. And I can remember sitting there almost as if I were a disinterested person.
Now when I finally got up to the podium the juices flowed and I was able to speak. But I said to myself, Lee, that‘s a real danger signal, you‘re losing your enthusiasm. And so I decided it‘s time to step aside.
LAMB: And you were in your 60s when you did that?
HAMILTON: Yes, late 60s.
LAMB: Because if I calculate it right this is your 74th year.
HAMILTON: That‘s correct.
LAMB: How do you where is your enthusiasm level now that you‘re into the Wilson Center and into the Center for Congress at Indiana University?
HAMILTON: Well, I‘ve been kind of revitalized by it all. There are new challenges for me. I‘ve never headed up a big organization, not big in some people‘s judgment but big by my standards, $16 million dollar. Never headed up a staff of 130 people. It‘s kind of a challenge to me whether I can manage that kind of an operation.
The Center on Congress is performing a role with a very few people that I think is vital. I‘m interested in that. I‘ve written a book on it and I‘m writing another one. And I think that one of the things I can convey to people within the experience I‘ve had is this is an institution that matters in your life, it has a deep impact on your life.
I‘ll tell you a story. Towards the end of my congressional career I met with a group of people in Jeffersonville, Indiana, in my office. And they came in to me and they said, "Hamilton, Congress is irrelevant." And I said, "Well, that‘s an interesting comment. How did you get here?" They had driven down I-65, the interstate highway.
I said, "Do you have children in college?" "Yes." "Are they on federal loans?" "Yes." "Do you have grandparents?" "Yes." "Are they on Medicare and Social Security?" "Yes."
Well they began to get the message. This is an institution that has a huge impact on your life. And because it does you and I ought to pay some attention to it.
LAMB: Why are people not voting?
HAMILTON: I think there are a lot of reasons. One is we just make it hard for them to vote. In your state and mine, Indiana, we cut off voting at 6 P.M., earliest in the country. A lot of people can‘t get to the polls by 6 P.M.
The technical requirements of voter registration can get kind of annoying. A lot of people are put off by the unfriendliness of the precinct. They‘re kind of intimidated by it.
So there are little things like that. But the major thing is cynicism, suspicion, indifference what difference does it make whether I vote or not.
LAMB: Well, cynics would say that the Congress doesn‘t really care as long as they get one more vote than their opponent?
HAMILTON: That‘s right. That‘s right, but it makes a huge difference. When you vote you do a lot more than just vote for a candidate. And I guess maybe the most important thing you do is you kind of say you‘re confirming the system and you‘re saying this is an important system.
LAMB: On our featured links on our Web site we will have for the audience anybody that wants to get there the link for the Center for Congress and the link to the Woodrow Wilson Center, the link to the 9/11 Commission report, the link to the Hart-Rudman Commission report, and also your public discourse project which you just ended. And you gave a lot of F‘s and D‘s and C‘s among the 41 recommendations that you had in your original 9/11 report.
How did you determine what grade and the chart‘s on there what grade these different things would get?
HAMILTON: Well by discussion. And what we looked at was implementation, how effective are these recommendations being carried out? In some things it‘s fairly easy to determine
LAMB: Let me just give you a
so people know what we‘re talking about.
LAMB: You gave an F to the unclassified top-line intelligence budget. What‘s that?
HAMILTON: Well, today you do not make public the total amount of money that the intelligence community spends on intelligence. It‘s printed in the newspaper regularly but it‘s classified information.
The reason we said this is important to declassify that figure is this is a little complicated but the only way you can get effective, robust oversight in the Congress of the intelligence community is to have a separate line item for the intelligence budget and not have it subsumed in the defense budget. So we thought it was critically important that you declassify that figure.
The Senate has voted something like 90-some votes to a handful to declassify it. The House has been reluctant at this point and they have not voted to declassify that figure.
It‘s an important but very technical step because the only way you get robust, independent oversight of the intelligence community is to make sure you have some control over that budget and that budget has to be made public and you have to have a separate subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee dealing with the intelligence budget and not have it caught up in a $400 or $500 billion defense budget.
LAMB: Those watching can see the grades as they get into the Web site which is the easiest thing.
And you know, we started off by talking about the Hart-Rudman Commission. There was also the Bremer Commission about a year later. If you read both of them all the warnings were there on what was coming. Did anybody pay attention?
HAMILTON: Not enough attention.
LAMB: And is anybody paying attention to your 9/11 Commission report or your public discourse report?
HAMILTON: Well, one of the things that impressed us on the 9/11 Commission was that all the signals, as you just put it, were there. Their intent was very clear. It had been expressed and the thought was time and time again, they wanted to kill us. They had struck at the embassies in Africa. They had struck at the World Trade Towers in 1993. They had struck the USS Cole.
All of the this was not secret. This was in the papers day by day. And I knew it, you knew it, everybody knew it. But we weren‘t seized of it and we simply did not have enough imagination to appreciate it. When I say we I say most of us. There were some voices out there that spoke up. The Hart-Rudman Commission and certainly said that the terrorists would strike.
LAMB: And in the couple minutes we have left I want to go back to the Trester Award. I mean the audience has no idea what we‘re talking about. But, you know, when I was growing up that was a big deal.
LAMB: Somebody from the Trester Award in the State of Indiana for playing basketball is a mental attitude. Did you try to get that award? Do you remember?
HAMILTON: No. My interest my interest was the same interest that was shown in the movie Hoosiers. I wanted to play basketball. And my goal throughout high school was to win the state championship.
HAMILTON: I was a basketball player.
HAMILTON: The center of my life was basketball.
LAMB: What did you play?
HAMILTON: Center and sometimes forward but mostly center. This was before the big people came into the game.
LAMB: At Evansville Central.
HAMILTON: Evansville Central.
And the center of my universe was basketball. I wouldn‘t recommend that to people in high school today but it was true in my case. And the pinnacle of basketball in my state of Indiana was to win the Indiana state basketball high school tournament.
LAMB: Did you win?
HAMILTON: No, we were runners up. I mentioned early in the program I wasn‘t able to play that final game. We had beat the team that beat us in the final game during the regular season. So I always felt we would have won if I had have been healthy. But that‘s a pretty bias viewpoint.
LAMB: Who influenced you the most when you were 17 years old, 16 years old, 15 years old?
HAMILTON: Oh, I think my coaches. I was very close to my coaches from grade school on. And they took a great interest in me as a person and as a player. And there must have been five or six of them. They had a profound impact on my life.
LAMB: What‘s what are Lee‘s
HAMILTON: And, of course, my parents as well.
LAMB: And what did your parents do by the way?
HAMILTON: My father was a Methodist minister; my mother, the wife of a Methodist minister. And they were very, very good people. Not particularly attuned to the political world but interested in national affairs, and state affairs, local affairs. But they certainly gave me the right direction in life.
LAMB: What would you say were your overall rules of life?
HAMILTON: Well, I think I feel very fortunate to be a citizen of this country. I feel very fortunate to have the kind of upbringing I did have. I‘ve often said to myself with all of the opportunities I had in sports and academics, schools in the communities and the churches that I was part of, a fellow who had all those advantages couldn‘t miss. And I had all kinds of advantages.
OK, lot of people have advantages but somehow there was instilled in me a sense of payback. I think our government makes a wager in a sense, makes a wager on everyone of us. And it says to each one of us, "I‘m going to give you freedom. I‘m going to give you opportunity. And in return for that you have a contribution to make." And that‘s deeply imbedded in me. I think I must pay back. I want to contribute to the direction and the success of a free society and I‘ve been very, very fortunate that I‘ve had the opportunity to do that.
LAMB: Which politician, which elected official in your life or before you were here do you admire the most?
HAMILTON: Oh my, heavy biases towards the founding fathers. If I were to pick one, or two, or three, I‘d put James Madison pretty close to the top, Jefferson of course, but really all of the key founding fathers. Tiny country, a few million people that produced this extraordinary array of political genius in the early founding of the country.
And so when I have the opportunity I like to read about these people because they‘re my heroes in a sense.
LAMB: Lee Hamilton, thank you for your time.
HAMILTON: Thank you.