2004 Transcript

Nail Al-Jubeir discusses Craig Unger book on CNN with Heidi Colins

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: The Bush family and the Saudi royal family have been doing business together for decades.  But now a new book suggests the relationship between the two families has kept the U.S. from forcing Saudi Arabia to crack down on Islamic terrorism.  "House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties" is the book.

Craig Unger is the author.

Welcome to you, Mr. Unger.  Thanks so much for being with us tonight.


COLLINS: You claim that the Bush family's longstanding relationship with the Saudi royal family has interfered with the war on terrorism.  What sort of proof do you have on that?

UNGER: Well, I looked at the Bush family going back 30 years and their relationship.  And it's really absolutely unprecedented.  Never before in history has a president of the United States -- and I'm talking about both President Bush and his father -- had such a long and rich history with any foreign country, in this case, Saudi Arabia.

And one of the things I discovered as I followed their relationship through both the private sector and the public sector is the amount of money that was transferred from the House of Saud, the royal Saudi family, to companies in which the Bush family and its allies had a major role.  And the number I found was $1.4 billion.

To put that in perspective, that's more than 20,000 times as much money as was in the Whitewater scandal.  So, in that light, I began looking at the events leading up to and immediately after 9/11.

COLLINS: Let's talk about 9/11 for a moment.  You say that the Saudis who left the country on that day chartered flights -- after 9/11, I should say, including members of the bin Laden family themselves.  They were not seriously interrogated.  They weren't asked any questions.  How do you know this?

UNGER: Well, I found a total of eight flights stopping in 12 American cities, 140 Saudis, including 24 members of the bin Laden family.  And I talked to people who were on the flights, the two men on the record who were private detectives and were there as escorts. I talked to two FBI agents.  I talked to people who arranged the evacuation.  This was a massive operation.  It took place over a period of two weeks.  And there simply wasn't time.

They were identified, in many cases -- well, in all cases.  But they were not interrogated.  And this is the biggest crime in American history.

COLLINS: Well, you claim that Bush couldn't have even become president without the help, if you will, of the Saudi royal family and the Arab-American vote, in particular, especially in Florida.  But is that wrong?  I mean, we see all the time candidates going after different groups for their support.

UNGER: What's extraordinary about this is exactly who he was campaigning with.  And, in Florida, he met with a man named Sami al- Arian, who is now under indictment for allegedly being part of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

This is a man he later invited to the White House and is accused of funding terrorist activities against Israelis and Americans with suicide bombs.

COLLINS: So are you saying this is the kind of support that President Bush knew he was trying to muster?UNGER: No, I'm not saying he knew in advance, but he wasn't looking very carefully.

And the point is that, was he turning a blind eye to the excesses of the Saudis and to the possible dangers of terrorism?  I should add that he later invited Sami al-Arian to the White House as a guest after his election, and that the Muslim-American support provided the margin of victory in Florida and therefore the presidency.

COLLINS: All right.

Well, clearly you know that prior administrations have had close relationships with the Saudis, talking about the Reagan administration, Carter administration, Roosevelt administration, both Democratic and Republican administrations.  Why is this relationship, in your eyes, so different?

UNGER: Well, $1.4 billion is a very big number.  And the Bush family has had personal business interests in Saudi Arabia through giant firms like the Carlisle Group, which is a huge private equity firm in Washington.

COLLINS: All right, Craig Unger. Once again, the name of the book is "House of Bush, House of Saud."

We appreciate your time tonight.  Thanks so much.

UNGER: Thank you.

COLLINS: Now let's get some direct reaction to those allegations.

We want to take a moment to speak with this man.  Nail Al-Jubeir is director of the Saudi Information Office in Washington.

Mr. Jubeir, thanks so much for being with but.

Do want to get your direct reaction now.  What do you say to Mr. Unger's claims that the war on terror cannot be fought without going into Saudi Arabia and really cracking down there?

NAIL AL-JUBEIR, DIR., SAUDI INFO OFFICE, WASHINGTON, D.C.: I'm saying that he doesn't know his stuff.  Unfortunately, he spent more time trying to cut and paste allegations that go back 30, 40 years that have been addressed in the United States by U.S. law enforcement, and there's nothing there.  And he's trying to claim that this relationship is hindering the war on terrorism.  If he did his research, which he probably -- based on his comment, he hasn't done, we have been very close allies in this war on terrorism.

We've been close allies since 9/11.  We fought together against the extremists in Saudi Arabia.  We've been working together since then, and we will continue to work on that, on the war on terrorism.

COLLINS: How do you defend the business connections that he talks about, though, between the Bush administration and the Saudi royal family?  What's this $1.4 billion?

AL-JUBEIR: I'm not exactly sure.  I read his book, and I have to admit it's pretty interesting reading, if you don't care for facts and reality.  It's -- he cuts and pastes accusations that go back, as I said, 30, 40 years.

He tries to put connections in there that simply wasn't there.  Most of those allegations have been investigated by U.S. law enforcement years ago, and there's simply nothing there.

There is a connection between the Saudis and the Bushes, as it was a relationship between the Saudis and the President Clinton, and before them, all the way to Roosevelt.  And we're proud of our relationship with the American leadership, and we continue to be proud.  But there's nothing illegal about that.  If he can point to an area where he said, This is what happened, quid pro quo, they paid this, and this is what they got, yes, then that would be illegal.  But there's absolutely nothing there.

There are allegations that he throws -- remember, this is an election year.  There are going to be about 25 to 30 books coming out there.  How can you take a book seriously who claims that president -- Republican presidents, including from about Eisenhower all the way up to the Bush family, get dressed up in robes in the red forest of California and worship stone owls?  I mean, how seriously can you take a book like that?

COLLINS: What about the evidence, if you know of any, that Bush used extreme measures to influence the Arab-American vote in the year 2000?

AL-JUBEIR: I'm sorry, but I don't think it was illegal for Arab- Americans to vote in this country, is it?

COLLINS: It is not.  Let me ask you about...

AL-JUBEIR: No.  So what's the point?  They are American citizens.  They are -- I've been following American elections for years, and every politician does it, whether you go to the Spanish vote or you go to the African-American vote or you go to the Polish vote up in the industrial areas. There's nothing wrong with it.  What Mr. Unger is doing, which I think really is unfortunate, is trying to marginalize an American Arab community (ph) in this country by linking them to terrorism, saying, This is what happened.  And that's unfortunate, and he should be ashamed of himself to try to marginalize an Arab-American population that some of them are two, three and four generations back.

COLLINS: Mr. Jubeir, what are the Saudis doing in the nation's classrooms now to teach moderation, if you will, to the next generation, particularly to stamp out Islamic fundamentalism?

AL-JUBEIR: What we have done is a number of steps.  Once -- and the first important thing is we have reviewed our textbooks.  We have taken out stuff that we believe is -- might be enticing extremism in our classrooms.  We have removed teachers that we thought were not appropriate to teaching the courses.

We're reforming the educational process.  It's a long process to do.  We've done it in the mosques, as well.

We've gotten rid of thousands of extremist preachers, and we will continue the crackdown.

We are trying to create world-class graduate students from our universities and schools who graduate and are part of the productive work force.  But it is a long process.  It's not something that can be done overnight.

But we're committed to this, and we'll finally get to the end of that.

COLLINS: If you are committed to this, or the people of Saudi Arabia are committed to this -- trying to enforce moderation, that is -- how do you explain the reports that we have learned about today and the arrests of five Saudi reformers, who, according to a London-based opposition group, advocated a constitutional monarchy?

AL-JUBEIR: I don't know about the -- I've seen the reports from the Saudi minister of the interior about the detention.  I do not know much about that.  But the opposition -- remember, this is the same opposition, if I'm not mistaken, in London who have provided Usama bin Laden with the cell phones, the satellite phones that he used in the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Africa.  These are the same group who celebrate the tragedy of 9/11 in London.  These are the same guys who promote extremism on satellite television, broadcast it to the Middle East out of London.  And these are the guys that are supposed to be promoting reform?

COLLINS: All right.  Nail al-Jubeir, we certainly appreciate your time tonight, as well.

AL-JUBEIR: Thank you for having me.

COLLINS: Thank you so much, sir.

CNN's Paula Zahn asked the White House for a reaction to Craig Unger's reporting about the Bush-Saudi family connections.  The White House declined any comment.