Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) of Nebraska, a member of the US Senate's Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees, was the guest at Friday's Monitor Breakfast.
He is on the long list of possible Republican presidential candidates in 2008. A decorated Vietnam War veteran and a close friend of Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, Sen. Hagel has been critical of US policy in Iraq and one of a handful of Republican senators who voted against reauthorization of the Patriot Act unless changes are made to better protect civil liberties.
Here are excepts from his remarks:
On a New York Times report that President Bush, to fight terrorism, secretly authorized the National Security Agency to spy on Americans inside the US without a court warrant:
"Confidence and trust in one's government is the only currency there is in life in a democracy. If citizens do not have confidence and trust in their government, that their government is protecting their rights, and those that they send to represent them in Washington are protecting their rights, then there will be a very severe breakdown in society....This is in my opinion a very serious issue, a very serious story. If in fact this is true, then it needs to stop."
On progress in Iraq based on his visits there:
"I found it interesting every time I am back, there is more security, more concrete, more sandbags and you can go into [fewer] places."
On the Bush administration's explanation of the rationale for war in Iraq:
"The last two weeks, I think this administration has been more honest than I have heard it in three years about Iraq. The president has actually given speeches saying we had bad intelligence and we made mistakes and we made big mistakes. [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld is talking about it. They all are talking about it."
The role of the press:
"A free press is the only real guarantee [of] freedom in this society because power does corrupt and big government corrupts. Big government is an institution that has no conscience, it has no feelings, it has no brains. And it doesn't read constitutions and it doesn't understand liberties.... A free press is the only thing that keeps us free."
On the ethics issues facing the Republican party:
"There are very large dark clouds hanging over the party in the area of being captives to big business and corruption."
On running for president:
"I will make a political decision on my future after the election next year."