BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Now for the top story tonight, reaction to [charges General Electric is doing business with Iran]. Joining us from New Orleans is Christopher Holton, the vice president of the Center for Security Policy. Here in the studio is Debra Burlingame, co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America. Ms. Burlingame's brother perished on 9/11. So what say you, madam?
DEBRA BURLINGAME, 9/11 FAMILY MEMBER: Well, I'd say that GE has a problem. And it's a problem that I'm glad you're airing here for the country to know.
They say that they're only fulfilling old contracts. That's lawyer talk for yes, we're still doing business in Iran. They're trying to say that they're not going to take up any new contracts, but lawyers know how to finesse that. The fact of the matter is they are defying U.S. sanctions by going around with a loophole, doing business with their foreign subsidiaries in countries like Syria and Iran.
O'REILLY: I think the American government knows this though. And you know, the State Department has not condemned them, the Bush administration has not condemned them. Other companies do it as well.
BURLINGAME: Well, there are some 35 companies that are doing it. And the SEC Office of Global Security Risk did inquire of GE in 2006, basically saying what are you doing, what's your involvement, what's the extent of your contracts? GE responded, I can summarize it for you by saying none of your business; we're complying with law; and our focus is ensuring shareholder value. That's a euphemism for we're looking after GE's profits. And on the street, that would be called blood money.
O'REILLY: What do you say, Mr. Holton?
CHRISTOPHER HOLTON, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY: Well, I can't say it any better than Debra Burlingame just said it. She's exactly right. The fact is companies like General Electric and others are providing corporate life support for our enemies in the war on terrorism when they do business with Iran. It would not have been acceptable in the 1940s to build a hydroelectric plant in Nazi Germany. And it's not acceptable today to be building a hydroelectric plant in Iran. Iran's killing U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
O'REILLY: Now there were contracts, of course, canceled in World War II after Pearl Harbor, because the United States companies were doing business with the Third Reich in Germany, with Italy. I don't know whether they were doing business in Japan or not because of the relationship with them. So you can cancel contracts and anybody should know that any time you want to cancel them, just to say you're fulfilling existing contracts.
But the bin Laden business is also very disturbing, because Hockenberry, if you believe what he says is true, and he did write this for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is not — he did it in an academic setting. He basically says, look, even after 9/11, even after Usama bin Laden attacked the United States, General Electric wasn't going to probe his operation vis-a-vis his family. And we know now that one of his brothers was involved in Al Qaeda and on and on. That to me is very, very disturbing.
HOLTON: Well, it's disturbing to me, it absolutely is. And it should be disturbing to all Americans as far as I'm concerned.
O'REILLY: Now Ms. Burlingame, Syria also involved, you know, also on the list of the State Department. They do help terrorists in Syria. GE does a lot of business with them as well. So I don't know, man. It's just looking pretty bad here.
BURLINGAME: Well, what really disturbs me about Syria is that we know that 90 percent of the foreign fighters who have come through the Syrian border, who have showed up in Iraq to detonate suicide bombs, IEDs, killing and maiming our troops, they're coming — they fly into Damascus and come through the western border. Our troops call it the ratline. And GE is helping the ratline by, as Chris said, by giving life support to this country.
O'REILLY: Do you see it that way, Mr. Holton? Do you think GE's actually helping the Syrian government? Or is it just a private thing?
HOLTON: They're doing business. They disclosed this themselves. They're doing business with the Syrian government and the Iranian government. GE says that they're doing business with those governments.
O'REILLY: Now when you see the skirmish that they had this week in the Persian Gulf with the boats, little Iranian boats threatening the big American warships — which I think Iran wanted the warships to fire on the little boats — you know, it just ratchets it up in an area that I think most Americans are going to be uncomfortable with. I'm going to give you the last word, Debra, you know, because this is an emotional issue for you. You lost your brother and thousands of other Americans lost people on 9/11.
BURLINGAME: I'd like the American people to understand that what GE is doing is within the letter of the law, but is most definitely violating the spirit of the law. We are trying desperately to avoid another war. These sanctions are to help give our diplomats and our country something to bargain with at the…
BURLINGAME: ...in diplomatic talks. We're trying to turn these countries into international pariahs. And when you give them goods and services, you're working against us.
O'REILLY: OK. Mr. Immelt is invited on this program if he would like to reply.
Debra, thank you. Mr. Holton, we appreciate it.
And a followup from Foxnews.com dated January 11, 2008:
I realize that there is nothing personal here, the dealings with a terrorist nation are only designed to increase the stock price. That's all. Nothing personal. Since this is all being done in their name, at least in theory, I think GE stockholders need to consider selling out. My financial advisor sold mine several months ago, but I wish he hadn't, so I could sell it now.
Is General Electric, the parent company of NBC, doing business with Iran? And did they do business with the bin Laden family after 9/11? That is the subject of this evening's "Talking Points Memo."
Now you may remember former NBC correspondent John Hockenberry. He competed against us on MSNBC for a while and reported stories for "Dateline NBC," winning some awards. In this month's edition of Technology Review, a publication put out by MIT, Mr. Hockenberry makes a very disturbing charge.
"In early 2002, [I] was in Saudi Arabia covering regional reaction to September 11. We spent time on the streets and found considerable sympathy for Usama bin Laden among common citizens. We wanted to speak with members of Usama bin Laden's family about their errant son's mission to bring down the Saudi government and attack the infidel West. We couldn't reach the bin Ladens using ordinary means... but GE had long done business with the bin Ladens.
In a misguided attempt at corporate synergy, I called GE headquarters in Fairfield, Connecticut, from my hotel room in Riyadh. I inquired at the highest level to see whether, in the interest of bringing out all aspects of a very important story for the American people, GE corporate officers might try to persuade the bin Ladens to speak with 'Dateline' while we were in the kingdom.
Within a few hours, I received a call in my hotel room from a senior corporate communications officer who would only read a statement over the phone. It said something to the effect that GE had an important, long-standing and valuable business relationship with the Bin Laden Group and saw no connection between that relationship and what 'Dateline' was trying to do in Saudi Arabia. We spoke with no bin Laden family member on that trip."
Now CEO Jeffrey Immelt was running GE back then, and of course is the highest level of that operation. NBC News trashed Hockenberry in a statement today.
"It is unfortunate that John Hockenberry seems to be so far out of touch with reality. The comments are so utterly absurd, we will have no further comment."
Mr. Hockenberry would not come on "The Factor," but told us on the phone he stands by his story. There are also reports that General Electric continues to do business with Iran. CEO Immelt would not respond to our questions about that, so producer Jesse Watters went to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESSE WATTERS, "O'REILLY FACTORY" PRODUCER: Mr. Immelt, Jesse with FOX News. We would like to talk to you about your involvement with Iran. Are you still trading with Iran while Iranians are killing Americans in Iraq? You're not selling them airplane parts that can be used for military equipment?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Now late today GE did issue a statement finally, saying it no longer does business with Iran, except fulfilling past contracts and humanitarian stuff. But "The Factor" has confirmed that through subsidiaries, GE is working with the Iranian government on hydroelectric, oil and gas, and medical projects.
It should be noted that Iran is currently listed as a state that sponsors terrorism, and U.S. intelligence has confirmed Iranian weapons are being used to kill Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Immelt is in deep trouble within General Electric. The company's stock price is now 10 percent lower than it was when he took over from Jack Welch on September 7, 2001, four days before 9/11. Reports are there is open disenchantment with Immelt's leadership from some stockholders.
But the key issue here is how American corporations are behaving in the middle of a terror war. General Electric should fully explain both situations: the bin Laden deal and Iran.
And that's "The Memo."