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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview with Gen. Richard Myers, Joe Lieberman; John Warner

Aired March 10, 2002 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:00 p.m. in Jerusalem, and 9:30 p.m. in Kabul. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for Late Edition.

We'll get to our interview with the chairman of the United States joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Richard Myers, in just a few minutes, but first the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: And joining us now for some additional insight into the war in Afghanistan, the nuclear issue of warfare and other issues is the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers.

Thanks for joining us. Welcome to Late Edition.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's, first of all, talk about Operation Anaconda, the U.S. military campaign in eastern Afghanistan. Is it all but over?

MYERS: I think it's too early to say that. Campaigns like this take some time, and I think we have to be prepared for whatever it takes. We are not time-line driven, we're event-driven. And so when the area is cleared of Al Qaeda and Taliban, we'll be finished.

BLITZER: So, where specifically does it stand right now, because we've been hearing reports that U.S. troops are withdrawing from the area around which Operation Anaconda has been unfolding?

MYERS: I think some of those troops that are withdrawing are actually going to rearm and refit themselves and then perhaps go back into the area to finish the job. There are certainly still pockets of Taliban and Al Qaeda there that we need to finish our job on, and so it'll take some time.

BLITZER: How big are these pockets? How many Al Qaeda and associated fighters are believed to be in that pocket, or the box, as some of your colleagues at the Pentagon call it?

MYERS: Well, I think we'll have to wait and see when it finally all sorts out. Because before we went in there, we heard every where from 200 to several thousand. We think there were hundreds. And what's left, we think, is a small part of that, but it's still going to take some time to figure that out. We think they're in smaller pockets now, not large concentrations. We're going to have go in to do the hard work to get them out.

BLITZER: And are you still convinced these are what you call dead-enders, people willing to fight to the death, as opposed to some who might be willing to surrender?

MYERS: Well, sure. They have the option, they can surrender if they wish. But so far, we haven't seen any willing to do that.

BLITZER: Are your allies, some of the warlords working with the U.S. in that area, seeking some sort of quiet to convince them to surrender?

MYERS: Sure. I think we're all working together; it's one plan. And we do appreciate the support we've gotten from our Afghan allies in this case.

BLITZER: So, you're suggesting there might still be a possibility some will surrender as opposed to fighting to the death?

MYERS: Sure. And of course, one of the reasons we want to go in here is not just to eradicate the Taliban and the Al Qaeda, but also to gain information and information that might have an impact on future operations somewhere around this world. And so, we'd like some of them to surrender so we can get our hands on them and interrogate them.

BLITZER: There have been some suggestions that the U.S. underestimated the ferocity, the degree of resistance that would be encountered in this area going into Operation Anaconda. Did you?

MYERS: In my view, no. I was over there about three weeks ago. I talked to the commander, Gen. Buster Hagenbeck, who was the one that planned and led this effort. And I don't think there was any doubt in his mind that this was going to be a tough fight.

We're fighting in tough conditions. The good news is we were prepared for those conditions. We heard estimates of between 200 and several thousand fighters. We prepared for those contingencies.

And so, no, I think it went pretty much as scripted.

BLITZER: You probably saw the article in the New York Times quoting some wounded U.S. military personnel who were brought to Germany, suggesting they were surprised.

Let me quote from Army Specialist Wayne Stanton, an injured U.S. soldier: "We could hear them laughing at us. We could hear them laughing when we tried shoot at them." And elsewhere he says, "We were fighting in their backyard. We were not used to it. They knew every crevice, every cubbyhole, every cave." Army Specialist Wayne Stanton suggests that he, at least, and some colleagues who said similar things in that New York Times article, were not briefed the extent of the resistance that they would encounter.

MYERS: I think Wayne's comments there were consistent with what we were told. It was going to be a tough fight. There should have been no doubt about that. We are in their backyard. They know the territory better than we did at the time, because they had been in there operating for some time, and this is an area that they had mapped out.

Thank goodness for the bravery of those soldiers that we were able to take the fight to the enemy and be successful here.

BLITZER: Some have suggested that there should have been greater use of air power before the troops went in on the ground to soften it up, and that you missed an opportunity there, presumably, that might have prevented some of these casualties.

MYERS: I think like the rest of the campaign in Afghanistan, this has been a campaign where all the services and all the things that all the services can bring to bear, our joint war-fighting, was done extremely well. And I think this is another case of that.

I'm not going to get into the tactical decision making that General Franks and his subordinate commanders get into because it's their call. They're on the scene. They were there in the planning. They were there in the execution. They saw how it developed. And I'm just not going to get into it.

I think we used air power very well. We used our ground forces very well. We used our partners and allies very well, and we used the Afghan forces very well.

BLITZER: But looking back with hindsight, and obviously everyone is smarter with hindsight, would it have been smarter, a few more days of bombings before you sent in the ground forces?

MYERS: Well, listen, Wolf, this is combat, and that's what our folks were in there doing. They were waging combat with a very tenacious enemy. And I think they did a brilliant job.

And that does not mean that we're going to do it without casualties, there aren't going to be setbacks. We are prepared for that. We know that's a real possibility. And we just have to steel ourselves.

It's so important that we do this and do it right and eradicate the Taliban and Al Qaeda from Afghanistan and, for that matter, from around the world.

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong, but Operation Anaconda did appear, at least to those of us watching it from afar, to represent a shift in U.S. strategy. Earlier in the war, in October and November, the U.S. did the airstrikes. The allied forces, the Northern Alliance and others got in on the ground and did most of the ground attacks.

Now it was the U.S. basically doing everything.

MYERS: Well, I think that's a little bit of an overstatement. We certainly had a major role in the direct action in the immediate objective area. But the Afghan forces, part of them were the initial force in there to force the Taliban and Al Qaeda to react. So I think it's more than just U.S. forces. This -- we relied heavily on upwards of 1,000 Afghan fighters in this particular campaign.

BLITZER: These are fighters dispatched by Hamid Karzai's government?

MYERS: In some cases they have been; in some cases there are other leaders in the area that volunteered and were inspired to help us.

BLITZER: When I interviewed the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, on Friday, he appeared to show a grudging admiration for the level of combat ability of these Al Qaeda fighters. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: They do have a very large cache of supplies and weapons and ammunition inside those caves and tunnels. So they're not without ammunition or food or water. They're well-supplied and well-disciplined. These are very well-trained fighters. These are hard dead-enders. These are hardline types.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: "Well-trained, well-disciplined," "dead-enders," meaning they're willing to fight till the end.

Are these the best, the elite of the Al Qaeda fighters?

MYERS: Well, it's hard to know. But we know that Afghanistan provided the Al Qaeda the opportunity to train, to work out their command and control. Every bit of information that I have is exactly as the secretary said. These were tactically proficient fighters. The fact they're willing to die for their cause is also important.

So, they are -- but we knew that, going into this. We knew they would be very, very good. We're playing the -- we're connecting combat on their territory. It's much more difficult that way. BLITZER: Does it suggest, though, as some analysts have suggested, that they're protecting something or someone, they're fighting to a degree that they have some big-time Al Qaeda leaders, perhaps, within a little area that they're trying to protect? The speculation, of course, being Osama bin Laden.

MYERS: I really can't -- we can't say at this point. We'll know as we go in and clear out these few remaining pockets and then try to gather evidence. We also want evidence on what else they're hiding there, if they're hiding any information on their potential interest in weapons of mass destruction. So they'll be looking for all sorts of intelligence clues as we go into there.

But I can't say, in terms of their vigor, they're fighting, whether or not they're harboring some of the bigger leaders in the Al Qaeda.

BLITZER: There's no indication that Osama bin Laden or his top lieutenants may be in that area?

MYERS: Well, there's no indication that they are or they aren't. And one of the problems we have, since we don't know where Osama bin Laden is, is, if we don't know where he is, we certainly can't say he is or isn't in there. So we'll just have to wait and see.

BLITZER: And when you say that they may be protecting not just individuals, but some information, information that they may have about their own military or terrorist capabilities?

MYERS: Certainly. We have found, through interrogations, through material that we have found at other locations that we have been into, we've been able to put together a pretty good picture. And the picture is of their operation, of their net, of the people involved, of some of the -- where they get their resources, and also of their great interest in weapons of mass destruction.

BLITZER: Do you have any idea where Osama bin Laden is?

MYERS: As I said before, no, we don't.

BLITZER: No idea whatsoever?

MYERS: We have best estimates from our intelligence community.

BLITZER: That he is still alive, for example?

MYERS: We think so.

BLITZER: And that he may be in the eastern part of Afghanistan?

MYERS: And that is -- a lot of people point to that, yes.

BLITZER: And if he's there, presumably he's got some protection. Those caves must be very elaborate. MYERS: Oh, they are very elaborate, and as we're finding out more and more about their structure, they're very, very elaborate.

Whether he's in that area or in another area -- you know, that whole area of eastern Afghanistan up against Pakistan is very, very rugged territory. The line on the map is just a line on a map. As you fly over it, as I did a couple of weeks ago, there are no lines, and so you can ebb and flow through that territory as you wish, and you find people that want to support you. And my guess is that bin Laden is moving fairly frequently. BLITZER: All right. General, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about.

When we come back, I'll ask Gen. Myers what's next in the U.S. war on terrorism. We'll continue our conversation with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff when Late Edition returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition. We're continuing our conversation with the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers.

Any more Operation Anacondas in Afghanistan in the works right now?

MYERS: Probably there are. You know, to give that interim administration in Afghanistan the best chance of succeeding, we've got to do our best to deal with remaining pockets of Al Qaeda and Taliban. And so, we'll be prepared to do that.

BLITZER: And where, specifically, in the country do you think those are most likely to be directed?

MYERS: I have just seen a map that intel produced on that very subject and quite widely dispersed and depending on the numbers you get into. And of course, we'd be looking for significant pockets.

But in the end, we've got to train Afghan forces to deal with these pockets themselves. That's another thing we're engaged in, is helping train and perhaps equip an Afghan national army.

BLITZER: But just to repeat, you don't want the U.S. military to participate in the international peacekeeping force that's currently led by the British and the Turks?

MYERS: Well, it's not a question of wanting one or the other. We think our -- U.S. forces are best used in something we do very well, which is training. And so, we will be involved and have been asked by the government interim administration in Afghanistan to train an Afghan national army, and that's where we'll focus.

The U.K. is leading the effort in the interim security assistance force. That'll be turned over, perhaps, to another league nation here in the next few months. And we'll support it, as we have, with some logistics and with a few liaison personnel.

BLITZER: And will you support allowing them to go beyond Kabul to take their international peacekeeping force to other parts of Afghanistan?

MYERS: Again, I don't think that's something for the U.S. to allow. That's be something that'll be discussed. It's a policy matter. It's outside my realm, really. I've got to stay inside my railroad tracks here. But we think we've worked very effectively with this I-staff, as we call it, up to now, and we would anticipate we'd do so in the future.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the next stages in the military campaign beyond Afghanistan. As you know, the vice president, Dick Cheney, left today for a trip to the Middle East. A lot of speculation that he wants to generate support for a U.S. strike against Saddam Hussein, a regime change, as they call it, getting rid of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.

Is the U.S. military prepared for that kind of contingency, should the president order you to do so?

MYERS: As I've said before, the U.S. military is prepared for any contingency that the commander in chief asks of us. And so, without getting specific, we are prepared.

Now, let me just say a couple of things. On the war on terrorism, of course, the goal is to do away with international terrorist organizations, those who harbor them, and to keep weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of terrorist groups. This is something we're working very hard.

As you know, we have a training -- an equipped team in the Philippines to help with the Abu Sayyaf group, which, by the way, has a couple of Americans among its hostages. We are looking at going to a couple of other countries, in terms of training, as well, to be decided yet. But there are a couple that we're looking at.

BLITZER: Specifically, the republic of Georgia -- former Soviet republic of Georgia and Yemen.

MYERS: Quite possibly, but the decisions have to be made on that front first.

BLITZER: Getting back to Iraq, if the president orders you to take military action, is the Pentagon thinking about a relatively modest military campaign or hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops, as was the case more than a decade ago during the Gulf War?

MYERS: Well, every potential situation is different. I don't want to get into hypotheticals here. And I'm not going to discuss our tactics, I don't think, on a program as widely watched as yours, Wolf.

But this is -- as you know, Iraq and North Korea were part of our two major theater war contingencies before we have plans. We'll be updating those plans. That's something we do in the normal course of events. And we'll try to be as prudent as possible in the use of our resources.

BLITZER: As you know, the Los Angeles Times yesterday, the New York Times today, lengthy articles about this new military posture, using nuclear weapons in certain contingencies. It's called the Nuclear Posture Review, that has just been released. It specifically mentions seven countries that potentially might draw U.S. nuclear action, if necessary -- China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria. That is generating alarm bells around the world.

Give us your perspective, what it would mean for the U.S. to launch military strikes against any of those countries?

MYERS: My perspective is -- will be this. In the headline, as we talked about this about 15 minutes ago on your show, it was referred to as a "plan." In fact, it is the Nuclear Posture Review, as required by Congress, so it's not a plan, it's not an operational plan. It's a policy document. And it simply states our deterrence posture, of which nuclear weapons are a part.

In addition, it goes a lot further. Some of the things not covered in the articles, I think, are really innovative. But it talks about a new triad that has not only nuclear weapons in it, but also conventional weapons. It has missile defenses in it. It has infrastructure implications, and it has -- underlying all that is better intelligence, so we can better know what's going on out there in the world.

BLITZER: As you know, five of those countries are not nuclear powers, at least not as far as the United States knows. China and Russia are, but Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya, Syria are not.

And they're, in fact, signatories to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. The New York Times wrote today, "Significantly all of those countries have signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. Washington has promised that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that have signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, unless those countries attack the United States or its allies in alliance with a nuclear-weapon state."

BLITZER: So what does that say about breaking, in effect -- would the U.S. have to break its own acceptance of the nuclear non- proliferation treaty if it were to launch preemptive strikes using nuclear weapons against one of those five states?

MYERS: Let me put it this way. This is, again, not a plan. This preserves for the president all the options that a president would want to have in case this country or our friends and allies were attacked with weapons of mass destruction, be they nuclear, biological, chemical or, for that matter, high explosives.

And it's been the policy of this country for a long time, as long as I have been a senior officer, that the president would always reserve the right up to and including the use of nuclear weapons if that was appropriate. And that continues to be the policy.

Let just say also that the whole discussion here is about deterrence. Why we have a military, why we have nuclear forces -- this is all about deterrence. And we certainly hope to deter other actors in this world from taking steps with weapons of mass destruction that could have devastating effects on our population and the population of our friends and our allies. BLITZER: Tomorrow will be six months since the September 11 attacks. I was over at the Pentagon on Friday, saw the reconstruction which has been going more quickly than earlier envisaged.

As you look back on those past six months, take a look at the military campaign, where do you believe six months from now the Pentagon, the U.S. military will be in this war on terrorism?

MYERS: One of the things the president said early on and that I think we all certainly agree with is this is going to be a very, very long campaign.

And six months from now, I mean, you could envision -- and nobody can know for certain -- but you can envision that our major effort in Afghanistan might be, might be over; that we would probably be in the middle of helping train an Afghan national army.

But there is lots of work to do in terms of routing out terrorist organizations around the world. So we're still going to be actively engaged.

And it may not be all military. We've talked a lot about that today because that's the role that I represent. But on the diplomatic front, on the civil law enforcement front, intel sharing, information sharing, all the good work that's going on. That work is going on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of this year.

BLITZER: Gen. Myers, thanks for joining us.

MYERS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

And just ahead, as U.S. troops try to root out an entrenched enemy in Afghanistan, we'll get an assessment of Operation Anaconda and much more from two key members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Joe Lieberman and Republican John Warner.

Late Edition will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And then, when it comes to defending freedom, we'll take however long it takes to defend our freedom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush, speaking about the war at a gathering in Florida this past week.

Welcome back to Late Edition.

We're joined now by two key members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee: In New York, Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, and here in Washington, Senator John Warner of Virginia. He's the committee's top Republican.

Senators, good to have both of you on our program.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And, Senator Warner, let me begin with you. This whole issue of this nuclear contingency plan that I just discussed with Gen. Myers, you wrote -- you were chairman of the Armed Services Committee when you mandated that the Pentagon -- that the executive branch come up with this kind of potential target list.

Are you satisfied...

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: Pull back that word. It was not in what I wrote. I simply said, given that we have a new president and we're going to address the means by which the reduce the level of nuclear weapons, let's have the Department of Defense lay out for the Congress a full spectrum of what we have in inventory, the aging qualities, the readiness qualities.

And I put in there, should we consider possibly designing a new weapon, if that is necessary? That would require further action by the Congress.

This report, which I'll neither confirm nor deny, because unfortunately it has leaked out. And it has leaked out in a way which is inaccurate with what was given to the Congress. BLITZER: What part was inaccurate?

WARNER: Well, I'll tell you, I can't confirm or deny. But I think the administration witnesses this morning have gone a long way, Secretary Powell, Condoleezza Rice, to put this in balance.

But, Wolf, what I will do tomorrow is, I'll go back over this leaked material with the report, talk to the administration, and see if we can clarify some portions in there, because I...

BLITZER: Well, without getting into classified information, is there a specific point that you could say that has raised alarm bells, based on the New York Times' or the Los Angeles Times' report?

WARNER: There was not the targeting aspect of it, the sort of threat that we're going to use this against someone. It's more what we have in inventory, its capabilities.

It's always been the posture of this country that the president of the United States, with his principal advisers and indeed key members of Congress, would consult on any policy, before, I think, any use of the weapons were used.

BLITZER: All right. Let me bring in Senator Lieberman.

Are you satisfied, Senator Lieberman, with the seven countries that were named in this report as potential, potential targets of nuclear attack by the United States?

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: Yes, I think John Warner has it just right. And it's very important for the American people or people around the world not to overreact to the news stories.

We, our committee, requested this report. We requested it because we're, you know, more than a decade after the end of the Cold War, the end of the Soviet Union. There were battles going on in Congress about reducing certain elements of our nuclear forces. And we felt, with the new administration coming in, we ought to ask the question, what's our policy?

So this is not a plan that has been signed off on by the president. This is a series of policy options and thinking that we were given by the Pentagon.

And when you come to the targeting of these seven countries, you know, again, I don't want to confirm or deny, as John said, but it seems to me that that should be taken as, you know, possible scenarios or hypothetical uses, but which would be consistent with longstanding policy.

Some of this is provocative and will be discussed in Congress and, I'm sure, will not be acted on by the administration before a lot more discussion goes on.

BLITZER: Senator Warner, correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't it always been U.S. policy, at least going back to the Gulf War, that if a nation uses weapons of mass destruction against the United States, all options, including the nuclear option, would remain open?

WARNER: That is correct.

BLITZER: So what is...

WARNER: It's very simple.

BLITZER: So, Senator Lieberman, what is new about this new review, if you will, given that that's been the policy all along?

LIEBERMAN: Well, some of the...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hold on one second. Let's -- Senator Warner wants to go first.

WARNER: What is new is that this leak, which, as I say, is taken out of context, did list a certain number of nations. And I think that should be clarified, as to how they were used in this report.

But it is not, in my judgment, in any way any basis as a threat against them.

But the overall policy -- as you said, we possess these weapons. Our presidents in succession have always considered that as an option and, particularly now, with the growing concern of weapons of mass destruction, and that's not just nuclear and fissionable weapons, chemical, biological, we'd have to determine whether or not it has to be used.

BLITZER: All right.

Senator Lieberman, go ahead. I interrupted you.

LIEBERMAN: No, it's OK. I do think what's being said here is a step forward in asking us to think about options in this post-Cold War, terrorist-dominated, weapons-of-mass-destruction and small- nations-dominated era.

But the fact is that the U.S. has, and continues to have, a policy that we're not going to strike nations that don't have nuclear capacity, but consistent with the non-proliferation treaty, because we don't want to encourage nations that don't have nuclear power to go ahead and have an excuse now to try to develop nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, we've never said that we would constrain ourselves to act preemptively or in response to the use by any nation of weapons of mass destruction. That, it seeps to me, is part of the president's responsibility as commander in chief and, I think, Congress' responsibility under the Constitution to provide for the common defense.

Obviously there's been a trend, and it's a good one, which is, from the last administration and continued by this one, to reduce the number of nuclear weapons we have on missiles and other carrying systems, to develop agreements. We just agreed with the Russians to have an agreement along these lines. And I think that's the dominant strain in our nuclear policy today.

But frankly, I don't mind some of these renegade nations who we have reason to believe are working themselves to develop nuclear weapons -- and I'm thinking of Iraq and Iran and North Korea here -- to think twice about the willingness of the United States to take action to defend our people and our values and our allies.

BLITZER: Senator Warner, if you're a leader in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, right now, countries that have signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, countries that presumably don't have nuclear weapons, you read these headlines in the newspapers today, you hear this discussion going on, isn't your instinct going to be right away, go ahead and develop nuclear weapons, because the U.S. might target us irrespective of any commitments they made?

WARNER: I should say absolutely not. It should be no basis.

And, again, you cannot take this one sequence of leaks, misfortunate as they are, and let those nations begin to formulate policy on that. And that's why I hope that in the days to come, if there's need for further clarification, we can make it explicitly clear that nothing in this report was designed to arouse in them a fear that they would be struck or that we would use them against them other than to repel the threat or the actual use of weapons of mass destruction.

Now, the thing that changed is that, originally, much of our nuclear policy was predicated on nuclear versus nuclear. Now with the advent of these other weapons of mass destruction, the purpose of the report was to think through our policy, given the growing number of types of weapons of mass destruction.

BLITZER: Biological, chemical and nuclear.

Senator Warner, Senator Lieberman, stand by. We're going to take a quick break.

We have a lot more to talk about with both senators including the war in Afghanistan and the escalating crisis in the Middle East. They'll also be taking your phone calls. Late Edition will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition. We're continuing our conversation with Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia.

Senator Lieberman, a new Gallup poll just out asked this question: Is the United States winning the war on terrorism? Look at these numbers. Fifty-three percent say yes; but in January, 66 percent said yes.

That means a significant chunk of the American public seems to be a little bit more nervous now whether the United States is winning the war on terrorism. Should they be?

LIEBERMAN: Well, no, they shouldn't be. We are winning the war on terrorism, but as the president and most of the rest of us in Congress have said, this is not going to be any six-month battle.

I mean, I think the significant thing that's happened is that after the atrocious attacks on us of September 11, we targeted the source of those attacks, the Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan, and we defeated them. We defeated the Taliban and liberated Afghanistan in a record time, way beyond what anybody predicted.

But now, you know, that was the first battle in the war on terrorism we wanted. And now this enemy is moving out to other places. That's why we're pursuing them in eastern Afghanistan and Yemen, in Georgia and Philippines, et cetera. And I think we've got to hang in there for the long battle. We can't start wavering six months after September 11. There's too much on the line. And the aim here is to do everything we can to prevent another September-11-like attack on the United States.

BLITZER: On that point, Senator Warner, I think, if you look at the polling numbers, a lot of Americans still feel vulnerable six months after September 11 that there could be another terror attacks perhaps even worse than September 11. How worried should the American public be? WARNER: I wouldn't use the word "worried." It's just that we all have to recognize the world is never going to go back to where it was prior to 9/11, and that our nation now, regrettably, is the target of an awful lot of hate. And how that is brought upon us we know not.

But we are a stronger nation today. We're unified behind our president, the men and women of the armed forces, unlike any time since World War II. And we're ready to prepare, and you'll see this week comments by Governor Ridge on preparedness.

And I think on Monday -- I've been invited to go over and join the president on Monday at the White House -- he's going to further explain, as he's done very well thus far, the need for this country to take additional steps militarily and otherwise in the war on terrorism.

BLITZER: Senator Lieberman, you've been among those saying one of those additional steps should be eventually launching military action to engage in what they call regime change in Baghdad, getting rid of Saddam Hussein.

The vice president, Dick Cheney, has just embarked on a mission to the Middle East presumably to generate some sort of support among moderate Arab states, European allies for that course of action.

Do you believe that Saddam Hussein, if he were to allow U.N. weapons inspectors back in, could avert that kind of action?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I think it's very important -- let me start with the premise and just do it briefly, Wolf. I think Saddam Hussein is himself the most dangerous terrorist in the world. He's got weapons of mass destruction. We have reason to worry that he's developing nuclear weapons. He's used them. He hates the United States. He's had -- his intelligence have had contacts with the people who attacked us on September 11. I just don't think the U.S. is going to be safe or our citizens are going to be safe so long as he's in power in Baghdad.

And I do think it's critically important now that this administration's seems to have turned the corner and is looking at how to change the regime in Baghdad; that we not be suckered into an inspection compromise that is really a kind of a rope-a-dope and delay game by Saddam. But the statements from the administration over the last couple of days have been very encouraging to me in that regard.

I think if there's going to be inspection in Baghdad and then throughout Iraq, it's got to be demanding, it's got to be comprehensive. We can't anymore accept the idea that Saddam is going to tell us that Americans can't be part of those inspection teams. If he accepts it, we'll inspect. If not, let's keep going straight ahead to develop plans to get him out of power.

BLITZER: What about that? Do you agree with him?

WARNER: I think my good friend Joe Lieberman is right on. He's done a lot of work on the Middle East situation and particularly the questions in Iraq, as has our committee. I think the president will be addressing that. But I don't mention it in the context suddenly that we've got a war plan that we're going to launch.

This week we consulted the Congress with Secretary Rumsfeld, a group of us, and Joe Lieberman was with me. He made it very clear that our nation has a series of plans, but that Iraq is reviewed on a daily basis, and that it would -- any action would involve with consultation with our allies, consultation with the Congress.

But Joe is on, right on target. That's our number-one enemy in that region.

BLITZER: All right, Senators, we're going to take another quick break.

Phone calls for both Senators Warner and Lieberman, as well as the latest fighting in the Middle East, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition. We're continuing our discussion with Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia.

You may have heard, Senator Lieberman, the Secretary of State Colin Powell suggest today that Prime Minister Sharon seriously consider allowing Yasser Arizona to leave Ramallah and the West Bank, go to Beirut for that Arab summit at the end of the month.

Would that be a good idea?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I think you've got to leave that up to Prime Minister Sharon.

Frankly, a lot depends on what happens between now and then. This is a very dangerous situation. Innocents are being killed. And it runs the risk of running out of control and jeopardizing stability in the entire Middle East; and beginning to affect interests that we have there, both for stability and, going back to what we were talking about before, in changing the regime in Iraq.

Vice President Cheney is leaving. Presumably, the original purpose of his trip was to talk to our allies in the Arab world about our policy with regard to Iraq. He now has to add what can we all do together to stop the violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Because if that's flaring, it will complicate our national security interest in changing the regime in Baghdad. So we've got a lot of work to do.

I do want to say that I'm pleased that General Zinni is going back to the region as the president's representative. Frankly, I regret that he was not there earlier.

I want to suggest, respectfully, to the administration that there ought to be now in this crisis, a kind of permanent or full-time American presence on the ground. And I have great respect for General Zinni, but I think we ought to supplement it with some diplomatic heavyweight firepower, like George Mitchell, maybe Bob Dole or some former secretaries of state like Warren Christopher, Jim Baker, Frank Carlucci who was at Defense.

There are people there who ought to be on the ground, because when the U.S. is not there, trouble occurs. And this thing has killed too many innocents.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Warner? You've been following the Israeli-Palestinian crisis almost forever, as all of us have.

What should the Bush administration do right now?

This past week, you did see Secretary of State Powell come down on Ariel Sharon, not only on Yasser Arafat, and urge him to step back from some of the Israeli retaliatory strikes.

WARNER: Any solution for that tragic problem really has to start with the two countries involved. And then the outside world can take a role in it. I think our president took the proper step, sending Zinni back. As Secretary Powell said, he'll have the George Tenet program.

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for one minute. But you just heard Senator Lieberman suggest that General Zinni might not be the heavyweight, have the clout necessary to get the job done; maybe bring in someone with a little bit more political heft.

WARNER: Yes, but the fact that he went doesn't preclude others joining. But he's taking back the George Tenet program to be followed by the George Mitchell program. Both of those men have worked hard in this area.

But I want to go back to Joe's point about whether or not Arafat should go to the Arab League. I attach considerable significance to the fact that that Arab League meeting will consider the possibility of putting their imprimatur for the first time on a program that could lead to normalcy, and that's the key word. And eventually...

BLITZER: The Saudi peace plan.

WARNER: Yes. Prince...

BLITZER: Abdullah's.

WARNER: ... Abdullah's. But the point is, normalcy with recognized, agreed-upon borders, whatever they may be, and then statehood. Now, those are the three things that are out there. And they would hopeful -- if Arafat went and sat there with his colleagues in that tribunal and they came back, that would probably give some momentum here at this key point.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we are all out of time for this segment. Senator Warner, Senator Lieberman, always good to have both of you on this program. Thanks to both of you joining us on Late Edition. LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

And coming up, the next hour of Late Edition. We'll check the hour's top stories. Then CNN military analysts give us some insight into what U.S. troops are facing on the ground in Afghanistan. All that and much more when Late Edition continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is Late Edition, the last word in Sunday talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: These are very well- trained fighters. These are hard dead-enders. These are hardline types.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The war on terror rages against a determined foe, prepared to fight to the death.

We'll analyze Operation Anaconda with two generals, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander retired General Wesley Clark and retired Air Force General Don Shepperd.

Then, after eight years, and $68 million, case closed. The independent counsel's office quietly ends its investigation into former President Bill Clinton.

We'll review that case plus the hottest legal issues of the week with our panel, former attorney general Richard Thornburgh and former federal prosecutors Cynthia Alksne and Michael Zeldin.

And "Ambling Into History," we'll speak to New York Times reporter and author Frank Bruni about his new book on George W. Bush.

Welcome back to Late Edition. We'll discuss the military campaign in Afghanistan and a lot more in just a few minutes, but first, here is Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta with a news alert.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: For some perspective now on the current battle in Afghanistan, we're joined by two men who have had firsthand experience fighting on the front lines. In Little Rock, Arkansas, CNN military analyst and the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander retired General Wesley Clark. And here in Washington, retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd, also a CNN military analyst.

Gentlemen, welcome back to Late Edition.

And, General Clark, let me begin with you on your assessment, what's happening right now, as far as Operation Anaconda's concerned, in eastern Afghanistan?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FMR NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMDR.: Well, we've got our troops on the ground there. Some have been redeployed back, as we just heard. But we've got a substantial number of troops out on the ground. We think we've got the enemy encircled. There are minefields protecting the enemy. The enemy's up in caves, and he's got fighting positions outside the caves. The weather's been bad.

And it's a matter of slowly applying pressure and using high- performance aircraft, attack helicopters, and other means of fire support to attack the enemy with fire. We don't want to have go in there with fixed bayonets and try to rout them out. This is not Iwo Jima or Okinawa.

So, we'll keep the pressure on, and eventually we'll erode the last of the enemy elements in there.

BLITZER: General Clark, were you surprised that the U.S. decided to send its own ground forces in to do that kind of very, very dangerous work with the land mines and the close-in fire that they've been encountering, as opposed to sending in the Afghan troops allied with the U.S.?

CLARK: Well, actually, both were in there, Wolf, as you know. But I think we had to put our own troops in there on the ground. I think the lesson of the Tora Bora campaign is that, because we didn't have our troops in in December, in sufficient numbers -- we didn't have ground troops in there; we had some special ops guys -- that we weren't able to really come to grips with the enemy.

CLARK: The enemy sort of melted away. We never got the intelligence out of it. We never got the decisive engagement. We are getting the decisive engagement here, and that's what it is going to take to succeed in this campaign.

BLITZER: General Shepperd, the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke about what's going on in Operation Anaconda when he was at a town meeting earlier in the week. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We know of a fact that an awful lot of people have been trying to get out and have not been making it. But we never can know if it is all the people that were trying to get out.

There seems to be no inclination to surrender. We have not seen or heard any willingness to do that, although we've looked.

BLITZER: He calls them dead-enders, fighters willing to fight to the death. That obviously has to have an impact on the sort of rules of engagement the U.S. troops are dealing with.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it does and it doesn't. We have used this word, "hardcore," repeatedly throughout this campaign, but it appears that these really are the hardcore guys. There doesn't seem to be any inclination to surrender, although, it is obvious, that if the right thing takes place, either through negotiations by Afghan commanders or if these people come out with their hands up and white flags, that we would allow them to surrender.

But they're either going to surrender or they're going to die, Wolf. That's what it amounts to.

BLITZER: But even if they come out with their hands up, with white flags, these people are ready to die. And they could be, they could have bombs attached to themselves or hand grenades, and just look for an excuse to kill a few U.S. troops. So how do you deal with that kind of a contingency?

SHEPPERD: Yes, you deal with it very carefully. And, of course, the judgment will be made by a 23-, 24-, 27-year-old young American soldiers on the ground, whether or not he feels endangered, whether or not he can allow these people to surrender or not. We don't murder people that are trying to surrender. On the other hand, we don't put ourselves and our troops at undue risk. It's just dangerous. These troops are trained to deal with this, Wolf.

BLITZER: What about that, General Clark, 23-, 24-, 20-year-old troops, seeing someone approach them, supposedly ready to surrender but may not be ready to surrender at all, may still be anxious to kill that 20-year-old?

CLARK: Well, I would assume that we'll have some people there who can speak the language. I would assume there would probably be some Afghans there. We have probably figure out who negotiated this surrender. We'd probably have the Afghans go up and do the searching, keep our own troops back. That's just speculation.

The leaders on the ground have got to work out the right methodology. And for this, they will that methodology. Whenever we take a prisoner, we search them, we take his weapons, we segregate them and separate them out and so forth.

But in this case -- we have already had experience in Afghanistan with this at Mazar-i-Sharif. We know that a few will want to blow themselves up as a way of continuing the destruction. So, we've got to have means of dealing with it, and we've got smart people on the ground. They can handle it.

BLITZER: General Shepperd, has the U.S. military ever encountered a contingency like that -- suicide troops, if you will, ready to blow themselves up in the process of surrendering?

SHEPPERD: No, I can't remember a situation exactly like this. But any time you are in military conflict, you can assume that the same thing as General Clark said is going to happen. When you take prisoners, you must assure that they are disarmed and not able to bring violence against you. And we've faced, you know, suicide attacks; people that were really hard corp in Vietnam other conflicts out there. It's always a possibility. Nothing exactly like this.

BLITZER: The other issues facing the U.S. troops, General Clark, include, as you pointed out, the bad weather, the land mines. There is also the issue of high altitude. It's not necessarily all that easy to breathe at 8,000 or 10,000 feet. But I assume the 10th Mountain Division, the 101st Airborne, they've trained for this.

CLARK: Well, they do train for it, but of course, you have to live it. And they're at Bagram, Bagram is not at sea level. It is a little above sea level. But it is like people from the East Coast going out to ski at Aspen or somewhere in the West. You may get a headache or something the first day, you may not feel well, but you're going to acclimatize.

Now, we had our troops out there for seven or eight days on the ground. As far as I could tell from reading the news reports, our people were just out there on the ground -- no shelter, no cover. That is very tough exposure conditions, but we've got tough troops.

And, so, I have got a lot of confidence in those men and women over there. I know they can handle this. And I think the 10,000-foot altitude is hard but it's not impossible. If you are up 15,000, 17,000 feet, that's a different matter.

BLITZER: And on that specific point I want to play an excerpt from what Major Brian Hillford (ph), of the U.S. Army -- he's a spokesperson at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan -- what he said earlier in the week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJOR BRIAN HILLFORD (ph), U.S. ARMY: As you know, they're fighting 8,000 to 12,000 feet. The temperatures are cold. It's raining and snowing, just as it's cold here.

We have continued to conduct search and attack missions through the objective area, clearing the objective in the Shurkat (ph) valley.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: General Shepperd, as you know, there is some criticism of this operation that the U.S. should have engaged in additional advance air strikes before sending troops in on the ground.

Looking back, and I asked that question of General Myers earlier, should the U.S. have pounded those positions from the air before sending in those ground forces?

SHEPPERD: Well, we did pound the positions. But you don't just go in there and bomb indiscriminately. You go against targets you can identity.

Now, remember at the time this attack was going in, there were seven different pockets going in. You can't see everybody all the time. And you're going to miss some things, even with all of our senses there, you're going to miss some things. And in one of those seven pockets, they basically got surprised.

So, we would have hit it with more air power, but when you send helicopters in, on these raids, basically the helicopter pilot is going to make the decision. He's assuming he's going to get shot at; he's assuming he's going to get hit. He's going to make the decision if it's too hot. And one of the seven landing zones was too hot. This doesn't surprise me at all.

BLITZER: Did it surprise you, General Clark?

CLARK: I was not surprised by the fact that we took fire coming in.

But we did have some time to prepare this operation. We had a lot of people up there. And as I think is known now, we basically turned the operation inside-out after it got under way.

The original plan was that the pressure was going to put on by the Afghan allies. But we then determined that they got hit, they got ambushed, they were frontly assaulted a couple of times. The Apache helicopters apparently saved them. And we had to put our own troops in and do our own operation a little bit differently than we had planned.

So, I think the command on the ground gets a lot of credit for a rapid response to a tactical changes on the ground. The troops adapted well. Sure, looking back, anything could be done better.

CLARK: But I think the standard here is that we did succeed in the operation. We succeeded with minimal casualties, considering the difficulty of the operation. And we'll learn from it, and we'll move ahead.

BLITZER: And you know, General Clark, a lot of speculation that someone, perhaps a warlord or someone else, tipped off the enemy, in this particular case the Al Qaeda fighters, that the U.S. was coming and giving them some advance notice of what to expect.

CLARK: And, Wolf, I think that's really the larger issue here. It's not the tactics of this or the courage of our troops. We've got great fighters and great leaders there. It's the overall environment in which we're operating.

Do we have intelligence dominance? How good is our security? What are we doing to ease the quarrels between the different factions that are supposedly on our side in Afghanistan? How do we keep our Afghan allies from cutting a deal with their cousin who's a Taliban up there fighting? The answer is, those issues are going to be decisive in the long run, despite the courage and the effectiveness of our young troops on the ground.

BLITZER: All right, Generals, stand by. We're going to continue our conversation, but we have to take quick break.

General Clark and General Shepperd will also be taking your phone calls when Late Edition continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

(UNKNOWN): There was a decent amount of fire coming our way. And we let loose (inaudible) rained down on them.

(UNKNOWN): You start thinking about your buddy who you've been training with for two years, three years, four years, you start thinking about him and his family, all the guys you work with and their kids.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: U.S. soldiers in the line of fire in Afghanistan.

Welcome back to Late Edition. We're continuing our discussion with our CNN military analysts, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark and retired Major General Don Shepperd.

Let's take a caller from Canada. Please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Hello. How are you this morning, gentlemen?

BLITZER: Good. Go ahead.

CALLER: Yes. I wanted to know, I've been watching ever since 9/11, and the problem with going on in Afghanistan, why is it taking so long for the most powerful army in the world and the most -- I said, I guess, the non-qualified army, compared to Kuwait, taking so long and so much casualties?

BLITZER: All right, let's ask General Shepperd.

SHEPPERD: You bet. Well, not very much of that largest and most powerful army in world is in Afghanistan right now. Reportedly, before this attack took place, there was around 4,000, 4,500 troops there. Our intent has been to keep our footprints small and let the Afghans do as much as possible within their own country.

But basically, also, this is halfway around the world in the nastiest place to fight. If you had to pick one place on the globe you didn't want to fight, Afghanistan would be right up there at the top. So it's a tough fight, with small numbers of troops. We're going to do what we have to do over time, but we don't have a large piece of our army and other forces there.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take another caller from California. Go ahead, please.

CALLER: Yes, hi. Good morning, gentlemen.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

CALLER: Yes, hi. My question is, it seems me that Osama bin Laden and Omar don't really have a lot of places to hide anymore, because they're really in the public eye so much. Seems to me, is there a good chance they may be up there and that's why these guys are fighting so hard for their protection?

BLITZER: What about that, General Clark?

CLARK: Well, Afghanistan is still a big country. There's a lot of areas where we don't have troops on the ground. And as far as we know, from people who have some Afghans have -- in fact, there was a man who was kidnapped from one of the villages. He was taken in there and he was released, subsequently. He was a TV technician of all things. He says he's not there.

I mean, the indications are that Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar are not there. There may be a senior lieutenant there who's directing the fighting but not the top people.

BLITZER: You know, General Shepperd, the caves that have been so much talked about in Afghanistan, the caves where Osama bin Laden and some of his key lieutenants could be hiding, I keep getting conflicting reports. Very, very sophisticated with all sorts of modern technology inside, as opposed to very, very rudimentary but places where people can hide. What is the truth? How sophisticated are these caves?

SHEPPERD: Some of each. I think that we've seen replays recently on TV about the caves being attacked with a bunker-buster munition and the munition flying in there. These are at high altitude. These are probably unsophisticated caves.

But the ones down at lower altitudes, you can reinforce them, make them real bunkers and real complexes. And there's probably connections between the upper caves and the lower caves.

So the answer is there's some real sophisticated ones. They're probably down deeper and lower, where you can drive vehicles and that type of thing, and the upper ones are probably caves, as we think about, not quite as complex.

BLITZER: General Clark, you heard the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, General Myers, tell me in the first hour of this program that the U.S. is not really controlling the international peacekeeping force that's right now centered only in Kabul, that those are decisions made elsewhere. It's not necessarily all that neat and simple, is it? MYERS: Well, I hope that the United States is controlling and leading that force. Even though we're not participating in it, the outcome of the fighting in Afghanistan is going to be critically dependent on that force.

First, if it's in Kabul, it got to protect Hamid Karzai and establish order there, and then we've got to make the decisions. We, the United States, have got to lead in that decision, as to how stability is going to be brought to Afghanistan. Otherwise, we're going to have people there dropping bombs and fighting for not only months but years, as we work our way through this country.

The idea is not to try to kill everybody who opposes us, it's to persuade people not to oppose us. And that's the function of the international security force, and we should be helping to coordinate what they're doing.

BLITZER: And, General Clark, switching gears, this Nuclear Posture Review, that has just been leaked to the Los Angeles Times yesterday, the New York Times today, outlining seven countries, potentially, as targets for the use of a U.S. nuclear weapon. What do you make of this?

CLARK: Well, I think it's a logical evolution of some thinking that's been going on for a long time inside the United States government.

Large nuclear weapons are not particularly useful, and the lessons taken out of the Gulf War by Saddam Hussein and others were that you have to have deeply buried underground targets; that's the way you escape the American bombing campaign.

CLARK: And so, we've been working for a long time about how to attack those targets. Nuclear weapons, small nuclear weapons tailored with the right kind of penetrating warheads would be one of the ways to attack those deeply buried underground targets. And I think that's part of what lies behind this.

Ultimately, the United States wants to deter, as General Myers said, nations from developing these capabilities and threatening their neighbors with them. But should deterrence fail, we do have to be prepared to take action.

And I think this -- what I've heard from the administration so far, from the public response, is very logical. It's important that we look at all of our capabilities, and it's important we make clear that we're not going to be intimidated, we're not going to make ourselves vulnerable to attacks by these countries who are trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.

BLITZER: What I read, General Shepperd, from this report, the reports in the newspapers, is that the potential use of a small tactical nuclear weapon, as General Clark just said, is by no means out of the question.

SHEPPERD: No, it's by no means out of the question from this standpoint: We should never take our nuclear weapons arsenal off the table. Any potential adversary should wonder what we're going to do.

For instance, during the Gulf War, President Bush the senior, at that time, basically said, if you use chemical and biological weapons, we will have the harshest response. Now, you can read in that what you want to read, but Saddam Hussein had to wonder. And every adversary should have to wonder.

But right now it's a prudent time to review our nuclear posture as we reduce down to 1,700, to 2,200 nuclear weapons, and say, do we have the right kind? If we ever have to, Lord forbid, use those, what type of targets do we need? And perhaps we need to look at new types of nuclear munitions as well.

BLITZER: All right. General Shepperd, General Clark, always great to have both of you on Late Edition. Thanks both of you for joining us.

CLARK: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you. And when we return, the case against President Bill Clinton is officially closed. We'll get some analysis on the independent counsel's final report on the ex-president from the former attorney general Dick Thornburgh and former federal prosecutors Cynthia Alksne and Michael Zeldin. Late Edition will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This past week here in the United States, the independent counsel, Robert Ray, issued his final report on the investigation of the former President Bill Clinton, officially closing the case.

Here to help explain the legal implications of the report are three guests with extensive government experience. In Pittsburgh, Dick Thornburgh; he served as the attorney general in the first Bush administration. And here in Washington, former federal prosecutors Cynthia Alksne and Michael Zeldin.

Thanks to all of you for joining us.

Let me begin by reading an excerpt from Robert Ray's final report. Among other things, he writes this: "The independent counsel concluded that the evidence was sufficient to prosecute President Clinton, and there was a substantial federal interest in prosecuting him for his testimony and conduct in the Paula Jones case. The evidence would probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction."

Yet, Attorney General Thornburgh, Robert Ray decided not to go ahead and seek some sort of indictment to prosecute. Was that a wise decision?

RICHARD THORNBURGH, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, it's hardly a news flash that the former president knowingly gave false testimony under oath and attempted to obstruct justice. That was precisely the basis for the plea bargain that was entered into at the end of his two terms in office.

And this report was required by the now-repealed independent counsel act, and I think a review of the evidence was in order. And the reason stated by Mr. Ray for not bringing a prosecution I think make pretty good sense.

BLITZER: And among those reasons, Michael Zeldin, was that the president did pay Paula Jones, what, some $850,000. He did give up his law license for, what, five years. He admitted that he did lie during that testimony, and he was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, although not convicted in the U.S. Senate.

So I guess you would say that he did pay a price for his wrongdoing. MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The president paid a dear price for his wrongdoing, and Robert Ray got the price that he wanted. Most particularly, Robert Ray wanted the admission by the president that he lied under oath while the president was still in office.

Remember back in August of 2000, Robert Ray and I exchanged op-ed pieces on this, and at the time I said he suffered enough; Ray believed that he needed the admission to come full circle. He got admission, and then he laid out in his report why that trumped any need to prosecute. So I think he did right thing in that calculus.

BLITZER: Cynthia, you're an experienced federal prosecutor in this area. If he had decided, though, to go ahead and prosecute Bill Clinton, presumably that would have taken place in the District of Columbia.

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: That's right.

BLITZER: Ray says he thinks he could have gotten a conviction. Do you believe that a jury in the District of Columbia would have convicted Bill Clinton of anything?

ALKSNE: I believe it's much easier to write that you could get a conviction than get a conviction. I mean, he could get the indictment, but it would have been very difficult to get the conviction here.

BLITZER: Given the nature that it would have to be a unanimous decision.

ALKSNE: It has to be a unanimous decision. It's here in the District of Columbia. It's an issue, you know, about whether or not he was having an affair, that many people did not find particularly critical in the District of Columbia. So, that's probably stretching it, that he thought he could get conviction.

BLITZER: Dick Thornburgh, do you believe that Robert Ray, had he decided to prosecute, would have succeeded in getting a conviction?

THORNBURGH: Oh, that's hard to say. I think it's probably imprudent for an independent counsel like Mr. Ray to make any predictions about the outcome of the case. That's not the task of the independent counsel. Although here, it's tempered somewhat by the fact that in effect a plea bargain acknowledging the wrong doing in question had been forthcoming at the end of the Clinton administration.

But I think any speculation of about the outcome of the trial would be just that, and I'm not sure it's terribly productive.

BLITZER: What do you think, Michael?

ZELDIN: I think that's right. And in fact, the statute, I think, argues in favor of not offering those predictions. Likewise, and the one small beef I have with Robert Ray is that he wrote a section 5 of his report which he labeled "conclusion," which is really an historian's review of the case, and I thought that that was inappropriate for this report. He laid out the evidence very well in sections 1 through 4. He should have left it at that, not predict the outcome, and let historians write about history.

BLITZER: Dick Thornburgh, let me bring you back in and ask you the very general question that a lot of people are asking, especially Bill Clinton's supporters. Eight years or almost nine years, $70 million the entire independent counsel investigation of Whitewater and related Monica Lewinsky activities.

When all is said and done, was it worth the money?

THORNBURGH: I think I have to give a qualified yes to that.

Remember, Wolf, that this investigation and the appointment of an independent counsel was undertaken at the request of Bill Clinton's own attorney general Janet Reno. Remember, as well, that the expansion from Whitewater into the Monica Lewinsky situation was similarly requested by Attorney General Reno and approved by federal judges.

There was a lot of delay, and I was taken by the language in the Washington Post this morning, where it characterized a lot of this delay as being due to a "White House campaign of stonewalling and smearing the independent counsel and his staff." We saw an unprecedented assault upon the integrity of the independent counsel's office and an unprecedented attempt to withhold evidence that stretched this investigation out long beyond what its reasonable terminus should have been.

BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in Michael Zeldin.

You were once an independent counsel yourself...

ZELDIN: Right.

BLITZER: ... so you have some experience in what the law of the land is. Now that whole independent counsel statute is history. It lapsed. There is no independent counsel law right now.

When you look back on the eight years, was it worth the money and the time and the effort and all of the pain that was endured by, I guess, everyone, supporters and critics of Bill Clinton alike?

ZELDIN: It's almost too early to tell. I mean, there's a historical judgment there.

But I think the fundamental proposition that no man is above the law, even the president of United States sometimes have to stand naked, as Bob Dylan said, is an important fundamental principle. And if, as Rob Ray says in his report, that this report and this aspect of the investigation was to prove that proposition, then probably it is worth it.

I think we could have gotten there a lot quicker, partly the blame of the White House, partly the blame of independent counsel Starr, Robert Ray's predecessor. It could have been a lot less painful. But I think, ultimately, the proposition that no man is above the law has to be established, as Jaworski established it back in Whitewater.

So, yes, probably, as Dick Thornburgh says, qualified yes.

BLITZER: OK. Cynthia, we're going to bring you back in a moment, but we're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about.

When we return, we'll talk with our legal experts about some of the other big legal stories of the week, including the Andrea Yates trial. They'll also be taking your phone calls, so start making them. Late Edition will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're sorting through some of the big legal stories this week with the former attorney general of the United States, Dick Thornburgh, and former federal prosecutors Cynthia Alksne and Michael Zeldin.

Cynthia, the Andrea Yates case in Texas, a case that's generated an enormous amount of interest here in the United States, a mother of five drowns her five children. She is pleading not guilty on the basis of insanity.

But did the defense, her lawyers, successfully make the argument that she could not tell the difference between right and wrong, which she would have to convince a jury that she couldn't do in order to be acquitted in this particular case?

ALKSNE: Well, the defense did a very good job explaining her mental competence.

Remember, we're in the third phase of the trail. The first is the description of the murders. The second phase is the defense saying she was insane and should get not guilty by reason of insanity. And now we're in the third phase with the prosecution rebutting. It's the final phase of the trial before the closing statements.

And the prosecution has a very difficult road to hoe because the defense did such a great job. They had nine experts coming at her mental illness from different angles.

And it's going to be difficult. Everybody agrees she was psychotic. Even the prosecution's experts agree she was psychotic for over two years. And the question is, at the moment of the drownings was she psychotic?

The prosecution has begun its case and has done a very good job also. They started with the pathologist who talked about how long it took to drown these children and how difficult it was to do and the amount of planning that was required to get it in that window of time from after her husband left and before her mother-in-law arrived. And they also have a very experienced expert explaining how he knows that she knew the difference from right and wrong. And he highlighted some things that are now in front of the jury. So, it will be up for the jury to decide. BLITZER: And on another important legal case, the Abner Louima case in New York City, a Haitian immigrant who was brutally beaten by police officers in New York, some of the convictions thrown out, as you well know, Michael, over the past week or so.

Would it be smart for the prosecution to once again start this process all over, or just let it go away?

ZELDIN: No, I think this is a case that cries out for retrial.

One of the officers was found to not be culpable after the appellate decision because the jury was tainted by outside information and he had a lawyer who had a conflict. They never ruled on the merits of the evidence against him. He says he wasn't in the bathroom when Louima was sodomized. He didn't help hold Louima down. Others have said, including Louima, that it was the person who drove the car, and this was same guy.

I don't think you cannot retry that case. It must go forward.

ALKSNE: They set a trial date.

ZELDIN: As to the other two, the two officers who were charged with lying to the grand jury, the court said you picked the wrong forum. They should have been charged with lying to investigators.

Some have speculated there is double jeopardy, that they cannot be retried for that case. I think they can be, and I think they should be.

And the court of appeals tells us that these guys were engaged in a conspiracy to cover up and to obstruct justice, and they should be charged with that if double jeopardy doesn't preclude it from happening.

BLITZER: Another legal issue of the week -- Attorney General Thornburgh, I want to bring you back in -- involves the detainees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and a suggestion that some were making that any fighter, any Al Qaeda fighter that has any association with Al Qaeda whatsoever, should be tried for war crimes, which is obviously a specific charge the international court -- the war crimes tribunal would be brought in.

Would that be smart for the U.S., for the Bush administration, to take such a stance?

THORNBURGH: Well, questions under the Geneva Convention very seldom arise, so there's not any large body of precedent out there. And there's a lot of confusion about how the Geneva Convention applies to a new kind of war that we are involved in now.

We have taken the position that these are not prisoners of war. Certainly, with respect to the Al Qaeda fighters, who don't represent any country or represent any faction, they are simply terrorists and guerrilla fighters. The real question is, what's ultimately to become of these folks? Ironically, if they were prisoners of war, they could be held until the termination of hostilities. If they are going to be tried somewhere, they are either going to be found guilty or not guilty before an American court or international court, and their fate will be determined there.

This is breaking new ground, and there is going to be a lot of argument back and forth.

BLITZER: And, Michael, as the attorney general says, no one knows what's going to happen to these detainees.

ZELDIN: That is exactly right, which is why there is this little interesting side bar going on, which is that they want to take the DNA of these individuals and put them into the DNA criminal database. They really can't do that.

BLITZER: What does that do? Explain to our viewers what that does.

ZELDIN: What it essentially does is it provides a piece of evidence that prosecutors can always go back to and see whether or not a person whose DNA appears on a crime scene is in the database. It's a fingerprinting, essentially, through DNA.

The military and prosecutors want to do that. They want these people, if they can't detain them, and they're going to chip them out, to have that information if they show up in another bomb site. Right now the law doesn't allow it.

And it's a very interesting thing that Attorney General Thornburgh says about what they will be charged with as it relates to can we preserve evidence and put it into databases about them.

BLITZER: All right. Unfortunately, we have to leave it there. Michael Zeldin, Cynthia Alksne, Dick Thornburgh, great to have you back -- all of you back on Late Edition. Thank you so much for joining us.

And just ahead, an inside look at President Bush and his transformation into a wartime leader. We'll talk with New York Times reporter Frank Bruni, who has written a new book about the president. Late Edition will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: ... sad for loss of life. And today we've got the mom and dad of a brave soldier who lost his life -- and a brother, God bless you.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush nearly overcome with emotion, during an appearance this past week in Florida. Welcome back to Late Edition.

For many Americans, the September 11 terror attacks dramatically changed their perception of President Bush. His job approval ratings remain high, largely because of the way the public views him as a wartime president.

Joining us now, New York Times reporter Frank Bruni covered the Bush campaign and the president's first eight months in office. He's also the author of the new book, "Ambling Into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush."

Frank, thanks for joining us. Welcome to Late Edition.

FRANK BRUNI, "NEW YORK TIMES": Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: When you saw the president get that emotional in Florida this past week, he did choke back tears, he broke down...

BRUNI: Yes.

BLITZER: ... were you suprised?

BRUNI: No. During the campaign, there were any number of moments, usually not that much in public but more in private, where he would get teary. He's a very sentimental guy. He used to get teary when he talked about his wife. He used to get teary when he talked about his dad. He's a guy whose emotions are very close to the surface.

BLITZER: Let me read an excerpt from your book: "Until September 11, Bush had never cut a profoundly commanding political figure. His pursuit in attainment of the presidency had been less a passionate quest than an excellent adventure."

Tell us what you mean?

BRUNI: Well, he really kind of got drafted into this whole thing. He wasn't one of these presidents who came out of the womb, wanting to be president. It wasn't until '95, when he was inaugurated as Texas governor, that he held an elective office. It was really a sort of slow amble into the presidency.

And even during his campaign, you got the sense that he wasn't sure how much he wanted the presidency. He used to complain about being homesick. You know, he used to say, "If I'm not elected, if the voters don't choose me, well, so be it." And I hadn't really seemed like this was a churning ambition the way it is for a lot of men.

BLITZER: In marked contrast to Bill Clinton. I covered his campaign...

BRUNI: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... his presidency. He had been thinking about it his whole life.

BRUNI: And you got the sense Al Gore had been thinking about it for a very long time too, and maybe that worked to Bush's advantage during this campaign. Because before September 11, there weren't a lot of urgent issues facing the country. I don't think voters felt there was going to be a massive difference in the way Gore versus Bush governed, and maybe they chose the guy who just seemed a little bit, you know, less striving, a little bit more likable.

BLITZER: Another excerpt from your book: "The Bush I knew was part scamp and part bumbler, a timeless fraternity boy and heedless cut-up, a weekday gym rat and a weekend napster, an adult with an inner child that often brimmed to the surface or burst through."

That's not necessarily the most flattering comments about the president of the United States.

BRUNI: Well, actually, I think there's some affection in that statement, and I think that's part of what made Bush likable. I mean, he was likable to me from the moment I met him.

The point of that is that's the way he looked at the beginning of his campaign. And what I tried to do is trace his evolution to the point where he had controlled all of that well enough to become president and taken seriously and then, you know, leap far forward, where he could come out of September 11 to make the kinds of public statements and appearances he did and project the kind of authority he was projecting, which wasn't something he had two years prior.

BLITZER: But this notion of frat boy, and all of us have heard that, you know, throughout the campaign, even earlier. I remember the first time I interviewed him in Iowa during the Iowa caucuses, and I had an extensive interview with him. I was surprised how substantive he was in all of the specific issues that I raised during the course of that interview. You must have been surprised about that, as well.

BRUNI: Oh, sure, and I that say in the book. I say, particularly, that one of the things that was interesting about him and, I think, frustrating to his advisers, were when you put him in front of a lectern or you put him in formal settings, he could often sound very vapid, it was where he'd make a lot of mistakes.

As you point out, when you talk to him one on one, the less formal the situation or the more intimate the situation, he could be extremely fluid in his statements. He obviously knew more than people gave him credit for. All of that is true.

BLITZER: And let's fast forward now, after September 11. He shows up at Ground Zero, a remarkable appearance that he had that day with those first-line defenders. I want to run a little excerpt of what happened on that day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: America today is on bended knee in prayer for the people whose lives were lost here, for the workers who work here, for the families who mourn.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: We can't hear you.

BUSH: I can hear you.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people...

(APPLAUSE)

... and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, that was a spontaneous statement that he made, and you write about that....

BRUNI: Yes.

BLITZER: ... that he really delivered the goods, right after September 11.

BRUNI: Yes, that was totally spontaneous. In fact, you know, they didn't know a bull horn was going to be handed to him. And for weeks afterwards, months afterwards, they were actually searching for that bull horn, because they thought would be a great addition to a future presidential library.

That was an example of how George Bush, you know, fast on his feet at times, can be very commanding, and especially when it's a kind of genuine, earnest moment like that. He's not somebody who goes in for lofty oratory most of the time. But when he's just -- when it's a kind of exchange like that that's very informal, he can really project a warmth and earnestness and genuineness that I think have served him well.

BLITZER: All right, let's take another caller. We have a caller from California with a question for Frank Bruni. Go ahead.

CALLER: Yes, I wanted to see how he reacted during the last few hours of the campaign, you know, when the calls were going back and forth between him and Al Gore.

And also, people keep saying he was elected, but is there a sense that he was never elected, in terms of the votes, inside the White House now?

BRUNI: Oh, I don't think the people in the White House spend a moment thinking about that. I mean, obviously you refer to the fact that he lost popular vote to Al Gore and that there was a lot of dispute about the counting in Florida. I think pretty soon after he came into office, they banished any thoughts of that. Earlier, his first month or so, they didn't play "Hail to the Chief" when he walked into the room. I think part of that was about not seeming to revel too much in the ceremony of the presidency because of the disputed returns. But September 11 certainly put that out of everybody's minds.

BLITZER: And September 11, the first time we heard from President Bush after the attacks, he was a little shaky.

BRUNI: Yes.

BLITZER: The second time, though, he was much steadier. Listen to what he said during that second statement he made in Louisiana.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward, and freedom will be defended.

The resolve of our great nation is being tested. But make no mistake, we will show the world that we will pass this test.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: How profoundly did September 11 change George W. Bush?

BRUNI: Well, it affected him profoundly. I mean, in terms of change, I think it brought to the surface and forced him to lean on certain strengths and certain qualities that he always had but didn't always give full expression to.

But it touched him very much. And there are people who will tell you he felt that he then, from that moment forward, he said, "OK, I now know something a lot of presidents never know, I know what my presidency is about. I know that one issue transcends all others. I know that history and Americans right now will judge me by my performance on this one issue."

BLITZER: Your nickname -- he gave you a nickname, "Panchito."

BRUNI: One of many, yes. I had several nicknames, that was one of them.

BLITZER: Why "Panchito"? What's that about?

BRUNI: "Pancho" is one of the possible Spanish translations of Frank, and then "ito" just means "little," it's a kind of endearing suffix.

BLITZER: The last time I met him at the White House, a few weeks ago, he called me "Blitz." I guess I should be flattered that I have a nickname, huh?

BRUNI: Yes, yes.

BLITZER: He gives them to everybody, though, right?

BRUNI: Yes, some more original than others. One of your colleagues here at CNN, Candy Crowley, was Senora Dulce, which "dulce" meaning sweet or candy in Spanish.

BLITZER: So what do you do? You're no longer covering the White House.

BRUNI: I'm now working full-time for the Times Sunday Magazine. I write about politics still, but not always about the administration.

BLITZER: But you're trying to sell your book too, right?

BRUNI: Right now I am, yes.

BLITZER: Let's talk about it. "Ambling Into History," that's the name of the book, "The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush."

Frank Bruni, thanks for joining us.

BRUNI: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good luck with the book.

BRUNI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

And just ahead, your e-mail, plus Bruce Morton's essay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The old rules for sourcing -- if two people didn't tell you that, don't write it -- have lapsed. The line between news and gossip has disappeared.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is there a new way telling the news to you, and is it really better? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Time now for Bruce Morton on what seems to be the end of an era for television news.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON: The furor over ABC's Night Line is sadly just one more chapter in a fairly long book. We old people tend to think things were better in the good old days. But when it comes to TV news, they really were.

I remember a young colleague a couple years ago who'd been looking at archival tapes of old TV news casts, Huntley-Brinkley, Cronkite, somewhere back then. Technically they were pathetic, he said, but then added, they reminded my of why I wanted to go to journalism school in the first place.

What's changed is economics. Back then a Sarnoff (ph) at NBC, a Paley (ph) at CBS could and did say, "The entertainment programs make plenty of money. You guys just cover the news and do it well," but not anymore.

Now news is supposed to make money and, of course, that has consequences. First in coverage, (inaudible) stories are pooled (ph) now. Time-consuming, expensive investigative pieces are rarer.

The networks are all owned by big corporations, and that makes investigating harder. Will ABC investigate its owner, Disney? Will CNN investigate its, AOL? And the corporations have so much money and so many lawyers, investigating is risky for anybody. Lawsuits can cost you a fortune even if you win.

Second, in content. The old rules for sourcing -- if two people didn't tell that, don't write it -- have lapsed. The line between news and gossip has disappeared. And seeking ratings and more money, TV news often tends toward scandal and on light stuff. Serious analysis is scarcer than it once was.

I think it was Pete Hamil (ph) who said the height of Monica frenzy, if you guys had to pay $50 bucks every time you used that hug, we could cure cancer. Probably so.

Another point, the all news networks aren't all news. There's more money in talk. Fox's evening lineup is mostly talk. CNN's ratings leader is Larry King, talk again. There's nothing wicked about that. If you're out to make money, talk often works better than news.

Money is the point here. Networks will still spend serious money on really big stories like the war in Afghanistan. But the overall trend was summed up by one news executive a few years ago. "News gathering is too expensive," he said. "Can't we just get the video from somewhere?"

Night Line never went that route, which is probably why the heavy-hitters at Disney are wondering if it might be out of date somehow.

I'm Bruce Morton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Bruce.

And now time to hear from you on the independent counsel's final report on the investigation of former President Clinton.

Richard from Virginia writes, "Mr. Ray's report is just that, a report written by an office that was politically motivated from the very start and should never have been established."

We'll have more e-mails next week as always. I want to hear from you. You can e-mail me at lateedition@cnn.com.

It's now time to say goodbye to our international viewers. Thanks very much for watching.

For our North American viewers, stay tuned for the next hour of Late Edition. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is Late Edition, the last word in Sunday talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: When we look back at history, six months is a pretty short period of time in the war against terrorism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Six months since the September 11 attacks. We'll look at the recovery, from Ground Zero to the Pentagon, and the role faith plays in easing the sorrow and fear of a nation.

We're joined by a panel of distinguished guests: former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, Monsignor Tom Hartman, Rabbi Marc Gellman, and Empower America's Bill Bennett.

Then, fast-paced talk, Sunday style.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

ROBERT GEORGE, "NEW YORK POST": If it was just a trial balloon, it should be popped immediately.

JONAH GOLDBERG, "NATIONAL REVIEW": The Democrats are moping like a big dog whose food bowl has been moved.

PETER BEINART, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": Anyone who thinks that we're going to have a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians without a lot of American arm-twisting is living in a fantasy land.

JULIANNE MALVEAUX, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The bottom line is that we've got to draw some firewalls between these kind of contributions.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: Late Edition's Final Round. You've got question, they've got answers.

Welcome back. We'll explore how things have changed in America six months after the terrorist attacks in just a moment, but first let's go to Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta for a news alert.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Tomorrow marks exactly six months since September 11, a period of profound change in the United States.

Joining us now with some perspective on how New York and Washington, as well as the rest of the country, have been transformed, are three distinguished guests: In New York, that city's former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik. Also in New York, Monsignor Tom Hartman, and here in Washington, the former education secretary and drug czar, William Bennett -- he's now the co-director of Empower America -- the latest contributor to CNN.

Bill Bennett, welcome to CNN. Good to have you on the CNN team as well.

BILL BENNETT, CO-DIRECTOR, EMPOWER AMERICA: Thanks.

BLITZER: We had hoped that Rabbi Marc Gellman would join us as well. Unfortunately, he's running late; he is not going to be able to join us. But half of the so-called "God Squad" is in New York. And, Monsignor Tom Hartman, thanks to you for joining us as well.

Let me begin with you, Monsignor. How has this country changed spiritually, as far as faith is concerned, if at all, over these past six months?

MONSIGNOR TOM HARTMAN, THE GOD SQUAD: Well, September 11 was catastrophic. It shook us to the core. Initially, people were sad, they were scared. They didn't know which way things were going. They didn't know what was going to happen next.

And it caused people to decide very quickly that they wanted to pull together, they wanted to listen to each other, they needed to learn more about people from other places. And they started turning, so many of them, to religion, to faith. What is the purpose of life? How can we restore hope, rather than live with pain?

We've noticed it in so many instances, where young people are starting to say to Rabbi Gellman and myself and other religious leaders, I realize now that life isn't just a question of making money, life is a question of taking time to say I love you to those people around me, to doing something beyond my job, where I make a difference in life.

BLITZER: Now, Commissioner Kerik, how has New York City changed over these past six months? You live there. You were, of course, on the scene at the World Trade Center immediately after that tragedy developed.

BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Well, I think not only New York City but the entire country has been transformed in a number of different areas. But New York City has really come together bigger and better than I've ever seen in the past.

I also think that the perception of the New York City police department has changed substantially since September 11. You know, there's been a few negative incidents that happened in the prior three or four years in the police department, and people had a perception of negativity about the cops that work for the NYPD.

On September 11, people got to see what the police department did as a whole every single day. And there was so much focus and so much attention on September 11 that people now got to see the courage, the bravery, the heroism that really goes on on a daily basis. But they got to see in a very big picture. I think the perception of the NYPD has changed substantially.

BLITZER: Bill Bennett, you're a good Catholic from Brooklyn. You could have been a priest, you could have been a police officer...

BENNETT: Right.

BLITZER: ... instead you become -- what have you become, an intellectual?

BENNETT: Undecided, yes, undecided, that's right.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask you this question. We asked faith, New York. What about Washington? Originally everyone came together here, but some of those partisan splits have come up.

BENNETT: You mean official Washington in the Senate and so on. Well, the Democrats have a very interesting issue. Who speaks for the Democrats, Tom Daschle or Joe Lieberman, your guest who was on earlier?

Can I comment on what the other two said?

BLITZER: Please.

BENNETT: I agree with Commissioner Kerik 100 percent. One way I put this is there are new heroes in the country now. And before, cops were often the objects of disparagement. Now, people in uniform, all three uniforms -- firefighters, cops, military -- have returned to that position of regard and respect. I wish I could agree with Monsignor Hartman 100 percent, but I'm not sure I do. I've been studying the trends since 9/11. We saw a dramatic increase in church attendance following 9/11. That's now leveled out. We also saw a decrease in divorce lawyers' business after 9/11. We saw an increase in people seeking public service jobs. Lots of application to the CIA, that sort of thing. Most of that has now leveled out.

I do agree with Monsignor Hartman on this. I do think there is more introspection in the country. I think we're a less frivolous country than we used to be. I think young people, particularly, believe now that words like "honor" means something. They're not just stories because they saw honor in those police officers, in those firefighters and indeed in those civilians on Flight 93.

What I'd say, then, is it's still undetermined what the impact, the final impact will be. But, if I can, as a former secretary of education, it's a teachable moment. This is a time we can teach young people about the significance of it, and I think a lot of people are taking advantage of that.

BLITZER: Monsignor Hartman, you did suggest that attendence at church has increased, but has it leveled off more recently?

HARTMAN: It has gone back, in some instances, to a normal pattern.

But what has happened, which Bill didn't allude to, was that the fact that questions are changing. People are taking time to listen to each other. They've become more patriotic, and they've asked questions, spiritual questions, namely, you know like, what is the meaning of life. How do I want to live?

Some people initially, for example, their reaction to the Muslim community was anger, hostility. I've got to get back, I've got to strike back. And then, in reflection, saying, maybe there's a wider question. Maybe we have to stop and learn how to talk each other's language. Maybe we have to realize that in the United States it's not enough to be isolated from the rest of the world.

And that's not to say what happened was right, it wasn't right at all. It should be condemned. But people are starting to say, what do I then want to do with my life? If my life could be snuffed out in a day or a week, like so many of the young people who went to the World Trade Center just going to work, thinking that, by making some money, they were going to be happy for the rest of their lives. If that could happen to them, it could happen to me. And that raises a lot of inner spiritual questions.

BLITZER: Commissioner Kerik, are there a lot more applicants who want to become police officers in New York City now, or has that also leveled off?

KERIK: Well, up until the time I left on December 31, there was an increase, about a 15 to 20 percent increase, in applicants. And I don't know the number since then, but there was a rise in applicants. And I think, as Bill says, there is this patriotism that, really, we haven't experienced in this country in a long, long time. You know, I'm 46 years old, I don't remember patriotism like we've heard it and seen it and witnessed it over the last few months.

So, I think things have changed.

KERIK: I think those applications may have increased. But I would like to see -- really like to see it continue. I don't think people should forget what happened on September 11, and I'd really like to see it continue.

BLITZER: Bill Bennett, go ahead.

BENNETT: Some potential problems to look at. I think one of the ways we remember September 11 is to remember exactly what happened. There is some effort in some places to sanitize September 11.

BLITZER: Where is that?

BENNETT: In the media. There's a special tonight on CBS. I haven't seen it, but I heard they cut out an awful lot of parts of it, which were gruesome. Frankly, I think some of the gruesome stuff should be seen. I think people should see war in its brutality so they know what we're up against.

BLTIZER: You mean like people jumping out of the buildings?

BENNETT: Yes. I think we should see that. And there should be cautions beforehand, and people can keep their kids away from it or not...

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Monsignor Hartman, is that a good idea for the American public to see those gruesome images once again?

HARTMAN: Well, I am afraid that the day itself, kids particularly, families seeing the same visual images over and over again, it was a negative on a number of people. I am not against people seeing it, but I'm against people seeing it on a continual basis, so that they begin to think that everything is wrong about life.

BENNETT: Well, again, balance. What people saw that day was some horrible and gruesome stuff. They also saw the heroism of police officers and of cops and of civilians.

And I think we have to understand for the long run, Wolf -- we're in this war for the long run -- just how brutal and gruesome it was. Again, viewer warnings. Keep the kids away. Obviously, some editing is appropriate. You know, you don't need to see body parts around. But this was a horrible thing. And it wasn't a neutron bomb, you know. It wasn't just a building that went down. People were killed. We have a long haul here. We have people starting to question on the university campuses, some of the intellectual classes, do we really need to do this? We have to remember why it is we're fighting this war. And I think, in addition to seeing the thing in its brutality, you need to see the celebrations of people in other countries that took place on that day.

We need to remember -- of course I agree with Monsignor Hartman about tolerance and understanding -- but we also need to remember as USA Today reminded us last week in its front-page story, there are millions of people who hate us, and wish do us ill, wish to do us in, wish to kill us. The reason we have do have that resolve and that understanding is this is a long haul, this war. And people need to have this clearly in mind.

BLITZER: Commissioner Kerik, very briefly, remind our viewers how many of New York's finest, New York's police officers were killed on September 11?

KERIK: We lost 23 police officers and more than 400 firefighters.

And I just want people to pay attention to what Bill Bennett just said. You know, we had the attack on the Cole, the attack on the Khobar Towers, the attack in the embassies in Africa, the bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993. And people have forgotten those things over time. We can't forget this, and we've got to continue to fight this war until we rid the world of the people that did this. BLITZER: All right, gentlemen, we have to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about, including phone calls for our guests when Late Edition continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our conversation about life six months after September 11 with the former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, Monsignor Tom Hartman and Empower America's co-director Bill Bennett.

We have a caller from Washington state. Please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Yes. How does the panel think the Muslim world has changed, since 9/11? Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. What about that, Monsignor?

HARTMAN: It's a challenge that the Muslim world has to accept. And that is, just as the Christian world needed a reformation, a time in which what it believed needed to be defined for world, there are so many questions surrounding the teachings of the Koran, that I believe the Muslim world is beginning to realize that it has to make very definite statements that, to kill a person means that you kill the whole world, as it says in the Koran. And also you can't take your own life and believe that this is an act of God.

So, I believe the Muslim community is beginning to expressly state that Osama bin Laden was wrong. But it has a ways to go, and it has to make it, in a very clear way, known to the world, that it doesn't stand -- the religious people -- that it does stand behind these acts.

BLITZER: Are you convinced of the same thing, Bill Bennett?

BENNETT: I have to say one humorous thing. A priest here calling for a reformation, you know. But you're on the other side in that, Father.

(LAUGHTER)

Anyway, but, no, the point is well taken. There has not been a reformation. There hasn't been an enlightenment, parallel to what happened in Christianity, in the Muslim world. I don't think there's been much movement; there's been some. We're six months later, six months after the event, we still have not had a lot of condemnation of Osama bin Laden by Muslim clerics abroad or even, indeed, in the United States. Osama, the last time I looked, was still the name of choice for boys born in a lot of the Muslim world. He is still celebrated in the streets of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and in Egypt. There's a long way to go.

What's missing here -- one of the things that's missing, is that self-critical capacity, which we have in America, which we have in England, which we have in Israel and we do not have in the Muslim world. They have a very long way to go.

And again, those polls indicating how much dislike and contempt there is for United States are real wake-up calls. Notice, the country that had the greatest disdain for the U.S. was Kuwait, the country which should have had the greatest regard and respect for the United States. .

BLITZER: It was pretty shocking that Gallup poll of..

BENNETT: Yes, it was.

BLITZER: ... 10,000 people in some nine Muslim countries.

We have another caller from New York. Go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Yes. I agree with Professor Bennett's comments, in terms of seeing the atrocities that took place on 9/11. But by the same token, shouldn't we also see video footage of the results of U.S. bombing on Afghani civilians?

BENNETT: Sure. You can see that, and you can put it in context. And you can note that, when civilians are killed in Afghanistan, it's inadvertent, it's not intended. They're not the targets, but it happens in war -- unlike the attacks on 9/11, which were aimed at civilians, which aimed to kill women and children, which aimed to take out the citizenry, which was an attack on the United States.

Believe me, I mean, this is the point I'm just making about self- critical. The last two weeks, I have read in every major newspaper accounts of civilian casualties and whether we make mistakes. That's what we do.

Moynihan said once, how do you find out what America does wrong? You read about it in the newspapers and you see it on television. You do not have that in the Islamic countries that are perpetrating these acts against this.

BLITZER: All right. We've got another caller from New York. Go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Yes, good afternoon. Secretary Bennett, I totally disagree with your exhortation to CBS to include the more graphic details of the events. I think our country needs to achieve some sort of distance, some sort of objectivity.

It's fine for us to grieve and to mourn, but I would like to ask you, how would you, then, win the war for the hearts and minds of the folks in the Muslim countries, particularly the young folks just growing up, just entering madrasas, et cetera? Surely, we shouldn't resign ourselves to a continuing generation of new Al Qaeda growing up.

BLITZER: All right.

BENNETT: I don't believe you achieve objectivity by obscuring the facts. And again, what I'd want to see is the facts, and show the American people what happened. A lot of people don't remember. There are a lot of people actually quite distant.

I wish that what people in New York feel and people in Washington feel was universally shared, or shared throughout this country with the same degree of intensity. It is not.

BLITZER: All right.

BENNETT: It is not, frankly.

In terms of the Muslim world, the way you gain hearts and minds there is by telling them the truth and by getting these countries to stop propagandizing in their madrasas.

BLITZER: Commissioner Kerik, you're no longer the police commissioner. I want to play for you what the former New York mayor, your former boss, Rudy Giuliani, said earlier today in recommending what should be done at the site of what once was the World Trade Center. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDOLPH GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: The key part of the footprint of the two buildings, the two towers that went down, should be reserved for a memorial like I'm talking about. And then the surrounding buildings, which are many, could be rebuilt as office towers.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Do you think the former mayor has a good idea there?

KERIK: I think he does have a good idea. And I think that, in order to make sure that people don't forget, there has to be a memorial. I think there has to be something that has dignity and integrity and honor and displays all of the virtues that were lost on September 11, in the civilians, in the uniformed personnel.

I think we have to create something. People have to realize that is basically a -- you know, people were basically pulverized. You know, it's a burial ground, and it's got to be treated as such.

BLITZER: Monsignor Hartman, I was moved by what one parent who lost a child on September 11 -- I was moved by a lot of them, but especially what this individual said this past week. I want you to listen to this excerpt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): It's been hell, to be quite honest. The warmth that we've gotten from people and the support that we've gotten has been outstanding, but this the worst thing that a parent could ever go through. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. It's -- somebody told me that the next six months are going to be even worse. So I don't know what we have to look forward to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: How can you comfort -- what do you say to a parent who lost a child on September 11?

HARTMAN: When you lose a child, you lose your future. And that is the most painful thing possible. It's so unnatural.

My heart aches and grieves for all of the families that lost somebody close to them.

In the instance of a parent who's lost a child, you sit down with the person, and you just -- sometimes you're just silent with them, and you let time pass by. In other instances, you sit down and you say, can you tell me about your son or your daughter? It gives the person the opportunity to share with you how important that person was, what that person meant, what that person did.

And ultimately, you try to come up with some sort of way of recognizing that person's life.

My brother died, for example, of AIDS. And my family decided to help build an AIDS center in his memory, because we wanted to remember his goodness and also not let the disease defeat us. And we thought that, by building something for somebody else, it would help eliminate the disease, or least eliminate the pain that people had to go through in this disease.

BLITZER: Finally, Bill Bennett, you've been active. You're starting a new organization right now, entitled America for Victory over Terrorism. Briefly tell us what you hope to achieve by this.

BENNETT: It's about public opinion and support for the effort, for this long effort against terrorism. Fortification of public opinion is important, Wolf, because we're seeing what Tom Payne called the "summer soldiers." Already some are coming home. That is, people who were enthusiastic at first and aren't now.

There's growing criticism of the war. We've seen it break out here in Washington with Tom Daschle. He flipped back quickly. But I think, as you see the effort continue, you're going to see more and more critics.

What we want to do is put the facts on the table, explain to people this is not a summer campaign, this a long campaign. Go to campuses, go to editorial boards, go to the editorial pages, to explain what it is we're doing and why we're fighting.

BLITZER: Bill Bennett, Bernard Kerik, Monsignor Hartman, thanks to all three of you for joining us.

BENNETT: Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll have Rabbi Gellman with us the next time. Appreciate it very much.

And up next, the Final Round, our panel will sound off on the day's big stories. You can join in as well. Late Edition's Final Round, right after a news alert. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition's Final Round. Joining me now, Julianne Malveaux, syndicated columnist; Peter Beinart of the New Republic; Jonah Goldberg of the National Review Online; and Robert George of the New York Post.

In midst of a yet another Palestinian suicide bombing and Israeli retaliation, the Bush administration is making a new push for peace. Secretary of State Colin Powell says both sides are going to have to exercise retrain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: I condemn the acts of violence that were perpetrated yesterday against innocent Israel citizens. I also have to be concerned about some of the responses from the Israeli side. I know that they are executing acts of self-defense, they're under attack, but at the same time I think we have to be careful about the situations where humanitarian or Red Cross or Red Cresent or doctors and people like that are injured in the course of doing their work.

BLITZER: Julianne, the president is dispatching his Middle East envoy, General Anthony Zinni, to the region later this week. He has been there before and didn't succeed. Can he succeed this time?

MALVEAUX: I don't think so. Listen to the Colin Powell quote. He condemns the loss of innocent Israeli life and he's concerned about retaliation on the other side. This is unequivalent language. And whenever you go into a situation like this with unequivalent language, you're putting the Palestinians at a disadvantage. I don't think that you're going to get anything that way.

BLITZER: Moral equivalency between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

GEORGE: Yes, but it's an inappropriate moral equivalency. I mean the Israelis are under attack by suicide bombers, and Powell said that he was concerned about the innocent civilians. But at the same time, this is the administration that recognizes that innocent civilians are being killed in our attacks in Afghanistan as well. I mean, I think they have to recognize Israel is, in a sense, in a self- defense posture, in the same way we are in the war against terrorism.

BLITZER: But, Julianne, you don't accept that. MALVEAUX: No, I think that there are many on the Palestinian side, when you talk about 40 people being there -- in the last week or so, it's been 100 Palestinians, 40 Israelis. I think there are many on the Palestinian side unarmed who would say that they are in a defensive posture, as well.

BEINART: I think the problem is we're caught in a really awful stalemate here. As TNR's new (inaudible) reported this week, Sharon's strategy is not to negotiate seriously and wait for America to attack Iraq, which he thinks is going to be good for Israel. The United States can't attack Iraq while the violence is this high. Arafat will not reduce the violence, because he's trying to topple Sharon's government, which he may well do. But if he does, he'll even get a further right-wing government under Netanyahu. It's a horrible, horrible situation. I just don't see any way out.

BLITZER: Any way out?

GOLDBERG: No. I think Peter has it exactly right. The system is sort of designed to fail. People don't realize, everyone in the States is calling Sharon this brutal hardliner, but basically, the politics in Israel are seeing Sharon as essentially a moderate on most of these issues.

And I agree with Robert on the moral equivalence thing. Israel, you can say whatever it's doing in the Palestinian camps could be ill- advised, even brutal. But they aren't going out of their way to kill babies and children, and the suicide bombers are.

MALVEAUX: Oh, Jonah, I think that when -- there have been babies and children killed, though.

GOLDBERG: But those were accidents or collateral damage.

MALVEAUX: Oh, come on. The words "collateral damage" really don't belong in the conversation after what we've all been through in the conversation that you just had, Wolf, about 9/11. I think that at least somebody who's doing public policy wants to treat Palestinians with some compassion, as well, and I'd say, well, it's just defensive. Then I think we'll move a little closer.

GOLDBERG: I just conceded that Sharon's tactics could even be described as brutal, and I think that is a completely fair criticism. But at the same time, there is a morale difference between intending to murder children and women and people at their synagogues and intending to kill armed soldiers and by accident killing women and children.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right. We're not going to resolve this debate, but let's move on to another issue on this front. The Bush administration, as many of you know, now has a new plan allowing for the possible use of nuclear weapons against seven countries -- Iran, Iraq, Syria, North Korea, Libya, Russia and China. The national security advisor to the president, Condoleezza Rice, is defending the decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: We are going to do everything that we can to deter their use against American forces, American lives or American territory. And that it has been longstanding American policy that the president reserves his options in determining how to respond, should some state threaten or should some state use weapons of mass destruction against us. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Robert, should anyone be surprised by this new nuclear strategy plan?

GEORGE: No, not at all. I mean, obviously, we know the Cold War has been over for a dozen years now, and that was main focus of our nuclear deterrent. Now we're in a hot zone, as it were, a new hot war, with multiple potential enemies. And I think it's reasonable that we would reassess what our nuclear contingency plans would be.

BLITZER: I assume, Julianne, you're not going to disagree with him on reasonable nuclear use of first strike, if necessary?

MALVEAUX: I'm not -- reasonable use.

But here's what I am concerned about. I mean, there seems to be a nuclear inevitability here. I mean, we seem to be proceeding down a path that says we're going to have to escalate our nuclear capacity. I don't think that, because of the climate we're in, I don't think we've talked or thought enough about alternatives, and I think we must. I think that has to stay on the policy table, just like the issue of the weapons that we're working on.

BLITZER: Jonah?

GOLDBERG: Yes. I mean, as far as I understand, this is a contingency plan. And as far as I know, we have thousands of contingency plans, including being prepared for glider attacks from Canada.

This is, as far as I know, not policy yet. It is -- you know, and it is the job of the military to plan for any eventuality, and it's a job of civilian leadership -- that's why there's civilian leadership -- to decide whether or not and when it's appropriate to use certain things.

So as it stands right now, I'm glad that the military is prepared for these eventualities, but I don't really understand what the huge controversy is.

BLITZER: Well, Peter, we got an e-mail from Douglas in Knoxville on this very subject. "The most recent Bush administration threat to use nuclear weapons upon China and others is reckless, unnecessary and irresponsible. Announcing contingency plans for nuclear weapons use is a threat to use nuclear weapons."

BEINART: Well, I don't think the Bush administration announced this. I think some enterprising reporter got their hand on it. But the...

BLITZER: But we don't know that, for sure, though.

BEINART: That's true.

The real dilemma here is what the United States does if Israel, say, is attacked or South Korea is attacked with chemical or biological weapons. That is the real nightmare scenario here.

And I think it underscores why the Bush administration is absolutely right to try to go after Iraq before that happens. I mean, the truth is using nuclear weapons is nutty, but thinking that they deter Saddam Hussein is also nutty. So what you have to do is you have to act before they get them.

GEORGE: And also Condoleezza Rice said this morning that Russia, for example, has become, you know, a much closer ally in the war against terrorism, which I think, once again, reflects that this is, you know, a contingency plan that's under discussion.

BLITZER: All right. Speaking about contingency plans, there are other contingency plans under way. This week the homeland security director, Tom Ridge, is expected to announce a new five-color coded alert system to replace the government's current terrorist warnings. Today he explained how it will work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM RIDGE, DIRECTOR OF HOMELAND SECURITY: If we have credible information, we will share it. If there is a threat assessment to that piece of information, we would expect the community, the company, the region or the state to raise their level of preparedness in anticipation of the possibility of that attack to the next level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right. Jonah, do you understand that five color- coded alert system?

GOLDBERG: I think the only way he could have made something so simple sound more complicated is if he explained it Latin.

The plan sounds, when you actually read about it, fairly simple. You have five levels. The lowest level, you expect a certain level of preparedness. The second lowest level is a little more preparedness. Sounds like a perfectly reasonable thing. All the governors and mayors seem to be behind it.

But, you know, Tom Ridge, he's not -- you know, the White House wanted him to be this teddy bear that reassured everybody, and so far he's not that.

BLITZER: Well, supposedly, Julianne, as you know, just as there's a DEFCON, a Defense Condition level, DEFCON 1, DEFCON 2, DEFCON 3, the public, the local law enforcement authorities were clambering for some explanation of, well, how worried should we really be? And as a result, they've come up with this color-coded chart.

MALVEAUX: Let's all whip out our Crayolas and get it over with.

The fact is that he did a much better job as the governor of Pennsylvania than he does as the chief of homeland security. He's a master of obfuscation. You really don't understand what he's saying.

And people have walked around in fogs. I was talking to someone at the National Sheriff's Association. They were in town about a week ago. They were talking about how these alerts are so vague that they really don't know what to do. It doesn't seem that he improved very much on the vagueness here.

BEINART: Yes. But to be fair to Tom Ridge or, I mean, I do think what they're trying to do, I think, partly, is avoid the situation they had last year, wherein governors like Gray Davis are going off on their own on bad information and, for political reason, throwing out their own warnings.

And for that reason, I think you do need to centralize this, and you need to have a system by which you can give more information from Washington. And I think this makes sense.

GEORGE: I'm thinking "Star Trek" -- yellow alert, red alert.

(LAUGHTER)

But, I mean, I think the things is, you know, Ridge should actually, you know, come out and announce this when, you know, all the I's have been dotted and the T's have been crossed and so forth. When he comes out and makes this, again, a vague discussion, as you said, you know, pseudo-Latin or whatever, you know, once again, people just left scratching their head. And I think it undermines the credibility of the administration, when it comes to fighting the war on terrorism at home.

GOLDBERG: Well, let's bring back Ross Perot with the colors charts, and he can do his half-hour infomercial.

BLITZER: It was pretty interesting, though.

(LAUGHTER)

We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about, including your phone calls and e-mail for our panel. Late Edition's Final Round will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our Final Round.

We just got an e-mail, and let me read it to you, Jonah, and maybe you can answer this question.

"Re the attempt by ABC to kill off Nightline, Koppel's show remains unique among news shows, and the network is much the better for it. It also serves society much more than `Stupid Pet Tricks.' Disney's recent decisions have shown it and the network to be truly a Mickey Mouse club."

BEINART: Ouch. GOLDBERG: OK, look, my problem with this whole Nightline falderol is that it's not so much that Nightline is so wonderful; all these people are basically saying that the rest of the news organization are terrible. If we want more news organizations to become like Nightline, let them become like Nightline.

But the idea that somehow the fate of the republic or the First Amendment hangs upon this one 11:35 p.m. show seems to me it's way over wrought, and people in Washington especially, the Washington journalistic corps, are hand-wringing so much about this.

BEINART: I actually think Jonah is totally wrong.

GOLDBERG: Shocking.

BEINART: I think, I know, it's a first.

(LAUGHTER)

Conservatives, I think, because they can't admit that anything that has to do with a free market is really, really bad. This is a free market decision because ABC wants more money, I understand that. But it's terrible because Nightline does go to places like the Congo that nobody else does, that brings important stories to our decisions, and no other -- very few other political shows do that. I hate to take the conventional wisdom is right, but this is a very, very bad thing.

MALVEAUX: But you know what? As long as you have the agglomeration of organizations the way you have, AOL, Time-Warner, CNN, not to mention a few -- I mean, people are being driven by profit. They are not being driven by the quality of the program, so you have to be clear about that.

BLITZER: What's wrong with that?

GEORGE: There's nothing wrong with that. And furthermore, in addition to all the cable networks that are around now that weren't when Nightline started, you've got...

BEINART: But they don't do what Nightline does.

GEORGE: You've got 20-20; you've got...

GOLDBERG: So they should.

GEORGE: You've got extra 60 Minutes, you've got more...

MALVEAUX: Do you watch some of these stories? I mean, they have these fluff pieces of -- you know, Nightline is news and its substantive. But the issue is -- I mean, maybe it should be on PBS. You know, if it's solid reporting and we're not getting elsewhere, maybe it should be on PBS.

BLITZER: Stand by, we've got other issues we want to get to besides Ted Koppel and Nightline, as much as we can discuss that for hours.

(LAUGHTER)

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee this week are expected to reject the nomination of Bush federal appeals court nominee Charles Pickering. The Republican leader in the Senate, Trent Lott, says the Democrats are playing politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR TRENT LOTT (R-MS): This is a slap at President Bush saying, you send us up a conservative Republican, pro-life-type person, no matter how qualified they are, not -- even if they're a minority, we're going to rough him up and attack their character. And that's wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What about that, Peter?

BEINART: Oh, this is such nonsense. First of all, no one, even George Will, said that Pickering is not super-qualified. Nobody thinks he's a great intellect on the bench.

Second of all, George Bush lost the popular vote. This man does not have a mandate to change the course of American jurisprudence. It's that simple. If he continues to nominate people like this they will be defeated, because the politics for the Democrats are good, because Bush does not have the popular support on issues like this.

MALVEAUX: But even more than that, if you look at this Pickering nomination, you look at this guy's character, you don't have to go all the way back to "I wish I was in the land of cotton."

Let's just go back to this man actually, in one particular case, a nurse brought discrimination charges against Southern Mississippi HMO. He found her -- he made her pay the attorney's fees.

BLITZER: How many years ago was that?

MALVEAUX: 1996. This -- I'm not in the '60s, I'm not in the land of cotton. So I'm saying, this guy is reprehensible.

(CROSSTALK)

GEORGE: But the fact of the matter is, both sides are always going to attack the other president's nominations when it comes to ideological issues.

The question is, though, should we go after them on these kind of personal things? You know, digging up various issues from, you know, when he was like 21 years old and...

MALVEAUX: This is a law case, Robert.

GEORGE: But I'm talking about these civil rights attacks on him. BEINART: Robert, if a Democrat had been pro-Communist and said emphatically pro-Communist things early in his political -- do you think the Republicans wouldn't see that? To have been on the wrong side of segregation is equally a moral blight. I don't think it matters what age he was, if he was an adult.

GEORGE: How is that Al Gore's brother-in-law came out and supports Pickering's nomination? Are you saying that Al Gore is a pro-segregationist?

MALVEAUX: Al Gore's brother-in-law, not Al Gore.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right. Let's let Jonah get in.

GOLDBERG: I totally agree that the Senate is, you know -- the Senate is stacked to make these ideological fights incredibly ugly, and they're going to get -- when the Supreme Court comes up, they're going to be noisier and uglier than a kitten in a blender.

But the fact is that the idea that somehow the Democrats are all pure on this is just -- is ludicrous. Half these guys want to be president or want to run for president, and they're maumauing on this and they're going nuts, and they're going far beyond the pale.

And it was my understanding that it was the enlightened Democrats and liberals in this country who believe that the politicization of the personal had gone too far in the 1990s and we should have backed off of it.

BEINART: It's not the personal. It's not his life with his wife or anything like that. It's things he said about public policy issues in Mississippi when the human rights of 30 percent of that state were in jeopardy. That's what matters.

GOLDBERG: So are you coming out for Senator Byrd to resign?

BEINART: No. If you continue...

MALVEAUX: He was elected. Senator Byrd was elected. But even more than that, we don't have to go back that far. This is what I want to say. You can go back that far and find...

(CROSSTALK)

BEINART: His record has stayed that, exactly.

MALVEAUX: But let's go back a decade. I think it's reasonable, if you're looking at a jurist to go back a decade and look at their legal case.

Finding in three of 22 cases that someone had a right to sue, in terms of discrimination. Coming out of Mississippi with Trent Lott, using that objectionable language about lynching. In Mississippi, we see nooses on people's desks. This is all reprehensible, and Bush made a provocative nomination. He's going to get what he's got coming.

BLITZER: But is this, from the Democrats' standpoint, a shot across the bow and a warning, don't send these nominees up here?

GEORGE: Of course, it's a shot across the bow. And the White House and the Republicans are going to have to figure out better ways to handle the next nominations, because they really bolloxed this one.

(CROSSTALK)

GOLDBERG: I think Republicans walked away from this one a long time ago. This was a hope that, you know, if you feed the shark one arm at a time, it will some how not want to come back for more.

GEORGE: It was also, by the way, more of a favor to Trent Lott.

BEINART: When this administration is going to nominate a very right-wing Latino or African-American, that's going to be when...

GOLDBERG: Oh, heaven forbid.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: Robert George, you're on the Court.

(LAUGHTER)

GEORGE: Thank you, Peter.

GOLDBERG: Night law school, Robert.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. Our lightning round is just ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Time now for our lightning round.

Jonah, in California, a major upset. Bill Simon, the conservative Republican, beating Richard Riordan, the more moderate Republican, for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

GOLDBERG: Yes, it's a huge deal. Riordan was the hand-picked choice of the White House. They wanted a moderate to beat Gray Davis. And Gray Davis didn't want to fight a moderate, so he meddled in the primaries and now we've got a real conservative in there. It's going to be a fun race.

BLITZER: Is it going to be a done deal though for Gray Davis, the Democrat? Does he have a lock now?

BEINART: I think he's probably going to win. The problem with the Republican Party in California is what happens to parties, the kind of vicious cycle. It's so small and right wing, so few voters turn out that moderates can't win to broaden the party. I think that's the only reason really to think that Democrats have a chance in 2002, is California.

GEORGE: Spending $10 million to clobber Riordan, Davis is definitely got to be the odds-on favorite. However, election day polls showed he has a 59 percent disapproval rating. In any other circumstances, that would be a death nail for a politician.

MALVEAUX: Riordan probably could have beaten Gray Davis. But as you say, California Republicans do not have stomach for moderates.

Gray Davis is not very popular, especially around energy stuff. Just about every major city in the states saw their energy prices rise considerably in the last two years.

BLITZER: All right. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says the economy is bouncing back. Is it?

BEINART: It probably is. It's very bad news for Democrats who were hoping to run in 2002. And it's very good news for Alan Greenspan whose star was waning a little while ago and now looks like a wise man again.

GEORGE: And I think it's just absolutely wonderful that, as the White House predicted, their tax cuts cut the recession instead of extending it.

BEINART: Particularly those that haven't even gone into effect.

GEORGE: ... instead of extending it.

MALVEAUX: I think that's utter nonsense. And in fact, the economy may be rebounding for the top half, but look at the bottom half. The fact is that people haven't gone back to work at the bottom. Wall Street's looking good, Main Street's looking like that, and the side street is still getting kicked around.

BLITZER: Jonah?

GOLDBERG: I think this is turning out to be the most shallow, briefest recession on record, and thanks in large part to the tax cuts that Peter still wants to repeal.

BEINART: Any evidence on that? And evidence?

GOLDBERG: Any evidence it wasn't?

BEINART: (inaudible) prove a negative here.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: The jury is still out. BEINART: The Bush administration didn't even the rebates. (inaudible) hasn't even gone into effect. That's such a nonsensical argument.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: The jury is still out on all of these numbers. The fact is, it's not even clear the recession is over. Alan Greenspan wishes that it was over so far.

BLITZER: Next issue, the compensation fund for victims of the September 11 attacks will distribute an average of $1.85 million per family. Is that system fair? Let me ask Julianne.

MALVEAUX: It's never going to be fair. I mean, the government should not be in the business of valuing the life of a broker over the life of a food service worker. I think this has gotten a little bit better. But, there are always going to be questions raised and always people feeling that it isn't quite fair. And people who had higher incomes have more insurance. So I'm not sure that government ought to be getting into that.

BLITZER: Did you notice, Robert, on ABC this morning on This Week how much soldiers' families who were killed in Operation Anacanda are going to be receiving?

GEORGE: Yes.

BLITZER: Tell our viewers. GEORGE: I think you get a $6,000 basic death benefit.

BLITZER: And about $1,500 for burial.

GEORGE: Half of which is taxable, and about $800 or $900 for burial.

It's not fair. I partly agree with Julianne. The government should not really be in the business of parceling out these benefits on what was basically an act of war against the United States.

They got more money out of it when they kind of complained about the formula, but I think it's somewhat unseemly.

BLITZER: Ken Feinberg, though, does deserve some credit for readjusting his thinking. He's the special master in charge of distributing the money.

GEORGE: Absolutely. And once you cap the liabilities of, you know, of the airlines and all this other kind of thing, you essentially have to give people the money because you're saying you can't win very much in court. So I think it was pretty good, particularly the fact that they included illegal immigrants.

GOLDBERG: Yes, I think Feinberg has a -- you know, it was a situation -- it was an awful job and no one could do it better because there's no way to do it absolutely right. It's impossible to be fair when you're trying to compensate people for the murder of loved ones and family. And so it's not fair, but it also may set a bad precedent.

MALVEAUX: I do lump sums. I would do lump sums with the dependent thing. I would not do -- you know, people have insurance. I just do lump sums I don't -- it's distasteful to start qualifying the value of people's lives.

BLITZER: OK, that's all the time we have. Our lightening round is lightening.

(LAUGHTER)

BEINART: Exactly. We all got a charge out of it.

BLITZER: Thanks to all of you for joining us.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

BLITZER: And that's your Late Edition for Sunday, March 10. Please join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

And Monday through Friday, please join me, two editions of Wolf Blitzer Reports at both 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Tomorrow, by the way, I'll be live from the Pentagon. I'll have a special report at 8:00 p.m. Eastern as well.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com



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