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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview with Dick Cheney; Opponents of Campaign Finance Reform Vow to go to Court: What is the Status of Operation Anaconda?

Aired March 24, 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, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington; 9:00 a.m. in Hollywood; 11:00 a.m. in San Salvador; and 7:00 p.m. in Jerusalem. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for Late Edition.

We'll get to our special interview with the vice president, Dick Cheney, in just a few minutes. But first, a news alert.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: As we just saw live here on CNN, President Bush has arrived in El Salvador to meet with President Francisco Flores. He'll be holding a joint news conference with the El Salvador president in about two hours or so. We're looking at live pictures now of the arrival ceremony in San Salvador. When that news conference occurs, we will bring that to you live.

Meanwhile, while the president is turning some of his attention to the United States' southern neighbors, the war against terrorism, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, remain very much at the top of his agenda.

Earlier today I spoke with the vice president, Dick Cheney, about his recent trip to the Middle East and much more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. Vice President, thanks so much for joining us.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Are you going back to the Middle East? That's the key question right now.

CHENEY: Well, I imagine I will at some point, but there's nothing currently scheduled.

BLITZER: What about this meeting that's going right now between General Zinni, the special U.S. envoy, the Israelis and the Palestinians? Is it possible that as early as today or tomorrow you could be going back? CHENEY: Well, remember what the proposition here is, Wolf. General Zinni is there as our emissary. He's presiding over what are called trilateral security meetings. This is an effort to get the two sides to come together and agree upon a specific plan for the implementation of the so-called Tenet work place, if you will.

What we've said is that if Arafat will get actively into that plan, actually implement and begin to make progress, put out the kind of effort that we haven't seen up until now, in terms of the provisions that are required in Tenet, then I'd be prepared to meet with him. But to date, they have not gotten to that point yet.

BLITZER: But you're still waiting for a final word from General Zinni?

CHENEY: Well, I talked with General Zinni as recently as last night. General Powell and I talk daily on the subject. This is just one more piece, if you will, of the whole proposition. I wouldn't overdo it, in the sense that somehow everybody is focused in on this is the be all and end all of the process; it's not. It's a part of the process.

If, in fact, Arafat will do what he's, in the past, said he will do, if he'll actually deliver on the Tenet plan, if he'll move to put a lid on the violence and do what's required in Tenet -- for example, sharing of intelligence information, taking responsibility for securing their own area so attacks can't be launched against the Israelis and vice versa. If, in fact, those steps are actually implemented, then at that point I'll be prepared to meet with Mr. Arafat. To date, that hasn't happened, and therefore there's no meeting currently scheduled.

BLITZER: How much of a pressure point is the fact that the Arab summit occurs in Beirut later this week, Wednesday and Thursday, and Arafat certainly would like to go?

CHENEY: Well, he would like to go, but that's really independent of whether of not he meets with me.

That summit's been scheduled for some time. There will be an issue, obviously, of whether or not he is allowed out by the Israelis to attend the summit.

BLITZER: Should they let him go?

CHENEY: Well, the Israeli government's apparently split on it. Peres is quoted this morning as saying he thinks he should be allowed to go. I think Prime Minister Sharon has some reservations.

It's our general view that the summit has the potential to make a positive contribution if they can focus on the proposal put forward by Crown Prince Abdullah from Saudi Arabia that talks about basically land for peace, retreat to the '67 borders and normalization of relations of all the Arab nations with Israel. If that's the focus, we think it will be a positive event. If Arafat's not there, one of the concerns is that that will mean that the focus will be on the fact that he's not there, and you won't get as much done that's productive as would otherwise be the case.

BLITZER: So you would like him to go, basically?

CHENEY: I think the general view is that we'd be better off if he went than if he didn't go.

BLITZER: There's some speculation in Israel, if Sharon lets him go, he might not let him come back in to the West Bank or Gaza. Would that be an obstacle if that were (OFF-MIKE)

CHENEY: Well, I -- let's, you know -- we aren't at that point yet where we have to address that issue. I've seen the speculation. I can't obviously can't speak for the Israeli government on that.

BLITZER: Getting back to your potential meeting with Arafat, as you know, the president and you have refused to meet with him so far. Fifty-two senators signed a letter the other day urging you not to meet with him, among other things. Democrats and Republicans said, "Until Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority demonstrate their commitment to end the violence, we urge that the vice president reconsider his offer to meet with Mr. Arafat."

CHENEY: That's exactly what we said. Obviously they didn't watch the press conference where we announced this proposition. The potential of a meeting for me with Arafat is something that was worked out in conjunction with both -- and signed up to both by the Israelis and the Palestinians.

CHENEY: And was announced at a press conference in Jerusalem, where we laid out all those conditions.

I mean, I'm glad to see so many members of Congress signing on for that, but the proposition they put forward is basically the proposition we laid out: Unless and until Arafat does in fact comply and moves to actually implement the Tenet plan and all that that entails, in terms of moving to a cease-fire and actively engaged in those issues, there won't be a meeting. And that's been true from the very beginning.

BLITZER: And as of right now, there is not going to be a meeting?

CHENEY: As of right now, there's no meeting scheduled.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the control that Arafat may or may not have over Palestinian militants, presumably the Fatah movement al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade which has recently claimed credit for several suicide bombing attacks against Israelis.

Does Arafat control the situation?

CHENEY: No. I think it's important to recall a little history here, Wolf, and that is at the time of following the Oslo accords, there was an exchange of letters between Arafat and then Prime Minister Rabin in Israel. And at that time, a specific agreement was worked out in which Arafat renounced violence, agreed to enter into peace negotiations, agreed to take the responsibility for the Palestinian areas.

And there was arrangements made -- arrangements were made for Palestinian Authority security force, 30,000 strong. It was specified how many men, what kind of weapons they would have. But their responsibilities were to provide security in those areas that the Israelis were not actually occupying with respect to the West Bank and Gaza.

Clearly we've come a long way from that because that hasn't happened. In effect, that accord's never been effectively implemented, certainly not at this stage.

We come back again to the basic proposition: We've got to find some way to end the violence. We've got to find some way to get back on the process of negotiations.

The proposal that everybody signed up to on both sides was the so-called Tenet plan last summer, and what we're trying to do now is implement Tenet plan. And if and when Arafat does not just agree to that, but actually begins to implement it and move toward a cease-fire along with the Israelis -- both sides have obligations and responsibilities under that -- then I'm prepared to meet with Arafat, but not until.

BLITZER: Because, specifically, I want to play for you what the president said on Thursday in El Paso, Texas, on the whole issue of terrorism. Just listen to this. He has said this before but specifically referring to what's happening in the West Bank and Gaza.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you harbor a terrorist, if you hide a terrorist, if you feed terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorist himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, the Israelis and many of their supporters say that's presumably -- that's precisely what Arafat is doing. He's harboring terrorists within his own al-Aqsa Brigade.

CHENEY: We made it very, very clear that we expect out of Arafat a 100 percent effort to put an end to terrorist attacks -- suicide bombings, attacks that are sanctioned or authorized or organized by any of those groups.

Clearly, he has more control over some of those groups than he does others. And there's always the possibility that there will be some independent actor launching a suicide or a terrorist attack. And there are organizations, such as Hezbollah for example, which are absolutely devoted to the proposition of trying to destroy the peace process.

But until we've seen real live, honest-to-goodness, on-the-ground performance, there won't be any meetings.

BLITZER: And you haven't seen that.

CHENEY: We haven't seen it yet.

BLITZER: Some of the criticism, Bill Bennett, a Republican, conservative wrote in The Washington Post this week, speaking about the pressure recently put on the Sharon government in Israel. He wrote, "The administration's policy in the Middle East just took a dramatic turn in the wrong direction. This turn at once marks a concession to terrorism and a violation of principle."

Those are strong words coming from a fellow conservative, who doesn't like the fact that you called Sharon's policies "not helpful."

CHENEY: Well, I just disagree with Bill. I think he's wrong. I think, again, that we've got to do the best job we can of trying to facilitate some kind of an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians and getting back to Tenet and Mitchell. It ain't easy. It's one of the toughest, most difficult, impractical problems I've ever seen.

But we've got a very good man out there in General Zinni, who has taken on the assignment, very difficult assignment, of trying to broker actual implementation of the Tenet accords so we can get on to Mitchell. He needs to be supported.

We're doing everything we can to support him. The president's actively engaged. Secretary Powell's actively engaged in talking with both sides. And we need to do everything we can to get on with it, because of course, the loss of life is tragic, and the prospects for peace recede every day that we're not able to actually engage on the Tenet and Mitchell plans.

BLITZER: There's a front-page story in the New York Times today quoting Israeli and U.S. intelligence sources as saying there's a very strong connection between Iran and the Palestinian Authority -- not just the Karine A, the ship with about 50 tons of weapons that were seized by the Israelis, but a lot of other support, money, cooperation going back and forth.

How serious of a problem is that? Is it true, first of all?

CHENEY: Well, first of all, I wouldn't comment one way or the other about an intelligence story or stories based on alleged intelligence sources. That's a -- it would be inappropriate for me to do that.

We do know, based on the incident, the Karine A, earlier, several months ago, that in fact there were arms, acquired in Iran, being shipped through Hezbollah to elements of the Palestinian Authority. That was clear. And we spoke out about it at the time. We made it abundantly clear to Arafat and everybody else involved that that was unacceptable.

Now whether or not there's a deeper level of involvement there, I don't know. We'll have to see. Obviously, it would be of great concern.

The Karine A was of great concern, because it demonstrated that Arafat, at a time when he supposedly is interested in engaging and getting something going on the peace process, was acquiescing at least in the shipment of arms and doing business with the Iranians.

But we need to get on with the Tenet and Mitchell processes aggressively as we know how.

BLITZER: And is that in part because, without that, you're not going to be able to generate the support for action against Iraq, if it comes down to that?

On your most recent trip to the region, most of these moderate Arab leaders with whom you met were not very enthusiastic about a U.S. strike against Iraq. King Abdullah of Jordan said, "To attack Baghdad now would be a disaster." Crown Prince Abdullah said, "I do not believe it is in the United States' interest or the interest of the region or the world's interest to do so."

Those are pretty strong recommendations for you to hold back on Iraq. CHENEY: But I -- the world's a lot more complicated than that, Wolf. And there's a great temptation to say, you know, "If A, then B." We try to connect these things up in our mind.

There's no question but that there's a high level of concern throughout the region about the situation and the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It's not surprising King Abdullah of Jordan should be concerned; he lives right next door. He's got 60 percent of his population is Palestinian. His father's regime was almost overthrown by the PLO back in 1970, and there's a long history there.

On the other side, he's bracketed by Iraq and Saddam Hussein. What I would say is that our friends in the region are equally concerned about the problems we see in Iraq, specifically the development of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein, his refusal to comply with the U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, which he signed up to at the end of the Gulf War, which said he would get rid of all his weapons of mass destruction.

BLITZER: Are you still committed to trying to get U.N. weapons inspection teams back into Iraq? Because, as you know, some critics -- Senator Fred Thompson, for example -- said that would be a waste, that they're just going to give a runaround.

CHENEY: What we said, Wolf, if you go back and look at the record is, the issue's not inspectors. The issue is that he has chemical weapons and he's used them. The issue is that he's developing and has biological weapons. The issue is that he's pursuing nuclear weapons.

It's the weapons of mass destruction and what he's already done with them. There's a devastating story in this week's New Yorker magazine on his use of chemical weapons against the Kurds of northern Iraq back in 1988; may have hit as many 200 separate towns and villages. Killed upwards of 100,000 people, according to the article if it's to be believed.

This is a man of great evil, as the president said. And he is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time, and we think that's cause for concern for us and for everybody in the region. And I found during the course of my travels that it is indeed a problem of great concern for our friends out there as well too.

So the U.S. doesn't have a choice of saying, well, we're going to worry about Israeli-Palestinian peace or we're going to worry about Saddam Hussein. We've got to do it all.

BLITZER: How much time does Saddam Hussein have?

CHENEY: I can't say, I can't make a prediction on something like that. He knows we're deadly serious. Our friends and allies in the region know we're deadly serious and that we do need to find a way to address this problem.

BLITZER: Is Al Qaeda regrouping, the Taliban-Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan right now, are they regrouping?

CHENEY: Regrouping.

BLITZER: Poised to take action against the U.S. and other...

CHENEY: Well, they clearly would like to. And we see movement. We saw, obviously, a coalescing of a group in the area where we launched Operation Anaconda a couple of weeks ago, and very successfully eliminated a big chunk of the Al Qaeda.

CHENEY: There are still Al Qaeda scattered around Afghanistan. There are, I'm sure, going to be efforts by them to try to organize themselves enough so that they can launch an attack at least on our forces in Afghanistan. We see intelligence to that effect.

This effort's going last for some considerable period of time. There's a temptation, I think, because there's not an active bombing campaign under way on any particular day, for people who want to run out and say, well, it's over with. It's not. This is a long-term commitment. We have to make certain we get a good government stood up in Afghanistan, that it can never again become a sanctuary for a terrorist organization like Al Qaeda.

BLITZER: Is it your best assessment right now that the anthrax attacks late last year in the United States were the work of domestic American terrorists, or perhaps Al Qaeda foreign terrorists?

CHENEY: We don't know. Clearly, there's a robust investigation under way by the FBI, but at this point I don't think we know enough to draw a conclusion.

We're running down every lead. You can find evidence to support a variety of points of view. But at this point I'd say that, at least as far as I'm concerned and what I've seen, and I get briefed on a regular basis, I don't think we can decide or determine yet exactly where it came from.

BLITZER: And your best assessment where Osama bin Laden is right now?

CHENEY: I think he's still in the area of Afghanistan, maybe across the border in Pakistan someplace, but I think he's still out in the general area.

BLITZER: Still alive.

CHENEY: If he's not dead. But we don't know. But obviously, we'd like to wrap him up; I expect we probably will. But we've had enormous success at taking down the Taliban, wrapping up the Al Qaeda organization. I think the Afghan campaign's been a great success story for U.S. military forces and for the president's leadership.

BLITZER: I'm going to let you go now. But before I let you go, how are you feeling?

CHENEY: Good. You should have been with me on that trip, Wolf. We missed you.

BLITZER: You didn't invite me.

CHENEY: Next time.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks for joining us.

CHENEY: Good to see you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just ahead, we'll get the view from the U.S. Congress on the Middle East crisis. And as troops try to gain the upper hand against Al Qaeda fighter in Afghanistan, how are U.S. lawmakers gauging the war against terrorism? We'll talk with the Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel and the Illinois Democratic Senator Richard Durbin.

Late Edition will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: If you harbor a terrorist, if you hide a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorists themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush speaking at a Texas gathering this past week.

Welcome back to Late Edition.

Joining us now are two leading members of the United States Senate. In Springfield, Illinois, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin. He sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. And here in Washington, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senators, welcome to Late Edition.

And, Senator Durbin, let me begin with you and ask you a question that I asked the vice president. He said no decision has been made. Should the vice president meet with Yasser Arafat any time soon?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Well, I had the opportunity to visit with Chairman Arafat in January when the disclosure of the Iranian arms shipment was made public, and I made the personal decision not to meet with him.

I don't know how we can condemn terrorism around the world and meet with a leader who, frankly, is at least close to, if not sponsoring, terrorism, in the cause of the Palestinian people. The most recent disclosure, this Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, is very close to home for Chairman Arafat. Innocent people were killed by terrorist activities.

So I would be very reluctant to recommend the vice president meet with him.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, Senator Durbin did sign that letter, 52 senators urging the vice president to reconsider his offer to meet with Arafat. You didn't sign that letter. Why?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Well, I think, if the objective is to get us into a position where we can develop a process, first of all, to ratchet down the violence and then move us to a mechanism where in fact we can pursue peace, then it's going to take all of the players and all the representatives of those involved.

Certainly Arafat, whether we like him or not, is to some extent irrelevant. He in fact is the leader of the Palestinian Authority. And I don't know how you can get any closer to the objective here of getting to peace, getting us on a track toward peace, by eliminating him from the process.

So I would say, yes, at some point, if there is a reason to have the vice president meet with him -- always meetings should have objectives -- then I think you must. I don't see how you get to where you want to be by eliminating, or picking and choosing who you meet with.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Durbin? Senator Hagel makes a valid point. How can the United States at the highest levels only meet with half of the problem, namely the Israelis, while ignoring the other half? DURBIN: Well, let me just qualify my earlier statement. Either Arafat can control the violence and refuses to do so, in which case he deceives us. Or he can't control the violence, in which case he's irrelevant, in the words of my colleague, Senator Hagel.

But if he's willing to do something meaningful to show that there'll be a reduction in the violence and terrorism, which we've seen on a daily basis in that area, as a condition for meeting either with the Arab League or with the vice president, then I would go that far, to say that, if he's going to demonstrate that he can control and bring down the level of violence, then he at least deserves an opportunity to speak.

BLITZER: Earlier this week, Senator Hagel, President Bush expressed his frustration dramatically at this Israeli-Palestinian crisis. I want to play that excerpt. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I am frustrated by the violence in the Middle East, and so are a lot of people who live in the Middle East. I know there are some people who do not want us to achieve any kind of peaceful settlement of a long-standing dispute. And they're willing to use terrorist means to disrupt any progress that's being made. And I -- that frustrates me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's seems to have backed away from his criticism of what the Clinton administration used to do, being involved very aggressively at the highest levels. Now the United States, under his administration, seems to be doing precisely what he earlier had criticized during the campaign former President Clinton of doing.

HAGEL: Well, I always recall the words of former Secretary of State Jim Baker on this issue. And he once said that America cannot want peace more than the Arabs and the Israelis.

Now, that does not eliminate our role in this. Of course it's frustrating, it's perplexing, it's complicated. Every president since 1948 has had to deal with it. It is wrapped around the axle of everything that we are trying to accomplish in the world today. Our war on terrorism is in fact connected to this.

But we have to stay steady. The fact is, there is going to be no peace in the Middle East without American involvement. We are the only nation trusted by both sides that has the confidence, has the power, can bring a coalition together to get this done. But we cannot impose peace.

But we must stay focused, engaged. And I think what the vice president's trip was about was very good, very positive. What General Zinni's doing, very positive. And we've got to stay with it.

BLITZER: Should that U.S. involvement, Senator Hagel, include the possibility of deploying U.S. troops to the West Bank and Gaza to monitor some sort of a cease-fire?

HAGEL: Wolf, we have to realize this, there are no good options here. There are no risk-free options. I think we must widen our lens and our view here and look at all kinds of new possibilities that have haven't looked at before.

BLITZER: Including troop deployment?

HAGEL: Including the possibility, only obviously if a number of things would be set in place. The Arabs would guarantee, and the Israelis, that there would be a monitor. The Secretary of State Colin Powell has talked about American monitors, but certainly there has to first of all be a peace to monitor.

BLITZER: What abut that, Senator Durbin? Are you ready to allow U.S. troops to become, in effect, peacekeepers between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

DURBIN: I have serious misgivings. I can still recall serving in the House of Representatives when the Marine Corps barracks was bombed in Beirut, Lebanon, killing over 200 innocent Marines, including one from Springfield, Illinois. We sent too few troops in there to accomplish the mission and too many lives to be lost. And we lost them to terrorism.

I would just say, whether we're talking about our future relationship in Gaza, the West Bank or in Iraq, that prudence suggests and the Constitution requires, that the administration come to Congress and have an open discussion through Congress with the American people about the deployment of troops in this situation.

We haven't had that yet. The vice president has traveled through the Middle East, as he should have, but he hasn't traveled to Capital Hill, as he must, to make certain that we understand what the goal is.

BLITZER: Do you agree with the senator, that the administration should be more aggressive in consulting with you and other members about that possibility?

HAGEL: Well, there is not question that the president -- and he knows this, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Powell, others know this -- that Congress must be involved in any action we take.

I think that they are defining that better and better. And they need to get closer to us, but there is no question that we are partners here. And I think the president understands that, and of course wants our involvement. BLITZER: All right, Senators, we are going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about.

When we come back, we'll also be taking your phone calls for Senators Hagel and Dick Durbin. Also, we'll talk about Iraq and what's next in the U.S. war against terrorism. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition. We're continuing our conversation with Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

Senator Durbin, the Associated Press is reporting from Baghdad that Iraq has now offered to allow a U.S. delegation to come into Iraq to discuss the issue of the missing American pilot, Michael Scott Speicher, whose plane went down over Iraq the first night of the air war 11 years ago, January 1991.

Is there good reason to believe he might still be alive?

DURBIN: Really, I have no information to suggest that, and I wouldn't want to hold out false hope to his family and relatives. But I really think it is a good idea for us to step forward with the Iraqis and see if there is any information that can come out that can settle this issue.

BLITZER: The Iraqi statement is saying this: "Iraq is ready to receive any American team accompanied by the U.S. media in order to discuss and document this issue under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross." That according to a foreign ministry spokesman in Baghdad.

Senator Hagel, you're a veteran. You're a Vietnam veteran. This is a very, very painful story. Speicher was originally listed as killed in action. Then about a year or two ago, his status was changed to missing in action. And now from the president on down, there has been some faint hope that maybe he is alive. His body has never been found.

HAGEL: Wolf, this is another clear example of the human tragedy of war. And we have to be careful, just as Senator Durbin said. And Senator Durbin's right, we need to obviously pull all the threads here. We should meet with the appropriate officials in Iraq, with the Red Cross, to see if we can find out if there is more information.

But we shouldn't let this hang out there and hang out there. We go in, we take a look, see if there is anything there that would give us any sense of a possibility of him still being alive. Then I think we need to, one way or another, shut this case. His wife -- his former wife, his family all now have to relive this.

If there is a faint glimpse of any possibility, let's look at it. But then let's either decide we have something to go on or we don't.

BLITZER: So at this point, you, like Senator Durbin, would be open to sending a delegation to discuss this narrow issue with the Iraqis?

HAGEL: Yes.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the war in Afghanistan.

Senator Durbin, let me pick it up with you. And I want you to listen to what General Tommy Franks, the central commander, the man in charge of the entire U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, in that part of the world, said earlier today about the status of the war right now. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I have not been involved personally with other unified commanders to try to put together some approach to Saddam Hussein.

Does that mean that there never would be an operation against Iraq? I don't think I'm prepared to say that. I think the president of the United States will make the decision about what it is our nation chooses to do about the problem of Saddam Hussein.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It does sound, based on what General Franks is saying, Senator Durbin, I'm sure you'll agree, that it doesn't look like there is going to be any immediate strike against the Iraqis, if he says he hasn't personally been involved in discussing operational plans with other unified commanders.

DURBIN: I think that's probably the case, and I don't have any information otherwise.

The biggest mistake we've made in foreign policy in the last 20 years was not to pursue Saddam Hussein into Iraq and to remove him from power when we had that opportunity during the Persian Gulf war. But that's history.

And we look at the current situation and realize we have a dangerous leader in that country with weapons of mass destruction, threatening his own people, the region and even the United States. And we have to take him very seriously.

But I'm trying to sort out our foreign policy. On the one hand, it appears that we are prepared unilaterally to remove him. On the other hand, we are engaging in these discussions with the United Nations and our allies about how to have more inspection and to make certain that he is not engaging in this renegade activity.

It seems we're at dual purposes now, and we have to sort that out and come with a common plan to deal with Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: Is that a dual -- is there inconsistency there, Senator Hagel?

HAGEL: Well, I think we start with this: We've got an obviously very complicated scenario here and set of circumstances.

Let me address at the beginning, to answer your question, the point Senator Durbin makes about why we didn't go and eliminate him 10 years ago. The fact is, that was not the mandate that the United Nations gave us. It was a different mandate. We would have lost all the Arab support. What was the alternative? Who would have replaced them?

BLITZER: The mandate then was to liberate Kuwait.

HAGEL: Was get him out of Kuwait, and we did that.

Now, let's rotate forward here to where we are today. I think what the vice president did, the diplomatic efforts that we are undergoing now, taking us through those point by point is the way to do this.

Certainly, there are contingency plans ongoing, have been, on how we deal with Iraq as to the military option.

HAGEL: All those things are prudent, important, in the best interest of our country.

But I've always said this cannot happen, a military option, without the coalition being with us on this; not everybody, but certainly Turkey and other Arab nations.

Then the question has to be asked, what comes after? What's the alternative? Do we in fact stabilize the area, or do we destabilize the area? All those are tough questions the administration has to deal with.

These are imperfect, imprecise. They can't defer them, and they're working their way through it.

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

We have a lot more to talk about, including phone calls for Senators Hagel and Durbin. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition. We're continuing our conversation with Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel.

Senators, we have caller from Georgia. Go ahead please with your question.

CALLER: Thank you, Wolf. Great show.

Senator Hagel, do we have the money and the manpower to go into Iraq and other countries? In other words, can we afford to be the world's policeman?

HAGEL: Well, that is probably the core question, I believe, that we are going to be dealing with for a long time to come.

One general comment, and I'm going to get very quickly back to the specific answer, in my opinion, to your question.

One of the consequences that we are now starting to understand as a result of the Soviet Union implosion 12 years ago, is that we now are the only nation on earth that has a wide enough, deep enough infrastructure militarily, to deal with all of the different military options and dynamics and confrontations around the world. When the Soviet Union was part of the bipolar world, they essentially took a lot of this. We didn't like it; it was wrong. I am glad we are where we are today. But during that time they policed part of their world. We now police it all.

And your question is right on target, because the capability, both the military operations capability, operations tempo of our people, our treasury, our commitment, the extension of that, now needs to be put into some focus and some perspective.

For example, Afghanistan, I think the worst thing that could happen for our future and our war against terrorism is for us not to succeed there. If we fail in Afghanistan, we have lost credibility, we will lose everything that we have, I think, not only gained over the last eight months, but much of who we are as a nation.

If we overextend ourselves into places, then we run a risk of failing in almost every place. BLITZER: The fact though is, Senator Durbin, that the CIA director, George Tenet, was very outspoken, very blunt in say this war is by no means over, there's a lot more work to do, and that Al Qaeda still represents a huge threat to the United States. Listen to what he said during his testimony earlier in the week.

Well, we obviously don't have that. But he did say Al Qaeda has not been destroyed. It and other like-minded groups remain willing and able to strike us.

How frustrated are you that the U.S. still has not been able to find for example, the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden?

DURBIN: Well, I have my own personal theory not backed up by any experts. And Vice President Cheney alluded to the possibility that Osama bin Laden has been dead for some period of time. But not to mistake his demise with the demise of Al Qaeda. We think it exists in about 60 different nations around the world.

I think the most important victory that we have achieved the vice president did not mention. And that is the fact that we brought together, in our coalition of allies, I think the most successful global intelligence operation in history. We now have countries that paid no attention to this issue before, cooperating with the United States.

So to the caller and as well to Mr. Tenet, I would say that we have great challenges in the world. As a coalition power, we have brought together intelligence gathering.

And for those who question the viability of the American military during the last presidential campaign, just look at what they have achieved, an enormous achievement in a very short period of time, a testimony to the men and women in uniform and to the great technology lead that the United States has over virtually every other country in the world.

BLITZER: Senator Hagel, I want to shift and talk about homeland security and the refusal from the Bush administration to allow the homeland security director, Governor Tom Ridge, to appear before the Senate, to come before the Senate and testify about what his operational plans are.

Some of your Republican colleagues are critical of that decision. Are you among them?

HAGEL: Well, I'm not critical of it. I think, and I've said on the record, that I think it would enhance the president's ability and opportunities to explain to the American people, through their elected representatives, what his vision is, what his plans are.

We've got to remember the president has entrusted in Governor Ridge an immense amount of power, burden, responsibility. Now, I know the technicalities of he doesn't have a presidential appointment and all the lawyering that goes into this. And I understand that and I understand the separation of powers. But it is in the best interest of the President of the United States, in my opinion, to allow Governor Ridge to come here and talk about this.

HAGEL: This is important. The American people need to know. We need to know, we need to know up here where all this is going, what's the framework.

BLITZER: So you want him to testify.

HAGEL: Absolutely.

BLITZER: I assume you do as well, Senator Durbin, although Governor Ridge was on television earlier today and he defended the decision. Listen to what he had to say.

Oh, we don't have that excerpt either. But he made it clear -- and I'll paraphrase what he said -- he said, "The executive order that creates the position of the office of homeland security basically says my job is to coordinate, coordinate, and coordinate. The fact is, there are $38 billion in the budget, and that I have been called to testify about those $38 billion is really inappropriate. I do not have control over those dollars."

Why should he, therefore, be forced to testify?

DURBIN: Let me tell you, Tom Ridge was a great choice for this job. I came to Congress with him. I couldn't think of a better person. And I was one of them on the Democratic side applauding him.

He's getting the worst advice in the world. $38 billion of new spending by this Congress is going to go toward homeland security, and he is saying that we can't call the one man in who's supposed to put all the pieces together and ask him the important questions.

Accountability is critical, from the executive to the legislative branch. Tom Ridge will do very well.

I really hope that this administration reconsiders its position. Because if they don't, we're going to have to assemble all these different agencies and try to piece together what the strategy is here. That isn't the way to do it.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Durbin, Senator Hagel, I had to leave it right there. Thanks to both of you for joining us. Appreciate it very much.

And just ahead, your letters to Late Edition, plus Bruce Morton's essay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE MORTON: Best supporting actor, that's harder. You could say Osama bin Laden, but we really haven't seen him enough for that to be fair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Move over Oscar, here comes the Morton awards. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. With Hollywood's biggest night just a few hours away, here's Bruce Morton with some award picks of his own.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON: It's Oscar night, and we thought you might want some advance word on who the winners will be. Some of them, anyway.

Best plot? That's easy. The most absorbing story of 2001 was America's response after September 11. It surprised critics in other countries -- no wimpiness, no yellow ribbons. Anger this time and flags, and a government in a distant country brought smartly down.

Best actor? That would have to be George W. Bush for his role as war leader, a lot like the part Russell Crowe played in last year's big winner, Gladiator. But critics agree Bush was more forceful. Of course, he had missiles, not just a sword.

Best supporting actor? That's harder. You could say Osama bin Laden, but we really haven't seen him enough for that to be fair. Dick Cheney would be disqualified for the same reason. You can't give the prize to a man concealed for security reasons at an undisclosed location. How about Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, big mojo at the TV box office these days?

Fastest disappearance from the national news stage? This man, Congressman Charlie -- no, Harry -- no, Gary something. Hard to remember, but of course that's why he's the winner.

Comedy? Tough choices this year. Washington, D.C., in a bidding war with Memphis, Tennessee, for the honor -- is that the right word -- of hosting the Mike Tyson/Lennox Lewis fight? Which would you rather have, Graceland or all those lawyer-lobbyists?

Or you could give the comedy award to another fight, one that's already happened, Tonya versus Paula. It wasn't exactly a slugfest. Paula had a new nose to protect. But it was a knockout in the ratings, truly.

Silliest moment? How about a bipartisan award to Congress for huffing and puffing for months over how to cure the recession and finally passing a bill just as all the economists were saying, "Hey, forget it. It's over." "Spending money we don't have," one freshman who's still candid grumbled, "to fix something that's already ended." Most amazing? Maybe, Mormon capitalist wins Republican governor's nomination in heavily Catholic and Democratic Massachusetts, and is the early favorite? No? Sixteen of the U.S.'s 21 B-2 bombers, $2.2 billion a piece, found to have cracks? Ice shelf the size of Rhode Island disappears in a matter of days?

All pretty amazing. But if you don't like those, never mind. Whoopi Goldberg will have the real skinny shortly.

I'm Bruce Morton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Bruce.

And now time to hear from you, hear some e-mail.

Howard Sharpel (ph) of San Marcos, California, writes this: "If Saddam Hussein will not accede to an ultimatum to allow the inspectors back into Iraq to conduct an unrestricted inspection of any and all locations, we should advise him we will take appropriate action with or without the support of the Arabic countries."

But Al Caldwell of Parker, Pennsylvania, says: "All this talk about what to do in Iraq is quite irritating, inasmuch as if the first President Bush would have finished the job in the first place, we would not need to be worried about Iraq or Saddam now when there are other things more important to think about and do."

And about the Middle East crisis, Ross Kaplan (ph) from Dallas, Texas, asks: "How can there be a full lasting peace when everyone knows Sharon and Arafat have personal vendettas against each other?"

As always, we welcome your comments. You can e-mail us at lateedition@cnn.com.

And coming up, the next hour of Late Edition. As the fight over campaign finance reform moves from Congress to the courts, we'll get some legal insight into what could be ahead.

Also, now that Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan is over, we'll talk with military and counterterrorism experts about the war's next front.

That, plus your phone calls and e-mail, in the next hour of Late Edition.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition.

Now we'll talk about the next battle over money in politics in just a few minutes, but first, here is CNN's Kate Snow with a news alert.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: After a seven-year fight, the Senate this week approved campaign finance reform legislation. President Bush says he'll sign the measure into law, but opponents are not giving up. They're vowing to take the issue to court.

Joining us now to talk about the legal implications of this are four guests: Here in Washington, the former independent counsel Ken Starr, and in New York, First Amendment attorney and constitutional expert Floyd Abrams. They're part of the legal team that will argue the bill is unconstitutional.

And on the other side of the battle, also in New York: Joshua Rosenkranz, he's the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, New York University Law School; and here in Washington, attorney Roger Whitten, he's a partner with the international law firm, Wilmer Cutler & Pickering.

Gentlemen, thanks to all of you for joining us.

And, Ken Starr, we'll go through all the specifics in a moment, but let's just explain what happened. Senator Mitch McConnell, the leading opponent of the McCain-Feingold legislation, Shays-Meehan in the House of Representatives, have retained you and Floyd Abrams, what he calls a "dream team," to take this issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.

KEN STARR, FORMER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: And Dean Kathleen Sullivan of the Stanford Law School.

BLITZER: And the point, though, is this. President Bush, a man you deeply admire, is about sign this legislation into law. He's sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution. If any part of it were unconstitutional, as you claim it is, why would he sign it into law?

STARR: Well, I think he's made it clear in his initial statement that there are defects in the law, but there are good things in the law as well, which he has been supporting and applauds. But ultimately this is, in our system, an issue for the courts, and it's obviously going to be destined for the courts when the president signs it into law, given the very serious First Amendment and other issues that are raised.

BLITZER: And you realize that the solicitor general at the Justice Department, Ted Olson, a friend of yours, you might be fighting him before the U.S. Supreme Court justices.

STARR: Well, it's very possible. The solicitor general has a duty to defend laws passed by Congress and signed by the president under most circumstances. There are exceptions. But again, the fact remains that there are very serious issues that are really for the court to resolve, in terms of the First Amendment issues, among others, that are at stake here.

And I'm just pleased to be working with Floyd Abrams, who's really the giant in First Amendment law of the past generation.

BLITZER: Let's bring Floyd Abrams in. You're a conservative.

Floyd Abrams, you're well known as an outspoken liberal when it comes to the First Amendment. Let's review the main points of the McCain-Feingold, Shays-Meehan legislation that the president is about to sign into law.

We'll pull it up on our screen. It will prohibit national parties, the Democratic, Republican Parties, from accepting or spending so-called soft money -- that's the unlimited sums that have gone to the parties so far. State and local parties can accept up to $10,000 per individual. It raises the so-called hard money ceiling from $1,000 to $2,000 per individual.

And one of the most controversial points, it prohibits unions, corporations, nonprofit groups from paying for ads if they refer to a specific candidate, a national candidate, and run those ads within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary.

What's unconstitutional about any of that?

FLOYD ABRAMS, FIRST AMENDMENT ATTORNEY: Well, let's take the last one first. This is just a ban on speech at a time when speech is most important, around election time. The idea of saying to the Sierra Club, or the NRA, or the ACLU, or a union, that they can't speak within 60 days of an election about some issue that they care about and put a picture up of a senator or congressman, or say "Write Senator McCain and ask him to vote no," seems to me, on the face of it, to violate the First Amendment.

BLITZER: Mr. Abrams, but you've probably heard Senator McCain answer that charge by saying they can speak as much as they want 60 days, 30 days before, provided it's in so-called hard money, not the unlimited soft money.

ABRAMS: Yes, but Congress is not allowed, Senator McCain to the contrary, to get involved at all about issue ads, about ads that speak about issues, even if they get pretty close, pretty close to who to vote for. So long as they don't say something like elect so and so, throw the bums out. So long as they talk about an issue.

I mean, if the NRA wants to talk about guns, Senator McCain and the Congress has nothing to say about it, even if it winds up saying "Send your word to Senator McCain," "You tell Senator Clinton." And that's what this bill do.

It is flatly, in my view, flatly and very dangerously unconstitutional.

BLITZER: All right, what about that, Joshua Rosenkranz? You heard what Floyd Abrams, a champion of the First Amendment, just said.

JOSHUA ROSENKRANZ, PRESIDENT, BRENNAN CENTER: Well, I like to think of myself also as a champion of the First Amendment, though clearly not in Floyd's league.

The important thing to understand about this bill is that no speech is banned. Anyone can articulate a message to their heart's content close to an election, on the eve of an election, with as much money as they want, as long as they follow the rules that relate to all campaign speech. And those rules say that you've got to tell us who you are, first. And second, that you can't use corporate or union speech.

It's a matter of fairness. Candidates follow those rules. Political parties follow those rules. Political action committees follow those rules.

Wolf, everyone knows what these ads are that we're talking about. They're not ads about issues. They are ads about electioneering. And all this law does is to say, if it waddles, quacks and smells like a campaign ad in a very, very narrow, sensitive way, well, then, yes, it is a campaign ad and it has to follow those rules.

BLITZER: Ken Starr, how are you going to respond before the U.S. courts on that specific issue?

STARR: Well, Josh is wrong. He is quite wrong. The ACLU this last week put out a press release indicating here is a radio ad that they ran in speaker of the House of Representatives Denny Hastert's district urging support for a particular bill involving employment discrimination. That ad is unlawful, the very ad, by the ACLU, unless they form a PAC and the like.

You're asking organizations like the ACLU, the Southeastern Legal Foundation on the right, other kinds of organizations, to essentially say, we are now in politics; we are going to form a PAC, all the expense and all of the burden and the like.

And Floyd is absolutely right. This has never been upheld by the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: And, Joshua, I just want to point out what Senator McConnell, the leading opponent of McCain-Feingold said earlier this week, and we'll play that little excerpt. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): This is not about Republicans battling Democrats or the left versus the right. This is a mission to preserve fundamental constitutional freedom for all Americans to fully participate in our democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And the very presence on the legal team of Floyd Abrams, Ken Starr together, that underscores that specific point. It has nothing to do with politics or liberal, conservative ideology.

ROSENKRANZ: No, it doesn't have to do with liberal or conservative ideology. It has to do with the rules of the game and everyone following the same exact rules.

ROSENKRANZ: The ACLU can run the exact ad that Ken Starr was talking about. All they have to do is make sure that they raise the money from individuals and tell us who they are.

The classic example of the ad that we're talking about is an ad that ran here in New York state right on the eve of the Republican primary, the presidential primary.

You had Republicans for Clean Air running an ad, talking about and lauding Governor Bush's fabulous record on the environment, educating New Yorkers about Governor Bush's record on the environment.

We didn't know who they were. We didn't know whether they were GE. We didn't know whether they were even New Yorkers. Sure enough, it turned out -- and we didn't know that, by the way, because they claimed it was about issues. It turned out they were two brothers on Texas, old buddies of George Bush, who posed as Republicans for Clean Air to influence our vote.

BLITZER: What about...

ROSENKRANZ: All the law does is to say they've got to tell us who they are.

BLITZER: What about that, Floyd? Let me go back to Floyd Abrams to respond to that.

ABRAMS: The answer to that is we start with the proposition that speech is good, not bad. And speech around elections is important, not unimportant.

So if two brothers in Texas want to run an ad in New York, maybe they should be disclosed. And I don't really disagree much on that. But if they want to run an ad in New York, taking a position about a public issue, there is nothing wrong with that. I might not agree with it, but there is nothing wrong with that.

And it seems to me at the core of this legislation is a fear of speech, a disdain for speech, a general attitude that speech has to be rationed. And that is not the First Amendment way to do things.

ROSENKRANZ: Here's the...

BLITZER: Hold on one second, Joshua. I just want to bring Roger Whitten in. He hasn't had a chance to weigh in on this yet. We're going to take a quick break. First -- but, Roger, tell us why is Floyd Abrams, presumably someone you have admired for many years, so wrong on this issue?

ROGER WHITTEN, WILMER CUTLER & PICKERING: Admired and worked with from time to time. The core of this bill is a ban on soft money. And I don't think either my friend Ken Starr or my friend Floyd Abrams would disagree with the proposition that the First Amendment does not require our nation to labor with a corrupt campaign finance system that undermines the democracy we all cherish.

The Supreme Court of the United States has been saying that in one way or another for 70 years, saying that Congress and the federal government can protect the integrity of elections.

And just recently the Supreme Court of the United States, in upholding campaign finance legislation, issued a very ominous warning, and I think we should all pay attention. It said, "Leave the perception of impropriety unanswered, and the cynical assumption that large donors, large campaign contributors, call the tune could jeopardize the willingness of voters to take part in democratic governments."

That goes to the heart of where we are, and this bipartisan legislation takes dead aim at that problem.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to pick that point up. Everybody hold their fire. We've got a lot more to talk about. We're just beginning this conversation, this debate indeed.

We'll continue with our panel of attorneys. They'll also be taking your phone calls. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition.

We're talking about the legal fight, the expected legal fight over campaign finance reform with First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams; the president of New York University's Brennan Center For Justice, Joshua Rosenkranz; former independent counsel Ken Starr; and attorney Roger Whitten.

Ken Starr, you just heard Roger Whitten say that there have been restrictions on campaign money, what you would call free speech, the famous case Buckley v. Valeo which was before the U.S. Supreme Court.

If Congress and the president could impose those limitations in the past, why not right now?

STARR: Several reasons. One, on the soft money, as it's come to be called to political parties, this is a very extreme measure. This is a complete ban on that form of contribution. Everything has to come through so-called hard money.

And there's a real problem with this. It is essentially draining our political parties that have been so foundational in our society, in terms of maintaining stability and avoiding the kind of balkanization, fractionalizing of political discourse, political debate and the like in the political process. And this is an effort really to drain them of their power. BLITZER: So you will argue in your suit that, both on the constitutionality of the so-called soft money restrictions as well as on the electioneering 60 days, 30 days, by these advocacy groups, both of those points you'll argue are unconstitutional.

STARR: Yes, I think that -- both are for the reasons that Floyd well stated. I think that the electioneering, communication measures are just...

BLITZER: Well, let's let Roger respond.

STARR: ... dead on arrival.

But if I could just add on soft money, there's another aspect to all this. And that is there is a ban in a way that is so incomplete and completely unequal, there's an inequality function here, there will be soft money raised but by a number of organizations, that will now not have the kind of accountability the political parties do. We know when a large contribution is made to a political party. That will no longer be the case.

BLITZER: Well, why, Roger, would it be OK to raise unlimited amounts of campaign money, soft money in local and state elections, but in federal elections you want a separate kind of regulation to be imposed?

WHITTEN: Wolf, this statute is neither extreme, nor does it drain the parties of their life blood.

It's not extreme because a large bipartisan majority of members in the Senate and the House found that the soft money loophole, which injected $450 million in money from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals, many of whom were seeking favorable action from the United States government from the people who were raising the money, that that injection of money was creating exactly the problems that the Supreme Court identified.

BLITZER: But won't these people who give those large sums find other ways to get around these new restrictions that you seek to impose?

WHITTEN: They have many other ways to speak, and that is one reason why this modest constraint does not violate the First Amendment.

BLITZER: Floyd Abrams, modest constraint on free speech, in effect. What do you say about that?

ABRAMS: Well, if this were so modest there would be less celebrating amongst the forces of people who brought it about. The people behind this legislation, well-meaning and, let me add, First- Amendment-caring too, which is true of everyone on this panel, made a decision to move in a certain direction because they thought it would help the country.

But the direction they moved in, in trying to close loopholes, was indifferent to First Amendment interests. And that's true both with respect to these issue groups, including, again, unions and corporations as well and political parties too, and what Ken Starr was talking about.

I mean, the flat ban on, quote, "soft money," read formally unregulated money, means that the money will move from the political parties, where at least they were to some extent accountable, into holy non-accountable places and entities.

BLITZER: All right.

ABRAMS: And that's not a good thing from a First Amendment perspective either.

BLITZER: Let's take a caller from North Carolina who has a question, wants to weigh in. Go ahead, North Carolina. QUESTION: Yes, I have a question for my fellow Duke Law alum Judge Starr, and my question is whether or not he thinks this is a case of conservatives seeking to legislate through the judiciary since they couldn't sustain a filibuster in the Senate. A part of their legislative idea, the whole time through, has been we're going to turn to the courts. And whether or not he thinks this is a case of legislating through the judiciary branch.

STARR: Well, happily in our system, as Chief Justice John Marshall put it at the founding in the case of Marbury v. Madison, in our system it's emphatically the province -- his word -- of the Judicial Department to say what the law is.

STARR: There is a debate now about the meaning of the First Amendment, and it's up to the courts now. That's not legislating. That's saying, does this, in fact, pass muster under the standards that have been developed with respect to free speech and freedom of association? As well as some fundamental issues in terms of equality and the bizarre nature of the way this system is going to work, which I think we'll be able to demonstrate.

BLITZER: All right, gentlemen, stand by. Once again, we're going to take another quick break.

Our legal panel will be taking more of your phone calls when Late Edition continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition. We will continue our discussion about campaign finance reform, now moving to the U.S. courts, with the attorneys Floyd Abrams, Joshua Rosenkranz, Ken Starr and Roger Whitten.

Joshua Rosenkranze, I want to make it clear, you and Roger Whitten have been brought on to this legal team by Senator McCain and Feingold, to defend the law, is that right?

ROSENKRANZ: Well, actually the legal team is not yet public, Wolf. BLITZER: But will you be part of that, do you think?

ROSENKRANZ: I certainly intend to do everything that I can and we can at the Brennan Center to support the law.

WHITTEN: Josh, I have late breaking news, which is although it hasn't been published, we will be representing the sponsors of the bill, Senator McCain, Senator Feingold, Congressman Shays and Congressman Meehan.

BLITZER: So, Roger, and you're going to be doing this pro bono, meaning without payment?

WHITTEN: Yes.

BLITZER: And, Ken Starr, you are going to be working for Senator Mcconnell for the...

STARR: For the senator.

BLITZER: Once again, pro bono?

STARR: There will be others involved, but for the senator, yes.

BLITZER: And, Ken Starr, this has got a fast track approach that we built in to the legislation. Tell our viewers how quickly this legal battle will be joined.

STARR: Well, we expect that litigation will be filed soon after the president signs the bill into law. We don't know...

BLITZER: Well, how soon? Within days? STARR: I would think so. But, you know, Senator McConnell's determination, his judgment and that of other challengers and plaintiffs, I think there are going to be plenty on both the left and the right and in the middle as well.

And then there is an expedited procedure where three judges will hear this here in the District of Colombia on an expedited basis, and then with a direct review by the Supreme Court. So it should move fast.

BLITZER: So, Floyd Abrams, how quickly do you think it will be? Because, as you know, the McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan legislation, even after its signed by the president into law, won't go into effect until after the elections next November.

Will this be challenged before it goes into effect?

ABRAMS: Yes, it will. It will be challenged as other statutes have been challenged which impact First Amendment rights, very shortly after the president signs it. And we...

BLITZER: Well, I'm asking though, do you think it will be -- in effect, go before the Supreme Court before November? ABRAMS: That's hard to predict, but certainly we will be doing our best to move it along. There are some areas of complexity. I don't want to make this sound too easy. And so it may take a while before the three-judge court finishes hearing all of the lawyers who have anything relevant to say to them. And then it goes to the Supreme Court.

But there is a chance that it will be before the court as early as the effective date in November. If not, it should be there not much after that. Certainly, I think, we have a shot of getting it there by the end of the year, if not heard prior to November.

BLITZER: Joshua Rosenkranz, now that you know you officially part of that legal time that is going to be supporting the law of the land, what worries you more, the constitutionality of the question involving the 30- to 60-day ban on campaign advertising before an election or the whole of issue of soft money? What is a greater potential challenge, as far as you're concerned?

ROSENKRANZ: Well, Wolf, neither one particularly worries me because I believe the Supreme Court will uphold both.

The soft-money ban, it seems to me as close as you get to a no- brainer in constitutional law. It's been the law since 1907 that you can ban corporations from electioneering. It was upheld in 1976, as recently as 1990. The Supreme Court reaffirmed its position that corporations have no business in our elections trying to influence our vote.

So I believe that both provisions will be upheld, but certainly the soft-money ban is an easy case. BLITZER: And millions of dollars in soft money will be contributed, Ken Starr, in these days before -- and the weeks and months before November.

STARR: Oh, isn't that interesting that the bill was deliberately a truly effective date so that the parties could raise lots of soft money.

BLITZER: And on that point, let me just bring Roger back in. Look at these numbers, and we're going to put it up. Record soft money donations recently, look at this, to the Democratic Party, from Hyme Saban (ph) and Steve Bink (ph), $5 million and $7 million. The previous record was the Amway Corporation, $1.7 million.

If it's so bad, why are the Democratic and Republican parties now rushing to try to get as much of that soft money as they possibly can?

WHITTEN: I take a long perspective on this. I was a Watergate prosecutor, and we investigated campaign finance abuses. There was a national consensus that corporate money, that union money, that large amounts of individual money, has an inherently corrupting effect on our democracy.

WHITTEN: And it creates an appearance of corruption that drives voters away from the polls, that drives politicians out of politics. It's all bad. What happened here was it didn't make sense to change the rules so close to the November election. And I think Congress, in its wisdom, decided to postpone the effective date of this law until right after the next election. None to soon, in my estimation.

BLITZER: I'll give you the last word, Ken Starr, then we have to leave it alone.

STARR: Well, one of the underlying assumptions here is that there is corruption and the appearance of corruption. Yet I have been through virtually all of the debate, I didn't hear a single member of Congress say, "And by the way, I know who those corrupt persons are."

I think it's very unfortunate. I think most of our members of Congress, and indeed, I think virtually all of them, are honorable people. But there has been essentially this mantra-like indication that there is a huge problem of the appearance of corruption.

And what I think we have to understand, this is a mass democracy. And it doesn't take finances to communicate ideas and issues. And that is a good thing and not a bad thing.

BLITZER: All right. Ken Starr, Roger Whitten, and in New York, Floyd Abrams and Joshua Rosenkranz, thanks to all of you. I think we just had, and our viewers here in the United States and around the world had, a preview of the arguments that will be heard in the coming months before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thanks to all of you for joining us.

And just ahead, the front lines in the war against terrorism, which side has the upper hand? We'll get some insight from the former NATO supreme allied commander, General George Joulwan, CNN military analyst, retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd and the former U.S. ambassador for counterterrorism, Paul Bremer.

Late Edition will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition.

Joining us now, in Tucson, Arizona, CNN military analyst, the retired U.S. Air Force Major General Don Shepperd; and here in Washington, the former NATO supreme allied commander, retired General George Joulwan, and the former U.S. Counterterrorism Ambassador, Paul Bremer.

Gentlemen, good to have all of you back on Late Edition.

And, General Joulwan, let me begin with you. The secretary of defense, Don Rumsfeld, spoke out rather bluntly about Operation Anaconda, the U.S. military operation in eastern Afghanistan, the mountains, earlier in this week, and listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We are a nation of laws. We have been attacked by lawless terrorists. The manner in which we conduct trials under military commissions will speak volumes about our character as a nation, just as the manner in which we were attacked speaks volumes about the character of our adversaries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Unfortunately, that's not the soundbite that we wanted. The soundbite that we wanted was when he declared the operation a success. He says, "I think we would characterize the operation, after this point, having been successful, because the Taliban has been removed."

Are those words that could come back to haunt him?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN, FORMER NATO SUPREME COMMANDER: I think you have to look at this in terms of success, in that the American forces now entered the fight, took the lead, and really engaged the enemy on their turf. That, to me, was extremely significant. We have not done that to that level, to that scale, before. So I think, in that sense, it was a big success.

I don't want to get into body counts here, but I think the Al Qaeda was dealt a severe blow here. There will be more battles. And so I think we've given a clear message to the enemy that Americans will fight, and they will fight on your turf, and we will take the enemy to you. In that sense, I think it was a success. But there's more to be done. Al Qaeda has not been defeated, and we need to take the fight to them, and we're going to do this on many more occasions.

BLITZER: And we heard the vice president, on this program earlier, Ambassador Bremer, make the point very clearly that this network of Al Qaeda out there, around the world, still represents a huge threat.

PAUL BREMER, FORMER AMBASSADOR FOR COUNTERTERRORISM: That's true. And, you know, there were -- in the last 10 days, we've seen a very good illustration of how hard it is to really eliminate terrorism. We had the Red Brigades in Italy, which everybody thought had been defeated in the '80s, come back and assassinate a lawyer. We saw Sendero Luminoso, a terrorist group in Peru, set off a car bomb near the American embassy.

This just shows that it is very difficult to get to the real bottom of this. It's going to take a very long time, years and years. And it's urgent. We have new evidence now that Al Qaeda had some fairly substantial research into biological weapons, that turned up in part of the search around the Anaconda operation. This is a very serious, urgent, but it's going to take a long time.

BLITZER: General Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander for the operation, said, while there's plenty of evidence they were researching, trying to develop that capability, still no evidence that they, in his words, "weaponized it." BREMER: Well, of course, but this shouldn't make us feel any more comfortable, because you can't prove the negative, we can't prove that they didn't get either biological, chemical, or some radiological weapons, and that really would be an escalation of dramatic scale.

JOULWAN: I would agree. We've got to anticipate that they do have that capability, and we have to take action here at home and globally as if they have developed these weapons of mass destruction and will use them.

BLITZER: What do you say about that, General Shepperd? How concerned should the U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan, for example, be that they could face these kinds of weapons of mass destruction in the immediate future?

GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think it's highly unlikely that either the Taliban or Al Qaeda have the ability to actually produce those weapons in Afghanistan.

They're on the run now. We've got all kinds of intelligence that they were trying, and found no evidence that they were succeeding. We have to be mindful of this, not necessarily in Afghanistan, but this type of thing being spread to many locations all over the world and then brought to the United States in a rather sophisticated attack. And any of these cells that can do it will do it, that's fairly clear, Wolf.

BLITZER: General Joulwan, is there going to be another Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan? Or is that kind of battle that we saw, very robust battle, is that at least going to be on the sidelines for the time being?

JOULWAN: No two battles are the same, and the key here is, I think, that hopefully we will choose the time and place of the next battle. But I would not rule out that you are going to see another battle of this scale again. I think you're going to see it.

We on our side -- and I hope our commanders, I know they are, are preparing for that sort of contingency.

BLITZER: Why is it so hard, Ambassador Bremer, for the U.S., with its vast resources, having dispersed the Taliban, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, why is it so hard to find those Al Qaeda leaders? Forget about Osama bin Laden for the time being. But the other leaders, who have been in the forefront of this war against the United States.

BREMER: Well, if you look at the topography around Afghanistan, the borders into Pakistan and especially the borders in Baluchistan, the south of Afghanistan and over into Iran, these are some of the most inhospitable regions in the world.

I lived in Afghanistan for two years. I visited those borders. And I can tell you it is a tremendous task, even with the cooperation of the two governments, Pakistan and Iran -- which, incidentally, in the case of Iran, has been rather ambivalent. More and more evidence comes out that the Iranians have in fact been allowing some of these Al Qaeda leaders to escape into Iran.

So this is going to be very hard. And we know that a lot of these Al Qaeda cells have been in effect in countries like Indonesia and the United States for years. It's not easy to get at them.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, gentlemen. We have a lot more to talk about, but we're going to take a quick break.

When we return, we'll be taking your phone calls for General Joulwan, Major General Shepperd and Ambassador Bremer. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're talking about what's happening in the war against terrorism with CNN military analyst Air Force Major General retired Don Shepperd; the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General George Joulwan; and the former U.S. Ambassador for Counterterrorism Paul Bremer.

This note, we're also standing by for a news conference. The president of the United States and the president of El Salvador, they'll be holding a joint news conference shortly. When that happens in San Salvador, we'll be going there live.

But in the meantime, General Shepperd, if you take a look at what General Franks said earlier this morning on Meet the Press, General Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander of the entire operation, the central commander, he said, as far as a war with Iraq is concerned, he said, quote, "I have not been involved personally with other unified commanders to try and put together some approach to Saddam Hussein."

That makes it sound like some sort of U.S. strike against Iraq may be a long way down the road.

SHEPPERD: Yes, Wolf, I think unless we are provoked by something unforeseen, we are aways from any type of dealing with Iraq.

One thing is the Arab-Israeli situation, the Palestinian-Israeli situation has to be brought to some type of lower level before we can get any help from the Arab nations from which we would like assistance for basing particularly and overflight rights in the area.

It also takes time to move forces, and General Franks is also very busy in Afghanistan and the remaining actions in Afghanistan. So I think we're a time away would be my guess, Wolf.

BLITZER: General Joulwan, you were once a commander of a command, a unified command. What does that statement from Tommy Franks this morning say to you?

JOULWAN: Well, first, the fact that it's not doing coordination with uniformed commanders is one thing. But the fact is, I'm sure, that he's planning and should be planning all kinds of options. The president of the United States made it very clear, all options were on the table. So I'm sure Tommy Franks, and even the Joint Chiefs, are developing plans. And Saddam Hussein should understand that. We have contingency plans and will have contingency plans when that decision is made.

And I must say, from my experience, political decision always come late. So I think it's prudent for the military to prepare. And so, while he may not be coordinating directly now with unified commanders, I would hope that his planning options for when and if that political decision is made.

BLITZER: Ambassador Bremer, how worried should Saddam Hussein be right now?

BREMER: He should be very worried. The president has also said in the last week that we will deal with Saddam Hussein. And he seems to be a man of his word, the president, so I expect we will get to that point at some point. It may be some months off, but we'll get there.

JOULWAN: What I think is so different, Wolf, about now and in 1990, is that the clear objective in 1990 was the liberation of Kuwait. It's very clear now that, if and when there is an operation against Iraq, that the target is Saddam Hussein himself. And the president's made that very clear, and I think that the military plans and political and diplomatic initiatives will follow in line. That will be the objective.

BLITZER: I want your reaction to this offer from the Iraqi government today, General Joulwan, to allow a U.S. delegation to come in to have discussions about the fate of the U.S. Navy pilot Commander Michael Scott Speicher, whose plane went down the first night of the air war January 17, 1991. Originally listed as killed in action; subsequently listed as missing in action.

What do you make of this Iraqi proposal?

JOULWAN: Well, I would look at it very closely from both a political and diplomatic standpoint. But if it makes sense to do and we can get some information on the surface, I would say let's at least explore it in a positive way.

Anything we can do to get inside that country, I think, would be worthwhile to do, and anything we can do to give comfort to a family we should also try to do.

BLITZER: What about that, General Shepperd? I know you've been -- you've been skeptical that Commander Speicher is still alive, but what do you think of this Iraqi proposal today?

SHEPPERD: Well, I think it's, as General Joulwan said, I think it's a smart thing for us to go and engage them in anyway that we can engage them.

What we're after is a full accounting of everyone that is missing in this nation. Forty years after Vietnam, we are still after a full accounting of many of the people missing there. Commander Speicher, if they have knowledge of what happened to him -- right now we don't know what happened to him. All we had reportedly was a bloody flight suit by a Bedouin tribeman brought in. We don't know where he is, and if they do, we'd like to find that out and put this to rest, especially for the families, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ambassador Bremer, the other proposal this week for these military tribunals or, as the Pentagon calls them, military commissions to deal with, potentially, a lot of these Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba or in Afghanistan.

Do you think that these trials are actually going to take place?

BREMER: I think some of them will take place.

Obviously, the administration had to spend a fair amount of time coming up with the right format, one which respects -- one can't say their civil liberties under the Constitution, because they don't have those, but which respects America's rule of law, but also takes into account the fact that these people are terrorists, some of them, and some of them have threatened to kill Americans.

So I think, on a selected basis, we will see some trials sometime. I wouldn't hold my breath for it being any time soon.

BLITZER: All right. Gentlemen, stand by, we're going to continue this conversation.

We're also standing by for a news conference from San Salvador, in El Salvador, President Bush and the Salvadoran president, Francisco Flores. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition.

Momentarily a news conference in El Salvador, President Bush and the president of El Salvador, Francisco Flores. When that news conference begins, we'll go there live.

In meantime, we're continuing our conversation about the war against terrorism with CNN military analyst Major General Don Shepperd, former NATO supreme allied commander General George Joulwan, and the former U.S. counterterrorism ambassador Paul Bremer.

And, Paul Bremer, let me ask you about these military tribunals. Some of the similarities between the military tribunals and regular civilian procedures against suspects include these: presumed innocent until found guilty, must be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to an attorney and to see evidence, a unanimous decision necessary for the death penalty. That's all the same as normal here in the United States.

But there are significant differences, differences including some heresay, second-hand evidence will be allowed to be admitted in these military commissions; an appeal to a review board but not any civilian or federal court; and only the president of the United States can review convictions.

This last point, the president has already called these detainees killers. Where is the fairness if that's the review process?

BREMER: Look, I think we ought to keep a little perspective here. I don't know of another country in the world which would have sustained the kind of attack we did on September 11 and be so meticulous in looking after the legitimate legal rights of people who, after all, are at war with us.

So there are some differences here. To me, they are reasonable exceptions. I'm not an attorney. They seem reasonable to me. It seems to me there is a reasonable standard of these people getting a fair trial, and that's what we ought to focus on.

BLITZER: General Joulwan, could this come back to haunt U.S. potential military prisoners in other countries, the way the U.S. is treating these detainees?

JOULWAN: Our troops are combatant or uniformed troops. I think that's different than what we see with the terrorists. I don't think so. It has to be looked at.

But I truly believe that when these detainees go in front of a military tribunal, they will get a fair trial. The rules of that still need to be sorted out, and are still being sorted out, but they will get a fair trial. The military court will do its job.

BLITZER: What about that, General Shepperd? Are you as confident that this going to be good justice in action?

SHEPPERD: I absolutely am, Wolf. The United States justice system is arguably the best in the world. You simply can't argue with the fairness of our justice system. The military justice system has been well tried for over three centuries. It is a very fair system.

These tribunals are a slight modification of the UCMJ, if you will, the Uniform Code of Military Justice. But they're going to be very fair. They're going to be open to the public except for things that involve security. There is going to be scrutiny from all over the world. They have to be treated fairly, and they will, Wolf, I'm confident.

BLITZER: All right. General Joulwan, I want to shift gears, talk about the president of the United States. Right now, he's in El Salvador getting ready for this news conference, which we will take, with President Francisco Flores, the president of El Salvador, momentarily. He just came back from Peru; was in Mexico.

You're the former commander of the Southern Command, which deals with that area. Enormous problems, including illegal drugs, immigration, facing the United States from Latin America.

How is the president dealing with these issues? JOULWAN: Well, first of all, I was very proud that 10 years ago in 1992, I was part of the negotiation that brought peace to El Salvador. Ten years later, our president is visiting there. I think it's very appropriate.

There are problems. And the drug problem is compounded by the drug problem linked to terrorism. We talked about Shining Path, or Sendero Luminoso, Tupac Amaru is another one. And the narco terrorists themselves are destabilizing all of our southern flank, from Mexico all the way down to Chile.

So we have a challenge here. Not just drugs in the United States, but what drugs are doing to Latin America. And I think the president, by his visit there, is signalling that we are concerned and will do something about it. But the link to terrorism, and even to Al Qaeda, in Latin America is real, and we need to address it.

BLITZER: What is that link between the narco terrorists and Al Qaeda, Ambassador Bremer?

BREMER: I think what you've got is Al Qaeda cells in a number of those countries, as you do in other parts of the world.

BLITZER: Still active today, you think?

BREMER: Still active today. And you've got major terrorist groups, particularly the FARC in Colombia is really a world-class, major terrorist movement, guerrilla movement with thousands of soldiers in it, and a situation in Colombia which is obviously very serious. There's going to be an election there in a few months and probably a new look at the whole question of how we approach Colombia and our security there.

And I agree with General Joulwan, I think it's very good that the president has, in effect, shown to the people in our hemisphere that the war on terrorism has not distracted us from the importance of security in our hemisphere.

BLITZER: And I want to bring General Shepperd in in a moment, but just pick up the notion that, because I'm intrigued, that Al Qaeda is part -- has some links to the terrorist groups that we've heard so much about in Colombia, elsewhere in South America.

BREMER (?): Right. It's dangerous, and it's in our own hemisphere, and, you know, there are smuggling routes into our country. They get 200 metric tons of a chemical called cocaine through every year, even though we have Border Patrol and our Navy and radars involved. That can be very dangerous.

That's why homeland security is important, that's why getting our act in order with a new SOUTHCOM commander quickly, that can address these problems with our allies -- all of that is essential. If we have a global war on terrorism, it just isn't in the Middle East and in Afghanistan. It also needs to be addressed in our own hemisphere.

BLITZER: General Shepperd, what about that, the war against terrorism, a lot of people have -- skeptics have earlier suggested it's going to turn out to be just as difficult as the war against illegal drugs, especially coming up from Central and South America?

SHEPPERD: No question. The two are tied together. Ten or 20 years ago, Central and South America were military dictatorships everywhere. Now a sweeping movement toward democracy and freedom. General Joulwan was certainly part of that.

And now our president is paying attention to our own hemisphere. I that's going to yield great benefits. And further, the money tied to the drug trade is certainly tied to Al Qaeda, and so I think it's a very useful effort, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you want to just wrap it up, General Joulwan?

JOULWAN: Just quickly, he's also meeting with the Central American presidents. Those Central American presidents are very critical here. They are the transit zone for much of this illegal drugs. And when the president speaks to them there's a great opportunity, I think, to bring them in as make them part of a solution, not the problem, to the illegal drugs and terrorism that exist in this hemisphere.

BLITZER: All right. General Joulwan, Ambassador Bremer, and General Shepperd, as usual, thanks to all three of you for joining us.

We're going to take a quick break. This note, we're standing by for a joint news conference, President Bush and the president of El Salvador, Francisco Flores. That news conference expected to begin momentarily. Both men will be making opening statements, then answering reporters' questions. Once that news conference begins, we'll bring it to you live.

In the meantime, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. That news conference in Sal Salvador, President Bush and President Francisco Flores, is about to begin. They are being introduced now, as we see. Let's listen in to the news conference.

(BREAK IN COVERAGE)

BLITZER: President Bush praising the free trade agreements in the hemisphere; also praising the increased democracy throughout the hemisphere as well. But making a major point of praising President Flores and his work promoting democracy in El Salvador.

At the same time, the president answered a few domestic questions, saying he will go forward and, in his words, enthusiastically sign the campaign finance reform legislation into law.

We're going to continue our conversation here on Late Edition, continue to discuss what the president is up to in Latin America and other important political issues of the week with our Late Edition Final Round coming up after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition's Final Round.

Joining me now: Julianne Malveaux, the syndicated columnist; Michelle Cottle of The New Republic; Jonah Goldberg of the National Review Online; and Robert George of the New York Post.

We just heard President Bush making remarks in El Salvador.

Julianne, do you believe the president's visit to South and Central America, in the overall scheme of things -- trade, illegal drugs -- really going to make much of a difference?

JULIANNE MALVEAUX, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I don't think it's going to make much of a difference, but this is his hemisphere, so this is his opportunity to shine. He does speak Spanglish and I think he just overplays it a bit, but this is a place where he's always comfortable. So I think it's a good thing.

At the same time, Antonio Villaraegosa, who's the speaker, I believe, of the California assembly, has talked about the pandering to Latino voters. So we should look very carefully at the things he's saying about trade. You can't offer things to parts of Latin America that you're not offering to the Caribbean, to parts of Africa and other places. And the drug thing is of major importance.

Yet I think this has been a good opportunity for him to shine.

BLITZER: And, Robert, you heard the president. And I must say I was pretty impressed with his Spanish, but that's another story.

ROBERT GEORGE, "NEW YORK POST": Jorge Bush es muy grande.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: But you did hear him speak more in sorrow than in anger of the criticism that he's getting from some Democrats for sort of pandering to Hispanic voters.

GEORGE: Well, I mean, the funny thing is I don't know if these same Democrat where saying the same thing when Bill Clinton went over to Africa, saying that he was basically pandering to American black voters. It was a good thing for Clinton to go over there, and it's an especially good thing for Bush to going down to Central America, especially when we -- again, you've got the problems with drugs.

In fact, I think the entire region, if it's not handled very, very closely could explode, maybe not as badly as the Middle East, but there are some serious problems in Venezuela, Argentina of course we know, and Peru, where they had a bombing that killed nine people just before Bush got down there.

So I think it's -- I think it's a good -- I think it's a definitely good idea to go down there, especially to push on the trade issue.

BLITZER: And, Michelle, as a former governor of Texas, I think he is sincere. He does have a soft spot in his heart for the countries south of the United States.

MICHELLE COTTLE, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": Oh, absolutely. He's always made it very clear that he wants to be neighbors and partners. And if you listen to the speech, it's not so much about policy as about friends and good people and things like this.

And he does have some ground to make up. You know, 9/11 messed up his plans for a lot of, you know, immigrant outreach. And he's got to find a way to show the Latin American community that he still cares, that he hasn't abandoned them in this.

BLITZER: Is he going to be able to succeed in that venture?

JONAH GOLDBERG, "NATIONAL REVIEW": You know, it's unclear. I was in London right before September 11, and all the British papers were banging their spoons on their high chairs about the fact that President Bush has essentially said that Mexico was our now -- and South America's now our number-one priority, which -- you know, I'm an anglophile -- was basically stepping on the quote, unquote "special relationship" between the United States and Great Britain.

9/11 changed all of that, and all of a sudden they became, once again, you know, it was the Yanks and the British fighting the forces of tyranny. And I think -- so, in some sense, Bush is getting back on track with this.

But as a matter of policy, by my count I think this is the four- billionth time a U.S. president has said that we want to stop the export of drugs and increase free trade. And it's impossible to tell, as a matter of policy, whether it's going to take. It's a matter of politics, the fact that Democrats are squealing like Ned Beatty in the movie Deliverance...

MALVEAUX: Oh, please.

GOLDBERG: ... while the president is overseas. It's fairly unprecedented to do this kind of thing when a president is overseas.

MALVEAUX: Down boy.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We're going to move on and talk about the vice president.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: During his trip to the Middle East, Vice President Dick Cheney could not get Arab allies to support taking on Saddam Hussein, at least not in public.

Earlier today on this program, I asked the vice president how much time the Iraqi leader has before the United States takes action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: I can't say. I can make a prediction on something like that. He knows we're deadly serious. Our friends and allies in the region know we are deadly serious and that we do need to find a way to address this problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Jonah, this tough talk, will it succeed?

GOLDBERG: I don't know if it will succeed. I think it -- I think Cheney means it. I think that this administration is quite sincere in the fact that they want to go after Saddam Hussein, and they have not been shy about expressing that.

You know, this week, I would say the most talked about and most widely read articles was the Jeffrey Goldberg -- no relation -- piece in the New Yorker, showing how Saddam Hussein really did go after the Kurds and may have killed up to 200,000 people of his own citizens. This White House believes that Saddam Hussein is a real threat.

And so I think the logic of that, if it's true, that he really would use nuclear weapons if he got them, says that this rhetoric is real.

BLITZER: And the vice president himself, on this program, said it was eye-opening for him to read this article in the New Yorker about what Saddam Hussein supposedly did against his own people at Halabjah in 1988 and other places, fighting the Kurds in Iraq. MALVEAUX: It was an alarming article, certainly. But these administration's tough talk, I think, is something that they're going to have to temper.

With all due respect for you, Wolf, you know, when you sell wolf tickets, you have got to cash them. And that's what happening here. A lot of wolf tickets are being sold...

BLITZER: You mean they're crying wolf, is that what you are saying?

MALVEAUX: No, they're throwing down a gauntlet when they don't necessarily have the support from our Middle Eastern allies, when we know that people like Mandela have said, "We support on the 9/11 response. We do not support you on moving over to Iraq, to eliminating Saddam Hussein."

We have got to have the international backing to do this. And I think when you get this tough talk without the backing, it puts us out on a limb we don't need to be on.

GEORGE: Yes, I'm a little bit skeptical in terms of Cheney's trip over there and what it's actually done. Because I think an argument could be made that we're a little bit -- slightly less closer to going after Iraq now than when Cheney went over because, rather than get the Arab leaders to buy in to our reasons for going after Saddam, we've been forced to go closer to the Arabs' view in getting even more involved in terms of accepting the Palestinian's view vis-a- vis Israel.

So I think that has, in a sense, interrupted whatever timetable the administration might have been on. So I think they still have got some work to do.

BLITZER: Michelle, how close is the Bush administration? The vice president didn't want to give a timetable, but do you believe -- how close is the Bush administration to taking action against Saddam Hussein?

COTTLE: I don't think we're actually -- I'm sure all over town there are bets on this going on.

COTTLE: I mean, at some point they're going to have to decide, are they going to go ahead without the Arab allies? Because I just don't think that they're going to get that support they need. And that's the question that I think he's probably trying to delay on.

BLITZER: Let me ask Jonah this question that a viewer, Alia (ph), in Jonesville, North Carolina, emailed us this: "Do you believe that we can make a lasting deal with Yasser Arafat?"

GOLDBERG: All evidence says no. Yasser Arafat hasn't honored any deals in the past. So extrapolating to the future, I would say no.

But that doesn't mean that you can't have peace in the Middle East. I just think if it depends upon Yasser Arafat's good will, then maybe you can't.

BLITZER: You disagree?

MALVEAUX: Well, I don't think that Yasser Arafat necessarily controls everybody. So it's not a question of can we have a deal with him, but how many of his troops does he actually control? And given the climate with the suicide bombs and the retaliations, I just don't think that even if he had the good intent, that he would be able to back it up.

GEORGE: Which basically begs the question, why would you enter a deal with him when you know that he doesn't have the standing to fulfill it?

BLITZER: Well, you've got to (inaudible) with somebody, though.

GEORGE: Well, that's part of the problem. That's part of the problem.

MALVEAUX: Because at least it signals good will, Robert. I think that at least -- I think it makes sense to talk to Arafat, but I think we have to be sanguine about conversations with Arafat. I think we can't not talk to Arafat. COTTLE: I think Arafat's scared. I think he knows he does not have control over what's going on, and he has to be careful about what he agrees to in terms of concessions because the hard-liners are going to come in...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: All right. Let's move on to a domestic issue, an issue I'm sure all of you want to discuss. And some opponents of campaign finance legislation approved by the Senate this past week are taking the matter to court.

While the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, is not part of that effort. He did say earlier today that the legislation will do more harm than good.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL): I thought this was a bad bill because it destroys the parties. You just change and shift where power goes. Instead of trying to build state parties and local parties and try to get parties to turn people out for elections, you'll have special interests do it. And it's a shift of power, and I think that was harmful, and not only to the party system in this country, but also to the basic tenets of our democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president will sign it into law. Will this legislation, McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan, make any difference?

GEORGE: In the context of money, no, not really at all. Because, as a Republican strategist told me this week, money and politics is like water in the ocean. You can kind of dam it up here and there and you can try and move it around, but you can't stop it, you can't get rid of it.

GEORGE: And actually, Hastert is somewhat wrong in the sense of what it's going to do to the state parties. Actually, state parties, ironically, are going to become stronger, maybe to the detriment of the national parties, but they will become stronger, because you've got this huge loophole that allows unions, individuals, corporations and so forth to give up to $10,000 to the state parties.

BLITZER: Michelle?

COTTLE: The notion that this is going to kill national parties' influence is absurd. National parties' influence, as far as like handling the candidates all along, is dead. They use this money to fund specific ads for candidates. And as far as the grassroots, get- out-the-vote stuff, a fraction of this money goes toward that.

So I think, you know, the state parties will stay, and they'll actually increase in power. But, you know, as far as the national parties, it's already an issue (ph).

BLITZER: She's right, party-building from the soft money was really a small -- less than 10 percent of all of that soft money that went to the major Democratic and Republican national committees.

GOLDBERG: Yes, but Denny Hastert has it -- actually, I think he has it exactly right in the larger sense, which is that money in politics is like the bump under the carpet: You can smash it down in one place, and it's going to pop up in another spot.

And what Hastert was talking about was that this is just going to shift around power, as he puts it, it's going to shift around where the money goes and how the lawyers get to play games with it. But in the end, it is still going to be a system where they're going to have unintended consequences.

Every single alleged evil of campaign finance today, soft money, PACs, all these things were intended reforms 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. I don't know what's going to happen next, but I can guarantee you, in 10 years, people are going to be saying that the reforms of 2002 turned out to be not what we thought.

BLITZER: Ten years from now, will money still talk in politics?

MALVEAUX: It will. I think also that this is a step in the right direction. It's flawed, but it's a step in the right direction.

The problem is that everyone seems to have abdicated their responsibility by saying, we'll let courts decide. Well, this is why these legislators are there. They're not supposed to let the courts decide, they're supposed to figure it out.

And what we ought to be doing, especially in national elections, is talking about free ads with these television stations that are regulated by the FCC, so we can reduce the influence of money in politics. Until we get to that, we're not going to get anywhere.

BLITZER: We have to leave it, but let me just say, Julianne Malveaux and George W. Bush both agree: flawed, but improves the system.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: Oh my!

BLITZER: We have take a quick break. Your phone calls, e-mails, more of our panel when Late Edition returns. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our Final Round.

Some civil rights groups have accused the Justice Department of unfairly targeting young Arab-American men in the effort to rout out terrorists in the United States. But today, the attorney general, John Ashcroft, insisted the investigation isn't singling out people based on ethnicity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We really think that racial profiling is not the number-one way for us to get to our target. So we look for commonalities, common characteristics that people had with the terrorists or with the countries from which the terrorists came. And we interview individuals that we feel can give us information and share in the responsibility of fighting terrorism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It sounds sort of like profiling, though, doesn't it?

COTTLE: It sounds exactly like profiling. When they're talking about commonalities, and they're not looking for people who are all bakers or all candlestick makers. They're talking about people from certain countries and who are here in certain age groups or under certain kinds of visas.

But that said, you know, are they going to come interview me if they want information about, like, the Pakistani community or -- you have to be a little bit realistic. And as long as they're not going in there guns blazing, there is an argument to be made that they need to find out what's going into these communities.

BLITZER: And you could make a case that there is a legitimate case for profiling in this particular case. You're not going to go after an 80-year-old woman who is about to go on a plane. But if you see someone who is of Arab ancestry, maybe you do want to profile that person out and ask them a few questions.

MALVEAUX: Well, the problem is they have gone in in some cases with guns blazing. I mean, there has been a raid in a Muslim community in northern Virginia. There has been a young man who hooked up a friend of his, let him stay at his house a couple nights, and now he's being accused with harboring an alien. COTTLE: Well, that's true, but you target the abuses then and not necessarily the overall.

MALVEAUX: Well, but what I'm saying is that I think that they have -- you know, clearly, in the climate that we're in, questions need to be raised about a certain profile of people. However, A, in travel, everybody is suspect. But B, it seems to me that there have been some excesses.

And the question is, how many of our civil liberties do we want to trade away, because the Justice Department, in my opinion, is being careless?

GOLDBERG: I don't see the carelessness in any of it. It seems to me that no matter what procedure, what policy you implement, in order to rout out members of Al Qaeda cells in the United States, you are by definition going to come up with more Arabs and more Muslims than you are going to come up with Mormons and Quakers. It's just not going to go out any other way.

And if it looks like racial profiling after the fact, so be it. The administration has been criticized for putting out a dragnet, rounding up young Arab men, when the reality is, they've looked at a very small minority of young Arab men.

GOLDBERG: This is not a blanket racial profiling policy.

MALVEAUX: Jonah, what did we miss though? This guy, what was his name, the guy who came with the tennis shoes from Paris. He was not an Arab -- Reid. I mean, you -- the people who bomb -- Timothy McVeigh, those types of folks, they were not Arabs.

And so when you focus completely on Arabs and Arab-Americans...

GOLDBERG: Who said I was focusing...

MALVEAUX: ... you are missing a lot of others.

(CROSSTALK)

GOLDBERG: Who said I'm focusing -- we're focusing on Al Qaeda.

GEORGE: That's always (ph) saying that you need to have a slightly broader net, but you have to start -- you have to start with a foundation, you have to start with a base -- which, ironically enough, is what "Al Qaeda" actually means. You start with that as a certain base, where they come from, age group and so forth, and then expand from there.

I mean, it's really the -- it's the way you conduct any kind of an investigation, who people might know in a given area.

BLITZER: Are you saying, Michelle, that there is some times justification for ethnic or racial profiling?

COTTLE: Well, obviously you want to look at other things, like young -- you know, who is here and what kind of visa and things like this. But obviously, if you are looking for people who can tell you what's going on in a community, not even people that you're necessarily targeting as a suspect, but if I want to know what is going on in the Italian community, I go talk to Italians. I mean, it's just common sense on some level.

BLITZER: You get the last word on this round.

MALVEAUX: We cannot toss up our civil liberties. You go talk to Italians, how you talk to them, the kind of intimidating letters you send, and the fact that you go with blazing guns sometimes, is objectionable.

COTTLE: There again, target the abuses, not necessarily the system.

BLITZER: All right, stand by. We're going to take a quick break, another quick break. But when we come back, our lightening round. That's just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Time now for our lightning round. On Wednesday a two-day Arab summit will convene in Beirut. And the Middle East peace negotiations, if there are any peace negotiations, will be at the center stage. Are our expectations too high? Are there any serious expectations?

GEORGE: I don't think there are any serious expectations. I mean, unless the Arab League somehow decides that, well, yes, Israel definitely has a right to exist, and we really want to broker a peace deal, an honest peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, then maybe something. But I would not -- nobody's expecting that.

BLITZER: Well, the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's expected to put forward his proposal that he floated to Tom Friedman of the New York Times -- normalize relations with Israel in exchange for withdrawal to the '67 lines.

COTTLE: Well, sure, but I do think at this point that all the discussion's going to be that Arafat wasn't allowed to come. And I think, since the Palestinians are at the center of this issue, that his absence there is going to be the talk of the town.

BLITZER: You heard Vice President Cheney on this program say he hopes that Arafat will be allowed to go, that it'd probably be better for the peace process if he shows up.

GOLDBERG: Yes, I thought Cheney made a surprisingly good case on that. In terms of the Arab summit in general, you know, the Saudi plan -- this is the same Saudi plan that he introduced in 1990 and 1980. They dust it off every 10 years, out of the desk, just to keep it alive.

So, whether or not anything happens, any expectations at this point probably are too high.

BLITZER: What do you think?

MALVEAUX: I agree with Jonah, unprecedentedly...

(LAUGHTER)

... that expectations are too high. But I do think it would be very important if they would allow Arafat to go. I think otherwise they can't move forward.

The fact that people are talking about recognizing Israel is progress, frankly, even though it's progress that's been dusted off. But that's something that hasn't been popular. So that they keep coming back to that in exchange for some concessions, I think is positive.

GEORGE: Let the Palestinian Liberation Authority leader go.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Friday is the deadline. Should the U.S. government seek the death penalty in the case of the suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui?

Michelle, as you know, he's the so-called 20th hijacker who was in prison on September 11 on a visa violation in Minnesota at the time of the terrorist actions.

Should he be eligible for the death penalty?

COTTLE: Well, yes, he should be eligible, but I don't think they should seek it. I mean, really, why have another martyr that people can rally around and chant and go "hoorah"? You know, put him under the jail for the next 200 years...

MALVEAUX: Yes.

COTTLE: ... and be done with it.

GOLDBERG: I don't think our jails need any more Arab militants in them as it is.

If this guy can -- if they can prove the case for the death penalty, he should get the death penalty.

MALVEAUX: Not at all. First of all, I'm opposed to the death penalty. I don't think the federal government...

BLITZER: Even for really bad guys?

(LAUGHTER)

If Osama bin Laden were alive right now...

MALVEAUX: Wolf, up under the jail, bread and water and a Bible, you know. I mean, you don't have to make jail fun. Just make it, you know -- no, I don't...

BLITZER: So there are no exceptions as far as you're concerned?

MALVEAUX: I don't believe in the death penalty, and I think that the government makes a mistake, I think also there are so many questions that have been raised about the death penalty lately.

What you do is create allies for this guy. If he is what we say he is, you've got a whole group of people who are opposed to the death penalty who end up being allies here.

MALVEAUX: We don't need that. Throw him up under the jail.

GEORGE: Well, he's got too many allies in Al Qaeda as it is.

Just as Jonah said, if the case is proven, obviously you can execute him the same way you did Timothy McVeigh who killed -- what was it -- 180 people.

MALVEAUX: I didn't agree with that either.

GEORGE: He was complicit in the murder of more than 3,000 people. Of course.

BLITZER: All right, let's move onto a domestic issue. The postal rate commission has approved a three-cent increase on first class mail by June 30.

Snail mail, is that going to become obsolete? Is that going to have any affect on this whatsoever?

MALVEAUX: You know what's interesting, I keep thinking of some of sliding scale where maybe if you get bills via Internet they'll give you a discount. But 37 cents isn't going to break anybody. It's not going to change things in the short run. In the longest of runs, it may well.

BLITZER: If had as many as bills as I do, it might change something.

What do you think?

GOLDBERG: Snail mail may be doomed, but it's going to have a real halflife, which is going to make mail more expensive because you're going to have smaller economies and it's going to be more difficult. So snail mail's going to be around for awhile. It's going to be less relevant and more expensive.

BLITZER: Postal service says it needs the money because they spent so much with the anthrax investigations.

COTTLE: I don't fault them for wanting to do this. It's still incredibly cheap, easy, convenient. You know, the average America doesn't want to go spend $35 to Fedex their, you know, everything they have.

GEORGE: I think that's true. Thirty-seven cents is still a great deal. Though, frankly, the post office, their problems of losing money, I think, have little to do with anthrax.

BLITZER: All right. Let's go from the postal service to the Academy Awards. And in the spirit of tonight's Academy Awards, who's your pick?

Jonah, let me ask you. Who's your pick for the best actor and actress here in Washington?

GOLDBERG: Well, I've agonized over this. I was going to pick Tom Daschle for acting tall. But instead I've decided I'm going to go for Chris Matthews, who seems to be channeling tail-gunner Joe lately, saying that the United States government has been taken over by a (inaudible) of neo-conservatives hell bent on fighting for Israel.

And on the -- for the best actress, I was really stumped by this so I just figured it's default: Hillary Clinton for acting like nothing ever happened.

BLITZER: Why am I not surprised...

MALVEAUX: Oh my goodness.

BLITZER: Very quickly...

MALVEAUX: You know what, women have been at the periphery of politics forever. There is no best actress here. We're still at the periphery. Don't even go there, Jonah.

Best actor, we just saw him with his press conference, with the Spanglish, pretending that he's in charge. I mean, I don't mean to be unpatriotic, but the president still has a long way to go for me.

GEORGE: For me, best actor would have to be Tom Ridge for acting like a Cabinet member...

(LAUGHTER)

... but not actually going on and testifying about policies and budget issues, as he should.

And best actress is probably going to have to go to Christie Todd-Whitman for her role as the incredible invisible woman in Washington.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Unfortunately, Michelle, we're not going to hear yours. We're all out of time.

MALVEAUX: Ohhhh.

GOLDBERG: Ohhhh.

COTTLE: Shoot!

BLITZER: We'll save it for after this program. Thanks to our Late Edition Final Round, for all of you.

Thanks for joining us on Late Edition on this Sunday, March 24. Please join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

Remember, Monday through Friday join me twice a day, 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Wolf Blitzer Reports.

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

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