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Bush Grapples With Israel's Refusal to Remove Security Fence, Saudi Arabia's Request to Declassify 9/11 Report Portions

Aired July 29, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Mired in the Middle East. As the president meets with Ariel Sharon, new questions about the refusal to declassify portions of the 9/11 report.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And it made no sense to declassify if the -- during the war on terror because it would help the enemy.

ANNOUNCER: But is the White House shielding the Saudis? We'll explore that question.

As other California Republicans prepare to sign up for the recall ballot, will the Terminator really take a pass? And will second best be good enough for the California GOP? We'll wrap up all the day's recall headlines.

How do you keep a Texas Democrat in the capital? For the Lone Star State GOP, it's a real stumper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We invite our colleagues to come home, we invite them to return to Texas where Texans are.

ANNOUNCER: Eleven Democrats are on the lam in New Mexico, but has the novelty worn off?

Now live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Candy Crowley sitting in for Judy Woodruff.

On Capitol Hill, we have some things going on. But now outside Washington some political wrangling in the nation's two most populous states making headlines. New developments today in California's recall election. And in Texas, here we go again. Some state Democratic lawmakers make a run for the border.

But on Capitol Hill the Senate Foreign Relation Committee is focusing on the progress made in the reconstruction of Iraq. Among those peppered with questions today, Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (sic). Our Congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl is here to fill us in on what happened. This may be an obvious question, Jonathan, but what sort of reception did Wolfowitz get?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well the deputy defense secretary certainly got roughed up a bit by this committee. Democrats up here on Capitol Hill, in fact most people up here see Wolfowitz as the intellectual architect of the president's Iraq policy.

So when he comes before a committee like the Foreign Relations Committee, he is basically the person that represents to them what is going on in Iraq. They asked him some very tough questions on a whole range of issues regarding Iraq, especially on the reconstruction of Iraq. Some of those questions centered on what it will cost in the following year to both occupy Iraq and rebuild it.

Those questions first came from the top Democratic on the committee, Joe Biden.


SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Give me a break, will you? When are you guys starting to be honest with us? Come on, this is...


BIDEN: ... of candor, of candor. You know there's going to be at least 100,000 American forces there's for the next calendar year. And you're not asking us for any money...


BIDEN: Let me finish, OK? And you are not asking us for any money in next year's budget for those troops. Now, what to you call that?


KARL: Now the voice you were hearing was Paul Wolfowitz, the first picture you saw was Josh Bolton who is the director of the president's Office of Management and Budget.

Biden and some Republicans on that committee want to know what the occupation of Iraq is going to cost. As you heard there, the administration has yet made no requests for next year. Paul Wolfowitz said that request would be coming.

But Democrats used this hearing, which was on the reconstruction issue, to question the whole range of issues including the very basis for going to war in the first place. First Republican Lincoln Chafee, a liberal Republican, often at odds with the administration's policy, questioned whether or not the administration was using shifting reasons for going to war in the first place. That issue was picked up then by Democrat Russ Feingold.


SEN. RUSSELL FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: This administration has grossly exaggerated the connection between the war on terrorism and the Iraq situation. And I would strongly suggest we focus on the merits of trying to deal with the Iraq situation we have at hand instead of constantly trying to pretend that September 11 and Iraq are the same issue.


KARL: Wolfowitz was also pressed on how long the occupation would last. He wouldn't say but he said for anybody who doubts the American commitment should consider that eight years after that the Dayton Accords, U.S. personnel, U.S. military personnel are still in Bosnia and this is more central to American national interest. So he's clearly preparing the Congress for a long occupation of Iraq -- Candy.

CROWLEY: So I guess the answer is not a great reception?


CROWLEY: Thanks, Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill.

Much attention is focused on another story in Washington: President Bush's refusal to declassify part of the congressional report on possible links between the government of Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 hijackers. Mr. Bush is being blasted on the campaign trail by some Democratic hopefuls for his decision. Our senior White House correspondent John King is keeping track of the story. The president, John, is getting a lot of heat for this. Why is he doing it?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Heat from the Democrats, Candy, and heat of a different sort -- diplomatic heat form the Saudi foreign minister who is still inside the West Wing. He came here today to press the administration to declassify those documents. He says his government is being maligned and could answer the questions being raised if it could have those documents out in public.

But the president today gave the clearest indication of why the administration continues to say no. The administration says there are national security interest in here, sources and methods when it comes to intelligence gatherings.

But the No. 1 reason the president made clear today is that the investigation into the 9/11 attacks is ongoing, the FBI is still investigating the tracking of money from Saudi Arabia and Saudi citizens to some of the hijackers and their friends here in the United States. And the president simply said maybe when the investigations are over he will think about declassifying these records, but not until then. He says simply he does not want to help the bad guys.

CROWLEY: So, John, where does this leave the Saudi government?

KING: Well complaining to the president and CO-HOST: to us, the news media, that it is being maligned and being accused of what it says it did not do in any way, official support, condone or know anything about the 9/11 attacks. So the Saudi government will complain. We are waiting to see if the foreign minister will speak in public. He is still inside the West Wing. We are seeing if he will say anything in public about his meeting with the administration.

The Saudi government says it's getting a bum wrap in the U.S. political debate and it says it can't answer the questions because it doesn't know what the classified documents are. The Bush administration says Saudi Arabia is a good and trusted ally, but as it comes to those records it's going to have to wait a while.

CROWLEY: John, let me move you to an earlier meeting between the Israeli prime minister and the president. Give us your best sense of what went on in that meeting?

KING: Well, Candy, today in the Oval Office and in public the president answered one of the key questions that Palestinians long have had: will he pressure the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, on a big issue?

The president did that today in private and in public making clear that he does not like the construction of the security wall. The Israelis call it a fence separating Israel from the Palestinian territories. Mr. Bush told Prime Minister Sharon tear it down. Prime Minister Sharon said no. He said he will not tear it down. Construction will continue at least until the Palestinians prove they will dismantle Hamas and other militant groups.

So the president was rebuffed, if you will, today by a man he calls a good friend. Still the president was in an upbeat mood in the Rose Garden. The administration is frustrated, Candy, by what it sees as very slow progress in the Middle East peace process, but it looks on the bright side and says some small steps forward are being taken. The administration view is those small steps are better than no steps at all, and perhaps will generate the good will and trust to deal with the big problems like settlements and like that Israeli security wall a few months down the line.

CROWLEY: CNN's senior White House correspondent John King. Thanks, John.

KING: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Just one day after its existence was revealed, the Pentagon has terminated a controversial plan to encourage Internet betting on geopolitical nightmares. Had you correctly predicted a coup, an assassination or an act of political terror, you could have been a winner. Backers called it a means to use the magic hand of the market to identify potential dangers. Members of Congress thought distinctly otherwise, both Democrat and Republican.


SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R-KS), INTELLIGENCE CHMN.: I value very highly the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to get the latest technology to the war fighter and that's what they've done. Basically what we're going to have to do in the Emerging Threats Subcommittee and perhaps the full committee is do a much better job of basically and very aggressive oversights so something like this can happen again.

This defies common sense, it's absurd.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: This is perhaps the most irresponsible, outrageous and poorly thought out of anything I've heard the administration propose today. For the life of me, I can't believe that anybody would serious propose that we trade in death.


CROWLEY: Testifying today on Capitol Hill Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said he first learned of the program in the morning paper. Wolfowitz said the planners have gotten a little too imaginative.

Just last hour a federal judge in California struck down a portion of California's recall law. The ruling apparently will not halt the October 7 recall election, but will change the way ballots are counted.

The law had held that Californians would have to vote yes or no on the recall question in order to cast a vote on a possible successor to Governor Gray Davis. But the judge ruled they that they did not have to take a position on the recall for their choice of successor to count. It will be up to the secretary of state's office whether to appeal the ruling.

California's top Democratic strategists are meeting in San Francisco to brainstorm ways to bail the governor out of his recall mess. The powwow was organized by San Francisco Willy Brown. At the table at least three top Davis advisers, including the governor's political guru Gary South.

And one of the '04 Dems is adding his voice to the debate. Al Sharpton says he'll go to California to fight the recall forces.

The question on everybody's lips: will Arnold run? It is looking increasingly unlikely and Republicans are shifting to Plan B. Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who ran in the GOP gubernatorial primary last year, is starting to put together a campaign team. And he may have the White House's blessing.

As California goes, so goes the nation. If the truism holds in the case of Governor Davis, a lot of other governors may have cause to worry. Our Bill Schneider has come across some interesting numbers.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Recall fever. Is it catching? Tax cut fever was. After California voters passed Proposition 13 back in 1978, voters in ten other states took power into their own hands and passed citizen initiatives to roll back property taxes. Now the economy's in trouble again and state governments are making painful decisions. After cutting taxes for seven years in a row, states have had to raise taxes for the second consecutive year. Seventeen states that have passed budgets this year have raised taxes by more than 1 percent. Thirty-one states have cut spending including 14 that have imposed across the board cuts to balance their budgets.

If California voters fire their governor, are voters in the rest of the country ready to say, Off with their heads? The political establishment thinks it's a terrible idea.

LT. GOV. CRUZ BUSTAMANTE (D), CALIFORNIA: I think we have enough elections. And I think it's important that what we do is we stop this chaos, this circus atmosphere.

SCHNEIDER: Try telling that to the voters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we elect them I think we can kick them out. If they don't do their job.

SCHNEIDER: Voters around the country agree. Three quarters of Americans think it's a good idea for people to be able to recall governors on the basis of their performance in office. The popularity of the idea reaches across party and ideology.

Everybody thinks recalls are a good idea. Liberals, conservatives, Republicans and Democrats. But would they actually do it? Two-thirds of Americans around the country say no. Even among people who believe voters should have the right to recall their governors, over 60 percent say they would not vote to do it right now. They just want the power to put their leaders on notice. Mess up and you could be out.


SCHNEIDER: Will recall fever spread or can it be quarantined in California? Well it depends on whether voters in other states see what's happening in California this year and say, We want the power to do that, too. Or will they say, What a circus, thank goodness it can't happen here -- Candy.

CROWLEY: CNN's Bill Schneider. Thanks very much, Bill.

Checking the headlines in "Campaign News Daily." Dick Gephardt continues to rally labor around his campaign. The '04 presidential hopeful has won the endorsement in the largest union in entertainment, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. The union represents stage hands, film and video technicians.

Top White House officials hit the road today in an effort to convince voters the economy's on a rebound. Treasury Secretary John Snow, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao are promoting the president's jobs and growth package in Wausau, Wisconsin. They're holding town meetings with factory workers.

Dreaming of a day on the stump with John Kerry? It could happen. The Democrat's campaign Web site is touting a chance to win time on the trail with the candidate. The site also notes the senator will ride in a cancer charity bikathon in Massachusetts this weekend.

Still ahead, it was wonderful political fun the first time around, but has the second out of state field trip for Texas Democrats gone too far? We'll talk to one of the Dems in a moment.

Plus, out of nine Democrats running for president, you'd think there'd be a front runner, but that's not the case. Our Bruce Morton takes a closer look at the unusual situation. This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.



CROWLEY: We're going to have to turn to some other breaking news. As you know, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, Price Saud al Faisal, has been meeting with President Bush. Here he is now.



CROWLEY: So, we are sort of settled down here. We'll be back right after this break.


CROWLEY: Oops, they did it again. Eleven Texas state senators are hanging out in a hotel New Mexico, ignoring pleas from their Republican colleagues in Austin to come on home. It's the second time Democrats have left the state to prevent majority Republicans from passing a plan which redraws Texas' Congressional line to reflect GOP gains in the last election.

On the phone from beautiful downtown Albuquerque, Leticia Van de Putte, chairman of the state Democratic caucus.

Senator, let me ask you whether you may have gone to this, well, once too often. Do you get the sense that people back home might begin to view this as a circus?

LETICIA VAN DE PUTTE, TEXAS DEM. CAUCUS CHAIRWOMAN: Thank you for having us on and absolutely, if you had gotten your facts right, you would understand that it was the Texas House who broke a quorum during the regular session. The Texas Senate -- this is the first time in 30 years that the Texas Senate has availed of ourselves of the tool granted to us by the people of the state of Texas under our constitution to break a quorum of the Texas Senate.

So this is the first time that we have done it. We have not taken this action lightly. There are not many issues that would rise to this occasion. This is really not about Democrats. This is about democracy.

Under the redistricting plans that have been promoted by our Republican colleagues, it would disenfranchise 1.4 million minority Texans, predominantly Hispanics and African-Americans. They would have no advocates because their homes would be drawn into districts which would be able to have no effective voice in choosing their member of Congress.


CROWLEY: Senator, I'm sorry to interrupt you. Since we have so little time, I wanted to ask you if you intend to sort of do, either you or the House Democrats intend to do this until the Republicans change their plan?

VAN DE PUTTE: This is not about changing the plan. What happened is the Senate works under the two-thirds rule. We have rules of engagement that are in process during regular sessions and special sessions. When they don't get their way during the regular session and then another special session, they change the rules.

We've never had a majority rule. It's always a two-thirds. So two-thirds, or 11 out of 31 senators, and that's why we're leaving.

CROWLEY: Senator Van de Putte, Thank you so much for joining us. I'm sorry we don't have much time, but we will be back to you. Thank you.

The House of Representatives adjourned for the August recess last Friday but it was forced to meet in a pro forma session today because the Senate has not yet adjourned.

Bob Novak is here now with some "Inside Buzz." What's going on? Explain to us in 30 seconds or less what's going on up there?

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN "CROSSFIRE" CO-HOST: Ted Stevens, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee who, as you know, has a very short temper was furious that the House stripped out money for the fires in the west. And so he said, we are not going to give the House permission to adjourn until they put the money back.

So the House went into this pro forma session. Stevens won't budge. They have to come back every three days for a nonsense session unless they can convince Ted Stevens that they're going to put the money back in another bill.

CROWLEY: We have to do an abbreviated Novak so I can only ask you one more question. What is going on in the Democratic race? What are you hearing?

NOVAK: Believe it or not, we really think that former Vermont Governor Dean is the front runner. This is an unbelievable, but I've been talking to Democrats and you look at the polls and it looks now like a two-way between Howard Dean and John Kerry at the moment, with Dean ahead. Can you believe Dean as the presidential candidate?

CROWLEY: I can believe that. Thanks so much, Bob Novak.


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