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Did Someone in the White House Reveal the Identity of a CIA Operative?; Interview With Tom Vilsack

Aired September 29, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: The drip, drip, drip over an alleged leak. Did someone in the White House reveal the identity of a CIA operative?

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: The president believes leaking classified information is a very serious matter and it should be pursued to the fullest extent by the appropriate agency, and the appropriate agency is the Department of Justice.

ANNOUNCER: Top Democrats are demanding an independent investigation.

The California recall rollercoaster. Arnold Schwarzenegger rides high after our new poll, while Gray Davis is down, and critics say playing dirty.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIF. GOV. CANDIDATE: I think it's to be expected that when the polls look bad for Davis and good for me that he will just go and start campaigning the traditional way, which is negative campaigning and all that stuff.

ANNOUNCER: Primary season colors. We go behind the scenes with Wesley Clark in New Hampshire and get '04 insights from Iowa.

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


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

Some '04 Democrats are accusing the Bush White House of playing politics with national security, amid growing questions about who exposed the identity of a CIA spy. A former U.S. ambassador, Joe Wilson, says he believes the White House was behind the leak of his wife's identity to columnist Robert Novak to get back on him. Wilson was among the first to cast doubt on the administration's claim that Iraq tried to by uranium from Africa.


JOE WILSON, FMR. DEP. U.S. AMB. TO IRAQ: I have said openly, and perhaps in an excess of exuberance in a speech in Seattle, I mentioned Karl Rove's name. It was not to suggest that I thought he was either the source or even the authorizer of the source, but really just to kind of say that I think it comes out of with the White House political office. I believe that it came out of the white house. I have sources who told me that, and I also have a source who has indicated by name, Karl Rove is somebody who at a minimum condoned it.


WOODRUFF: Well, the White House is condemning the leak, and denying that senior Bush adviser Karl Rove had a roll in it. But that is not satisfying many Democrats.

Our senior White House correspondent, John King, and Congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl, both are following this story.

John king, to you first. How is the White House playing this?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, the White House is insisting there is no need for a special prosecutor and no need even for an internal White House investigation. Now the president just rushed through a bill-signing just moments ago. He quickly left the room after signing the bill, ignoring shouted questions from reporters. So no comment from the president himself today. But his press secretary, Scott McClellan, says, yes, the president views this as a serious matter, that anyone -- if anyone inside this White House did it, they would no longer work for this administration. They, of course, could be subject to prosecution if that were the case.

But we are told that the morning senior staff meeting this morning, the chief of staff, Andy Card, told any senior staffers if they knew anything about this, they needed to contact the Justice Department. But there has been no written, formal directive, either from Andy Card or from the White House counsel, Alberto Gonzalez. Scott McClellan, the press secretary, saying today that is because there has been no request of the Justice Department as yet. A preliminary inquiry now under way, but the Justice Department has not asked for any White House records, has not asked to interview anybody on the White House staff, and because of that, Scott McClellan says the president sees no need for an internal investigation despite those media reports suggesting that that leak, an illegal leak, came from within this White House.


MCCLELLAN: There are a lot of anonymous media reports that happen all the time, and it's not our practice to go and try to chase down anonymous sources every time there's a report in the media. If there's specific information that comes to our attention, that's another matter. But there has not been any information beyond what we've seen in just anonymous media reporting to suggest that there was White House involvement.


KING: Now, Scott McClellan also saying he believes the appropriate agency to investigate is the Justice Department. The White House is rejecting the calls from Democrats that Mr. Ashcroft is not independent enough to conduct such a sensitive investigation.

And Judy, you noted at the top of the show Ambassador Wilson -- they're now backing off of it, saying he's not sure if Karl Rove was the source of this leak or not. Karl Rove is emphatically denying that he had anything to do with this. Scott McClellan says he has several times spoken directly to Karl Rove, and Rove denies any role in it. Rove is also telling associates he had absolutely nothing to with it, but they do understand here at the White House that at a minimum, they face several more weeks, probably, of a Justice Department investigation and a chorus of criticism from the president's critics on Capitol Hill, and those on the campaign trail who hope to replace him -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: That's right, John. Wilson now saying it was the political shop at the White House, broadly defined. All right. John King at the White house.

Now let's quickly turn to Jon Karl at the Capitol. Jon, how far do Democrats plan to take this thing?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, with this story, Democrats sense blood in the water, so much so that there are attacks on each other. The presidential candidates have suddenly been overshadowed by their attacks on President Bush.

Howard Dean today put out a statement, very strong statement on this, saying that he believes that this is a -- this was a petty and mean-spirited action, the leaking of Ambassador Wilson's wife's name, a grave matter that jeopardized national security and compromised intelligence gathering.

Dean and the other presidential candidates have been unified in saying that Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department cannot be trusted to investigate this matter.

And making his call for a special prosecutor, John Kerry said -- quote -- "It is outrageous that the president, who campaigned with a promise to restore integrity to the White House, refuses to get to the bottom of this. No one should shield criminals who compromise national security for political purposes, especially if they are on the president's staff."

And Wesley Clark is in on the action too, saying that he also believes there should be a special prosecutor. "The administration," Clark said, "should not play politics with this matter. This issue is too important for political gamesmanship and to be managed by the John Ashcroft Justice Department."

And up here on Capitol Hill, Senator Chuck Schumer also added his voice to the call for an independent prosecutor.


SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: What has gone on in this case is one of the most dastardly despicable things that I have seen in my more than 20 years in Washington, and speaks to lengths of what -- of how far some will go to stifle dissent.


KARL: With stories like this, Democrats often look to John McCain to be the Republican to break ranks, but McCain just a short while ago said that although the leak was clearly a bad thing, he believes that the Justice Department, the career prosecutors at the Justice Department can be trusted to investigate this matter -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: OK. Jon Karl reporting from the Capitol, thanks you to you have and John King At with the White House.

Well, stay with CNN for much more on this story. Bob Novak will talk about his column that prompted the controversy on CNN's "CROSSFIRE." That's at the bottom of the hour. And we'll hear more from former Ambassador Joe Wilson on "PAULA ZAHN NOW" at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Well, now we turn to the California recall. Arnold Schwarzenegger is likening the final week of the campaign to hand-to- hand combat, now that our new poll numbers suggest that he could indeed become the state's next governor.

Our Bill Schneider has more on the numbers and what they say about the race.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): It looks like a two-man race. More than 60 percent of California voters say they would vote to recall Governor Gray Davis. Only 35 percent would keep him.

On the replacement ballot, Arnold Schwarzenegger has surged ahead with 40 percent. In a field of 135 candidates, Schwarzenegger is getting more votes than Gray Davis, who's running on a ballot all by himself.

Why the Davis drop and the Schwarzenegger surge? Answer? The debate. Two-thirds of California voters watched it last Wednesday.

The big loser? Davis.

SCHWARZENEGGER: If the Cruz Bustamante-Davis administration would have...

SCHNEIDER: He did not participate in the debate and that made him look irrelevant. Nobody even defended the Davis record.

Opposition to Davis surged among debate watchers. They said the candidate who did best in the debate was Tom McClintock. But it didn't do McClintock any good. It was Schwarzenegger who built up a big lead among debate watchers, not because he won, because he sounded credible.

In fact, the proportion of registered voters who believe Schwarzenegger is capable of governing California has grown from 45 to 56 percent since he first announced he was running.

Can Davis turn this thing around? Not if it's a vote on Davis himself. The governor's job approval rating among likely voters is a miserable 24 percent.

Democrats have been trying to make the recall the issue, by arguing it's part of a nationwide Republican strategy to overturn election results Republicans don't like. But California voters don't believe that.

So now Davis is trying to make Schwarzenegger the issue. If you vote to recall me, you're actually voting to make Arnold governor.

Davis has won in the past by discrediting his opponents. But Schwarzenegger, who became a champion bodybuilder through focus and disciple, is determined not to fall into that trap.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I think it's to be expected that when the polls look bad for Davis and good for me, that he will just go and start campaigning the traditional way, which is negative campaigning and all that stuff. I mean, that's, you know, the only way he can do it.


SCHNEIDER: If there's any one issue hurting Davis, it's his decision to sign a law allowing illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses in California. Nearly three-quarters of California voters oppose that law. And three-quarters of those who oppose it are voting to get rid of Davis -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Very interesting connection there. All right. Bill Schneider, thanks.

Well, publicly Davis aides are dismissing these latest poll numbers. But privately they are sharpening their strategy for the final days of the campaign, and hearkening back to the governor's old playbook.

Here now our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sixty-three percent of Californians likely to vote want to dump him. What's a governor to do?

First, boil it down to a simple question -- Gray Davis or Arnold Schwarzenegger?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He ducks tough questions. Didn't vote in 13 of the last 21 elections, and now he refuses to debate the governor he's trying to replace. Vote no on the recall.

CROWLEY: Message -- you really want a newbie running California? And a Republican newbie at that. The lieutenant governor, Cruz Bustamante, sinking in the polls, heavily Democratic California can no longer comfort itself that they can throw out Davis and put another Democrat in.

So the Davis campaign will spend its final full week before the election, suggesting to its less than through Democratic base that this is not about car taxes red ink spending or even the 34 candidates who want to be governor. This is about Arnold Schwarzenegger and whether Democrats, regardless of how they feel about Davis, really want to give the governorship to a Republican.

As unique and unprecedented, etc., etc. as this recall race may be, Davis' survival is Politics 101. He needs tried and true Democrats in the voting booth a week from tomorrow.

Today Governor Bill Richardson, the Democrats' most visible Latino, is bidding the hustings (ph) with Davis.


CROWLEY: Tomorrow DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe will be in California. Think labor vote. And the Davis campaign is trying very hard to get a return appearance by former President Bill Clinton -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: I guess they consider him the icing on the cake, is that right?

CROWLEY: In most Democratic primaries, he'd be the guy you want.

WOODRUFF: OK. Candy Crowley out there holding down the fort in Los Angeles. Thanks, Candy.

Still ahead, is another celebrity likely to follow Arnold Schwarzenegger's lead and jump into politics? It's an idea some Republicans are taking seriously.

Plus the Iowa governor's view of the Democratic presidential race and who's shaking things up in his state.

And later going for the record books. If tight ropewalkers and others can compete for an entry in Guinness, why can't a presidential candidate?


WOODRUFF: Checking in on the Democratic presidential hopefuls, Wesley Clark has surged to the front in a new CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll of registered Democrats in California. The retired general got 19 percent, Howard Dean 15 percent and Joe Lieberman 14 percent. All the other candidates were in single digits.

Before they make it to California the party hopefuls first, as we know, have to navigate the Iowa caucus and few other places. With me now from Des Moines is Iowa's Democratic governor, Tom Vilsack. Governor, thank you for being with us. GOV. TOM VILSACK (D), IOWA: You bet, Judy. Glad to be with you.

WOODRUFF: The big news in the Democratic race, of course, was the announcement a few days ago that retired Army General Wesley Clark is going to run. Has he changed the race in your home state?

VILSACK: I honestly don't think he has, Judy. General Clark has not really been out in Iowa very much. People in Iowa do not know much about him. I think they were concerned about his Democratic- ness. The questions raised at the debate and following the debate are still unanswered. But there's plenty of time for General Clark to make a presence in Iowa.

Meanwhile the other candidates are crisscrossing the state doing a good job. And frankly at this point in time the big winner, I think, is the Democratic Party. And the reason I say that is because President Bush, his support in Iowa has eroded rather dramatically in the last several months. And I think it's in large part because of the message that Democratic candidates are delivering here in the state.

WOODRUFF: Well now you were quoted last week as saying in "The Des Moines Register" that Clark's getting in, at least temporarily, was slowing down the momentum of Governor Howard Dean. You don't think so any more?

VILSACK: Well it's not that. I still think that it's a new face and obviously the attention has been on General Clark the last couple of weeks, which means that it's not on Governor Dean or any other candidate. So to that extent that that statement is accurate and correct.

But in terms of if you asked caucus-goers who their preferences are, I'm not sure that General Clark is necessarily registered with a lot of Iowans at this point.

WOODRUFF: All right, well let me ask you about -- as you know Senator Lieberman last week talked about General Clark being a new entrant into the Democratic Party, he had just announced his allegiance some weeks ago. And now we have Howard Dean over the weekend saying he's a general who was a Republican up until 25 days ago.

Is this something that Iowa voters are going to pay attention to, do you think?

VILSACK: Absolutely. The people that go to a caucus, Judy, are people who are very dedicated to the Democratic Party and to this nation. It's not a matter of going into a voting boot and spending a couple of minutes checking a box, it's spending several hours in a gymnasium, in a church basement, in a neighbor's living room, talking and arguing about politics.

So this is a real commitment that the caucus requires. So people want to know what a person's background is, they want to know how consistent they've been with Democratic principles. And one of the questions that Iowans are asking about General Clark is whether or not he even voted for Vice President Gore in the 2000 election.

WOODRUFF: And as far as I know we don't know the answer to that question yet. Governor, is that your understanding, too?

VILSACK: That's right. That's why Iowans are asking the question.


Governor, I interviewed David Yepsen (ph), who's of course the veteran political reporter there in Iowa wit "The Register" last week. He said at this point General Clark is way behind the other candidates in terms of organization. Is that your perception of what's going on?

VILSACK: Well there's no question about that. And the key to the caucus is to not polling, it, really, at the end of the day, is organization. What candidate has the ability to get their supporters to that church basement, to that high school auditorium, to spend several hours on a cold January evening.

WOODRUFF: Well who does have the best organization right now?

VILSACK: I'm not sure we know, yet. There are certainly indication that's that Governor Dean, Senator Kerry, Congressman Gephardt and Senator Edwards have organizations that are functioning in the state and are doing a good job in creating crowds and creating enthusiasm.

We've not seen as much of the other organizations from the other candidates, but it's still relatively early. I think we will begin to see things heat up in October.

WOODRUFF: Less than four months, we're watching every day on the calender.

VILSACK: And we are appreciating every day.

WOODRUFF: Governor Tom Vilsack joining us today, governor of the state of Iowa. Governor, thank you very much.

VILSACK: You bet. Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And up next, Wesley Clark spent part of his weekend in New Hampshirite. Our Dan Lothian was there and he reports on Clark's first to the state as a presidential candidate when we return.


WOODRUFF: A quick follow-up to that interview I just did with Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, who said that Iowa voters right now don't know how Wesley Clark voted in the 2000 presidential campaign. We just got a phone call over the break from "Washington Post"'s Dan Balz, their chief political reporter, who said that Clark said over the weekend that he did vote, indeed, for Al Gore for president in 2000. The record straight.

Well, Wesley Clark spent part of the weekend greeting potential supporters in New Hampshire, as we've been saying Our Dan Lothian traveled with Clark on the campaign trail and he has more on Clark's reception in the Granite State.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On his first visit to the key battleground state of New Hampshire, retired General Wesley Clark took his message to two diners, one fire station, one town hall meeting, one rally, and at least a half dozen shops along a commercial district.

WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Wes Clark. I'm running for president. I'd like your vote.

LOTHIAN: At a Saturday rally of some 300 people in Dover, where his draft campaign was born, Clark delivered his platform.

CLARK: I'm pro-choice, I'm pro-environment, I'm pro-jobs, I'm pro-health care, I'm pro-education.

LOTHIAN: Supporters applauded, but some voters who are still on the fence seem to want more, more details.

Clark, who came late to the race and is playing catch-up, appeared to be apologizing for his lack of depth of some issues. This is how he explained it outside a diner on Friday.

CLARK: And I will be coming out with a set of policy proposals, just as quick as I can do it. I've been in the race about 10 days.

LOTHIAN: And at a town hall meeting Friday night at New England College in Henneker.

CLARK: I couldn't get it done before I decided to run for the office, because I didn't have any staff, because I am not in a current political office. So for me, I've had to assemble everything.

LOTHIAN: Even Clark's aides, faced with a crush of cameras, were still revising their game plan as they dashed around New Hampshire.

(on camera): Running third in the polls in New Hampshire, but with double digits, Clark's military resume might appeal to John Kerry supporters, while his most recent opposition to the war might resonate with Howard Dean supporters.

(voice-over): At the Dover rally, the retired general called on his supporters to target not only undecided Democrats, but those who back his opponents, Republicans and independents.

To win the harts of voters here, Clark spent a lot of time over the weekend just introducing himself.

CLARK: Hi. Wes Clark. I served in the military for 34 years. I fought in Vietnam, also commanded our forces over Kosovo.

LOTHIAN: Political experts say the 10th candidate to enter this crowded field needs to spend more time on the ground here, meeting New Hampshire voters face-to-face.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Boston.


WOODRUFF: Well, more '04 headlines in our "Campaign News Daily."

Howard dean is up and running with the first all-Spanish TV ad of the presidential -- primary campaign.




WOODRUFF: Dean speaks Spanish for the entire ad, which is airing in New Mexico all this week.

In addition to running for president, Howard Dean is also making a run at the Guinness Book of World Records. The Dean campaign is hosting a conference call tonight for more than 10,000 supporters nationwide. The campaign claims that it will be the largest conference call in history.

Democrat Al Sharpton is promoting a new voter registration drive to be sponsored by Black Entertainment Television. Sharpton announced BET founder Robert Johnson has donated $250,000 to the effort along with $1 million in free ad time. The Sharpton campaign says the effort is nonpartisan and is not aimed at helping any specific candidate.

Still ahead, it's apparently no joke. Some Republicans want a well-known comedian to pull a Schwarzenegger and run for office.


WOODRUFF: Some California Republicans watching Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign for governor have apparently started thinking, well, now it's Miller time. Several GOP strategists reportedly want to draft comedian and registered Republican Dennis Miller into politics, perhaps, to challenge Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer next year. No response yet from Miller himself. But after his stint as a Monday Night Football commentator, we do know he's open to trying something different.

Well, that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. We never no who's going to run. I'm Judy Woodruff.


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