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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Tom Harkin; Interview With Don Evans; Interview With Joseph Lieberman

Aired January 11, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5:00 p.m. in London and 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to my interview with the U.S. commerce secretary, Don Evans, in just a few moments.

First, though, let's go to the CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fredricka.

A rare critical word from inside the Bush administration. The former treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, who was dumped by the president earlier, now using the occasion of a new book to fire right back.

More now from our White House correspondent, Dana Bash. She's joining us from near the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas.

What's going on, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in this new book, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Suskind, it appears that Paul O'Neill is pretty wide-ranging in his criticism of the Bush administration, where he used to serve.

On a personal level, he says that the president is somebody who either didn't know what questions to ask or didn't necessarily care about the answers to questions on policy.

But he also hits the administration on the issue of Iraq, saying, quote, "From the start, we were building the case against Saddam Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country."

Now, this, of course, Wolf, is questioning the president's claims that it was September 11th that changed his world view and made him realize that if Saddam Hussein was a threat, as they thought, it was important to attack him preemptively. Here you see Paul O'Neill saying that it was discussed before September 11th. Now, in an interview with Time magazine, the former treasury secretary also says that he didn't see any evidence that weapons of mass destruction did exist in Iraq. That, among other things, in terms of the way he viewed the policy in Iraq -- or on Iraq.

Now, officials at the White House, Wolf, are saying that this -- first of all, on weapons of mass destruction, it wouldn't necessarily be information that the treasury secretary would be privy to.

And on the issue of when they decided to plan to get rid of Saddam Hussein, they said there very well could have been some discussions about getting rid of him because it was the policy of the United States to have regime change in Iraq since back in the Clinton administration in 1998.

Now, the official White House response to O'Neill's statement is from the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan. He said, quote, "It appears that the world according to Mr. O'Neill is more about trying to justify his own opinion than looking at the reality of the results we are achieving on behalf of the American people."

Now, privately, Wolf, when talked to officials, they say Paul O'Neill was somebody who never really got along all that well internally with the president's top advisers. He's somebody who necessarily didn't fit in, if you will, and somebody who made statements that they had to clean up in the past.

So they're essentially painting him, privately, as somebody who might be a disgruntled former employee, somebody who was fired just more than a year ago.

BLITZER: CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash covering the president's stay in Crawford, Texas.

Thanks, Dana, very much.

Much more on this sensitive subject coming up very soon. I'll speak with the commerce secretary, Don Evans. He has some strong thoughts on what Paul O'Neill, his former colleague, is now saying.

Let's move on, though. A fresh reminder today of tensions in the Middle East. Right now in Israel, a protest against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his call to dismantle some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

CNN's John Vause is covering this demonstration.

John, tell us where you are, what's happening right now.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf. We're in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. And this is the first major demonstration against Ariel Sharon since he announced his plan to unilaterally withdraw from parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

Organizers say they're expecting about 100,000 people here in Rabin Square, mostly settlers and their supporters. Now, under Ariel Sharon's plan, a number of Jewish settlements will be dismantled as he withdraws Israelis from parts of the West Bank and Gaza. But for the people here tonight, that is one settlement too many.

They feel betrayed by Ariel Sharon, the man who sent them to the hilltops in the first place. The man who is seen as the father of the settlements, they believe, has sold them out, mainly, they say, because of pressure from the United States.

Ariel Sharon says he is still committed to the U.S.-backed road map peace plan, but he's warned the Palestinians they have just months to act to resume negotiations and crack down on terrorists and militant groups, or he will go it alone.

Now, the Palestinians have upped the ante. A statement came from the PLO executive committee saying the Palestinians have the right to declare an independent Palestinian state on the occupied territories, that territory occupied after the Israeli-Arab war in 1967. The Palestinians will say they, too, are committed to the U.S.-backed road map peace plan, but right now neither side is talking.

Wolf?

BLITZER: CNN's John Vause covering this demonstration for us.

Thanks, John, very much for that report. We'll continue to check in with you throughout the day here on CNN.

Let's get back to politics here in the United States, campaign 2004. Each campaign has been trumpeting endorsements all this past week, hoping to attract attention and generate support.

One of the more significant announcements saw Iowa Senator Tom Harkin line up with his fellow Democrat Howard Dean, calling him, and I'm quoting now, "the kind of plain-spoken Democrat we need."

Senator Harkin is joining us now live from Des Moines.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us at the CNN express, campaign express bus.

The leading newspaper, the biggest newspaper in your state strongly disagrees with you, endorsing John Edwards, the North Carolina senator, saying, among other things, saying this:

"Howard Dean's call to take our country back is the rallying cry. Dean has the slogan, but it is Edwards who most eloquently and believably expresses this point of view."

What do you make of that?

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: Well, first of all, I have a great deal of respect for John Edwards. I like him. He has run a positive campaign. In fact, when I endorsed Howard Dean the other day, I made mention of the fact that I think that I was hoping that all the candidates, the Democrats, in the closing days here and in the primaries and the caucuses to follow, would quit attacking one another, quit trying to tear each other down.

And I specifically said I think we should all follow the example set by Senator John Edwards, who has run a very positive campaign.

BLITZER: So what makes, in your opinion, Howard Dean better, let's say, than John Edwards?

HARKIN: Well, I've been very neutral in this race, Wolf, up until now. But I looked at all the records, I looked at their plans and their organizations, and it became clear to me that Howard Dean had risen to the top.

Here's a guy that started in the back of the pack a year ago. He's now leading the pack. He's motivating people. He's broadening our party. He's bringing people into our party. And I've always believed that if we're going to win, we have to broaden our party and bring new people in, and he's doing that.

Secondly, he's shown that he can raise a lot of money nationally, $10, $20, and getting more grassroots support.

And third, Howard Dean, I believe, has the plain-spokenness, the authentic demeanor and the toughness to take on Karl Rove and George Bush and win back the White House.

BLITZER: What was wrong with Richard Gephardt, your friend for so many years, the candidate who won the Iowa caucuses in '88?

HARKIN: Well, again, Wolf, you won't find me saying a bad thing about Dick Gephardt or John Kerry or any of them, because they're all friends of mine, and I respect each one of them.

But, again, I point out, the one person who has shown he has the toughness, who takes 10 punches a day and keeps coming back, who is broadening our party, getting our grassroots excited, who has that kind of authentic plainspokenness to him, that's Howard Dean. And I believe that's what it's going to take to beat George Bush.

As I said, I have a great deal of respect for Dick Gephardt.

BLITZER: Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, many of the other Democratic candidates are really going after Howard Dean for his lack of experience in national affairs, international affairs. Listen to what they said earlier today on some of the other Sunday programs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Experience is an asset. You don't want to have another president on training wheels. SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is going to be very difficult for a person in the post-September 11th world who has no foreign policy experience, no national security experience, no military experience, very difficult to stand up against a wartime president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you feel comfortable with Howard Dean learning on the job, trying to get some experience as he runs for president?

HARKIN: One of the best presidents we've had in recent times had no foreign policy experience whatsoever, and he took on a wartime president, and he won. And that was Bill Clinton, from Arkansas.

I think most people, Wolf, in this country understand whoever's going to be president, their first obligation is to protect our country, to support our armed services, to protect the security of our people. That's a given. Anyone, Republican or Democrat, they're going to do that.

The real unanswered question in Iowans' minds, and I think most Americans' minds, is, who's going to really take care of their health- care problems? Who's going to provide better education for our kids and make college more affordable? Who is really going to protect Social Security and Medicare for our senior citizens? Who's really going to work to help clean up the environment? These are the big unanswered questions.

National security -- I don't care what president you have, whether it's Republican or Democrat, they're going to take care of our national security. That's a given. Let's now look at really what's on Americans' minds.

BLITZER: Senator Harkin, a lot of people in Iowa upset apparently over some comments made four years ago by Howard Dean, saying that Iowa is not representative of the country, it's representative of special interests. Listen to what he said four years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF VERMONT, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you look at the caucuses system, they are dominated by the special interests on both sides, in both parties.

Special interests don't represent the centrist tendencies of the American people. They represent the extremes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And now he's backing away from that, saying he's learned a lot over these past four years. A lot of his critics, though, say he's simply pandering.

HARKIN: Well, Wolf, I always say actions speak louder than words. Howard Dean has been here over the last year, year and a half. He's visited all 99 counties. He's been in people's living rooms, homes, church basements all over the state of Iowa. And he told me personally, it's been the most uplifting experience of his lifetime. He is now one of the strongest supporters of our caucus system.

I'd also remind you, Wolf, another candidate said that about the Iowa caucuses in 1988, and that was Al Gore. And he came back to run in our caucuses, and you won't find a stronger supporter of our caucus system today than former Vice President Al Gore, who, as you know, is supporting Howard Dean.

BLITZER: We're going to have to leave it right there. Senator Harkin, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to everyone in Iowa. I'll be going out there in the coming days myself. Thanks very much, Senator Harkin.

HARKIN: We'll see you out here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Up next, a special interview with the U.S. commerce secretary, the presidential friend, Don Evans. We'll get his reaction to what his former colleague, Paul O'Neill, is now saying, explosive criticism of the president.

Then, on guard against terrorism: Who's the biggest threat to a safe and secure United States right now?

Later, a man who's waged his own presidential campaign battle, the former senator, Bob Dole, gives us his view on what's playing out in the race right now.

And Joe Lieberman on his decision to sit out the first big political test, the one coming up in eight days in Iowa.

All that and much more. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

The United States economy continuing to send out mixed signals. This past week, new government numbers showed the country generated only some 1,000 new jobs in December, not the 130,000 or more so many of the analysts had expected.

Joining us now here in Washington with special insight into the economy, the Bush presidency, the political battles in 2004, is the commerce secretary, Don Evans. He was chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

DON EVANS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: Sure, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Let's get to your former colleague, the treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill. In the new book, he's quoted as saying this, referring to the president, your best friend, the president of the United States, "like a blind man in a room full of deaf people."

Aides, he went on to say, "have little more than hunches about what the preside might think."

He spent, what, almost two years working with you and the president, and that's what he comes out, with that assessment?

EVANS: Well, Wolf, let me say, I'm not going to comment on a book I haven't read or experts from a book that has not been out yet.

But, you know, let me say first, I enjoyed, certainly, working with Paul O'Neill and appreciate his service to the American people during the two years he was secretary of the treasury.

But let me tell you a little something more about this friend who is now the president, and has been a friend for some 30 years. He is a man that I have seen through these years that has an amazing discipline to focus on the important issues of the moment, regardless of what is going on elsewhere.

And I can't tell you of the number of meetings that I have been in with him -- whether it be on the specifics of tax policy, the environment, energy, you name the subject -- where this president is focused on the issue, where he is driving the discussion, where he is driving the debate, he is asking the tough questions and then making the tough decisions, and doing it in a very decisive kind of way.

BLITZER: So, how can you possibly explain Paul O'Neill, who was in those rooms, coming out with this kind of assessment, calling the president almost -- a blind man in a room full of deaf people? I mean, is this just the fact that he was fired, and so he's embittered? Is that what you're suggesting?

EVANS: Paul, I'm not even going to -- Wolf, I'm not even going to comment on that. I mean, again, I mean, I've known this president for some 30 years. And I know how he leads, I know how he manages, and I know how he conducts these meetings.

And he is -- drives the meetings, tough questions. He likes dissent. He like to see debate. He thinks it's very healthy, very constructive for the process. Oftentimes, he has to make the deciding decision when he has his advisers on both sides of the same subject.

BLITZER: In the new issue of Time magazine that's just out, coming out right now, Paul O'Neill also goes after the vice president, Dick Cheney, who had been a close ally, a friend of his, saying that when O'Neill said that more tax cuts were not necessarily useful, he went to Cheney, and he said, you know, you got to hold back on more tax cuts.

Cheney is quoted as saying, by Paul O'Neill, "Reagan," Ronald Reagan, the former president, "proved deficits don't matter," Cheney said. O'Neill was too dumbfounded to respond. Cheney continued, according to this excerpt, "We won the midterms. This is our due," referring to the midterms in 1984.

Deficits don't matter? They're $500 billion right now.

EVANS: The tax relief the president has given to this economy is working. On three separate occasions over the last three years, he's provided additional tax relief for the American workers, American families, businesses all across America. And guess what? It's working.

The results are showing that it's working. Growth in the economy was 8.8 percent in the third quarter, 3.3 percent in the second quarter. Manufacturing indexes over the last five months have been very, very strong. Strongest in December since...

BLITZER: I want to get to all those economic indicators in a moment, but let's just wrap up the O'Neill. When he says that -- he quotes Cheney as saying forget about deficits, Reagan proved you can go up with the deficits, you're going to still get re-elected. Is it all about simply getting re-elected?

EVANS: It's all about growing the economy and providing jobs for the American workers. That's what it's all about. And the way you grow the economy is you cut taxes and you control spending. That's how you grow the economy. And guess what? The results are working.

BLITZER: One other point that O'Neill says -- we'll get to the results in just a moment.

EVANS: Sure.

BLITZER: On the weapons of mass destruction, he's quoted as saying this in the new issue of Time magazine: "In the 23 months I was there," referring to the Bush administration, "I never saw anything that I would characterize as evidence of weapons of mass destruction."

As you know, Paul O'Neill sat in, he's a member of the National Security Council as the treasury secretary.

EVANS: Yes, well, again, Wolf, I'm not going to respond to a book that's not out yet. I haven't seen him explain those comments. I didn't sit in on those meetings, so I wouldn't be privy to any of that.

BLITZER: You never participated in the meetings.

EVANS: No, I did not.

BLITZER: Not as a member of the National Security...

EVANS: No. Right.

BLITZER: I'll let you move on. And one final thing that he does say, and I'll give you a chance to respond to this, because this refers to your administration, in the new issue of Time magazine, he says, "These people," referring to the Bush-Cheney people, the team, "these people are nasty, and they have a long memory."

EVANS: Well, let me say, again, Wolf that I enjoyed my times spent with Paul O'Neill and I appreciate his service. But we continue to stay focused on jobs for the American people, growing this economy, and the results are proving that the president's policies that he's been leading on are working.

BLITZER: Let's talk about jobs a little bit.

EVANS: Sure.

BLITZER: You hosted the president on Friday. A thousand new jobs were created in December. A lot of experts, as we reported, thought that there would be maybe 130,000, maybe even 150,000 new jobs.

Unemployment did go down to 5.7 percent, but some of the experts suggesting that's because so many unemployed simply dropped out. They stopped looking for work. 309,000 simply dropped out and are no longer looking for work right now.

The number of jobs lost -- what are the number of jobs lost since the Bush administration took office?

EVANS: Wolf, I don't know the exact number...

BLITZER: Two or 3 million, right?

EVANS: ... but let me tell you about jobs. You know, I'm somebody that spent 26 years in the private sector. And the most painful thing I ever had to do during that period was tell somebody they did not have a job. The most rewarding thing I ever had to do was tell somebody they had a job.

And the president also spent 20 years of his life as a small- business owner and an entrepreneur. And I can tell you that we wake up every morning thinking about what it is we can do to create the conditions for more jobs for the American worker. And that's on our mind every day, every decision we make, how are we going to do that?

With respect to the thousand jobs created in the month of December, you make note of the fact that unemployment came down to 5.7 percent. That happens to be below the unemployment average over the last 30 years. It happens to be below the average of the 1980s. It happens to be below the average of the 1990s. So we say that the trend is in the right direction.

We did create 250,000 jobs in the last five months of 2003. So the trends are in the right direction. But it's not good enough.

In America, we don't leave anybody out, and we don't leave anybody behind in America.

BLITZER: Were you surprised when that 1,000 number of new jobs came out on Friday? Were you surprised by that number? EVANS: Wolf, I don't put a lot of stock in any one number. I mean, you can't do that. You have to look at the trends and the direction of the economy.

I saw where the blue chip economists came out yesterday and said that they feel like the economy's going to grow at 4.6 -- they upped the growth for 2004 to where they feel like the economy's going to grow at 4.6 percent.

The Wall Street Journal had a poll about a couple of weeks ago, where 54 economists said they expected some 1.5 million or more jobs to be created in 2004.

So the economy's doing well. The American people are optimistic about the economy. Based on your own poll, 72 percent of the people think this economy's going in the right direction.

BLITZER: Listen to what one of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, Richard Gephardt, was quoted as saying in The New York Times on Saturday:

"With the recovery that we're supposed to be in, adding a thousand jobs is pathetic, nothing short of pitiful and pathetic."

You would expect that coming from a Democratic presidential candidate. But the question is this: Is this a jobless recovery, as so many economists are suggesting? The economy seems to be improving, the growth, the stock market is improving, but where are the jobs?

EVANS: You know, as I said, Wolf, we've created 250,000 jobs over the last five months. We feel like that we're going to continue to improve job creation in this economy in the coming months.

But it reinforces why we need to pass the president's six-point plan that he has out there. It reinforces the need to make tax cuts permanent. It reinforces the need to take lawsuit burdens off of this economy. It reinforces the need to bring down health-care costs. It reinforces the need to get Congress to pass an energy bill so this economy can have affordable and available energy.

BLITZER: What's your assessment -- you ran the Bush-Cheney campaign four years ago. What's your assessment of Howard Dean right now, the phenomenon he has generated within the Democratic Party?

EVANS: You know, Wolf, one of the biggest disappointments for me when I first came to Washington, D.C., is people seem to talk about politics every day. I came here to serve the American people, and that's what I think about every day.

I wake up every morning, concerned about that American that does not have a job that needs a job. I'm not paying a lot of attention, worrying about what's going on in the Democratic primary. I'll let them work through the primary process as it's supposed to do.

But that's not my job. My job is to serve the American people, and that's what I'm going to do every day. BLITZER: But do you think about, of the Democratic candidates, who might be the most formidable challenger to the president?

EVANS: You know, listen, I know it's going to be close. They're always close, Wolf.

We're going to -- the president will not be overconfident. I assure you, he will fight all the way to the finish line. We expect a close race. I think there will be a close race.

But what I'm going to do is focus on the people's business.

BLITZER: You may have seen the story in today's New York Times suggesting the president personally is spending a lot of time focusing in on his reelection, which is presumably understandable, spending a lot of time with Karl Rove, his chief political adviser. He's raising a ton of money, so far in 2003 $130 million, and all sorts of fundraisers out there.

How much time, based on what you know -- and he is your best friend, you're his best friend -- how much time does the president really spend on politics, getting himself reelected, right now?

EVANS: You know, Wolf, I don't know why this is so surprising to anybody. I mean, the president, off and on, and frequently, has talked to Karl Rove for the last 10 years.

And so, why, you know, people think it would be surprising that he would be talking to him now is kind of amusing to me. I don't know how much time he spends on it.

But I can tell you this. He understands that his fundamental responsibilities to the American people are the national security, the homeland security, and the economic security of this country. He has no higher priorities than those three. And he understands that. And he wakes up every morning thinking about what he can do to create and provide more jobs for American workers.

BLITZER: Speaking about jobs, let's go through some substantive questions involving jobs right now. The president unveiled a major new initiative on immigration, illegal immigration, this past week, suggesting that some 8 million to 10 million workers, undocumented workers here in the United States, might now have an opportunity to become legal residents at some point.

Many Republicans, your conservative fellow Republicans, are critical of the president. Tom DeLay, the leader in the House of Representatives: "I have heartfelt concerns about allowing illegal immigrants into a U.S. guest-worker program because it seems to reward illegal behavior."

You're hearing that from some of your best friends.

EVANS: Wolf, this is an American-workers-first program. Any time there is a job available in this country that an American wants, then an American is entitled to that job. Right now, we have 8 million undocumented workers in this country, no doubt -- probably occupying some jobs that an American would like to have.

As the president has said, the immigration policy of this country is broken. And he wants a policy that puts American workers first. The policies that we have in place right now do not put the American worker...

BLITZER: But are you rewarding illegal behavior by giving them an opportunity now to become legal residents, which your fellow Republicans, at least some of them, are critical of?

EVANS: It is time to put a system in place to where people that come into this country and are provided a job come into this country legally. It is time to do that.

They tried to do that in 1986, some 18 years ago. It didn't work.

BLITZER: One final question on this issue. The Democrats, at least some Democrats, are saying you're not going far enough. Yes, give them a chance to become legal guest workers, but also give them hope of becoming citizens down the road.

You're suggesting, the president's plan, they can stay for three years, get an extension for another three years, with no guarantee that they'll be able to stay permanently.

EVANS: No guarantee they'll be able to stay permanently, and no guarantee they won't be able to stay permanently.

This is not an amnesty program. It doesn't mean that those that become temporary workers cannot get in the system to eventually become a citizen, but it does not guarantee it. But it also doesn't say that it might not happen.

And what the president has said is that we've got to get a system in place that only allows legal immigrants to take jobs that may otherwise go to an American. It also will make our borders a lot safer.

BLITZER: One final question, because the president this week is going to announce a major new space initiative to go back to the Moon, maybe beyond, send a man or woman to Mars.

Some estimating already this could cost a trillion dollars over 20 years. And some saying, you know what, that trillion dollars might be better spent creating jobs here on Earth, rather than going back to the Moon and Mars.

What do you say to those critics who say, spend the money creating jobs, curing cancer, work to promote life on Earth before you think about the Moon and Mars?

EVANS: Well, Wolf, I would say this. It's a very big idea. It's a very bold idea. And America has always needed a challenge of a big and bold idea.

I can also tell you that this program will be within a responsible fiscal budget, because the president knows, once again, the basic ingredients to growing an economy and creating more jobs are cutting taxes and controlling spending.

And so, whatever the program is, however big it is, it will be within a responsible fiscal budget.

BLITZER: All right. Do you have a preliminary number that you want to share with our viewers?

EVANS: No, I don't have a number.

BLITZER: All right.

Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for joining us.

EVANS: Sure, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

EVANS: You bet. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: And just ahead, we'll get a quick check of the hour's top stories, including more barriers to peace in the Middle East, what's going on there. We'll have an update.

Then, a nation on alert relaxes. Two key U.S. senators react to Friday's decision to scale back the terror threat level in the United States.

All that, much more. "LATE EDITION" will continue right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM RIDGE, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Let me emphasize that, although we've return to yellow, we have not let our guard down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The U.S. homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, on Friday as he lowered the terror alert level in the United States.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now, two special guests: in Jackson, Mississippi, Senator Trent Lott. He's a key member of the Select Intelligence Committee. And here in Washington, the vice chairman of that committee, Senator Jay Rockefeller.

Senators, thank to both of you for joining us. Let me get -- Senator Rockefeller, you're the vice chairman. Let me get your thoughts on what Paul O'Neill is quoted as saying. The former treasury secretary saying that 23 months he worked in the Bush administration and served on the National Security Council, he never saw any evidence, real evidence, of WMD, weapons of mass destruction, in Iraq.

You're a member of the Intelligence Committee. Have you seen evidence that there were such weapons? I'm not talking about the '80s, when Saddam used them against the Kurds, but in recent years?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Wolf, both Trent Lott and I are members of the Intelligence Committee, so there are certain things, classified things, we can't talk about.

But I can say this, that Paul O'Neill, as his deputy secretary, for example, sits on the National Security Council. The Treasury Department has its own intelligence service, which interacts with all the other intelligence services.

So that I don't know whether he knew or didn't know, and I can't say at this point -- that's what the investigation is for -- were those weapons of mass destruction separate, you know, nuclear, biological and chemical...

BLITZER: But going into the war, Senator Rockefeller, you voted for the resolution.

ROCKEFELLER: I did.

BLITZER: You saw the intelligence. Were you convinced that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction?

ROCKEFELLER: I was convinced that there was a real probability of that, because the intelligence was fairly clear on that.

Having -- if I knew then what I know today, after having looked at that intelligence, as a result of the September 11th investigation, I probably wouldn't have voted the same way, Wolf, for a number of reasons.

BLITZER: That's interesting.

What about you, Senator Lott? You've studied this issue. Where are the weapons of mass destruction, if there was such a widespread analysis going into the war that he had them?

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: As Senator Rockefeller said, we had every reason to believe that he had and was involved in an effort to have weapons of mass destruction. We have not put our hands on a significant number of them, but we know that they did have some.

Now, they may have destroyed them over the years. They may have buried them. Just this past week, you saw the stories where some Danish troops uncovered some 36 projectiles that had some leaking substance that could have had a blister effect agent. They could have been moved to other countries.

But we had reason to believe that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when we had the vote.

We are looking into that. As an Intelligence Committee, we're going to have some additional hearings. There's no question that we need to look at what our intelligence people had, in terms of technology and satellite capability, but also human intelligence. Obviously, some of that human intelligence was not sufficient. We need to make sure that in the future, under similar circumstances, we would have perhaps even more reliable intelligence information.

BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, there are some suggestions in the postmortem, what went wrong, that the human intelligence was the biggest problem; that the Bush administration, the U.S. government, the career professionals, as well as the political officials, were sold a bill of goods by Iraqi defectors and others who wanted the U.S. to go to war. And there was an inclination on the part of the top leadership to want to believe that.

ROCKEFELLER: Wolf, that's the whole point. We've got two subjects we've got to do here in our Intelligence Committee investigation. And we're the only ones who can do it, and we have the responsibility to do it.

Fifty-three percent of the American people think -- approximately -- think that they were misled into thinking that weapons of mass destruction were there. They're not sure now. They want answers. It's our responsibility to give them answers.

We can give them answers in two ways. One is by analyzing the intelligence community and the work it did. And secondly, by looking at the use of that intelligence, whether there were other channels, secret channels of intelligence through the Department of Defense or whatever, which then allowed policymakers in the executive branch to come to conclusions which they maybe wanted to come to anyway.

Both those have to be looked at, and today we're only looking at intelligence, not the executive branch.

BLITZER: Senator Lott, is it your understanding, without violating any classified information or anything like that, that the U.S. is getting some useful information on WMD or other subjects from Saddam Hussein?

LOTT: I really don't know, Wolf. I know they're going to be working on that. They have been. I'm sure they're getting some useful information along the way. Maybe some time (ph) in how he says things or what he doesn't say. But I don't have any information that they're getting anything that is really unique or that we haven't heard of before.

Let me make two points on what you've already asked. Remember, our intelligence was based on what the three best intelligence agencies and countries in the world could come up with -- United States, British and Israeli. So there was reason to believe, based on their intelligence estimates and the past, that there were weapons of mass destruction.

The other thing, though, is to always remember that weapons of mass destruction, while they were emphasized, were not the only reasons why we made the decision to go into Iraq. It was a part of, obviously, the decisions and the discussions, but not the only reasons.

BLITZER: All right, I want Senator Rockefeller to weigh in. But also weigh in on what Secretary of State Colin Powell said this week in defending his address to the U.N. Security Council in February just before the war. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm confident of what I presented last year. The intelligence community is confident of the material they gave me. I was representing them. It was information they presented to the Congress. It was information they had presented publicly, and they stand behind it. And this game is still unfolding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. He says, "This game is still unfolding." Is it possible -- I assume it is possible, but do you believe likely that weapons of mass destruction, significant quantities of chemical or biological stockpiles, or maybe even some sort of nuclear components, not necessarily a bomb or anything like that, will, in fact, be found?

ROCKEFELLER: David Kay has reported to us twice. On neither occasion has he been very optimistic. He's talked about intentions, about programs.

We did not -- remember, the Intelligence Committee did not send us to war. It was the executive branch and the Congress which voted, so to speak, to give them the authority to go to war.

So, the intelligence community did the best that it could. I think that we're going to find there are some severe problems with the intelligence community.

I think we're also going to find that some of the differences between classified intelligence and unclassified intelligence were significant. And that is, that in the unclassified intelligence, some of the caveats -- and this is the Carnegie study this week, indicates that. And we don't yet because we haven't done the study.

But we have to look at both the intelligence and the use of intelligence by the executive branch.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to pick up on that.

We have a lot more to talk about including terrorism here in the United States. We'll continue our conversation with these two senators right after a quick break. We'll also be taking some phone calls for Senators Lott and Rockefeller. If you want to call us, this is a good time to call. Later, we'll speak with the former U.S. Defense Department official, Richard Perle, about his very explosive, controversial, new book, "An End to Evil: Strategies for Victory in the War on Terror."

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with Senators Lott and Rockefeller.

Senator Lott, on the connection, allegedly, between Saddam Hussein, Iraq, on the one hand, and al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden on the other, this is what the secretary of state, Colin Powell, said this past week. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL: There is not -- I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection. But I think the possibility of such connections did exist, and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Was there a real connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda?

LOTT: I believe there's reason to know that there had been some contacts. But whether you would call it a smoking gun or not, I doubt that would be the case.

But let me talk about Colin Powell and what he's been having to say. This is a military officer that worked at the White House and was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been secretary of state. Very knowledgeable, not easily duped and not going to say something that he doesn't believe is true.

So when he goes before the United Nations and lays out the case, with a head of the CIA sitting right behind him, I assume he has reason to believe credibility in the evidence that he's presenting.

One other thing, though. Let's don't lose sight of the fact about who Saddam Hussein is. He was a brutal dictator that murdered his own people, gassed his neighbors and sent reward money to suicide murderers in Israel, a really bad man who defied the United Nations for 11 years. There were lots of reasons to go in and take this brutal and maniacal dictator out.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on, because I assume on those two points, Senator Rockefeller, you agree with Senator Lott, do you?

ROCKEFELLER: I do not.

BLITZER: You do not?

ROCKEFELLER: No, amazingly.

BLITZER: You think that Colin Powell would go before the U.N. Security Council and lie?

ROCKEFELLER: He did go before the Security Council, and he did -- he refused to mention anything about the atomic or nuclear relationship with Niger that hit the cutting room of the State Department. I mean, he refused to use that.

BLITZER: Because he didn't believe it.

ROCKEFELLER: Because he didn't believe it.

BLITZER: Well, so, he didn't lie...

ROCKEFELLER: Yes. No, no. No, no.

BLITZER: But you think he's an honorable man...

ROCKEFELLER: I do.

BLITZER: ... and wouldn't mislead the U.N. Security Council?

ROCKEFELLER: I do. But on the other hand, he was also depending upon some of the same intelligence that maybe the rest of us were.

BLITZER: But on the second point that Senator Lott made, that there were other reasons beyond WMD to justify going to war?

ROCKEFELLER: Well, see, that's a very important point. Because all of a sudden, we went to war. The American people were told that we have to go to war on a preemptive basis to prevent a grave and growing peril -- that is, being attacked by weapons of mass destruction.

It didn't have anything to do with Saddam Hussein as a good or a bad guy. He's a terrible person. But that's not the reason we were told to go to war. That's not the reason we voted in the Congress to give the president the authority to go to war.

So I'm more skeptical on that.

BLITZER: Senator Lott, do you know, the color code, the terror alert level in the United States, went back down to yellow from orange, from high to elevated, this past week, in the aftermath of the Christmas and New Year holidays.

We have a caller from Florida who wants to ask you a question on this.

Go ahead, Florida.

CALLER: Yes, Wolf. My question for the two senators is regarding the actual terror alert system itself. With it always at an elevated level, doesn't it seemingly give the government a blanket, more or less, security that says that if something does happen, they just have to say, "We warned you"?

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Lott?

LOTT: There could be something to that. And also, I think that people tend to get to be a little callous, you know, if you cry wolf too much.

But we need some system to alert people, get local officials, state officials and federal officials to redouble their efforts, based on the chatter that we hear through intelligence information.

We do still have concerns about nuclear plants and certain airports. They're still under heightened security. We do have threats that still exist out there in the world.

al Qaeda trained thousands of people in Afghanistan -- 30,000, 60,000. They're out there. They don't need orders, necessarily, from the top. They work sometimes quite autonomously.

And so there is a continuing danger. There's the danger that we, you know, use it too much or that people get jaded about it. But there's still threat, and we should take it very seriously, based on the information we get.

BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, how good was the intelligence, in your opinion, to justify going up to that higher threat level? Because, as you know, a lot of people out there think the government, the federal government, is just simply jerking them around, make them go from yellow to orange, back down to yellow.

You're privy to this information. Was it justified, was it of such enormous concern?

ROCKEFELLER: I think it was justified. And I don't think the federal government plays games on this.

And I do think that the American people are going to grow weary when we go from yellow to orange, hopefully never to red.

But we've never been in a situation like this before, in a post- 9/11 world. We cannot take the chances that we once took. We have to be exact. We're integrating everything with international intelligence. We stopped -- we had flight numbers, specific flight numbers -- Mexico, France, England, all the rest of it -- that came through.

We acted in the interest of the American people. And I think our American people, all of us and our families, are going to have to adjust to a state of some inconvenience, but safety first.

BLITZER: Do you believe that going to that higher level deterred or prevented a terror attack?

ROCKEFELLER: It could very well have deterred, and it -- you could turn right around and say it was just a test run by al Qaeda, somebody else, see where our weaknesses might be when we went up. However, you don't take chances with American lives.

BLITZER: Better to be safe than sorry.

LOTT: Wolf, let me just...

BLITZER: Senator, unfortunately, Senator Lott, we are all out of time. We're going to have to continue this on another occasion.

LOTT: OK.

BLITZER: But thanks to both of you. Senator Lott, as usual, Senator Rockefeller, two very thoughtful, informed members of the United States Senate sharing some thoughts with us today here on "LATE EDITION."

Thanks to both of you very much.

Just ahead, presidential politics. The veteran Bob Dole talks about the campaign and the candidates. I'll speak with him live.

Also, my interview with Senator Joe Lieberman about the Democratic race, his decision to skip Iowa and his plan to stop Howard Dean.

Much more coming up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Eight days to what people in Iowa like to call the first real political contest in the presidential election. We'll talk about that with Senator Bob Dole, also the Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Lieberman and author Richard Perle. He's here to talk about his explosive new book.

We'll get to all of that. First though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Democrats are crisscrossing Iowa today. Let's get an update on what exactly is going upon. Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is live in Des Moines.

What's the latest, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, the first real contest of the presidential race is really close. We have candidates involved in multiple activities today. Last night, a number of them showed up at the Linn County annual dinner, including John Edwards, the senator is sort of the man of the morning, waking up this morning to find that The Des Moines Register, the state's larger paper, has, in fact, endorsed John Edwards, calling him a naturally gifted politician who doesn't need a long record of public service to inspire confidence. Three other state papers have, in fact, endorsed John Kerry, citing his experience as the main reason. Kerry obviously has used his long resume in both domestic and foreign affairs as a way to contrast himself with Howard Dean. He is still pushing that, as he did this morning on NBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: This is not a time for governors who have no experience whatsoever in foreign policy and national security and military affairs. And if you need any proof of that, just look at what George Bush has done. This is not a time to hire advisers. This is a time to hire a president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And Dean, while having no paper endorsements at the moment, does, in fact, have some very big names out here stumping for him. Yesterday, at one rally, both former Vice President Al Gore and Senator Tom Harkin, who came out in favor of Dean in these very last days of the campaign.

Harkin is the most popular Democrat in this state. He promises not only his support but also the structure of his campaign. He has a lot of feet people out there that can help Governor Dean.

The state of play at the moment, Wolf, according to The L.A. Times and a Chicago Tribune poll, 30 percent in Iowa say they plan to vote for Howard Dean, 23 percent Dick Gephardt, 18 percent John Kerry, and the last person in the double digits, John Edwards, with this caveat that everyone has told us again this morning, and that is that people can go into these caucuses thinking they're going to vote for one person and end up voting for another.

Very fluid out here. All of the candidates, including the Dean campaign, expect that Dean will come out on top, but this is not something you'd want to bet on. The caucuses can be very surprising.

Wolf?

BLITZER: And that's certainly going to add to the drama of all of this in the coming eight days. Candy Crowley will be covering it for us.

Thanks, Candy, very much for joining us from Iowa.

It's a small club, those who've dared to put themselves through a U.S. presidential campaign. One who knows what it takes and just what's happening in Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond right now is the former Senate majority leader, the former Republican presidential nominee, Bob Dole. He's joining us here live.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Senator, for joining us.

BOB DOLE, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Thank you very much. BLITZER: I want to get to all the politics in just a moment, but you're always outspoken, you're candid. What do you make of these comments from the former Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, basically hammering the president of the United States, saying that going into a meeting with him was like sort of going into a meeting with a blind man and a bunch of dumb advisers who were really afraid to speak up?

DOLE: Now, that's quite a quote. I don't he's going to be invited to the White House any time soon for any formal function there, but...

BLITZER: Unless there's a Democrat there.

DOLE: But Paul O'Neill, you know, when he first came here years and years ago, I had a lot of contact with him. I sort of lost contact. He became a big corporate executive, was never really active in the Republican Party.

I think a lot of us thought the big surprise was, why was this guy ever chosen? He didn't have any following in the Congress.

But again, it's a very tough book on Bush. Now, whether or not it will stick, I don't know.

BLITZER: And he also said, as you know, he said, in the 23 months he was there, he never saw any real evidence that there were WMD, weapons of mass destruction, in Iraq. That's a pretty tough statement too.

DOLE: Well, you know, it's probably out of his jurisdiction. I don't think there are too many (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at the Treasury Department.

BLITZER: But he is a member, as a Treasury secretary, of the National Security Council.

DOLE: He is a member, yes, and he goes to all those things.

But we're finding evidence now that there may have been weapons of mass destruction, as recently as yesterday, by the Danish forces.

But, you know, it's a great big country, Iraq, the size of California. I'm going to let everybody wait a while, and then we'll see what happens.

BLITZER: There's a perception, at least among the president's critics, that what O'Neill is saying about the president, that he's really not engaged, that he's not that smart or whatever, all the accusations against the president, a lot of people happen to believe that out there. It's one of the reasons why the country is so polarized right now.

You know George W. Bush. You've had contact...

DOLE: I know his father much better, but I know the president. Elizabeth knows -- Senator Dole knows the president. BLITZER: Senator Dole, the junior senator from North Carolina.

(LAUGHTER)

DOLE: The real senator.

But, you know, he was very helpful to me in '96. And I remember many conversations we had about the issues of the day. And we had a good exchange. I mean, and I understood the issues fairly well.

Don Evans, who was on the program earlier, has known this guy for 30 years, known President Bush, and he tells just an opposite story.

But again, Paul O'Neill was fired, he lost his job. I'm not suggesting he's bitter, but he's certainly very critical. And we'll see what happens.

I mean, there's always somebody in somebody's administration who jumps out early, sells a book, and goes after the guy who hired him. I don't know if that's good -- it may be good business, it's not good politics.

BLITZER: What's your assessment right now -- it's still almost a year till November -- how vulnerable, if at all, do you believe the president is to any of the Democrats?

DOLE: Well, I think it's -- you know, a day can be a lifetime in politics, as many of us learned, and something could happen in Iraq, if we continue the casualties, if there's not some way to sort of stem the thing, turn it over to the Iraqi coalition council.

But I think the economy is pretty much on track. I know we didn't create many jobs last month, but that's just one month. But it's going to happen. The economy is much, much stronger.

And so I think the president's in a very strong position. But again, the country is pretty much divided.

BLITZER: Let's listen to Howard Dean. He's been a phenomenon. A lot of people amazed.

DOLE: I'm amazed. I'm one of...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say that he's come out of Vermont, and he's now seemingly the front-runner of the Democratic field.

Listen to what he said on "Inside Politics" to our Judy Woodruff on Friday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: The only way a candidate like me with no money gets any chance of being president is to go and meet the people of Iowa and New Hampshire, and that's what I've done. I don't think this election can be about who said what four years ago. People know that I speak my mind. People know that I say what I think and I'm not a scripted candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Some of the things he's said, though, have been rather controversial, although he continues to generate momentum out there.

What do you make of this Howard Dean?

DOLE: I wasn't able to hear that quote, but I think I probably know pretty much -- you know, he's a very outspoken person. I think, in many respects, he's maybe the most pessimistic man in American politics today. I mean, everything's going wrong, everything's -- he gives credit to Bush, or very rarely gives credit to Bush for anything.

But again, he's proving that the caucuses work, that the primary system works in New Hampshire. Right now he's in the lead. If he wins Iowa and New Hampshire, in my view, it's probably pretty much over.

BLITZER: Why do you say that? Why can't somebody else, February 3rd, with South Carolina, Arizona, there are what, eight or nine contests that day -- somebody emerge with a strong base, let's say, in the South or the Midwest?

DOLE: Well, I guess I shouldn't say that, but I had the experience in '88, where I won Iowa big, a big margin over Vice President Bush, lost New Hampshire by six points and never recovered.

Now, maybe that was just that year, 1988, because there are some attractive Southerners. You've got Edwards, and you've got General Clark, and so -- and Dick Gephardt, in effect. So they'd make a strong case.

And it may be that Dean's already chosen his vice president. You know, the Midwest is going to be the battleground, in my view, in this next election. And Tom Harkin, a very strong, a very popular in that part of the country. Who knows? It may be, if he's nominated, a Dean-Harkin ticket.

BLITZER: Well, you think that there as some sort of, shall we say...

DOLE: Well, I don't think there was any kind of a deal. You're always looking around for running-mates. I always was.

And you look around, and you pretty much know, well, New York is probably going to go for the Democrat. Maybe California will be tough for Republicans. In the South, you know, the Democrats like (ph) Howard Dean aren't going to carry anything in the South.

So where's the battleground going to be? It's going to be in the Middle West. You're looking for somebody, I think, all the time. I just suggest that could happen.

BLITZER: As Candy pointed out, we'll show you these new numbers in The Los Angeles Times. They have a new poll in Iowa, in these caucuses, which are very complicated, and these polls are not necessarily all that realistic. But it does show Dean with 30 percent; Gephardt, 23 percent; John Kerry at 18 percent; Senator Edwards down at 11 percent.

How much stock should we give to these Iowa polls?

DOLE: Well, if it's The Des Moines Register poll, I give it a lot of stock.

BLITZER: It's a Los Angeles Times poll.

DOLE: Well, then, it may be pretty much patterned after...

BLITZER: Together with the Chicago Tribune.

DOLE: if they've got David Yepsen working on it, it's got a lot of credibility.

But they're fairly accurate. And I think, you know, maybe Gephardt will find out what I found out: It's nicer the first time around. The second time around, the caucuses I won, but not by much of a margin.

But again, it's -- who knows? This last seven or eight days, somebody might say something, do something, somebody else say something that'll change it all.

BLITZER: I'll put other numbers up on the screen. Money -- numbers of the Democratic candidates, how much they raised in 2003. Let's take a look at this.

Well, we don't have the numbers on the screen, but I'll tell you: Howard Dean raised about $40 million last year; Senator Kerry about $29 million; Gephardt about $18 million, $17 million or $18 million; General Clark, who entered very late, around Labor Day, $14.5 million.

How significant is this money issue?

DOLE: Well, it's significant, but I've listened to Congressman Gephardt. He doesn't have that much money. But I think he's right, if he can do very well, if he could win Iowa and do well, maybe, in South Carolina, the money will come.

It's all built on expectations. If I do well in one of the first two states, I'm going to start getting money.

But I must say, Governor Dean's done a fabulous job. So has General Clark. Raised a lot of money in a very short time.

I think the disappointments would probably be my friend Joe Lieberman and John Kerry in that area.

But again, you know, it's still -- it hasn't happened yet. There hasn't been a vote cast.

BLITZER: We're going to be speaking to Senator Lieberman, someone you know quite well.

Why do you think his campaign, at least, has not generated the excitement some had thought, given the fact he was Al Gore's running- mate in 2000?

DOLE: Well, I think it would, if you're looking at all the Democrats across the country. But you're looking at Iowa; they're moderate to liberal Democrats. And I think Joe Lieberman is more of a centrist Democrat.

And he's a great guy, and he's an honest guy and a decent guy, but just hasn't, so far, caught on. But I think he's going to tell you that he can still win the nomination, and that's always the hope that candidates have.

BLITZER: That's the hope that all of them start off with. We'll see what happens.

We're going to take a quick break, Senator Dole.

We have a lot more to talk about. More of Senator Dole's memories of Iowa, the campaign trail in '96, other key issues.

Also ahead, as I said, my interview with Joe Lieberman, whether sitting out Iowa was a smart move.

And this: the Reagan administration adviser, Richard Perle, a controversial new book on how to fight terrorism and how to stop Osama bin Laden. We'll speak with Richard Perle live. That's coming up.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Still time to cast your vote in today's Web poll. Today's question: Was the war in Iraq justified if Saddam Hussein was not pursuing a weapons-of-mass-destruction program?

Go to cnn.com/lateedition to cast your vote.

Much more with Bob Dole -- that's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're continuing our conversation with former Senator Bob Dole.

We have a caller from Louisiana, Senator Dole, that has a question for you.

Go ahead, Louisiana.

CALLER: Yes, Senator Dole, I would like to know honestly, did you feel that President Bush had already planned the war in Iraq before 9/11? I do. And I have a problem with senators, I mean educated people, who didn't know that before.

DOLE: Well, I don't know whether "plan" would be the right word, but certainly the president, when he comes into office, has a review of every part of the world, and I think this was pretty high on President Clinton's radar. I mean, you know, it's been a problem.

But in any event, I don't think "plan" would be the right word. I think maybe he was aware of it. Obviously, he was alerted to it, and there was a review of it. But to say, at the first Cabinet meeting, we're going to go in and clean out Iraq, I don't think that happened.

BLITZER: Well, you know, because some of the critics have suggested there was a sort of a personal issue, a grudge, because his father didn't finish the job, and then there was an assassination attempt, and that he wanted to finish off Saddam Hussein.

DOLE: Well, there was that feeling with a lot of people around the country, Republicans, Democrats, whatever, that we should have gone on and finished him off then. And there were a lot of criticism of President Bush I for not doing that, but there were probably good reasons for not doing that. The coalition would have fallen apart. We had all these countries together.

But it's hard for me to believe that the president goes into the office and the first thing he thinks of, "Well, I'm going to wipe out Saddam Hussein." I mean, he may have thought about it privately, but I don't think it was public.

BLITZER: As you know, there was a horrible earthquake in Iran. Your wife, the senator from North Carolina, Elizabeth Dole, she was almost supposed to go on a mission, a humanitarian mission, uniquely qualified because she's a former president of the Red Cross, the American Red Cross. That didn't happen.

Would it have been a good idea for the U.S. government to send Senator Dole, your wife, and others, to Iran in an effort maybe to try to improve relations with Iran?

DOLE: I think secondarily that, but primarily to help the people who needed help. And what Elizabeth had in mind was going over there, meeting with different people, seeing what really happened, come back with a firsthand report to her colleagues in the Congress, Democrats and Republicans.

She has a lot of credibility, having been an American Red Cross president. And it might have had some impact on our relationship, which is certainly very important.

I don't think the trip is in abeyance. It may or may not happen. There's still plenty of time, there's still much need in that country, and I hope that it may happen.

BLITZER: There was also talk she would be accompanied by a member of the president's family, an unnamed relative of the president. And there was some suggestion maybe the Iranians got nervous about that.

DOLE: Yes, the initial idea was Elizabeth and the president of the American Red Cross, and then maybe somebody who could help them with, you know, language and things of that kind. But it was, well, I guess you'd call upgraded to a presidential mission.

But in any event, I think the purpose of it was humanitarian. It wasn't political. It wasn't a discussion in my household about politics. It was about, how can I help, what can I do?

So if the Iranians are listening, it's still a great opportunity for them and for us. The American people are very generous.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time. But let me just ask you a quick question: How are you doing? How are you feeling? What's it like to be the spouse of the a United States senator?

DOLE: I'm doing well, I feel good. And it's all right being a spouse, as long as I don't have to attend all of the functions and all the dinners.

BLITZER: Are you and the former president Bill Clinton attending those spouse luncheons and going and being active spouses of United States senators?

DOLE: Well, I've been to a couple. I haven't seen President Clinton, but, you know, we've been doing things together, raising money for the victims of 9/11, so their children can go to college and things of that kind. And we've had some sort of debates together since. So we have a relationship.

But if he runs for -- I want him to run against me in the spouse club, because I think the Republicans would elect me.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see what happens. You'll have a built-in majority. I know you're getting ready for the World War II memorial. That's going to be unveiled pretty soon as well.

DOLE: Oh, it's big, big. May 29th and the 30th, we're going to have maybe 200,000 or 300,000 World War II vets here. We've raised $191 million. Only $5 million has come from the government directly. So it's been a private project.

It's going be a great day for veterans everywhere, and there's still 25 million of us in the country.

BLITZER: On Memorial Day weekend, we'll all be watching and applauding you and your work.

Thanks very much, Senator Dole, as usual.

DOLE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, a check at what's making news at this hour, including the Mars rover. There's news on that front. Plus my special interview with Democrat Joe Lieberman, who dared to sit out Iowa and leap ahead, at least he's trying, in New Hampshire.

More of our "LATE EDITION." That's straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: With Howard Dean leading the pack in Iowa, Joe Lieberman turned toward New Hampshire. I talked to Lieberman from Dover, New Hampshire, about that decision, the campaign and his sharp questions to front-runner Howard Dean.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Senator Lieberman, welcome back. Thanks very much for joining us from the campaign trail.

Let's get right to the issue of strategy. You've given up on Iowa. What's your strategy right now for winning the Democratic presidential nomination?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My strategy is to offer our voters in the Democratic primaries a choice, a better way between George Bush on one side and some of the candidates of the Democratic primary on the other.

I'm a mainstream Democrat. I'm socially progressive, pro-jobs in the tradition of Bill Clinton, and strong on security.

And I think that's exactly the kind of person America needs to be its president now, and it's the only kind of Democrat that can beat George W. Bush in the fall.

BLITZER: Well, what is the strategy for New Hampshire? How do you have to do in New Hampshire to remain viable after that first-in- the-nation primary?

LIEBERMAN: Wolf, the primary schedule is beginning in Iowa and New Hampshire, but it's not going to end here. This is not a sprint. It's going to be a longer marathon.

My goal here in the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary is to do better than expected. I started out at -- way down, and we're coming up. I'm working here very hard. I'm meeting a lot of people.

I'm carrying my message of confidence and hope and opportunity for the future, and of unification. I'm saying to people, you can't beat the extremism and polarization of George Bush with polarization and anger of our own. We've got to get together and present a constructive program, and that's what I'm doing.

BLITZER: Does that mean you have to come in at least third in New Hampshire or fourth? Would you accept a fifth and still stay in the race? LIEBERMAN: Well, you know, we're going to -- nice try, Wolf. We're going to try and do better than expected, and I wouldn't rule anything out.

This is a remarkably open race, right now, in New Hampshire. We're seeing the voters here take it very seriously, and they're taking a second look at Howard Dean, John Kerry, and as a result, a second look at a lot of other candidates here.

So I feel like we're building to something that's going to end up very strong on January 27th.

BLITZER: On February 3rd, the week after New Hampshire, there are a whole bunch of contests. Are there some in particular that you expect to win right now?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I'm not going to call any. But look, I hope to and believe I will win some primaries on February 3rd. That's exactly the strategy. Better than expected as a start in New Hampshire, and then go on, South, Midwest, West, and win some of the primaries or finish real high. And then to be in the finals with whoever else makes it through February and into March.

I'm having a great time. I'm committed to the program I have, and I'm very optimistic about how we're going to do.

BLITZER: Would you be ready to accept the vice-presidential running-mate slot once again?

LIEBERMAN: No. It was a great experience, particularly since I believed we won the election. But it's, for me, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I want to run for president and be president, but not vice president.

BLITZER: So you're making a Shermanesque type of statement, like along the lines of Wesley Clark, that under no circumstances will you be Howard Dean or any other Democratic presidential nominee's running- mate?

LIEBERMAN: That is absolutely correct. Liebermanesque, if not Shermanesque.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about Howard Dean for a moment. He made some controversial comments years ago about the Iowa caucuses, comments that could embarrass him, this time around, with some of the voters out in Iowa.

What do you make of Howard Dean and the surge, the popularity he's clearly generated among many of your fellow Democrats?

LIEBERMAN: Well, first, Wolf, I cannot resist saying that I'm glad the Canadian broadcasters kept those tapes of Howard, because if they had been part of his gubernatorial records, we never would have seen them, because they are sealed up by Howard Dean himself. That's quite embarrassing. And, actually, I got a kick out of what he said, because it sounded like a lot of what I've been saying: You've got to avoid extremism.

When you agree with the interest groups in the Democratic Party, all well and good, but don't feel obliged to do that, say what you think is right for the country and regardless of whether it's politically controversial or not. And that's what I've been doing all my career and also in this election campaign year.

BLITZER: So, is Howard Dean an extremist?

LIEBERMAN: Howard Dean has said some things, as I've said before, that are extreme. I mean, to say -- I always said that you can take -- and I said about Howard Dean, I respected his consistent position against the war in Iraq over Saddam Hussein, although I disagreed with it, but I don't know how anybody could say that America is not safer and the world is not safer and the Iraqis are not safer with Saddam Hussein in prison. Same about his unwillingness to prejudge the guilt of Osama bin Laden, or his opposition to middle- class tax cuts such as those I have been advocating.

So I think we win elections, as Bill Clinton taught us, in the mainstream: for tax cuts, strength on security, social progress, talking about values. And I'm building on the Clinton legacy, and I think Howard, in too many ways, wants to go back to where the party was before Clinton.

BLITZER: Is he electable? Can he beat George W. Bush?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I worry about that. I worry about that based on a lot of things that he said and the positions that he has taken. And I offer myself as a very electable alternative, an independent- minded, mainstream Democratic candidate who really is fiscally responsible and socially progressive, which I think is what America wants.

They don't want to have to choose between a president who says he's strong on security in the world, and a Democratic candidate who says he's going to make life better here at home. I provide both, and I think that's why the voters are responding to me.

BLITZER: Is he qualified to be president?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I'm going to leave that one to the primary voters. This has more to do with the kinds of -- I am proud of my 30- year experience in public life and the predictability of my positions. I think people know who I am and can trust me to do what's right for the country and what's right for them. And they've got to make that judgment about the other candidates.

BLITZER: He's lining up, Howard Dean, lots of endorsements, some formidable people, some of your former friends and colleagues, of course Al Gore, former Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, now Tom Harkin, the Democratic senator from Iowa.

He's really getting endorsements that you certainly would have liked.

LIEBERMAN: Well, again, I can't help but say that Howard spent most of the year campaigning against Washington insiders, and now he's bringing out a group of Washington insiders to support his candidacy.

Look, endorsements are great for a day, when they make the news. But I'll tell you what I find in New Hampshire and everywhere else I go in the country: People are not going to let politicians or polls or pundits pick their next president. The people are going to do it themselves. And they're going to make up their own mind about who they think can keep them safe and give them health care that's affordable and make their lives better.

BLITZER: Another candidate, Democratic candidate, who seems to be surging a little bit in the polls right now, at least in national polls, General Wesley Clark.

Are you more comfortable with General Clark's stance on many of these issues than Howard Dean's stance?

LIEBERMAN: Well, you know, Wolf, Wes Clark came in out of nowhere into this race, became a Democrat for the first time to become part of the race, so I don't know a lot of his stands.

I can tell you that I was disappointed that a retired military officer like Wes Clark would have taken six different positions before he finally came to the conclusion a year after the resolution authorizing the war against Saddam that he would be against that resolution.

And, you know, again, as I said about Howard Dean, that means that if Wes Clark had his way, Saddam Hussein would be in power today, not in prison, and the world would be a lot less safe. So I disagreed with him on that, that's for sure.

BLITZER: But in fairness to General Clark, 34 years he's spent in the U.S. military, you can't be political. You can't get involved in partisan politics while wearing the U.S. military uniform.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, no, so I'm saying that we've got to hear more about what his positions are on issues.

But I'm also saying, while I obviously respect his service in the military, it's all the more astounding, and he said it again yesterday, that for a retired military officer to not know exactly whether he supported a resolution authorizing the commander in chief to send the troops in a war, that was amazing.

I mean, yesterday he said here in New Hampshire that, when he publicly advised a congressional candidate last fall, Katrina Swett, to support the resolution supporting the war in Iraq, he hadn't read the resolution and didn't know what was in it.

Well, I don't know how as a retired military officer he could have gone ahead and said that she should support it, when he knew that the effect of it was to authorize the commander in chief to go to war. That's just not responsible.

BLITZER: Let's go through a few of the substantive issues on the agenda right now.

The president expecting next week, in this coming week, to announce a major new initiative on space, to perhaps send man, maybe women, men and women, back to the moon for some sort of a permanent base there, and maybe even, long term, go out to Mars.

Is this money well spent?

LIEBERMAN: You know, I have very mixed feelings about it, but I'll make clear where I end up. Remember, I was attracted into politics by President Kennedy, so the moonshot program thrilled me, and I've always supported the space program.

But if you ask me whether the best use of $1 trillion of American taxpayer money in the coming years is to land a mission on Mars or the moon, I'd say no. We need it right here on Earth to give health care that's affordable to everybody, to improve our education system, and do better on veterans' benefits and homeland security.

And I'll tell you, I've got an idea to create an American center for cures, that will set as the goal something that seems as impossible today as it did when Kennedy said we could go to the moon, and that's to cure chronic diseases like Alzheimer's and forms of cancer and diabetes, et cetera, et cetera.

But if we need -- if we had that kind of money, we could do it right here on Earth. And, frankly, I think that's more important to the American people than that kind of space voyage at this point in our history.

BLITZER: Senator, another important issue the president addressed in recent days, the whole issue of undocumented workers in the United States. Eight to 10 million of them may be getting some permanent legal status here in the U.S.

He's being hammered by many conservatives in the Republican Party. Some grudging admiration from what he's done by some of your fellow Democrats.

What's your assessment?

LIEBERMAN: Well, look, we've got an immigration system that is broken. In a way, you might say this is an election-year conversion by George Bush, but it may be a re-conversion, because he talked about doing this in 2000 and, for some reason, hasn't done anything in the three years he's been in office.

It's a little step forward, but not enough.

And I'd look forward -- I made a proposal for an earned right to legalization by any of those undocumented immigrants that are here working, haven't been in any legal trouble. Let's bring them into the system, let them pay taxes, let them contribute to Social Security, let them become legal American citizens.

And then let's start again at the flow of people in here, and try to create a system that says, if we post a job in America and nobody here fills that job after a period of time, then we'll give a temporary-worker permit to people from other countries to come in and fill that job. I think that's the way to begin to fix our system.

BLITZER: But, Senator, aren't you rewarding illegal behavior by doing this right now, granting this kind of amnesty, if you will, to those who broke the rules, jumped ahead of the line, and now you're going to reward them for this kind of behavior? That's the criticism.

LIEBERMAN: No, I understand, and I think the reality is that you've got however many million people here who are in this status, they are filling jobs -- as somebody said to me in Arizona a while ago, if we could stop the flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico, the Arizona economy would take a rapid decline, because they're doing jobs that nobody else apparently wants to do. So we've got to recognize the reality.

It's not perfect, but we've got to find a legal -- a way to make them legal, have them contribute to the system, become part of the American family, and then start again at trying to make the flow of immigration in here legal and not illegal.

BLITZER: One additional issue. I just want to get your position on precisely the whole issue of same-sex unions, marriages. You're an observant man, you're religious. Is there a conflict that you personally have between supporting these kinds of same-sex civil unions and the religious beliefs that you personally have?

LIEBERMAN: Not at all. I mean, I always say that my religious beliefs sometimes inform positions I've taken, but they don't determine them, and that's true here.

I mean, marriage has a meaning culturally, civilly, even sociologically as a union between a man and a woman, and that's why I supported the Defense of Marriage Act.

Now, that's different from all the work that I've done for almost 30 years to adopt laws that would protect people from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, and I will continue to do that.

But to me, marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, and I want it to stay that way.

BLITZER: But what about same-sex civil unions? Do you support those?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I think we've got -- look, all of us know in a world that is changing -- I know gay and lesbian couples that are in long-term, mutually committed relationships, and we have to find a legal way to protect the rights that flow from that kind of relationship. One partner is ill; why shouldn't the other partner have a legal right to visit in a hospital, for instance? And I'd be inclined to try to go toward domestic-partnership laws or contracts to protect those kind of rights in the relationship, and I think we can find a way to do it.

I will say, on the other side, I don't support -- I did support the Defense of Marriage Act, so-called. I don't support a constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage, because it seems to me that those who want to do that are taking a political and even ideological controversy of the moment and trying to enshrine it in our Constitution. That's not what the Constitution is for.

BLITZER: Senator Lieberman, thanks for taking some time from the campaign trail. Good luck to you.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Wolf. Good to talk to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joe Lieberman, speaking with me earlier from Dover, New Hampshire.

Up ahead: Is the war on terror on the right track? I'll talk live to the former Defense Department official, the author, Richard Perle, about an explosive new book.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Ongoing debate here in the United States and around the world about combating terrorism and whether that battle correctly went through Baghdad.

Joining us here in Washington is the former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, Richard Perle. He's now the co-author of an important new book, "An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror."

Richard, thanks very much for joining us.

David Frum is your co-author on this book that's just out. Let's go through some of the main points, and I'll put some of them on the screen.

Among other things, you say, there should be support for overthrowing what you call the mullahs in Iran; ending what you call a terrorist regime in Syria; regarding Saudi Arabia and France not necessarily as rivals but maybe even enemies; and enforcing a blockade around North Korea.

We're going to get to all of those specific points.

Let's go through your top priority right now in fighting terrorism. What is it?

RICHARD PERLE, AUTHOR: It's organizing the institutions of government that have that responsibility, so they are optimized for dealing with terrorism.

BLITZER: It's not -- the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence community, the Defense Department, the way it's organized right now, it's not working?

PERLE: The Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, our existing alliances, the United Nations, these are institutions that were never conceived with terrorism in mind. Mostly they were products of the Cold War or, in the case of the U.N., World War II. And they're either not relevant or not nearly as effective as they ought to be in combating international terrorism.

BLITZER: All right. We'll leave the specific bureaucracy, how you want to restructure it, for another day. But let's go through some of these substantive, specific points. Going to cause a lot of concern around the world given the influence people perceive that you have here in Washington.

Among other things on Iran, you write this: "Iran continues to harbor and support terrorism, and its hostility does not have to be inferred. It is declared and manifest. Yet many of our leaders continue to insist that we can and should do business with moderates in the leadership of Iran."

What's wrong with reaching out and trying to find moderate Iranian leaders?

PERLE: The problem is the moderates in Iran are not in power. The mullahs who are in power are not moderate. And every time the moderates attempt to make a move that would justify that description of them, they're slapped down by the mullahs. Their friends are put in jail, their newspapers are shut down. They, themselves, are unable to act in support of any moderate agenda.

BLITZER: So was it a mistake for the administration, in the aftermath of the earthquake, to try to reach out to Iran, perhaps send a delegation with Senator Elizabeth Dole over there, a member of the Bush family, to try to see if they could use that humanitarian mission to try to improve the political relationship with Tehran?

PERLE: If that was the purpose, then I think it was a mistake. It was right to extend some humanitarian support and assistance, because we have no problem with the people of Iran. The people of Iran have a problem with the mullahs, who are dominating every aspect of their lives.

And if we have to choose between aligning ourselves with the government, which is either moderate or powerless, and aligning ourselves with the people of Iran, with their aspirations for freedom, we should be with the people.

BLITZER: When would it be appropriate for the U.S. to launch a preemptive strike against Iran?

PERLE: I don't think a preemptive strike is called for. What we ought to be doing is... BLITZER: If there was evidence they were building a nuclear bomb, would you undertake a military mission to try to destroy that bomb?

PERLE: I certainly would never rule out a preemptive strike that can prevent a nuclear weapon that might be aimed at us from reaching completion.

Look, if we saw a nuclear weapon on a missile about to be launched at us, I don't think anybody would disagree, we would have the right to destroy it. Suppose it isn't...

BLITZER: Well, forget about that, advanced stage, but an Israeli-type Osirak reactor strike against Iran. Is that something the U.S. government should be considering?

PERLE: I would hope that we would not only keep that option open, but that we would be doing what we can to be sure that if we ever had to resort to it, it would succeed as well as the Israelis succeeded.

BLITZER: What about Syria? You suggested this is a terrorist regime in Damascus. But President Bashar al-Asad, in that New York Times interview recently -- other initiatives he's taking. He's trying to reach out, at least giving the impression he wants to resume peace negotiations with Israel.

PERLE: Well, giving the impression is the operative word here. And in any case, the issue isn't peace negotiations with Israel. The issue is, what is the Syrian government doing that affects us and affects us profoundly in our war on terror?

And one of the things they're doing is facilitating the entry into Iraq of terrorists who are there to kill Americans. They're holding on to money that belongs to the people of Iraq. And they're building chemical weapons, at least.

So we have big problems with the Syrians. The Syrians, from time to time, will throw us a crumb, a piece of intelligence here, or they'll take a minor step there. And they hope, and in the past they've sometimes been right, that that that will deflect us from what ought to be our course, which is a real change in their policy.

BLITZER: The Bush administration is repeatedly insisting now the Saudis have finally gotten it. They understand the terror threat from al Qaeda in the aftermath of attacks last year against targets in Riyadh and elsewhere in Saudi Arabia.

You and David Frum write this in the book. You say, "The Saudis qualify for their own membership in the axis of evil. The Saudis support terror on a lavish scale. A Saudi crackdown on terror financing would put al Qaeda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad out of business."

Was that written before the U.S. government came to conclude that they are now cooperating in the war on terror? PERLE: It was written a while ago, and I hope that those who believe that we are now getting full cooperation are right. I have yet to see the evidence.

Remember that, for years, the Saudi policy, as far as I can tell, was to send lots of money to extremist institutions around the world in a kind of devil's pact with the Wahhabis at home and the extremists at home, to stay quiet right in Riyadh. And for all we know, that continues to be the policy.

BLITZER: France, a country that you visit often. You have a home in France. But you are now suggesting that France is no longer a reliable ally of the United States?

PERLE: France has adopted the view that Europe should be built in opposition to the United States. I think that view is wrong. I don't think it reflects the sentiments of the people of France, for whom I have both affection and admiration. I think it's the gaullist administration of President Chirac and his minister for foreign affairs.

I hope that policy changes. We ought to be working with the French. But if the French want to build Europe in opposition to us, that's not acceptable, and we have to insist that the Europeans make a choice.

BLITZER: As you know, around the world, there are all these Web sites suggesting you and your fellow so-called neoconservatives really run the U.S. government. There's almost a conspiracy notion out there.

How much influence do you have as a member of the Defense Department's advisory board, as an adviser to many of these top officials? Are you calling the strings here in Washington? Was it you and your fellow neoconservatives that created the momentum toward overthrowing Saddam Hussein?

PERLE: Nobody does a thing in this town without our approval.

(LAUGHTER)

Of course not.

And what I and others who were lumped together with me as neoconservatives say and think on these issues is completely open and public.

We have no influence other than whatever ability we have to persuade people like the people watching this program, like you, Wolf, that what we say makes sense. And we think that our views are grounded in a pragmatic, realistic view of the world as we find it.

BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation during the week here on CNN. The book, "An End to Evil."

Richard Perle, thanks for joining us. PERLE: Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's take a look at the results of our Web question of the day. We'll put it up on the screen.

Here are the results of our Web question of the day: 19 percent say yes, 81 percent say no, about whether the war in Iraq was justified.

Now, remember, this is not a scientific poll.

And that's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, January 11th.

For our international viewers, "World News" is coming up next.

Coming up next for our North American viewers, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, right at the top of the hour, "People in the News," CNN's "In the Money" at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, and "CNN Live Saturday" at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

Be sure to join me next Sunday, every Sunday at noon Eastern, for the last word in Sunday talk. I'm here twice a day, Monday through Friday, at noon and 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

Thanks very much for watching us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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