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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Howard Dean; Interview With Wesley Clark

Aired February 8, 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 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7 p.m. in Jerusalem and 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
In just a minute we'll get live reports from CNN reporters around the world. Plus, my interview with the embattled Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: We begin with a rare interview from the Oval Office. President Bush covering a wide range of topics as he campaigns for reelection and faces political pressure over pre-war U.S. intelligence on Iraq.

Our White House correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by with details.

Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president's aides acknowledge that one of the main reasons he wanted to do this interview was to try to counter criticism that he misled Americans when he made the decision to go to war in Iraq.

The president did say today in this interview that he made the decision for war based on intelligence that he saw that essentially led him to believe that there were stockpiles of weapons in Iraq.

But he acknowledged today that at least one of his pre-war statements, that Saddam Hussein possessed the most lethal weapons ever devised, he acknowledged that that turned out to be wrong.

Given that, the president was asked whether he still thinks it was worth it to go to war, a war that has seen the deaths of 530 American soldiers and more than 3,000 injured. His answer was yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's essential that I explain this properly to the parents of those who have lost their lives. Saddam Hussein was dangerous. And we're just not going to leave him with power and trust a madman. He's a dangerous man. He had the ability to make weapons, at the very minimum. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now what you heard was the evolving rationale from this White House on going to war in Iraq. It is essentially that Saddam Hussein may not have had weapons, but he certainly had the capacity to build weapons of mass destruction.

And that, Wolf, is likely what we're going to hear in the days and months ahead as the campaign season goes on, that the president did think that, given the fact that it's a post-9/11 world, given the lessons he says he learned after September 11th, that as a leader he thought, based on the information he was looking at, he did what was right.

However, Wolf, even already just since the president has made these comments, we've heard some criticism from the former U.N. chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, who essentially says he's not buying what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HANS BLIX, FORMER U.N. CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: What is meant by being ready? Could it be a vial of anthrax that could be tossed at somebody? I mean, one could interpret it in different ways.

But the intention was to dramatize it, just as the vendors of some merchandise are trying to increase and exaggerate the importance of what they have.

But from politicians, of our leaders in the western world, I think we expect more of that, a bit more sincerity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And, Wolf, that is exactly what you're likely to hear more and more from, from Democrats on the campaign trail, as the campaign and the election season goes on, that they don't believe that the president didn't actually know that the weapons weren't -- possibly weren't there.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash at the White House. The debate only just beginning. Thanks very much.

Two more wins last night for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. He's now nine for 11 in the United States, and now he's won another major endorsement, ahead of Tuesday's Virginia primary. Less than two hours ago, the Virginia governor, Mark Warner, threw his support to the Democratic front-runner.

CNN's Kelly Wallace is joining us now live from Richmond with more on politics in America.

Kelly? KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf. Well, this endorsement, on top of John Kerry's decisive victories on Saturday, giving the Massachusetts senator even more momentum going into Tuesday's southern primaries here in Virginia and in Tennessee.

And in a sign of John Kerry's dominant role in this presidential field, he's not talking about his rivals, but he's talking about President Bush. He and Virginia Governor Warner watched the entire interview of President Bush on NBC. And then after that interview, John Kerry came out to talk to reporters, and he blasted the president on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, which still have not been found inside Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And it was on that basis that he sent American sons and daughters off to war.

Now the president is giving us a new reason for sending people to war. And the problem is not just that he is changing his story now. It is that he -- it appears that he was telling the American people stories in 2002.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: And in his speech Saturday night to Virginia Democrats, Senator Kerry also sharpened his attack on the Bush administration, calling it, quote, "extreme."

This is all part of a Kerry campaign strategy, with advisers saying they're trying to send a message to the GOP. The message is, if Republicans try to paint John Kerry as a Massachusetts liberal, then they say they will fight back and fight back very hard.

Now, John Kerry will be watching and waiting for the returns from Maine on this day. He will also campaign in Virginia and then back to Tennessee on Monday.

Wolf, right now he's leading in the polls in both states. And if he wins both states, he will not only prove that he can win in the South, but he could also force one of the other southern candidates, John Edwards or Wesley Clark, out of the race.

Wolf?

BLITZER: And later we'll speak to Wesley Clark on this program. Kelly Wallace, thanks very much for that report.

Now to Iraq, where a bombing in an Iraqi police station has killed three police officers and wounded 11 others. And in Baghdad, a United Nations team is meeting with the Iraqi Governing Council about democratic elections in Iraq.

Our senior international correspondent, Brent Sadler, is joining us now live from Baghdad with the full story.

Brent?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. The United Nations assessment team has a really tough job ahead. It's got to try and work out whether or not it is possible for Iraq to hold direct elections by a June 30th deadline, which the U.S. is now insisting upon.

This team is made up of specialists in elections under difficult circumstances. But on the one side, you have this country's -- many of this country's Shiite Muslims, that are majority in Iraq, wanting to have elections earlier rather than later. The Iraqi Governing Council, U.S.-appointed, is split on the issue.

So the U.N. mission very difficult indeed. And in this presidential year, the election, yes or no, in Iraq, is a very, very important issue.

Now, also another development today that will give President George Bush some cheer: There has been a deployment of Japanese troops, mostly engineers, on a humanitarian mission, crossing into southern Iraq from neighboring Kuwait. These Japanese have been working up in a U.S. military camp, Camp Virginia, in Kuwait, and they are starting their mission in these coming days.

A lot of concern in Japan that the Japanese are engaged in this mission in a hostile environment, the first time since the end of the Second World War the Japanese are being deployed in this fashion.

Also, to give more details on that attack against an Iraqi police station, it happened 24 hours ago. A different method of operation this time, Wolf. It seems that a bomb was placed actually inside the police station by one of their own.

It injured severely a deputy police chief. It destroyed a lot of the building inside, very sparsely furnished, as you can see. But certainly a new method of attacking these now very well-guarded and very well-protected police stations, at least from the outside.

One more quick point, Wolf. We're just getting confirmation from the U.S. military here in Baghdad that there has been another U.S. service person killed earlier this day in a convoy attack involving another one of those improvised explosive devices.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Brent Sadler in Baghdad, we'll be getting back to you with more details on the death of this latest U.S. soldier. Thanks very much, Brent, for that.

And just ahead, Howard Dean after losing his front-runner status, the Democratic presidential candidate is in the political fight of his life. My interview with the former Vermont governor, that's coming up next.

Then, President Bush gives the go-ahead for an investigation into pre-war U.S. intelligence on Iraq, but will it get to the heart of why apparently faulty claims were made? We'll talk with the two top members of the United States Senate Armed Services Committee.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Up next, is Howard Dean's presidential run over? He says no. We'll have my conversation with the Democratic candidate.

And we want you to weigh in on our Web question of the week: Did the CIA provide adequate pre-war intelligence on Iraq? Go to cnn.com/lateedition to cast your vote. We'll tell you the results later in this program.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Howard Dean says the February 17th Wisconsin primary is his last stand. Within the past hour, I spoke with Howard Dean on the campaign trail in Maine.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Governor Dean, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.

You're in Maine right now, an important caucus state. The results will be coming out tonight. Must you win in Maine?

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we try to get as many delegates as we can everywhere. We'd like to win in Maine. Then we're going to go on to Wisconsin and try to win there.

BLITZER: Well, how do you think you'll do in Maine tonight?

DEAN: Hard to tell. We've got a great organization, but, you know, Senator Kerry has a lot of momentum.

We think that Democrats ought to have a real choice for this nomination, and the public ought to have a real choice, in terms of who's going to be the next president of the United States.

And what I believe is that I can offer the American people an agenda for action that it's actually been done. Senators are, you know, smart people, but they mostly talk. Governors do.

We have health insurance for every child in my state under 18. We have a third of our seniors with prescription benefits. We have balanced budgets. Nobody I'm running against has ever balanced a budget on either side of the aisle.

BLITZER: That's been your campaign theme now for weeks and weeks. In Michigan and Washington state over the weekend, yesterday, it didn't resonate, although you came in second in both states. Take a look at the numbers: 52 percent for Kerry in Michigan, 17 percent for Dean. In Washington State, 48 percent for Kerry, 30 percent for Dean.

What happened? Why couldn't you carry those two states, where that message should have resonated more dramatically?

DEAN: Well, I hate to be -- totally gild the lily, but, in fact, our second place finishes are stronger than any we've had since New Hampshire. We're starting to come back. I think the people in Wisconsin, particularly, and in Maine today, are going to have a real choice.

Look, there's been a huge momentum after Iowa and New Hampshire. And Senator Kerry is the beneficiary of that momentum. With 15 percent of the delegates selected so far, I question whether Democrats really want to choose somebody that they don't know that much about. And I'd really like the opportunity to show there's a different way of taking on George Bush.

In the beginning, I was the only one willing to take on George Bush. All the other Democrats, including Senator Kerry, voted for the war, they voted for No Child Left Behind.

Now, the question is, what are you going to do when you're standing next to George Bush in the debates and he turns and says, "Well, Senator, you supported my agenda on the war, you supported my agenda on No Child Left Behind, you supported some of my tax cuts. What makes you think that I can't execute my agenda better than you can?"

BLITZER: Governor, the next two states after Maine, Tennessee and Virginia, poll numbers not very encouraging for you. And I know you're jumping over these states, but I'll put them up on the screen anyhow.

In Tennessee, Kerry's at 32 percent; Edwards at 21; Clark, 20. You're down at eight.

In Virginia, Kerry's at 35; 22 for Edwards; 17 for Clark. You're only at nine.

Why are you skipping these two important states in the South?

DEAN: They are important states, but we -- as you know, after Iowa and New Hampshire, we hardly had any money at all. We've gotten some back now. Wisconsin's a state with a lot of independent voters.

The question is, is John Kerry going to be the nominee of this party? And are all the Democrats in New York and Florida and Ohio and California willing to sign off on that right now? I think the answer to that is no.

We have to beat George Bush. My argument is that Senator Kerry, who's a fine person, has taken more special-interest money than any other Democrat in the Senate in the last 15 years, as reported by The Washington Post. Voted for the president's agenda on education, voted for the president's agenda on war. I just think the Democrats ought to be very careful about this.

And Maine and Wisconsin, the two states that I'm doing next, are areas where our -- parts of the country where independent-thinking people really are going to take a close look at this.

I'm going to support Senator Kerry if he's the nominee. But I don't think Senator Kerry provides the kind of contrast to George Bush, because he himself is a Washington insider. That's ultimately going to repel lots of new people to vote in this election to send George Bush back to Crawford, Texas.

BLITZER: Governor Dean, how worried are you, though, that these kinds of criticisms that you have of Senator Kerry could hurt him?

It looks like he's going to get the nomination. He's certainly won nine of 11 contests so far. He looks well-positioned in Tennessee and Virginia to continue that momentum.

How concerned are you that the criticisms you're leveling against him now could hurt him in this overall competition, hypothetically, against President Bush?

DEAN: I'm not concerned about that at all. I got all those criticisms when I was the front-runner five or six weeks ago. And I think we're all going to come together at the end of this and support whoever the nominee is.

But there's a substantial difference between myself and all the other people running. They're insiders in Washington. They're in the Senate. In the Senate, they talk; they don't do. I balance budgets, I deliver health care.

I also say things that are true, even though they may not be politic from time to time. But Harry Truman did that, and he was one of the great presidents in the last 60 years of this country. I think it might be time for the truth in Washington.

BLITZER: It's been almost amazing to see how you've slid in the national polls among registered Democrats over the past month. The latest CNN-Time magazine poll out this weekend, which shows Kerry ahead among registered Democrats 43 percent, you're down at only 6 percent. You were at 22 percent in January.

And in the same poll, they ask whether various candidates among registered Democrats should drop out. Almost half, 49 percent, of registered Democrats want you to drop out right now for the benefit of the party.

What do you say about that?

DEAN: What I say is that I'm the only person who made this Democratic Party stand up for what it should be believing in when I first started this campaign. I've got 700,000 people behind me in our net who raised $1 million in four days so that I could compete in Wisconsin. And that's exactly what I'm going to do. BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about Wisconsin a little bit. You've said -- and I'll quote you exactly -- "This entire race has come down to this. We must win Wisconsin." You went on in that e- mail to say, "A win there will carry us to the big states on March 2nd and narrow the field to two candidates. Anything else will put us out of the race."

I take it to mean if you don't win Wisconsin, you will drop out. Is that right?

DEAN: Well, I've actually studiously avoided answering that question by saying we're going to win in Wisconsin. And I have every intention of winning Wisconsin, and we're going to win in Wisconsin.

BLITZER: But when you wrote in the e-mail, "Anything else will put us out of the race," why can't you simply say the obvious: if you don't win Wisconsin you're out of the race?

DEAN: Obviously, we better win in Wisconsin, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, let's take a look at this American Research Poll that's come out in recent days, over the past couple days. In Wisconsin, Kerry's now at 41 percent; Clark's at 15; Edwards at 10. Dean is at 9 percent.

That's not very encouraging, looking ahead to Wisconsin.

DEAN: No, but for the first time since New Hampshire, we have some money. We're going to be on the air. I've spent an enormous amount of time in Wisconsin already.

I think Wisconsin people need two things: jobs and health care. I've created jobs as a governor. I've balanced budgets. And I've delivered health care. There's not one other person on the Democratic side that's done that.

I was willing to stand up for unions when nobody else would, except Dick Gephardt. I was willing to stand up against the war when nobody else would. I was willing to stand up against No Child Left Behind when nobody else would.

I think the people of Wisconsin deserve a real choice for the presidency. Wisconsin elected Bob La Follette to the Senate and elected him governor. I think Wisconsin is interested in the kind of candidate who's willing to stand up against Washington interest groups and Washington insiders. And I think that's what we have to do.

BLITZER: If the polls in Wisconsin, between now and a week from Tuesday, February 17, when the primary takes place in Wisconsin, show you running a distant third or fourth, is there any -- likely any chance you might drop out before the actual balloting in Wisconsin?

DEAN: Wolf, that's like asking me, should we elect the president of the United States by a poll or should we have real voters? Real voters are going to decide who the nominee is -- real voters. Fifteen percent of people who've gotten a chance to vote yet. I'm not about to disenfranchise the people of Florida, who vote around the 9th or so of March, for the second time in four years.

I think real voters get to choose who the Democratic nominee is. And that's what's going to happen. It's going to happen in Wisconsin.

BLITZER: So you will definitely stay through Wisconsin?

DEAN: Wolf, I'm going to try to win the Democratic nomination. I think this party wants a real change and a real choice.

And with all due respect to Senator Kerry, it would be great to have any Democrat in the White House. Any of us would be better than George Bush, who not only was, evidently, not truthful about the war, but apparently is now not being so truthful about the economy, judging by this morning's interview on "Meet the Press."

What I really want is a real change in presidents. Ordinary middle-class people and working people have been forgotten in Washington by both parties for a long, long time. What I want is for those ordinary people to control their government again, like the Constitution gave them the power to do.

BLITZER: You pointed out that you stood by the unions. And at least one of the major unions, AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has now backed away from their support for you. This must be a serious disappointment.

DEAN: Well, you know, any time a supporter changes their mind, it's a serious disappointment.

But we're in this for the long haul. We think a lot of AFSCME workers will vote for us in Wisconsin. I think they probably will in Maine, too.

I think the time is long gone, as unfortunately we've seen, where the workers and unions just do whatever the boss says. I don't think that's going to happen anymore.

We've still got a great coalition in Wisconsin. The SEIU and the painters' union has been great to us. But this is going to come down to ordinary people.

I was at a teachers' convention in Wisconsin this past week. Those folks, 2,000 of them, are really suffering under No Child Left Behind. Their salaries are being -- are stagnant. Their schools are having larger class sizes. Property taxes are going up. I'm the only person who stood up against No Child Left Behind. People remember that.

If you stand up for somebody when it's not popular, that's when people know that you're going to stand up for them. If you only stand up for people when it's popular, as all the other folks are doing, then what -- why should voters believe you're going to stand up for them when it's not popular? That's what people know about me. They know that I'm going to stand up for what I believe in. And I think it's important to have president who's willing to do that.

BLITZER: You've already raised $40 million, maybe closer to $45 million by now. Not all that much money left over.

The L.A. Times has a story in today's paper saying that, what, $7.2 million went to Joe Trippi's firm for media ad buys. That sounds like a lot of money going to Joe Trippi, your former campaign manager's, firm.

DEAN: We spent a lot of money on television. They're entitled to get paid for what they do.

BLITZER: Did they get a significant commission for that $7.2 million? It looks like Joe Trippi walked away, but after having made a lot of money.

DEAN: No. Joe has been, you know, was a good campaign manager. I brought in Roy Neel because we needed more organization. I asked Joe to take a strategic role. He didn't want to do that. I think that's fine. But I don't think those guys took money that wasn't theirs.

We put a lot of money on television. We were the front-runner, we had a lot of momentum. That was lost after Iowa and New Hampshire, and now we've got to try to get it back again.

BLITZER: I want you to clarify, if you don't mind, what you said about possibly accepting the vice presidential nod if that were up. You said on Friday to a Wisconsin radio station, "I would to the extent do anything I could to get rid of President Bush. I'll do whatever is best for the party."

Are you suggesting that, if asked, you would accept the vice presidential nod?

DEAN: What I'm suggesting is I hope to win the nomination. And if I don't win the nomination, I'm going to do whatever I can to help whoever does win the nomination beat George Bush.

George Bush is the most destructive president to America that we've had in my lifetime. Enormous deficits. Surpluses -- a $280 billion surplus turned into a $500 billion deficit. 2.2 million jobs lost. Sending our troops to Iraq, 500 people killed, 2,000 wounded, without telling the truth to the American people about why we're going there.

This president has served America very, very badly. He needs to be replaced. I will do whatever I can. If I'm the nominee, I'm going to do everything I can to beat him. If I'm not the nominee, I'm going to whatever the nominee asks me to do to beat him.

BLITZER: You, like me, you've lived through the Nixon presidency. Are you saying that President Bush's presidency is more destructive to America than the legacy of Watergate and Richard Nixon?

DEAN: Yes, because in the long term, half-trillion-dollar deficits are going to destroy this country for our grandchildren. His environmental legacy is a disaster for our grandchildren. This president has put us in debt both environmentally speaking and in terms of our money for a long time to come.

It will be a long time before we recover from the first four years of George Bush. And God help us if there's another four years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: My interview with Howard Dean coming up. Also, a quick check of the hour's top stories.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We return now to my interview with Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about President Bush's interview on "Meet the Press" earlier today. He expressed his strong support for George Tenet, the CIA director, saying, "I strongly believe the CIA is ably led by George Tenet."

Do you have confidence in George Tenet?

DEAN: I don't know. I have called for George Tenet's resignation because he clearly was trying to cover up for a higher-up somewhere in the White House and administration. Somebody did not tell the truth about why we went to Iraq.

We now know that there were no weapons of mass destruction before we went into Iraq, which means that over 500 people have been killed, over 2,000 people have been wounded, many permanently, we spent $160 billion to get rid of someone who was a terrible person, but was never a danger to the United States.

The president's entire case for going into Iraq was that Saddam was an imminent threat to the United States because he had nuclear weapons -- excuse me, because he had weapons of mass destruction. We now know that was not true.

BLITZER: Did those American troops die in vain?

DEAN: They died because the president sent them there without telling the truth to the American people. I never believe that a soldier dies in vain doing his duty for the president of the United States or for the American people. The military did their job; they did it well.

They were sent there without the American people knowing why. That is something that no commander in chief ever ought to do. If there were a Democratic Congress right now, there would be a full- blown congressional inquiry into why the president misled this nation and took us to war without telling us why.

BLITZER: As you know, the president established a commission to investigate pre-war intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

And in the interview on "Meet the Press" earlier today he said they need time to come up with answers. He said, "The reason why we gave it time is because we didn't want it to be hurried. This is a strategic look, kind of a big-picture look about the intelligence- gathering capacities of the United States of America."

The results won't be out until March of next year, well after the election.

Do you have confidence in the people who are going to be investigating pre-war intelligence on this commission?

DEAN: Most of the people on that commission are well-known, well-respected people.

What I don't have is confidence in a commission that's going to investigate the behavior of the president of the United States appointed by the president of the United States.

What I don't have is confidence in a commission whose deadline for a report has been well pushed back past the next election, when Tony Blair's commission, investigating exactly the same thing, is going to have their report out in a matter of months.

This smells more like cover-up to me than it does like a true attempt to get the information before the American people in a timely way.

BLITZER: The point, though, that the president keeps making -- and he made it once again earlier today -- was that despite, perhaps, some intelligence failures, the world, the United States are better off with Saddam Hussein in prison, as opposed to ruling Iraq.

He said, "Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I'm not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman. He's a dangerous man. He had the ability to make weapons, at the very minimum."

You're happy Saddam Hussein is in prison?

DEAN: Of course. We're all happy Saddam Hussein is in prison. But since Saddam Hussein was not a principal threat to the United States -- we now know that because of David Kay's report -- why isn't the president taking such measures against North Korea?

North Korea is known to have developed a nuclear bomb while President Bush was in office. North Korea -- the president is doing almost nothing about North Korea. He has been convinced by hard-liners in his regime that North Korea will collapse of its own weight. Well, suppose that doesn't happen, and suppose they continue to sell technology to terrorist groups or to rogue nations.

If the president has claimed that Saddam Hussein is a danger, then somehow, he's missed a much greater danger to the United States, a country where we know they have not only weapons of mass destruction, but we know they have nuclear weapons, or are very likely to do so.

The president's explanation simply doesn't wash. He picked the third-greatest danger to the United States, one which we now know was no imminent threat whatsoever.

Osama bin Laden is still at large. Al Qaeda required, because of their threat, that planes be -- or flights be canceled from Europe coming into the United States, that the flights that were there had to be escorted by F-16 American jet fighters.

The president has ignored the real threats, which are -- not ignored, excuse me -- the president has not spent the time needed on the real threats, al Qaeda and North Korea, while chasing his obsession with men and women, with lives and with dollars, with Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein was never the great threat to the United States the president pretended. David Kay has now acknowledged that. We do have real threats to the United States security. Al Qaeda and North Korea are those threats. Why is not the president dealing with those and spending our real -- expending our real efforts in those areas?

BLITZER: Governor, the president also responded to critics, including Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic Party, who have raised questions about his own military service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

Terry McAuliffe suggesting the other day that the president was, quote, "AWOL" during part of that service.

Listen to what the president said on "Meet the Press" earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: They are just wrong. There may be no evidence, but I did report. Otherwise I wouldn't have been honorably discharged. In other words, you don't just, you know, say I did something without there being verification. The military doesn't work that way. I got an honorable discharge, and I did show up in Alabama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You have any reason to question what the president is saying? DEAN: I am concerned about the president's military service. My military record, the fact that I was denied the right to serve in the military because I failed a physical, was part of the discussions earlier on in the press. I think the president's military record is fair game as well.

The question is, had the president not been a son of a congressman, would he have been able to be honorably discharged under the circumstances? And I don't know the answer to that.

But I think Tim Russert pointed out in that interview that we have a right to see the president's military records. Mine were made available to the press. I think the president's should be made available to the press. And I think there's some hard questions that have been asked that the president needs to answer.

BLITZER: Have you given any thought, Governor, to what you might do if you don't get the Democratic presidential nomination?

DEAN: Well, I am really focused on getting the Democratic presidential nomination right now, and if I don't get it, I'll give some thought to it afterwards. All I can tell you is that, if I don't get it, I'll be supporting whoever the Democratic nominee is as hard as I possibly can.

BLITZER: Governor Dean, thanks so much for joining us. Good luck to you.

DEAN: Thank you very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Up next, Iraq's empty arsenal, did alleged weapons of mass destruction exist on the eve of the war? We'll get assessments from the two leading members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican Chairman John Warner and Democrat Carl Levin.

"LATE EDITION" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

With no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, despite the White House's pre-war claims, President Bush has established a commission to investigate U.S. intelligence.

We're joined now by the two top members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Here in Washington, the panel's Republican chairman Senator John Warner of Virginia. And in Detroit, the committee's top Democrat, Carl Levin of Michigan.

Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

And, Senator Warner, let me begin with you by playing this excerpt of what the president said on Thursday regarding the war in Iraq. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Knowing what I knew then and knowing what I know today, America did the right thing in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you agree with the president on that? Despite no weapons of mass destruction stockpiles being found almost a year later, did the U.S. do the right thing?

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: In my judgment, it was a carefully thought-through decision, not only by the president but by the senior military. And it was the right thing to do.

And let me caution you. I made the decision to bring David Kay up and put him before our committee such that he could be cross- examined. And in that cross-examination came forth very important conclusions by David Kay, and that is Iraq is a very dangerous place.

And the president and his advisers did make the right decision.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Levin, did the Bush administration make the right decision, knowing what it knew then and certainly knowing what it knows now?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: The reason that the president went to war was the presence of weapons of mass destruction. That was stated over and over and over again. It was stated to be an immediate threat by the president. It was stated to be a threat which left no alternative but to go to war.

And when the president of the United States gives that as the reason, and when it was not a reason which existed then, and the rhetoric which accompanied it was exaggerated by the administration, when the administration said that it was certain that weapons of mass destruction existed when, in fact, those weapons of mass destruction not only didn't exist, but there was a great deal less certainty in the intelligence community than was represented by the leaders of this country, that is what is not tolerable in a democracy.

The people have a right to have the reasons given for going to war and those reasons to be stated with accuracy.

And what we saw today was a major shift -- what we saw last Thursday is a major shift, a major revision in the reasons for going to war. No longer weapons of mass destruction, but now today we're told it was the capability to produce them in the future which Saddam Hussein had. That is a very major difference.

BLITZER: Senator Warner, you want to respond to that?

WARNER: We want to be very careful. Both Carl Levin and I know that David Kay said the investigation is not complete. The inspection group of 1,300 individuals, well-financed by the Congress, continues its work to this date.

And I've got to point out, I brought a letter with me signed by 14 senators here in 1998 in the Clinton administration, and they conclude that there are weapons of mass destruction. I mean, this is a continuity of opinion based on the existing intelligence by two administrations.

BLITZER: But the argument, Senator Warner, is the intelligence was faulty. And listen to what Dr. Hans Blix, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector, who didn't want the U.S. to go to war, thought the Iraqis could be contained, inspections should go on, international inspections, listen to what he told the BBC earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLIX: What is meant by being ready? Could it be a vial of anthrax that could be tossed at somebody? One could interpret it different ways. But the intention was to dramatize it, just as the vendors of some merchandise are trying to increase and exaggerate the importance of what they have.

But from politicians, from our leaders in the western world I think we expect more than that, a bit more sincerity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WARNER: But he never said while he was there, and he went back, that he didn't think there were any there. He was continuing to pursue it, and he felt perhaps his team should have remained, but Saddam Hussein threw them out -- one of the 14 to 15 utterly defiant actions Saddam Hussein took against the world community and the United Nations Security Council.

BLITZER: But he'll point out that he wasn't thrown out; that the U.S., when it decided to go to war, told the U.N. this is a good time for those inspectors to leave.

WARNER: Well, I can tell you right now, at that point in time, the world community recognized that they had tried every way, through diplomatic means, to deal with this man, and he refused to do it.

Why didn't Saddam Hussein act like Libya or other countries and say, "All right, I don't have any. Come look for them"? He didn't do that. He brought utter destruction upon his people and his country and himself personally.

BLITZER: Well, you want to respond to that, Senator Levin?

LEVIN: Yes, as a matter of fact, the world community said that they had not finished their inspections, and that's why the U.N. did not authorize an attack on Saddam, did not support it at the time.

The president said that it was so urgent that we use military force that he was going to cut off the U.N. inspections. It was our president who made a decision to initiate an attack with great urgency, who cut off the inspections of the U.N. and forced those inspectors to leave before their work was complete.

The U.N. wanted more time. And there was no great immediacy, there was no great imminence of a threat that should have caused this president to cut off those inspections, begin the attack before the inspections could be completed.

BLITZER: All right, Senator, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. Much more to talk about.

We'll continue our conversation with Senators Warner and Levin. We'll speak about the commission the president has proposed now to investigate pre-war intelligence.

And don't forget our Web question of the week: Did the CIA provide adequate pre-war intelligence on Iraq? Go to cnn.com/lateedition to cast your vote.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're talking with the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, as well as the ranking Democrat, Republican Senator John Warner and the committee's ranking Democrat, Carl Levin of Michigan.

Senator Warner, when Secretary of State Powell was interviewed earlier in the week by The Washington Post, he was speaking about what he knows now as opposed to what he knew going into the war.

He said this: "I don't know, because it was the stockpile that presented the final little piece that made it more of a real and present danger and threat to the region and to the world. The absence of a stockpile changes the political calculus. It changes the answer you'd get."

Strong words from the secretary of state, who's always a straight-shooter, as you well know.

WARNER: Yes.

BLITZER: But he's suggesting that if he knew then there was no stockpile, he might not have supported going to war.

WARNER: But, Wolf, he came back again in a statement yesterday, and if there's any -- I read through very carefully, before I came this morning, that first statement and the second.

Clearly, it was a composite of reasons that convinced him, as it did the president and, indeed, many others across the world.

And do you know? It's interesting. Our senior military leaders, I talked with them privately before the final decision was made. They were confident that their course was right. They would have not led those men into war had not, in their own hearts, they felt it was the right thing to do at this time. BLITZER: Senator Levin, like Senator Warner, you also serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The question is this about George Tenet, the CIA director: Do you have confidence in him? Should he stay on the job?

LEVIN: I don't have confidence in him. But whether he stays on the job is a decision which should be made after we complete the intelligence review.

But the buck really should stop at the White House, not with Tenet. He should not be made a scapegoat, nor should the CIA be made a scapegoat, for the failures of the administration. They ought to be held accountable for their own failures, and there were many.

But it's the exaggerations of the intelligence by the administration, by the policymakers. The statements that they knew with great certainty that nuclear weapons were either there or were being reconstituted. The statements being made with great certainty that he had chemical and he had biological weapons.

And even two weeks ago, unbelievably, when Vice President Cheney said that the presence of two vans which they discovered in Iraq were proof, absolute proof, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq immediately prior to the war, when his own intelligence community right now says that is not true, they don't know what those vans mean, and when Kay says, just two weeks ago, those vans have nothing to do with the biological weapons program, that is what must be investigated by any objective, independent commission.

BLITZER: All right. Senator, I want to bring Senator Warner in. There is now a commission that the president has created...

WARNER: I want to say right here to my good friend Carl, I was on the Intelligence Committee many years ago. You go in and off eight-year terms. George Tenet was our chief of staff. I remain like the president and think he's doing a good job, and I have confidence in him.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about...

WARNER: All right. But on Dr. Kay, Carl, he wasn't that explicit about those weapons. He said the jury is still out on some issues, and there's a difference of views.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the...

LEVIN: Not on the vans, not on the vans.

BLITZER: Let's talk about this commission that's been established. There's been a lot of criticism, Senator Warner, that the findings won't come out till March of next year, well after the election. That this is, in effect, just an opportunity for the president to push this off and not be embarrassed before the election.

WARNER: Well, that shows you how highly politicized this whole thing is. I've been privileged to know a number of those commissioners for many years. For example, Lloyd Cutler. He's the dean of the bar, I think, in the United States, in many respects, and people look to him with trust and confidence.

I want to challenge anybody who will say that this commission is not composed of independent individuals to get from behind the cameras of the television and look them straight in the eye and say, "You're not an independent person, and you're not going to do a credible job for this nation in accordance with the president's request."

BLITZER: Senator Levin, you have the last word. Senator McCain's a member of that commission as well. He's a straight- shooter.

LEVIN: I have no problems with the people on the commission. What I have are two problems: One is that their mission has been limited by the president of the United States. It is an executive order, in his order, to looking at the intelligence which was provided and comparing it to what we actually have found.

What is off-limits, and should not be off-limits, are the statements of the administration about that intelligence before the war, the exaggerations of the intelligence by the administration. That is off-limits when you read the executive order.

BLITZER: All right.

LEVIN: I have a big problem with that. And it should be challenged.

And also, delaying this until after the election is a political decision on the part of the president. He is politicizing it by delaying artificially a report until after the election.

BLITZER: Senators, unfortunately, we have to leave it there. Senator Levin, Senator Warner, thanks to both of you for joining us.

LEVIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, he survived combat in Vietnam and led NATO to a military victory in Kosovo. But is Wesley Clark's run for the White House his toughest mission yet? My interview with the Democratic presidential candidate. That's coming up.

And later, behind the scenes in the Reagan White House. We'll talk with Michael Deaver about his new book on Nancy Reagan.

That, much more. "LATE EDITION" will continue at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We'll go to the White House live in just a moment on the president's interview in the Oval Office earlier. First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: With the Democratic candidates sharpening their attacks against them, and polls showing a drop in his job approval rating, President Bush today went on the offensive with his first Sunday morning interview.

Our White House correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us now live from the White House with details.

Dana?

BASH: Well, Wolf, it's not just those attacks from Democrats on the campaign trail that the Bush aides believe is making his poll numbers slip, but it's specifically those allegations that the president misled Americans on going to war in Iraq.

And the president today, in that one-hour interview with NBC, did concede that weapons of mass destruction have not been found in Iraq, that some pre-war intelligence may have been wrong. But, he said, when he went to war, when he made that decision, he did think the stockpiles were there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: First of all, I expected to find the weapons. Sitting behind this desk, making a very difficult decision of war and peace, and I based my decision on the best intelligence possible, intelligence that had been gathered over the years, intelligence that not only our analysts thought was valid, but analysts from other countries thought were valid.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: And, Wolf, the president emphasized what has been an evolving rationale for war, especially since those weapons have not been found. The president saying that Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat, that he had the capacity for a weapons program.

And, Wolf, while the latest CNN-Time poll does show most Americans do still agree with the president that war was justified even if weapons are not found, there is some evidence that the credibility attacks for the Democrats are sticking. When asked about the opinion of Bush, 44 percent of Americans said that he is a leader you can trust, while a majority, 55 percent, that they have said that they have doubts and reservations.

That is why, Wolf, you hear from the president and his top aides today and even in the past week and certainly in the weeks and months ahead, you will hear him evoking 9/11, the time that the White House does believe that Americans had faith in him, had trust in him as a leader.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Dana Bash at the White House. Dana, thanks very much.

After eking out a win in last week's Oklahoma Democratic primary, presidential candidate Wesley Clark is hoping to rack up two more victories this Tuesday in primaries in Virginia and Tennessee.

Earlier today, I spoke with Wesley Clark from the campaign trail in Memphis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: General Clark, thanks very much for joining us. I know you've got a hectic schedule out there, but let's begin by reviewing what happened in Michigan and Washington state last night.

We'll put these numbers up on the screen. In Michigan, John Kerry won with 52 percent of the vote. Look at this, you're down with only 7 percent. That's just relatively about the same what Al Sharpton did. In Washington state, John Kerry won with 48 percent of the vote. You've got about 3 percent of the vote.

What happened in Michigan and Washington state, two states that you presumably would have wanted to do much better in?

WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we're not there. We had some activists there. We had a lot of people in the draft movement who are supporting us there. But we're working on Tennessee and Virginia, Wolf. That's where we have to do well, where we expect to do well, and that's the path to moving ahead.

BLITZER: Well, let's take a look at the latest polls in Tennessee and Virginia. The Tennessee American Research Group Poll has John Kerry right now at 32 percent, Edwards at 21, you at 20. A battle for second place in Virginia. This American Research Group Poll has John Kerry at 35 percent, Edwards 22, Clark 17.

It looks like a very, very close battle for second place, but you need to come in first in at least one of those two states.

CLARK: Well, we're going to do as well as we can. And we think we'll move on. We've got a lot of support across this country.

You know, Wolf, I came in with a draft movement. I'm not a conventional politician. I'm someone who spent his life in leadership. I'm not a Washington insider. I'm not part of the circle there. I'm somebody who actually made decisions and took actions.

And the result of it is, I've got a huge up-swelling of support. We've taken in about $700,000 since the Oklahoma race on Tuesday night. We're bringing money in, a lot of money. We've got a lot of support and a lot of people who want to see us stay in this race.

BLITZER: You're bringing in money, but you've asked your staff members to take a week's loss in pay to pay for ads, I guess, in Tennessee. Is that right?

CLARK: Well, they volunteered to forego it, because they want to see me stay in the race, too.

BLITZER: What happens if you don't win Tennessee or Virginia?

CLARK: Well, I expect to.

BLITZER: Well, what happens -- you expect to win both or one?

CLARK: I expect to win at least one of them.

BLITZER: And if you don't...

CLARK: And I think we're going to do very well. We're going to move ahead.

BLITZER: And if you don't win one, will you drop out?

CLARK: Well, we're going to move ahead.

BLITZER: Wisconsin, if you win one, is that shaping up as do or die for you, which is a week from Tuesday?

CLARK: Wisconsin looks very good. Wisconsin looks very good for us. But I suspect we'll be there on Super Tuesday no matter what.

BLITZER: Even if you come in second in both or third in Virginia and Tennessee, you'd still go on to Wisconsin?

CLARK: We do expect to go on, and we do expect to be there on Super Tuesday.

BLITZER: The governors of both -- the Democratic governors of both Tennessee and Virginia have endorsed John Kerry. He's from New England. You and Senator John Edwards are from the South.

Why do you think that John Kerry is doing as well, at least in the run-up to Virginia and Tennessee, as he seems to be doing?

CLARK: Well, I think John Kerry's a good man. You know, he's established, he's been in the Senate for a long time. And I'm an underdog in this race, and I always have been. I got in late, and I hadn't had previous elected experience.

But what we did show, Wolf, is that people like the issues I'm talking about. We won the non-New England New Hampshire primary, finishing third there. We won Oklahoma. We finished second in Arizona and New Mexico and North Dakota. We think we've got strong support across the country.

BLITZER: John Kerry clearly the front-runner in the latest CNN- Time magazine poll. He and Bush would seem to have -- at least if the vote were right now among likely voters -- 50 to 48 percent in favor of Bush.

When it comes to you, though, in this CNN-Time Magazine poll, 55 percent for Bush, 41 percent for Clark, at least right now. What do you make of that? CLARK: It's just a function of publicity. You know, these polls go up and down. And when I first entered the race they looked different, because I was on the cover of Newsweek. It's a function of publicity.

The race hasn't started. And the issues are important, Wolf. And this race is going to be about two principal issues: First of all, it is going to judge the president on his foreign policy. And second, it's going to look at the state of working families in this economy.

Mr. Bush has not been good to working families. We've got record-high job losses. America's greatest export under George W. Bush has been the export of American jobs. And we need plans to bring this through. I've got those plans. I've got plans to put America back to work with a $100 billion job program. I've taught economics, I've been in business. I know how to create jobs, and I will.

And we've got a plan to have the first significant working families tax cut in 30 years. If you're a family with children making under $100,000 a year, you're going to get a tax cut averaging about $1,500. And if you're making less than $50,000 a year with kids, you're not going to pay federal income tax again.

And we're going to pay for this, so that it is not raising the deficit one dime, by asking the wealthiest Americans, those who can afford to, to sacrifice to help our 31 million working families in this country.

BLITZER: That sounds pretty much what John Kerry and John Edwards are proposing, as far as raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, those making over $200,000 a year, but cutting taxes on the middle class.

Is there any difference, significant difference, between you and your Democratic rivals?

CLARK: Yes, there's a very big difference.

First of all, my tax cuts will actually help 31 million families substantially. $1,500 a year, more than $100 a month. I lived that way in the United States Army making under $100,000 my whole career, and I know how much that money means to working families. Their tax cuts are marginal, and they only affect a few families. Mine is an across-the-board, working-families-with-children tax cut, helping 31 million families. No one else has anything like it.

And secondly, I'm not only asking people over $200,000 to give back the Bush tax cut. I'm asking those who are earning more than $1 million a year to pay 5 percentage points higher so that we can give this assistance to working families.

Wolf, if we don't help the working families substantially in this country, we cannot raise the aggregate level of economic activity. It's not only right to help them, it's good economic sense to help them. What's happened over 30 years in this country is that the top 10 percent have gotten very wealthy. The bottom 90 percent of us have not gotten any better off, despite the fact that America's national income has more than doubled in the course of a generation.

We've got to give back to working families so that they can raise the level of economic activity across the board in this country.

BLITZER: Let me throw out one more poll number for you, and then we'll move on and talk about Iraq and other issues.

The CNN-Time magazine poll out this weekend. Among registered Democrats nationally -- not in one state, but across the country -- they support John Kerry with 43 percent; Edwards, 18; Clark at 11; Howard Dean, only 6 percent. That's a huge drop for him from 22 percent only in January.

Nationally, why is John Kerry resonating with registered Democrats, and you and the others not so much?

CLARK: I think there's a lot to the idea of momentum. But I will tell you this, Wolf, I'm the only person in this race, I think, who's going to draw substantial numbers of independents and Republicans into this party.

You know, I'm a new arrival in the Democratic Party. I've never been in politics before. And when I go across the country, at every one of my rallies, there are dozens of Republicans who come up and say, "I'm going to vote for you."

And it depends on whether it's an open primary or a closed primary. Oklahoma was a closed primary. A lot of Republicans who wanted to vote for me couldn't. And we'll see in Tennessee.

But in a general election, I'm going to draw the middle and the Republicans over, because the values I have are the values that all Americans have: patriotism, faith, family, inclusive leadership, affirmative action. We're pulling the country together. And those are the values that will enable the Democratic Party to regain the presidency.

BLITZER: Let's talk about President Bush's interview on "Meet the Press" earlier today. Among other things, he gave a strong vote of confidence for the CIA director, George Tenet, saying, "I strongly believe the CIA is ably led by George Tenet." Do you agree?

CLARK: Well, I like George Tenet. I worked with him when I was in uniform. I think he's a very, very good man.

I'm in no position to comment on the performance of the CIA, because I'm not seeing the intelligence right now. But I have no reason to believe there's anything wrong with George Tenet. I think he's a great guy.

BLITZER: Well, on the intelligence, though, there's a -- David Kay's suggesting that the intelligence community simply got it wrong, that there was no significant stockpiling of chemical or biological weapons in Iraq.

He doesn't blame the Bush administration; he blames the career professionals. Isn't George Tenet responsible for that National Intelligence Estimate, which apparently got it wrong?

CLARK: Well, all of the intelligence that I had previously seen on Iraq when I was in uniform, Wolf, it was inferred that there might be some residual chemical weapons and possibly some biological weapons programs. I never saw the kind of hard intelligence that Vice President Dick Cheney was talking about last fall to justify the war in Iraq, and I never saw the kind of certainty that the administration implied in taking us to war.

And even when George Tenet presented his positions yesterday, or two days ago, in front of the national audience there, they were nuanced. They were not black-and-white positions. They were not of an imminent threat.

And to me, the problem is less about the intelligence community and more about how the president made his decision to take us into war in Iraq. We still don't know why we went to war in Iraq.

We still don't know why we went to war in Iraq. And this, to me, is the greatest concern, and it's something that all Americans should really focus on and be concerned about.

BLITZER: But in that National Intelligence Estimate, which is the product of the entire intelligence community, that was released publicly before the war, there was a specific statement in there -- and I'm paraphrasing -- that the intelligence community had high confidence. The words "high confidence" I think are a direct quote, that there were significant stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons.

That sounds like a pretty hard and fast conclusion that appears to be, at least at this point, wrong.

CLARK: We may well be wrong. And I was told personally by Secretary Rumsfeld that he knew where 30 percent of the chemical weapons and other WMD were in Iraq. And there may have been errors in intelligence. And I'm not saying we can't do better with intelligence.

But Wolf, one of the virtues of being experienced in the national security business, as I am, is that I know a thing or two about how to read intelligence reports. And I would always be very wary of acting on the kind of inferential intelligence that the United States tends to collect. It has to be taken with a grain of salt. I learned that throughout my military career, and this is no different.

What we have here is an administration that wanted to find a pretext to go to war with Iraq. And that's the heart of the issue.

BLITZER: Here's another excerpt from the "Meet the Press" interview that the president gave earlier today. Bottom line, despite whether the intelligence was right or wrong, the president says, "Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I'm not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman. He's a dangerous man. He had the ability to make weapons, at the very minimum."

Bottom line right now, the world, including the United States, are they better off with Saddam Hussein gone?

CLARK: Well, first of all, if all else was equal, the answer is yes. But all else isn't equal. Al Qaeda is out there. The armed forces of the United States are way overextended. We cannot sustain the commitment we're carrying right now in Iraq indefinitely.

We've not done our job to cut off the sources of terror, the financing, the invective, the madrassas in Pakistan and coming out of Saudi Arabia, and what's happening around the world. Instead, we've bought into a strategic distraction in Iraq.

And, Wolf, the second point is, Saddam Hussein may well have been a bad guy. But since when does the United States go to war with people because we don't like them? There's any number of bad people around the world. Why did the president choose this particular man to go to war with?

We've never done this before, that I know of, in American history. We picked the guy out, we made him a villain. We had him contained. We went to war with Iraq, despite the fact there was no imminent threat to the United States, no connection to 9/11. The diplomatic options were not exhausted. We didn't have a plan as to what to do when we got to Baghdad. We didn't have the forces to do it with.

It looks to me like reckless and poor leadership, and that's what I call it.

BLITZER: Well, then, that raises a painful question for me to ask you, a retired four-star general. Did those more than 500 U.S. troops who have died in Iraq so far, did they die in vain?

CLARK: I love the men and women in the armed forces, and I support them. And I know they were over there doing the very best they could do. Their mission is to obey the orders of the commander in chief. And we're going to make that mission a success.

I would not have ordered them to go into Iraq at that point if I had been the president of the United States. And that question you've asked me is the ultimate question that George W. Bush is refusing to answer.

Wolf, we've got a president who has taken this country to war. He took it to war without an adequate, compelling reason to do so. And you can talk to all the veterans who have fought in wars -- and I've been in one war and three peacekeeping missions -- and you don't go to war unless there's no other alternative.

Now we're there. It's not only 500 dead. It's 3,000 wounded, $180 billion, no end in sight, the armed forces overstretched, and we're committed. There's something wrong with this, and the American people should look at this. This president should be held accountable for misleading the American people.

And that is going to be one of the issues in this election campaign.

BLITZER: It sounds to me like you believe they did die in vain.

CLARK: I don't believe they died in vain. I believe they died doing their heroic duty for the United States of America. They did everything we asked them to do.

I believe that the president of the United States told them and ordered them to do the wrong thing. And he should be held accountable.

BLITZER: The president, as you know, under pressure, ordered the establishment of the commission to look into pre-war intelligence on Iraq on weapons of mass destruction.

Critics are saying that he's punting, in effect, because the results won't come out into well after the election in November. Early next year the results are supposed to come out.

The president defended that decision on the time line, saying on "Meet the Press" earlier today, "The reason why we gave a time is because we didn't want it to be hurried. This is a strategic look, kind of a big-picture look about the intelligence-gathering capacities of the United States of America."

Is it a good idea to let these commissioners take their time to study what went wrong?

CLARK: No, it's not a good idea. And if the intelligence is so bad that we went to war by mistake, then the intelligence is so bad that it needs to be fixed on an urgent basis. I would say 90 days is an appropriate period of time if you've got a major flaw that you're looking at in the intelligence community.

What we've got here is a president who simply doesn't want to be held accountable. This is an administration that's quick to take credit. They're very slow to take responsibility, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: When we come back, more of my interview with the Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark, looking south for a boost to his campaign.

Then, is the Bush administration pursuing a failed foreign policy in Iraq and beyond? The former U.S. national security adviser, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, offers perspective.

More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We return now to my interview with Wesley Clark.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: In The Washington Post, as you know, yesterday, a long article about an interview you gave a U.S. military historian after the operation in Kosovo. Among other things, the story says this: "There were those in the White House quoting you who said, 'Hey, look, you've got to finish the bombing before the fourth of July weekend. That's the start of the next presidential campaign season, so stop it. You don't have to win this thing. Let it lie.'"

You were then the supreme allied commander, the NATO commander waging the war in Kosovo. The vice president, Al Gore, was just beginning his campaign for election. And the charge that you make there is a very serious charge. For politics, they wanted you to cut short the war and not get the job done.

I wonder if you'd want to elaborate on what you told that historian?

CLARK: Wolf, no one ever wanted me to cut that war short and not get the job done. There was never any pressure from the White House to do anything but succeed in this mission.

That was simply a number of -- I called a historian and gave him a lot of stray thoughts that I wanted to remember. I worked through all those thoughts. I checked out every one of them. There was never anything to it. If there had been anything to it, it would have been in my book, "Waging Modern War," which is the most revealing inside account probably ever written of high-level command by the person who's done it.

So, look, President Clinton and Sandy Berger, who was the national security adviser, wanted nothing but success. They were determined to have that success. I knew it from them directly, and I knew it indirectly through the Brits. There was never any pressure to do anything but succeed in this war.

And what that reporter has said is simply not true. He's just taken some doodlings and notes he's found on my files that I had already looked at and discarded. So there's no truth to this at all.

The president of the United States did an admirable job in leading the Kosovo campaign to success and saving 1.5 million people. And history should reflect that and give him rightful credit for it. He did it.

BLITZER: Can you say the same thing about the defense secretary, William Cohen, at the time, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Hugh Shelton, both of whom have been critical of you?

CLARK: There were policy disagreements, and there were disagreements on tactics and strategy. But I never felt that either Secretary Cohen or General Shelton didn't want to succeed in Kosovo. They all wanted to succeed in Kosovo. That was the mission. BLITZER: Let me move on and let you clarify something you said earlier in the week on the very sensitive issue of abortion rights for women in the United States. Listen to what you said on Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARK: Well, I'm against abortion. But there is a law in the land that comes from the Supreme Court. And that law is -- it's called Roe v. Wade, and I support the Supreme Court. I have to support the law. But I think that abortion should be, well, legal, safe and rare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Those are lines that President Clinton used to say all the time. But when you say you're against abortion, many women who support -- and men, for that matter -- who support a woman's right to have an abortion could get confused by your statement.

CLARK: I don't think there's anything confusing about it. A woman has a right to privacy. And when she has to make a decision on this, she has to consult with her family, her faith, her doctor. These are private matters. They're never going to be taken lightly.

And the question I was asked is sort of the question, do you like it? I mean, that's the way it came across, are you a big fan of it? And I've never talked to anybody who is.

I support a woman's right to choose. But I think the kind of decision that's involved in this is a very difficult decision that has consequences. And it's a woman's decision. That's what I'm saying.

BLITZER: Another sensitive issue, President Bush and his service when he was in the Texas Air National Guard. In the latest CNN-Time magazine poll, the question is asked of whether people believe the charges that the president was AWOL during the Vietnam War. Definitely true, 10 percent; probably true, 26 percent; probably false, 35 percent; definitely false, 13 percent.

What do you believe?

CLARK: I have no idea, Wolf. I've never looked at it. And frankly, it's not relevant.

What's relevant is how the president has done his job as commander in chief. I think he took us to a war we didn't have to fight. I think before that, he didn't do everything he could have done to keep us safe from al Qaeda.

I think the events of 9/11, more could have been done to have prevented those events. And I think that afterwards, we should have gone after Osama bin Laden and stayed on Osama bin Laden until we got him. And then we should have worked and used all of the options to go against terrorism elsewhere in the world: diplomatic, legal, international law enforcement and so forth, and military only as a last resort. This administration's pursued a flawed strategy that took us into Iraq, bogged down the United States forces, without needing to do so.

BLITZER: One final question, General. This past week, the former Vermont governor, Howard Dean, the one-time front-runner, surprised a lot of us by saying he would be open to accepting the vice-presidential running-mate slot on a Democratic ticket, saying that he'd do whatever he could if the party asked him to do it if they thought it would help take down President Bush from the White House.

The question is to you the same thing. Would you do whatever the Democratic Party asked you to do if they thought it would help beat President Bush in November, including accepting the vice-presidential running-mate slot?

CLARK: Well, I'm running to be president of the United States. And it's my objective to do everything I can do to change the administration in Washington. I think it's important for the future of this country to do that. But I don't have any intention of being the vice president.

I'm going to try to help the party in every way I can. And the best way I can help the party is by being the candidate, because I'm the one candidate in this race that can not only pull the Democratic Party together, but can bring over a lot of Independents and moderate Republicans who want a change in Washington.

BLITZER: But if you're not the candidate and John Kerry is, let's say, and he says, you know, we need a four-star general from the South to help balance this ticket, a New England, a Massachusetts senator, and they came to you and they said, "For the good of the country, for the good of the party, help us try to beat President Bush," would you then consider that?

CLARK: Well, Wolf, I'm running to be president of the United States, and that's the only thing I'm considering.

BLITZER: General Clark, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to you.

CLARK: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Up next, the former national security adviser, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski. He has a unique perspective.

Also, we'll get a quick check of the hour's top stories, including an update on a U.N. team's trip to Iraq.

And later, the inside scoop on the Reagan presidency. The former president's White House aide, Michael Deaver, goes on the record and talks about his new book about Nancy Reagan.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

The failure so far to find Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction has reignited criticism of President Bush's doctrine of preemptive war and his overall international policy.

Joining us now here in Washington, the former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. He served in the Carter administration. He's the author of a new book, "The Choice: Global Domination and Global Leadership."

Dr. Brzezinski, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Give us your perspective: If there was a huge intelligence blunder -- no stockpiles found yet, almost 11 months after the start of the war in Iraq, stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction -- how big of an intelligence blunder is this?

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think it's enormous. It's the Enron equivalent in private business. We went to war because of intelligence that allegedly we had. So a lot of Americans have died, a lot of Iraqis have died.

We have jeopardized our relations with our closest allies. We have intensified the hostility toward us in a large part of the world, particularly in the Islamic world. These are huge consequences.

Last but not least, they give the world the sense the United States is blind and that its strategy of preemption is preemption on suspicion, that we lash out only when we -- even only when we suspect.

BLITZER: There is an upside to this, and it was reflected in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on Friday: "With the fall of the Taliban and Saddam, the world's dictators have learned that protecting terrorists or pursuing WMD can interfere with lifetime tenure. So they are deciding to turn state's evidence against themselves and others. Or to put it in terms even Washington may understand, the Bush strategy is working."

BRZEZINSKI: I think the invasion of Taliban of Afghanistan was fully justified because Osama bin Laden was operating from there. The Iraq case really has very little to do with al Qaeda or terrorism.

If we're concerned about WMDs, then what about North Korea? Is there any evidence that what we did in Iraq has really had any impact on North Korea?

BLITZER: What the Bush administration says, it's clearly had an impact on Gadhafi and Libya and their decision to come clean.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, in fact, the negotiations with Gadhafi started months and months and months ago. So this is a combination of a long process. I'm sure that, to Gadhafi, what happened in Iraq was of some concern, obviously, but the question arises: Is this worth the price? American credibility in the world today is close to nil. And it is quite evident to all, especially after Tenet's speech, that we know very little about what is going on in these kind of marginally important countries that perhaps may be seeking weapons of mass destruction.

BLITZER: The New York Times editorially wrote this on Friday: "No doubt there will be plenty of blame to go around when all the investigations are completed. But it's hard to imagine that anyone's bottom line would be a continued administration of the nation's intelligence agencies by George Tenet."

Should George Tenet go?

BRZEZINSKI: You know, I think, without pointing fingers at individuals, which I really hate to do, there has to be some sort of a shake-up. After all, Iraq has been within our sights, so to speak, since 1991. We've been preoccupied with it. Why didn't we have better intelligence?

The head of the CIA said in his speech the other day, we gave the right analysis on the basis of information we had. And then he goes on to say, in effect, we were wrong about chemical weapons, we were wrong about biological weapons, we were wrong about nuclear weapons. We haven't found any of them. And we really didn't have good human intelligence.

BLITZER: He also said there was no imminent threat, that the CIA concluded coming from Iraq.

But listen to what President Bush said in October of 2002, long before the war, which gave a different impression. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun, that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now raising the specter of a mushroom cloud, a nuclear bomb, obviously suggests that there is an imminent threat coming from Iraq.

BRZEZINKSI: Well, that clearly was the intent of that statement.

This is where political responsibility arises. Was the country properly informed, or was the country being hyped on this issue? That, I think, is a very serious issue pertaining to the nature of our democracy.

And there is an external issue of our credibility outside...

BLITZER: Well, let me just interrupt for a second, because David Kay, who spent nine months on the ground in Iraq, searching for WMD, he went over there convinced there was WMD, he came back and he testified before the Congress the other day, and he concluded with this statement. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID KAY, FORMER CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Many governments that chose not to support this war, certainly the French, President Chirac, as I recall, in April of last year, referred to Iraq's possession of WMD. The Germans -- certainly the intelligence service believed that there were WMD.

It turns out we were all wrong, probably, in my judgment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So his point is, everybody got it wrong.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, you know, everybody. First of all, most of the world doesn't have intelligence services of any significance. Most of the world thought there were WMDs. Why? Because the United States said so. Because the president of the United States said so. Our credibility was high. That was the main reason most of them said.

Now, perhaps some other intelligence services also thought there might be weapons of mass destruction, but their governments were skeptical. They were in no rush to go to war. They were saying, "Let's find out more." And Blix and his inspectors were working. They had no limits to their access. They were working already for several months.

There was no rush to war, except from Washington. And the issue arises, why?

BLITZER: And the bottom line, as far as you're concerned, what must be done now?

BRZEZINSKI: I think we need really a significant shake-up, and a change in the processes and operations of the agency. You can't do it with the people who have been running it for the last several years, because they're too wedded and they're too committed to the idea that they have done very well, when it's evident to everyone that we were not well-served by the information we had.

BLITZER: Dr. Brzezinski's new book is entitled, "The Choice: Global Domination and Global Leadership." Thanks for joining us.

Up next, an up-close and personal account about a former first lady. We'll talk with former Reagan adviser Michael Deaver about his new book on Nancy Reagan.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

One of America's most popular presidents, Ronald Reagan, turned 93 years old this past week.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're joined now by his former deputy chief of staff in the White House, Michael Deaver, a longtime aide. He's written a new book about the former first lady. It's entitled "Nancy: A Portrait of My Years with Nancy Reagan."

Michael Deaver, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

MICHAEL DEAVER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Nancy Reagan in a moment, but first, politics, a subject close to your heart.

In this new CNN-Time magazine poll, and we know it's early, likely voters' choice for president: Bush, 50 percent; Kerry, 48 percent.

This country is still pretty evenly divided, as it was in 2000.

DEAVER: I think you're right. I think it's going to be close.

BLITZER: How much of a challenge would John Kerry, let's say, be to getting George Bush back for a second term?

DEAVER: Oh, I think, as I said before, I think it's going to be close. And I think Kerry's gotten a lot of confidence. And you can see it in his appearances.

But, you know, he's really had a pretty soft month too. I mean, there really hasn't been a lot of negative on him, as there has been on the president. So this will all even out.

BLITZER: You think once this thing gets going, if, in fact, with Kerry as the Democratic nominee, it could get ugly?

DEAVER: Well, it's going to get very partisan, that's for sure. Whether that gets ugly or not, I don't know. But I do think it's going to be a close race.

BLITZER: All right. The president -- the former president Ronald Reagan turned 93 years old. The lovely ceremony that we all saw. He has Alzheimer's, suffering for several years now.

You're still in very close touch with the family. How's he doing?

DEAVER: Well, I mean, he's 93 years old, and he's suffering from Alzheimer's. And it's not a disease you get better from. You get worse.

So he's pretty much homebound and well taken care of. Nancy had a nice little birthday cake for him on his birthday. But we won't see much of him. BLITZER: Let's talk about Nancy Reagan. How's she doing?

DEAVER: I think, given everything, she's doing very well. She's a very strong lady. And it's one of the reasons I wanted to write this book was to tell the story about her that most people don't know, and particularly about the last 10 years.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the book, "Nancy." Among other things, you write this: "Nancy's style can frighten people. She doesn't like to waste people's time, yours or hers, and she's quick to the point and direct in her feelings. People aren't used to that in most enterprises, but especially in politics, where everyone is so wary of giving offense."

DEAVER: Sure, I mean...

BLITZER: Elaborate a little.

DEAVER: ... in politics, everybody sort of pussyfoots around the issues. Everybody's careful in politics.

Nancy is direct. She's right up front. And that's very off- putting to a lot of people and, I think, the reason -- one of the reasons why her image suffered.

BLITZER: There was another reason her image suffered (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the White House didn't like her.

DEAVER: Well, when Nancy came into politics in the late '60s and '70s, it was the beginning of sort of the women's and feminist movement. And for somebody who was simply a wife and a mother, who adored her husband, who said that was her priority, that was not something that a lot of young women reporters respected in those days.

BLITZER: And in the book, you mention names.

DEAVER: I do.

BLITZER: And do you want to mention some of those names...

DEAVER: Not really.

BLITZER: ... of women reporters you thought were unfair to Nancy Reagan?

DEAVER: Well, I'm not going to get into that here. But, you know, I think -- the problem with it is that those reporters early on became sort of the model for everybody else to write for years and years. Those were the file stories that everybody went to, and nobody ever took a second look.

BLITZER: The other quote that I like from the book is this: "As history unfolds, more people will come to fully understand Nancy's role in protecting, guiding and inspiring her husband," which I'm sure is true. Clarify for us, once and for all, the whole business about the horoscopes and that whole issue, which of course came up, was in that movie that CBS took off the air, sent off to the cable network.

Give us your sense, because I know you write about that.

DEAVER: Well, this was two or three weeks after the assassination attempt, and she called me and said that she had talked to somebody who had...

BLITZER: A psychic.

DEAVER: An astrologist who said that she could've predicted this incident. And Nancy said, my gosh, you know, if I'd known that -- and so, I was the only one in the White House that knew this. My feeling was that if this gave her comfort at a time when she was scared to death about the survival of her husband, what was the problem with it?

It never really changed anything in the White House, and it did give her comfort.

BLITZER: But did she say to you, hold off on making presidential decisions until she consults with psychics in the years that followed?

DEAVER: Absolutely not. No. If anything, she would say that the astrologist said that, you know, this is a bad date. But it really never changed anything.

And mostly, Ronald Reagan never knew anything about those. He knew she was talking to an astrologer, but he never knew -- he was never told not to do this or do this because of that.

BLITZER: Did you ever see that movie that CBS pushed off and didn't air?

DEAVER: Yes.

BLITZER: Was it as bad as you thought it was after you actually saw it?

DEAVER: Worse.

BLITZER: Worse?

DEAVER: Worse.

BLITZER: What did you hate the most about it?

DEAVER: Just the general impression of trying to change the truth about these two people. You know, if you disagree with somebody, that's fine. But don't use what you would claim to be biographical material which is false.

BLITZER: I saw the movie, and I covered the Reagan White House during those years as well, and it certainly gave the impression that he was a puppet and everybody else was making decisions for him, and he really didn't do anything.

DEAVER: Well, Wolf, you know that's not true, and I know that's not true. So it was a mean television.

BLITZER: What do you want most for people to learn from this new book that you've written about Nancy Reagan?

DEAVER: I think that there is a different side to Nancy Reagan that most of them don't know, somebody who cared about people, somebody who, I think, was probably as responsible for her husband being successful as anybody in the world. He wouldn't have made it. He wouldn't have been governor or president or do all the things he was able to do without her.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "Nancy: A Portrait of My Years with Nancy Reagan." Congratulations.

DEAVER: Thanks.

BLITZER: Up next, the results are in on our Web question of the week: Did the CIA provide adequate pre-war intelligence on Iraq? We'll have the tally when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We've been asking you this question in our Web question of the week: Did the CIA provide adequate pre-war intelligence on Iraq?

The vote, look at this: Very close. 51 percent of you say yes, 49 percent say no. We remind you, though, this is not a scientific poll.

Let's take a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States.

Time magazine asks: Believe him or not? Does President Bush have a credibility gap?

U.S. News and World Report features John Kerry: Can he go the distance?

And Newsweek investigates the storm over Mel Gibson's new movie: Who really killed Jesus?

And that's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, February 8th.

Please tune in to CNN's special coverage of the Democratic presidential primaries on Tuesday. I'll be reporting the results at 7 p.m. Eastern, beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern. We'll be on throughout the night.

And please join me next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm here Monday through Friday at noon and 5 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching, enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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




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