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Kerry's Mission: A Battlefield Report; Interview With Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison; Interview With Governor Dirk Kempthorne

Aired February 13, 2004 - 15:30   ET


WESLEY CLARK (D), FRM. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sir, request permission to come aboard. The Army's here.

ANNOUNCER: Wesley Clark officially joins John Kerry's brigade. But will the general's support really help the Democrat's mission?

A matter of trust. Are more Americans having doubts about President Bush in an area that helped him get elected?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: We need still more international support. I'm hoping that the United Nations comes up with a plan for elections and a transition to a government that will be viewed as legitimate.

ANNOUNCER: Senators Clinton and Hutchison team up to share their concerns about post-war Iraq and Afghanistan.



JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

When Wesley Clark joined forces today with John Kerry in Wisconsin, the former rivals talked a lot about defeating President Bush and said virtually nothing about Kerry's remaining Democratic opponents. A new poll out today from Wisconsin underscores why. It shows Kerry with an even wider lead in that February 17 primary state. He is 37 points ahead of his nearest rival, John Edwards.

CNN's Kelly Wallace has more from Wisconsin on Kerry, the Democrats, and their battle against President Bush.


KELLY WALLACE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: An aide to Wesley Clark said he decided to endorse John Kerry because he believes the Senator from Massachusetts has the national security credentials to defeat President Bush in November. It was a photo op here in Wisconsin that had to make the Kerry campaign smile. A retired four- star general backing a decorated Vietnam veteran and putting the Republicans on notice. CLARK: John Kerry has been the kind of leader America needs. He'll stand up to the Republican attack dogs and send them home licking their wounds.

NARRATOR: More special interest money than any other Senator?

WALLACE: Things are already getting nasty. The Bush reelection team e-mailed this ad over the Internet last night to six million supporters, accusing John Kerry of expecting special interest money. Bush campaign aides say they are simply responding to Kerry's attacks on President Bush. Today, the front-runner fired back.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I noticed the first advertisement they're running is a negative one. No surprise, because they can't talk to you about the people they've put to work and the jobs they've created.

WOODRUFF: Kerry's campaign advisers say the message they are trying to send is that if the Republicans will attack the Democrats, the Democrats say they will fight back hard.

As for John Kerry's rivals here in Wisconsin, Howard Dean and John Edwards, John Edwards is playing down the Clark endorsement, saying this primary season has shown that endorsements don't matter all that much. As for Howard Dean, he was asked once again what he will do if he does not win Tuesday here in Wisconsin. He says he will go back to Vermont to regroup.

Kelly Wallace, CNN reporting from Madison, Wisconsin.


WOODRUFF: And John Kerry is set to get another big endorsement. A spokesman for the AFL-CIO says the labor federation's executive council is expected to vote Thursday to support Kerry's campaign. The AFL-CIO had decided against endorsing any of the Democratic candidates earlier in the primary season.

Kerry also today publicly denied rumors on conservative outlets on the Internet and talk radio about an alleged relationship with a young woman. Don Imus asked Kerry about those rumors on his national radio show which is simulcast on MSNBC.

Here now, Kerry's response.


KERRY: Well, there's nothing to report, so there's nothing to talk about. I'm not worried about it, no. The answer is no.


WOODRUFF: A television reporter asked Wesley Clark about the Kerry rumors today shortly after Clark's endorsement of his former rival. Clark said that he knows of, "absolutely nothing past or present" that could derail Kerry's campaign. And now a special Valentine's Day preview edition of our "Campaign News Daily."

Will front-runner John Kerry get valentines from Nevada and Washington, D.C.? We'll find out tomorrow when Democrats hold caucuses in the Silver State, and here in the nation's capital.

Kerry now is headed to Las Vegas hoping to continue his primary season winning streak. Twenty-four delegates will be at stake tomorrow in Nevada, a contest open only to registered Democrats.

Here in the District of Columbia, 16 delegates are on the line in tomorrow's caucuses. As you may remember, there was Democratic voting in Washington, D.C. one month ago, and Howard Dean came out on top. But that contest was non-binding. It had no bearing on delegates, and it was before Kerry's first victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Now we turn to the president's reelection campaign and efforts to answer questions about whether he fulfilled his military obligations. The Associated Press today quoting a retired Alabama Air National Guard officer as saying he remembers Mr. Bush showing up for duty in Montgomery in 1972, the period in question. The AP says that it was supplied the retired officer's name by a Republican who is close to the president.

This comes at a time when more Americans appear to be questioning Mr. Bush's truthfulness. Let's check in now with our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's not been much change in the president's job approval rating. Fifty-one percent now say they approve of the way President Bush is handling his job according to the Gallup Poll.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll reports a 50 percent figure. Now, that's down about 10 points since the beginning of the year, to the point where, at about 50 percent, it throws his reelection in doubt.

WOODRUFF: So, Bill, what is behind the decline here?

SCHNEIDER: Something particularly worrying for the president, a decline in his credibility. According to "The Post-ABC poll, the percentage of Americans who describe President Bush as honest and trustworthy is down to a bare majority, 52 percent. That's down seven points since late October.

Bush's image of strong character is what got him elected. That image has been damaged by the continuing controversy over Iraq. Most Americans now believe the Bush administration intentionally exaggerated the evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in order to make the case for war.

Moreover, the commission the president appointed to investigate the intelligence failure might have the wrong mandate. Most Americans say the problem is not the accuracy of the intelligence, they say the problem is the way the Bush administration used that intelligence.

WOODRUFF: So, Bill, where do you think all these leaves the president at this stage of the campaign?

SCHNEIDER: Well, President Bush had a huge supply of political capital after 9/11. Unlike his father after the Gulf War, this President Bush used his capital. He used it to go to war in Iraq. These polls suggest his political capital has all been spent on Iraq. It's gone.

WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

Speaking of Iraq, a view from inside that country is just ahead on INSIDE POLITICS. I'll talk to a governor who just got a firsthand look at progress and setbacks in post-war Iraq.

Also ahead, does Hillary Clinton agree with her husband about the state of the Democratic presidential race?

And later, gay couples rush to tie the knot in San Francisco. And opponents rush to court. We'll have the latest on what's happening on the politics (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


WOODRUFF: With so much attention being focused on the continued violence in Iraq, it is easy to forget about Afghanistan, that other country where U.S. troops fought a war to dispose of brutal regime. Last week, an award-winning movie opened in this country about the infamous rule of the Taliban and their oppressive policies toward Afghan women. "Osama" is the story of a girl in Kabul who passes herself off as a boy in order to work.

Last night, I sat down and talked about this with senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Kay Bailey Hutchison. And I started by asking Senator Clinton why she thinks it is so important for "Osama" to reach as wide an audience as possible.


CLINTON: This is a tremendous movie. I'm looking forward to seeing it. I've heard so much about it. Because it tells the story in very down-to-earth terms about what women and girls went through under the Taliban regime.

And it's something that is hard for American girls and women to really understand, that you would be so discriminated against and treated so badly, you couldn't even go out and help support your family unless you disguised yourself as a boy. And I think it's a good reminder that, you know, when we destroyed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, we created freedom and opportunity for countless young women.

WOODRUFF: Senator Hutchison, you've been to Afghanistan, as has Senator Clinton. Is this movie -- and I realize both of you are planning to see the movie -- but is this -- is this movie telling a story that reflects the real-world experience of young women in Afghanistan?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: Oh, yes. And we heard so many stories that were look this, where a little boy would die because the mother couldn't take him to the doctor because she was unescorted. So it does tell a story.

The wonderful thing is that this movie has been made in Afghanistan, and that it's now winning Golden Globe awards. And so that is the great news. But it also is the reminder that we must see this through, that the Taliban left a scar on that country, and we are trying to heal it.

WOODRUFF: I do want to ask you all about the broader situation in Iraq, as well. Afghanistan, some progress being made. Still a long way to go. In Iraq, here we are, it's February, the turnover, the U.S. to cede control just four months from now in June.

Senator Hutchison, how confident are you, given the bloodshed we're still seeing there, practically on a daily basis, that Iraq is a country that's going to be able to come together peacefully and to be stable just in a few months?

HUTCHISON: Well, we are all troubled every time we see one of these horrendous bombings or a mine set. But I do think we are making progress. It is much slower than we had hoped it would be, but the people of Iraq are hoping to be able to put together a government.

But it doesn't mean we're going to leave them in the lurch. It doesn't mean that we're going to not provide that security. We must stay there to do that, and I think we are planning to do that. But it is -- it's going to be difficult, there is no question about it. And when you see how unsettled it is, you look at that June 30 date and you think, what more can we do?

WOODRUFF: Senator Clinton, how much do you worry about that?

CLINTON: I worry about it a lot. And I think that we've got to come up with a plan that is not just a transition to sovereignty for Iraq, but which tries, before that even happens, to put into place some of the guarantees about what any new government will look like, and how the rights of people, particularly women, will be protected. I was very disturbed to learn that the Governing Council had adopted a law that they intended to turn all matters of family life, which includes women's rights, over to religious courts.

WOODRUFF: I want to ask you another question about Iraq, Senator Hutchison. And that is, with the new information coming out from David Kay, the chief weapons inspector, that there really is no hard information that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war. You voted with the president, as did Senator Clinton. If you had known then what you know now, would you have cast your vote the same way?

HUTCHISON: Well, I am disappointed, there is no question about it. I am very concerned about the doctrine of preemption. And I am concerned when we don't have good intelligence information. I think the president is doing exactly the right thing in now appointing a commission that has Democrats and Republicans to look into this intelligence. How could we have failed? If, in fact, there aren't weapons of mass destruction, how could our intelligence have been so uniform in saying, yes, they had them?

Now, you bet (ph) evidence was there. The fact that Saddam Hussein was helping to pay people who were doing suicide bombings, and in the Palestinian Authority, did make him a threat. But we have to make sure that we -- if we're going to go forward in this way, that we do have good intelligence so that we don't make a mistake.

WOODRUFF: Senator Clinton, the same question. Would you have cast your vote the same?

CLINTON: You know, Judy, I regret the way that the authority that I voted for was used. Based on what was made available to us publicly, in classified briefings, I certainly had every reason to believe that there were weapons of mass destruction. And that given Saddam Hussein's track record of what I would consider aggressive, belligerent irrational behavior, you could never discount him as a threat.

But I do wish that the president had permitted the U.N. inspections to continue longer than he did, because maybe we would have found that out. And maybe then we would have adopted a different strategy.

Now we've got a responsibility no matter how we got there, and we have to see it through. And we have to do the best job we can. We need still more international support. I'm hoping that the United Nations comes up with a plan for elections and a transition to a government that will be viewed as legitimate.

WOODRUFF: All right. Two very quick last questions to both of you back in this country about the presidential campaign. On the Democratic side, we're moving very quickly toward a nominee. It looks, perhaps, on the side of the president, Senator Hutchison, a flurry of questions this week and last week about the president's service in the National Guard. The White House putting out all of these documents.

Is this relevant? Is this a story that we're going to have answers to? Because some are saying, with all these documents, there's still unanswered questions about the president's service.

HUTCHISON: I don't think the people of America are going to make the choice for president of the United States based on something like that. I think they are going to determine their vote based on his leadership in this war on terrorism, how he has handled the aftermath of 9/11, and the economy.

WOODRUFF: All right. And last question for you. Do you -- with regard to John Kerry, Senator Clinton, are you with those who say we need to get -- Democrats need to wrap this up and come together, supporting Senator Kerry? Or what about what your husband said, who said it's a good idea for John Edwards to stay in the race because I think he said you never know what happens toward the end?

CLINTON: I'm not going to have any political punditry comment to add to the mix that's out there. I'm just going to wait until we have a nominee, and then I'll do everything I can to support that person.

WOODRUFF: So no...

CLINTON: I'm just going to wait. Right now, I'm concerned about Afghani and Iraqi women. And looking forward to seeing this movie.


WOODRUFF: So we still don't know whether Senator Clinton agrees with her husband that it's a good idea for John Edwards to stay in the race a little bit longer. We'll try the next time we get a chance.

Coming up next, we've been talking about Iraq. I'll talk with a governor who's just come back from Iraq, Idaho's Dirk Kempthorne on what he found there.


WOODRUFF: A senior United Nations envoy in Iraq says direct elections are feasible in Iraq later this year after the hand-over of power from the U.S. but before a next year election's plan that's been pushed by the Americans. Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi struck a middle ground between Iraqis who want earlier elections and the U.S., which wants them delayed.

Well, this development comes as President Bush was briefed today by a bipartisan group of six governors who just returned from Iraq. One who made that trip, Republican Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, joins me now.

Governor Kempthorne, what did you find, and how is it different from what you expected?

GOV. DIRK KEMPTHORNE (R), IDAHO: Judy, it's still a very tough unsettled area. The troops are absolutely proud of what they're doing. They're proud of the progress that they're making.

That coming not only from the generals, but the youngest of the soldiers. One female soldier from Idaho said, "We're just very proud of the progress." And she said, "We're also very happy that you've come personally to see this."

We met with members of the provisional government. And I asked them, "How is this going to be different than a Yugoslavia, which then turned to civil war?" And his response was first, "Although we come from different regions and different ethnic and religious backgrounds, we are first and foremost all Iraqis. We look to the United States and we see that you come from different backgrounds. We also know that if we guarantee minority rights that we can be successful."

And so they want their sovereignty, but they appreciate what the United States has done. WOODRUFF: What did you find about security -- I read that your delegation had to spend overnight in Jordan and fly back and forth. What was your sense of security?

KEMPTHORNE: Well, security was very tight. A variety of things, getting in and out of Baghdad. And, in fact, the one night when we left...

WOODRUFF: Your plane was shot on. Isn't that right?

KEMPTHORNE: Yes, it was.

WOODRUFF: And you were there during a couple of those terrible explosions in the last few days.

KEMPTHORNE: Yes. So again, it's one of those tough situations. But I think my attitude and the attitude of the other governors are you need to be willing to go where your soldiers are serving to see it firsthand. Then you can come back and you can report to the families and to your citizens about the whole picture that's taking place.

WOODRUFF: In fact, Governor, you were just telling me the story of one Idaho member of the National Guard, and about his dog tags. Tell us about that.

KEMPTHORNE: Yes. A member of the Air Guard, Major Greg Stone (ph), who was killed. And I attended his funeral.

And the chaplain pulled me aside after the service and said, "You need to know one thing. Major Stone (ph) had asked for an extra set of dog tags before he was deployed. We provided them to him, but asked him what they were for. And he said 'I'm going to take them to downtown Baghdad and I'm going to bring these back and give them to Governor Kempthorne.'"

He never was able to do that. So before I left for Iraq, I asked for a set of dog tags, identical to what he would have carried. I brought them with me to Baghdad, and I will now take them home and I'll present them to the Guard and complete the cycle that Major Stone (ph) set out to accomplish.

WOODRUFF: Did you tell me you had also showed them to President Bush today when you met with him?

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