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NEWS FROM CNN

Battle Between Clarke, White House Continues; Interview With Bill Richardson

Aired March 25, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following several important developments this hour including the all-out battle that's unfolding between Richard Clarke and the Bush administration. The charges and the countercharges, the intense media campaign. Can any conclusions be made so far? We'll break it all down for our viewers.
Also, the scene in the Middle East. Look at this. A would-be bomber, only 14-years-old, is caught before potential disaster.

And 2,000 additional United States Marines are headed to Afghanistan right now, presumably to search for this man, Osama bin Laden.

We'll get to all that, first, some other headlines. A new home for Haiti's former leader. Jean-Bertrand Aristide is currently in Jamaica and officials there say he'll soon be moving on, to South Africa. But it reportedly won't be until after April 14 when South Africa holds elections. No confirmation yet from South Africa.

One for the history books. British Prime Minister Tony Blair meeting with former foe, Libya leader Moammar Gadhafi. Libya's standing in the West has done an about-face since Colonel Gadhafi publicly renounced terrorism and vowed to get rid of his country's weapons of mass destruction.

The flame is burning and the countdown is underway to the Summer Olympic Games in the place where it all began, Athens, Greece. For the next 20 weeks, the torch will travel the globe. Forty-eight thousand five hundred miles in 27 countries. The games begin August 13, that's a Friday.

First this hour, the continuing fallout from the charges being leveled by Richard Clarke. By now the name and the face hardly need introduction. But for the record, he's the former White House official who's accusing President Bush of dropping the ball on the war on terrorism.

In sworn testimony yesterday, Clarke told the federal panel that's probing the attacks of 9/11 before 9/11 the fight against terror was important to President Bush, but was not, repeat not, a matter of urgency. That particular charge he supported last night in an appearance on "LARRY KING LIVE."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICHARD CLARKE, FRM. WHITE HOUSE COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: The president was told on a regular basis the al Qaeda threat was coming. Al Qaeda attack was coming.

And what does the president say in his own words to Bob Woodward in "Bush at War"? He says Bush acknowledged that bin Laden was not his focus or that of his national security team. "I was not on point," the president said. "I didn't feel a sense of urgency."

Well how can you not feel a sense of urgency when George Tenet is telling you in daily briefings, day after day, that a major al Qaeda attack is coming. That's my point. That's one of my points.

My other point, which I'd like to get to, that by fighting the war in Iraq, the president has actually diminished our ability to fight the war on terrorism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In conjunction with the hearings held this week, the 9/11 panel issued preliminary findings that fault the current administration as well as that of President Clinton for lapses that occurred before September 11.

Clarke served in both administrations. But his harshest comments are reserved for President Bush and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARKE: And if Condi Rice had been doing her job and holding those daily meetings they way Sandy Berger, if she had a hands-on attitude to being national security adviser when she knew there was a threat to the United States, that kind of information was shaken out in December 1999. It would have been shaken out in the summer of 2001 if she had been doing her job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Battling Clarke's charges has occupied the White House for much of this week. It's a bit of mixed message. The vice president, Dick Cheney, says Clarke was out of the loop in the fight against terrorism. Condoleezza Rice disputes that notion but she says that Clarke's strategy wasn't working. Others have said Clarke is simply trying to promote his book.

For the latest from the White House, we turn to our White House correspondent Dana Bash. What are they saying this morning over at the White House, Dana?

BASH: Well, Wolf, first of all in response to what we just heard from Richard Clarke essentially suggesting that Condoleezza Rice, perhaps if she had more meetings could have prevented the attacks from occurring.

As you can imagine that is not going over very well here this morning. One official saying that the suggestion more meetings could have stopped anything is really outrageous. Also, that is perhaps a dig at Richard Clarke as somewhat of a disgruntled bureaucrat, if you will.

Now White House officials all morning have said that as personal and perhaps ugly as this point/counterpoint is getting between the White House and their former employee, Richard Clarke, as long as they say Richard Clarke continues to take to the airways to promote his book and to make assertions to the president, they will continue to try hit back at least on the substance.

Now this morning, it was Secretary of State Colin Powell who used and appearance on Capitol Hill to try to discredit Richard Clarke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: The very first briefing I received during my transition period, some four days after President Bush announced me was from Mr. Clarke. And the other colleagues that he had and that were becoming my colleagues in the outgoing administration were involved in intelligence and terrorism.

This isn't the sign of somebody who didn't have an interest in terrorism. It was also something the president made clear we had to be interested in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, Secretary Powell, the designated administration hitter this morning, also took issue with any suggestion from Richard Clarke that there was warning of some kind, any kind of knowledge before September 11 that it was actually happening.

He said that any idea that there was a magic moment, as he put it, a magic bullet where it was possible to connect the dots is simply not right -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash at the White House. Still very sensitive explosive story unfolding. Dana, thanks very much.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry got a copy of Richard Clarke's book. Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's very interesting. I haven't finished it. Before I give you any opinions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Kerry's expected to get the endorsement of Howard Dean. We're standing by to go over to George Washington University here in Washington D.C. to cover that formal endorsement. Howard Dean endorsing his former rival, John Kerry. That's expected to take place this hour. Once former rivals, now evidently on the same page. CNN's Kelly Wallace is watching all of this unfold over at GW, at George Washington university. Sounds like there's a pretty enthusiastic crowd behind you, Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Several hundred college students very excited as they listened to the former Vermont governor, Howard Dean, who is talking right now.

Howard Dean, certainly one of the biggest critics of John Kerry during the presidential primary campaign. But what he says is that his goal has always been to defeat President Bush in November and that John Kerry is the one with the best chance to do that.

So Kerry's aides say this is incredibly important, this public endorsement from Howard Dean. A way to validate John Kerry in the eyes of Howard Dean's base of thousands, hundreds of thousands of supporters.

Something else though that Howard Dean is doing, especially as Ralph Nader seems to be doing better and better in some polls, is try to prevent his supporters from embracing a third party candidate. Saying that would not help defeat President Bush in November.

So we're expecting to hear John Kerry momentarily now. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Let's listen in briefly to hear what Howard Dean has to say.

HOWARD DEAN (D), FRM. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... balancing budgets and God knows you can't trust the Republicans with your money because not one of them have balanced the budget in 34 years.

But the real issue is this. You know I got such a kick out of seeing the president huff and puff and get all indignant over the testimony of Richard Clarke this week.

And the real issue is this: who would you rather have in charge of the defense of the United States of America? A group of people who never served a day overseas in their life or a guy who served his country honorably, has three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star on the battlefields of Vietnam?

Kerry, Kerry, Kerry, Kerry!

So my question, my question to you is this: who do you trust to bring jobs back to the United States of America and to our people? George Bush or John Kerry? Who do you trust to protect our environment? George Bush or John Kerry? Who do you trust to bring health insurance to every man, woman and child in America? George Bush or John Kerry? Who do you trust to save Social Security and to balance budgets? George Bush or John Kerry?

Well, I know who I trust. I trust John Kerry. And that's who I'm voting for. That's who I'm working for. We're sending George Bush back to Crawford, Texas.

And it is a pleasure and honor to introduce to you, the next president of the United States, John F. Kerry!

KERRY: Thanks a lot!

BLITZER: So there's the introduction, there's the welcome, there's the formal endorsement. Howard Dean making it clear he supports the senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry, as the next president of the United States. We'll continue to monitor this rally at George Washington University. Get back there if there's any other news that develops.

In the meantime, let's turn to the war on terrorism. As part of a spring offensive, the United States will soon have more Marines on the ground in Afghanistan. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us now live. She has details -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well you know, Wolf, no one at the Pentagon even officially acknowledges there's a spring offensive. But indeed some details shaping up about what we are going to see over the next few weeks.

About 2,000 additional Marines going to Afghanistan. They will unload on their ships in the Persian Gulf and then fly into Afghanistan, we are told, with their equipment, with their Harrier Jump Jets. All getting there in time to beef up the U.S. military presence for this coming spring action.

Now one of the questions on the table, of course, will be, how long will they stay? Will this just turn into another rotation, with some troops coming back? Or will this be a plus-up, if you will, in addition to the 11,000 troops already in Afghanistan, that will be there through the spring searching out remnants of the Taliban and the al Qaeda?

Every indication now is these troops will stay for a while. They will engage in missions along the border with Pakistan. Move into some of those mountain areas. Try and root out those Taliban and al Qaeda remnants -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, I just want to clarify one sensitive point as far as the rules of engagement for the U.S. military forces in Afghanistan right now, as they hunt nor Osama bin Laden, Ayman al- Zawahiri and the other al Qaeda and Taliban remnants. Is there any doubt they have the authority, the legal authority, to go out and kill them if they come upon them, because as you know, in the testimony over the past couple of days, up on Capitol Hill, the CIA operatives on the ground said it wasn't clear to them that they had the clear-cut authority to go ahead and kill, assassinate, if you will, Osama bin Laden, in earlier years.

STARR: You know, Wolf, this gets to the point that nobody really wants to talk about. Here's the dilemma: Who is holding that gun? Who is pointing it. If it member of the United States intelligence community, of the CIA, there is a ban against assassination? The CIA is not supposed to go out and assassinate people.

There is the question of legitimate self-defense, however. If it is someone that poses an immediate threat to the United States, then we are told by very senior administration officials, there is no doubt there would be authority to kill that person.

We have talked to very senior officials since that testimony yesterday. And according to people we've talked to, there is no doubt at this point, that the people who might be holding that gun, whether they are U.S. military special forces, whether they are members of the intelligence community, they feel they have all the authority that they have all the clear lines of communication to do whatever is required -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, clarifying that issue for us. Thanks, Barbara, very much.

Punch, counter punch, Richard Clarke versus the Bush administration. It's getting pretty heated here in Washington, indeed around the country. What about Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico? What's he saying about the 9/11 investigation and other sensitive issues? He's my guest. He's coming up live, when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As we heard a little bit earlier this hour, from our own Dana Bash, White House officials are portraying Richard Clarke as a disgruntled bureaucrat, and they're also saying that as long as Clarke continues to take to the airwaves, they'll hit right back. Clarke, of course, is the former White House counterterrorism adviser, and he's accusing the president of doing a terrible job on the war on terrorism.

Joining us now, the New Mexico governor, the Democrat Bill Richardson. He served as the U.N. ambassador under President Clinton, also the energy secretary, a special overseas envoy, former member of the House of Representatives.

Pretty impressive background you have, governor, which suggests that you may eventually be vice president of the United States, maybe president, but we'll talk about that later.

Let's talk about Richard Clarke first of all. Very serious allegations he's making. You know him, you've worked with him. How credible is he?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: He's very credible. I remember Clarke as being literally a zealot when it came to counterterrorism, always at meetings when I what at the United Nations, also secretary of energy, that we're not doing enough, nuclear security at the labs, that we've got to do something to have a coordinated policy.

What I think Clarke has also done, is yesterday the fact that he apologized to the country and the families, he now has the families behind him. So I don't understand why the Bush administration doesn't just let Condoleezza Rice testify, because her refusal, the fact that she's done it publicly. And she is credible. She's good on TV. She does it on the news shows, like yours. I think tactically, they're sort of in a bunker mentality.

BLITZER: Well, they've got the lawyers saying that separation of powers, and that as a sitting adviser to the president, as opposed to a cabinet secretary that requires Senate confirmation, that would undermine the whole separation of powers.

RICHARDSON: Well, but I disagree, because this is an independent commission. This is not the Congress. This is an independent commission that had input from the president, from the administration, from the Congress, from the Senate. She could easily deal with that issue. It's tactically a huge mistake, especially now that Richard Clarke has gone out with enormous credibility.

And one of the good things he said, that I was very pleased, is that the Clinton administration was very aggressive on this issue. I went to a lot of meetings. I was sent to Afghanistan to try to get bin Laden extradited. President Clinton used three Tomahawk missile attacks on bin Laden. So I was pleased that he...

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Clinton administration, because you were a point man, you were a key figure in the administration on the whole effort to try to use diplomacy to convince the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban, to go ahead and give up Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Talk about your visit there. Were you really seriously convinced that you had a chance of success?

RICHARDSON: Well, I was given very specific instructions. It was April of '97. And President Clinton and his team, we were there in Afghanistan to try to get the Taliban and the Northern Alliance to talk about ending their war. But a big message was, Taliban, turn over bin Laden, we know he's here, we want it properly expedited, he's causing us problems, and in a way, saying what do you want in return. The Taliban totally said, he's not here, we're not going to turn him over, he's not harming you, if he does come in, we'll control you. It was the first sense we had this guy, bin Laden, was very elusive, he was skillful, that he was buying off the Taliban.

But we tried very hard. We pushed hard. And I think All those meetings Sandy Berger called, and Clarke, reinforcing that about counterterrorism, three Tomahawk missile assaults, you know, we did everything we could.

BLITZER: The interim report of the 9/11 Commission, in their staff report, among their conclusions, at least their interim conclusions, is that operatives on the field, CIA operatives, special operations forces, never really felt they had the clear authority to go ahead and kill Osama bin Laden or other al Qaeda terrorists if they came upon them. They feared that they could be investigated by the FBI upon coming back to the United States if they went ahead and assassinated these guys.

RICHARDSON: I sat in many of those meetings. I can tell you, that while there is a respect for the assassinations ban, there are ways in the self-defense provision that you can launch a military or strike operation and deal with that problem.

I don't see that as a good excuse. I think we did everything we could. And I think in the new administration, one of the worries I have, is that instead of turning on the focus, a new Bush administration on al Qaeda, on terrorism, there was this Iraqi obsession.

BLITZER: The Iraqi obsession to -- in the aftermath of 9/11, when no one knew for sure who was responsible, to ask questions, to raise questions, could there have been a Saddam Hussein role? Could the Iraqis have played a role? You didn't have a problem with asking that?

RICHARDSON: No, I think that was proper, the president wanting to ask that. But you could tell, also, from secretary, the former treasury secretary's book.

BLITZER: Paul O'Neill.

RICHARDSON: Paul O'Neill, and now this, there was, we have to go after Iraq and make that work. That was the sense I think is most damaging to the president, the Dick Clarke charge, basically find a reason for me to do something about Iraq.

BLITZER: Well, he makes the charge that the war against Saddam Hussein, removing Saddam Hussein from power, has weakened the U.S. in the war on terrorism rather than strengthened the U.S. on the war on terrorism? Do you agree with Clarke on that?

RICHARDSON: I'm not sure about that, because I do think that we got to -- where I believe we failed, Wolf, was in not building a coalition against Iraq. And I supported the president when he went in. And not transferring that, not creating and keeping goodwill for an international alliance building NATO/U.N. effort as we approach terrorism. I think that's where it hurt us. But I do think the president had the right to ask those questions.

BLITZER: Let's -- before I let you go, let's talk about why you're here in Washington. You're here for this big unity rally, the democrats holding a big rally tonight, former President Clinton, former President Carter, Al Gore, everyone will be there, expressing their support for John Kerry.

RICHARDSON: Well, that's very important. Dean endorsing Kerry is important because Kerry wants Dean's troops, his Internet funds, but also his political support. Dean wants to play, because he probably will be a major player in a new Democratic administration. He may want a cabinet position, he may want to take care of his people.

But I think the show of unity makes a lot of sense. The primaries are over. We've to compete with the Bush huge financial money machine. We've got to start talking about hope and opportunity, domestic issues. I just hope that after today, the message of our presidential candidate, our party, is one of positiveness, on economic growth, optimism, patriotism, opportunity, hope, jobs.

Jobs is the biggest issue. 9/11 is important, national security.

BLITZER: Very quickly, before I let you go, I promised our viewers, you, vice president, is that going to happen?

RICHARDSON: I already took myself out on your show, so, I'm very happy as governor.

BLITZER: You can put yourself back in the running if you want.

RICHARDSON: No. I do think it should be a governor. Governor Vilsach of Iowa, Governor Sebelius, a woman. I think we've got a whole crew of very good candidates.

BLITZER: Always good to have you in Washington, governor.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

When we come back, strapped with a string of explosives, a teenage boy creates a commotion at a Nablus checkpoint on the West Bank. We'll go to the scene. We'll go there live.

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He told Israel soldiers he didn't want to die. A teenage boy with bombs strapped to his body. He was stopped at a West Bank checkpoint, yesterday. A story that sparked outrage at home and abroad.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is joining us now live from Gaza City. Ben, first of all, fill our viewers in based on what happened. I know you're in Gaza. This happened on the West Bank. But you know this story quite well. Give us an update. What exactly happened yesterday?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Basically he showed up at this Israel checkpoint south of Nablus. And they quickly discovered that he had an explosive belt on him. Immediately, they jumped onto the alert, they pointed their weapons at him, which clearly terrified this young boy. It's not clear how old he was. The Israelis say he's 14. His mother says he's 16.

They stripped him, and then they detonated -- after removing it, they detonated the explosive belt. They took him in for questioning. They interviewed him on camera.

And in that on camera interview, he said that he was doing this on behalf of people -- we can assume his people, the Palestinians. And that he wanted to go to heaven to be happy.

Now, at the moment, the Israelis are considering what to do with this boy. Clearly, he was not fully aware, conscious of the nature of what he was doing. We're told he received 100 sheckles (ph) from those who put him up to it.

Now Palestinians as well as Israelis are very disturbed by this. It's clearly indicative of, really, the depth to which the situation has fallen here. Today, in fact, here in Gaza, I spoke to a 13-year- old boy whose brother had been killed three weeks ago, in an attack, on an Israeli position.

This boy told me, he himself wanted to follow in his brother's footsteps to martyrdom, in his words. I spoke to his mother. She also said that if he wanted to go out and kill himself, attacking the Israelis, she wouldn't stop him.

Now I spoke to a psychiatrist here in Gaza told me this really is a sign that Palestinian society, as it is, on the West Bank, in Gaza is beginning to collapse. That the old power symbols -- rather sources of authority, are beginning to fall away.

And its groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades who are becoming the ultimate symbols for young Palestinians. And many of them, this psychiatrist told me, are now willing to go to extremes to achieve the kind of power they see embodied in these groups -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Have the Israelis made the actual tape, the videotape, questioning this young boy, have they made this available to the news media?

WEDEMAN: So I've been told. I've read a text of that interview. And it's very -- it's very simple. It's just the boy answers in just a few words. He clearly doesn't really know what he's done, the trouble he's gotten himself into.The assumption is that somebody essentially duped him into doing it.

These children are -- they're war traumatized. They're easy prey for people with a violent agenda -- Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Ben Wedeman giving us some perspective on this horrible story. Ben, thanks very much. Ben Wedeman is in Gaza for us. Been covering this story for many years.

When we come back, the charges and counter-charges over the 9/11 hearings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Have I accurately described your recollection of what occurred?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: when we come back, I'll speak one-on-one with Richard Ben-Veniste. He's one of the 9/11 commission members. He'll be my guest. We'll speak with him live. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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