Return to Transcripts main page
CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS
Condoleezza Rice To Testify Publicly Before 9/11 Commission, British Police Find Chemical Used for Terror Attacks During Raid, Terror Attack Preempted in The Philippines, Interview with John Edwards
Aired March 30, 2004 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): About face. The White House does a turnaround on testimony. Both public and private.
Plots spoiled? In London, an anti-terror sweep backs suspects and a dangerous chemical.
In Manila, busting a terror cell.
GLORIA MACAPAGAL ARROYO, PRESIDENT OF THE PHILIPPINES: We have preempted a Madrid-level attack on the metropolis.
BLITZER: He's out of race, but will he be back in as vice presidential nominee? I'll go one on one with John Edwards.
ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Tuesday, March 30, 2004.
BLITZER: First, that dramatic about face by the Bush administration. After putting the brakes on 9/11 testimony, the White House has pulled a sudden U-turn. Condoleezza Rice will be allowed to appear publicly before the investigating panel while the president and the vice president will meet privately with all ten commissioners.
Both sides say they're satisfied with the deal, but the White House may not have had much choice.
BLITZER (voice-over): Under considerable political pressure, including from all five Republican 9/11 commission members, the White House reversed itself on two sensitive issues.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The leaders of Congress and the commission agree, they agree with me that the circumstances of this case are unique because the event of September 11, 2001 were unique.
BLITZER: First, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will testify publicly and under oath before the commission. Earlier the White House insisted she meet only privately with the members and not be sworn in.
In making this concession after weeks of refusal, the White House demanded and received two conditions: that the commission agree in writing that Rice's testimony does not set any precedent for future commission requests. And that the commission also agree in writing that it will not request additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice.
The second White House reversal, allowing President Bush and Vice President Cheney to meet jointly with all ten members of the commission, and not only with the chairman, former New jersey republican Governor Thomas Kean, and vice chairman, former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton as earlier demanded by the White House.
LEE HAMILTON (D), 9/11 COMMISSION VICE CHAIRMAN: For us, the ten commissioners were the key point. And the fact that we think we can get information we need with the vice president and the president in the room.
BLITZER: In contrast to Rice their appearance before the ten member panel will be behind closed doors and not under oath. Only one commission staff member will be allowed in the room to take notes of the session.
The 9/11 commission released a letter to the White House accepting all these conditions.
THOMAS KEAN (R), COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: We got some very good testimony from Dr. Rice in private session. It was candid, it was factual, it was to the point of the questions that were asked. She stayed with the commission as long as we needed her.
My hope is she will replicate that testimony in public as well.
BLITZER: And just a few minutes ago seen live on CNN, the president spoke out on the 9/11 probe and the new pledge of cooperation by his administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The commission knows its responsibility to collect vital information and to present it to the American people.
And I know my responsibility as well: to act against the continuing threat and to protect the American people. I made that pledge to my fellow citizens, and I will keep it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: While the White House may have made a separate peace with the 9/11 panel, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are still clashing over the man at center of the controversy. Our man on Capitol Hill has that story, here's CNN's congressional correspondent, Joe Johns.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Republicans move ahead with the effort to declassify former Counterterrorism Chief Richard Clarke's closed door testimony, the Senate's top Democrat accused the GOP of attempting to smear Clarke's reputation.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: He has even been accused here on the Senate floor of perjury. No one, no one shred of proof was given, but that wasn't the point. The point was to have the perjury accusation on television and in the newspapers.
JOHNS: The target of Daschle's criticism was Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist who took to the floor last Friday blasting Clarke for what he said were contradictory statements about the president's focus on terrorism in the early months of his administration. But today, Frist wasn't backing down.
SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: Why do the allegation just appear last week for the first time that is at about the same time he signed the multimillion-dollar contract or a book deal that will bring multimillion dollars to him?
JOHNS: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss, has already sent Clarke's testimony to the CIA for review, prompting the committee's top Democrat to complain that Goss did it without the consent of the full committee.
REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: It's a stunning development in my view. And it makes it look like the White House, an interested party, is in charge of selective declassification on a political basis.
JOHNS: Democrats say they are concerned the administration will selectively pull quotes from the testimony to make Clarke look bad.
Joe Johns, CNN, Capitol Hill.
BLITZER: More reaction to the Bush administration's about-face, that's just ahead. I'll speak with Senator John Edwards on the 9/11 commission hearings and much more. His first television interview since dropping out of the presidential race.
And here's your chance to weigh in on this important story. Our "Web Question of the Day" is this; do you agree with the White House's decision to allow Condoleezza Rice to testify in public and under oath before the 9/11 Commission? You can vote right now, go to CNN.com/wolf. We'll have the results a little later in this broadcast.
In the war on terror, attacks may have been thwarted on two fronts. We begin with Britain where, hundreds of police staged an early morning sweep rounding up suspects and turning up a chemical which is often used in terror attacks. Let's go live to CNN's Jim Boulden, joining us in London -- Jim.
JIM BOULDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. The British police have spent the day interrogating eight men arrested early this morning in raids across London and the southeast of England.
Now 24 locations were searched. As you say it was by 700 law enforcement personnel. At one location, a self-storage space near Heathrow Airport, police recovered half a ton of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. And mix that with fuel and other chemicals, and ammonium nitrate can be used as a car bomb.
BOULDEN (voice-over): It was in this self-storage center in West London where police say they found a potential bomb-making material, ammonium nitrate fertilizer. More than a half a ton was recovered here during dawn raids across London and the southeast of England.
Eight men, all British, were arrested. And 24 locations are being searched.
British police took the extremely unusual step of making a public statement about the arrests and the ammonium nitrate while investigation were still under way.
PETER CLARKE, BRITISH ANTI-TERRORISM POLICE: Part of the investigation will focus on the purchase, storage, and intended use of that material.
I'd like to stress that there is no danger to the public in the area. Today's operation, which involved some 700 officers in total, is part of continuing and extensive inquiries by police and the security service into alleged international terrorist activity. And I must stress that the threat from terrorism remains very real.
BOULDEN: British police also showed a six-foot by two foot bag, similar to the one police say was holing the ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Mixed with fuel, ammonium nitrate bombs have been used many times by various terrorist groups. In Oklahoma City in 1995, in the London docklands by the IRA in 1996, in Bali in October of 2002.
DAVID CLARIDGE, RISK ADVISORY GROUP: This is not a device which would be as a suicide attack, body worn. It is not something that could have much impact, carried in a it bag, needs to be in a vehicle as a transit van, box van that McVeigh used in Oklahoma.
BOULDEN: The police did not give more information on the background of the men arrested, but did say they were talking with Muslim community leaders this morning. The men can be held for up to 14 days without charge under Britain's updated terrorism laws.
BOULDEN: Now the men are young ranging in age from 17 to 32. We know they're British-born and we believe they are of Pakistani origin. But we won't know more until they are charged, if they are charged and come to court in the next 14 days or so.
But, Wolf, it is worth noting that a number of the arrests and searches have occurred near three of London's big airports.
BLITZER: Jim Boulden, reporting from London. Thank you very much.
Another plot has apparently been foiled, this one in the Philippines. President Gloria Arroyo says an Abu Sayyaf terror cell has been dismantled and four members of the al Qaeda-linked group have been arrested. We get the story from CNN's Maria Ressa.
MARIA RESSA, CNN JAKARTA BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): The announcement was dramatic.
ARROYO: We have preempted a Madrid-level attack on the metropolis by capturing an explosives cache of 80 pounds TNT. This is intended to be used for bombing malls and trains in Manila.
RESSA: It's the not the first time terrorists have tried this in the Philippines capital. In 2000 terrorist groups trained by al Qaeda set off five near-simultaneous bombs in public places, the most lethal in a train station. Now authorities say the most radical members of armed Muslim groups in the Philippines are working together naming the Abu Sayyaf (ph) and Jima Islamiyah (ph), al Qaeda's arm in southeast Asia.
EDUARDO ERMITA, PHILIPPINES DEFENSE SECRETARY: There are follow- up operations going on. They continue to be under tactical interrogations to find out if there are other cells here in the metropolis.
RESSA: Although authorities say they foiled this attack, they need to make sure they can prevent other attempts. Maria Ressa, CNN.
BLITZER: Allegations of corruption within a high-profile United Nations Iraq program are igniting major criticism. Was someone profiting from the so-called Oil-for-Food deal with the former Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. And why is the U.S. now sealing documents? We'll have a live report from the U.N.
Widow's claim al Qaeda killed her husband, where is Mariane Pearl appealing now to the U.S. government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm interested in making sure John Kerry is president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Will his name be on the ticket with Democratic candidate John Kerry. I'll go one on one with Senator John Edwards. His first interview since officially leaving the presidential race.
BLITZER: U.S. administrator in Iraq, Ambassador Paul Bremer officially sealed documents relating to the U.N. Oil-for-Food program. The United Nations is trying to find out if anyone said in the U.N. profited from the humanitarian program. Our senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth is joining us live from the U.N. with more -- Richard.
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the intentions were noble. Allow Saddam Hussein to sell oil so his people could survive under U.N. economic sanctions. But did it turn into a huge ripoff scheme?
ROTH (voice-over): For years there were allegations of corruption in the U.N. Iraq program. It's bubbling over into a potential scandal.
PAUL BREMER, U.S. CIVILIAN ADMINISTRATOR: Now, almost a year after liberation, we are just beginning to understand the outline of the theft and corruption which was behind the Oil-for-Food program.
ROTH: Coalition authorities in Baghdad sealed all records in Iraqi ministries related to Oil-for-Food. But just who illegally profited from the billion dollar program. It's been no secret that middlemen made huge profits from kickbacks imposed by Iraq.
The Congressional general accounting office recently reported Saddam Hussein received $4.5 billion in extra surcharges on oil sales. But in recent weeks a torrent of criticism accusing the United Nations of winking at corruption. One such article by a former U.N. Oil-for- Food employee. The Iraqi governing council is demanding answers from the U.N.
ENTIFADH QANSAR, SPOKESMAN FOR COUNCIL: There are some very high-level U.N. officials who basically let this happen under their nose with their knowledge.
ROTH: Iraq says it found names of people who may have profited including the former director of the U.N. program. Benan Sevan denies the accusation. Last year on CNN, he scoffed that the U.N. was not doing its job.
BENAN SEVAN, FMR. DIRECTOR, U.N. OIL FOR FOOD PROGRAM: You tell me, we are scheming -- scheming what? What proof do you have to scheme anything. I'm very sorry to say. It's very easy to talk. La, la, la, la. You know?
ROTH: After seeing media reports, Secretary-General Kofi Annan abandoned an internal U.N. investigation of Oil-For-Food and asked the security council for an independent outside probe. Annan and his advisers wonder why the member countries of the U.N. don't come under more scrutiny since they were monitoring all of these business contracts to Iraq. Wolf, one U.N. insider says Oil-For-Food was an ugly politicized program that is now becoming even uglier -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Richard Roth with the beginnings of this scandal, thank you very much for that.
The "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl was killed by Islamic extremists in Pakistan. Is Daniel Pearl's widow now entitled to compensation from the 9/11 victims' fund. We'll talk to her and her attorney.
And Michael Jackson goes to Washington. We'll tell you what the so-called king of pop is doing right now on Capitol Hill. Plus this...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDWARDS: I'm open to making sure he's president, and I'm going to do whatever I can to make that happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: To become vice president or not to become vice president? That is the question John Edwards may face this summer. A preview of what he might say. That's coming up shortly. Stay with us.
BLITZER: There's a real buzz on Capitol Hill today. A high- profile visitor is in the nation's Capitol, not a head of state but the singer Michael Jackson, the controversial Jackson facing charges of child molestation in California is in Washington to meet with a member of Congress on his charitable activity. Once again, our congressional correspondent Joe Johns is standing by. Joe, I take it it's a little lively where it's normally not so lively where you are right now?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly is, Wolf. This is the third floor of the Rayburn House office building on Capitol Hill. Take a peek and you can get a sense of the number of news media people standing out here in the hall outside the office of Congressman Chaka Fatah of Pennsylvania waiting on the arrival of the king of pop, Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson's publicist Raymone Bain, we're told, is the person who requested a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus in its entirety. However, we're told, the CBC declined citing the fact that they said they were too busy.
There are deep disagreements over the appearance of Michael Jackson here and a number of members of the Congressional Black Caucus have said they're not interested in meeting him. A number of other members of Congress are here and are planning on meeting with him. Back to you, Wolf, we'll get back to you when he arrives.
BLITZER: All right. Joe Johns waiting for Michael Jackson on Capitol Hill. Thank you very much for that. Terrorism and compensation. Coming up, we'll speak with the widow of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl.
Also ahead here, he could be the vice presidential pick. Indeed, many people think he'll be the vice presidential pick. What does John Edwards think of a Bush/Kerry race so far? I'll ask him, he'll join us later this hour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening, it used to be liquor, bootleg liquor that made vast illegal fortunes for underworld characters in Chicago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So long to a legend. The world remembers a staple in British broadcast.
BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN. His death at the hands of al Qaeda members was horrific. Should the wife of slain journalist Danny Pearl now be compensated by the United States government? I'll talk with Mariane Pearl coming up. First a quick check of the latest headlines.
Scott Peterson's lawyer says a member of the jury pool for the double murder trial told a friend the defendant is, quote, "guilty as hell." Attorney Mark Geragos says he got a tip about the alleged comment. The judge ordered an investigation and told Geragos to subpoena his tipster.
To Bolivia now where a miner strapped with explosives blew himself up in the capital city's government center earlier today. That according to Bolivian TV which said at least two other people were killed and a second bomb was safely detonated nearby. Bolivian miners are complaining about high unemployment right now.
23 more people have been killed today in the third straight day of violence in Uzbekistan's capital. Police and military personnel fought with suspected terrorists during a roundup of Islamic militants. At least 42 people have died since Sunday in ongoing battles and suicide bombings.
Spain's interior minister says a Moroccan terrorist group is now a main focus in the probe into the Madrid train bombings. The organization is called the Moroccan Islamist Combat Group and is believed to be, at least, ideologically linked to al Qaeda.
"Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and killed in 2002 while working on a story in Pakistan. U.S. officials say one of the alleged masterminds of the September 11 hijackings Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (ph) killed Pearl. Pearl's widow Mariane says her husband was targeted by Islamic extremists because he was American, and because of that, she wants compensation from the September 11 victims' fund. Her request was denied, and she's filed a formal appeal. Earlier, I spoke to Mariane Pearl and her attorney, Robert Kelner.
BLITZER: Mariane Pearl, Robert Kelner, thank you for joining us. Mariane, why do you believe you and your son Adam should be eligible to receive funds from this 9/11 victim compensation fund?
MARIANE PEARL, DANIEL PEARL'S WIDOW: Because it became increasingly obvious that the people who have killed Danny, not only were the same people that have perpetrated the attacks on 9/11 but also had exactly the same objectives. Which is to hit a high symbolic target, and I think, you know, close to the World Trade Center, the "Wall Street Journal" is worldwide, identifiable capitalism, American target.
BLITZER: You know that Ken Feinberg, the man in charge of distributing the funds has told the "New York Times," "I'm very sympathetic to the inquiry, but the statute is the statute, and I do not have any discretion. The law that Congress passed referred to people who died on 9/11 in New York, Washington, or in Pennsylvania." You understand that his hands are tied based on his interpretation of the law?
PEARL: I completely understand, and I know his position, it does become a justice standpoint I think the government has to take, and it's whatever the decision, you know, will remain. So for me, it's also a way to tell the story to Adam, I think everybody that has lost their husband, particularly in 9/11, will understand that they have to tell a story later. So the way the U.S. government reacted to that event will matter for Adam. If we live in New York, you know his question is going to be, am I different from the people of 9/11 and why? So that's how I see it.
BLITZER: Mr. Kelner, how much money potentially are we talking about?
ROBERT KELNER, ATTORNEY: Well, that totally would be within the discretion of Kenneth Feinberg, who is the special master of course of the United States. I absolutely want to stress that neither Mariane nor I have any quarrel with Mr. Feinberg's denial of the claim since the statute specifically says that it has to be a killing or am injury that occurred on 9/11.
What we do feel is the spirit of the law was to protect targeted American victims of al Qaeda, and what we are attempting to do is to have a special bill passed through Congress that would just recognize that the purpose of this legislation was to protect targeted American victims and there is no question that Danny Pearl should be treated differently, in my view, any differently from a victim of 9/11. It's interesting that the administration has told Mariane that the actual murderer of Danny Pearl was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who is, of course, the individual that was the No. 3 al Qaeda figure captured in Pakistan last year, who actually masterminded the 9/11 attacks. He was the operations chief of al Qaeda.
BLITZER: Let me interrupt you, Mr. Kelner, and ask this question. Why should Mariane, as awful an experience as she's gone through, be eligible for these funds when other victims of al Qaeda terror, whether in East Africa, or the USS Cole are not eligible for any kind of compensation? Congress so far has not passed legislation which would provide that kind of compensation.
KELNER: I certainly am not taking a position that those people should not be protected by our society.
But I think that the single closest situation to 9/11 was the Danny Pearl case. He was an employee of "The Wall Street Journal." He was an American. He was going about his ordinary daily business, as were the people in the World Trade Center, when solely because he was a symbol of America he was taken, he was captured, he was killed, solely as a symbolic act. And I think that the purpose of the legislation is identical for -- should be identical for Danny Pearl as it was for the victims of 9/11.
BLITZER: Mariane, we're almost out of time.
But how are you doing right now and your son Adam who was, of course, born after Danny Pearl's execution?
PEARL: I'm doing OK. It's been a tough ride after he died, obviously. But we're both in good health. And, you know, I'm just fighting. I keep fighting.
BLITZER: Well, good luck to you. Good luck to Adam. Our hearts, of course, go out to you and your entire family. Thanks very much for joining us.
PEARL: Thank you very much.
KELNER: Thank you for having us.
BLITZER: If gas is guzzling your wallet, you're certainly not alone, but as prices at the pump mount, so does the political blame game. Will it all mean lower prices for you? That's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I support him every way I know how, and I believe he will be president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He gave up his bid for the White House, but there is speculation he could the Democrats' candidate for second-in-command. Up next, my interview with John Edwards.
And unlocking a landmark. Lady Liberty soon reopens to the public. We'll tell you when a little bit later coming up. First, though, a look at some other news making headlines around the world.
BLITZER (voice-over): Coalition forces scuffled with a crowd in Southern Iraq. About 400 jobless Iraqis gathered outside a government building in Najaf to protest delays in processing their applications to become police officers. At least five people were injured.
Arab protests. Israeli Arabs and Palestinians held a series of Land Day protests marking the 28th anniversary of a deadly Arab- Israeli confrontation, a 1976 demonstration against Israeli land appropriations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALISTAIR COOKE, NEWS ANCHOR: So good night and goodbye.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Britain is mourning the death of famed broadcaster Alistair Cooke. Cooke's "Letter From America" broadcasts ran for 58 years on the BBC. He was best known to Americans as the host of two prestigious television shows, "Omnibus" and "Masterpiece Theater."
Farewell to a queen. Thousands gathered to watch the funeral procession for Princess Juliana of the Netherlands who died this month at age of 94. Juliana was the Dutch queen for 32 years before abdicating the throne in favor of her daughter Beatrix.
And that's our look around the world.
BLITZER: Now to the political equivalent of a gasoline price war. The Bush campaign says Democrat John Kerry would raise gas taxes and Kerry blames the Bush administration for high gas prices.
Our national correspondent Kelly Wallace is joining us now live from New York to sort through all of this -- Kelly.
KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, to give a sense how potent this issue is, according to a new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup, 69 percent of those polled believe rising gas prices are either a crises or a major problem.
And John Kerry is trying to get some political mileage out of that concern. That is why he made an unscheduled stop today to a San Diego gas station. San Diego has some of the highest gas prices in the country. A short time later in a speech, the senator charging the Bush team, saying they have done nothing to bring gas prices down. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If the gas prices keep rising at the rate they're going now, Dick Cheney and George Bush are going to have to carpool to work.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
KERRY: Those aren't Exxon prices. Those are Halliburton prices, ladies and gentlemen!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: But the Bush/Cheney reelection team in somewhat of a preemptive strike started running a new ad nationwide today, an ad accusing John Kerry of supporting increases in gas taxes on 11 separate occasions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm George W. Bush, and I approve this message.
NARRATOR: Some people have wacky ideas, like taxing gasoline more so people drive less. That's John Kerry. He supported a 50- cent-a-gallon gas tax. If Kerry's gas tax increase were law, the average family would pay $657 more a year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: And President Bush continued the attack during a visit to the battleground state of Wisconsin without ever mentioning his Democratic rival by name.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Gas taxes would hurt economy. There's some in the other party in Washington who would like to raise gas taxes. I think it'd be wrong. I think it would be damaging to the economy, not positive to the economy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: A senior Kerry adviser says the senator never proposed in the Senate to increase gas taxes by 50 percent and does not support an increase in gas taxes now. But both sides could face some political damage here. Voters could find the party in power guilty when it comes to higher gas prices, but they could also worry about what John Kerry would do as president, because, according to that same CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll, 58 percent of those polled found that they believe their taxes would increase if John Kerry were elected president -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Kelly Wallace, for that. Even though the presidential campaign seems to be in full swing, Democrat John Kerry has yet to tap a running mate. One strong possibility often being mentioned is former primary rival John Edwards.
BLITZER (voice-over): A former trial lawyer and one-term senator from North Carolina, John Edwards got relatively little attention until a surprising second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. As other Democratic presidential candidates dropped out one by one, Edwards emerged as John Kerry's chief rival for the nomination.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to have a campaign and an election, not a coronation.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BLITZER: Stressing his Southern roots, Edwards presented himself as the Democrat who could win in the South, Republican turf in recent elections.
EDWARDS: I will beat George Bush in my backyard. And you tell your friends that.
BLITZER: Edwards was praised for his positive campaign and his ability to connect with blue-collar voters. But as it became more and more apparent Kerry would be the Democratic presidential candidate, there were suggestions the Massachusetts senator would need a Southerner to balance the ticket.
During the primaries, Edwards insisted he had no interest in the vice presidential nomination.
EDWARDS: I'm very much in this for the long haul to be the nominee.
BLITZER: But when Edwards finally dropped out of the presidential race, he seemed to leave the door open to signing on as Kerry's running mate.
EDWARDS: John Kerry has what it takes right here to be president of the United States. And I for one intend to do everything in my power to make him the next president of the United States.
BLITZER: And just a short while ago, I spoke with Senator Edwards.
BLITZER: Senator Edwards, thanks very much for joining us. This is your first television interview since you dropped out. Is that right?
EDWARDS: Absolutely. I had to do it with you, Wolf, of course.
BLITZER: All right, well, let's get to some of the substantive news of the day, for example, the White House reversal, now allowing Condoleezza Rice to go forward and testify. I assume you welcome that.
EDWARDS: Of course. It should have been done a long time ago, though.
This is part of a pattern with the White House. They didn't want a 9/11 Commission to start with. They fought it tooth-and-nail. They finally gave in on that. And then they were very slow about giving the documents that needed to be given to the 9/11 Commission. And Condi Rice has been on all these television shows and finally they agree she's going to testify. It leaves a very bad impression. It's cause for the American people to be concerned whether they have something to hide.
BLITZER: But there is an important principle that every president wants to protect, the separation of powers between the executive and the legislative branches of government. If you were president, you would probably want to protect that as well.
EDWARDS: But there's a difference, but here, there's a real pattern, Wolf. This is not one isolated incident. As I said earlier, they did not want a 9/11 Commission. They fought it.
When in fact they had to go along with a 9/11 Commission, we tried to get documents to the 9/11 Commission from the White House. They fought providing those documents to the 9/11 Commission. And now they have dragged their feet in having the national security adviser testify. I think it just sends exactly the wrong message to the American people. What this commission is doing is trying to get to the bottom line. What are the facts? What happened? How do we make sure it doesn't happen again?
And the White House has not been helpful.
BLITZER: But right now, Governor Kean, the chairman of the commission, the vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman, they say they've gotten the documents they need. Now they're pleased with this final compromise in allowing Condoleezza Rice to testify. And, also, the president and the vice president would come forward and appear before all 10 members of the commission, albeit in private sessions. So they seem to be happy with the cooperation they're getting.
EDWARDS: It looks like finally we're going to get to the facts of what happened and how we make sure it doesn't happen again. That's good, but it shouldn't have taken this long.
BLITZER: All right, well, you're a member of the Intelligence Committee. You obviously watched all of these developments over the past few years.
Do you agree with Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism adviser, that perhaps, if the Bush White House, the first eight months, nine months had been paying closer attention to al Qaeda, 9/11 could have been avoided?
EDWARDS: Here's what I believe.
I believe it was not a priority for them. They were focused on things like missile defense, issues unrelated to terrorism, unrelated to al Qaeda. I don't think it's possible for any of us to know whether 9/11 could have been prevented. I think actually Richard Clarke said exactly the same thing. But what we do know is, this was not the priority with the Bush administration that it had been with the Clinton administration and not the priority that it should have been.
BLITZER: But the Clinton administration had eight years to deal with al Qaeda, going back to the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. They clearly tried certain things, but they never really could get the job done either.
EDWARDS: But they recognized how important it was, Wolf.
I'll never forget, as soon as the Clinton administration left office, I had a meeting with Sandy Berger, because I wanted some advice from him about what the most important issues were about keeping this country safe. And, as you know, he was national security adviser under President Clinton. And I'll never forget him saying to me, al Qaeda and terrorism are the most serious threat facing this country today, and we've got to get focused on it, focused like a laser.
Well, he recognized it. The Clinton administration recognized it. But, apparently, the Bush administration did not give it the priority it should have been given.
BLITZER: Another charge that Richard Clarke makes is that the war in Iraq diverted attention from the real threat to the U.S., namely the war on terror, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Do you agree that that war diverted attention?
EDWARDS: I believe that Clarke is right in part about this.
What he's saying is what's happened in Iraq has weakened our fight against terrorism. I think that's true in this respect.
It's true that the way the administration has conducted the operation in Iraq, alienating our allies, driving the folks away from us who we need to work with on the war on terrorism, not involving the U.N., not involving NATO, not involving international institutions and potential friends and allies, I think has worked against us, because it makes it more difficult for us to work in a cooperative way to get at these terrorist cells where they're located around the world.
BLITZER: But you agree that the world is better off. I assume you agree the world is better off with Saddam Hussein in jail rather than running Iraq.
BLITZER: And you don't look back on your vote in favor of the resolution authorizing the war with any second thoughts?
BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about some of the criticisms of John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate. You're now a strong supporter of him. We saw you on the stage Saturday night at that unity event, standing next to him. We'll talk a little bit about that in a moment.
But the Bush/Cheney campaign, the White House also going after him on flip-flopping on a lot of key issues, voting against the first Gulf War, voting for this one, then voting for, then against the $87 billion appropriation. That theme of a flip-flopper seems to be resonating based on some of the public opinion polls we're getting.
EDWARDS: Yes, but that's just because they're doing the typical political thing, Wolf.
They're spending millions and millions of dollars attacking a war hero. Here's a man who served this country in the military, put his life on the line in Vietnam. He served his country for decades now in the United States. And, for example, this business about the $87 billion, what John Kerry was for was taking that money out of tax cuts for rich people, which I think makes perfect sense. That's exactly what he was for.
He was against the policy that this administration has been engaged in, in Iraq. So am I. He's dead right about that.
BLITZER: Will he or won't he be on the Democratic ticket? More of my interview with Senator John Edwards immediately when we come back.
BLITZER: Now more of my interview with Senator John Edwards.
BLITZER: Can't the administration look at his voting record going back almost 20 years in the United States Senate and say these are legitimate areas where they can criticize him?
EDWARDS: No, they can look at his voting record and raise issues about the voting record which is what they're trying to do with the millions of dollars of political ads they're trying to buy around the country. What they will find is here is a man who has a clear vision for where this country needs to go of the he has been as strong as you could find in a presidential candidate in making sure the American people are safe. Making sure we defend this country. Remember, he's somebody who himself has lived through war. He understands what it means to put young men and women's lives at risk. The very notion that somebody who's lived through what John Kerry has lived through would not do what's necessary to keep our military men and women safe and keep this country safe is utter nonsense. He's exactly the kind of man we need in the Oval Office.
BLITZER: Because when you say he has a clear vision, a lot of the criticism leveled against him by Bush administration officials and others is that he seems to take a long time making up his mind, and in the end tries to straddle various differences, different positions and come up with some sort of foggy answer.
EDWARDS: Let me say this in very simple language, Wolf.
I have campaigned with John Kerry. Remember, he was my opponent in the Democratic nomination process. I've been through many, many debates with him. I've seen him campaigning on the stump. This is a man of strength and character and courage and the American people would be lucky to have him in the White House.
BLITZER: Our most recent CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup, which just came out yesterday, showed that a majority of Americans believe he will raise taxes if he's elected president, which is something obviously that's politically concerning.
EDWARDS: If John Kerry is president of the United States, for 90-plus percent of Americans, their taxes will go down. He's for exactly what I'm for, which is reducing taxes on middle-class, working Americans. He's not for giving tax breaks to wealthy people, which is what this president is for. That's the dividing line, and the American people need to hear that.
The difference is, John Kerry will reduce taxes for working middle-class families, but he will not give big tax breaks to rich people.
BLITZER: He'll raise taxes for rich people. Is that what you're saying?
EDWARDS: For example, he and I are both against these tax cuts that President Bush has been for people who earn over $200,000 a year. And those tax cuts need to be eliminated. We can't afford that now.
BLITZER: They're hammering him big-time right now on this vote early in the Clinton administration for a 50-cent surcharge, a tax, on a gallon of gasoline. With the price right now getting up to $2 and beyond, that seems to be resonating. A lot of people are worried about it.
EDWARDS: Well, first of all, that's history.
The question is, what would you do now about the fact that so many Americans are facing increased gas prices? And here's what John Kerry has, and this is what this administration does not have. He has an energy plan, a plan to move this country toward real energy independence. And that, combined with putting pressure on members of OPEC, on making sure that we put pressure on Middle East countries to reduce oil prices, that's the effective strategy.
This president, he can't do that because he has no energy independence policy.
BLITZER: You know, you sound increasingly as someone who would be very comfortable serving with him on a presidential-vice presidential ticket?
EDWARDS: I'm very comfortable fighting to make sure John Kerry is the next president of the United States. This is my country, Wolf. My kids and my grandkids are going to grow up here. And we need John Kerry to be president.
BLITZER: It wasn't that long ago you were hammering him on his votes in favor on NAFTA, free trade, at a time when you were very concerned about what's is being called outsourcing.
EDWARDS: But listen to what he's saying now, Wolf. He's focused -- if you've been listening to him over the last few weeks, he's focused on jobs. He understands that here in this country the single biggest issue in the lives of most Americans are the creation of jobs and the protection of jobs. And I believe that John Kerry will be a president who stands up for jobs.
BLITZER: I think the last time I interviewed you, you said you were not interested in being vice president of the United States does. Does that statement still hold?
EDWARDS: I'm interested in making sure John Kerry is president. And that's all I'm focused on right now.
BLITZER: Well, what if he asks you to be his running mate?
EDWARDS: I'm not -- see, that's for him to decide. I'm not going to engage in...
BLITZER: But you're open to that?
EDWARDS: I'm open to making sure he's president. And I'm going to do whatever I can to make that happen.
BLITZER: If he comes to you and say, Senator, I believe you could help me win this race, you would have to say yes?
EDWARDS: I will do anything I can to make John Kerry president.
BLITZER: That is a yes, then?
EDWARDS: That means whatever it takes to make him president.
BLITZER: You feel comfortable enough with him, you support him enough that you could balance the ticket and you think that could be a winning ticket?
EDWARDS: I support him every way I know how, and I believe he will be president.
BLITZER: If for some reason he doesn't ask you, and everybody seems to think he will ask you, and we saw that picture I referred to earlier of the two of you standing next to each other with your hands up in the air, a lot of people looked at that and said, that's the ticket.
BLITZER: What do you think when you saw that? Was that a coincidence, that you were standing with him there positioned for that photo?
EDWARDS: No, I was there to make sure that I, along with all the other candidate, the American people saw that we completely supported John Kerry for president, as does Jimmy Carter, as does Bill Clinton, as does Al Gore.
BLITZER: If, for some reason, he doesn't ask you -- and it's possible he might not ask you -- you're not seeking reelection in the Senate. What's ahead for John Edwards?
EDWARDS: I'm going to worry about that after November.
The most important thing for me to do -- remember, Wolf, I have spent the last year-plus campaigning to change the future of this country and to bring new ideas to make sure that we have real change in this country. That's what this election is about. And I intend to spend every minute that I can between now and Election Day making sure that we have real change and that we have a president who will bring that change. And I believe that is John Kerry.
BLITZER: All right, Senator Edwards, thanks very much.
EDWARDS: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: The results of our "Web Question," that's coming up next.
BLITZER: Here's how you're weighing in on our "Web Question of the Day." Take a look at this, remembering, of course, it's not a scientific poll.
Finally, this clarification. Last Wednesday, while I was debriefing our senior White House correspondent, John King, I asked him if White House officials were suggesting there were some weird aspects to Richard Clarke's life. Clarke, of course, is the former counterterrorism adviser who has sharply criticized the president's handling of the war on terror. I was not referring to anything charged by so-called unnamed White House officials as alleged today by "New York Times" columnist Paul Krugman. I was simply seeking to flesh out what Bush National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson had said on this program two days earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES WILKINSON, DEP. NATL. SECURITY ADVISER: Let me also point something. If you look in this book, you find interesting things such as reported in "The Washington Post" this morning. He's talking about how he sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden and how bin Laden has some sort of mind control over U.S. officials. This is sort of "X-Files" stuff.
And what I'd say is, this is a man who was in charge of terrorism, Wolf, who was supposed to be focused on that. And he was focused on meetings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Other than that, John Kerry reported White House officials were not talking about Clarke's personal life in any way.
"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com