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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS

Kerry & Bush Focus on Issues; Dan Rather & Bush/National Guard Controversy; Caribbean Braces for Ivan; 9/11 Three-Year Anniversary

Aired September 10, 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: Happening now -- waiting for landfall: Hurricane Ivan about to crash a Caribbean destination. We have a brand new forecast tracking this storm just in from the National Hurricane Center. And a new mandatory evacuation just ordered in the Florida Keys.
Stand by for hard news on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Rather's stand:

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: There's no join in reporting such a story, but my job as a journalist is not to be afraid.

BLITZER: A veteran journalist challenges the president. We'll hear from the CBS anchor.

Campaign clash: They are trading fire over assault weapons.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America's streets will not be as safe, because of the choice that George Bush is making.

GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We stand for the Second Amendment which gives every American the individual right to bear arms.

BLITZER: In harm's way: Jamaica braces for a blow from Ivan. Florida can only wait and watch.

Agonizing anniversary...

TOM HEIDENBERGER, WIFE DIED ABOARD AA FLT. 77: My daughter came home. Her first words were, you know, mom's not going to be at my wedding.

BLITZER: 9/11 families live with their loss.

ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Friday, September 10, 2004.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Did he duck his military obligations? New documents are raising doubts about President Bush's service in the Air National Guard, but there are also doubts being raised about the documents. At the center of the controversy, the president of the United States and CBS news anchor Dan Rather, who is in a familiar position.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): This is not the first time Dan Rather has found himself in a serious dispute with an American president. There was this exchange in 1974 during the height of the Watergate Scandal with then president Richard Nixon.

"Are you running for something," Nixon asked Rather?

"No, sir," Rather replied. "Are you?"

And there was this exchange with then Vice President George Bush in 1988 over the Iran/Contra Scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - 1988)

RATHER: I don't want to be argumentative, Mr. Vice President.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Dan. This is not great night, because I want to talk about why I want to be president. Why those 41 percent of the people are supporting me.

RATHER: And Mr. Vice President, these questions...

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: I don't think it's fair to judge a whole career -- it's not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York. Would you like that?

I have respect for you, but I don't have respect for what your doing here tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now the 72-year-old CBS News anchor finds himself in another confrontation with a Republican president.

RATHER: I want to emphasize, you know, I stand behind my president in a time -- we're in a time of war and I stand behind my president. There's no joy in reporting such a story. But my job as a journalist is not to be afraid.

And when we come with facts and legitimate questions that are supported by witnesses and documents which we believe to be authentic to raise those questions, no matter how pleasant they are.

BLITZER: At issue is his report on "60 Minutes" that aired Wednesday. A report that included documents purported to show that the current President Bush, while serving in the Texas Air National Guard did not meet all his military obligations. RATHER: They have not answered the question of did or did not the president obey a direct order from his military superior while he was a lieutenant? Did he or did he -- was he or was he not suspended for failure to meet performance standards at the Air Force and Texas Air National Guard. If he didn't take the physical, why didn't he take the physical.

BLITZER: But now there are questions about the authenticity of the documents released by "60 Minutes." "The Washington Post" says the "60 Minutes" documents are not consistent with other documents released by Bush's Air National Guard unit in the early '70s.

MICHAEL DOBBS, "WASHINGTON POST": If you compare the documents that CBS produced with the documents that we know to be authentic, that did come from Bush's National Guard unit, none of those documents used proportionate spacing and that's only one of the anomalies.

BLITZER: Experts contacted by CNN say there are some inconsistencies in the type style and formatting, noting those styles then existed on typewriters, but were not common. They also say only a review of the original documents, not copies, can completely resolve the matter.

Beyond that, surviving relatives of Bush's then commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian, the author of the purported documents, insists they are fake. They say Killian always believed Bush was an excellent pilot and that he never wrote these documents. Killian died in 1984.

RATHER: The story is true. The story is true. And the questions raised in the story are serious and legitimate questions.

BLITZER: Rather denies there is any internal CBS News investigation under way. A statement backed by the network.

RATHER: Not even discussed, nor should it be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Now to the documents themselves. As we mentions, they are raising eyebrows among some experts. CNN's Jeanne Meserve is here to tell us why -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you mentioned, the family of Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, the purported author of the documents obtained by CBS, says some are not genuine.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MARJORIE CONNELL, FMR. WIFE OF COLONEL KILLIAN: What is remarkable to me is that he was a person who did not take or make copious notes. He carried everything in his mind. I mean, he didn't have time to make notes.

(END AUDIO CLIP) MESERVE: CBS says the documents were thoroughly vetted by independent experts, and is standing by its story. The forensic document experts with whom we have spoken say they cannot determine conclusively the authenticity of the documents without seeing the originals or the typewriter on which they were written on. But they say, the copies distributed by the White House after the White House got them from CBS do raise questions.

Among them, the font style. One expert says she can find no Times Roman font from the early '70s which matches the documents. She does find a letter for letter match in Microsoft Word she calls the CBS documents very probably computer generated.

The superscripted TH seen in certain phrases like 187th, Alabama, although this feature did exist in the early '70s. Experts say it was rarely seen in commonly used typewriters.

Spacing in the early '70s -- most typewriters gave each letter the same amount of space. The CBS documents do not, using the more current proportional spacing which gives more space to a W let's say than an L.

The signature on the CBS document is not fully consistent with Jerry Killian's signature on other documents from the same era. Experts say the original documents which show strike marks from a typewriter, and would provide ink samples and watermarks which could be used to date the document.

But working with documents several generations old, the experts say, makes it impossible to say definitively whether they are the real thing or they are not.

And Wolf, just moments ago, CBS News put out a statement they say, referring to that TH superscript that I mentioned, this did exist on typewriters as early as 1968, and in fact is in President Bush's official military records released by the White House. Of course, there are many other questions still to be answered.

BLITZER: I'm sure the investigations are going to continue. Jeanne Meserve, thanks very much.

And later this hour, we'll air the entire portion of the comments that Dan Rather made to reporters earlier today about this document dispute. That's coming up at the half hour.

The candidates themselves have been staying clear over the debate involving President Bush's National Guard service. For our look at today's developments on the presidential campaign trail, we start with CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash who followed President Bush to Chillicothe, Ohio earlier today -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're right, there's not a peep today from the president on the National Guard issue, and not even a chance for reporters to ask questions about it. The president is really trying to exercise a message control. Trying to stick to the strategy, the formula that they believe that the Bush campaign really has been working for him.

His campaign listens to what John Kerry says specifically on Iraq. They find an old quote from Senator Kerry from their arsenal of research and then the president uses it to try to show that John Kerry is flip-flopping, particularly on the Iraq issue.

Now today, the president seized on Senator Kerry's new line saying that their huge price tag in Iraq is taking away from needs back here at home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The newest wrinkle is that Senator Kerry has now decided we are spending too much money in Iraq, even though he criticizes earlier for not spending enough. One thing about Senator Kerry's position is clear, if he had his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power and would still be a threat to the security and to the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now the Bush campaign then released an old quote from Senator Kerry saying --- from about a year ago that he actually wanted to increase funding for Iraq. Now the Kerry campaign, Wolf, says that these quotes are being taken out of context.

And that these attacks are disingenuous, and the point that Senator Kerry's trying to make this week, is that he believes that the president went to war without a correct plan and that's why the cost skyrocketed.

Meanwhile the president is traveling today with Zell Miller, the Democrat who gave that fiery speech in New York. And Zell Miller at every stop is calling on Conservative Democrats to vote Republican, cross party lines like he is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash traveling with the president today. Thanks, Dana, very much.

Democrat John Kerry is scheduled to speak in Allentown, Pennsylvania, shortly.

Earlier this morning, he held a town hall meeting in St. Louis. CNN's Ed Henry is with the Kerry campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John Kerry is still avoiding questions about President Bush's service in the National Guard. Kerry held a town hall meeting here in St. Louis that was supposed to be focused on healthcare, but the first question came from a man who said he believed it was, quote, "a bunch of bull that Republicans had been raising questions about Kerry's military service when the president did not serve in Vietnam."

Kerry chuckled about that question, but refused to answer it. Immediately moved on to the next one. Kerry aides here say they believe the White House has been tripping all over itself trying to deal with this story. It's better for the candidate to stay out of the way.

And as he has dropped in the polls a bit, Kerry has been trying to refocus this race on the domestic agenda. He keeps saying day after day that he believes the president has made the wrong choices on a slew of domestic issues, including Medicare, healthcare, education, and the economy.

And Kerry expanded that today to include the ban on assault weapons, which is set to expire next week without Congressional action. Kerry charged that the White House is caving in to special interests and that the White House needs to do something about it. In fact, Kerry charged that the White House has been scaring people about the war on terror, but they are now about to let terrorists get their hands on assault weapons.

KERRY: We've got to protect this country. We've got to protect our streets. I don't understand what the philosophy is that says that you're making America safer when you take cops off the streets and put assault weapons back on them. That doesn't make sense to me, and we got to have better common sense in this country today.

HENRY: Some Democrats think it could be a mistake for Kerry to get too involved in a debate over guns, and it could hurt politically in states like West Virginia, just as it hurt Al Gore in 2000. But Kerry aides insist that the ban on assault weapons is widely popular, supported by former Republican presidents, and that it's particularly popular with suburban women in states like Missouri.

Ed Henry, CNN, St. Louis, Missouri.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Warnings of life-threatening floods and mudslides as Jamaica braces for Hurricane Ivan. The Category 4 storm closing in on the island; but is Florida next?

Also ahead...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABE SCOTT, WIFE DIED AT PENTAGON: I try not to think about the present. I try to think about the past when she was alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Memories and mourning on this eve of 9/11. Two families coping with the loss of a wife and a mother. They share their pain.

And Russia's grief -- a housing complex dealing with unimaginable loss. About 80 percent of the children here were killed in that school siege.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: On the move again: Tens of thousand of people are fleeing Florida's Keys. The island chain now lying within the possible path of Hurricane Ivan. All 79,000 residents have been ordered to evacuate -- but in phases, in an effort to keep traffic moving on the single highway that connects to the mainland. If Ivan does strike, it would be the third hurricane to hit Florida within a month.

For the latest on Ivan, let's check in with CNN meteorologist Orelon Sidney. She's tracking the hurricane from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta and has details of the latest bulletin that has just come out.

What does it say, Orelon?

ORELON SIDNEY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's good news and bad news. The good news is the winds are down rather than up. The bad news is they are not down very much -- from 145 to 140 miles an hour.

You can see that the wind's already affecting Jamaica. You can see the center here with the hurricane force winds extending out 60 miles from that center. They are already getting wind, and they will continue to throughout the evening throughout Jamaica.

And then, we look at the Cayman Islands on Saturday as an area that will also be in trouble. Here's the very latest: currently 80 miles south-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica -- that's the center; winds 140; moving to the west-northwest at 13.

Here's what I expect later on tonight. You're going to see the storm work its way across the -- probably the western portion of the island. We do have Mount Denham here, which is just about 3,200 feet. It is expected to slow the storm down and wind speed -- just a little bit disrupt it somewhat as it moves on toward the Caymans.

But unfortunately, it still keeps it at a very, very strong Category 4 all the way to Cuba. That then is the area we're concerned with. That's where the models really start to diverge as far as a potential strike on the U.S.

Those in Key West, though, definitely need to evacuate today. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Orelon Sidney with the latest information on Hurricane Ivan.

No doubt it would be unusual for Florida to take a hit -- a third hit, that is -- in one month. But modern hurricane records go back only a little more than a century, and a glance at even that relatively brief period shows how haphazard the storms can be.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): The tradition of naming storms only started in the 1950s, which turned out to be a particularly active decade for hurricanes. In 1954, Carol and Edna delivered a one-two punch. The near identical storms followed similar paths into the northeast United States within weeks of each other, killing a total of 80 people. A month later, Hurricane Hazel ravaged the east coast and killed 95.

1955, another double whammy -- Hurricanes Connie and Diane slammed into North Carolina within five days of each other.

1960 saw Donna, the fifth strongest storm on record to hit the United States.

On the other end of the decade, in 1969, Camille slammed into Mississippi as a Category 5 storm, killing 143 people there.

The '70s were a fairly quiet decade. Then, in 1989, Hurricane Hugo devastated South Carolina, with $8 billion damage and 21 deaths.

The most destructive hurricane on record, Andrew, came three years later in 1992, causing $26 billion damage in south Florida and killing a total of 23 people.

1995 was the second busiest season on record with 19 named storms. But showing how random the season can be, 1997 saw just three hurricanes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): And right now, the imminent danger is on the Island of Jamaica, lying directly in the path of Ivan and its killer winds.

CNN's Karl Penhaul is in the Capital of Kingston. He's on the phone. He's joining us now live. What is it like right now, Karl?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.

Well, what we're seeing now is very heavy torrential rains pouring down on the southeast coast of Jamaica, particularly here in the capital, Kingston. Still no sign, really, of those very high winds as of yet, though. We expect the hurricane force winds to start blowing in after dark, and the winds from now on in toward nightfall should start to pick up.

That said, further along the southeast coast of Jamaica toward the most eastern point, we were already told by officials from the Office of Disaster Preparedness that high winds are battering that shoreline. In fact. the main highway that lead these from Kingston is now unpassable because part of that has been washed out by storm- driven tidal surges.

Now, what the officials from the Office of Disaster Preparedness has also highlighted is the fact that many people are still lagging in their preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Ivan, even though it's a few hours away now.

Up to 500,000 people have been slated for possible evacuation, because they live in low-lying areas of the capital or thereabouts. But so far, the official tells me that only 1,700 Jamaicans have taken up the offer of places in emergency shelters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Karl Penhaul reporting from Kingston in Jamaica. Good luck to you, Karl, and to all the residents of Jamaica.

Is the latest al Qaeda tape authentic? Experts weigh in and warn of what it could mean as tomorrow's 9/11 anniversary approaches.

Also this...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATHER: The questions raised in the story are serious and legitimate questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A veteran journalist swept up in a new controversy over presidential politics and documents some say were forged.

And this...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEIDENBERGER: ... then fell on the floor with the dog and just cried his heart out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Two families, three years after 9/11. They share their wrenching journey with us. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Turning now to terrorism -- a CIA official says a technical analysis shows that tape which aired yesterday on Al-Jazeera is of recent vintage and there's, quote, "high confidence that the person shown is indeed Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's right-hand man. The official also says there's a high level of concern about possible terror attacks tied to tomorrow's 9/11 anniversary.

Ceremonies marking the anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks will take place in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania -- indeed, around the country tomorrow. The day will, of course, be particularly emotional for those who lost loved ones in the attack.

CNN's Brian Todd has been speaking this week to some families who lost loved ones. He's joining us now live -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we thought we might find some emotional stories of how victims' relatives are coping three years later. What we didn't expect was to find were parallels in two men's lives that were so striking.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): For Abe Scott and Tom Heidenberger, the need to stay busy is just one thing they share.

SCOTT: I'll be going a mile a minute.

TODD: These two men didn't have much in common three years ago. But when a plane slammed into the Pentagon, their lives became eerily similar. Each man, in an instant, turned widower after long, loving marriages.

SCOTT: I was walking around like a zombie, also thinking about what -- you know, what I was going to do without her.

TODD: Each man, thrust into single parenthood in mid-life. Each with children in their teens and 20s. Each with a sudden crisis they couldn't comprehend, let alone explain to their children.

HEIDENBERGER: I needed about an hour to get myself together.

TODD: Tom Heidenberger is a pilot for US Airways. His wife Michelle was a flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 77. He received the news relatively early that morning. Then, he had to tell his son.

HEIDENBERGER: You know, he then fell on the floor with the dog and just cried his heart out. And you know, I was there with him. And then, when my daughter came home, you know, her first words were, you know, "Mom's not going to be at my wedding."

You know, for any parent to have to tell that they lost either a mother, a spouse, or a fellow sibling, and to have to tell that and to see your children's pain and agony, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

TODD: For Abe Scott, no quick certainty. His wife, Janice, a civilian budget analyst at the Pentagon, was designated as missing for weeks. How to explain this to 15 and 23-year-old daughters?

SCOTT: It was very hard for me to talk to them about it, about the situation. But they knew -- they knew.

TODD: For both men, the female buffer to their daughters was gone. They tried to cope, sought psychological help, went through awkward, sometimes excruciating, periods -- but also found a certain place with their children.

HEIDENBERGER: She will ask me questions she would normally ask her mother about dating or, you know, what to wear or, "Should I go to this event, or shouldn't I go to this event?"

TODD: All four of their children have either graduated, are in college, or will be soon. But with that success, you sense in each man a certain happiness framed only in the past.

SCOTT: I try not to think about the present. I try to think about the past when she was alive. Good things that we had, that we did together. HEIDENBERGER: I never really got to tell my wife what a wonderful person she was. I mean, she knew it, but it would make me feel better, you know, if I could have told her again and again and again. And I don't have that chance.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (on camera): Two extraordinary men who both say the passage of time has been surreal -- that, in a sense, it seems like 9/11 was yesterday. -- but especially measured against how their children have changed since then, Tom Heidenberger, in particular, says it also seems like a lifetime ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a sad, sad story. Thanks, Brian, very much.

Russia is also coping with its own terror attack in the wake of that deadly school standoff. In one apartment complex, almost all the children were killed. We'll take you there to hear their stories. That's coming up.

Plus this...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATHER: I believe -- I know that this story is true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Dan Rather, in his own words, defending his work. A new twist in the debate over President Bush's military record. We'll get Dan Rather's complete story. That's coming up.

Also ahead, new hope for the Genesis mission. Why NASA scientists now say all may not necessarily have been lost.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Were documents critical of the president's military record forged? We'll hear what veteran journalist Dan Rather has to say. He's among those at the center of the controversy. He spoke out earlier today.

First, though, let's get a quick check of some stories now in the news.

More U.S. airstrikes in the rest of the Iraqi city of Fallujah. For a fourth straight day, U.S. jets fired missiles at insurgent positions. Military officials say a rocket launcher on the outskirts of the city was the latest target. There's no immediate word on casualties.

In Najaf, 500 people gathered to demand that the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr leave the city. Al-Sadr supporters say the demonstrators were police and National Guard troops organized by the Iraqi interim government. A larger pro-al-Sadr demonstration took place in a Baghdad suburb.

NASA researchers say that, from a scientific standpoint, all was not lost when the Genesis space capsule crashed into the Utah desert earlier this week. Scientists say they have recovered some critical particle collectors and they're optimistic valuable data from the craft's three-year journey into space survived.

Keeping you informed, CNN, the most trusted name in news.

Back now to our top story, the drama developing around a series of documents which appear to show that President Bush ducked his Vietnam-era duty while he served in the Air National Guard. The memos, purportedly from Bush's commander, suggest the young officer ignored a direct order and lost his pilot status. But some experts are now suggesting the memos could have been forged.

CBS News first aired the documents on its "60 Minutes" program. CBS anchor Dan Rather today strongly defended the report.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATHER: The story is true. The story is true. And the questions raised in the story are serious and legitimate questions.

The questions are: Did Lieutenant Bush refuse a direct order from military superior in a time of war? Question one.

Question two: Was he suspended for not -- for failure -- in the words of the document, for failure to perform up to the standards of the U.S. Air Force and the Texas Air National Guard? That's number two.

Three: Did he ever take the physical that he was ordered to take by his military superior?

Four: If he didn't take that physical, why did he not take that physical?

I want to emphasize, I stand behind my president in a time -- we are in a time of war, and I stand behind my president. There's no joy in reporting such a story. But my job as a journalist is not to be afraid and when we come with facts and legitimate questions that are supported by witnesses and documents which we believe to be authentic to raise those questions, no matter how unpleasant they are.

I do want to underscore with you that the White House, which took their shots at us today, the Bush/Cheney campaign took their shots at us, they have not answered the question of, did or did not the president obey a direct order from his military superior while he was a lieutenant? Did he or did he -- was he or was he not suspended for failure to meet performance standards of the Air Force and Texas Air National Guard? If he didn't take the physical, why didn't he take the physical?

Also, one of the questions that is out there is where is the efficiency report every officer -- particularly a flying officer is supposed to have a yearly efficiency report. There is no such report for the last year. I emphasize again, there is no joy in asking these questions, but I think these are legitimate questions. And I stand by our story.

QUESTION: Does it concern you when...

RATHER: Let me ask you, did you have a question or you just want to listen?

QUESTION: I just want to know how you feel about it?

RATHER: I feel terrific.

QUESTION: But how you do feel about the whole investigation (OFF-MIKE)?

RATHER: What investigation?

QUESTION: We read that CBS is now having an internal investigation.

RATHER: Where did you read that?

(CROSSTALK)

RATHER: You should stay away from rumor mills, you know.

QUESTION: Well, that's why

(CROSSTALK)

RATHER: Where did you read it?

QUESTION: In "The Washington Post" article.

RATHER: No, they didn't say it in "The Washington Post" article.

(CROSSTALK)

RATHER: There is not an internal investigation. I don't want to argue with you.

QUESTION: No, no.

(CROSSTALK)

RATHER: You were asking on the basis of a rumor. And I'm trying to state to you that, you know, the Internet is filled with all kinds of rumors. And I like a good rumor as well as the next fellow.

But it's important to recognize what's a rumor and what's a fact. And sometimes the rumors are true. In this case, they are not. There is no internal investigation. I am happy in my work, as I hope you can see. I am proud of our story. I am proud of CBS News. I'm proud of the team I work with, stand with them completely. I appreciate the sources who took risks to authenticate our story. So, one, there's no internal investigation. Two, somebody may be shell-shocked, but it is not I and it is not anybody at CBS News. Now, you can tell who is shell-shocked by the ferocity of the people who are spreading these rumors, in my judgment. Now, I'm sorry. I just want to be fair

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... when there's significant evidence that those documents may have been forged or created at a later date, do you think there's any requirement? Are you considering any kind of apology or retraction on that report on "60 Minutes II"?

RATHER: Absolutely.

There's lots in that question. Number one, I believe -- I know that this story is true. I believe the witnesses and the documents are authentic. We wouldn't have gone to air if they had not been. There isn't going to be -- there's no -- what did you, say an apology?

QUESTION: Apology or any kind of retraction or...

RATHER: Not even discussed, and nor should it be.

I want to make clear to you. I want to make clear to you, if I have not made clear to you, that this story is true and that more important questions than how we got the story, which is where those who don't like the story would like to put the emphasis. The more important question is, what are the answers to the questions raised in this story which I just gave you earlier?

I'm sorry. Did you have anything else.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Thank you.

RATHER: OK. Not at all.

Thank you. Nice to meet you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now, two guests: Howard Wolfson, a senior communications advisor to the Democratic National Committee; Attorney Ben Ginsberg -- he left his post as legal advisor to the Bush/Cheney campaign in the wake of those Swift Boat ads.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Ben, let me begin with you and get your reaction to what's happening right now in this uproar.

BENJAMIN GINSBERG, FMR. BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: Well, I think in the uproar, you see basically Dan Rather in a position where he really needs to answer how this -- how he got this story. In all the reporting done that was about the Swift Boat Vets, there was a lot about the sources and the connections.

That's something that in the fairness of putting out this story, Mr. Rather should also answer. He should also answer the questions of, did he ever talk to the son, the widow, the person who wrote the documents, Ben Barnes' daughter, who says he is only doing it for political reasons, in the name of getting out a full story?

BLITZER: So, you believe these are forgeries?

GINSBERG: Oh, I don't know. I think that will all come out. I'm sure CBS will tell us whether they were forgeries or not.

The point is really, was CBS used as an arm of the Kerry campaign? And I must say, Mr. Rather did an excellent job of rattling out the DNC talking points that I'm sure Howard will be able to amplify.

BLITZER: All right, Howard, what do you think about this?

HOWARD WOLFSON, DNC SR. COMMUNICATIONS ADVISOR: Well, look, Ben Ginsberg knows that it's the president of the United States who has questions that he needs to answer. Dan Rather is one of the most respected names in American journalism, has been for decades. He makes a very compelling case that these documents are real and he stands by his story.

BLITZER: But we've spoken to experts who say that there are some inconsistencies.

WOLFSON: And some may.

But the fact is that many news organizations, including "The Boston Globe" and the Associated Press, have reported on this issue. And what have they found? They found that the president didn't do his duty, that he missed time in Alabama, that he missed a physical, and that he essentially stopped showing up when he was in Alabama. And they found that Ben Barnes did pull strings to get him in.

So, these are serious accusations. The president has essentially hid behind his spokespeople for a long time on this issue. He's lied to the American people about this. And he should come out and answer...

BLITZER: That's a serious allegation.

WOLFSON: It is a serious charge.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Give us one specific time when he's lied.

WOLFSON: When he was in the Oval Office this past year being interview by Tim Russert, he said, I did my duty. We know that he didn't show up for months at a time. We know that he didn't take his physical and we know that he was grounded. Is that...

BLITZER: We also know he got an honorable discharge.

WOLFSON: Is that doing his duty, Wolf?

BLITZER: He got an honorable discharge.

WOLFSON: Is being grounded doing his duty?

BLITZER: If he wouldn't have done his duty, would he have gotten an honorable discharge?

WOLFSON: That's a question for the president. And I'm hoping that the president will come forward, will put this matter behind us, will answer questions in an appropriate and dignified way. This president has held fewer press conferences than any president since the press conference was invented.

BLITZER: All right.

GINSBERG: I think that is so far over the line that it really doesn't deserve any direct refutation.

BLITZER: Well, let me stop you on that. Why won't the president come forward and explain some of these things a little bit further?

GINSBERG: Because the president got an honorable discharge, as you pointed out.

Look, the reason the Kerry campaign is raising these issues, which are not relevant to the American people -- they've been aired in every other campaign that the president has run. He's won all those elections -- is that they are plummeting

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But Ben, if this isn't relevant, what he did 30 years ago as a young officer in the Texas Air National Guard, why is John Kerry, what he did as a young officer in the U.S. Navy during and after his service in Vietnam relevant?

GINSBERG: The 250 men who were part of the Swift Boat Veterans served with John Kerry. They have questions about whether he is fit to be commander in chief.

The president, for his part, has commended Senator Kerry for his duty, as we all do. The real point is, is that the Kerry campaign is plummeting in the polls. They have so many new advisors, they can't get out a message. John Kerry doesn't want to answer the questions about what his real position in Iraq is, because he has eight of them.

BLITZER: All right.

Well, let's get back to this issue right now. There's no doubt that the president of the United States spent two years learning how to be a fighter pilot, served almost all of those six years in some capacity, although there are some questions that a few months he may not have necessarily done everything he technically was supposed to do. But it certainly wasn't enough to get him a dishonorable discharge.

WOLFSON: Well, I don't think too many people got dishonorable discharges from the National Guard. And I don't think too many sons of privilege like George Bush got dishonorable discharges from the National Guard.

Look, all we're saying is, let's put this matter behind us. But this goes to the issue of the president's credibility today. And if the president wants to come out and answer some detailed questions about this, not engage in evading the questions or putting spokespeople out on his behalf, answer the questions, legitimate, appropriate questions raised by legitimate news organizations, CBS, "The Boston Globe," Associated Press, we can put this matter behind us.

GINSBERG: Howard, these are not legitimate questions.

Legitimate questions are what is this country going to do in the future. The president got an honorable discharge. The questions that the Kerry campaign wants to avoid is exactly how you are going to pay for $2 trillion in new spending? What are you going to do about health care? What are you going to do about education? You can't answer that.

BLITZER: Did the Republicans bring this on themselves, all these questions about Bush in the Texas Air National Guard, by going after Kerry on the whole issue of the swift boat?

GINSBERG: Well, the campaign did not go after Kerry.

BLITZER: Well, supporters of the president.

GINSBERG: The Swift Boat Veterans, Wolf, are a nonpolitical group. They are people who served with John Kerry. And they feel he's not fit to be commander in chief.

BLITZER: I gave Ben the first word.

Howard, I'll give you the last. Go ahead.

WOLFSON: The idea that the Swift Boat Veterans are nonpolitical is a joke. And this is an issue that the Republicans put on the table by attacking John Kerry's patriotism and his service. Issues have been raised about the president. They are legitimate issues and he should answer them.

BLITZER: We'll continue this discussion on another occasion. Thanks to both of you for coming in.

GINSBERG: Thanks.

BLITZER: Thank you. Here's your chance to weigh in on this story. Our Web question of the day is this: Do you think the recently released memos on President Bush's National Guard service are authentic? You can vote. Go to CNN.com/Wolf right now. We'll have the results for you a little bit later in this broadcast.

Grieving after Russia's deadly school siege. The families of one apartment complex try to cope with the loss of 80 percent -- yes, 80 percent -- of their children.

Plus, the issue that could be a big test for John Kerry next week. Our Carlos Watson, he is standing by. He has "The Inside Edge."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Russia's president agreed today to a parliamentary investigation of that bloody school siege that left 330 people dead in the southern town of Beslan. And hoping to calm rising ethnic tensions, regional leaders are mounting a publicity campaign urging angry citizens not to give into hatred. But in Beslan, there seems to be nothing to do but grieve.

CNN's Jill Dougherty is there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): In the courtyard on School Lane, the men are boiling lamb, a meal in memory of the dead. By tradition, the men sit stoically, making solemn toasts to the departed. The women shed tears. There are almost no children.

Nearly all the children who lived on this street attended Beslan's Public School Number 1, right next door. Very few survived.

(on camera): The school is located right over there, very close, just a couple of hundred yards away, over those garages, so close that the terrorists fired off an incendiary device that started a fire in that building. And then throughout this complex, in all of these apartments, practically, people were able to come to the windows and watch as the terrorists took over that school.

Residents here say in these two buildings alone they lost 33 people, many of them children. And it seems that no matter which door you knock on in this apartment building, there's a family that lost someone.

(voice-over): On the bed where her 13-year-old son Zaour (ph) used to sleep, Susana Dudiyeva, has placed his picture next to his favorite stuffed animals. She buried Zaour the day before yesterday.

"In the morgue, I found him among the grown men," she says. "He was so big, such a strong boy. They told me it couldn't be, but I knew immediately it was my son." Her 19-year-old daughter, Zarina, accompanied her brother to school the day the terrorists took them hostage. She was sitting next to him in the gymnasium, shown in this videotape filmed by the terrorists themselves. They were together when the first bomb went off.

ZARINA DAUROVA, HOSTAGE CRISIS SURVIVOR (through translator): I had a feeling I was falling, burning in fire. I could hear muffled screams. I thought I was dead, but I opened my eyes and realized I could move. I saw a woman on fire. It was horrible. I think I was the only one who survived in that corner.

DOUGHERTY: At the Dudiyevas' house, in an ancient ritual, the women bless their food and offer it up to feed the soul of 13-year-old Zaour and all the children who died with him.

Jill Dougherty, CNN, Beslan, Russia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Polls showed President Bush in the lead over John Kerry this week, as the 2004 campaign went into the post-Labor Day stretch. But just how significant is that lead?

Our political analyst Carlos Watson joins us now from Mountain View, California, with "the Inside Edge."

What do you make of this post-convention bounce, if you can call it that, for the president, Carlos?

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's great news for the president, Wolf. No two ways about it. Not only the national polls are showing the first substantial lead for him since earlier in the year, but number two, in a number of the state polls, you see a lot of good news, too, including in states that should be good for Democrats, like Iowa.

On the other hand, two things to remember historically. One, incumbents who traditionally have won, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, typically have had even bigger leads at this point, solid double-digit leads.

And number two, we've seen at least four major collapses or near collapses from people who were in the lead at Labor Day in the past. In 1948, we saw it, 1968, 1976 and 1980, we saw leads of 10 points or more shrivel or completely go away. So, got to be careful about celebrating on Labor Day.

BLITZER: Certainly, John Kerry is sounding a much more aggressive note of late. What do you make of that?

WATSON: Certainly, he's energized. The Republican National Convention not only help the president, but arguably helped energize Democrats as well.

But two things to think about. One: How aggressive will the media be about going after the personal side, some of the personal challenges to the president, including one of the stories we covered earlier, the president's war record back during Vietnam?

And number two: Can John Kerry make September the month that we focus not on the war, not on terrorism, but instead focus on the economy and particularly outsourcing?

Outsourcing is really his wedge issue. And if he can get everyone focused on that, you might see some movement in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and even Florida in terms of the polls.

BLITZER: He hasn't succeeded yet in that, but the month is still young.

What about the debates? How significant will they be?

WATSON: They will be very significant, whether we have two or three debates. I really think the big question with the debates will be, can the president make sure that in both debates or all three debates that every issue can be talked about? Meaning that he can talk about terrorism in each debate.

If he succeeds in having -- if John Kerry succeeds, on the other hand, succeeds in having one debate focus on national security and one focused on the economy, he might be better served in fact to have one that focuses on a net job loss over the last four years in the case of the president.

BLITZER: Carlos Watson with "The Inside Edge" -- thanks, Carlos.

WATSON: Good to see you.

BLITZER: And we'll have the results of our Web question of the day. That's just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's how you're weighing in on our Web question of the day; 51 percent of you say yes; 49 percent of you say no. You remember the question. Remember, though, this is not a scientific poll.

A reminder, you can always catch us here on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS weekdays at this time, 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Tune in for "LATE EDITION" this Sunday, the last word in Sunday talk. Among my guests, the National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. That's Sunday, noon Eastern.

Until then, thanks for joining us.

"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


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