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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Search For Source of CBS Documents Continues; Chilling Conclusion on WMD

Aired September 17, 2004 - 20:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening. Thanks so much for joining us tonight on PRIME TIME POLITICS.

Tonight, the search for the source of the CBS documents on the president's military service.

A new report on weapons of mass destruction, does it draw a chilling conclusion?

And negative and nastier than ever. A new swarm of political ads infest the airwaves.

And we start tonight in Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, the justification for war, and what a leaked report may mean in the race for the White House.

Here's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the moments coalition troops moved, Americans waited for the discovery, a biological weapons plant, a chemical weapons factory, nuclear components. Now a year and a half later, another report is being prepared which says the fears greatly outweighed the reality.

And war opponents like Mike Zmolek are hoping voters will react.

MIKE ZMOLEK, ENDTHEWAR.ORG: Well, I think the Bush administration has to be held accountable for taking the country to war on the basis of a falsehood.

FOREMAN: Taking Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction was the White House's main reason for war.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction.

FOREMAN: But the new report, which is still in draft form, repeats what the Senate Intelligence Committee and another investigator have already found. While Hussein was making moves to develop such weapons, he was a long way from having them on a large scale. Accordingly, public trust in the president's original claim has steadily dropped. A poll this summer showed 45 percent of Americans now think the White House intentionally misled them. But the Pew Research Center's Carroll Doherty says many voters consider the issue old hat.

CARROLL DOHERTY, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: What matters is how things are going over there now, their perceptions of casualties, their perceptions of whether we have a way out, whether we're winning or losing the war in Iraq.

FOREMAN (on camera): That's what voters care about, not why we got in?

DOHERTY: Pretty much.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The White House, which once talked so much about Iraq's weapons, now talks more often about other reasons for the war.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Saddam Hussein was a threat.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Saddam Hussein was a very dangerous man.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was an evil, evil regime.

FOREMAN: And John Kerry, perhaps because he supported invading Iraq and still does, seems unable to capitalize, no matter how many times the president's first reason for war is questioned.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And that was our Tom Foreman.

Let's turn now to two former weapons inspectors in Albany, New York. Scott Ritter was the chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq until 1988. And, in Washington, David Albright, president of Institute of Science and International Security. He worked with the International Atomic Energy team that analyzed Iraq's nuclear program from 1992 to 1997.

Welcome, gentlemen.

Scott, I am going to start with you this evening.

Sources are telling CNN that this latest report shows that Saddam Hussein had a clear intent to produce weapons of mass destruction. When you judge this report, do you think it provides the Bush administration any cover as it tries to defend the war in Iraq?

SCOTT RITTER, FORMER CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR IN IRAQ: Well, if this report can sustain this notion that Iraq, that Saddam Hussein intended to acquire weapons of mass destruction, clearly, it gives credence to the president's warnings that Saddam Hussein was a growing danger that had to eventually be dealt with, either now or down the road.

The problem is, the report doesn't, you know, provide any facts to -- to sustain this. What you have is Charles Duelfer continuing David Kay's assertions that there are no massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. There are no programs that are producing weapons of mass destruction. You have intent. And I think it's imperative that, if they're going to make a case based on intent, they have to declassify those portions of this report that sustain that.

We need to know what sources Charles Duelfer is relying upon when he speaks of intent, because, otherwise, I think what we have here is a politicized document that is indeed trying to provide cover for George Bush.

ZAHN: Scott, why are you so convinced that the conclusions of this report are politically motivated?

RITTER: Look, I know Charles Duelfer. This is a man who was the deputy director of -- executive chairman for UNSCOM. He's a man who helped destroy the credibility of an organization I dedicated seven years of my life to. He allowed the intelligence communities of the United States to use the United Nations inspectors as a Trojan horse to gather intelligence on -- so I question Charles Duelfer. I question the Iraq Survey Group. I question the motives of the Bush administration in pursuing the WMD issue.

ZAHN: Are you suggesting, Scott, tonight that Mr. Duelfer sold out to help the president get elected or reelected?

RITTER: I think Mr. Duelfer was selected to fill this position in Iraq because he was somebody the administration could count on to ensure that the data that emerges in regards to weapons of mass destruction would be spun to the political advantage of the president. Absolutely.

ZAHN: Mr. Albright, do you believe these findings are what they are to serve a political purpose?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE & INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: I think I would be more cautious and would like to see them first.

Certainly understand, Charles Duelfer had a pretty clear point of view on this idea that Saddam Hussein had intentions to get nuclear weapons and as soon as the inspections ended or sanctions stopped, then Saddam would move forward. And so I think Duelfer has in fact stated publicly, probably on CNN for a long -- and has held this belief for a long time that intentions were the main worry and that it wasn't so much perhaps what he had before the war, but that it's better to go now and get rid of him than to wait and do it later.

And so, with that being said, I think I would like to see the report before I judge, because I do know that there's a lot of honest people that have worked on this and there is going to be quite a fight within the intelligence community, within the broader inspector community that's involved in the Iraqi Survey Group to get as much out as possible.

ZAHN: Let me ask you this, David Albright. Sources familiar with the findings also say that Saddam Hussein was importing ballistic materials, that he worked to obtain ballistic missiles with ranges beyond the allowed limit, and that he continued to deceive U.S. inspectors.

Does that show intent, in your judgment?

ALBRIGHT: You may have some intentions, but you have intentions without any capability.

And, in that sense, we all have intentions. But a lot of things just never happen. And I think part of the problem that this report is going to face on the nuclear side is that, yes, they could come some arguments that some wanted to move forward, if they could. But there was almost nothing in Iraq to work with that would have allowed them to succeed in any meaningful period of time.

ZAHN: David Albright, Scott Ritter, we've got to leave it there this evening. Thank you for both of your perspectives.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

ZAHN: Now on to another perspective. on this.

Joining us from Pittsburgh is Kiron Skinner, an assistant professor of history and political science at the Carnegie Mellon University and a research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution.

Always good to see you. Welcome, Kiron.

KIRON SKINNER, HOOVER INSTITUTION: Thank you.

ZAHN: First of all, you just heard Mr. Ritter's charge that the conclusions of this report are being spun to save the administration's rear end. Your reaction?

SKINNER: I just don't understand that, because I think we have got to look. First of all, we need to wait for the report to be released and we can think about it in a more comprehensive way. Links are one thing. But a definitive study that is reviewed by many is another.

But, second, we need to go back and look at the events leading up to the war on Iraq. First of all, Saddam Hussein was, as a dictator, in a class by himself. He was really a class-A dictator. He had used WMD against his own people.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: But, Kiron, what the leak is showing, that there was no indication that Saddam Hussein posed any threat to the United States.

SKINNER: No, the report does not say that. What we know about the report now, Paula, it talks about... ZAHN: It's the issue of intent. And it's exactly what David Albright just said.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: He said, it's one thing if you have the weapons before the war. But how do we know what Saddam Hussein's intent was after the war?

SKINNER: We have to -- let's let me finish, if you will -- intent coupled with capability. And that's what's important here.

And it's also his track record. And before you stopped me, I was saying, look at his track record. He had used WMD against his own people. He had invaded Kuwait, after just having finished a few years earlier an eight-year bloody war with Iran in which more than a million people lost their lives. He was in violation -- and this is really important -- of almost every U.N. resolution and cease-fire agreement ending the Gulf War and disallowing U.N. inspectors into the country. That is a stunning picture of what his intent was.

This is not an average dictator who's out to just protect his own territory and his regime.

ZAHN: Right.

SKINNER: This is someone who had been menacing around the world against his neighbors, against the broader community, and had used WMD.

ZAHN: So, let's go back to David Albright's argument, that it is very difficult to speculate about intent. He basically said he didn't think Saddam Hussein had the capability you're talking about. And he was a former inspector. Is he wrong?

SKINNER: Right. But I believe Kay was working on the issue of inspections. And we're looking at the report now. That was 11 months ago, the interim report put forth by Mr. Kay.

We're looking at now a more detailed and comprehensive report that is looking at labs that were closed that we did not know about earlier. And we're getting somewhat of a different picture. So I think that this issue of Saddam Hussein needs to be embedded in a broader understanding of his own track record. And that has not been a core part of our discussion.

Furthermore, Paula, I don't the report is necessary for the administration to protect itself or to come out looking better in terms of the war in Iraq.

ZAHN: OK.

SKINNER: If you look at what the president was saying early on, before he went into Iraq,, he talked about unbalanced dictators and their relationship to terrorists. He had other justifications that I'd like to explore on top of (CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: OK. Well, unfortunately, you're going to have to do that on another appearance. We've run of time here, Kiron Skinner.

SKINNER: Thank you.

ZAHN: We do need to point out to the audience that this was a classified document that was leaked. And it is not clear, even with as much congressional pressure to release the whole document, exactly what part of the report we'll ultimately see.

Again, Kiron Skinner, thanks for your time.

SKINNER: Thanks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Punch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: John Kerry attacking the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: Here's what Kerry says and then here's what Kerry does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Counterpunch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: Not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: George Bush got us into this quagmire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: The campaigns and their followers lash out in a bare- knuckle brawl with nasty new ads.

And chasing down the "60 Minutes" National Guard documents. Who's behind them? Where did they come from?

Plus, the PRIME TIME POLITICS voting booth question for tonight: Why haven't weapons of mass destruction been found in Iraq? They were destroyed. They were transferred to another country. They never existed. They're still hidden in Iraq. Visit our Web site, CNN.com/Paula. Let us know what you think. The results at the end of the hour.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Since Sunday in Iraq, car bombs set off by insurgents, street fighting and U.S. airstrikes have taken nearly 200 lives. Today in Baghdad, a car bomb went off in the busy shopping area on Al- Rashid street. Eight people died, including three police officers.

Earlier, a mile away, U.S. forces opened fire on a car packed with explosives after it tried to break through a security barrier. The two people in the car died in that blast, all this as President Bush and Senator Kerry spar over classified intelligence report leaked this week that paints a pessimistic picture of Iraq's future, at best, an unstable Iraq for years, at worst, a civil war.

Joining us now from Washington to look at how this will affect the presidential race, let's check in with regular contributor and "TIME" columnist Joe Klein.

Good evening. Nice to have you with us tonight, Joe.

JOE KLEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hi, Paula.

ZAHN: When you have some one like Republican Senator Hagel saying this report is an acknowledgement that -- quote -- "you know you are in deep trouble," you have got to imagine that this is really going to hurt the Bush administration. Could this report cost the president the election?

KLEIN: Well it depends on whether or not John Kerry can make that case.

Let me tell you how important this is. This is a national intelligence estimate. It represents a consensus opinion of the entire intelligence community. It was a report like this in October of 2002 that gave George Bush the rationale to go to war in Iraq, because it said that Saddam Hussein probably had weapons of mass destruction.

Now that very same intelligence community is saying that this war is being lost.

ZAHN: Do you see John Kerry using this aggressively enough over the last 24 hours? Will he get any traction out of it?

KLEIN: Well, he has been trying to. And I can tell you this, Paula, from my reporting. The Kerry campaign has finally come to the conclusion that the war in Iraq, not the domestic economy, is going to be the most important issue for the next 46 days.

ZAHN: Joe, you happened to be with the Bush campaign yesterday when this report became public. What was its level of concern about this report being liked?

KLEIN: Well, it's difficult to tell the level of concern because the president isn't answering questions from the press these days.

But his spokesman, Scott McClellan, came back on Air Force One and talked to a group of us. And what we got was almost entirely spin. He said that these were just scenarios. I pointed out that all scenarios were bad. He ignored that. He said that pessimists and naysayers have -- have always discounted the Iraqi people's ability to overcome things. And another reporter pointed out that -- asked McClellan if he was saying that the CIA was composed of pessimists and naysayers. He didn't answer that either.

This is clearly a very troubling situation for the White House. The president doesn't mention these sort of things when he speaks. The big question is whether John Kerry is going to be able to penetrate the president's body armor, so to speak, when we get to the debates. I suspect that that is going to be the most important moment in the debates. But what we have here is a clear consensus by most people in the CIA and the other intelligence agencies that this thing is going down the tubes.

ZAHN: Well, you're even beginning to hear Republicans say, I told you so, Mr. President.

KLEIN: Well, yes. I think that there are a great number of Republicans who think that this war is probably the wrong thing.

And now you have another story today about secret plans to raise the troop levels after the election. This came from Congressman Murtha of Pennsylvania, a conservative Democrat who is one of the most respected people when it comes to military affairs. Now, I don't whether the president has these secret plans. But I do know that the Pentagon is probably doing some contingency planning at this point.

And they will approach the next president of the United States, whether it be Bush or Kerry, and they'll say, Mr. President, we can't win this war with the resources we have on the ground. What do you want to do?

ZAHN: That's an issue we're going to follow up on a little bit later in the broadcast tonight.

Joe Klein, thanks so much for joining us. Have a good weekend.

KLEIN: My pleasure.

ZAHN: And today, John Kerry attacked the Bush campaign by going after the company the vice president used to run.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As commander in chief, I have got two words for companies like Halliburton that abuse the American taxpayer and the trust: You're fired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And even more documents on the president's time in the National Guard, what they show straight out of the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The White House has repeatedly said that all of President Bush's National Guard records have been released. But, tonight, the Pentagon is releasing more of them.

Senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre joins us live to tell us what they show.

Always good to see you, Jamie.

You have had a chance to look at these documents. Do they show the president got preferential treatment in getting into the National Guard?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, they don't really.

And I should point out that the Pentagon officials here, Paula, say that the reason they found these additional documents is that the White House told them to go back and don't limit yourself just to George Bush's personnel file. Find anything related to him or the squadrons he was in, even if it doesn't mention him. And that's what they did.

Probably the most interesting thing we found was a 1968 thank-you letter from then Congressman George Bush, the father, who went on to become president, the first president. He is writing to the commander of his son's training base. He says -- quote -- "That a major general in the Air Force would interest in a brand new Air Force trainee made a big impression on me." He also went on to say that he had a feeling his son would be a gung-ho member of the unit.

Now, other than that, most of the 79 pages that were released don't mention even Bush. They're squadron histories of the Alabama National Guard unit that he was supposed to go and do alternate service. But it makes no mention of him, doesn't really answer the question one or another what he did in Alabama.

ZAHN: Let's come back to the letter for a moment, the father contacting his son's commanding officer. Is that that unusual?

MCINTYRE: Well, especially for the commander to write to the father, who is a congressman on the Ways and Means Committee, probably something that was done all the time.

The Democrats, though, were quick to seize on this as what they said was preferential treatment. The Democratic National Committee put out a statement quickly. They said that it was evidence that he was getting preferential treatment. "These documents," they say, "demonstrate yet again that George Bush was a fortunate son who received special consideration unavailable to the average American." The White House insists that's nonsense and that they simply show that Bush completed his service, as they said all along.

ZAHN: It was a day of the warring press releases here. Then I understand there was also another release put out by the National Guard today. What did it say?

MCINTYRE: Well, also in here, there were news releases written from the time back to the hometown newspaper. It was common practice back then, say how the people were doing.

One of them is particularly ironic given the drug culture of the time and also the allegations about drug use. It says: "George Bush is one member of the younger generation who doesn't get his kicks from pot, hashish or speed. He gets high, all right, but not from narcotics," noting his solo flight in an F-102 fighter.

ZAHN: All right, so what is this all supposed to mean, Jamie?

MCINTYRE: Well, what it means is, we still don't have an answer to the key question what was George Bush doing after he left the Texas National Guard and he went to Alabama to work on that senatorial campaign. The records don't answer that. The White House is hoping this is going to put a final end to it. But the Democrats, again, are making hay with this.

ZAHN: All right, Jamie McIntyre, thanks so much for the update. Appreciate it.

John Kerry now says the situation in Iraq is so bad that the Bush administration has a secret plan to call up more Reserve and National Guard troops after the election. The Bush campaign calls that claim completely irresponsible and baseless.

Here is a look at more of today's developments on the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Senator John Kerry stumped out West in New Mexico and Colorado, where his criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq policy had a new target, the energy company Halliburton that Vice President Dick Cheney used to run and its controversial contract in Iraq.

KERRY: While Halliburton has been engaging in massive overcharging and wasteful practices under this no-bid contract, Dick Cheney has continued to receive compensation from his former company.

ZAHN: The senator even managed to quote Donald Trump.

KERRY: As commander in chief, I've got two words for companies like Halliburton that abuse the American taxpayer and the trust: You're fired.

ZAHN: A friendly audience in Oregon didn't ask the vice president about Halliburton. But the Cheney campaign accused the Democrats of trying to -- quote -- "motivate their base by leveling old attacks and engaging in character assassination."

Fund-raising in Washington, D.C. and North Carolina, President Bush zeroed in on Senator Kerry's voting record on the Iraq war and funding for U.S. troops.

BUSH: Mixed signals are the wrong signals to send our troops in the field, to the Iraqi people, to our allies, and most of all to our enemies.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And the day's most important political development did not happen on the campaign trail at all, but in a courtroom. Late today, Florida Supreme Court voted 6-1 to put Ralph Nader's name on Florida ballots this November. CNN has confirmed Nader will be on the ballot in 30 states and the District of Columbia. He has been so far rejected from the ballot in 14 states.

Now our final note from the campaign trail. No matter how hard the advance people try to screen the crowds, hecklers still get in. A Dick Cheney speech in Eugene, Oregon, was interrupted at least twice. Everyone seems to have the routine down. The heckler yells. The candidate stops talking. The crowd starts shouting to drown out the interruption. And the heckler gets escorted out, but not always so gently.

The latest aggressive political ads have been let loose in the campaign. We're going to show you how nasty it's getting.

And this was once a popular political idea. Some politicians just never give up.

All that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: As we've see, the candidates for president and vice president are saying some pretty ugly thing about each other. But it is nothing compared to what is being said in the ad wars, this year in particular.

If you think the attack ads can't get any nastier, just wait for the next round.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George W. Bush got us into this quagmire. It will take a new president to get us out.

ZAHN (voice-over): An American soldier sinking into quicksand. An ugly new image in the ugliest advertising war ever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Halliburton got Billions in bids in Iraq. Cheney got $2 million. What did we get? A $200 Billion Bill from Iraq.

ZAHN: Today's offering from the Kerry campaign, the latest volley in a presidential campaign that has seen an explosion of political commercials, about half a Billion dollars worth by the time it's all over, more than double the amount spent in 2000.

Evan Tracey analyzes campaign ad spending for CNN.

EVAN TRACEY, CNN ADVERTISING ANALYST: About 80 percent of all ad dollars will be spent on some kind of a negative or comparative ad.

ZAHN: Watching TV these days is not for the faint of heart.

No sooner had Kerry locked up the Democratic nomination in March when George W. Bush started pounding him on the airwaves.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I actually did vote for the $87 Billion before I voted against it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wrong on defense.

ZAHN: The president himself had been pummeled for months...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Bush Medicare sellout, it's enough to make you sick.

ZAHN: ... by left leaning groups like MoveOn.org that have pumped millions into the race.

Republican leaning groups haven't spent nearly as much, but they've gotten a lot more bang for their bucks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam.

ZAHN: The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth spent very little on their initial ads. But the spots caught the eye of a select and influential group: reporters.

TRACEY: These advertising have become part of the press coverage. They may only be bought in a few markets in a few states, but they're getting a national audience through the news media's coverage of negative advertising.

ZAHN: The ad hurt Kerry and helped the swift boat group raise even more money, which meant more attack ads like this one released today.

KERRY: We threw away the symbols of what our country gave us, and I'm proud of that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry, can you trust anything he says?

ZAHN: Viewers say enough is enough. Sixty-eight percent of voters who have seen lots of ads say the campaign's too negative. Even 56 percent of voters who haven't seen any ads at all agree. But according to Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center, although voters they hate negative ads, they work.

ANDREW KOHUT, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: Very often, we see this phenomenon: "I don't like negative ads." And then when you look at the attitudes, the trends in the attitudes of voters, they reflect the negative ads.

ZAHN: And as long as that holds, television screens will remain a key campaign battleground.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So let's talk more about what we are seeing in the political ad wars. We're joined by political strategist and ad maker Bill Carrick, who joins me from Los Angeles. He is taking his Democratic strategist hat off tonight.

You're going to be my unbiased ad guy, right?

BILL CARRICK, DEMOCRATIC MEDIA CONSULTANT: I'm going to be your fair and balanced guy.

ZAHN: Good. That's what we're counting on you for.

So I am so fascinated to hear these statistics. The majority of Americans say they're sick of these, but they work. That's the dirty little secret, isn't it?

CARRICK: Yes, they are very effective. And the truth is negative ads are often more factual than positive ads. Positive ads have the bigger -- have the biggest whoppers in them.

People tend to focus on the negative ads they think, because they get more factual information out of them.

ZAHN: Do they work for you?

CARRICK: You know, I think this campaign, what we've seen is the actual news cycles had more influence over the campaign than the ads.

The ads have become the backdrop of the campaign. They're almost -- they're not driving the campaign. But they're reinforcing the messages that the candidates are trying to get out there in their public appearances. And they're reinforcing a lot of the information people are getting from the news media.

ZAHN: Is that necessarily a bad thing?

CARRICK: No, not necessarily. Not necessarily. I don't think that negative ads have to be a bad thing. If they're accurate and they're honest. And they're not -- way over the top, they can be a good thing. They give people a -- a point of view, and oftentimes a counterpoint of view that they wouldn't get -- wouldn't get otherwise.

ZAHN: But the truth is, Bill, a lot of the ads are over the top, aren't they?

CARRICK: A lot of them are over the top. And as we've seen this cycle of proliferation of outside groups who really aren't accountable to anybody. They're not accountable to the news media or anybody else.

And they tend to have -- take the ads up a notch or two. They keep getting further and further. And they go over the top. And they've influenced the -- the tone of the ads through out this cycle.

ZAHN: All right. So if you had a magic little wand and you could tell these campaigns which ones should come off the air immediately which ones would they be?

CARRICK: Well, I think, I think the truth is I would like to see the -- you know the campaign finance laws have conspired to drive money away from the parties and away from the candidates into outside groups.

I think that has decreased accountability. I think we'd be better off if the candidates just disclosed where they got the money from, they were running the ads and we could hold them accountable. Over the top or untrue, then they're responsible for them.

ZAHN: We just saws that hideous ad of a man sinking in quicksand, the -- the tagline was that the president has gotten us a quagmire. Would you want that off the air? Is that ad fair?

CARRICK: You know, the truth about the ad, it is really -- the visuals are very ambiguous. They are not -- the visuals detract from the message of the ad.

The ad itself, the words of them are a good strong argument against Iraq and the way the president's conducted the war in Iraq. But the visuals undermine the message of the ad.

ZAHN: So just name one ad you'd pull off the air tonight if you could?

CARRICK: I'd pull all the swift boat ads off the air, and I'd pull the quagmire one off the air.

ZAHN: All right. See, you really were fair and balanced tonight, Bill Carrick. Thanks for joining us.

CARRICK: All righty. Thank you.

ZAHN: It was a CBS News story that revived the whole controversy over the president's National Guard service. It's also set the network scrambling to diffuse doubts about its documents and its credibility. Where the story stands straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And we're back. Tonight CBS News continues to lick its wounds over that "60 Minutes" report on the president's National Guard service. The authenticity of the memos that the CBS story relied upon are still in doubt, and even the network is beginning to acknowledge that.

Well, tonight we're going to look at how a respected news organization like CBS News could get into such a mess.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: It was supposed to be the kind of major investigative story that would challenge the president's credibility.

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: Tonight we have new documents and new information on the president's military service.

ZAHN: But the CBS report on Mr. Bush's National Guard service instead is raising questions about CBS.

The latest doubts center around Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett, who worked here at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas. He advised the National Guard commander who was in charge of Texas National Guard records, including the president's.

It is Burkett who some believe was the source of memos CBS used to suggest First Lieutenant George W. Bush disobeyed orders to take a flight physical. I interviewed Burkett in February, and he told me that he'd seen documents challenging the president's service record.

LT. COL. BILL BURKETT, NATIONAL GUARD (RET.): I saw files on a table but I also saw at the edge of that table a 15 gallon -- roughly 15 gallon old style waste can, metal waste can.

At the top of that were several pages, 20 to 40 pages approximately. I glanced down at the top of those documents. In ink was the word "Bush, George W., 1Lt." This was a performance report.

ZAHN: Since my interview, CBS obtained and broadcast documents allegedly signed by one of First Lieutenant Bush's former commanders, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian.

Immediately after the broadcast there were questions about the authenticity of the documents. CBS won't say who gave it the documents, but two people who reviewed them for CBS tell CNN they bore signs of having been faxed from this Kinko's near Burkett's home in Abilene.

Burkett's lawyer, David Van Os, refuses to say whether his client was the source for the CBS material. But...

DAVID VAN OS, BILL BURKETT'S ATTORNEY: Bill Burkett is a man of the highest integrity, honor and honesty. He would not be capable of forging or falsifying anything. I will stake my good name and reputation on that.

ZAHN: Back in February, this is what Burkett told me about the performance reports he claimed were thrown away.

(on camera) And why were those documents thrown away?

BURKETT: I don't -- I can't answer the question why those documents would be thrown away. A personnel file continues -- contains all of the positive and any potential negatives things. It's an administrative file. That's all that it is.

ZAHN: The source of the documents is vital, because CBS now acknowledges that some of the questions about their authenticity might be valid.

Linda James, one of the experts CBS used, says she told CBS she wasn't sure they were authentic. CBS says she never raised doubts about the document's authenticity until after the "60 Minutes" report aired.

LINDA JAMES, FORENSIC EXPERT: My main was to caution them not to use the handwriting part because there was incomplete evidence and that I could not authenticate these documents for them.

ZAHN: Killian has since died. But the secretary who typed memos for him told CBS she thinks they are fakes, but she believes they accurately reflect her boss' doubts about the president's National Guard service.

Republicans point out that Burkett has a long history of animosity towards the president.

ED GILLESPIE, CHAIRMAN, RNC: And it is increasingly apparent that somebody seeking to help elect Senator Kerry has gone so far as to fake documents, forge them and slip them to an unsuspecting news organization.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And joining us now from Washington two award winning investigator journalists, Michael Isikoff of "Newsweek" magazine and "TIME" magazine's Michael Weisskopf. Good to see both of you.

All right. Michael I. and Michael W. Michael I., we start with you this evening. How did CBS get so scorched on this one?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, "NEWSWEEK": Hard to say because we don't know the whole story. But we do know that they -- they got these documents but have provided no explanation for the chain of custody, as it were.

Where had these documents been for 30 years? How is it that they just now surfaced in the closing weeks of a presidential campaign? And it seems to me without -- without knowing that it's very hard to evaluate the authenticity of the documents.

Now it may be that CBS does know the answers of just where the documents have been, from what file they -- they were in, and how they came to -- into their possession. But they haven't shared that with any viewers. And that does raise the question if they themselves fully know the chain of custody about these documents.

ZAHN: All right. But Michael W., you've been at this a long time. When you're given a juicy piece of information, don't you have to assume at first glance that it is being given to you because some one has a partisan ax to grind or there's some ulterior motive?

MICHAEL WEISSKOPF, "TIME" SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's the first thing you ask, Paula. You go through a bit of cross- examination, both of the person providing the information and anyone named in the document who could be beneficiary of the information.

And then you've got to turn it on yourself. You've got to question whether you've asked all the right questions yourself.

In all these investigative jobs often where there are targets and victims, a single threat can -- can really unravel an entire blanket. And so you have to be extremely careful.

We learn, even in the first days of journalism, make sure we get middle initials right, because you could really discredit yourself by just misspelling a name.

ZAHN: Michael I., how much more complicated does it get when you have these secret sources who you have to protect and who are often very difficult to investigate around without giving up their identities?

ISIKOFF: There are actually very interesting journalistic ethical issues here. We all pledge confidentiality to sources and will all go to jail, ultimately, to protect confidentiality of sources.

But what happens when one -- one of your sources lies to you? What happens if one of your sources slips you documents that turn out to be fraudulent? Then it seems that the equation changes somewhat.

If somebody is party to fraud with you, you have an obligation. Your ultimate obligation is not to your source; it's to your reader or your viewer to give them accurate information.

And it seems to me at this point, the -- the provenance of these documents has become as much an issue if not more of an issue than the actual content and the questions they raised about Bush's National Guard service.

ZAHN: All right. But Michael W., Dan Rather is maintaining that the substance of what was in these, you know, alleged documents basically reinforces the idea that George W. Bush got preferential treatment.

Now you hear it being battled what's more important the substance of the memos or authenticity of the documents? Do you know with this story if you're not sure about the authenticity of the documents?

WEISSKOPF: Well, that's the great shame here, Paula, an effort to elucidate ends up making much more murky an important part of George W. Bush's history.

The secretary who claims she didn't type these documents claims they did reflect the colonel, Colonel Killian's point of view and that of others. And so it makes it much more difficult, really, to understand. And what could have been a big loss for the president at this point looks like a windfall.

ZAHN: Michael Isikoff, a last word, a brief one at that?

ISIKOFF: Well, I would have to agree with Michael, I would just say. But absent the documents, the questions raised by the secretary, the 86-year-old secretary. Remember something from 30 years ago. I don't think that would be a strong story just on its own.

It's the documents that made the story, and it's the documents that are now in question.

ZAHN: The Michael I. and Y. (sic) show. You were terrific tonight. Thank you for dropping by, gentlemen.

Well, when it comes to the presidential campaign, you may think it's just a two-party system. But there's much more choice out there. You see what we mean right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: All right. We admit it. Republicans and Democrats get most of the attention on primetime politics. But we know that there are other parties, including one that you might think would be extinct.

Bruce Burkhardt went one-on-one with its presidential candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EARL DODGE, HEAD OF NATIONAL PROHIBITION PARTY: There's the state headquarters of the Democratic Party.

BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When you're not one of the big parties, Democrat or Republican, well, sometimes you have to tighten your belt.

DODGE: This was it right here. My office was upstairs.

BURKHARDT: A few years ago, Earl Dodge, head of the National Prohibition Party sold his condo in downtown Denver and moved the party's headquarters to the suburbs.

DODGE: Right here.

BURKHARDT (on camera): This is national headquarters.

DODGE: Yes. This is it.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): From these modest confines, Earl Dodge carries on a proud tradition. DODGE: Do any of you folks want iced tea? Or we can make coffee. A political party founded on the simple belief that the country would be better off without booze.

DODGE: One, because of the impact of alcohol on our society. And two, because no other party will touch the issue at all.

BURKHARDT: But Earl Dodge does touch the issue. An affable man with a gentle soul he's led the Prohibition Party for 25 years and has been its presidential nominee for the last six elections.

DODGE: I think the best vote I ever got was 14,000.

BURKHARDT: When was that?

DODGE: I think that was the first time I ran. They say familiarity breeds contempt.

BURKHARDT: But it's not contempt that works against Earl, it's access to the ballot, nearly impossible in most states. In fact Colorado is the only place where you'll find Earl and his running mate on the ballot.

(on camera) Now, this is your running mate?

DODGE: That's my running mate. He's an attorney in Texas. His name is Howard Liddick.

Hello.

(voice-over) And since presidential candidates have to earn a living, too.

DODGE: Yes, which pin?

BURKHARDT: This is what Earl does.

DODGE: I've got it, and I'll put it in the mail.

BURKHARDT: It's kind of a related profession. He buys and sells vintage political buttons.

DODGE: These were buttons from the period from 1896. That's when buttons were first made, by the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Destroying the demon rum was a joyful spectacle for the drys.

BURKHARDT: Back then, in the late 1800s, the Prohibition Party had a bit more clout than it does today. Its crowning achievement, Prohibition, the so-called noble experiment, when the sale of liquor was illegal from 1920 to 1933.

Ironically, it also brought about the near death of the Prohibition Party. Still, Earl is proud of his party and some of the other things it stood for. DODGE: We were the first party to say women should have the right to vote, that all Americans regardless of color should have the right to vote.

BURKHARDT: But nowadays Earl doesn't know how many supporters his party has out there. His wife Barbara and their children formed the majority of their nominating convention.

DODGE: I was chosen because of my intelligence, my good looks and nobody else wanted to do it.

BURKHARDT: And I can see all of those.

DODGE: Mainly the latter.

BURKHARDT: He won't be invited to the debates. He doesn't have much of a media following, unless you count me.

Oh, one thing he does have. A theme song.

DODGE (singing): No matter what the scoffers say, I'd rather be right than president. I want my conscience clear.

This is Earl Dodge, and I approve of this message.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: No doubt about it, the best campaign song of the season. That was Bruce Burkhardt reporting. We'll be back with the results of tonight's voting booth poll right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Now, it's time for your response to tonight's "Prime Time Politics Voting Booth" question about weapons of mass destruction. Here are the results.

We asked, "Why haven't stockpiles of WMD been found in Iraq?" Eleven percent of you said they were destroyed. Fourteen percent said they were transferred to another country. The overwhelming majority, 71 percent, said they never existed. Three percent say they were hidden in Iraq.

This is not a scientific poll, of course, we remind you, but a sample of your opinions out there. Keep them coming. We're going to ask you a question every night.

We thank you again for joining us this week on our first week of PRIME TIE POLITICS. On Monday night, what they think of U.S. politics, foreign policy and what the rest of the rest of the world thinks of America.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is up next. The mother of Lori Hacking speaks out in her first live prime time interview about the loss of her daughter.

For all of us here, have a great weekend. Hope you'll be back with us on Monday.

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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