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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Andy Card; Interview With John Miller, Peter Bergen

Aired October 31, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon here in New York, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6:00 p.m. in Paris and 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching, from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for our special "LATE EDITION" election preview.
We will get to my interview with the president's White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, in just a few minutes. First, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: With the U.S. presidential election just 48 hours away, President Bush and Senator Kerry are doing a sprint through several critical battleground states, fighting for every last vote.

Our Frank Buckley is covering the Kerry campaign. He is joining us now live from Manchester, New Hampshire.

Frank?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. Senator Kerry coming here to Manchester for a rally later this afternoon, and also an endorsement, we are told, from the management team of the Boston Red Sox, the World Series championship team, and also the beloved team of all of New England. Of course, earlier in the week pitcher Curt Schilling endorsed President Bush.

Earlier today, Senator Kerry woke up in Ohio, where he attended mass at a Catholic church and also services at a Baptist church. Kerry was also in Wisconsin and Iowa on Saturday. He ends his day today in Florida.

The senator did not mention the Osama bin Laden tape on Saturday. This weekend really all about getting out the vote and trying to define one last time the choice for voters. Kerry doing his best to show he will be a champion of the middle class, tossing a football around at the side of the road at one point, buying a round of beers for people and at a bar at another point.

Kerry advisers are feeling pretty good about polling. They believe that the undecided voters will break for them at the end. And, Wolf, they also add that they believe that they're at a better position at this point in the campaign than Al Gore was in 2000, in terms of paid media and ground game and their polling.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Frank Buckley in New Hampshire for us, thank you very much.

President Bush is spending today focusing on the electoral vote rich states of Florida and Ohio. CNN's Elaine Quijano following all these developments. She is joining us now live from the White House.

Elaine?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Wolf. President Bush began by waking up in Orlando, Florida. That's where he had a rally last night. The president then moving on to Miami, where he attended a Catholic church service.

Now, the president is not Catholic, but, of course, the Catholic vote is a crucial one, one that he has aggressively courted not only in Florida but also in other swing states. The Bush team hoping that the president's pro-life position, which is in lock-step with the church's, will help him sway Catholics.

And there you see the president now in Coconut Grove, along with his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush. In these final hours, really, the big push is on to get out the president's base, to energize them, get them to the polls. That's especially true in that state, where 27 electoral votes go to the winner. Victory there of course could offset losses elsewhere. So at this hour you see the president set to speak there. He then moves on to Tampa on the Gulf Coast to rally voters there.

Final stop in Florida will be Gainesville, and then he wraps up the day with a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio tonight.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Elaine Quijano reporting for us. Thank you, Elaine, very much.

Earlier today, I spoke with the White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card about President Bush's campaign sprint to the finish line, the war in Iraq and the new Osama bin Laden videotape.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Andy Card, thanks very much for joining us. We've heard this is almost certainly authentic videotape of Osama bin Laden. What is the best estimate right now, when was it made?

ANDREW CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We don't know, but it appears that it was made in contemporaneous time. I can tell you, it's rhetoric. It's threatening rhetoric. We don't have any specific threat information that comes out of that tape, and our officials in the intelligence community, both in the CIA and the FBI, are working very hard to analyze that tape and compare it with other tapes that have been done. And as you know, Tom Ridge is doing a spectacular job working with Fran Townsend, the homeland security adviser, to make sure that we're all buttoned up, and we've been communicating with people so that they understand the nature of this threat. But it is general in nature rather than specific.

BLITZER: Is it your belief, the government's belief, the best analysts' belief that there were any hidden messages in there, a fatwah or some sort or order to go ahead with a new terror strike against America?

CARD: Well, as I said, our experts are analyzing the tape for that kind of message that might have come, but we think that it was more a rhetorical threat, and there should be no expectation that our democracy will be interrupted as the people show up to vote on Election Day.

The terrorists clearly would like to interrupt our democracy, but that will not happen, so people should feel very comfortable going to vote on Election Day here in the United States.

BLITZER: Will your homeland security advisers, as a result of this bin Laden tape, take any additional security precautions in the coming hours and days?

CARD: Well, we'd anticipated this kind of rhetorical threat or even a more specific threat for some time, so we've already been beefing up security around the country. We have been doing that over the last many months.

And yes, Secretary Ridge has been in communication with the number of the people around the country to make sure that they understand that they should be on their toes, but we are ever- vigilant.

The president has done everything he can to make sure we're secure and safe, and I still think that voters should feel very comfortable going to the polls on Election Day.

This is a great tribute to our Constitution, that we get to vote, and it's the one time when the American people get to pick their leaders. It's not the pollsters or the pundits, it's the people, and democracy will have a chance to work. We're the great democracy in the world, and the voters will have a chance to participate in that great democracy on Election Day.

BLITZER: How frustrating is it, Mr. Card, that with only days left before the U.S. election, Osama bin Laden pops up on television wearing a gold robe, certainly looking pretty good, certainly looking healthy, with a very clear-cut, direct, robust message to the American people? What does that say about the U.S. war on terror if bin Laden can do this?

CARD: Well, first of all, it reflects that we understand the nature of our enemy, and we know that they want to do everything they can to try to disrupt the outstanding work done by the United States, and the heart and compassion of this land as we spread freedom around the world. We know that they want to do us damage, and the president understands the nature of the enemy.

But the way Osama bin Laden looked in that tape does not look the way his organization is. His organization is fractured. We've captured or killed an awful lot of the leadership of the al Qaeda network. They are nowhere near as powerful as they were when they hit us on September 11th. They're on the run. They're hiding. They're not out there boasting with any follow-up action. They are really just filled with hot air and rhetoric right now.

And we're on the hunt. We're going to get them, and they know that we're going to get them, so they're cowering, but they keep showing up every once in a while with these kind of spin videos or CDs. But it's really about the enemy that we're going to get, and we know that. The president will not let the terrorists prevail.

BLITZER: John Kerry keeps saying that you almost had him in Tora Bora, in Afghanistan, but you blew it. You let him go, in effect, outsourcing the hunt for bin Laden to Afghan warlords and diverting badly needed resources to the war in Iraq. What do you say to him?

CARD: I think that's irresponsible. I think it denigrates the troops and the outstanding leadership that our uniformed services have.

Tommy Franks, the commanding general for the war in Afghanistan, has made it very clear that what John Kerry said is not reality. We're going to go get Osama bin Laden, but even if we were to get Osama bin Laden tomorrow, let's not kid ourselves -- the war against terror would not be over, and the president knows that. He understands the nature of this war on terror.

And he'll do everything he can to track down those terrorists. We want to fight them there so we don't have to fight them here, and that is why security is so important.

BLITZER: In the videotape that was released on Friday, bin Laden clearly ridicules the president with this passage. Listen to what he says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSAMA BIN LADEN, AL QAEDA LEADER (through translator): It never occurred to us that he, the commander in chief of the country, would leave 50,000 citizens in the two towers to face those horrors alone, because he thought listening to a child discussing her goats was more important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He is referring to when you first told the president about 9/11, what was happening at the twin towers, he continued reading that book, "My Pet Goat."

What does the president feel when he hears bin Laden try to make fun of him like that?

CARD: Bin Laden is not an honorable person. He killed -- his direction was the cause that killed 3,000 Americans, and he has been a threat to our interests and to the world, and we will defeat the terrorists, and we know that we will win the war on terror.

So I don't take bin Laden with a lot of credibility. I think that he is not a noble figure by any stretch of the imagination. He is a brutal murderer, and he has planned horrible acts against people all around the world. He denies freedom, he denies hope, and he denies opportunity, and the good news that terrorists are on the run.

The president understands the nature of the war against terror, and he has the resolve to follow through. He won't be second-guessed. He'll follow through.

BLITZER: Did the Bush administration appeal to the government of Qatar to stop Al Jazeera from broadcasting this videotape?

CARD: Well, we've made it clear to the government of Qatar for many, many months now that they should not be a party to terrorist acts, or communications from terrorists that could threaten U.S. interests.

So we're disappointed when they run these types of things, but we've made our protest known, and we will not stand by and shirk the responsibility that we have to protect the American people and to defeat terror.

So we're not thrilled about the way Al Jazeera has been a pawn in this process of spreading the horrible words that come out of terrorists' mouths, but they've done it before, they'll probably do it again.

In the meantime, the president will be doing everything he can to find the terrorists, route them out and bring them to justice.

BLITZER: As you know, Mr. Card, another big story this past week, those missing explosives that have not yet been found in Iraq, at that Al-Qaqaa facility.

Why is it that 18 months after the war, 300 tons or 350 tons of sophisticated conventional explosives, that you still don't know what happened to those explosives?

CARD: Well, remember, there are some over 200,000 tons that have been found and destroyed and made inoperable by our spectacular service people who work in the coalition. And so we've made tremendous progress in finding bad weapons and destroying them so that they can't be used against the Iraqi people or anybody else.

And we also don't know all of the facts around the alleged 360 tons or so, if it was in fact -- most of the reports that I've seen that it's far smaller number than that -- and we don't have any evidence that there were lots of trucks lined up to take things out of those storage facilities. After all, the roads at that time were packed with U.S. troops marching onto victory in Baghdad.

So we know that the great job done by our military to find those hundreds of thousands of tons has made a difference, and if a few handful of tons are missing, we're going to try to get to the truth and find out what happened to them.

But we know that we're much safer today than we were prior to the start of that war, and we've taken a lot of those weapons out of circulation and destroyed them.

BLITZER: But you say a handful of missing explosives. Some of those explosives, one pound of that sophisticated explosive could bring down an airliner like PanAm 103. The IAEA was deeply concerned about...

CARD: I'm...

BLITZER: ... those tons of explosives at Al-Qaqaa.

CARD: But they didn't lock them up the right way, and we're going to go in there and try to find the truth and find out what happened. But let's not denigrate the outstanding work done by our troops on the ground at that time.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at some polls. Only a couple of days left before the American people go to vote. We've got a poll of polls, first of all, that I want to put up on the screen to show our viewers. Forty-nine percent right now for Bush, 46 percent for Kerry. This is all the major national polls, a three-point spread, within the margin of error but barely. In Florida, key battleground state, Kerry is at 48, according to this latest poll, Bush at 47, Nader at 1. In Ohio, Bush is at 48, Kerry is at 45. And in Pennsylvania, another battleground state, Bush is at 44, but Kerry is at 47.

Is it your assessment that whoever captures two of those three battleground states will be the next president of the United States?

CARD: Well, I am quite confident that the president is going to have an overwhelming victory on November 2nd. That's because we've got over a million volunteers in the key battleground states helping the president to get the vote out. And so I think the polls -- the pollsters and the pundits become irrelevant, and it's now up to the American people to cast their vote and make a difference.

And I really see tremendous momentum for the president, in the recognition that his leadership is filled with resolve, it's right for America, that he's done a great job with our economy, and we're growing that over the recession he inherited and the shock of September 11th, where we lost a million jobs in three months. And we've been adding jobs. We're now the envy of the world in terms of job growth, and our GDP.

And I think that's going to make a difference, and I feel very comfortable that the president will capture the vote and the Electoral College votes to serve a second term. BLITZER: All right, one final question, before I let you go. Mr. Card, if the president is reelected, there already has been widespread speculation in reporting that he'll very quickly come forward with a supplemental budget request, another $70 billion, $80 billion to fund the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is that right?

CARD: Well, as the president has already told the American people many times, he will fund the war, and he'll fund whatever takes to win the war on terror, to be successful and accomplish the mission in Iraq and to secure our homeland. And he's also said that he would come back and ask for a supplemental.

We don't know what the needs are yet. We know that the Pentagon is still working through the numbers, and there is no expectation that they will have those numbers right after the election. In fact, I talked to Josh Bolten, the director of OMB, the other day, and he said they were still crunching the numbers to find out what the needs might be.

But the president will fund what it takes to win the war on terror, to be successful and accomplish our mission in Iraq, and to secure our homeland. And he's told the American people that all along.

BLITZER: And is the $70 billion within the ballpark range?

CARD: To be honest with you, I think that number may be a pie in the sky number right now. I don't know what Josh Bolten and his team are discovering as they wade through all of the line items (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at the Defense Department.

BLITZER: Andy Card, thanks very much for joining us.

CARD: Thank you very much, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just ahead, Osama bin Laden's election eve message to the United States. We'll talk about how the Democratic presidential nominee is responding. Joining us will be Kerry campaign senior adviser Richard Holbrooke.

Then, perspective from two men who've talked personally with the al Qaeda leader.

And later, the race still way too close to call? Republican Congressman Peter King and former Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton debate Bush versus Kerry.

"LATE EDITION" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: "LATE EDITION"'s Web question of the week: Will the U.S. presidential election be decided on Tuesday? You can vote right now. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results later in our program.

Up next, would a Kerry administration mean a U.S. exit from Iraq? We'll talk with Kerry campaign senior adviser Richard Holbrooke. You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Like President Bush, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry was quick to respond to Osama bin Laden's surprise videotape message to America on Friday. Still, throughout this campaign, the senator has been lagging behind President Bush in the polls when it comes to the issues of fighting terrorism and the war in Iraq.

Joining us now is a senior foreign policy adviser for the Kerry campaign, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke.

Thanks very much, Mr. Ambassador, for joining us.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, SR. FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER FOR JOHN KERRY: Good to be back, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at a couple of those recent polls. Newsweek has new poll numbers. Who is better to handle the war on terrorism and homeland security? Bush, 56 percent. Kerry, 37 percent. On the job of who's better to handle Iraq -- Bush, 52 percent, Kerry, 42 percent.

Given the bad news that the president has suffered over this past year, shall we say, why does John Kerry consistently in all these national polls do worse on these specific issues involving national security and homeland security?

HOLBROOKE: I think that's a question better addressed to that terrific panel you have coming up of political experts. I'm not into the business of polls. I'm into the business of who can do a better job of protecting America, at home and abroad.

I've known John Kerry for 20 year, Wolf. He has an incredibly good track record, first as a combat veteran, then as a man who courageously opposed the war when he realized it wasn't going the right way, and as a senator, a man who's negotiated, a crime buster, and I know from the bottom of my heart that as president, he will be more effective, more effective in both Iraq and the war on terror.

BLITZER: Why hasn't he been able to convince the American people of that, at least according to these polls?

HOLBROOKE: My own view is that there have been two factors. One is people still remember George W. Bush's splendid performance right after 9/11, when he temporarily and briefly united the country, and there's some real momentum out of that. And he earned that.

And, secondly, quite frankly, the other side has deeply misrepresented the views of John Kerry consistently throughout this campaign.

BLITZER: When you saw the videotape of Osama bin Laden that was released on Friday, was your initial instinct that this is going to hurt John Kerry or help John Kerry?

HOLBROOKE: I didn't think of it in those terms, Wolf. What I thought of it was in the same terms that John Kerry talked about it, and you and I actually -- you had me on right after the tape, almost by accident.

My initial reaction, which is still my reaction is, number one, what a monster. Number two, we have to destroy him. Number three, the bad news, the tape shows that he's alive and well, and clearly better shape physically than he was the last time he was seen in public on his last videotape, and this tape has to be taken seriously.

BLITZER: He made a direct reference to the presidential contest here in the United States. Listen to this little excerpt from the Osama bin Laden videotape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIN LADEN (through translator): Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your hands. Each state that will not play with our security by default will secure themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Put on your diplomatic hat, and you were a distinguished diplomat for many years. You hear him make that kind of statement, and elsewhere in the videotape he said, look, they never attacked Sweden, which is a democracy. It's not democracy. It's only the United States that attacks Muslims that he's going after.

HOLBROOKE: It's absolute nonsense what he said. First of all, they did attack Spain. Secondly, this was a pathetic attempt to try to insert himself into the American election. The voters of the United States can see through that. It isn't going to affect the voting one way or the other, nor should it. And by the way, what he said was nonsensical.

But these are the ravings of a madman, a mass murderer with a certain hold over a fringe element of fanatics, who are willing to practice terrorism. And the issue here is not to try to take seriously that particular soundbite, but to try to figure out why this man, this mass murderer, is outcommunicating the world's greatest communications nation, while sending out videotapes from a cave in Afghanistan.

BLITZER: All right...

HOLBROOKE: This is a serious issue, and let me just say, Wolf, you and I have talked about this before, and you covered the State Department, we don't have a public diplomacy program in this administration designed to combat that kind of videotape. It's awful. All Americans hate it. But you and I know it will appeal to a certain fringe element, and what are we doing to counter? I'll tell you, nothing.

BLITZER: Well, Senator Kerry keeps saying that the president missed the golden opportunity at Tora Bora to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Listen to what Senator Kerry has said many times now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I regret that when George Bush had the opportunity in Afghanistan at Tora Bora, he didn't choose to use American forces to hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden; he outsourced the job to Afghan warlords. I would never have done that. I think it was an enormous mistake, and we're paying the price for it today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, General Tommy Franks, the former commander of the Central Command, who was in charge of the war in Afghanistan...

HOLBROOKE: Who's endorsed President Bush...

BLITZER: Right, and he...

HOLBROOKE: ... and is out on the campaign trial.

BLITZER: ... he flatly denies that.

HOLBROOKE: He's on the campaign trail, Wolf.

BLITZER: Listen to what he says, though. Listen to what he says.

HOLBROOKE: He's on the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS, FORMER COMMANDER, CENTRAL COMMAND: I don't know Senator Kerry's plan for victory. I don't know what it is. I don't know what it is, but I do know -- but I do know that his criticism of military conduct of our global war on terrorism denigrates, disrespects our troops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. He's out on the campaign trail. We can all see him there. But he is a four-star general, retired. He was in charge, and he says -- on this program, he said it. He wrote an article in The New York Times. There was no hard evidence, clear-cut, decisive evidence that even Osama bin Laden was there at Tora Bora.

HOLBROOKE: We're never going to know for sure, are we, because the United States didn't do what John Kerry said they should have done. Look, let's leave General Franks alone. He was a great military commander. He's now campaigning. Let's talk about the facts.

I've talked to John Kerry about this particular issue probably more than any other. For over two years, more than two years, two and a half years, John Kerry has been saying this publicly and privately.

When he first said it, and I remember talking to him about it at the beginning of 2002, he just did not -- was not getting any attention for this. But the fact is, Wolf, that this is a simple fact. Bin Laden and his senior people were in this mountain range. It was a high mountain range. The American troops were not ready to go up the altitude except for a handful of Special Forces. You yourself, your colleagues on CNN reported this. It was subcontracted to the warlords.

These warlords had been in cahoots with the Taliban and bin Laden a few weeks earlier. They let bin Laden escape.

Then we diverted to Iraq. These are -- these are simple...

BLITZER: Well...

HOLBROOKE: Let me just -- let me just finish, because you've given Tommy Franks a chance to say something highly political. Let's just stick to the facts. It's a factual statement.

BLITZER: Well, he says it's a fact that it was unclear if he was there. He could have been in Waziristan. He named a whole bunch of other places around the same time they were getting similar intelligence where Osama bin Laden may have been spotted.

HOLBROOKE: And they didn't keep looking. They diverted to Iraq. That is simple and clear.

And I respect Tommy Franks, but when he says that John Kerry is disrespecting the troops, he's misstating Kerry's position. John Kerry is saying the civilian command, both in Afghanistan and in their failure to find all the key high explosives in Iraq, were in both cases giving the wrong mission to the military.

He loves the military, and has been a strong supporter of the military and the veterans for over 20 years.

BLITZER: Ambassador Holbrooke, thanks very much for joining us.

HOLBROOKE: Thanks for letting me be here.

BLITZER: Up next, we'll have a quick check at what's making news right now, including the latest on the hostages in Iraq.

Then, insight on Osama bin Laden's October surprise from two terrorism experts who have met Osama bin Laden.

More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Just ahead, more than three years after 9/11, a public claim of responsibility from Osama bin Laden. Is he plotting more attacks? We'll get perspective from two guests who have spoken with the al Qaeda leader in the past.

Our special "LATE EDITION" from New York will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Osama bin Laden's surprise videotaped message to America is raising several questions, among them his whereabouts, whether he's planning more terrorist attacks, and if he's trying to influence the U.S. presidential election.

For some answers we turn to two guests who have both met with the al Qaeda leader in recent years. In Los Angeles, the former ABC News correspondent John Miller. He is now the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department's counterterrorism bureau. And in Washington, CNN's terrorism analyst, Peter Bergen.

Gentlemen, thanks to both of you for joining us.

Let's run a little clip first of Osama bin Laden on that videotape that Al Jazeera broadcast on Friday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIN LADEN (through translator): I wonder about you, after even the fourth year after September 11th, Bush is confusing you and not telling you the true reason. So the motivation is still there for us to repeat what happened. I will talk to you about the reasons behind those events, and I will be honest with you about the moments the decision was taken so that you can ponder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I'll go to you, John, first. Do you sense in listening and watching this videotape he might be trying to send some hidden message to his cohorts out there to plot or to go forward with another strike?

JOHN MILLER, FORMER ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, if so, Wolf, I don't think the hidden message is ever hidden in the tape. I think that if the tapes have ever been used as a hidden message -- and, remember, there were two tapes released by al Qaeda this week, one of bin Laden and one of Azzam the American -- that the release of the tapes itself is the message. In other words, if they can't communicate with a cell, they say wait for word from the sheikh, i.e. bin Laden, or some other spokesperson, and that will be your signal.

Actually, that gives us some concern here. Al Qaeda has always prestaged its major attacks with a statement, either from bin Laden or someone else. BLITZER: Peter, what do you say?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I'm totally with John. You know, to my mind this whole thing of hidden messages is sort of -- sort of wrong. I mean, the message is usually very overt, kill Americans. In this particular instance, the message was actually rather unbelligerent. We didn't see -- this is the only videotape I can remember with no gun in the frame. Bin Laden presented himself as a statesman in sort of a Halloween parody of an Oval Office address. He sat at this table, speaking directly to the American people, suggesting some kind of truce, similar to a similar offer that he made back in the spring of this year in which he offered a truce to European nations who are willing to drop out of the coalition in Iraq.

So the message was actually less belligerent than normal, but as John indicated, tapes have preceded attacks. But we've had now so many tapes that it's often hard to really see an exact causal relationship.

This is now by my count the 27th audio or video message from either bin Laden or Ayman Al Zawahiri himself since 9/11, so we're getting an average of one every six weeks, which to me what this tape demonstrates is our intelligence gathering, in terms of following the chain of custody of these tapes, is obviously rather poor, since this is number 27, and it was not a complete surprise that bin Laden would try and insert himself into the American election process in this manner.

BLITZER: I want to get to that in a moment, but John, I was also struck, A, by how good he looked, how serious he sounded -- didn't ramble, he had a very direct message there -- and the production value of this videotape. The lighting was pretty good. The audio was pretty good. All of us work in television, we know that's not always that easy, especially if someone is hunkered down in a cave someplace.

Give us your thoughts on that.

MILLER: Well, I think that the production values are obvious, and as Peter pointed out, it's not the bin Laden we know, the bin Laden that Peter met. The bin Laden that I sat down with is a guy who sits cross-legged on the floor cradling an AK-47 in a camouflaged jacket.

This was the presidential bin Laden. This was sitting at the desk, looking like Peter Jennings or Aaron Brown, with a backdrop and a very formal garb. He was trying to speak from a position of power, as a statesman not a military leader, and I would not rule out the possibility in either bin Laden's case or Azzam the American, if you look at that tape closely, that there were not cue cards to even TelePrompTer to keep them specifically on message, because it sounded felt and read in a very literally scripted way. I think the message was important, too.

BLITZER: And that was quite different, I thought, amazingly different. Peter, let me get your thoughts on the production side of what we saw on that videotape. BERGEN: Well, similar also, we've also had another videotape back on the anniversary of 9/11 from Ayman Al Zawahiri, his number two. So we've had the Azzam statement that John mentioned, bin Laden himself, Ayman Al Zawahiri, all these guys producing these videotapes which suggest some kind of leisure and certainly a feeling of security, that they were able to do it.

After all, the last time we had an on-camera videotape statement from bin Laden was back on December 26th, 2001. In that statement, he looked dreadful. I mean, the guy was 45 at the time. He looked like he was in his mid-70s. His whole left side was immobilized, probably a shoulder wound he sustained at the battle of Tora Bora. He's obviously recovered from that. He clearly is not suffering from some kind of life-threatening kidney disease as has been widely reported, judging on the present video. So unfortunately he seems to be in rather good shape.

BLITZER: John, the timing of this videotape, only four days or so approximately before the U.S. presidential election. What do you make of that?

MILLER: Well, there are no accidents in timing when it comes to communications by al Qaeda. The fact that the Azzam the American tape was released in Waziristan, Pakistan to a known ABC News operative there showed a deliberate attempt on al Qaeda's part in that case to get this immediately to an American audience, through an American broadcasting source.

In the case of using the usual channel with bin Laden, which was from al Qaeda's production company straight to Al Jazeera, which then goes through CNN and to the world, shows that they wanted to do some pre-election communication here.

The message is interesting, Wolf. What he says is, Bush is not the source of your problems, Kerry is not the answer to your problems. So he may go neutral in the election process.

The underlying message, if there's a hidden message in this tape, is that America's outlook from bin Laden's view as a colonialist power, its support of Israel, that those are the underlying problems that replacing politicians will not solve. And I think that's what he's trying to say to the American people.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to ask John Miller and Peter Bergen to stand by. We're going to take a quick break. More on the Osama bin Laden videotape message when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're talking about that Osama bin Laden videotape, his reemergence, what it means, with two guests: Los Angeles Police Department counterrorism bureau chief John Miller and CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen.

Let's play another clip from that Osama bin Laden videotape, going back to what he now says was the origin of his idea to go after the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator): The events that directly and personally affected me go back to 1982, what happened when America gave permission for Israel to invade Lebanon, and assistance was given by the American Sixth Fleet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Peter, have you heard this argument from Osama bin Laden before?

BERGEN: No, and I think it's sort of rubbish, to be honest. I mean, bin Laden was 25 back in 1982. The notion that somehow he started thinking about a 9/11 attack back in '82 is just total rubbish. And if you look at the 9/11 Commission, it's clear that the idea really kind of started percolating in al Qaeda in '96 and only got a go-ahead from bin Laden in '99.

So, no doubt that he's been anti-American for a long time, but I don't think there's any connection between Israel's invasion in 1982 and what happened on 9/11. I just think that's bogus.

BLITZER: You mentioned that other videotape, John, videotape of a person called Azzam the American, supposedly an American al Qaeda operative. We'll show a little bit of that videotape to our viewers.

You think there was a connection to what this person said and to what Osama bin Laden said in the other videotape?

MILLER: I have no doubt, Wolf. I would look at this tape, and I would say bin Laden is being portrayed by us largely as a guy who is on the run, who is hunkered down, who has lost his power, so he portrays himself in this, "I'm in control, I'm at the desk here, I look good, and I'm still running the empire." He raises himself up to the level of a statesman with this, for bin Laden at least, very measured talk, while he discusses the murder of thousands of New Yorkers and people in Washington.

On the other hand, al Qaeda still gets out their tough talk by using this guy, which is a classic example of psy-op, psychological warfare. He's an American like Tokyo Rose, speaking in English, as an American to America, saying the streets will run with blood.

So the idea of engineering this split message from Azzam the American threatening us and bin Laden as the statesman saying, "If you could only come to your senses, nothing terrible would happen," is nothing short of masterful propaganda on the part of al Qaeda.

BLITZER: Peter, the Knight-Ritter newspapers today reporting they've gone back and taken a look at the question, did the U.S. let Osama bin Laden slip through Tora Bora? Who's right on that sensitive political debate under way between the Kerry and Bush people right now?

I know you've done a lot of reviewing and researching into what happened at Tora Bora. Where do you come down on this?

BERGEN: There are a lot of things we can't know for 100 percent for sure, but the idea that bin Laden was wasn't at Tora Bora I think is not supported by the facts.

CNN and many other organizations reported at the time that there were radio transmissions indicating he was there. There are eyewitness accounts of him being there. Bin Laden himself released an audiotape last year talking about his experiences at the battle of Tora Bora, as indeed did Ayman al Zawahiri talk about his experiences at the battle of Tora Bora in his autobiography which was released back in early 2002.

So the preponderance of the evidence indicates, A, that bin Laden was at the battle of Tora Bora, and, secondly, the notion that we outsourced it to the Afghan warlords in the area is absolutely the case. There were more American journalists, by my counting, at the battle of Tora Bora than American soldiers, a fact which kind of speaks for itself.

We were the victims of our own success, in a sense, relying entirely with U.S. Special Forces and Afghans on the ground. That was a brilliant strategy for overthrowing the Taliban, but it failed us at the battle of Tora Bora. And there was an implicit recognition of this fact in the subsequent Operation Anaconda. There were a thousand American soldiers on the ground.

So certainly people at the top levels of the Pentagon understood that Tora Bora was not the model to follow, in terms of actually finding the top leaders of al Qaeda and surrounding them in the mountains of Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Peter Bergen, we'll have to leave it right there.

John Miller, thanks to you, as well.

Always a good discussion. Important information and analysis that we get from both of you. Appreciate it very much.

And to our viewers, please don't forget our "LATE EDITION" Web question of the week: Will the United States presidential election be decided on Tuesday? You can vote right now. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results later in our program.

Coming up, the final days of a high-stakes presidential campaign. Is a victory lap in the cards for President Bush or Senator Kerry? Will Senator Kerry wind up in the Oval Office, or will President Bush remain there? We'll gauge the race with a panel of former White House insiders.

"LATE EDITION" continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Coming up in the next hour of "LATE EDITION," Al Sharpton and Congressman Peter King face off on the U.S. presidential election.

Plus, ballot battles. Will the vote-counting result in a legal fight? Insight from two former presidential campaign lawyers.

But first, November 2nd, only two days away, and we have a preview of CNN's special coverage on election night.

We're going to take you on a tour now of CNN election headquarters, right at the NASDAQ Market site, in the heart of Times Square, specifically Broadway and 43rd.

Let's take a look at what we can do on these 72 video screens. At any one time, we can put a lot of information up behind me.

The governors' races, right now there are 28 Republicans, 22 Democrats, we'll be watching what happens there.

The Senate races, the balance of power so tight in the U.S. Senate right now: 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats, one independent, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, who usually votes with the Democrats. And the total votes at any one time.

We'll have maps galore, maps of the United States and all of the states, including counties, if necessary, if the battle goes well into the night. We'll see where people are voting and how they're voting, the all-important Electoral College. 270, as all of you know, needed to be elected president of the United States.

One of the interesting things in our wall-to-wall, coast-to- coast, border-to-border coverage, you know what we can do? We can put all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, up at any one time -- look at this -- and we can go to any state and see what the vote is, what percentage of the people have voted already, which states we've projected a winning candidate in, which states are still too close to call.

This is going to be a fabulous time for all of us here at CNN. We've done a lot of work to do this. We hope you'll join us right here Tuesday night and perhaps beyond.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We'll preview the U.S. presidential election with a panel of White House veterans in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: It's down to the final hours of Campaign 2004 with the presidential candidates crisscrossing the map, filling the airwaves,and urging on their supporters.

Helping us sort through this blur of activity is a panel of political professionals who've seen the corners of power from the inside out. In Monterey, California, the former Clinton chief of staff, Leon Panetta. In Washington, D.C., the former Reagan White House chief of staff, Kenneth Duberstein, and another Clinton former chief of staff, John Podesta, and, in her home state of New Jersey, the former governor there and the Bush Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Christine Todd Whitman.

Thanks to all of you for joining us. Good to have you on our program.

Let's start off with a quick review of some of the more recent polls that we have, our new CNN so-called "poll of polls," averaging in all the national, the major national polls. Right now a two-point spread, Bush at 48 percent, Kerry at 46.

As important as that is, perhaps the battleground state poll numbers significantly more important. The latest numbers we have, for example, in Florida, right now, the likely voters, Kerry 48, Bush 47, Nader 1. In Ohio, Bush 48, Kerry 45. Take a look at that. We'll put that up on the screen. And in Pennsylvania, Bush 44, but Kerry 47.

Let's get a quick assessment where this race stands right now. Leon Panetta, I'll start with you. What's your bottom line?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Bottom line is that this is going to be a very close race, as those numbers point out. I don't think there's any polls that are indicating any kind of clear movement one way or the other.

I think this is going to come down to Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. The polls in those states are very close. They give one -- some give Kerry the edge, some give Bush the edge.

I think this is going to come out to voter turnout. It's going to really depend on which party has the best organization on the ground to turn out the vote, and that'll tell us who the next president of the United States is going to be.

BLITZER: Christie Todd Whitman, what's your bottom line?

CHRISTIE TODD WHITMAN, FORMER EPA ADMINISTRATOR: I actually think -- and people I've been talking to recently both here and around the country, in Illinois, I was there last week, but it's not going to be as close as we think it's going to be. I think the president will win, and I think it's going to be a little bit bigger margin than people are predicting at the moment.

And I do agree that Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio are going to be important. Both parties have registered about the same number of new voters, and both of them have a huge emphasis on the get out the vote, which will be critical.

But again I haven't detected a passion for Kerry, and that's the hardest. If it's a negative vote, that's the hardest vote to get out on Election Day.

So, the weather is going to have an impact too here, unfortunately. BLITZER: The weather always does have an impact on voter turnout.

John Podesta, what's your gut tell you?

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I think Governor Whitman's being a little bit optimistic there. I think that, if you look at the enthusiasm, it feels to me like it's on Kerry's side of the ledger. And that's why he's trying to turn out voters.

And quite frankly, President Bush's campaign is trying to turn back voters. You've got all these challenges in Wisconsin and Ohio and Florida and Oregon, where they're putting a lot of stock in trying to suppress votes, particularly in the minority communities.

BLITZER: All right. That's a serious charge.

Ken Duberstein, you want to react to that and give us your assessment right now?

KEN DUBERSTEIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I thought we were coming on here to all be statesmen and not be partisan.

My answer is very simple. I agree with Leon and I agree with Christie. This is going to be a very tight election. I happen to think there is a slight tick toward Bush. I think Bush will win.

But the key is turnout. The key is weather. The key is intensity. And from among the Democrats that I talked to, it is much more a vote motivation that's anti-Bush than it is pro-Kerry. So I think Bush is starting to have just a tad of momentum.

BLITZER: John Podesta, you make a very serious charge that Republicans may be engaged in voter suppression, especially in the minority community, given the history of civil rights in the United States -- African-Americans barred from voting for many, many decades.

Give us a specific example of that if you have one.

PODESTA: Well, they're paying people $100 apiece in Ohio to go and try to challenge each, you know, try to challenge voters in those precincts. And there's a criminal investigation going on in Nevada and in Oregon for people tearing up Democratic voter registrations. You saw the Republican secretaries of state in Ohio and Florida both issue controversial rulings, which are being challenged in the courts about whether to accept voter registration.

So I think, if you look -- again, I challenge something that Governor Whitman said. I think if you look at where the voter registration energy has been, it's been on the Democratic side.

BLITZER: Governor Whitman, you're a former governor of an important state, New Jersey. How do you react when you hear John Podesta make those charges? WHITMAN: Well, what I love is the fact that the Democrats have already talked about deploying something like 10,000 lawyers around the country. But for them, that's just being cautious and looking for everybody's rights. But when Republicans do it, it's suppression of the vote. I don't agree at all.

I do think the most important thing is everyone who has a legal right to vote in this election should vote, and that vote should be protected. And anyone who does not have a legal right to vote should not be allowed to vote. I don't see this as an effort at suppression of the vote.

I've heard those charges. I've been accused of it personally. It proved to be absolutely nothing.

And what really discourages me is the way it's being used. I saw some pamphlets that someone said were out on the street, in Milwaukee I believe it was, that would have indicated to voters in those communities that they'd lose their children if they went to the polls and had even a traffic ticket. That's ridiculous. Nobody knows who put those out. Nobody knows how many of them there are. There are all sorts of games being played.

And I think the most important thing that both parties should want to see is that everyone that has a legal right to vote should be able to vote. And I believe that's where the Republican Party is.

BLITZER: Leon Panetta, a wildcard, an October surprise, at least, many are calling that Osama bin Laden videotape coming out on Friday. I want to play another brief excerpt from what the al Qaeda leader said. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIN LADEN (through translator): We've had no difficulties in dealing with and understanding the Bush administration because of the resemblance between that administration and the regimes in our countries, half of which are run by the military and half of which are run by monarchs. Our experience is vast with them. They are full of arrogance and corruption.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Leon Panetta, what's your assessment of the impact of this bin Laden tape coming so late in this U.S. presidential contest?

PANETTA: Well, I think both candidates have handled it right. He is our common enemy. We're all opposed to Osama bin Laden. No matter who's president, we ought to make every effort to go after him because he is the person who admitted to September 11th and it cost us 3,000 lives.

I think generally in terms of the politics of that issue, I have a feeling that people have pretty much made up their minds. I don't think it's going to change Kerry voters and I don't think it's going to change Bush voters. I think they're just going to be more locked in than ever.

You can argue this both ways. The Kerry voters can basically say having Osama on television is an indication that this administration failed to capture him and he's still a threat to this country.

The Bush administration people can basically say this is another indication why you need to have a strong leader in the White House.

I can see it played both ways. But to be frank, I don't think it's going to impact that much on the election.

BLITZER: Ken Duberstein, what do you think?

DUBERSTEIN: I agree with Leon. There is no place for Osama bin Laden's comments in this campaign. I think Bush and Kerry handled it absolutely rightly. We are one nation. We are united when it comes to fighting terrorism.

But I do think that it underscores the fact that the central issue in this campaign is the war on terrorism. And that, I think, plays in every polling that I have seen toward Bush's strength as a strong, steady leader who is single-minded in his determination to combat terrorism starting on September 11th forward.

BLITZER: Why is that true, John Podesta? Why does the president poll so much better than Kerry when it comes to fighting the war on terrorism and handling the situation in Iraq?

PODESTA: Well, I think it goes -- I would dispute, I think, the latter. I think it goes back to his initial reaction in the wake of 9/11. I think people rallied to him, Democrats and Republicans, rallied to the president.

But I think more recently, I think that his standing particularly with respect to his conduct with the war in Iraq has been a millstone around his neck.

And I think the one thing that this incident does, which I agree with both previous commentators on -- I don't think it has much of an effect the last weekend, except it takes it away from the war in Iraq, where I think Kerry was making some headway, particularly since his the first debate on September 30th, back toward a more generic discussion of the war on terror.

BLITZER: Governor Whitman, about 500 people from New Jersey died in New York on 9/11, a huge number. What is your read now of this Osama bin Laden tape and the impact narrowly focused on voters in New Jersey where it's been relatively competitive, this contest?

WHITMAN: Now the latest poll has John Kerry up only by four points in this state. And I think that's due to -- terrorism is a large part of that, because we lost and we're as impacted as greatly as any other state could possibly have been on that day. And you could see the smoke from the towers as you stood on the Jersey shore. And we lost so many people. So that terror is at the forefront of the minds of the people in New Jersey. And it's going to be an interesting thing to see which way this last tape breaks. I'm not sure anyone's going to know.

You know, I'd say the thing I've seen about this election, which to me is different than others, those are the issues. And I believe the overriding issue will be security, economy next.

But this is about George Bush in a way I haven't seen in elections before. I indicated previously that I hadn't sensed that same kind of real enthusiasm for John Kerry so much as you either love George Bush or you hate George Bush. And this election is going to be about his leadership as it relates to terror, but really about him.

Of course, you can say almost every presidential election where you have an incumbent is about the incumbent and their record. But I think this is about the man more personally. And so far, in all the polls, it seems that the public has a sense that George Bush has the direction and the steadiness to be the best to lead us in the fight on terror.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. But I'm going to ask all of you to stay with us because we have much more to discuss.

More with our panel coming up. We'll focus in on the war in Iraq, a powerful theme certainly in this presidential campaign.

Then, on guard against a repeat of 2000. I'll be joined by two former campaign lawyers, Lawrence Tribe and Barry Richard. And I'll ask them about whether the impasse four years ago will come back to haunt us all on Tuesday.

"LATE EDITION" continues right after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're counting down to Election Day, two days away, with former White House chiefs of staff Leon Panetta, Ken Duberstein, John Podesta, and former Bush Cabinet member and the former New Jersey governor, Christine Todd Whitman.

As we were speaking, I just got an e-mail. There's a new Detroit News poll showing Kerry with 43 percent, Bush 41 percent, Nader 2 percent. Michigan a key battleground state, obviously within the margin of error there, as well.

Ken Duberstein, I want you to listen to one of the main themes of John Kerry in recent weeks in his criticism of the president's handling of the war in Iraq. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: The president has demonstrated to the American people and to countries around the world that have been pushed away from the United States, he has demonstrated that he is divorced from reality in Iraq. And if President Bush can't fix the problems in Iraq, if he can't recognize the problems in Iraq, he's not going to be able to fix them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You heard John Podesta say just a short while ago that he didn't think this was a winning issue for the president, the situation in Iraq. More than 1100 U.S. troops dead, $150 billion, let's say, already spent, more on the way.

How much of a problem is this for the president?

DUBERSTEIN: I think it is a bigger problem for John Kerry, who has consistently been anti-military, anti-defense. If I put my old Reagan hat on, working in the Reagan administration, John Kerry opposed all of our defense build-up that brought us to the table with the Soviets and fundamentally ended the Cold War.

I think Bush has been right on target on the war on terrorism and removing Saddam Hussein. This is a tough, tough battle. But I think that he has committed us the right way, and I think that, come January, when there are free elections, it will turn the corner in Iraq.

BLITZER: John Podesta, you want to respond to that?

PODESTA: Well, I think that we've rushed into war. The war was built on deception. I think that he didn't listen to guys like General Shinseki, the head of the Army, about the resource levels that we needed there.

That resulted, I think, in the inability to secure Iraq in the wake of the tremendous intensity of our armed forces going into Iraq, that we didn't have enough troops to secure the place. Yesterday, nine Marines were killed, the worst day in six months.

So I think that, from the beginning, from going in, I think a lot of decisions were made that were wrong. I think they were made by the people in the Pentagon, who thought this was going to be a lot easier than it's turned out to be, and I think that the president can't seem to admit that he's made any mistakes here.

BLITZER: Leon Panetta, I want you to listen to one of the main points that the president has been hammering away with in his criticism of the Democratic presidential nominee. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Senator Kerry will say anything to get elected. The senator's willingness to trade principle for political convenience makes it clear that John Kerry is the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong time.

BUSH: Al Gore will do anything it takes to win -- it seems like that -- or say anything it takes to win.

(END VIDEO CLIPS) BLITZER: That's what he said four years ago, as you well remember. We put together those two excerpts. The president's been very consistent on that theme against his Democratic opponents. Go ahead and respond to that.

PANETTA: Well, look, in the end, we elect presidents to exercise good judgment. And it isn't about always thinking that they're right. Frankly, stubbornness is the last thing you need in a president of the United States.

You need a president who's willing to look at issues from both sides, because, in the end, look, when it comes to Iraq, the only thing that protects the United States from the kind of situation we had in Iraq is the good judgment of the president of the United States.

When you have bad intelligence, that basically made every mistake here, in saying there were no weapons of mass destruction, the only person that can protect this country is the president, and he failed to do that. I mean, that's really what's at issue here, is not whether or not somebody makes a decision and sticks to it. That's not the issue.

The issue is, do you have good judgment, so that when you face the kind of situations that you're going to face as president of the United States, you've got the flexibility to be able to make judgments. That's what coaches do, that's what CEOs do, and that unfortunately is what this president has not done.

BLITZER: Christine Todd Whitman, I'll give you a chance to respond to Leon Panetta, because I know you're a strong supporter of the president.

But the situation in Iraq, at least the appearance that we're getting, is pretty serious right now. It seems to be getting worse on a day-to-day basis.

WHITMAN: It certainly is serious, there's no question about it. And you actually do need a president who looks at all sides of the issue and then makes a decision.

But that doesn't mean you come out on all sides of the issue. You can't be president and be for it one minute and against it the next, vote for, vote against. You have to have some consistency here.

Nobody says that stubbornness is necessarily a good quality, but direction and purpose is. And that's what's needed.

You know, one of the most underreported stories, I believe, of this whole election campaign was the election in Afghanistan and how well that went. The fact that you now even have the opposition candidate saying, "You know what? That was a fair election."

That's the kind of thing that this president is hoping we're going to reach in Iraq, and that's where the focus is going to be. Because the strongest and best thing we can do to prevent a future terrorist attack and protect this country is to be able to give people choices around the world, to bring democracy to them in the way that suits what their culture will allow. And you just saw it happen in Afghanistan.

So to believe that we can't achieve that in Iraq I think is short-sighted. And I believe that we can.

And I believe this president has been very consistent on it, no question about it. But believe me, he has looked at all the intelligence he's had. And a lot of the intelligence he got before we went into Iraq was based on the system that was put in place by the previous president.

BLITZER: John Podesta, you were the White House chief of staff for the previous president, Bill Clinton. Go ahead and respond to that.

And also tell us what you think the Clinton effect will be. He's out campaigning today in his home state of Arkansas.

PODESTA: Well, I think what people are looking at is the fact that he did have both the world's support and the country's support to go into Afghanistan and try to finish the job there, take out Osama bin Laden. And I think we got diverted into the war in Iraq. And I think that right now we're bogged down there with no clear path forward. And I think John Kerry's put together some plans that I think will take us in a better direction.

With regard to President Clinton, you know, I saw him a couple of weeks before he went out to campaign. You know, he was still recovering and pretty tired from the surgery. But I think he is a person who believes that elections matter. He really wanted to get out there. And I think he wants to remind people that when you had a president in the Oval Office who cared about the middle class, good things could happen for people here at home as well as around the world.

BLITZER: We're going to have all four of you back next week.

Why don't you each make a prediction how many electoral votes the candidate you support will capture on Tuesday? Let's start with Leon Panetta.

PANETTA: I think John Kerry is going to be able to get over the 270 mark, probably about 275.

And I think, you know, there'll be a -- look, in the end, I think there will be 30 days of probably litigation here to really figure out what happened. But I think in the end, I think Kerry's going to be able to pull it out because he's leading in those key states.

BLITZER: Ken Duberstein?

DUBERSTEIN: First of all, Leon, bite your tongue. No litigation. The answer is, Bush at about 286.

BLITZER: 286.

John Podesta?

PODESTA: I think Kerry's going to hit the trifecta and win Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. He'll end up with about 290 electoral votes.

BLITZER: Christine Todd Whitman?

WHITMAN: I'd say George Bush is going to get it with about 278, 270, somewhere in there.

And there probably will be lawsuits simply because that's what lawyers do, and we've got so many spread around the country. There's no way to avoid it.

BLITZER: And to our viewers around the world who are watching right now, you need 270 electoral votes to be elected president of the United States.

I want to thank all of our guests for joining us.

They will be back next week. We'll take a look, who was right, who was wrong. And we'll see where we go from here, as the United States presumably will have the results in hand. Then again, maybe not. We'll all find out.

When we come back, a quick check of what's making news right now including the latest on Iran's nuclear plans.

And is the election season headed for extra innings or overtime? Two former presidential campaign lawyers will join us. They'll weigh in on the potential legal scenarios.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're reporting today from New York City.

The presidential campaigns already preparing for the post- campaign, an election so close that it plunges potentially into a legal battle similar to what we saw four years ago here in the United States.

Joining us now, two guests: Laurence Tribe is a constitutional law professor at Harvard University. He's a former Gore campaign attorney. He's joining us from Boston. And former Bush campaign attorney Barry Richard, he's joining us from Tallahassee, Florida, where we saw so much legal activity four years ago as well.

Gentlemen, thank you very much.

And, Professor Tribe, I'll begin with you. We're seeing early voting in several states. Perhaps as many as 5 million people have already voted so far. How does it look, based on what you can tell, as far as potential legal challenges?

LAURENCE TRIBE, FORMER GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: Well, it looks like there are challenges swirling around the country.

In Ohio, there are challenges to the Republican program of wholesale contests against people's right to vote. The practice was to try to have a determination that 35,000 people can't vote. The federal court has said no.

And, at this point, the question is whether they are going to be able to have polling place challenges which cause long lines to deter people. In Florida, there are challenges pending.

The Republican Party has in its hip pocket a challenge to 14,000 people that have cast ballots or are about to, because they claim that, as convicts, people who are felons, that these guys are not allowed to vote.

So that, if the election is close enough -- and many people predict it will be extremely close -- close enough that any of these challenges and the impending challenges that are still expected would make a difference, that is, if, for example, the margin of victory is smaller than the margin that would be provided by things like provisional ballots, we're going to have litigation.

And my hope is that it will be not so close that the courts will have to decide. We need to have a popular decision.

BLITZER: Let's let Barry Richard weigh in.

What do you see happening, Barry?

BARRY RICHARD, FORMER BUSH CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: I think that there is a possibility that there will be litigation. There almost certainly is going to be some litigation. But I don't think it will be a protracted -- as it was in 2000. I don't think it's going to go as high in the courts as it did in 2000.

I see only one scenario that could result in a protracted litigation or could reach the United States Supreme Court, and that involves the Colorado situation.

BLITZER: The Colorado situation being a referendum. If it's passed, that would split the electoral votes, nine electoral votes. Instead of the winner-take-all, it would divide it 5-4 per se.

It looks like, at least based on the polls, that that probably is not going to pass. But we're not going to get into a discussion of that right now.

Some are saying, Barry, that there's almost a perfect storm in your state of Florida being developed with all these questions out there, especially these touch-screen balloting machines with no paper trail, if there is a call for a recount or a question of the balloting. What do you make of that? RICHARD: I have two responses to that. The first one is that I have not seen anybody produce any evidence that there's a problem inherent in those machines. What people are complaining about is that they're not producing a paper receipt that shows what a person's vote is. But that has nothing to do with the fact that the machines do produce a record of what the vote was electronically and that they have failsafe mechanisms.

We're talking about the same type of technology that the entire banking system rests on, and that the air traffic control system rests on, the Department of Defense rests on. So the fact that there's no paper trail doesn't mean that the machines won't accurately record votes.

The second thing is, even if there's a challenge arising out of those machines, I think it will be resolved fairly rapidly and at a lower level of the judicial system.

BLITZER: Do you buy that, Professor Tribe?

TRIBE: Well, I hope that that's right. But, in fact, as to the electronic touch-tone machines, there is litigation pending at this moment in the Florida courts, and it turns out that it's not even as failsafe as the banking and air control systems, and it turns out that they're unfortunately not all that failsafe.

The trouble is that Florida state law requires that there be a recount if the election is within a certain margin of victory. And if one can't do a recount with these electronic machines without paper trails, that's a problem.

But the most important point to make, Wolf, is that across the country there are hundreds of thousands of people who are trying to vote and who are being obstructed by various efforts to deter the vote.

If they don't get to vote, the issue of recounts is moot and the question of whether we have a close outcome is moot.

So that it's really important to focus on the ball. The ball isn't in the post-game, which I agree we're not very likely to have. Certainly in Colorado, that referendum doesn't look likely. The real issue is whether people are shut out before the game begins.

BLITZER: Well, in Florida, let's talk about that, Barry Richard, because there have been allegations of voter intimidation, especially against minority voters, African-Americans, especially in Duvall County around Jacksonville, at least four years ago.

You've looked closely at this. What's your bottom line?

RICHARD: I can't really address the political rhetoric, the claims that people are being prohibited from voting.

I have a very high regard, by the way, for Professor Tribe, so far as his legal opinion is concerned, and I'm certainly happy to debate him on the legal issues.

But when people begin saying that there are -- begin making political statements about suppressing an individual's right to vote, whether it's Professor Tribe or somebody else, they're out of my league.

I don't have any information about that happening. All I can tell you is that, from where I sit, at my position with the Bush campaign, I'm absolutely unaware of any game plan that includes keeping people from being able to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

BLITZER: Professor Tribe, do you want to respond to that?

TRIBE: I do. Ever since the civil rights movement in this country, allegations of racial intimidation have been not just political rhetoric, they've been legal.

That is why, for example, there have been determinations in Ohio and New Jersey, among others, of instances in which there has been a kind of racial profiling in deciding where to concentrate all of the challenges to people who want to vote.

It's not just political rhetoric. It's a serious problem.

And even if the president himself has clean hands on the matter, we all know that, down the line, there are an awful lot of bureaucrats who want nothing more than to have their party return to power.

BLITZER: I'll give you the last word, Barry Richard. Go ahead.

RICHARD: I think that's true on both sides, and it's true in every election. Elections are big messy businesses.

And there are always going to be people, or at least there is always the potential for individuals at the local level, anywhere, to engage in inappropriate tactics. Those people should be disciplined accordingly, and whatever happens that keeps people from voting should be rectified.

So, in that respect, I completely agree with Professor Tribe. I'm just not aware of any issue surrounding that that will result in litigation of the magnitude of 2000. I think if it happens, it will be localized.

BLITZER: Laurence Tribe and Barry Richard, to both of you, thanks very much. We'll see what happens on Tuesday or Wednesday, perhaps beyond. Appreciate it very much.

TRIBE: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

So what should we be looking for as the candidates try to squeeze out all they can of these remaining hours of Campaign 2004? I'll ask former Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton and Republican Congressman Peter King. They'll join us live when "LATE EDITION" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

What were the decisive moments of the presidential campaign? How must the candidates use the dwindling campaign hours they have left?

Here in New York, joining us, Republican Congressman and Bush supporter Peter King. And in the key battleground state of Ohio, Kerry supporter, former Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us.

Peter King, I'll start with you. You're a New Yorker. When you saw this Osama bin Laden videotape mocking the president as he was making these statements sitting there with that gold robe, as a New Yorker and as an American, your blood must be boiling.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Oh, it really did. And I think all of us as Americans should be united on this, but especially New Yorkers, because we saw so many of our friends, neighbors, constituents who were killed and murdered that day.

And to see him gloating on that and making cheap political shots I thought was absolutely disgraceful. And I think it's important that all of us, Americans, New Yorkers in particular, stand together against bin Laden.

BLITZER: Do you think, though, Osama bin Laden was weighing in, in favor of one of the presidential candidates?

KING: I don't think so. I mean, I'm sure he doesn't want George Bush reelected, but at the same time, you know, let's face it, we're Americans. I'm not going to let Osama bin Laden affect this election.

All I would say, though, is, I found it ironic that he was using a Michael Moore talking point in attacking President Bush.

But no, I'm not going to say anything about John Kerry on this. This is -- you know, we're Americans.

BLITZER: What do you say, Reverend Sharpton? He was referring to Osama bin Laden making mention of the fact that the president was reading "My Pet Goat" just when those twin towers were going down.

REV. AL SHARPTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I agree with Congressman King, I think this is something all of us can be united on. It was very, very repulsive. I think it was despicable that, three days before an election, we'd have to see a man responsible for the shedding of innocent blood, and all of us that live in New York were traumatized by that.

I think that any politics on this I think would be something less than what we should do. We should certainly not let someone of his kind of person, his milieu affect American politics. And I think that clearly, I don't think he supports a candidate, because I think that he probably knows, if John Kerry was elected, he would be captured. That's my thinking, and I think that he just wanted to goad the American public. And I hope all of us were offended by that.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on and talk about some of the issues in this campaign.

I want to play a quick excerpt of what the president has been saying lately in going after Senator Kerry. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: During the last 20 years, in key moments of challenge and decision for America, Senator Kerry has chosen the position of weakness and inaction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Those are tough words, Reverend Sharpton, but they seem to be resonating with a lot of Americans. When you take a look at the polls, when it comes to the war on terror, they think the president is better equipped to deal with that war than John Kerry is.

SHARPTON: Well, I think, if you look at the fact that the president took the war on terror from those that attacked us to those who did not, I don't see how anyone can logically say that.

When you look at the fact that we now know, A, that there were no weapons of mass destruction, B, there was not even the capacity to make them in Iraq, why didn't we finish the mission in Afghanistan? And we now know that Osama bin Laden is alive and well and literally mocking the families of his victims.

So I don't know how anyone could say George Bush is better in that area. The evidence clearly, overwhelmingly speaks to the opposite of that.

BLITZER: Congressman?

KING: The fact is, the overwhelming majority of the American people do believe that President Bush is better in the war against terrorism.

And he's right about John Kerry. Going back to the 1980s, he voted against the entire Reagan build-up which won the Cold War. In 1991, when there was a full international coalition, he voted against going into Iraq. And in 2003, he did vote to go to war against Iraq, but then, when he thought things started to look politically dangerous, he changed his mind.

As far as the weapons of mass destruction, Al Sharpton knows that even Bill Clinton said, after the ground war was over, that he had the exact same intelligence that George Bush did. Al Gore said in 2002 that he saw the intelligence showing that Saddam Hussein had the weapons.

BLITZER: All right.

KING: So it's really wrong, after the fact, to be criticizing President Bush.

SHARPTON: May I respond to that?

BLITZER: Go ahead.

SHARPTON: First of all, Bill Clinton didn't invade Iraq. So, if he had the same intelligence, he certainly didn't respond the same way. So I think that's an unfair point.

Second, I think John Kerry voted for the war when he, like most Americans, felt we were in imminent danger and the weapons were there. When it was obvious it was not, he, like anyone that would make an intelligent decision, would go where the facts lie.

The only mistake John Kerry made on Iraq is he believed George Bush. And I think it's kind of a jaded argument to say, "Dummy, you should have known I was misleading you all along."

KING: Actually, that's where you're wrong. He was not misleading, because he said the exact same thing that Bill Clinton did. The fact is, Bill Clinton did attack Iraq in 1998. And you forget, something happened between 1998 and 2003, and that's the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th.

And that's why John Kerry said in 2002 and in 2003 that it was his real fear that Saddam Hussein would give weapons to terrorist groups. The whole world changed after September 11th. George Bush knew that. John Kerry knew it for a while. But then, when Howard Dean ran against him, he changed his mind. And that's why...

SHARPTON: But, Congressman, first of all, Bill Clinton did not, as George Bush did, have a unilateral attack on Iraq, stayed there, violate the wishes of many around the world, even some of our former allies. You can't compare what George Bush and Bill Clinton did.

Second of all, the whole world did change after September 11th, which is why we should have gone after those responsible for September 11th, rather than going on a misadventure against people that didn't directly attack us. They were bad guys, but they were not the ones guilty of the attack. And the ones guilty of the attack are cutting videos three days before our national election.

KING: Al, that's what's wrong with the John Kerry-Al Sharpton view of the world. The fact is, it's not just Afghanistan. It's the entire Middle East and Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism, and Bush understands that.

And that's why he went after Saddam Hussein. That's why the overwhelming majority of the American people believe he is doing the right thing as far as the war against terrorism. SHARPTON: But we'll see Tuesday what the overwhelming majority of the American people believe. That's your projection. I think most Americans want to see those that attacked us captured. And I think most Americans will vote in that spirit on Tuesday because many of us will not forget this man killed 3,000 innocent people and is still at large.

KING: Al, right, and the fact is he's being deposed. The fact is that the entire Taliban is deposed.

SHARPTON: The fact that who's being deposed?

KING: The fact is Saddam Hussein and bin Laden. Bin Laden was driven from Afghanistan. He lost his power base. And now, rather than being able to attack the United States, he's sitting behind a curtain somewhere and sending out taped messages.

And one of the reasons he can't attack us is because of the Patriot Act. And people like John Kerry want to repeal it.

BLITZER: All right.

KING: But again, as far as the...

SHARPTON: Congressman, Saddam Hussein is being deposed. Bin Laden is cutting videos. That does not make me feel secure.

KING: And that's all we can do. Right. And exactly -- and under Bill Clinton, he was attacking the United States, and on 9/11 he attacked the United States. Now all he can do now is cut videos. And that's the difference.

SHARPTON: Well, we hope that's all he can do. The fact that the president told us he would go get bin Laden -- that was his remarks. When three years later he has not gotten bin Laden, he has not kept that promise. He's not kept that commitment. And I think we should not feel secure when he so clearly can't do that.

KING: Al, the fact is there are 10,000 forces going after him today. He is keeping his commitment to go after him. But if you think the entire war against terrorism, you and John Kerry, think is just getting bin Laden...

SHARPTON: No, no, George Bush said it. Congressman King, John Kerry did not get on television and promise the American people bin Laden. Al Sharpton didn't. George Bush got on television and promised bin Laden. He has not delivered that.

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON: Maybe tomorrow you'll get him. We need John Kerry. We need someone that's decisive and understands this.

BLITZER: All right. Gentlemen, hold on.

Al Sharpton, we're almost out of time. Give me your prediction. How many electoral votes -- 270 needed to be elected president -- how many will John Kerry get?

SHARPTON: I think John Kerry will go way over on the electoral votes. I think it will be close on the popular votes. But I think when you get the young new voters in, it's going to be a surprising result. And I think that President Bush will soundly be defeated.

BLITZER: Will President Bush do better in the African-American community this time than he did four years ago, when he got less than 10 percent of that vote?

SHARPTON: I don't think he'll do much better, nowhere near the 18 percent. I think he may do marginally better only because I think he's been able to project Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

But when you look at some Republicans like in Congressman King's home state and mine that get 25 percent of the vote, Bloomberg, Pataki, I think he'll fall far short of that and have an embarrassing number.

BLITZER: How many electoral votes will George W. Bush get?

KING: I think he'll get over 300.

And he's going to get a considerable part of the African-American vote because minority homeownership is higher now under President Bush than it's ever been under any previous president and also because the American people realize George Bush understands the war against terrorism and the Kerry-Sharpton team does not.

BLITZER: Peter King, Al Sharpton, as usual, thanks to both of you for joining us.

We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here are the results of our poll Web question of the week. Take a look at the results. Remember, though, this is not a scientific poll.

That's all the time we have today. I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York. Thanks for joining us.

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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