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PAULA ZAHN NOW

John Ashcroft, Don Evans Resign; Who will Lead the Democrat Party?

Aired November 9, 2004 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and welcome to PRIME TIME POLITICS. Glad to you have with us on this night of sweeping change in Washington.
In the president's Cabinet, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Don Evans became the first to call it quits. And, on the other side, top Democrats huddle over who should lead their party into the future and in which direction.

We start tonight with the Cabinet shakeup. Attorney General John Ashcroft's departure will be a major turning point for the Bush administration. He has been a lightning rod for everything from covering up the naked breast of a statue at the Justice Department to his detention of terrorism suspects, to his frequent warnings of possible terrorist attacks, for example, this May 26 news conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months. Now, this disturbing intelligence indicates al Qaeda's specific intention to hit the United States hard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Commerce Secretary Don Evans' departure is much less controversial. He is a longtime friend of the president, one of his closest advisers and was chairman of the 2000 Bush campaign.

When we spoke last month, this is how the commerce secretary summed up the administration's economic record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON EVANS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: I'm not going to say that, you know, every last decision was perfect. What I'm going to say is, on the big decisions we had to make in terms of getting the environment right for job creation and economic growth in this country, the president has made on them. He's led on them and he's delivered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Well, with more now on the departure of Secretaries Evans' and Ashcroft, I'm join by senior White House correspondent John King.

John, always good to see you.

What else have you learned about their twin announcements here?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House controlling the release of this information. Secretary -- excuse me -- General Ashcroft's letter was actually dated one week ago from today on Election Day, a handwritten note dated Election Day.

He said he hand wrote that note, so that even his top aides wouldn't know of his plans, so that the president could decide when to make that news public. So, the attorney general and the commerce secretary, two very high-profile positions. Obviously, the attorney general position will get the most attention. Already tonight, conservatives rushing to praise General Ashcroft, liberals calling his tenure one of the most destructive for an attorney general in the modern era of this country.

That will be, if you will -- you said lightning rod. That is just the right way to put it, as Ashcroft leaves and as the president now looks for a successor, Paula.

ZAHN: Why the announcements tonight?

KING: Well, because the White House has the power to control this information. There could be more.

We're told perhaps one, two or three more Cabinet secretaries deciding to leave. The president wants word from those who want to leave by Thursday of this week. He has a key foreign policy meeting here at the White House. Aides says he accepted these two resignations and decided to release that information tonight. That of course is the president's power.

ZAHN: Is it true, then, that there is an actual understanding, I guess contributed to by Andy Card, one of the president's chief advisers, that he doesn't want a whole bunch of these to happen at one time?

KING: They do not want them to happen at one time. They want to stagger them out, if you will, manage them as they go. Again, we're told there could be one or two this week, not definitely, but we're told the possibility of one, two, maybe even three more announced this week. So they certainly want to put these out there.

And the president has to name successors. He has to reach out to the key committees in Congress. They decided to tell us of these two decisions tonight. Secretary Evans' dated letter dated today, so that word released to the public pretty quickly. But it is remarkable. The president had a news conference and a Cabinet meeting in which this subject came up knowing full well the attorney general planned to leave. The president kept that secret.

ZAHN: Pretty good secret keeper there. Finally tonight, share with us some of the names that are bandied about for potential replacements for either one of these Cabinet posts.

KING: At the Commerce Department, the man with the same job this year that Don Evans had last year, raising money for the Bush campaign, a businessman named Mercer Reynolds. His name comes up for Commerce, a very close friend of the president, very successful Republican fund-raiser and a very successful businessman.

Of course, most of the attention in Washington and around the country will be on the position of attorney general. The names that come up there, most mentioned here at the White House and around Washington is Larry Thompson. He was Ashcroft's No. 2 for quite some time. The president holds him in very high regard. Look for the president to have a conversation with him about this job pretty soon. Others mention Marc Racicot. He was the chairman of the Bush campaign this time, former governor of Montana, among those considered last time.

The president's chief counsel here at White House, Alberto Gonzales, is mentioned by some in Washington as a potential attorney general. One of the wild cards and someone who will figure in the speculation is the former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who of course was a prosecutor, a federal prosecutor, in New York. He has said he's not interested. He disagrees with the president on some key social issues.

But until the president names his replacement for General Ashcroft, you can bet that Rudy Giuliani's name will come up as well, Paula.

ZAHN: Not too many boring days ahead for you on your beat, John King.

KING: Not at all.

ZAHN: Thank you for keeping us on top of all this.

KING: Thank you.

ZAHN: And for a closer look now at the legacy of Attorney General Ashcroft, I'm joined from Washington by Georgetown University law professor Viet Dinh. He was an assistant attorney general at Justice Department from 2001 to 2003 and played a key role in developing the controversial USA Patriot Act after the 9/11 attacks. I'm also now joined by David Gergen of Harvard University, who served as a White House adviser to four presidents.

Good to see both of you. Welcome.

VIET DINH, FORMER ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR LEGAL POLICY: Thank you for having us.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Thank you. ZAHN: So, Professor Dinh, I get this shouldn't come as any great surprise to us that Mr. Ashcroft is leaving. I think he's been hinting to us for many months that this was a possibility. What do you think his legacy is going to be?

DINH: I think his legacy, whether you agree or disagree with him, is that he is the most effective and powerful attorney general in the history of this nation.

ZAHN: Why?

DINH: A lot of that is through circumstance.

He came to the job despite the controversy surrounding his confirmation hearing and faced with the most momentous task that any attorney general has faced. That is, to prevent another recurrence of 9/11. And he has carried forth that task with aplomb and with a steadfast resolve, while at the same time advancing the other core imperatives of the Department of Justice, including the reduction in violent time, the reduction in drug use, the increase in corporate fraud prosecutions.

ZAHN: I know, because you helped write some of the Patriot Act, this might be a little difficult for to you separate yourself from the process, but do you understand the substance of the criticism along the way about the attorney general's interpretation of the U.S. Patriot Act and why that really angered some people?

DINH: I understand that there is some genuine if unfounded criticism of the act.

The act was not controversial, Paula. It was passed by a vote of 98-1 and by a margin of 6-1 in the House of Representatives. And so the act itself is not controversial. I think what has become more controversial, especially during the presidential campaign period, is the overall war against terror, and a lot of people use the Patriot Act brand shorthand for a whole lot of other policies which really do not have to do with the act or even with the Department of Justice.

That said, I think that it is another hallmark of John Ashcroft that he has been a steadfast, loyal soldier in defending and advocating for the administration's policies, even where those policies do not fall within his purview or the policies he may not agree with in total.

ZAHN: And, David, one of the hallmarks, I think, of the Bush administration is its discipline. And John King was just reporting that the attorney general turned in his resignation letter, a handwritten one at that, on Election Day and the secret was very well kept.

What do you make of the timing, though, now, of the White House now officially announcing two of these?

GERGEN: Well, I think that the White House needs to move if they're going to have some departures. They need to move quickly, because they have to -- the process of naming someone and going then through the FBI background check and actually getting them in place in time for the second term by January 20, as we all know, has become much more arduous than it should have been.

In this case, particularly with the reappointment of a new attorney general, it's an extraordinary sensitive post made more so by the controversies that surround Attorney General John Ashcroft. I happen to like him and have a lot of respect for him as a human being. And I think he's got a lot of guts, but there's no question that for the 48 percent who voted against the president, voted for John Kerry, there are an awful lot of them whom he frightened.

And the Patriot Act became a symbol, among others, that -- for many on the other side, of how the war on terrorism has gone astray. And I think that -- there's much about the Patriot Act that is good and important, and without it, for example, I think we would not be the government would not be able -- the government would not be able to -- it was a law written for an older age when we didn't have computers and didn't have cell phones.

And so we did need something like the Patriot Act. But I think the question now becomes, Paula, is the president going to appoint someone who is going to be seen as departure from the Ashcroft tradition or is he going to appoint someone within that Ashcroft tradition?

ZAHN: Well, what do you think?

The name we're hearing at the top of the list is Larry Thompson, a man who actually traveled with the president towards the end of the campaign, an African-American. Would he be the kind of man who could silence some of the former attorney general's critics?

GERGEN: I think we should see the appointment of Larry Thompson as a continuation of policies, a continuation of the spirit of John Ashcroft. He is conservative as well. I would assume that conservatives would be very pleased with him.

He was certainly extremely supportive, as was Professor Dinh, of the attorney general. And I have to say, I think so far the signals we've been getting from the president are signals of continuity, not change, the fact that he wants to keep on most of his White House staff, for example, Andy Card. That a burnout job as chief of staff. The fact he's asked Andy Card to stay on, as well as the rest of the White House staff, I think we're seeing -- the early signals seem to suggest continuity, not departure, and we'll have to see how that plays out.

Rudy Giuliani would be much more of a departure.

ZAHN: But because of the continuity now it seems we have a departure in Don Evans. As we understand it, he wanted Andy Card's job. He didn't get it. He's going back home to make some money.

(CROSSTALK) GERGEN: In fairness to Don Evans, I talked to him during the Republican Convention, and, at that time, he made it very plain he would like to go home to Texas. You know, had the Andy Card job come open, might he have considered? Yes, I think he might have.

But the truth was, it has been for some time, that -- he's been a longtime friend of the president. I think he served the president well by coming here and being at his side in the early months when you need a friend from home, someone you can share things with. But now the president's been here four years. I think it's a lot easier for him to leave.

I don't think he really aspired -- people said he wanted to be treasury secretary. I didn't see that in him at all. I could have seen him being chief of staff. But I don't see that as a real departure. I think you're going to get someone who is very much like Don Evans in that job, will be very pro-business.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: So the sensitive one is the attorney general. That and the secretary of state and the secretary of defense, those are the ones that are going to send signals of continuity vs. change.

DINH: On the continuity point, Paula...

ZAHN: Yes, very quickly here, Professor.

DINH: I think David is right that we want continuity, but I don't think that there's much room for change in terms of our ongoing efforts to defend America against terror and our continuing law enforcement efforts. I think whoever is in the job needs to have that resolve in order to maintain the course.

ZAHN: Professor Dinh, David Gergen, thank you for both of your perspectives tonight. Appreciate it.

GERGEN: Thank you.

ZAHN: And there's much more ahead tonight on PRIME TIME POLITICS, including the opposition party making plans to rise again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Shaking off defeat, looking to the next election. Will the Democrats' next leader be a fresh face or a familiar one?

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can do better than that.

ZAHN: And the push. Deep into the heart of Fallujah, more days of deadly urban combat lie ahead for U.S. forces.

And tonight's voting booth question, will the end of Yasser Arafat's leadership bring about peace in the Middle East? Go to CNN.com/Paula to give us your answer. The results and more as PRIME TIME POLITICS continues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And welcome back to PRIME TIME POLITICS. We're discussing this evening's resignation of both Commerce Secretary Don Evans the Attorney General John Ashcroft.

CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is with me here in New York.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Paula.

ZAHN: So happy we're not talking about the Peterson trial with you.

TOOBIN: You and me both.

ZAHN: He has met with Ashcroft on a number of occasions and wrote a profile of him for "The New Yorker" magazine in the year 2002. And in Washington is CNN contributor and "TIME" magazine columnist Joe Klein.

Good to see you as well, Joe.

JOE KLEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I insist on talking about Laci Peterson.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: No, I'm not going to let you, not in this show. You can come on some other show and do that.

KLEIN: OK. Just kidding, Paula.

ZAHN: So, Joe, we have talked a lot about Attorney General Ashcroft's health over the last several months. Was it his ongoing gallbladder problems that has contributed to his resignation or was he kicked out?

KLEIN: Well, I think it might have been a little bit of both.

From what I hear, he went back to work too quickly after the gallbladder operation. And he was really exhausted. He had really it. He was ready to go because of that. But there also was continuing tension between the White House staff and the attorney general's staff. It's really not over major issues. Over style and over who would announce this and who would announce that. It's kind of like trying to analyze your friend's marriage or something. This -- it's very difficult to analyze the inner workings of a White House bureaucracy.

But there was real tension here.

ZAHN: It strikes me as interesting that that's the case, because this is a man who was political to his very core, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: He was political.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: He was not ignorant about the minutia of how this game is played.

TOOBIN: No. He did not run the attorney general's office like previous attorney generals' office. He didn't read briefs. He was not in any way a legal scholar.

The business of the public face of the attorney general, those announcements that Joe was talking about, the controversy about how announcements were made, that was the core of his being as attorney general. And that's where the controversy was.

But I don't think he was any sort of renegade. I mean, he was a very conservative attorney general. That's what President Bush wanted. And that's what he got.

ZAHN: So the president, Joe, clearly has to make another political calculation here. How much does he have to fear in replacing him maybe with someone who's a departure from the politics of John Ashcroft that it would be a slap in the face to his face?

KLEIN: Well, I think that what the president has to look at is that this is the first of a number of fights he's going to have in the Senate in this particular area. Naming a new attorney general, getting him confirmed, is the first step, but he also has Supreme Court nominees coming up. And this nomination will be seen as an indication of where he's going in that direction as well.

And, so, you know, I don't know which way he's going to go, and I hear Larry Thompson's name mentioned as well, which would give him the best of many different worlds. It would give him an historical first, the first African-American attorney general, and also a conservative soul mate.

But in the president's mind, I'm sure, is the fact that he may well have a Supreme Court nominee coming up before very long.

TOOBIN: But Larry Thompson would be easy to confirm. There's nothing controversial about Larry Thompson.

KLEIN: That's why.

TOOBIN: But he is someone who cares about what John Ashcroft cares about, which was shifting the job of the Justice Department from prosecuting crime that took place to preventing crime. That's Ashcroft's legacy, that attitude shift.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Is that a good comfort fit, then, with the president?

TOOBIN: I think so.

ZAHN: Is it the best of the possibilities from the president's point of view?

TOOBIN: It would seem to be, especially since the very unusual degree to which President Bush has praised Larry Thompson in public, almost embarrassing John Ashcroft, saying, come on, hurry back to Washington. That's the kind of thing Bush was saying about Thompson. So he seems to me a clear favorite for the job.

(CROSSTALK)

KLEIN: The other thing I should point out is that these sorts of resignations are utterly routine at this point in the process. And you can expect to see a lot more of them. And we shouldn't read all that much into them.

A lot of people, like with Don Evans, I'm sure that he wanted to go back home to Texas and continue making money and living his life.

ZAHN: Oh, come on, Joe. Everybody's talking about how much he wanted Andy Card's job. You don't think he's a little ticked off about that?

(CROSSTALK)

KLEIN: As I said, that kind of speculation is the kind of thing that people who don't know...

ZAHN: Is it speculation or is it true?

KLEIN: I don't think it's true, and I wouldn't know if it were true. We're talking about...

ZAHN: Well, we have people who work in the White House, correspondents, who believe that is the case.

KLEIN: We are talking about the inside of someone else's marriage.

And it's very hard to know the truth of these things. I think that there are always these rumors and speculation and there are always people, individuals, maybe not the principals themselves, but their aides, who have scores to settle. And it's best for us, unless we know it for an absolute fact, not to report that Don Evans wanted Andy Card's job.

I spoke to Andy Card a few weeks ago, and he was absolutely convinced he was going home to New England. He couldn't wait to get there. And then this turned around. So I think that, you know, the president is making a number of these decisions on the fly. I'll bet you anything that he wasn't thinking very much about what was going to happen after the election before the election. So these decisions are being made right now.

ZAHN: Joe Klein, thank you. And Jeffrey Toobin, guess what we have successfully done? We have done a legal segment without talking about any of the developments in the Laci Peterson case. Bravo.

TOOBIN: Keep the faith.

ZAHN: As the president leads his revamped Cabinet into a second term, they carry the hopes of a large group of voters. They're people who supported the president on issues of faith and values. But how do those voters explain their decisions?

Some eye-opening responses next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Today, a week after the election, President Bush went about the business of being presidential. He and Mrs. Bush visited wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Center, his sixth trip to the hospital, his first since March.

His former opponent, Senator John Kerry, went about the business of being the opposition. And in his first public appearance since conceding the election, Kerry met with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and incoming Senate leader Harry Reid. People close to Senator John Kerry are quoted as saying he intends to play a high-profile role in the upcoming Congress and may even try for the White House again in the year 2008.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Forty-four-plus- million Americans voted for health care. They voted for energy independence. They voted for unity in America. They voted for stem cell research. They voted for protecting Social Security. We need to be unified, and we have a very clear agenda. And I'm going to be fighting for that agenda with all of the energy that I have and all of the passion I brought to the campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And according to the exit polls millions of Americans also voted for the candidate who shared their moral value, but those polls may not tell the whole story.

Here's our Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For a week now, Republicans have hailed the resurgence of the conservative Christian voting bloc, and Democrats have complained about it, but at the Bethany Methodist Church in Purcellville, Virginia, plenty of people wonder if both sides are still getting it wrong.

Diana Keyser is a church member, a conservative Democrat and concerned that some in her own party are suggesting Christians who voted for Bush are simply not intelligent.

DIANA KEYSER, CONSERVATIVE DEMOCRAT: I think there are some Democrats today that are very liberal and very to the left side, but they've made it look bad for the rest of us.

FOREMAN: While George Bush received 61 percent of the votes from regular churchgoers, most of those voters are not evangelicals. Instead, they simply believe in certain standards.

MIKE DAMELIO, FATHER: You want to give your children a good value base to work on and to treat others the same way they want to be treated.

PETER BUCK, BUSH SUPPORTER: They may not go to church, but I believe that America has a level of morality that can be identified to a certain degree with George Bush.

FOREMAN: Consider this. People who voted for George Bush were more likely to be married, have a home near a Wal-Mart, drive minivans and live in less populated areas, all of which can reflect certain small-town and family values. So when Lisa Dodaro voted libertarian based on her morality, it was not just about religion.

LISA DODARO, LIBERTARIAN VOTER: I might say that my vote was based on my attitudes about morality, that it's a personal thing and that government has been getting too involved in morality, both on the left and the right.

FOREMAN (on camera): Politicians and journalists like to talk about left and right and conservative and liberal and Democrat and Republican. The problem is, many, many voters do not fit into a single tidy box.

(voice-over): And voters here say defining most Bush voters as religious zealots is wrong. Many say they wrestled with their decisions to the end.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I worry. I hope we've made the right choice.

FOREMAN: And the message of this election is that a militant middle is demanding less extremism and more moral accountability from both parties beyond the shadow of the church.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And that was Tom Foreman.

And joining me now from Washington, Democratic Senator John Breaux of Louisiana and Republican Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma.

Good to see you both. Welcome.

SEN. JOHN BREAUX (D), LOUISIANA: Good evening.

SEN. DON NICKLES (R), OKLAHOMA: Thank you.

ZAHN: Good evening.

Senator Breaux, I want to start with you this evening. You are one of the few Democratic senators left from the South. I know you say you not only have got to run against Republicans, but God, too. What is it the Democrats have to do to better connect with religious conservatives?

BREAUX: Well, we have to do it, No. 1, if we're going to be competitive nationwide.

If you look at the polls, Paula, I think, on issues like the economy, education, the environment, health care, I think the American public gave Democrats a slight edge in who they preferred. But yet we still lost the election. And I think the moral values were a real issue. We did not articulate the fact that Democrats believe in God, too. And I think we suffered as a result of it. But that can be accomplished.

Bill Clinton did it. He kept the base of the party very happy, yet he expanded towards the middle. He was very successful.

ZAHN: But, Senator Nickles, do you see a clear trend here? You're being replaced by someone that a lot of people consider far more conservative than you and a number of incoming senators are considered conservative. Has the country turned more conservative or are just you better at getting the votes in?

NICKLES: Well, I just think it was a competitive race.

But, certainly, conservatives did win in many areas. I think Senator Kerry hurt himself with some of his voting record. And when some of that was exposed, it didn't sell, not just in the South. Frankly, it didn't sell across the country. If you look at the national map of where President Bush won, with the exception of the Northeast and the West Coast, and maybe a couple of the big cities, frankly, he carried almost every other county in the country.

So it was a very good victory for President Bush.

ZAHN: Senator Breaux, let's come back to your idea, though, that you think Bill Clinton was a guy who not only brought his base in, but grew it. Are you suggesting, then, that your party has to turn to the center to become more appealing, particularly when it comes to moral issues?

BREAUX: Paula, I saw that Howard Dean said that we should never move towards the center. Well, the center is where most of America happens to be. The center is where elections are won and lost. Neither party has a majority in their base by itself. The party that can preserve their base and at the same time branch out to the very large center is the one that's going to be successful in national elections.

ZAHN: Senator Nickles, how far do you think the president will go in advancing the agenda of the religious right?

NICKLES: I don't think so much advancing of the religious right. I think, in many cases it was some of the people on the left wing in many cases the court, I.E., Massachusetts Supreme Court by a 4-3 decision said they wanted to redefine marriage. No state agreed to redefine marriage, but they wanted to. And then you had the mayor, I think, of San Francisco trying to do the same thing. People are saying, wait a minute. How far are they going to go? They're going way too far, too far away from traditional value, and I think in many cases that worked against the Democrat nominee and, frankly, the Democrat Party. You had 11 states that voted on the definition of marriage.

ZAHN: Senator Breaux I know you say you're not actively looking for a position in the bush cabinet, but there's an awful lot of speculation about your being someone the Republicans have their eye on right now.

What could you bring in brought into the Bush cabinet?

BREAUX: I'm not looking for anything in the administration. No one's called me. I don't expect them to. I'd be happy to volunteer, if I could to be helpful. To try to bring both sides together. I think it's going to be needed. There's going to be an awful lot of people on the far right, that are going to be very agitated about getting their agenda done quickly. Look what happened to Arlen Specter, who even suggested there may be problem with certain types of judges. I think, we've got to move away from that. We all belong to one country. This is one United States of America and we have to learn to work together. If I could help, I'd be happy to try.

ZAHN: And Senator Nickles in closing, we should make it clear that both of you are retiring to be at impolitic as want to be here. We've heard Senator Breaux talking about what needs to be done about bridging the great divide here. I observe you all a lot, and it doesn't look to me like you're having a whole lot fun right now given the fierce partisanship that you have to work with every day on the job?

NICKLES: Well, unfortunately, over the last couple of years become more partisan. John Breaux is one of the special exemptions to that. He's been able to work with Democrat and Republicans, and has exceeded in that. We've had a lot of people that have been able to do that in the past. Unfortunately, that number's fewer and fewer. I happen to agree with Senator Breaux. We need to unite as a country and put a lot of the partisan divisions behind us and see if we can't do some positive things for our country.

ZAHN: Well, I'll tell you the voting public loves to hear that. We traveled all over the country to battleground states during the course of this elections, and this public was becoming increasingly disenchanted by the firestorm out there.

So Senator Breaux, Senator Nickles, thank you for shedding light on that tonight for us tonight. And good luck to both of you.

NICKLES AND BREAUX: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: And coming up next, we shift the political focus to the war in Iraq, urban combat, up close and deadly. The latest on the battle of Falluja, when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tonight 10 American and two Iraqi soldiers have been killed fighting to retake Falluja. Still American commanders say the battle is running ahead of schedule, but that raises questions about just how many insurgents are actually left in the city.

Here's senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A seven-hour firefight in the hear of the Falluja's Nolan neighborhood. Marines exchanging heavy fire with insurgents using rocket propelled grenades and mortars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Red, red this is raider three. Be advised, that last engagement down the road exactly was exactly what (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is, and where the round just came from.

MCINTYRE: Several Marines are wounded. But despite these picture, U.s. Commanders say the overall resistance in Falluja so far has been sporadic.

LT. GEN. THOMAS METZ, MULTINATIONAL CORPS-IRAQ COMMANDER: I think the enemy is fighting hard but not to the death, and I think that they are continuing to fall back.

MCINTYRE: he U.S. and Iraqi troops are finding fewer booby traps than expected. That may be in part to effective use of air strikes like this one two week ago. A 500 pound bomb dropped by a Navy F-18 sets off a chain reaction taking out a string of roadside bombs lining main road near Falluja. So far, commanders say casualties have been light for urban warfare. In the first 48 hour, 10 U.S. and two Iraqi were killed with about a two dozen wounded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay out of the streets. Make sure you guys stay on side of the walk (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Watch your top and bottom. Watch the windows. Watch everywhere you go. Check the walls.

MCINTYRE: The offensive is ahead of schedule, with many key objectives taken as the outer crusts of the insurgents defenses crumbled under the U.S.-Iraqi assault. Along with the bridges across the Euphrates, the rail station, the hospital, several military buildings and mosques are now secure. As the strangle hold tightens on the Jolan district thought to be an insurgent stronghold.

METZ: I think we're looking at several more days of tough urban fighting.

MCINTYRE: But the general concedes the most wanted man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi probably left Falluja along with his senior leaders.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So, Jamie, if that ends up being true and that he has fled, what would be the fallout for Pentagon?

MCINTYRE: The Pentagon insists that the mission here in Falluja is twofold. To return the city to the control of local government so that they can participate in the elections, and stop it from being a base of operations for the insurgents. They never said they were going to capture Zarqawi or break the back of the insurgency. But that said, they do run the risk here of winning the battle for the city but not defeating the enemy and then having to face them again in another location. And the Pentagon concedes that that's very likely the case. It does hearken back a little to the overall war where they one -- took Baghdad very quickly, but when the enemy melted away, it presented a lot of problems down the road. So, this is not the end of the problem.

ZAHN: But Jamie, if they don't get Zarqawi, aren't they worried about the public perception of that.

MCINTYRE: They're trying to make it clear this mission was not about getting Zarqawi. There is a separate effort to get him and they're trying very hard. They do think by denying him Falluja as a base of operations, he'll have to move around more, and that'll increase their chances of getting him.

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

And the house-to-house fighting in Falluja wipes out some big advantages for the U.S. military, sophisticated weapons and fire power. The insurgents also have the benefit of fighting on turf they know well. To give us a better idea of the challenges of street fighting, joining me now from Washington, retired Marine General Terry Murray, who's now a CNN military analyst.

Good to see you, Major General. Welcome.

MAJ. GEN. TERRY MURRAY (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: So I guess what I want to know is, this attack was no major secret to anybody watching television over the last four or five days. Do you think that is in part responsible for these insurgents fleeing Falluja?

MURRAY: Oh, I think that's part of it, Paula. I would have been very surprised had a large number of insurgents stayed in Falluja. About the only thing that they have to gain is to inflict some casualties, and then ultimately, live to fight another day.

Regarding their command and control capabilities and their senior leaders including Zarqawi, same there. I would have been very surprised had he exposed himself to either being killed or captured in Falluja. So I would expect he, too, moved to another city or another camp where he can continue to influence action across the country.

ZAHN: So if he lives to fight another day, what is the potential he could draw the U.S. military in down the road? MURRAY: I think that in the best case for the insurgents, they will continue to, from that discontent, perform terrorist acts in Samarra and Ramadi and other places within the triangle.

Zarqawi will try to be as physical with the coalition forces as he can. And consequently, we should expect, in urban areas, especially, the insurgents will continue to try to inflict casualties.

ZAHN: Let's talk specifically back in Falluja what American forces will be up against. How deadly could this mission be?

MURRAY: The tough stuff, I think, in Falluja is done. The very fact that we are at the center of the city, that we've fought through some very, very tough neighborhoods in town.

We estimated that there might have been as many as several thousand insurgents in and around the city, and they just haven't materialized. The last figure I heard was something like 100 KIAs among the insurgents.

Consequently, it appears to me that the great majority moved out of town before the troops moved in. It's also possible that a large number could have gone underground, because you have to understand, this is a city that accommodates a quarter of a million to 300,000 people.

And I think what we'll also see is that when the civilians come back into the city, the insurgents, to an extent, will try to re- establish a presence in Falluja.

ZAHN: And it's pretty easy to understand how intimidating that might be to the local folks living there. Major General Murray, thank you for your time.

MURRAY: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Coalition partners, meanwhile, that have joined the U.S. in Iraq continue to support the war and President Bush. Still, other nations are critical. And though many Americans don't care what other countries think, they are, after all, the rest of the world.

When we come back, a look at how the prospect of a second Bush term is playing outside the United States.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The rest of the world has had about a week now to get used to the idea of a second term for President Bush, and judging by some of the papers in Britain, the initial reaction was definitely not positive.

Take a look at these.

"Four more years" over pictures of prison abuse. "The march of the moral majority." "Oh, God!" And "How can 59 million people be so dumb?" Well, let's see how the news is going over with a roundtable of journalists from around the world. Joining me now, CNN European political editor, Robin Oakley, from London tonight; and from Washington, Alain de Chalvron, bureau chief for France 2 television network; and from Beirut Lebanon, Rami Khouri, executive editor of "The Daily Star."

Glad to have all three of you back with us tonight.

Robin, I'm going to start with you this evening. I guess the papers in Great Britain made a great flare about what they think about a second Bush term. What is it that these readers fear?

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR: The inquiry really going on in the British media and British public now is, is it going to be a kindler, softer, gentler George Bush in his second term?

Or is he going to now get the bit between his teeth? Are we going to see preemptive military action, for example, against Iran to stop Iran from developing a uranium enrichment program leading to a weapons program? Is he going to take more vigorous action against Syria?

A lot of worry, I think, in the British electorate and indeed in the British political community.

ZAHN: Alain, let's talk a little bit about how this is all being perceived in France. Obviously, France, its newspapers and its readers have to accept the fact that this president has a mandate. What do they think he'll do with it?

ALAIN DE CHALVRON, BUREAU CHIEF, FRANCE 2 TV NETWORK: With George Bush, we know him. We know that we have disagreement. We'll try to work with him, even better than the four last years, but we know that George Bush won't ask something like French troops in Iraq.

ZAHN: Rami, let's move on to your part of the world. Is there any sense there that President Bush in a second term will move the peace process forward at all?

RAMI KHOURI, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE DAILY STAR": The vast majority of people in the Arab and the Islamic Middle East are concerned and even, I would say, slightly frightened.

There was an editorial in one of the Lebanese papers a few days ago after the election saying, to the shelters, to the shelters. In other words, there's going to be more war and bombings.

And the main concern is that we are the crucible and testing ground here in this region of the Bush preemptive war strategy and the regime change strategy. This is where they're doing these things. They're not just talking about them, but they're doing them.

And to be at the receiving end of preemptive war and regime change is not very pleasant when you see the violent conditions and the spread of terrorism and insecurity all over the Middle East. So there's real concern here, based on the real impact of real American policies.

ZAHN: Rob, let's come back to you for a moment. A lot of people are tying Tony Blair's fortunes to the president's, since they were closely aligned during this war on Iraq. How does the British public view that?

OAKLEY: Some Labour ministers have been saying to me that actually George Bush is a millstone around Tony Blair's neck, and George Bush has fought and won his election. Tony Blair's got an election to fight next spring. He's going to fight that tied to the coattails of a man who is deeply unpopular in Britain.

ZAHN: Gentlemen, if you don't mind say staying there for a moment, we're going to have more to ask you about on the other side, including Yasser Arafat, and the assault on Falluja. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: We're back now with a roundtable of journalists from all over the world: CNN European political editor Robin Oakley in London; from Washington, Alain de Chalvron, bureau chief for France 2 television network; and from Beirut, Lebanon, Rami Khouri, executive editor of "The Daily Star."

Welcome back.

Rami, let's start off by talking about Yasser Arafat. Will his death give the president, you think, a new opportunity to restart peace negotiations?

KHOURI: If President Bush is serious about restarting an American effort to negotiate or to help negotiate a Middle East peace, it could be seen as an opportunity, because it was an obstacle that the Americans and the Israelis created by deciding unilaterally not to deal with Yasser Arafat.

But they were dealing with the prime minister. They were dealing with the rest of the Palestinian political society, and the process was getting nowhere. It was getting nowhere, we would say in this region, because the United States and the Israelis were so far away from the international consensus and what is needed for a legitimate and fair permanent solution.

So it's really very much the ball is in the American and the Israeli court, but there's a lot of skepticism in this region and in the Arab world, especially about the Americans and the Israelis making any significant changes.

ZAHN: Would you say that the bonds between Israel and America are what creates the skepticism?

KHOURI: Well, it's the position that this particular Bush administration, with the various influences, the neoconservatives and the pro-Israeli groups and the evangelical groups that have all come together, they're all very pro-Israeli. And Bush has come out very strongly supporting virtually every position virtually that Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has taken on the wall, on settlements, on not talking to Arafat and virtually every Sharon position.

So that's how we see it, that this is a problem. And it's not just the way we see it. Most of the world has this view, as well.

ZAHN: Robin, I wanted to move onto the issue of this incursion into Falluja. Does it change opinions of the coalition forces now Iraq?

OAKLEY: I think the reaction in Britain has largely been one of worry, Paula, about the degree of civilian casualties in Falluja. That's been really the chief concern in Britain, together with a worry that actually this kind of all-out assault only creates more insurgence across the rest of country, and particularly if there is local unrest about the degree of those civilian casualties.

ZAHN: How is this incursion viewed in France, Alain?

DE CHALVRON: It seems useless. This is what we can say, because after Falluja will be Ramadi, will be Samarra. We have to find a political settlement.

ZAHN: Rami, is the view in the Middle East that anything positive could come out of this, particularly if they're able to drive some insurgents out of the area?

KHOURI: The Americans and the British have been attacking and driving out insurgents for the last 18 months in Iraq, and the number of insurgents miraculously seems to be increasing. So either this is some kind of a divine intervention or they American-British policies simply are not sensible policies.

Now, of course they will drive out anybody from Falluja that they want, because they're so powerful. The question is what will be the political impact and where will these guys pop up again, as they have done for the last 18 months.

So this is a political problem that needs a political solution. My concern is that the more the U.S. and the British use the military force like this, the less credible and legitimate becomes the interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi that the Americans are trying to prop up in terms of moving to the elections in January.

So the cycle is getting more and more negative politically, more and more violent militarily and more incoherent historically. And I think the United States should really wake up and re-assess this very quickly.

ZAHN: A cycle we will be exploring closely from here. Robin Oakley, Alain de Chalvron and Rami Khouri, thanks for your time tonight.

And we're going to be right back with the results of tonight's "Voting Booth" question. Please, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Time to take a quick look at the results of tonight "Voting Booth" question. Reminder: this is not a scientific survey. It just reflects those of you who logged in and responded to the question.

And after a long day you could probably use a little political humor from Leno and Letterman right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": How about that election, though? Was that something? Was that crazy? The election? Yes.

And, you know, friends are now concerned. They're worried about John Kerry, because today he made one last duck-hunting trip to Ohio.

Bush says now that he is going to simplify the tax code. Have you heard about this? Only the states that are blue will have to pay.

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Are you all finally over this election?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes!

LENO: A lot of people had a rough week last week. And it was an especially rough week if you were a gay, pro-choice stem cell.

At his press conference President Bush said he felt the people had spoken. That's what he said; the people had spoken. Ironically, most of the people speak better than he does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And that is PRIME TIME POLITICS for this Tuesday might. Tomorrow controversial Republican Senator Arlen Specter will be joining us, outspoken pro-choice and now the target of pro-life Republicans. That, again, is tomorrow night.

In the meantime, Larry Kling is -- that would be Larry King is his name -- is up next with the latest on jury changes in the Scott Peterson trial. Dr. Phil will also be his guest late on in that hour.

Again, thanks for joining us tonight. For all the latest news on the political front, we'll be back, same time, same place tomorrow. Have a good night.

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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