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NEWS FROM CNN

President Bush Defends Second Term Agenda; Bush on Rumsfeld; Deadliest Day in Iraq Since Middle of Summer

Aired December 20, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're having -- we're following several important developments here in Washington, around the nation and around the world. Let's get to the "News from CNN."
President Bush meets the press and defends his second term agenda and his secretary of defense. We'll tell you what he had to say just a short while ago.

Also, the fight for Iraq and upcoming elections after a violent weekend and dozens of deaths. We'll go live to Baghdad.

And the debate over Don Rumsfeld and other hot topics of the day. A spirited discussion, that's coming up this hour. Ann Coulter, the best-selling author, and Bernie Ward, the radio talk show host, they're standing by, getting ready to debate.

A very busy hour ahead. First some other headlines "Now in the News."

This Kansas woman is due in a federal court to answer the killing of a pregnant Missouri woman and the abduction of her child. Lisa Montgomery reportedly told her husband she had the baby girl herself. The infant remains in good condition at a hospital in Topeka. We'll go there live and get additional details on what happened this morning.

The presidential runoff in Ukraine. At this hour, a live debate between the two bitter rivals, Viktor Yanukovych, the candidate backed by the Kremlin, and the western-style reformer, Viktor Yushchenko, who survived being poisoned. The initial runoff was rigged for Yanukovych and later annulled. The second scheduled attempt coming up Sunday.

Also today, 280 million packages, cards and letters. It's expected to be the busiest day of the year at the nation's post offices. Officials say mail received by tomorrow should reach its destination by Christmas.

Up first this hour, President Bush as seen live at the news conference just a short while ago from right next door at the White House. He spoke about Iraq, Social Security, Bernard Kerik, Don Rumsfeld, and answered reporters' questions on a lot of other issues as well. Yet all of those topics, he had several others on his agenda.

Let's go to CNN's Elaine Quijano. She's over at the White House for a summary of what we heard from the president -- Elaine. ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon to you, Wolf.

That's right, President Bush spent nearly an hour fielding questions, as you said, on a wide range of subjects today. The president basically giving people a window into his thinking and where he may move in his second term -- on his second term agenda.

Now, in his opening statement, the president talked about Iraq and the upcoming January 30 elections slated for that country. But with the continued violence, so much riding, of course, on whether or not those elections can take place successfully.

The president saying today that those elections should be seen as a first step, not by any means an end in the process of moving Iraq towards democracy. He said the future stability of that country depends on the level to which Iraqis, not Americans or coalition forces, take charge in their own security responsibilities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The ultimate success in Iraq is for the Iraqis to -- to secure their country. I recognize that. The American people recognize that.

That's the strategy. The strategy is to work to provide security for a political process to go forward. The strategy is to help rebuild Iraq. And the strategy is to train Iraqis so they can fight off the thugs and the killers and the terrorists who want to destroy the progress of a -- of a free society.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: And on that topic of Iraq, the president also asked about interference possibly by Iran and Syria. Some have said perhaps supporting terrorists pouring into Iraq to affect possibly the outcome of the January 30 elections.

The president basically echoing his comments last week, saying that he does not want Iran and Iraq to interfere. He hopes they will respect the political process. The president saying today he hopes they will -- when he -- when he said that he hopes they will honor the political process in Iraq that he meant it.

Now, the president also discussing his domestic agenda as well. Specifically Social Security. However, President Bush did not go into any specifics in laying out more details besides the principals that we know the president has laid out in the past, that he does not want to see a change in benefits for those at or near retirement age.

The president also wanting younger workers to be allowed to take part of their Social Security withholdings and put them into private accounts. And the president, though, saying that he does not want people -- he does not want to negotiate with himself essentially, not to have those kinds of discussions about any more particulars on Social Security reform, saying that should be left for the halls of Congress and lawmakers to decide. And finally, the president also mentioned immigration. Now, this is something we heard the president talk about on the campaign trail, although this was quite a passionate discussion.

The president talking about his idea, saying that he will push to change immigration laws. He would like to see undocumented workers -- undocumented immigrants, rather, be given some sort of temporary status to be allowed to work in this country. But the president saying quite clearly that he will pursue those kinds of changes, saying that there are a lot of jobs here in the United States that Americans simply will not do. The president saying that that is something that he wants to address in his second term -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine Quijano reporting for us from the White House. Elaine, thank you very much.

The president was also very forceful in defending his embattled defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. In his words, Rumsfeld, according to the president, is doing -- and I'm quoting now -- "a really fine job. He's a good, decent man and a caring fellow."

CNN's Kathleen Koch is over at the Pentagon following this part of the story for us -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that was a strong vote of confidence from President Bush. About as strong as any cabinet member can get and much needed by this embattled defense secretary.

The calls for Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation coming back in the spring. That's when they started when the Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke. But President Bush today made it clear, as he has in the past, that he is standing by his defense secretary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Well, first of all, when I asked the secretary -- the secretary to stay on as secretary of defense, I was very pleased when he said yes. And I asked him to stay on because I understand the nature of the job of the secretary of defense. And I believe he's doing a really fine job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOCH: Most recent criticism of the secretary has come from lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats disappointed in Rumsfeld's handling of the war in Iraq. And many were also concerned that a recent exchange with a solder in Kuwait about the lack of armored vehicles showed that the defense secretary was in some ways insensitive to the needs of the troops. However, at the same time, some of those lawmakers doubt whether removing Rumsfeld would improve the situation in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: They made a lot of mistakes. They're unwilling to acknowledge any mistakes. But that's mainly the policies of this administration. And if I thought those policies would change by changing the secretary of defense, I would be all for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOCH: Now, critics have also blasted the secretary in recent days for using an automated signature machine to sign those condolence letters that go out to the families of the more than 1,300 soldiers killed on the battlefield in Iraq. Rumsfeld now says that he will sign those letters personally, but President Bush defended the secretary again on that point, pointing out something that a senior Pentagon official did this weekend, that the secretary makes frequent personal visits to wounded soldiers, also to widows. The president this morning saying, "Beneath that rough and gruff, no-nonsense demeanor is a good human being who cares deeply about the military and deeply about the grief war causes" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kathleen Koch at the Pentagon for us. Kathleen, thanks very much.

It was the bloodiest day in months. At least 68 people dead in Iraq in bombings near the Shiite holy sites in the southern part of the country. In addition, a brazen attack right in the heart of Baghdad. All happening yesterday.

With an update on what's happening today, CNN's Chris Lawrence. He's joining us now live from Baghdad -- Chris.

Can you hear me, Chris? Can you hear me?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here in -- here in Iraq today, we are still recovering from what happened on Sunday. It was the deadliest day in Iraq since the middle of summer.

But just one day later, Iraqi officials say they are pushing ahead with next month's election. And today they took a significant step toward establishing the actual ballot that Iraqis are going to vote on.

Let's get you caught up now on what has happened here since yesterday. Just south of here in the city of Najaf, police have now arrested some 50 suspects. They have also sealed off the downtown area and established some three dozen checkpoints after a car bomb exploded in a crowded square there as hundreds of people were watching a funeral procession.

Now, just 50 miles away in Karbala, the cleanup is continuing around a very deep crater that was established by yet another bomb that exploded just two hours before the one in Najaf. In that case, the bomb exploded at a crowded bus depot. In all, nearly 70 people were killed in a single day just in those two attacks alone.

What they have in common is they both occurred in an area dominated by the Shiite Muslims. And Iraqi officials say what this is designed to do is to cause tensions, spark some sort of civil war between Shiite Muslims and the other major religious sect here in Iraq, the Sunni Muslims.

They say these attacks are designed to make Iraqis hate and distrust each other, but officials tell us it will not work. Their pushing ahead. They say they expect to hold these elections.

They do expect to rely heavily on American troops to provide security. And today they held a lottery of sorts in which the winner could be ultimately a democratically-elected government here in Iraq. They actually went into a turning drum and drew balls out to randomly select the names in the order in which they will appear on next month's election ballot -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence in Baghdad for us. Chris, thank you very much for that report.

And Iraq's southern neighbor -- that would be Kuwait -- the United States embassy has issued a warning of a possible near-term terrorist attack. Standing by live in Kuwait City for us, our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's traveling through the region.

What's the latest from your vantage point, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that's right. About five days ago the U.S. embassy here in Kuwait issued a message to all 13,000 American citizens registered with the embassy, saying that there was "credible information" about plans for "near- term terrorists attacks." So here in Kuwait City, certainly American citizens and American business interests are responding.

What we can tell you is that businesses such as the Western Hotel that we're staying in here in Kuwait City have indeed stepped up their security in the last several days. They are very aware of the notice from the U.S. embassy.

However, Kuwaitis don't really seem quite as concerned. We were at marketplaces today, in the shops, on the streets. It's all business as usual.

Where Kuwaitis are concerned -- we spoke to many of them, and they said if there is a threat from al Qaeda in this country they certainly don't feel that it would be aimed at them. And they are not terribly concerned.

However, again, 13,000 American citizens living in this country are warned by the embassy about the possibility of al Qaeda attacks. What diplomatic sources tell us, Wolf, is that it was that attack up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, that has caused some of the concern, that that brazen daylight attack against the U.S. consulate in Jeddah caught officials by surprise. Surprise that terrorists would stage such a daylight raid, and that there is worry that they might try it again.

And it could happen here in Kuwait. So American citizens are on the watch -- Wolf. BLITZER: Barbara, as you know, the Kuwaitis hated Saddam Hussein because he invaded their country, took it over in 1990, was eventually kicked out by the U.S.-led coalition. But do Kuwaitis that you have spoken to -- and I don't know how much of a chance you've had to speak to Kuwaitis -- feel safer today as opposed to before the war in Iraq, the more recent war when Saddam Hussein was pretty much contained? Or are they happier -- are they feeling safer today, the threats to them?

STARR: It's -- it would be at best an informal survey I could give you of people we spoke with on the street, as I say, or in the shops. They seem very unperturbed that the American military presence is still here, that Kuwait is being used of course as staging point for U.S. troops rotating in and out of Iraq.

They appear to be quite happy that Saddam is gone. I certainly haven't spoken to anyone who wishes that he was back. But Kuwaitis do express some concern about the level of violence in Iraq. They express confusion.

One person we spoke to today said, "What's going on up there? The Iraqis didn't used to be like that."

So there is regional concern about the level of violence and the unsettled feeling, if you will. But inside this country there certainly is a sense of "life goes on." People appear very happy here and don't really feel that they are under a threat from a terrorists attack. If something were to happen here, one can only assume it would come as a very big surprise to the Kuwaiti population -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr reporting from Kuwait City for us. Barbara, have a safe trip out in the region. We'll see you back here in Washington.

A gruesome murder case in Missouri. And the woman accused of killing a pregnant woman and stealing her unborn baby makes a court appearance today. We'll have a live report. That's coming up next.

And tackling hot topics from the war in Iraq to Donald Rumsfeld's future. I'll be joined live this hour by the best-selling author, Ann Coulter, and the radio talk show host, Bernie Ward. They'll debate.

You're watching "News from CNN." We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to the "News from CNN." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

A court appearance today for a Kansas woman accused of an unthinkable crime. Prosecutors say 36-year-old Lisa Montgomery strangled and killed a pregnant woman and then cut her baby from her stomach. CNN's Jonathan Freed is in Kansas City, Missouri, now with the latest on a court -- court developments today.

What's happening today, Jonathan?

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Wolf.

I can tell that you we spoke to the U.S. attorney's office a short while ago. And they tell us that Lisa Montgomery, who is in Kansas now -- and their trying to schedule what's called an identity hearing in Kansas. That is a very brief appearance just confirming that the person that they have in custody is indeed the person that they intend to charge and move ahead with.

Once they get that done, they are hoping to move her here to Kansas City, Missouri, on the other side of the river, where she is to appear hopefully at 3:00 p.m. Central Time today. That's the time they're hoping to hit in federal court in front of the U.S. magistrate judge, Wolf, at which point a public defender will be appointed for her in the case, and the charges of kidnapping resulting in death will be read out in court here on the Missouri side for the first time.

Now, she is accused of strangling 23-year-old Bobbie Joe Stinnett and cutting Stinnett's 8-month-old fetus out of her womb. Now, the FBI told CNN earlier today, Wolf, that the Internet trail, following an Internet trail based on a tip, was key in tracking down Montgomery and arresting her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF LANZA, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: They met online, and that the victim was involved in selling dogs. And that she had postings on the Internet, an Internet Web page that had been set up, and that the suspect may have viewed this Web page. And there were actually contacts that we were able to pick up off of the suspect's computer indicating that she received Internet messages from the -- from the suspect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FREED: Now, Wolf, there's been some question as to whether or not we might see a trial track, or a dual-trial track. One happening in Kansas, where Montgomery was arrested; one happening here in Missouri, where the crimes were alleged to have happened. The U.S. attorney's office did confirm to us today that they are focusing on Missouri, that that is where they're going to be moving ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the story with the husband? Is he under suspicion as well, or is he out there, out and about free as he can be?

FREED: He's out and free right now, and the U.S. attorney's office told CNN earlier today that, as of now, only Lisa Montgomery has been charged, and is so far the only person that they expect to charge, at least for a while. They did not suggest that they expect to bring any new charges against anybody else in the near or immediate term.

BLITZER: Jonathan Freed reporting for us on this case. A horrific case, indeed. Jonathan, thank you very much for that report.

In some states murder is the leading killer of pregnant women. Researchers are just now beginning to identify this troubling relationship between pregnancy and violent deaths.

Joining us now here in Washington, Barbara Vobejda. She's of "The Washington Post." Her newspaper has been running a remarkable series of articles beginning yesterday on the correlation between pregnancy and murder.

Barbara, I've been reading these pieces yesterday, today. You have one more coming out tomorrow, is that right?

BARBARA VOBEJDA, WASHINGTON POST: That's right.

BLITZER: Give our viewers who don't have access -- and if they want to read this, they can go to washingtonpost.com to read the articles. But what is the bottom line? What have you discovered?

VOBEJDA: Well, the reporter, Donna St. George (ph), had come across this study that was released in 2001 that said homicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant women. So Donna then approached every state, 50 states, and asked them for any statistics they might have on this.

And what she found out, number one, is that it is a -- it is a very untracked phenomenon. Many states couldn't say because they haven't been able to keep track of this. Number two, it's much more common than people think. That she was able to identify 1,367 of these deaths since 1990, but we know that the number is very low because so many of these deaths go unnoticed.

BLITZER: And they go unnoticed because -- why do they go unnoticed?

VOBEJDA: Well, this is something that law enforcement has never really been trained to pay attention to. When they are investigating a homicide, the first question they ask is not was this woman pregnant. As a matter of fact, in many cases death certificates don't know -- notice if -- or note if someone was pregnant or not.

And it was only when public health researchers decided to try to look at what are the biggest threats to pregnant women that -- and then they started going through medical records and autopsy reports -- that they noticed that homicide was, at least in Maryland where the study was done the, it was the leading cause of death. More than any other single medical cause.

BLITZER: And you discovered that most of these homicides were committed by the fathers -- not the fathers of the girls, necessarily -- the fathers of the babies, either the boyfriends or the husbands, is that right?

VOBEJDA: Yes. In many cases it is hard to know exactly because the statistics are not thoroughly reliable. But in many, many cases, it is a form of domestic violence in that the father of the child did not want to pay child support, he may not have wanted other people to know he was having a relationship with this woman. For him it was way out of what he considered a trap. In other cases, it was a matter of relationship that had already been violent, and pregnancy seemed to be a sort of triggering factor that escalated the violence.

BLITZER: The case that we've been following in the Midwest, in Kansas and Missouri, you're familiar with this case.

VOBEJDA: Yes.

BLITZER: In all of the years I've been reporting I certainly don't remember a case of this specific type. In your research, in your reporting, the team at "The Washington Post" who's put this together, is there anything similar to this, killing a pregnant woman and then taking the baby and going out, and for whatever reason with the baby, trying to keep that baby?

VOBEJDA: I do think that there are other cases like this one. But I think it is rare in that it does -- it was considered for us -- we thought of it as an aberration within this universe of pregnant women who were killed that many, many more -- it is either, you know, directly related to the pregnancy, directly related to their relationship.

In some cases it is random violence. They might have been killed in a drive-by shooting or a drug deal gone bad, or something like that. But in most cases it had something to do with the relationship. And this case in Missouri is something unusual.

BLITZER: What should pregnant women do who feel they could be in danger by a lover, let's say, or a former lover who may not be happy necessarily that this woman is pregnant? What do they do? Should they go to law enforcement immediately if they suspect they could be in trouble?

VOBEJDA: Well, absolutely, if they feel like they're in any kind of imminent danger, they should call the police. I do think that there's also domestic violence hotlines. There's a national one, and in many states there's one that is, you know, targeted on that area.

And then there is experts that can send these women, if they need a shelter or if they need law enforcement. They can give them advice about what to do next. And that -- that absolutely is something that they should do if they fear for their safety.

BLITZER: Barbara Vobejda is the metro project senator (ph) at "The Washington Post." And she had her team and Donna St. George (ph), the reporter, have been doing an excellent job on this story. Eye-opening, I must say. And to our viewers who want more information, they can go to washingtonpost.com and read more about it.

Thanks very much, Barbara.

VOBEJDA: Thank you.

BLITZER: A quiet start to the week after a violent weekend in Iraq. An extremely deadly weekend in Iraq.

What can we expect as the death toll rises and elections draw closer? I'll speak with retired U.S. Army colonel Pat Lang, former of the Defense Intelligence Agency, about what's being done to gain control of Iraq. That's coming up on the "News from CNN."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A very bloody weekend in Iraq once again raising serious questions about security only six weeks before the democratically-scheduled elections are supposed to take place. But can that vote actually go forward?

Joining us now with some insight, retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Lang. In the early '90s he led the Pentagon's Human Intelligence Service, that would be the Defense Intelligence Agency -- at the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was the chief Middle east analyst there for a long time.

Thanks, Pat, very much for joining us.

COL. PAT LANG, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Glad to be here.

BLITZER: Did I get that right, your...

LANG: Absolutely right.

BLITZER: OK, good. Want to make sure we're not misleading our viewers.

LANG: No.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about -- did you have a chance to see what the president said about Syria and Iran specifically? He was asked about reports that they're meddling in the Iraqi affairs, letting terrorists pour in, foreign fighters, any -- and I'm paraphrasing now. He basically said all options are on the table. He's not ruling anything out, and he pointedly, "I hope that they are hearing what I'm saying."

Now, as an old Pentagon type of guy, what does that say -- say to you? And I think we have that actual sound bite. Let's listen to what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: Nothing is taken off the table. And when I said the other day that I expect these countries to honor the political process in Iraq without meddling, I meant it. And hopefully those governments heard what I said.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. What does that say to you?

LANG: Well, I think the government is very focused on the Syrians now in particular right up front because there's a great conviction that the insurgency is being sponsored and...

BLITZER: All right, what does that say to you?

LANG: Well, I think the government is focused on the Syrians right now in particular, right up front, because there's a great conviction that the insurgency is being sponsored, and in some sense commanded even, out of parts of Syria, with the at least tacit acceptance of the Syrian government, and this is a direct warning to Syria that if they don't stop doing that, that all kinds of sanctions and things can be applied to Syria, even more than have been now.

BLITZER: Sanctions is one thing but the military option would be another thing. Is the president ruling out, or putting on the table deliberately the military option against Syria and/or Iran?

LANG: Well, I think, again, Syria is right there in the forefront of everyone's mind, because it would be a very easy thing for the United States to overrun Syria, if worse came to worse and all else failed and the government was frustrated enough. It would be another thing to occupy it, where you would face the same kind of prospects of insurgency. There you might -- Iran is a different case.

BLITZER: Military action, there's everything from regime change, which is what the United States has done in Iraq, to sort of selected strikes, a limited military action, whether along the borders to send a message. Do you have any reason to believe that that sort of limited military action against positions in Syria and/or Iran would be something that this administration would consider?

LANG: I think they would certainly consider it. I mean, they wouldn't look to do something like that unless all else failed. But in the case of Syria, we already did that early on during the occupation in Iraq. There were cases in which special operation forces pursued people into Syria for a goodly number of miles, and there was a lot of damage done.

In the case of Iran, I don't think the United States will in any way accept the possession of nuclear weapons by Iran, and if things keep going in that direction, eventually, they'll decide to do something physical about it. BLITZER: So the president does not easily utter those words. I hope their hearing what I'm saying, because that sends a powerful message to both of those countries.

LANG: Well, I think it's a very serious thing they should take it with a great deal of intense sort of attention because otherwise they go down in directions which will eventually lead to violence.

BLITZER: What do you make of this whole commotion over Don Rumsfeld right now, whether he should stay, whether he should leave? As a former intelligence analyst at the Pentagon, you spent many years, you were a career military officer -- what goes through your mind?

LANG: Well, all of this stuff about who signed what with what kind of machine and what he may have said in an exchange with a soldier does not concern me very much about Mr. Rumsfeld. What concerns me is that his theory of warfare, which is reflected in his transformation, he tried to apply that in Iraq, and it has failed in this test, in fact.

BLITZER: Which is a more streamlined, limited kind of use of force.

LANG: That's right, a lot less troops, a lot less heavy equipment, very carefully targeted. It all depends on -- that kind of theory that depends on the idea that the plan will go exactly according to way it should. There's into the lot of insurance behind that. And when you run into a situation like we have now, in which there's protracted and stubborn fight, you don't have the reserves of force in order to compensate for that, and this is big problem, because his plan has failed.

BLITZER: For all of my recollection, and I used to be a Pentagon reporter, White House reporter, throughout the '90s, even with Schwarzkopf, after the first Persian Gulf War, all of the central commanders, the commanders of the U.S. military central command, they had plan throughout the '90s for removing Saddam Hussein. And it always required 300,000, and 400,000 and maybe even 500,000 troops, the same number of troops that was required to liberate Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion.

When Rumsfeld came in, he said let's get rid of all of those plans that had been considered, let's have fresh thinking. What you're saying, what a lot of other analysts are saying, that was huge blunder.

LANG: Well, I mean, what is being said widely now is that the quotation from Von Multa (ph), the German, you know, that no plan survives contact with the enemy, and this is a truism in military affairs. All of these fellows who did this all this planning and who liked these light forces, they all know that quotation as well. If they believed that to be true, why didn't they bring enough force so they had an insurance policy so he wouldn't end up in this situation in which we have to move a battalion from Falluja to Mosul in order to cope with a new outbreak of violence, things like that. That's ridiculous.

BLITZER: So who do you blame for that change? Do you blame General Tommy Franks, whose responsibility as the central commander was to come up with a post-Saddam plan to deal with any potential insurgency?

LANG: Everything I know about how they -- the run-up the war went, tells me that he and his staff were progressively forced to accept smaller and smaller numbers of troops, fewer and fewer capabilities for the invasion, in order to make it fit with this theory of transformation that people like. I would blame the people who are the possessors and originators of this theory.

BLITZER: Pat Lang, formerly of the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency. Thanks. Welcome back.

LANG: My pleasure.

BLITZER: No holiday for President Bush today, facing some very tough questions from all sides. Is it a sign of things to come for the president in his upcoming second term? Coming up, I'll speak about that and more with my two guests, the bestselling author and columnist "Ann Coulter," she's standing by, and the syndicated talk show host Bernie Ward. Their standing by to join us on the news from CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures coming from California. The murder trial of the actor Robert Blake getting under way today in Van Nuys. Blake is accused of killing his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley in the parking lot of a Los Angeles restaurant in May of 2001. He insists he's not guilty.

Another pretrial hearing today in the Michael Jackson child molestation case. Prosecutors there expected to ask the judge to allow evidence that Jackson committed other sex crimes over the years but was never charged. Jackson's attorneys will ask that the trial be delayed, or the charges dismissed.

Here in Washington, President Bush is promoting a bold agenda for his second term, taking questions earlier today from reporters on Iraq to the embattled Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld. Also Bernard Kerik, the board of nomination. Joining us to talk about that, the president's wide ranging news conference and more, the bestselling author and legal correspondent, syndicated columnist, Ann Coulter. The latest book is entitled -- take a look at the jacket, "How to Talk to a Liberal, If You Must." It's been on "The New York Times" bestseller list.

And Bernie Ward is a radio talk show host of KGO in San Francisco. He's got a book coming out in April. We'll talk about that once the book comes out, not before.

Ann, the president is making it very clear he's standing by the Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, even as other Republicans are suggesting maybe it's time the president looks for a replacement. What do you think?

ANN COULTER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I haven't seen any reason to oppose Donald Rumsfeld. A lot of the Republicans criticizing Rumsfeld are not new to criticizing Bush, the Republicans. I mean, it would be like every year having breaking news about Zell Miller criticizes Democratic Party. These -- none of this comes as a surprise.

BLITZER: Well, you're talking about McCain. You're talking about Hagel, you're Trent Lott, Susan Collins. But those are good Republicans.

COULTER: In the case of -- well, Zell Miller says he's a good Democratic, Wolf. But in the case of Collins and Lott, I mean, this also has to do with the fact that their coming from ship-building states and the vision Rumsfeld has for the Pentagon and for national defense -- how national defense has changed now, would reduce the amount of ship-building we need. So, I mean, they do have a vested interest on behalf of their constituents that I think ought to be mentioned. Hegel, McCain, Bill Krystal, you could run the same quote from them every six months going back five years.

BLITZER: Bill Krystal of "The Weekly Standard" also wrote an op- ed piece in "The Washington Post" suggesting it's time for Rumsfeld to go. What's is your take on this, Bernie?

WARD: Well, I've said this before and I'll say it again. This is an administration that has never cared about the soldier fighting who is fighting this war. We have a president who refuses to attend the funerals of the people that he sends over to die and now it turns out that if you make the ultimate sacrifice and you lose a child in this war, you get a form letter. That Rumsfeld is so busy that he personally cannot sit inside 1,300 letters to the parents and the families of people lost in Iraq.

He sent them over there without enough equipment, they didn't have the body armor, he was asked seven months ago about the humvees, he did nothing about that. Now he turns around -- and when they die because he didn't send enough troops, he doesn't have heart to sign the letter to the parents saying I'm sorry your child died.

BLITZER: Ann, well, that's a fair point. What do you think?

COULTER: I think that that is the level of complaining about Rumsfeld that he probably is doing a pretty good job. I mean, as secretary...

BLITZER: But you agree he should be personally signing those letters of condolences to those families? Even he now acknowledges that was a mistake.

COULTER: For one thing, I think if he were sitting around signing the letters personally, people would be carping that instead of paying attention to the war and how much body armor is needed, he's signing letters. I mean, I haven't looked ...

BLITZER: But how much time does it take to sign 15 or 20 letters a week or 30 letters a week, whatever it is. It doesn't take a whole lot of time for someone to bring in the letters and he signs them and then that's it.

WARD: He don't care, Wolf

COULTER: Did Secretary Marshall sign all of the letters during World War II? I mean, has anyone looked into that? I suspect not. I suspect this is some all new, carping complaint and that was a lot of letters to be signed.

WARD: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Holy cow! We're now comparing the 1,300 to the hundreds of thousands that died in World War II? Here is Rumsfeld, who sent them there...

COULTER: No, we're comparing secretaries of defense and...

WARD: And by the way, Ann...

COULTER: ... what the duty of the secretary of defense is.

WARD: The duty of the secretary of defense is to respect the people that he sent to die. And he sent them over there and they died and let's remember the level of criticism, Ann. The level of criticism isn't that he just didn't sign the letters.

The level of criticism is -- the former colonel that Wolf just had, that his way of fighting this war was a disaster and certainly the piece, and that he sent them over there without the equipment and when it came to his attention, he didn't do anything about that. Isn't he the one who said hey, you go to war with the army you have and not the army you wish you had?

BLITZER: Ann, go ahead.

COULTER: But the criticism is that he did not sign the letters personally. I just heard you say that. I have seen the reports on this. That is what the criticism is. And I think the fact that you concede immediately -- oh, that's not the criticism -- shows how silly it is. I mean, it reminds me of when Ronald Reagan was running...

WARD: Ann, if you had lost somebody...

(CROSSTALK)

COULTER: ... and the complaint was that he dyed his hair. If that's the best you have on this guy, I'd say he's doing a pretty good job.

WARD: Well, that's too bad because the families who lost all those children over there -- and you don't care about them, either -- the families who lost those children over there deserve more than a form letter and this is only the latest, Ann.

COULTER: No, you're right, conservative Republicans hate the military. Good point, Bernie. WARD: Yes, they do, in fact, Ann, they're coming home to no jobs, they're coming home to no doctors, they're coming home to a V.A. system that had their budget cut, they're coming home to a system that can't handle them. Yes, you're right, Ann. You guys have shown tremendous care about the soldiers you sent over to die. You're right. The evidence is overwhelming.

COULTER: Democrats love them so much you don't want them to get hurt fighting a war.

WARD: Yes, we'd like to see that if you send them over, Ann, you don't get killed needlessly...

COULTER: We had an election on that.

WARD: You don't get them killed needlessly. You see them as cannon fodder. You see them as the next book.

COULTER: Is this going to be me sitting here while harangue me?

BLITZER: All right, let's...

WARD: Ann, you can handle being harangued.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the overall situation in Iraq right now. And I'll start once again with you, Ann. Are you upbeat as you look ahead to the year, the next year, the elections scheduled for January 30th, when we meet a year from now, do you believe there will be a democratically-elected, peaceful situation in Iraq?

COULTER: Well, we didn't invade Ohio here, which is why we've had violence from the inception and obviously a lot of violence yesterday. There are a lot of interests against democracy in the Arab world, and in Iraq in particular, where, yes, it's going to happen.

As Wolfowitz (ph), for example, and many others said before the war began, it doesn't have to be a perfect Jeffersonian democracy. If it's as good as Romania or as good as Japan, it's a lot better than what it was. But it's going be hard going. And fortunately, we do have brave men fighting this war for us, despite liberal carping every step along the way.

WARD: Yes, that's right. Despite the...

BLITZER: Bernie, I just want to pinpoint...

WARD: Bernie, hold on a second. I just want to pinpoint this question to you. You hope these elections are successful in Iraq and that some sort of democratically-elected government, a stable government, can emerge, don't you?

COULTER: This is to me?

BLITZER: No, it's to Bernie.

WARD: Oh, absolutely. I would love to see some form of moderate democracy formed in Iraq. I'd love to see the violence end. I'd love to see the Iraqis get a situation where they can actually just live and their children grow up and they can function in that without the hell that they are in now. Absolutely. I would love to see that happen.

BLITZER: Do you see it happening, Bernie?

WARD: No.

BLITZER: What do you see happening?

WARD: What I see happening is that you're going to have a situation where, if the Sunnis do not participate, you're walking down the road to civil war. What I see happening is the Kurds are not going to accept a part of Iraq, they want separate, independent state. And they have already made that known. And ultimately, what I see happening is that there's going to be Shiite government with Ayatollah Sistani and others in control, closely aligned with Iran, which is not in the best interest...

BLITZER: All right.

WARD: ... of the United States at all.

BLITZER: Ann, we're going to take a break, but I want you to just weigh in before we do. That's a pretty bleak picture that Bernie lays out.

COULTER: Yes, and in chapter two of my book, I go through all of my greatest hits columns since 9/11 in the war on terrorism and what is interesting about is you see that from 9/11 on, you have liberal carping and saying we weren't going take Saddam, it would be harder to find Saddam than Osama bin Laden, it would be endless guerrilla warfare, it would go on and on and on. I mean, they have been pessimistic naysayers from the beginning...

WARD: And they were right.

COULTER: ... and so far they've been wrong.

WARD: They were right every step of the way.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to take a quick break...

COULTER: I think we have Saddam.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation with Ann Coulter and Bernie Ward right after a quick break. We'll move on to some other domestic issues on the agenda. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Bernie Ward, the president of the United States named TIME magazine's "Person of the Year." He won the re- election despite a lot of effort by the Democrats, the liberals to make sure he didn't. Do you get up every morning and just sort of say to yourself, what's going on in this country?

WARD: No. I don't at all. I think the president did a brilliant job, he and Karl Rove, of morphing September 11, as Ann tried to do before we went to the break, with Iraq, and the American people bought it. The Maryland (ph) study showed that over 55, 60 percent of those people voted for Bush think that there were weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons and that Saddam Hussein was involved in September 11. And John Kerry did a terrible job of separating those off. He didn't understand that security and fear and Iraq were the issues. And in the end George Bush and Karl Rove did a magnificent job of getting him re-elected despite everything that was going on. I give them great credit.

BLITZER: In your current bestseller, "How to Talk to a Liberal If You Must," Ann, one of the rules that you have in talking to liberals is this. You write: "You must outrage the enemy." All right. You have outraged a lot of your opponents...

COULTER: Thank you.

BLITZER: ... but explain to our viewers what you mean by that.

COULTER: What I mean is that if you don't leave your liberal opponents in a sputtering impotent rage, you're not doing it right. This isn't a popularity contest. We have seen George Bush constantly reaching across the aisle, inviting Teddy Kennedy over, naming a building after his brother and the love hasn't really been returned.

BLITZER: So have you been outraged yet, Bernie?

WARD: I haven't been outraged. And I don't know how she is going to tell if I'm impotent of not, but I'm certainly willing to walk down that road, too. The fact of the matter is that Ann associates dissent with some kind of terrible un-American position that you're going to be in. This president was named "Person of the Year" by TIME. In the article they cite not one accomplishment other than getting re-elected.

COULTER: Did I do that? I think I could do that.

WARD: Well, you know what, TIME didn't...

COULTER: Wolf, could I comment on the TIME magazine...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Please, go ahead.

COULTER: ... "Man of the Year"?

WARD: TIME did not do it and you might ask the question -- or answer the question, Ann, why didn't TIME do that?

BLITZER: Go ahead, Ann. COULTER: Well, first of all, I've never been terribly interested in TIME magazine's "Man of the Year." I'm more interested to see who Human Events will name as "Man of the Year." But I think it is absolutely deserved. Bush has transformed two areas of the world. The United States of America and the Middle East in ways that will have profound effects for the better for the rest of our lifetimes. For 20 years America has been under relentless attack by Muslim fanatics. It started when Islamic craziness got its first real foothold in the Middle East in Iran when Jimmy Carter allowed the shah to be deposed.

We are going to transform that entire region. And as long as there isn't a democracy even as good as Romania or Japan, it allows lunatics like Osama bin Laden to run wild. We need an Arab Israel and Bush is going to create that, and that is going to change the world. And if you will give me time I'll explain how he has changed this country, too.

BLITZER: Well, unfortunately, we don't have any more time. But we will invite both of you back to continue this debate.

WARD: I like Christmas wishes, Wolf, and I like Ann having Christmas wishes.

BLITZER: All right. We'll talk about that. Thanks very much, Ann Coulter, Bernie Ward, a good debate as usual. We'll take quick break, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'll be back later today every weekday, 5 p.m. Eastern for "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS". Among other things, the former defense secretary, William Cohen, will join me to talk about the latest spike in violence in Iraq and the swirling controversy surrounding the current defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. That's coming up today at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "LIVE FROM" with Betty Nguyen and Miles O'Brien, there they are, Miles in Washington today, a special day for all of us here in Washington, coming up next.

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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