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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Ray Kelly; Interview With Pat Robertson; Interview With Mowaffak Al-Rubaie

Aired October 9, 2005 - 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: It's 11:00 a.m. in Washington and here in New York, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad and 8:00 p.m. in Islamabad, Pakistan. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll get the very latest on that huge earthquake in South Asia and the staggering death toll right now in the tens of thousands in just a minute. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: More details now on that earthquake in Pakistan that killed many thousands of people and fears continuing that that death toll could climb even higher. Rescue efforts ongoing right now.

Our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is joining us live via video phone from Islamabad with the latest information.

Matthew, what do we know?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, amidst all this tragedy there are these occasional glimpses of hope and that's what we're witnessing here in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

The scene right behind me: rescue workers digging frantically to try to get to a woman, a young woman they say they know is buried alive beneath that 10-story apartment building that collapsed into its own courtyard when that earthquake struck in the early hours of Saturday morning local time.

She's just a few meters below the surface of what is now a mound of rubble, but it's densely packed reinforced concrete, and it will take several hours to try to get to her.

In addition to that -- and they've spoken to her using these very sensitive microphones -- but in addition to that, they also say as they were trying to dig toward that woman they came across a man who was also alive who hadn't said anything up until that point.

But as they got close to him, he started calling out this them, "Stop, stop, you're bringing the rubble down on top of me with all that hammering." And so it's almost as if it woke him out of his coma. So they found a second person alive as well. So while there are thousands of people, perhaps tens of thousands, around this region who are certainly dead according to the Pakistani authorities, here in Islamabad where there's just one building has collapsed across its courtyard. There are a lot of people still inside trapped, perhaps as many as 100 people, but also these very strong signs of hope as well.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Are they fearful that there could be survivors out there but there simply are not enough search and rescue people involved, workers coming in, the military and others to try to save these people?

CHANCE: Countrywide, absolutely, that's what they're extremely concerned about. (inaudible) In the outlying, very remote areas that have been most harshly affected by this earthquake, which measured 7.6 on the scale of magnitude. So it was a pretty big one.

Those people are only getting assistance by helicopter; accessibility is very difficult. They're not getting the big, heavy equipment, the manpower, the rescue teams.

This apartment block you're seeing behind me in Islamabad, this kind of infrastructure, this kind of assistance is not getting out to those outlying areas where the majority of those casualties are and where the majority of those that destruction is.

And so the big concern is that many, many people will be lying alive and awake and conscious but not being rescued in rubble all over that area of Pakistan tonight.

BLITZER: Are people coming in from around the world? Is the government of Pakistan allowing other countries to send troops in, to send experts in to try to save the lives of these people who may be stuck under the rubble?

CHANCE: Well, Pakistan is blessed with a very large army; blessed in these circumstances, of course. So it's the Pakistani military that's taking the lead in leading those rescue efforts, especially to the more remote outlying areas. But, yes, the international community has responded. There have been rescue teams come from countries like Japan, which obviously has vast experience in trying to recover people from earthquake situations.

Here in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, it's the British rescue team that's pretty much taken the lead bringing its very high-tech devices, its tracking devices, its sensors, microphones, infrared heat detectors, things like that, as well as sniffer dogs to try and find anybody in this rubble, in this city who is still alive.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Matthew Chance is in Islamabad.

Matthew, thank you very much. Another area very hard hit by the earthquake is the Indian- controlled portion of Kashmir. CNN's Ram Ramgopal is traveling there. He's joining us on the phone from there.

Ram, what's the latest where you are?

RAM RAMGOPAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are actually on the main highway that links these two parts of Kashmir, the Indian- administered Kashmir with Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

We were just earlier this evening -- we were in a town called Uri, which sits right -- very up close to the Line of Control, which divides these two Kashmirs.

And I can tell you, Wolf, in that town, pretty much almost many of those houses in that town have been basically destroyed.

The army brigade headquarters has a large presence there, has been totally or substantially damaged.

And also we understand from local residents there that it's not just towns like Uri but even beyond in the more remote villages like Matthew was talking about in Pakistan. That appears to be the biggest -- the bigger picture in Kashmir is really this: There are many of these tiny hamlets on top of mountains which have been cut off, and it's still not clear how bad the damage is there.

But at this point, state officials in this part of Kashmir saying that 507 people have been killed.

BLITZER: In that part of Kashmir. It's a beautiful area.

For our viewers in the United States, it's -- I've been there; I've been to that Line of Control separating Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir. It reminded me at that time of, sort of, Colorado in the United States: remote, beautiful, beautiful mountains, great valleys but hard to get to. Certainly that causing enormous problems in trying to save lives right now. RAMGOPAL: Exactly, Wolf. And in fact, as Matthew said, the military in India is again perhaps the best-equipped agency just like it is in Pakistan.

As you know, Wolf, you traveled here, you know that the Indian military has a strong presence here, but some local residents have been telling us that basically they have not got relief or aid.

I mean, there is certainly aid coming out. There are tents being set up. But the town of Uri tonight was like a ghost town. It was eerily silent.

But according to officials it will be a few days more before they can really assess the situation in the other parts of the state.

BLITZER: All right, Ram Rangopal reporting for us.

Thank you, Ram, very much.

Let's get some more now on the international relief that's pouring into Pakistan.

Joining us from Islamabad is Gerhard Putnam-Cramer. He's the chief of emergency services for the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs. He and his team arrived only several hours ago.

BLITZER: Mr. Putnam-Cramer, thanks very much for joining us.

How is it going?

GERHARD PUTNAM-CRAMER, U.N. OFFICE OF HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS: Wolf, very difficult. And thank you for asking.

We've arrived here and the casualty figures have risen enormously. And it is very difficult to envisage how all this can be dealt with, also taking into account the logistics and transport constraints, I think, which were mentioned before.

The international teams are coming in. Many are prevented, though, from going further than Islamabad up to Muzzaffarabad, where there's a tremendous need for these teams.

And in spite of the great efforts that are being done by the Pakistani armed forces and all the Pakistani government authorities concerned, assistance is required in the search and rescue phase which we're in the middle of right now and, of course, also in the relief phase.

And there, the needs, the requirements that we are gradually being made aware of are awesome in terms of shelter, in terms of water sanitation, in terms of health, where the hospitals in that particular area have been flattened. And so there's a huge need for field hospitals and also, of course, for food.

But the roads, as you may know, have been broken in a variety of places. They're under repair, but that may take a number of days. And even those roads that are passable right now are passable only by 4x4s and not with trucks.

So the enormous amount of relief items that are going to have to make their way there -- we are in the midst of a huge number of problems in terms of addressing these needs. BLITZER: Do you get the sense right now that the Pakistan military is up to the job or there will be an incredible need for humans -- for people to come in from around the world to assist in this search and rescue operation, this recovery operation, the humanitarian mission that is awesome?

PUTNAM-CRAMER: I think, Wolf, that, yes, there is a need for international teams to complement the national rescue efforts. But of course, for that there's only a certain window of opportunity of some 72 hours or so, after which hope fades fast.

And as to the relief effort for the survivors, many of whom, as I say, are now without roofs over their heads and many of them are wounded and then they're not appropriate medical facilities in place, there is definitely a need for rapid and effective humanitarian assistance. And this is what we're trying to coordinate here on the basis of assessments that the U.N. agencies and NGOs in-country, together with the Pakistani authorities concerned, are in the process of putting together.

BLITZER: One final question: Do you have an official number from the government of Pakistan on how many people may have died in this earthquake?

PUTNAM-CRAMER: Well, the official numbers are around 20,000 right now, Wolf. But a number of people are estimating this may go quite a lot higher.

BLITZER: Gerhard Putnam-Cramer is representing the United Nations in this humanitarian mission in Pakistan.

Good luck to you. Good luck to everyone there. Thank you very much.

And we're going to stay on top of this story here on "LATE EDITION." We'll be speaking with Pakistan's prime minister in the next hour.

Also just ahead: New York City's terror scare. Is this city the target of another attack? We'll talk live with the New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly. He's standing by.

Then, as Iraqis prepare to head back to the polls, the Iraqi national security adviser, Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, will speak with us about his country's upcoming vote on a new constitution.

Plus, concerns the United States in Iraq may be fueling the insurgency. We'll ask Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Dick Durbin about setting a timetable for troops to return home.

And our Web question of the week asks this: Are you worried about catching the bird flu? You can cast your vote. Go to CNN.com/lateedition. We'll have the results of the end of this program. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

New York City's transit system is on a heightened state of alert this weekend. While federal authorities in Washington are downplaying the threat, the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is defending his decision to go public and beef up security.

Joining us now is the New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly.

Commissioner, thanks very much for joining us.

COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY, NYPD: It's good to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is this threat still ongoing or is it over?

KELLY: Well, it's still ongoing in the sense that we don't have closure as far as the credibility of this threat.

There are operations that were conducted overseas. I think parts of them are still going on. And those operations will give us a better sense of the credibility of the threat.

BLITZER: So what are you specifically looking for in New York City? Are there individual suspects that may be on the loose in this city?

KELLY: Well, there is an investigation that's going forward, and that's part of it, certainly. We're looking for things here and, as I say, there are operations overseas. There are interrogations that are going forward that will hopefully give us, you know, a sense of the credibility.

This threat was very, very specific. It had specific time, specific object and modality. So, you know, we had to do what we did.

BLITZER: So normally when you're looking for someone, there's a description, sort of, you want the public to help out. Who you are looking for? Who should the public be looking for?

KELLY: We don't have that level of specificity. And that's part of the problem. We have information that indicated perhaps there were people here, but it just didn't have a sufficient description, you might say, for us to put that information out.

BLITZER: Because we're told that in Iraq, they did pick up some individuals on a raid there, and that may have had a connection to this threat in New York.

KELLY: Yes. And there are, as I say, interrogations that are going forward. They're using polygraphs. And I believe in the short term we'll have a much better sense of whether or not this has, you know, real substance to it.

BLITZER: So you're not ready to tell your police officers at this point to stand down?

KELLY: Absolutely not. No.

We have a heightened state of alert here in the city, particularly on our subway system. And we're also working on our commuter lines as well, the MTA and Port Authority police agencies. And, you know, we're not ready to make that determination yet.

BLITZER: So, it's not just the subways. It's the buses. Is it the ferries, is it everything else included as well?

KELLY: Well, this threat was specific to the subway system, but we can't afford to just limit our response totally to the subway system. BLITZER: Today, October 9th, was supposedly one of those dates that had been specifically mentioned. How concerned are you about today?

KELLY: Well, we've heightened our alert level, of course. But it was actually a period of time. It was days. It was after a particular date. So yes, the 9th is in that period of time.

BLITZER: The original source that provided this information, I think it was one source, is that right?

KELLY: Yes.

BLITZER: And that source did pass a polygraph test?

KELLY: That source was deemed to be, yes, believing in the information that was put forward yes.

BLITZER: And that source had proven to be reliable in the past?

KELLY: Yes. That source had a track record for providing information.

BLITZER: Did that source also have a track record of providing false information?

KELLY: Yes.

BLITZER: So you have to weigh all of that.

KELLY: Yes.

BLITZER: And that perhaps explains some of this confusion that we're getting. The spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington on Friday said, "The intelligence community believes that although the information is specific, it is of doubtful credibility."

KELLY; Yes. And that's the dilemma that local officials find.

Certainly, Mayor Bloomberg had made the decision based on the specificity of the information that we had. I certainly think it's the right decision.

If we had this information coming down the pike again, we'd do exactly the same thing. We have a responsibility to the people here, certainly to our subway riders. So we did what we had to do and we'd do it again.

BLITZER: Here's what Mayor Bloomberg said on Friday. I want to play this for our viewers. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: A lot of our information comes from the FBI, and what you see in Washington is different intelligence agencies looking at either different information or evaluating it differently. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It was clear to me when you had that original news conference on Thursday, there was a representative of the FBI standing shoulder to shoulder with you and the mayor. Is there a disconnect between the FBI, based on what you know on the one hand, and the Department of Homeland Security on the other? You know, the FBI is not part of DHS.

KELLY: I wouldn't call it a disconnect, but, you know, intelligence is an art. It's not a science. People can interpret things differently. You have multiple intelligence agencies. They all ultimately report to the director of national intelligence but, you know, it never comes in neat packages. So you have to make judgments on what you have and it's not easy to do.

But here, we have to, you know, be concerned about the safety of so many people, and we're going to err, if we do err, on the side of caution.

BLITZER: Should people get on the subway tomorrow morning?

KELLY: Yes. And we'll have heightened security on the subway system tomorrow as well. And we're monitoring this on an hourly basis. We'll see what information comes in from overseas, comes in from the intelligence agencies. We'll make decisions accordingly.

But I would anticipate that we'll have heightened security on the transportation systems tomorrow. And by the way, we've had it heightened since the bombings in London, the July 7 bombings.

BLITZER: Even before the London bombings in July, back in March, there were reports in the Spanish media about sketches of Grand Central Station that had been found that presumably caused some alarm for you.

KELLY: Yes. I think that particular threat has been discounted as a result of investigation.

But, you see, it's not easy. We received this information. There were sketches of Grand Central Station. As a result of a lot of information and good detective work, we determined that that particular sketch had nothing to do with a reconnaissance of Grand Central Station.

BLITZER: Commissioner Kelly, good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in New York. Thanks for joining us.

KELLY: Good to be with you. BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Just ahead, we'll get the very latest on that massive earthquake in South Asia.

And then, were insurgents in Iraq connected to New York's terror threat? We'll hear from that country's national security adviser, Mowaffak Al-Rubaie. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The scale of the destruction in South Asia is simply enormous. Joining us on the phone from Lahore, Pakistan is one of the survivors. Mian Mansha is the owner of one of Pakistan's largest companies. He's joining us now live.

What was it like to go through that earthquake, Mian?

MIAN MANSHA, EARTHQUAKE SURVIVOR: Well, it was a pretty unpleasant situation first thing in the morning. I have never been through such a situation in my life. And I was pretty scared, actually to be honest with you. And I just came down from the upper floor of our house. And I was just very anxious to get my wife out. And it was pretty scary.

BLITZER: How long did the quake -- how long could you feel it?

MANSHA: I think it continued for about two minutes, you know. And I could see the trees shaking, and also the lamps in my room also, you know, going up and down.

BLITZER: How much damage has been there in Lahore? It's a beautiful city. I've been to Lahore. What kind of damage did that city sustain?

MANSHA: Well, I think there is -- since we're a bit far from the epicenter, but still some office blocks have cracks and some -- I believe some of old historical buildings have also suffered some cracks.

But I think we'll know the full picture tomorrow since today was Sunday.

BLITZER: Were there many people kill in the Lahore area?

MANSHA: No, I believe not more than one person, I heard, but there is some (inaudible) damage to buildings in this area.

BLITZER: What are you hearing from elsewhere near the epicenter of this earthquake? What kind of reports are you getting from your people out there?

MANSHA: Well, I believe there is great damage in the area of Kashmir in the northern areas. And these areas are not accessible since most of the roads are closed because of the landslides.

And I think that it is a lot of damage, some villages have been completely wiped out, I'm told. I have some businesses there, and I -- but of course, but some of one or two villages have been completely wiped out.

BLITZER: Mian Mansha, thank you very much. Good luck to you in Lahore and all of your friends and family and everyone in Pakistan. Coming up at the top of the next hour, we're going to speak live with the prime minister of Pakistan for the very latest. Now estimated probably 20,000 people have been killed in that earthquake and that number could go much higher.

We'll take a quick break. When we come back, we'll speak with Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, about what's going on only days before that referendum on the Iraqi constitution. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Iraq faces another critical test next Saturday when the country holds a referendum on its draft constitution. The deadly insurgent attacks are overshadowing the push for political progress.

Just a short while ago I spoke with Dr. Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mowaffak Al-Rubaie, thanks very much for joining us from Baghdad.

Next Saturday, the referendum for the Iraqi constitution goes before the Iraqi people. In your mind, is it possible this referendum will be rejected?

MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, theoretically it's possible to be rejected, but I think, I hope and I pray that the Iraqi people will say yes, yes, loud and clear for this constitution. Because it is a huge step toward building a new Iraq, and this is a milestone. We have to go through it. Otherwise, if the people of Iraq say no, God forbid, then it will delay the whole political process for another year or so.

BLITZER: As you know, as you know, many Sunnis...

AL-RUBAIE: So we need (inaudible).

BLITZER: Excuse me for interrupting, Dr. Al-Rubaie.

As you know, many Sunnis are objecting to it. If in three of the provinces there's a two-thirds majority against the constitution, then it's defeated. You were saying that you don't think that will happen, but it's theoretically possible. What will be the consequences of such a vote?

AL-RUBAIE: Number one, I don't think the overwhelming majority of the Sunni people, the ordinary people, in the three provinces in the west of the country -- I believe they are with the concept or the basic concept of this constitution.

Number two, those who are, if you like, the vocal people who are in opposition to the constitution, and they would like the Sunni voters to say no, I think they are not true representatives of the Sunnis.

So a lot of -- quite few political leaders, figures, political parties, groups, NGOs in the Sunni triangle are going to say yes next Saturday for our constitution.

Now, if it is turned down, the only thing that it will happen that probably the insurgents and the terrorists will consider it as a victory for them, because they managed to disrupt the political process. They would have managed to prevent people from going to ballot boxes and cast their vote and say yes to the constitution.

So it's going to be a victory to the Iraqi people next Saturday, when we will have a clear majority of yes votes to this constitution.

BLITZER: There was a letter that was reported, from the -- a number two in Al Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to the Al Qaida leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Among other things, al-Zawahiri said: "Iraq has become the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era."

Do you believe this letter to be authentic?

AL-RUBAIE: I believe these people are the dark forces, the anti- Iraqi forces. They would not like the democracy in Iraq, and they are frightened of democracy in Iraq.

They want to bring us to Iraq a Taliban-style regime, like the one which used to be in Afghanistan, and the Iraqi people will not have this. And neither Zarqawi nor Zawahiri nor bin Laden will have any influence on our Iraqi citizen, which has determined -- and they are really determined to go to the ballot boxes and say yes or no. I would like them to say a big yes, clear yes to the constitution.

BLITZER: Do you believe that letter was authentic?

AL-RUBAIE: I haven't looked into Zawahiri's message very carefully, but this is the rhetoric they use, this is the language I expect them to use. And I believe they wanted to take on the civilized world on Iraqi soil, and this is at the expense of the Iraqi people, by the way.

And we in the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people, this is a historic moment for us, a historic challenge. And we will be up to the challenge of these people, of the terrorists and insurgents.

And we are so determined to proceed with our political process, and to move on to the next step, which is the general election in December this year.

BLITZER: As you know, it's been widely reported that the source of the intelligence information for the New York City transit terror threat came from someplace in Iraq.

What can you tell us about this threat? How credible, based on the information you have, was this threat to the New York subway system? AL-RUBAIE: Well, I'm sorry, I can't go into details of the intelligence and the passing of the information and how do we deal with that intelligence information. I wouldn't like to indulge myself in a public, sort of, discussion on this.

BLITZER: Well, without getting into any details, though, can you just tell us if you believe that the threat was credible, specific?

AL-RUBAIE: I think these people have -- see, terrorism has no boundaries, has no -- it doesn't have any nationality. It doesn't have any religion. It does not have any -- they don't respect -- this is beyond borders. We're talking about terrorism beyond borders.

This is a global war on terror. And it happens that Iraq is the front line of this war on terror, the global war on terror. And they can cross the borders to Europe, to America, to the Arab world.

And that's why our message to our neighbors -- we say to them and we keep on saying to them, especially Syria and Saudi, that they should do more of stopping these from crossing the borders to Iraq.

And Syria, in particular, should do more to stop these people because otherwise they get to Iraq, they get strength and they go back to Syria. Because if we force them and if we apply pressure on them here, they will go back to Syria, they will go back to Jordan, they will go back to Saudi Arabia or even Europe and America to do their evil work.

BLITZER: So does that mean that the threat, in your opinion, to New York City was credible?

AL-RUBAIE: Well, it may well be credible, Wolf, because, as I said, terrorism has no boundaries.

BLITZER: The insurgency seems to be getting more deadly, more lethal, more destructive. I'll put some numbers up on the screen.

This year, September 2005, there are 2,500 insurgent attacks. In March of 2005, only a few months earlier, there were 1,500. As far as IEDs, improvised explosive devices, in September of this year, there were 1,000. In September of last year there were 750 incidents.

Is this insurgency getting worse?

AL-RUBAIE: No, I don't think agree with that, Wolf. I'll tell you what: The number of attacks, if you like, are probably superficially -- if you look at it from a face value of it, probably it's going up. But the quality and the type of the operation in the attacks is getting less.

And we are getting much more effective in our counterterrorism. Our Iraqi security forces are getting bigger in size, more qualified, more serious and better equipped, as well. We are getting much more focused on the targets.

And also, we have the coordination between our intelligence agencies, the three intelligence agencies. We have a very good coordination system now in place for the flow of the intelligence and for the conversion of the intelligence into actionable intelligence.

And the percentage of those operations or those attacks on our security forces we're managing to abort more and more. We used to fail probably a quarter of it. Now, it's two-thirds of these attacks are not effective at all. One-third of these attacks they are applying on us is effective.

And the number of casualties also is getting lower and reduced because, if you see it from the, sort of, superficial look at it, you will see the civilian casualties are getting bigger, but not the Iraqi security forces or the multinational forces; that we're getting much better protected from these terrorist attacks.

BLITZER: We are almost out of time, Dr. Al-Rubaie, so a quick question on Saddam Hussein.

I thought his trial was supposed to begin this month. Will it begin this month?

AL-RUBAIE: Absolutely. We will have Saddam Hussein still scheduled to appear in the box on the 19th of October after the referendum.

And this is part of the psychological healing of this nation. This nation has been severely traumatized for 35 years. And part of the healing process and part of the national reconciliation and part of the national dialogue we need to see Saddam Hussein in the box and ask him about the crimes he has, and he has to answer these crimes he has committed in the last 35 years.

BLITZER: Mowaffak Al-Rubaie. Thanks very much for joining us from Baghdad. Appreciate it.

AL-RUBAIE: Thank you very much, Wolf, for having me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And still ahead, the U.S. Senate majority whip, Mitch McConnell, and the minority whip, Dick Durbin. They'll weigh in on where things stand in Iraq, the war on terror, the U.S. Supreme Court and much more.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

President Bush this past week has been trying to shore up support here in the United States for his war on terror.

Joining us now, two leading members of the United States Senate: in his home state of Kentucky, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, Mitch McConnell, and in his home state of Illinois, the Senate's number-two Democrat, Dick Durbin.

Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We'll get to all of those other issues in just a moment. But, Senator McConnell, how much assistance -- money specifically, should the United States start thinking about in helping Pakistan, a close ally in the war on terror, in the aftermath of this earthquake?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, it's much too early, Wolf, to determine what might be available to help our good friends in Pakistan. They certainly have been a great ally, as you indicated, in the war on terror. And the Indians were affected by this earthquake as well.

And we sure had our own experience recently with a manmade disaster. But we'll be assessing the damage and hoping to be helpful in any way that we can.

BLITZER: A natural disaster, I think you meant to say, right?

MCCONNELL: Yes, I'm sorry.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Durbin? At a time when budget deficits are soaring here in the United States -- a couple hundred billion dollars expected for the cost of Hurricane Katrina -- is the United States in a position now to start thinking of maybe billions of dollars to help Pakistan?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Well, Wolf, of course we're in a heated debate even in the Senate last week as to how we're going to help the Hurricane Katrina victims. I know we're going to be there. We won't let our people in America down.

But our thoughts and prayers are with the people in Pakistan and India. They are our friends. They have stood by us so many times. We want to stand by them in this time of need. America will be there; I'm not sure in what capacity or to what extent, but we will be there.

BLITZER: All right.

As far as the war on terror, Senator McConnell, is concerned, there seems to have been, sort of, a disconnect between the Department of Homeland Security on the one hand, federal authorities in Washington, and New York City authorities on the other as far as this threat to New York.

Are you concerned that there may be a disconnect between local and federal authorities as far as this war on terror is concerned?

MCCONNELL: No, not particularly. I think certainly the mayor responded appropriately and took the kind of precautions he thought needed to be taken in New York City. And those kinds of things are typically done at the local level.

I think they're communicating rather well. And I hope that will continue to be the case in the future. BLITZER: You agree, Senator Durbin?

DURBIN: I do. I sat on the Intelligence Committee for four years. I read some of these interviews. Of course, they're subject to interpretation.

The mayor of New York decided to take the most cautious and careful approach to it, and I applaud him for doing that. People in Washington may have disagreed, but I think caution is important in this war on terrorism.

BLITZER: The latest CBS News poll, Senator McConnell, has some bad numbers for the president when it comes to the way he's handling the situation in Iraq. Only 32 percent of the American public approve of the way he's handling the situation there; 64 percent disapprove. These numbers are consistent in other polls as well.

The president's not convincing a lot of Americans he knows what he's doing there.

MCCONNELL: Well, the Iraqis are a little bit more optimistic, Wolf, interestingly enough, even though they're directly there in the middle of all this. Sixty-two percent of them in a September survey indicated they thought things would be considerably better by next year; 73 percent thought they'd be considerably better within the next five years.

Look, I think the next big steps are awfully important. You had a guest on earlier, an Iraqi official on earlier talking about the constitution on October 15th. No question that's a very important next step in Iraq toward a permanent democratic government, which is supposed to be elected on December 15th. I'm optimistic that both those dates will be met and that we'll continue to move forward.

There are now 35 battalions capable of action in Iraq. And I think we've made a significant amount of progress.

BLITZER: But, Senator McConnell, excuse me for interrupting. There may be 35 battalions capable with U.S. assistance, but there's only one battalion that's capable of operating on its own, and there were three only a few months ago.

MCCONNELL: Well, U.S. assistance is still available. As you know, we have a number of troops there. But the important thing is that we're moving in a direction of being able to have small or no American troops embedded in these units.

And sure, we're still there. We're still there because we're needed. But the point is they're getting dramatically better and are on the cutting edge of a lot of the action now.

BLITZER: All right, you agree with that, Senator Durbin?

DURBIN: No, I don't. The American people stand behind our troops, but they believe, as we do, that America can do better in Iraq. When the president comes before the American people this week and says our choice is between resolve and retreat, it's a false choice.

What we want to see are metrics or measurement of accountability.

To think just a few months ago we had three battalions ready to stand and fight, today we have only one doesn't indicate to me the Iraqi army is going to be replacing American soldiers any time soon. We have to understand that if we are going to have a security situation there that will prevail once they move toward nationhood, the Iraqis have to accept more responsibility and the Bush administration has to accept more responsibility.

We are spending now almost $5 billion to $6 billion a month on the war Iraq. We have now lost over 1,950 of our best and bravest soldiers and there's no end in sight. Over 40,000 innocent Iraqis have died, and the carnage continues with 90 insurgent attacks a day.

So the American people are rightly skeptical. They're demanding of this administration leadership. The president says, "Stay the course." We want to make sure that course is going to end up in a stable Iraq and American troops coming home.

DURBIN: Wolf...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Senator McConnell, we don't have a lot of time. I just want to pick up on the Harriet Miers nomination as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A lot of you're fellow conservatives or Republicans are angry at the president for selecting her. Charles Krauthammer writing in The Washington Post on Friday says: "If Harriet Miers were not a crony of the president of the United States her nomination to the Supreme Court would be a joke."

Bill Kristol writing in the Weekly Standard: "Surely this is a pick from weakness."

David Frum, a former Bush speech writer, saying: "The Miers' nomination, though, is an unforced error."

How much of a problem does the president have not with Democrats but with Republicans and conservatives on this nomination?

MCCONNELL: Look, everybody is entitled to their opinion. And I think all of these conservative commentators had their favorites.

But the president, under the Constitution, gets to make the selection. He's made the selection of an outstanding lawyer.

And it's important to remember that the people who get to vote on this are the members of the United States Senate. And I haven't sensed any discontent of any consequence in the Republican conference in the Senate. The few who have expressed some doubts have simply said, "Let's have the hearings."

That's not indistinguishable from the reaction they had to the John Roberts' nomination. They wanted to wait for the hearings...

BLITZER: Senator Brownback and Senator Lott did express some serious doubts. MCCONNELL: I think at the end of the day the support in the Senate for Harriet Miers in the Republican conference in the Senate is going to be rock solid.

BLITZER: One hundred percent?

MCCONNELL: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: What about among the Democrats? Senator Durbin, you're on the Judiciary Committee.

DURBIN: I met with Ms. Miers the other night for about 45 minutes. We had a pleasant conversation. But when I tried to ask any questions relative to basic constitutional principles or even to her role as White House counsel, she told me she wasn't prepared to answer.

She has a limited paper trail. She's not been a judge. There's no requirement that she should be to be on the Supreme Court.

But if we're going to have any evidence, any information to make an informed judgment for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, Ms. Miers has to come forward even more than John Roberts and explain who she is and what she believes.

We have these report from Reverend Dobson and others that they have inside information from the White House that she'll be just fine from their point of view on the issues. That is reprehensible.

If we're going to talk about people coming before the Senate Judiciary Committee having an opportunity to speak and not being pushed back and forth by interest groups, then this approach, which we've heard over and over again from the right, is not a good one.

BLITZER: All right, unfortunately, guys, we're out of time. Thanks so much to both of you for joining us, Senator McConnell, Senator Durbin, representing both parties in the U.S. Senate.

And there's much more ahead coming up on "LATE EDITION," including the latest on that huge earthquake in Pakistan that killed thousands. I'll speak live with Pakistan's prime minister.

"LATE EDITION" continues right at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk. A devastating earthquake kills thousands in South Asia. We'll get the latest on the search for survivors in the stricken region.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) (UNKNOWN): Now raised awareness about the avian flu and its potential to destabilize societies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Fears of a possible pandemic: Is the world prepared for an outbreak of bird flu? We'll ask the United Nations' point man on the virus, Dr. David Navarro.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She will be an outstanding addition to the Supreme Court of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush makes his second pick for the nation's highest court. But is the choice of Harriet Miers alienating his conservative base? We'll talk with Christian Coalition founder, the Reverend Pat Robertson.

Plus, our expert legal panel will weigh in on the Miers nomination, Tom DeLay's indictments and the CIA leak investigation.

Welcome back. We'll speak live with Pakistan's prime minister about the devastating earthquake in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's immediately go to Islamabad. Our Matthew Chance is joining us via videophone with the latest on this huge earthquake. This is expected to be the worst earthquake in a century in Pakistan.

Matthew, what's going on?

CHANCE: Well, absolute devastation, Wolf, not just here in Pakistan but in areas of India, as well, and of areas of Afghanistan, also. So a region-wide catastrophe, really, that has befallen those countries. As many as 20,000 people believed to be killed, and that's just initial estimates. We're still in the process of seeing rescue teams move out to those more outlying remote areas to get a better picture of exactly the scale of those casualties.

So absolute tragedy all over there. And amidst that tragedy, surprisingly, perhaps, there are elements of hope that we've been witnessing, as well, particularly here in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital. It's not a city that was severely affected by this earthquake -- that has to be said upfront -- but this one building right behind me was a 10-story apartment block full of people.

It collapsed over its own courtyard, obviously causing a great deal of death and destruction and devastation. And since that Saturday morning earthquake struck here local time, rescue teams have been on top of that, what is now a pile of rubble, digging frantically to find some human life. There's been some success in the early minutes after the earthquake struck.

At least 90 people managed to struggle with their lives away from the building, either being dug out by neighbors or managing to extricate themselves from the rubble that has fallen on top of them, but there are at least believed to be 100 people still trapped inside. And as I say rescue efforts have been frantic in an attempt to find and extricate those who are still alive.

Much attention over the course of this day has been focused on a woman who the rescue workers heard shout for help in amongst the rubble. They lowered microphones in to try and trace exactly where she was. They located her. She was screaming for help. They've been trying to get to her.

In the meantime, though, they found a man who had remained silent up until they were nearly right up against that woman, and in the last few moments they actually brought that man out. He was more or less walking wounded, they say, just dehydrated, no serious injuries. But he was taken away to hospital and the search continues for others, Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance in Islamabad. Thank you very much.

The president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, toured some of those devastated areas today. Our Satinder Bindra was with him. He's joining us now live, via, on the phone from Islamabad.

How did it go, Satinder?

SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I, in fact, toured large parts of northern Pakistan, in fact, the Northwest Frontier province and Pakistan- controlled Kashmir with the Army. We were in a helicopter for most of the day, and from the air, we flew over a town called Balacote (ph), and clearly this was the most intensively damaged area.

Wolf, 70 to 80 percent of the homes in Balacote (ph) completely demolished. The Pakistani president himself estimating that perhaps 2,000 people were killed there alone. Now the force and intensity of the earthquake here was such that we could notice huge cracks in mountainsides, in hillsides. Hundreds and hundreds of homes in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir have also been flattened.

I visited the town of Muzzaffarabad, and here I went to one school where at least 60 pupils were killed when the school building collapsed right on top of them. A massive relief operation, Wolf, I must also add, is under way in the Northwest Frontier province and in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. The government has set up hospitals. People are getting treated and a large number of the wounded are being evacuated in helicopters.

Many people complaining that relief is coming perhaps too little and they are unhappy, but the Pakistani President General Musharraf pleading for calm, saying he's doing the best he can. Large numbers of roads in his country are still blocked, blocked by landslides, and the Pakistani president appealing specifically to the United States. He says he needs heavy-lift helicopters so he can get into the remote areas and help these people.

BLITZER: I suspect he's going to be getting some of those requests met very, very soon. Satinder, thank you very much.

Satinder Bindra joining us on the phone from Islamabad.

Also joining us on the phone right now to deal with this situation in Pakistan is the prime minister of that country, Shaukat Aziz.

Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to "LATE EDITION."

SHAUKAT AZIZ, PRIME MINISTER, PAKISTAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: First of all, do you have an up-to-date casualty count? How many people do you estimate right now are dead?

AZIZ: At the moment the latest count is about just under 20,000.

BLITZER: Just under 20,000 killed. And what about injured?

AZIZ: Injured are about 43,000.

BLITZER: Forty-three thousand, is that what you said?

AZIZ: Yes, sir, 43,000 injured, and the numbers are still coming in. As you know, a lot of the terrain is inaccessible.

BLITZER: Do you expect those numbers to go up dramatically or marginally?

AZIZ: I think they will go up some. I don't think there will be a dramatic increase in the numbers because we have got input from many of the areas, but they will certainly go up.

BLITZER: The president of Pakistan, President Musharraf, is appealing for international assistance. What do you need most? AZIZ: Well, what we need most is tents, which is temporary accommodation. We need blankets because it's getting cold out there, and we need medicine. In addition, we need financial help to rebuild the infrastructure.

As you can see, a lot of the roads, hospitals, et cetera, and other infrastructure have been damaged. And then we are also seeking help to lift equipment and move injured out of the various areas through helicopters.

BLITZER: In the past, Mr. Prime Minister, there's been reluctance on the part of the Pakistani government to accept U.S. military troops or presence in your country. Are you willing to lift that resistance right now to get those kinds of heavy-lift helicopters and other military equipment into the country?

AZIZ: Well, we have no problem and the U.S. helping us with the helicopters like the Chinook. This is exactly what we need and we will welcome them. BLITZER: Have you formally asked the United States government for this kind of assistance?

AZIZ: We have. And we understand they should be here tomorrow.

BLITZER: So they've accepted.

And what kind of assistance are they promising you? How many troops? How many American helicopters will be coming in?

AZIZ: There are no troops. These are merely helicopters to help lift people back and forth because the town of Muzzaffarabad, which is in Azad (ph), Kashmir, is not accessible completely at the moment.

Most of the roads leading to this town are blocked; so are the other areas. This is a very hilly and mountainous region of the country where it snows in the winter.

So we need heavy-lift helicopters to bring the injured out and move heavy relief goods to the various parts which are otherwise -- even in normal times -- are difficult to access.

BLITZER: So how many helicopters will the United States provide?

AZIZ: I think there will be about six to eight coming in.

BLITZER: And they'll be arriving as early as tomorrow. Is that what you're saying?

AZIZ: That's what I've been told, that they should start coming tomorrow morning.

BLITZER: What about medical assistance, humanitarian assistance? What else do you need?

AZIZ: Well, we have temporary accommodation needs, though tents are what work in this part of the world. And then we need medicine of various sorts.

In terms of doctors, we have plenty here. Pakistan is well- endowed in human talent, so doctors are available. But two of the major hospitals in the earthquake area have been damaged, so we need to build some temporary hospitals ASAP. And that's what we're trying to do ourselves and also seek help from other countries.

In addition, we are short of medicines because, naturally, the number of injured are so huge that the medicine supplies are short. So we are hoping to get assistance and many countries have come forward and offered assistance in every form.

There are teams from several countries here trying to work through wreckages to get people out and a lot of the relief goods are on their way.

BLITZER: What about financial assistance? How much money do you think Pakistan needs, at least in the short term, to deal with this immediate crisis?

AZIZ: Yes, I think the financial assistance we need is to rebuild the infrastructure. Some of the clips you saw earlier -- the roads are damaged and a lot of the infrastructure is damaged and we would need in the hundreds of millions of dollars to come in over a period of time to rebuild the infrastructure and particularly the housing.

Most -- in some of the towns I flew over the area today -- some of the towns have been flattened. So there's nothing there. There's no housing, no infrastructure. We'll need a couple of hundred million dollars. Some we'll put ourselves and some the president has appealed to the world today to help Pakistan rebuild itself.

This is a major catastrophe which we are dealing with. And I must say that the morale of the people -- and they're all jelling together, which helps.

And it's also a very traumatic experience for the people who've gone through this. Dealing with trauma is also a challenge for many of the people and the government is helping to the extent it can.

BLITZER: Shaukat Aziz, the prime minister of Pakistan.

Mr. Prime Minister, our condolences for these deaths as a result of this earthquake. Good luck to everyone in Pakistan, as well as in neighboring India and Afghanistan, as a result of this terrible, terrible earthquake.

Thank you very much for joining us on "LATE EDITION."

AZIZ: Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

BLITZER: And we'll have more on this earthquake coming up later this hour.

Also, ahead: bird flu fears. We'll talk live with the United Nations avian flu envoy, Dr. David Nabarro, about what's being done to protect all of us around the world.

Then: He's an ardent supporter of President Bush, but is the Reverend Pat Robertson among the conservatives unhappy about his Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers? I'll ask him what's going on. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

It's a growing health threat with a potentially catastrophic impact. The avian flu is found mainly in birds, but the virus last also killed some 60 people so far and there are fears that it could take a much more deadly human toll.

Joining us now from Geneva, Switzerland, to talk about it is the United Nations avian flu envoy, Dr. David Nabarro. Dr. Nabarro, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thank you very much.

We're now getting reports that in western Turkey, in Romania, there's evidence of bird flu. They're killing chickens, they're killing turkeys.

How worried are you about this spread?

DR. DAVID NABARRO, U.N. AVIAN FLU ENVOY: I am, indeed, worried about the spread of bird flu.

It's a deadly epidemic of a highly pathogenic -- that means very nasty -- avian flu virus.

We're concerned about it because of what it's doing to chickens and to other people who depend on birds for their livelihoods. We're also worried that this might be the source of a possible human influenza pandemic virus.

BLITZER: Is there any evidence so far that there's been human- to-human transfer of bird flu?

NABARRO: At the moment we have not seen confirmation of human- to-human transmission of a virus that is capable of being sustained in the human population. We're on the lookout for it, and I'm trying to make sure that all my colleagues throughout the United Nations system and elsewhere are working with governments to keep a very careful watch to pick up the first signs of that kind of transmission.

BLITZER: Right now the belief is that all those humans who have come down with avian flu, they got it because of their contact with birds. Is that right?

NABARRO: That's correct.

BLITZER: The fear is that we may be, though, on the verge of a pandemic, and that that's got a lot of people around the world very, very nervous.

You're specifically looking into this. Give us your perspective.

NABARRO: Well, there will be a human flu pandemic sometime, because they occur over time and historically we tend to get them every 30 to 40 years. We're certainly due for one now.

But I would like people not to be in a state of deep fear about it because we do have the possibility of controlling the pandemic and making certain that when it does arrive, we can keep it to having the least possible impact on human society and lives.

BLITZER: The secretary of health and human services here in the United States, Michael Leavitt, had some ominous words on Thursday here on CNN. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL LEAVITT, U.S. SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: The world is woefully unprepared. Periodically we have pandemics in the world. We've had three in this century. And you'd think that it would be a matter of constant concern to us. It has not been anywhere in the world, and consequently the world is unprepared.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is the world unprepared for this?

NABARRO: I was with Secretary Leavitt last Thursday, and he's traveling with the director general of the World Health Organization to Asia as we speak.

The truth is that he's right: As a world we're not prepared for an influenza pandemic. And so the task facing all of us -- governments, international organizations like the World Health Organization and the United Nations and local community organizations -- is to get prepared for a possible pandemic and prevent it from causing the kind of damage that these sorts of outbreaks tend to cause, which leads to breakdown in trade, transport and our normal ways of living.

BLITZER: Earlier in the week Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading specialist on infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, specifically pointed to one major problem right now. Listen to what Dr. Fauci said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: The weak links are the Asian countries if they are not transparent in the sense of allowing the rest of the world to know the real time information about how this virus might be evolving. And that's -- the president went before the general assembly and called for cooperation and transparency among nations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What about those Asian nations? Are they cooperating fully, Vietnam, Thailand, some of the other countries in Asia where this problem has developed?

NABARRO: Firstly, I want to stress that the jump from bird flu to human flu could occur in any country where bird flu is found. It's not specifically the Asian countries that were referred to.

Secondly, that up to now I have no evidence of countries deliberately concealing information.

When we had a meeting in your State Department in Washington on Friday last week with representatives of many countries present, I was struck by the clear willingness of all countries to work together to be transparent and open with information.

It'll be difficult to sustain that spirit of openness because there are, of course, big worries about what a pandemic might do for a country's tourism, economy and its internal security. But, again, the work that I've got ahead of me through the United Nations system and the international community is to encourage all countries to be open and transparent so that we don't end up with the kind of concerns that Dr. Fauci just described just now.

BLITZER: And one final question, we're out of time: How many people would die, God forbid, if there were this pandemic?

NABARRO: Well, you probably know and some of your viewers will know that this is a very difficult question.

We do not know the number of people who will die because we do not know how severe it will be.

Pandemics in the 19th century, 20th century led to deaths of between 5 million and 40 million. Obviously it could be as big or bigger than those figures.

The most likely estimate produced by the World Health Organization is of the order of 4 million to 7 million, and that's the one that most experts are using to help people do their planning. Some are using larger figures, but that is simply because they're looking for the extreme case.

BLITZER: Dr. Nabarro, good luck to you and good luck to everyone working this huge, huge problem. Thanks for joining us on "LATE EDITION."

And still ahead: my conversation with the Reverend Pat Robertson about the U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, and the reaction among conservatives to the president's choice.

First, though, we'll get an update on the damage from that huge earthquake in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

We'll be right back.

More now on that terrible earthquake in South Asia. Joining us from Islamabad, is Faiza Janmohammad. She is the country director of the aid group Mercy Corps.

Faiza, thanks very much for joining us. Give us a sense of the proportion of this tragedy.

FAIZA JANMOHAMMAD, MERCY CORPS: Well, first of all, it is much bigger than any one of us thought. The death count has gone up to as high as 40,000 -- yes, 40,000.

BLITZER: When you say 40,000, Faiza, we heard from the prime minister just a little while ago that the official numbers were about 20,000. That's double. Where are you getting that 40,000 number?

JANMOHAMMAD: Well, this is the number that we have been hearing in the international organization's coordination meetings, as well as out in the field. Mercy Corps' rapid response team has been out in some of the worst hit areas today, and they have been in touch with the army's emergency response cell on the ground in Mansehra and other areas in the Hazara region, and this is more or less the estimated number of casualties.

BLITZER: And are most of those casualties in Pakistan?

JANMOHAMMAD: Yes, we're speaking about Pakistan.

BLITZER: And what about India and Afghanistan?

JANMOHAMMAD: To be honest, we're so consumed by the situation here and as it unfolds, it's seeming to be of much bigger proportions, but we're not very familiar with the Indian side of things.

BLITZER: Faiza Janmohammad, good luck to you and Mercy Corp and all the workers trying to deal with this tragedy. Thank you very much.

Let's go over to the India-controlled portion of Kashmir, which suffered extensive damage. Joining us now on the phone is Dr. Ghulam Mattoo, a resident of the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir.

I hope I pronounced your name correctly. Dr. Mattoo, is that correct?

DR. GHULAM MATTOO, KASHMIR RESIDENT: Yes.

BLITZER: Give us a little sense of what's happening where you are.

MATTOO: I'm in living in (inaudible), that is one of the biggest towns in the Indian part of Kashmir, and it is about 50 kilometers inside the Line of Control.

BLITZER: The Line of Control separates the Indian and the Pakistani parts of Kashmir.

What is it like where you are?

MATTOO: Yesterday then the earthquake happened. It was very panicky and people were running here and there to look for their (inaudible) and to find out what exactly damage has happened. But almost every home in this town has been affected, and most of the walls usually defenses and other things have fallen down.

BLITZER: And what kind of death numbers do you have there?

MATTOO: Yes, in Indian of Kashmir -- on the Indian side it is reported that around 600 people have died.

BLITZER: Well, our deepest condolences to you, Dr. Mattoo, and everyone in Kashmir. Good luck in this enormous, enormous struggle.

MATTOO: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: What a horrible earthquake over the past 24 hours, in Pakistan, India, as well as Afghanistan.

We'll switch gears when we come back. Why are so many conservatives here in the United States divided over the president's pick for a Supreme Court nominee? We'll talk with Christian Coalition founder the Reverend Pat Robertson about the rift over President Bush's choice.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

President Bush is sticking by his choice of White House counsel Harriet Miers to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, but some conservatives here in the United States are very unhappy with the Miers pick.

Joining us now from Virginia Beach, V.A., is the broadcaster, the Christian Coalition founder, the Reverend Pat Robertson.

Welcome to "LATE EDITION," Reverend...

REV. PAT ROBERTSON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... thanks very much for joining us.

I want to get to Harriet Miers in a moment but you're a minister. You see what's going on in the world today in Pakistan, in India, Afghanistan, an earthquake, maybe 20,000 people dead, maybe twice that number; we don't have a count. Hurricanes in the United States and around the world, a tsunami a little bit less than a year or so ago in Southeast Asia. What's happening?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, I might say you're very perceptive to pick up the key in this.

If you read back in the Bible, the letter of the apostle Paul to the church of Thessalonia, he said that in the latter days before the end of the age that the Earth would be caught up in what he called the birth pangs of a new order. And for anybody who knows what it's like to have a wife going into labor, you know how these labor pains begin to hit.

I don't have any special word that says this is that, but it could be suspiciously like that. These things are starting to hit with amazing regularity.

BLITZER: But what does that mean? Explain that in more simplistic terms so I can understand what you're driving at.

ROBERTSON: Well, what was called the blessed hope of the Bible is that one day Jesus Christ would come back again, start a whole new era, that this world order that we know it would change into something that would be wonderful that we'd call the millennium. And before that good time comes there will be some difficult days and there will be likened to what a woman goes through in labor just before she brings forth a child.

BLITZER: So you think we're at that moment right now perhaps?

ROBERTSON: It's possible, Wolf. I don't have any special revelation to say it is, but the Bible does indicate such a time will happen in the end of time. And could this be it? It might be.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on to something that we perhaps can understand a little bit better, which would be Harriet Miers, and she wants to be on the United States Supreme Court. The president wants her on the us Supreme Court. Do you agree that she is the best choice right now to be on the Supreme Court?

ROBERTSON: You know, the thing that I like -- Wolf, you see, I founded an organization called the American Center for Law and Justice; we litigate before the Supreme Court. A lot of these conservatives who are doing all this talk don't do that. We've had 12 cases before the Supreme Court -- as a matter of fact, as many as 16 or 17. We've got a couple of cases before this court coming up.

Our general counsel, Jay Sekulow, is very pleased with Harriet Miers because she shares the president's philosophy. She's been with him for 10 years, and we say, "No more Souters."

Well, Warren Rudman pulled a fast one on John Sununu and George Bush number one and put Souter over on him when he was supposed to be a conservative but he's not.

But Harriet Miers is a deep-seated conservative. She's a brilliant lawyer. And you don't get to head a law firm of 270 tough fighting litigators without being good. She is very good.

BLITZER: But is she the best, the most qualified, the most distinguished legal scholar or jurist or lawyer that the president could have picked?

ROBERTSON: I think what the president wants is a vote that reflects his point of view.

You know, some of these great brilliant scholars go off the reservation. You look at some of the so-called great scholars, they depart substantially from the presidents that picked them.

George Bush wants somebody who follows through on his strict constructionist concept. And I'm delighted because, as I say, we litigate these things and I know the problems.

And it doesn't take rocket science. It's not some arcane subject matter. The Constitution was made for ordinary people.

BLITZER: Dr. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, says he spoke with people at the White House. He was reassured about her.

But he also said this. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES DOBSON, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY: If I have made a mistake here, I will never forget the blood of those babies that will die will be on my hands to some degree.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's referring to abortion rights for women; perhaps overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States.

Do you agree with him?

ROBERTSON: You know, I like Jim. We're good friends. But I think that statement is a little over the top. He's got nothing to do with selecting Harriet Miers and neither do I. That's the choice of the president. It's got to be confirmed by a majority of the senators.

But let me say something about Roe v. Wade. Years ago, I got a lot of flack from my conservative brethren on "Meet the Press" when I said: If Roe v. Wade was abolished -- which I wanted it to be -- it would still go back to the states where it should have been to begin with and then it's subject to the state legislatures and it's got to be voted through democratic processes.

The elimination of Roe v. Wade won't stop abortion. Abortion's a private decision. But I just think it shouldn't be federalized.

But to think that one vote on the Supreme Court is going to make that much difference -- so, they overturn Roe, so it goes right back to the states. And then you've got the battle fought in 50 states, which is, again, where it ought to be.

BLITZER: One final question on an unrelated matter, Hugo Chavez.

You caused a big uproar a few weeks ago when you suggested the U.S. should just simply take him out, should simply kill him. You later said you misspoke a little bit. You apologized.

But clarify briefly for our viewers what you meant and where you stand now.

ROBERTSON: Well, I want to say August is a slow news month, Wolf, and they were looking for a big story and I happened to be it.

But the truth is, this man is setting up a Marxist-type dictatorship in Venezuela. He's trying to spread Marxism throughout South America. He is negotiating with the Iranians to get nuclear material. And he also sent $1.2 million in cash to Osama bin Laden right after 9/11.

He is -- I mean, I've written him. I apologized and I said I'm going to be praying for him. But one day we're going to be staring at nuclear weapons and it won't be Katrina facing New Orleans, it's going to be a Venezuelan nuke.

So my suggestion was: Isn't it a lot cheaper sometimes to deal with these problems before you have to have a big war?

BLITZER: Now, we're out of time. But what did you just say? He sent how much money to Osama bin Laden?

ROBERTSON: I'm told it's either $1 million or $1.2 million in cash.

BLITZER: Where do you get that from?

ROBERTSON: Well, sources that came to me. That's what I was told. And I know he sent a warm, congratulatory letter to Carlos the Jackal. He's a friend of Moammar Gadhafi. He's made common cause with these people who are considered terrorists.

BLITZER: The Reverend Pat Robertson, thanks for joining us on this Sunday on "LATE EDITION."

ROBERTSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: And up next, the former attorney general of the United States, Dick Thornburgh and the former Watergate prosecutor, Richard Ben-Veniste. They'll weigh in on several key legal issues facing all of us.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now from Washington to help sort out some of the key legal stories of the week two guests: the former attorney general of the United States, Dick Thornburgh, and the former Watergate prosecutor and 9/11 Commission member, Richard Ben-Veniste.

Thanks very much for joining us.

Dick Thornburgh, let me begin with you. Are you satisfied that the president picked Harriet Miers to be the next Supreme Court justice?

RICHARD THORNBURGH, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, the jury will literally be out on Ms. Miers until the hearings occur. But I'm somewhat put off by some of the criticism that's come forward.

We're so used to having sitting judges appointed to the Supreme Court that we forget that that hasn't been a consistent history over the years.

Back in 1971 was the last time somebody came on the bench without prior judicial experience.

And one of those appointments, Lewis Powell, is an analogue to Ms. Miers. Both of them were managing partners in major law firms and active in the bar association, had limited government experience. But Justice Powell went on to serve 26 positive and constructive years on the bench and I think that may well be a model that will be utilized by those who support Ms. Miers.

BLITZER: So, you like her.

What about you, Richard Ben-Veniste? What do you think?

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, I think that she's clearly a capable practitioner of law. But it's hard to argue with those who observe that cronyism certainly has its place here. Charles Krauthammer has observed -- and I paraphrase -- that unless she were President Bush's close confidante, no one would be considering her as a possible nominee to the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Let's move on and talk a little bit about some of the other legal issues of the week.

That CIA leak: Valerie Plame Wilson, a covert CIA clandestine officer -- her name was released. A special prosecutor is investigating if any crimes were committed in releasing that name.

How worried should some top officials, Dick Thornburgh, be at the White House right now, specifically Karl Rove and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who have acknowledged speaking about this to reporters?

THORNBURGH: Well, any time you're involved in an investigation of this length and of this seriousness, you ought to be concerned. The grand jury, of course, will expire at the end of the month.

The question is: If there are charges brought, will they be substantive charges relating to the disclosure of Valerie Plame's status as an undercover CIA agent or will they be more procedural, that is, will they relate to obstruction of justice or perjury charges that relate to how these persons conducted themselves during the proceeding?

But you're talking to two former prosecutors here who know very much the difference between allegations, suspicions and charges, and actual culpability.

BLITZER: And I want Richard Ben-Veniste to weigh in. because a lot of people are suspecting if there are indictments it will be on the latter; it will be on the perjury, obstruction of justice, the conspiracy, as opposed to violating that law that was put on the books in the early 1980s.

BEN-VENISTE: I think that's true, Wolf. There are two areas.

One is the substantive release of information of a classified nature. We've seen the Justice Department act criminally in those regards earlier this year.

And more importantly, I think, is the notion that individuals have gotten together and cooked up a story that they provided under oath early on in the investigation.

Mr. Rove has been to the grand jury three times; we're told, will be back again. Judith Miller has located still additional notes with respect to her conversations with Mr. Libby, some of those several days before the conversations that have been talked about earlier. So I think there is significant concern that Mr. Fitzgerald, who has a great reputation for integrity, will call it as he sees it. And this is a serious matter.

BLITZER: If someone, Dick Thornburgh, tried to lie to a grand jury or to an FBI agent, or even tried to mislead those law enforcement institutions, Fitzgerald is a tough-as-nails prosecutor. He presumably would go after them.

THORNBURGH: I think that's right, because it's important to maintain the integrity of the system, which depends upon getting truthful answers from individuals who are summoned to testify.

Same thing goes with obstruction of justice, if there is an attempt to, as Richard puts it, cook up a story or to otherwise prevent the truth from coming out, that frustrates the aim of our criminal justice system, as well. These are important offenses.

BLITZER: Do you think, Richard Ben-Veniste, based on what you know, he would have let Judith Miller of the New York Times spend -- what? -- 85 days in jail if he didn't have something that he was working on in terms of indictments? BEN-VENISTE: Well, the indication is that he thought her testimony would be very important. Perhaps her notes will be equally important to substantiate that which he has to say.

We can't tell at this point because, in the true tradition of the Southern District of New York, where Mr. Fitzgerald was trained as a prosecutor, we don't leak.

BLITZER: Richard Ben-Veniste, if you were representing -- and you've represented white collar suspects over the years -- Karl Rove or Scooter Libby, would you let them go before a grand jury without a formal assurance from the prosecutor that these individuals were not targets of his investigation?

BEN-VENISTE: Well, the whole idea of a target can easily change. What's said at the beginning of an investigation may not obtain in the middle or near the conclusion, which I think is where we are now.

It's almost impossible to get public officials to assert a Fifth Amendment privilege because they're balancing their lifelong careers against the obvious criticism that one will have for not cooperating.

Early on the president of the United States said he wanted everyone in his administration to cooperate fully. We'll see whether that cooperation was truthful or not.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there. Richard Ben-Veniste, Dick Thornburgh, thanks very much for joining us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Those are the results of our Web question of the week. I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York. Thanks very much for joining us. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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