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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Lynne Cheney; Interview With John Murtha

Aired December 18, 2005 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: This is "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNNE CHENEY, WIFE OF RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I worry about our changing the policies that have kept us safe thus far.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Fighting the war on terror -- is the United States blurring the line between right and wrong?

The wife of the vice president, Lynne Cheney, speaks out in an exclusive interview about torture, Iraq and her new book, "A Time For Freedom."

Secrets and spies -- is the United States government watching you?

We'll assess the post-9/11 rules with two top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican chairman Arlen Specter and Democrat Russ Feingold.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to congratulate the Iraqi citizens for being courageous and in defying the terrorists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Iraqis head to the polls in droves, and President Bush delivers a major address tonight. What will a new government in Baghdad mean for the insurgency?

We'll get perspective from the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and from Iraqi democratic activist Kanan Makiya.

Plus, Democratic Congressman John Murtha weighs in on the future of U.S. troops in Iraq.

It's 11:00 a.m. in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4:00 p.m. in London and 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."

We'll get to my interview with Lynne Cheney in just a moment.

First, though, a quick check of what is in the news right now.

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: More details now on Vice President Dick Cheney's surprise visit to Iraq. It's part of the White House's overall strategy to try to bolster the American public support for the overall U.S. mission there. Today's trip was the vice president's first to Iraq since the start of the war. He spoke with reporters just a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's an honor for me to be here to mark the tremendous success of the Iraqi people. This obviously has been a joint venture with a great deal of effort on the part of the United States and our coalition partners, but ultimately the responsibility for the future of Iraq clearly rests with the people of Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: From Iraq, the vice president will head to Afghanistan, where he'll observe the opening of that country's parliament tomorrow.

On Friday, I had the chance to speak with the vice president's wife Lynne Cheney, a historian and savvy political analyst in her own right, about Iraq, the war on terror and much more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (on camera): Mrs. Cheney, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

L. CHENEY: Thanks. Fun to be here, always.

BLITZER: You're here to talk about your new book, "A Time For Freedom," and we're going to talk about the book.

Let's talk about some of the issues on the agenda right now. There seems to have been a deal, an important deal, worked out between John McCain and the president on the issue of torture. Here's what John McCain said the other day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I'm very pleased that we reached this agreement, and now we can move forward and make sure that the whole world knows that, as the president has stated many times, that we do not practice cruel, inhuman treatment or torture.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: The argument out there is that your husband, the vice president of the United States, was leading the fight to try to change this or dilute it and lost that debate. Is that true?

L. CHENEY: You know, one of the things that's really positive about this agreement is that I think it'll make clear, finally, what should have been clear all along, because it's been true all along, is that the United States does not torture.

I think it's important that, you know, we realize ourselves and the world realizes that in this fight against terrorism, we are the good guys. We are the white hats. We are the ones who are, you know, taking the fight to Islamic fascists who want to put a repressive regime around a large part of the world, from Spain to Indonesia.

I think that it's really important that we realize and the world realizes that we're on the side of right when we depose a dictator like Saddam Hussein, someone who had tortured, someone who had killed hundreds of thousands of his own people.

And I think it's important that we realize that we're on the side of the right when we've helped the people of Iraq as we have to take these marvelous steps, as they did last week, on the road to democracy.

I'm sure that you were as thrilled as I was, and I heard your CNN reporters who, you know, are a pretty tough bunch talk about the real thrill of seeing people of Iraq vote for a government under the constitution.

BLITZER: Well, those of us who have covered Iraq for a long time certainly remember going back to the '80s, the '90s, and now, obviously, everyone was impressed at the millions of people who showed up to vote.

But what was the problem, the basic problem, that the vice president had with Senator McCain's language before this deal was struck?

L. CHENEY: Well, I think that the real point to make now is that the president and Senator McCain have reached an agreement, and whatever advice the vice president might have given to the president beforehand is not something that he talks about, and it's not something I talk about. But once the president has made a decision, the vice president supports it and I do as well.

BLITZER: That's one thing the vice president has always made clear, that the president makes the final decision...

L. CHENEY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... and he'll support the president even if he may have had some reservations.

But you're not suggesting, are you, that the president -- the vice president still has some reservations on this deal? L. CHENEY: I'm saying that the vice president supports the president, and that it is a very good thing to make it absolutely clear that we are on the side of right and good in this fight against terrorism, in the war in Iraq and what was accomplished in Afghanistan.

As the year ends, I think it's important not only to see what's gone right in Iraq and in Afghanistan, but to look at ourselves and say, you know, our fighting men and women have accomplished something quite remarkable.

BLITZER: I wonder how you felt when you heard this week -- and I assume maybe you knew about this before, but the rest of us only heard about it when the "New York Times" had that big, front-page piece on the domestic spying of the National Security Agency, that the president signed this waiver right after 9/11 that allowed the NSA to go ahead and spy on Americans in the United States.

What did you think about that? Since both of us lived through Vietnam and remember earlier periods of what was then clearly wrongful domestic espionage.

L. CHENEY: You know, I just really can't help you there, Wolf.

As I read those stories, this program -- or this reputed program is classified, so clearly I don't know anything about it, and I suspect a lot of people who are talking don't know anything about it either.

BLITZER: The vice president did sort of -- right after 9/11 -- indicate strongly that extraordinary measures now have to be taken, that after 9/11 the world really has changed for the United States of America.

He was on "Meet the Press," and he said this September 16th, 2001: "We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We've got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies if we're going to be successful. That's the world these folks operate in and so it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective."

It sounds like then he was already deeply involved, as I'm sure he was, in this decision to go ahead and sort of change the rules of the game after 9/11.

L. CHENEY: Well, that's not exactly what I hear in that statement.

But let me just say, you know, you're talking about things I really can't give you any useful information about.

But as a mother and as a grandmother, I have been extraordinarily grateful that our country has been safe since 9/11, that we have not faced a major, domestic attack on our country since then.

And I don't think these things happen by accident, and as we move ahead -- and I'm thinking particularly of the debate about the Patriot Act -- I worry about our changing the policies that have kept us safe thus far.

BLITZER: What's your deepest concern about -- because the debate over the Patriot Act, even as we speak right now, is rather intense.

L. CHENEY: You know, I'm just offering you the perspective of a mother and grandmother.

That we've been apparently doing a lot of things right, probably things that I don't know a lot about, probably maybe even you don't know a lot about. But we have done a lot of things apparently right.

And when it comes to the Patriot Act, I think that's been part of it and I certainly hope that the Senate does vote positively on it.

BLITZER: But you understand some conservatives -- good Republicans who are worried that in trying to protect our national security, we may be infringing on some of the civil liberties that all of us cherish.

L. CHENEY: And this is always a debate that, you know, we should have and it's something that we should watch carefully.

But as I've looked at the Patriot Act and looked at the debates over the past year or so, there's nothing there that concerns me. What does concern me is the safety of my grandchildren.

BLITZER: Here's what "Newsweek" magazine wrote in the December 19th issue. I'm going to read you this quote and get your thought: "Cheney in particular," that would be the vice president, not you, "Cheney in particular has acted as Bush's unofficial prime minister, playing a heavy hand in the war on terror and handling, or often mishandling, Hill relations.

"Though a former congressman himself, Cheney disdains Congress almost on principle. He believes the balance between executive and legislative power went out of whack after Watergate, and he has done his best to strengthen White House prerogatives. Cheney's bungling of the dicey issue of torture as a case in point."

Is that true?

L. CHENEY: Well, you know, maybe that explains why I don't read "Newsweek" anymore. It's so far off the mark that it's not informative at all.

Dick has a great reverence for the Congress, having served in the House of Representatives himself for 10 years. Some of his best friends are on the Hill, and I know he spends a lot of time up on the Hill talking to people about policies going forward.

Really that statement is so inaccurate that it almost -- it's unsettling that it would be presented as fact.

BLITZER: Does he think, though, the relationship between the executive and the legislative branch went, in their words, "out of whack after Watergate"?

L. CHENEY: Well, I think that he does believe in presidential power. I think he does believe that we need a strong executive, but to translate that into some sort of disdain for the Congress is utterly wrong.

BLITZER: After this next quote from "Time" magazine...

L. CHENEY: Oh, I don't read "Time" either so...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... you may cancel your subscription to "Time" magazine as well. Let me read from the December 19th "Time" magazine.

L. CHENEY: I like to read history, Wolf. Maybe we should talk about history.

BLITZER: We're going to get to your book.

Let me just wrap up with this "Time" magazine: "Another sign of the investigation's toll" -- this is the CIA leak investigation. "Another sign of the investigation's toll on the White House operation is how much less Vice President Dick Cheney, 64, is seen and felt in the West Wing these days. The indictment of his former top aide, Scooter Libby, hit him hard. Scooter was like a brother and a policy soulmate, says a Cheney friend."

That's from "Time" magazine. I'm sure the indictment of Scooter Libby did hit him very hard, but...

L. CHENEY: Scooter is a fine man. He has a wonderful family, and it is a sad thing to see someone go through what Scooter is going through. However, I don't believe it's changed Dick's role in the White House at all. It certainly hasn't changed his hours. He's still, you know, working long and hard.

And the president said recently, "working shoulder to shoulder with him," the president said in moving forward in the war on terror and on keeping our country prosperous here at home and keeping our citizens safe and secure.

BLITZER: How shattered were you by the indictment of Scooter Libby, who's been so close -- I remember when I was the Pentagon correspondent for CNN during the first Gulf war, Scooter Libby was there with Dick Cheney when he was defense secretary.

L. CHENEY: Let me just say that Scooter Libby is a fine man.

BLITZER: You just want to leave it like that.

L. CHENEY: I do. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just ahead, Lynne Cheney talks about her husband's health and his political future, as well as her new book, "A Time For Freedom," and what aspects of American history are important for today's generation.

Then, could the United States government be spying on you? We'll talk about surveillance fears with two top U.S. senators.

And later, 70 percent of all Iraqis voted this week. What will it mean for Iraq's future? We'll ask the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, about the big turnout.

"LATE EDITION" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Web question of the week asks this: Should Congress extend the Patriot Act permanently?

Cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results at the end of this program.

Straight ahead, Lynne Cheney on her husband's health and his political future.

You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise visit to Baghdad today. We're covering that story.

On Friday, before the vice president left Washington, I spoke with his wife Lynne Cheney. Here is part two of our interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (on camera): I will read to you what the president said about his relationship with the vice president on Fox News this past week: "You know, the vice president goes through I guess what all people in Washington go through at some time or another. He's got this massive speculation about whether he is running the government or not running the government, or whether I like him or don't like him. The truth of the matter is our relationship hasn't changed hardly at all. He is a very close adviser. I view him as a good friend."

That's the president of the United States. I assume you have no quarrel with that.

L. CHENEY: I never quarrel with my president.

BLITZER: Ever?

(LAUGHTER) L. CHENEY: No.

BLITZER: Sometimes you quarrel with everybody. You quarrel with the vice president sometimes, if you have a husband and wife relationship...

(CROSSTALK)

L. CHENEY: But were it to happen, Wolf, I surely wouldn't tell you.

BLITZER: That's another matter.

Let's talk a little bit, before we get to the book, about Iraq because we -- I want your reaction to this whole question of nation building, something that the president disdained going into his presidency,

Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, Democrat, strong supporter of the military, said this in the House this week. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: We got nation building by the U.S. military and they're not -- that's not a mission for the U.S. military.

I've said this over and over again, they're not good at nation building. And you have given them a mission which they cannot carry out. They do the best they can, but they can't do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The whole issue of nation building is a sensitive issue.

L. CHENEY: But, you know, Wolf, I really think -- you know, I've known you a long time and you do a great job on this program, but in a week when the Iraqi people voted for the first time under their constitution, this whole direction that you're taking here is really wrong headed.

You know, we should be talking about what an amazing thing happened on Thursday, last Thursday when the Iraqi people went to the polls. Two thirds of the eligible voters I think by some estimates, faced with possible threats to their safety, to their lives -- there was a story that I heard General Casey tell about an IED that went off at a polling place not far from Baghdad, blew out a wall, this was before voting started. The Iraqis put the wall back up and opened on schedule.

Now that's the story from this week. And that's what I think we should focus on and feel pretty good about as we head into this holiday season and the new year. BLITZER: And the president also said this week that knowing what he knows now, the lack of weapons of mass destruction, he would still have made the decision to go after Saddam Hussein.

You feel comfortable with that?

L. CHENEY: The president also said -- and I really think this is the, you know, place where we should be focusing -- that it was such an uplifting thing to see the Iraqis voting this week, to taking those steps on the road to self-governance and liberty that we took some 200 years ago, that was really a joyful thing. And it seems to me that should be part of our dialogue.

BLITZER: Let me get to the book.

L. CHENEY: Good.

BLITZER: It's called "A Time for Freedom." It's a series of books that you've written for children.

L. CHENEY: This is actually a family book.

BLITZER: What's the most important thing about this book?

L. CHENEY: Well, one of the things I think we haven't done in our schools and colleges is emphasize chronology, what happened when.

And as a result, for more than 20 years now, I've been noticing that people don't know what happened when, that you ask high school seniors when the Civil War occurred and they haven't the foggiest.

You ask seniors graduating from elite college and universities who was general for the Union on the most crucial period of the Civil War, and they don't know who Ulysses S. Grant is.

So it seemed to me a good thing to put together a chronology, but to make it challenging and interesting by putting little-known facts into it.

And what I found most rewarding was to put into it some of the most eloquent passages from our past, some by people you've heard of and some by people you haven't.

BLITZER: Well, give us an example of two of what really stands out in your mind that you want to share with our viewers.

CHENEY: Well, one of the -- my favorite place in this book, I think, is at the end of the chapter on the Civil War. "A Nation Divided" is the title of it, and it ends of course as that awful period ended, with Lincoln's assassination.

Here this man had seen us through this absolutely traumatic time, 600,000 Americans were killed. Americans killing Americans. His son had died while he was in the White House, and at the end of this, there was victory and then he was killed.

And Walt Whitman wrote "Oh Captain, My Captain."

"Oh captain, my captain, our fearful trip is done. The ship has weathered ever wrath, the prize me sought is won. The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exalting. While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring. But oh heart, heart, heart. Oh the bleeding drops of red, for on the deck my captain lies fallen, cold and dead."

I mean, it's just -- it's an amazing tribute to Lincoln and to what he endured. And then to the tragedy at the end of his life.

BLITZER: You've spent a lot of time thinking about American history and its relevance today. Let me read to you this excerpt from your book. "There have been missteps in our history, and many a backwards step as this timeline makes clear.

But it also shows that the overall thrust of our story is in the expansion of human freedom, and if we have not always understood that our freedom is caught up with the freedom of people around the globe, we do now and we fight for them as well as for ourselves."

That's basically your guiding principle right now.

CHENEY: Well, I think it's not my guiding principle so much as the story of how our country has evolved.

You know, in the beginning we had the highest ideas and ideals in terms of the Declaration of Independence and the notions expressed in the Constitution, but they didn't all of us -- didn't include women, certainly didn't include slaves.

In our first election under the Constitution -- this is such an interesting fact -- maybe 100,000 people voted -- 100,000. It was about three percent of the eligible male voters.

In Iraq, just by contrast -- and of course, centuries have passed, and we've been able to bring our knowledge to the people of Iraq -- they've had two-thirds of the eligible people voting -- millions upon millions.

So, we started out with great ideas, great ideals, but it took us a long time to include as many people as should be included.

BLITZER: How does the vice president feel?

CHENEY: About history?

BLITZER: No, about his physical health. A lot of us who have watched him over the years, you know, we're worried about him.

CHENEY: I appreciate your asking.

BLITZER: So, from time to time -- how's he feeling?

CHENEY: He's feeling very well, thank you.

BLITZER: Is he 100 percent?

CHENEY: Well, he's 100 percent. He is at work, hard, looking forward to a vacation. He's doing just very well, and I appreciate your asking.

BLITZER: The heart is good.

CHENEY: The heart is good.

BLITZER: Because he's had some heart problems over the years, which leads me to my final question.

CHENEY: Yes.

BLITZER: Do you think he would like to be president of the United States and run in 2008?

CHENEY: I think he has said very firmly that his plans are to leave politics in 2008, after having spent -- oh my goodness, I'm just trying to do the math in my head, here -- more than 30 years in politics.

And I think he's made an amazing contribution to our country and I certainly support him in the idea that it's time to find some other things to do.

BLITZER: So I guess he's not going to run for president in 2008?

CHENEY: That's a no!

BLITZER: OK, I got it.

Mrs. Cheney, thanks very much for joining us. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year to you.

CHENEY: Same to you, Wolf. Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And this reminder: I'll be on hand for special editions of "The Situation Room" tonight at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be on the air both before and after President Bush's address on Iraq.

He'll be speaking live from the Oval Office, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, a special edition of "Larry King Live." Also, during the 9:00 p.m. hour, also, during the 9:00 p.m. hour: It's been a wild week on Capitol Hill. The Patriot Act was stalled and the ban on torture passed.

We'll discuss it all with Senators Arlen Specter and Russ Feingold. They're standing by.

But up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including Vice President Dick Cheney's unannounced trip to Iraq. Stay with "LATE EDITION." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The Patriot Act has accomplished what it was designed to do: it has protected American liberty and saved American lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush after the United States Senate handed him a major defeat this past week by refusing to renew the USA Patriot Act.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Here to talk about that and much more, two key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee: the panel's Republican chairman, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania; and Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, he was the only U.S. senator to vote against the USA Patriot Act when it became law right after 9/11 in 2001.

Senators, welcome to "LATE EDITION."

Mr. Chairman, I'll start with you. The president yesterday morning stunned a lot of people by openly confirming that he authorized repeatedly the national security agency, the super secret spy organization here in Washington, to spy on American citizens and others without getting formal court orders. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the national security agency, consistent with U.S. law and the constitution to intercept the international communications of people with known links to Al Qaida and related terrorist organizations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator Specter, is this authorization by the president legal?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, first let me say I think it was wise for the president to be candid with the American people and to say what has been going on. Whether it was legal, I think is a matter that has to be examined. I believe there ought to be oversight hearings. When you deal with issues as to legality, what advice the president got from the attorney general and others in the Department of Justice, that's a matter within the traditional per view of the judiciary committee.

We need to see -- to have an expansion.

Secretary Condoleezza Rice said earlier today on another show that there was statutory authority. I'd like to know specifically what the administration has in mind. They talk about constitutional authority. There are limits as to what the president can do under the constitution, especially in a context where you have the foreign intelligence surveillance act, which makes it unlawful to have spies or surveillance or interceptions on citizens in the United States unless there is a court order.

So let's not jump to too many conclusions. Let's look at it analytically. Let's have oversight hearings, and let's find out exactly what went on.

BLITZER: But on Friday, though, when the New York Times first reported this, you expressed deep concern. You were pretty outraged.

SPECTER: Well, I use the word inappropriate. I was careful in what I said.

I'm concerned about what has been told to Congressional leaders, what has been told to the Intelligence Committee and the leadership.

One of the things we're going to have to examine -- there's already been a statement by Congressional leaders, Senator Reid was on an earlier talk show saying he had been notified by it -- about it. He immediately said that it's the administration's responsibility.

But we're going to have to see what the role is of the oversight, which has already been established when the president did make disclosures to Congressional leader as to what they did about it, what they should have done about it, or what we need to do by way of establishing parameters for the future.

BLITZER: The Democratic leadership, Senator Feingold, did -- was notified apparently that Senate Democratic leader, the House Democratic leader, the ranking members, the Democrats, the minority members of the Intelligence Committees, was that good enough?

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: Absolutely not. Look, whoever was notified, and it certainly was a narrow group if they were, it doesn't matter if you tell everybody in the whole country if it's against the law. And I believe it does violate the law.

BLITZER: On what basis, what law?

FEINGOLD: I don't have to -- the president has to have a basis for making it within the law. Senator Specter already indicated. Under the FISA law, which was a controversial...

BLITZER: That's the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

FEINGOLD: ... Surveillance Act law. They -- this was a controversial law as it was. That created the only other way other than Title III under the criminal code that you could have a wiretap authorized.

And it specifically uses the language that this is the exclusive, exclusive law along with the criminal law that allows it. So there is no legal authority under the statutes that I know of. And Senator Specter is right, we should have oversight and see if the administration comes up with something else.

But they've had a couple of days now, and they haven't come up with anything. You know why? Because there isn't going to be any statute authorizing this. I guarantee it.

BLITZER: That would assume that the lawyers at the Justice Department and the lawyers of the National Security Agency went ahead and approved this illegally.

FEINGOLD: Well, that's not too surprising to me after we saw the original proposals from these lawyers for military tribunals, when they apparently thought that torture was all right, when we have secret prisons around the world.

This is a frightening pattern by these lawyers and those in the White House of disregard for the law, and the Supreme Court had to in fact strike down parts of this enemy combatant stuff that was going out.

So the fact is, Wolf, that this administration is playing fast and loose with the law in the area of national security. And Senator Specter had it absolutely right when he reacted the way he did in the Senate floor and said, "Look this is very troubling. We need the oversight, we need the hearings."

BLITZER: Are you disappointed that your fellow Democrats who were informed by the administration of this decision to go ahead and spy without court orders, are you disappointed they didn't react more vocally or -- I know they're limited given the classified nature of this.

FEINGOLD: It depends what they were told. Senator Bob Graham said he was not told about this, and this has under way for four years.

Senator Rockefeller, according to the New York Times, apparently did raise a concern, but I wasn't privy to these conversations.

And the issue here, although that may be a side issue, the issue is whether the president of the United States is putting himself above the law, and I believe that he has done so here. BLITZER: Do you believe he has done so?

SPECTER: I don't know. I think Senator Feingold is rushing to judgment here. He's accusing the Department of Justice of giving advice which is illegal. I think that's an indictment which is unjustified this morning.

He says two days have passed, and the administration hasn't come up with anything better.

Listen, the president went on national television. He said what had been done, was candid with the American people. His secretary of state appeared on television, said there's statutory constitutional authority. Let's inquire.

Wolf, you raised a very critical question when you pressed Senator Feingold about what the Democrats who knew about it should have done, and the question would apply to what the Republicans who were told about it should have done.

Senator Bob Graham, who is chairman of the Intelligence Committee several years ago, says he didn't know about it.

But other ranking Democrats have already issued statements they did know.

Now Senator Feingold is right on the question as to how much they knew.

And I'm not going to rush to judgment and criticize them based on what little I know as to what they knew.

But the president did notify key members of Congress. And you raised a very good question on what they should have done. Now it's a tough situation.

I chaired the Intelligence Committee back in the 104th Congress. It's a tough situation as to what you do.

I never -- let me finish this, Wolf, I think it's an important point. I call my points.

(LAUGHTER)

SPECTER: But you're sworn to secrecy, but we're going to have to define what our Congressional leaders do when they get something which is as important really, as explosive as this.

BLITZER: All right...

FEINGOLD: Let me just reiterate, Wolf, if I could. It doesn't -- if you want to sell drugs and tell everybody in the country you're going to do it, that doesn't make it legal. And so, the question here is, yes, those are side questions and I'm glad Senator Specter is talking about how do we deal with this when we're told something that's -- and I view -- patently illegal but we're told we can't talk about it.

But the more important point here is that the president has, I think, made up a law that we never passed. And I think that's the most serious issue.

BLITZER: Here is what I don't understand. Maybe you can explain it to me because you know something about this so-called FISA Court, this Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court which is right in the Justice Department and has been basically a rubber stamp.

I think rarely do they ever disapprove a request for a sympathy subpoena, for a warrant to go ahead and issue a wiretap. Why not just use that procedure. Why do they need to go beyond that, especially since they could go ahead, if there was an emergency and do whatever they wanted to do and they'd still had 24 to 48 hours to get that kind of authorization from the FISA judge?

SPECTER: Well, I'd like to inquire as to why they didn't go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. They have said that there were too many and they had to act too fast.

But I think that's a real question they have to answer. When Senator Feingold says the president just made up a law, let me say again, it's not a rush to judgment. We're on a stampede to judgment.

I hope one thing we do not do is politicize this. Let's not use this as an occasion to attack the president. Let's not use this as an occasion to attack Democratic senators who have already said they knew something about it but didn't act on it.

Let's try to find out in a calm, cool and collected way what the facts were, what the facts are and how we correct it.

BLITZER: You're going to have hearings on this.

SPECTER: I intend to.

FEINGOLD: I'd like to say to the chairman, I support that process. He knows me. I'm going to be fair-minded about this process. All I know is what I'm watching is the statements that are being made by the White House are false.

Secretary Rice said today that the reason they didn't want to use this FISA court is that you can only use it for people that were employees of foreign governments. Now, that's just flat wrong.

The law specifically allows to do this with regard to terrorist organizations and even now, under the law, lone wolf operators, people that are just planning a terrorist attack on their own.

So, what I'm worried about is this pattern of the White House of not being straight. That's not a partisan shot. I criticize Democrats too all the time.

It is just a fact that they haven't been straight about this kind of stuff and it leads to a real lack of confidence in this administration.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to get to...

SPECTER: Well, I don't think you hold Condoleezza Rice to a sound bite on a television show. Also, Condoleezza Rice...

BLITZER: You want the actual authorization, how they came up with this legal opinion. You haven't received it; you're standing by for that. Then you'll make up your mind.

She's not a lawyer. On a sound bite, she can't give you all the reasons. I want to get Feingold in the Judiciary Committee. I want to get Feingold to question these people.

FEINGOLD: You will have it, Mr. Chairman.

SPECTER: I want to put her...

BLITZER: I'm not sure she'll show up to answer questions. But, presumably, others will.

SPECTER: And, Wolf, I may have a few questions myself. I've been known to do that.

BLITZER: I'm sure you will. All right, Senators, stand by. We're going to continue this conversation. We're going to talk about the Patriot Act, talk about Iraq a little bit more.

Senators Specter and Feingold, staying with us. We're going to take a quick break.

Also, later, a special conversation with one of the most vocal critics of the way the president is prosecuting the war in Iraq, Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania. He'll be joining us live as well.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back. We're talking with the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and one of the panel's key Democrats, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

Do you believe, Mr. Chairman, damage was done to U.S. national security as a result of the disclosure of this secret spying on American citizens?

SPECTER: Yes, I think the president was right when he said damage was done.

And if he can have a special council conducting a widespread investigation, jailing the New York Times reporter for 85 days on that matter, which was certainly of much lesser consequence -- I'm not saying it was unimportant, but of much lesser consequence -- you ought to find out who leaked this story.

BLITZER: So, you want a special counsel to investigate this story?

SPECTER: Well, I'm not going to call for too many investigations this morning. I'm going to concentrate on my duties as chairman of the Judiciary Committee and try to move ahead for oversight hearings on this.

BLITZER: You want a special investigation of the leak?

FEINGOLD: Well, you know, I think it's something that has to be investigated. I'm concerned that classified information was leaked. But let's remember, it's conduct by the president that may have caused somebody to feel that they had to report on this on the best interest of the nation. If he doesn't do that sort of thing, it's less likely this will occur.

BLITZER: The president suffered a major setback this week when the Senate declined to go forward and extend all the provisions of the USA Patriot Act. Here is how the president reacted yesterday morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: A minority of senators filibustered to block the renewal of the Patriot Act when it came up for a vote yesterday. That decision is irresponsible and it endangers the lives of our citizens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator Feingold, you're, according to the president, endangering the lives of the American people.

FEINGOLD: There's only one thing that is irresponsible here. And that's to actually let the law lapse. It is the president who is raising the possibility of having the law lapse.

Senator Specter doesn't want it to lapse. I don't want it to lapse. Every one of us in the Senate, including Senator Specter voted for a version of this thing that would easily pass the Congress, that Senator Specter actually crafted.

None of us want it to expire. It is only the president who is basically playing chicken with us by not agreeing either to accept the Senate version or having a brief continuing resolution.

So, he's, unfortunately, taking the risk. It is not the members of Congress.

BLITZER: What's going to happen now, Senator?

SPECTER: Well, first of all, let me thank Senator Feingold for complimenting the bill which I crafted. It is true that the bill that came out of the Senate was unanimous in the committee and unanimous on the floor -- very unusual to have a bill of this complexity go through without even argument.

But then -- I told Russ this the other day -- we have a bicameral system.

FEINGOLD: I remember that.

SPECTER: You have to go to the House of Representatives. And, just as I did my best on crafting a bill which Russ compliments coming out of the Senate, I did my best on the compromise. And there were compromises.

And what is going to happen next, frankly, I don't know. I called up Senator Leahy, who has done an outstanding job as ranking member, senior Democrat on the committee, made a suggestion to him that he had one issue that he was very concerned about, a presumption without getting any of the details.

I said, Pat, would you sign on if we were able to correct that at this stage? He said, well, let me get back it you.

So, I'm still interested in seeing if we can't work it out and get it passed before we adjourn.

BLITZER: So, that's still doable, you think, in the next few days?

SPECTER: Well, barely. Barely. The House is going out today. But if we got the proper cooperation, made a change, got some signatures, could be passed before we leave town.

BLITZER: I spent some time with the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales this past week, Senator Feingold. Listen to what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Since 9/11, we have not had one verified case of abuse of the current authorities under the Patriot Act. The Department of Justice has been extremely responsible in the exercise of these authorities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is he right?

FEINGOLD: No.

I believe what we're seeing today with the announcement about the national security activities and the efforts that were made with regard to wiretapping gives me every reason to believe that this administration is exploiting all the laws that it can and now making up its own laws. I believe that this is an abusive situation.

And we don't even know the extent of it, Wolf, because so much of this is in secret.

So I think this is dangerous. The administration has shown us they're willing to take provisions and expand them beyond their meaning. And that's why I've insisted and many of us in the Senate, including four key conservative Republican senators, Senator Murkowski, Senator Sununu, Senator Craig and Senator Hagel, all voted with us -- because we want innocent Americans protected from having their library records, their business records, their medical records from being swept into this secret court.

That's not where it belongs and that has to be changed before we pass this.

SPECTER: Wolf, did you know how Senator Feingold slid around that question without answering it?

BLITZER: Is there a specific case of an abuse that comes to your mind?

FEINGOLD: There are a couple of court cases that in my view show the abuse. There are court cases out of New York that indicate violations of the Constitution, of the First Amendment with regard to the gag rule and some of the other provisions.

But I do not know the scope of these abuses because, of course, they're secret. As the chairman knows, I can't know most of it because most of these proceedings are in secret.

In my view though, in my judgment, having watched this closely, is that there are abuses going on and when we find out exactly the scope of them, I think we're going to be very troubled.

SPECTER: Well, those abuses -- those court cases don't show abuses. They're being litigated. There hasn't been any finding.

But, Wolf, I don't think it's a question...

(CROSSTALK)

FEINGOLD: Well, they're based on acts that have already occurred.

SPECTER: If I can finish.

(CROSSTALK)

SPECTER: I don't think it's a question of whether there have been abuses.

I don't think you ought to get credit for having done the right thing. I wouldn't say that because there are no abuses that, that's a very heavy, heavy point. If you do the right thing, you don't look for credit for it.

But the question is what we do with this bill.

Senator Feingold and I had a little exchange on the Senate floor for about an hour the other day, had some real live debate -- sort of unusual for the world's greatest deliberative body -- and we came to a sharp disagreement over one of the provisions which is called delayed notice. That's what I call it. He calls it sneak and peek. That's the pejorative term.

But before you can get one of these warrants, where you don't tell the target right away -- ordinarily if there's a search and seizure, the target knows. But if there are circumstances where you shouldn't tell them in order to continue the investigation, then you can go to a judge.

In our system of government, you have the police here, you have the citizen here, and the impartial magistrate in the center. And if you show the impartial magistrate there is reason to delay telling him, you get a delay.

The current law says a reasonable time, which is meaningless. Could be anything. The Senate came in at seven days. Candidly, I did that for a bargaining position.

FEINGOLD: I thought you actually supported it...

(CROSSTALK)

SPECTER: I did. I support a lot of bargaining positions. The House came in at 180 days. We compromised at 30 days. And bear in mind that this is where the judge has said there is reason to delay.

Now, would I like to have seven days? Yes. I might like to have four days. I'd like to have no time at all. But when you work with another legislative body -- and Chairman Sensenbrenner has been good to work with -- you have to accommodate.

BLITZER: He's the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Very briefly, we're out of time...

FEINGOLD: Which is it, Mr. Chairman? Did you do it for bargaining chip, or do you think seven days is better than 30 days?

I say that this is a big deal. This is an exception to our protection under the Fourth Amendment.

The government comes in, without knowing it, busts down the door of your house, and for seven days, under our provision, they don't get notice. He wants to make it 30 days now.

And I want to tell you something, where I come from in Wisconsin, if somebody has busted down the door of your house and you don't get notice for 30 days, we care about that. That's a violation of our rights.

SPECTER: We don't bust the door down, Russ.

FEINGOLD: They don't have a key to the house.

(CROSSTALK)

SPECTER: There are ways to get in without a key, don't you know, Russ?

FEINGOLD: Well, maybe they can get in other ways, but they sure as heck don't get in legally.

BLITZER: All right.

(CROSSTALK)

SPECTER: ... you don't bust the door down. If you bust the door down, they know about it. That's not sneak and peek. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We got to end it right there.

Senator Specter, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.

Senator Feingold, thanks to you, to both of you. Have a happy Hanukkah.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's much more ahead here on "LATE EDITION," including America's top man in Baghdad, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. We'll get his take on Vice President Dick Cheney's trip to Iraq and the national elections.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: There's a lot of joy, as far as I'm concerned, in seeing the Iraqi people accomplish this major milestone in the march to democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The insurgency seemed to pause while millions of Iraqis voted for a new government. We'll talk to the man some see as an architect of this historic event, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MURTHA: They're not good at nation building, and you get a mission which they cannot carry out. They do the best they can, but they can't do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But is bringing democracy to Iraq really the right job for the U.S. military? Decorated war veteran and Bush administration critic, Congressman John Murtha weighs in.

And we'll here from Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi activist who fears these elections could end up tearing his country apart. A victim of Iraqi political miscalculations, not American mistakes.

Welcome back. Coming up later this hour, we'll have my live interview with the United States ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad on this week's historic elections in Iraq. First thought, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Gerri.

The vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, made an unannounced stop in Iraq today. He spent several hours on the ground in Baghdad talking with top U.S. military officials, as well as with the United States ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. He also met with top Iraqi government officials.

It was the vice president's first trip to Iraq since the war. He talked about the U.S. mission there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY: It's an honor for me to be here to mark the tremendous success of the Iraqi people because obviously it's been a joint venture. A great deal of effort on the part of the United States and our coalition partners. But ultimately, the responsibility for the future of Iraq clearly rests with the people of Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Joining us now live from Baghdad is the United States ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

The vice president's trip to Iraq, is it over now, is he on his way, or is it still underway? .

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: No, he is -- he has left here. He's on his way out of Iraq.

BLITZER: So he's heading out to his next stop. What was the headline coming out of his talks with the interim prime minister among others?

KHALILZAD: Well, I want to congratulate the prime minister and the president of Iraq for the good elections that Iraqis had a few days ago and to urge them to keep up the momentum and to form a good government as soon as possible.

And he also, with the troops thanked the troops for the work that they are doing here and for the role that they played and other Americans who are here with coalition partners in assisting Iraq stand on its own feet and in helping them with regard to the elections.

BLITZER: The elections this past week were remarkably smooth, very much like the January 30th elections, except this time, a lot more Iraqi Sunnis showed up to participate. But following those earlier elections, January 30th, as you well remember, there was an outbreak of the insurgency, the violence escalated. Should Iraqis and the world be bracing for that once again during this period in advance of a new Iraqi government being formed?

KHALILZAD: Well, this election was very different in my view than the January election. And as you said, the difference being that the Sunni Arabs participated in very large numbers in Anbar Province, the heartland of the Sunni world here.

Ten percent had participated in the January elections; 62 percent participated in this last election a few days ago. So this is different.

With regard to violence, I expect that violence will not escalate in the same way that it did after the previous elections, which the Sunnis had boycotted. But I don't also anticipate that there will not be any violence.

I think if a good government is formed, if Sunnis feel that their concerns are dealt with, I think violence will decrease over time significantly, and terrorists and Saddamists will be increasingly isolated.

BLITZER: You're being credited, Mr. Ambassador, with spending a lot of time meeting with Iraqi Sunni leaders trying to encourage them to join this political process, to participate in the elections and now participate in he next government.

But one of those Iraqi political leaders is Sunni Salih al-Mutlak is quoted today as saying, "Americans are not welcome in Iraq, and they should get out as quickly as possible."

Give us some perspective what that means.

KHALILZAD: Well, I think it is true that Iraqis would like forces to leave. No one likes to have a foreign force in the numbers that we have here on their territory. We understand that, and we would like to leave as soon as possible when Iraqis can stand on their own feet.

But Mr. Mutlak's views, if he said what he said and I haven't heard it directly myself, is not reflective of the views of all Iraqis.

There are Iraqis who are concerned about a quick departure of U.S. forces. That includes a lot of Kurds, a lot of Shias and even some Sunnis.

I can understand the sentiment for ultimate departure, and that is a sentiment we share, but I think the urgency -- leaving quickly is not a view that's broadly shared in Iraq.

BLITZER: After the January 30th elections, it took about three months, as you well remember, to form that interim government. How long is it going to take now after the election results are formally tallied -- it will take a week or 10 days to get the basic numbers in there for the 275-member parliament. How long do you suspect it will take to come up with a new prime minister, a new president, a new government?

KHALILZAD: Of course, it's hard to be precise about that. They will have to make compromises. No party will have the votes to make the government by itself so coalitions have to be formed.

And now, unlike the previous parliament, a lot of Sunnis will also be in parliament.

So it's going to take time. But we will work with the party leaders to form a good government as quickly as possible.

I want to emphasize that forming a government quickly is an important value, but also having a good government, a government that has good people in it, technocrats, people who have the confidence of Iraqis broadly is also important.

So we will emphasize both factors: a good, moderate cross- sectarian, cross-ethnic government but as soon as possible.

BLITZER: Let me read to you, Mr. Ambassador, from today's Los Angeles Times. "Iraq's elections were dominated by Islamic clerics and the incoming parliament is likely to include a large proportion of Islamist legislators, many of whom have ties to the mullahs of Iran. There is a real fear that Islamists will exploit democratic openings to rise gradually to power, only to dismantle those liberties once they've taken control."

That is a worrisome development if it were to happen. Do you believe that's realistic?

KHALILZAD: Well, of course, there are Islamists in Iraq and there are Islamists in the Iraqi government now and in the Iraqi parliament as well. The question whether their numbers have increased or not, we'll have to wait with regard to the results of the election. We don't know that yet.

My own judgment is that it is likely that their relative presence in parliament would be less than was the case with regard to the previous parliament. In other words, there will be less Shiite Islamists in the coming parliament than has been the case in the previous parliament.

BLITZER: This past week, a lot of us were surprised when the president directly answered a question about how many Iraqis have died since the U.S.-led invasion.

Listen to what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: How many Iraqi citizens have died in this war?

I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: I know you're not in the business of disagreeing with the president or questioning the president since you report directly to the president and work for him.

That 30,000 number, though, where is it coming from?

KHALILZAD: Well, that number is an estimate. It's an estimate that comes from our people who have kept track of things.

And the president did say more or less that a lot of people, although of course, when you compare it to other big wars, such as the war in -- second World War or our own civil war or the war in Vietnam, other wars, it has not been -- it's not a huge number, but one person dead is too many and 30,000 is certainly a large number.

BLITZER: As far as a troop withdrawal of U.S. forces are concerned, we've heard from military commanders that the number is going to go down from about 158,000 or 160,000. Right now, 20,000 are going to be leaving over the next few weeks, bringing it down to that 138,000 level.

But when do you anticipate it will go below 100,000?

KHALILZAD: Well, I don't know that.

This is an issue that our military people will be constantly looking at, judging the circumstances politically, the state of the insurgency and the state of Iraqi capabilities.

But as I've said before, we see a set of circumstances developing that in the near future will allow for a recalibration and downsizing of the force significantly. That's all I can say at the present time, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We only have a few minutes left.

But a quick response, the former secretary of state Colin Powell spoke out in an interview on BBC. Listen to this little excerpt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: What we were right about is that Saddam Hussein had the intention of having such weapons. He had them in the past and there was no reason to believe that he did not have them now, or would not wish to have them in the future in even greater quantities than we thought he had them now.

What we got wrong was the actual existence of stockpiles of chemical weapons or biological weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I still hear some people suggest, Mr. Ambassador, that it still is possible out there that those stockpiles were effectively hidden by Saddam Hussein and his supporters or transferred to Syria or someplace else. Can we rule that out or is there still the possibility that stockpiles might someday be found?

KHALILZAD: I would not rule that out.

Every now and then, some weapons of mass destruction in smaller quantities are found.

With regard to the total stockpiles of what the estimates were, so far we haven't found what the intelligence community had anticipated would be found.

As to where they went, whether the whole thing will be found as was estimated, we will have to wait and see. We haven't found them so far.

BLITZER: Are you still looking?

KHALILZAD: Well, we're looking. We have an interest in learning about it.

As I said, we do get reports every now and then. Small quantities are brought in every now and then. But the estimates that were made before the war with regard to what we would find, we have not found those quantities. And therefore, we will have to wait and see.

As of now, we are where I've described us to have been.

BLITZER: Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States ambassador in Baghdad, appreciate it very much. Thanks very much for joining us. And good luck to you in Iraq.

KHALILZAD: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And coming up, a reminder, we'll be onhand for special editions of "The Situation Room" tonight 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be on the air both before and after President Bush's address on Iraq live from the Oval Office. That comes up 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

A special edition of "Larry King Live." That's at 9:00 p.m. as well.

Still ahead, the critic the White House has to pay attention to. Ex-Marine, Congressman John Murtha on what he says are mistaken U.S. policies in Iraq. He's here. He's standing by. He'll join us on "LATE EDITION."

And later, we'll talk to an Iraqi who fears the politicians elected this week will end up tearing their own country apart.

"LATE EDITION" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: There's still time for you to weigh in on our Web question of the week: Should Congress extend the Patriot Act permanently?

You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/LATE EDITION.

Straight ahead, long-time military supporter, recent critic of the Bush administration's use of that military in Iraq, Congressman John Murtha. He'll be answering our questions.

You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Some critics of the U.S. military strategy in Iraq may be easy for the Bush administration to ignore. But when the critic is a decorated veteran and a congressman with very close ties to the top brass, it pays to listen. Joining us now here in Washington is Democratic Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania.

Congressman, welcome to "LATE EDITION."

MURTHA: Nice to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do you want to hear from the president tonight, from the Oval Office, when he addresses the American people?

MURTHA: I want him to come up with a plan that we can understand. I want him to come up with a plan.

The American people say, we don't know what the plan is. That's the thing I hear the most. We can't have an open-ended plan. That's just a hope. That's an illusion.

We need a plan that says, OK, here's what we want to do. They say, we're going to train the Iraqis. I just heard the ambassador, and I have a great regard for the ambassador, say, OK the Iraqis have to be able almost to decide when we get out.

We are not into nation-building. And the United States military can't do nation building. And when you give that kind of a mission to them, they make enemies because of the way they operate.

So, the thing I would say is look, we made mistakes, but from now on, here's the policy. As soon as they're elected, we're going to turn this over to the Iraqi government as quickly as we can.

They're going to have to work this out themselves. This is not something we can work out for them. We can't force a government on them.

There's only a very small percentage of the foreign fighters that are Al Qaida. And a very small percentage of fighters are foreign fighters. So, we're talking about seven percent are foreign fighters; the rest are actually Iraqis.

And we are starting to find -- the president finally admitted we're fighting an insurgency. He doesn't call it that. But that's exactly what it is.

So, I want to hear him to say this is not open ended; the Iraqis are going to have solve this themselves.

BLITZER: I wonder if you could clarify for our viewers in the United States and around the world exactly what your position is because it's sort of been muddled by various reports.

What exactly are you calling for?

MURTHA: Yes, as a matter of fact, they not only muddle it, they muddle it on purpose. What I'm saying is, let's redeploy as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: Now, hold on. "Redeploy?" What does that mean?

MURTHA: Redeploy means let's take our troops out of Iraq as quickly as we can.

BLITZER: All 100-plus thousand.

MURTHA: All 168,000, as quickly as we can. Now, we've become the enemy. Eighty percent of the people want us out of there.

As you mentioned earlier, more than half the Iraqis want us out and almost half of them think we're the enemy. And we're consolidating the enemy against us is what it amounts to.

BLITZER: So, where should they redeploy to?

MURTHA: They should redeploy to Kuwait and they should redeploy over the horizon to Okinawa.

BLITZER: Okinawa -- in Japan?

MURTHA: Yes. Well, we can even bring them back to the United States. We can go back in there very quickly if we need to. In today's world, we can bring troops back in 24, 48 hours if we need to do that.

What I'm talking about is a civil war. They're already in a civil war. We're caught in between a civil war. We redeploy; we're not the enemy any longer; our convoys aren't attacked.

They start to solve this themselves. If there's a terrorist build-up, then we can go back in. If it affects the United States or allies, we can go back in.

But diplomatic is the answer. We have lost our credibility because of the torture. We've lost our credibility because they found no weapons of mass destruction. What they need to do, at least in my estimation, is pull our troops out, redeploy them to the periphery and put 50,000 or so in the periphery because the supplies and so forth need to be there, and then let the Iraqis work this out themselves.

BLITZER: Put 50,000 in Kuwait? MURTHA: Fifty thousand in Kuwait. And my argument is this. Democracy is not easy. They want democracy. They don't want occupation. They have to fight for this democracy just like we did.

BLITZER: The time frame for this redeployment -- it's been suggested you want them out over the next six months.

MURTHA: Well, in answer to a question from a reporter, I said we could get them out in six months. And we could get them out in six months if we decided, if the policy was to get them out.

We could do that very easily. It took us a year and a half to get the ammunition out of the first Gulf War. But there's no question we could get them out in six months.

BLITZER: Here's what the president said this past week in the address at the Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington. He seemed to be addressing you specifically. Listen to this.

BUSH: Setting an artificial deadline would send the wrong message to our most important audience, our troops on the front line.

It would tell them that America is abandoning the mission they are risking their lives to achieve and that the sacrifice of their comrades killed in this struggle has been in vain.

I make this pledge to the families of the fallen. We will carry on the fight, we will complete their mission, and we will win.

BLITZER: That's a very serious charge the president is making, especially to an ex-Marine like yourself, very close to the troops, that in effect, what you're saying by calling for a timeline to get out of Iraq is that the U.S. troops who have died there, more than 2,000, may have died in vain.

MURTHA: Well, an awful lot of the things the president said didn't turn out to be true. There were no Al Qaida, no weapons of mass destruction, no connection with terrorism in Iraq itself.

The disappointing thing is they use rhetoric. This is a real war; this is not a war of rhetoric. What the troops get disappointed is they don't have the equipment they need. They didn't have enough troops when they went in in the first place.

They had inadequate forces to do the transition to peace. That's the thing that demoralized them. I found shortage of 40,000 battle jackets that they didn't have. That's the thing that demoralizes them.

And they know they're targets. I was out at the hospital the other day and I talked to a young woman whose husband had been to Iraq twice, wounded very badly, lying there in a hospital bed.

She says, you know, he enlisted to fight for America, not for Iraq. The Iraqis have to do this themselves. That's the answer to this whole situation. BLITZER: But when you hear the commanders on ground, whether General Abizaid, head of the military Central Command, General Casey, the overall commander in Iraq, say that a timeline, a timetable for withdrawal would be a disaster, how do you respond to those military commanders?

MURTHA: Well, it's very interesting. General Abizaid said part of our plan is, in the overall strategy against the guerrilla war, is to reduce the number of people we have over there.

General Casey said we're considered as occupiers. So, both of them are saying the same thing. Now, they had a timeline for the elections. We have a timeline right now.

If it weren't for Christmas, we'd never get done with these appropriation bills. You've got to give timelines in order to give the enemy incentive.

The Iraqis have no incentive. They'll let us fight forever for them. They've got to fight for themselves.

BLITZER: Are you confident, though, that the Iraqi military, the security forces that the U.S. is training, together with other coalition partners, is making progress that they eventually will be able to take charge of their own security?

MURTHA: Well, I'll just say, it's not going to be easy. They're going to have to work it out. They don't have to be trained to the level that the American forces are.

And that's one thing -- when the administration tries to lay this responsibility on the military to make the decision -- that's not who makes the decision to go to war.

He has to make that decision. We have to make that decision. So, I don't consider the Iraqis able to make the decision for us.

We have to say look, folks, here's the incentive. You have a timeline. You've got to be ready by the end of this timeline and if you're not ready, we're pulling out, we're reducing our forces, we're redeploying our forces as quickly as we can. You're going to have to be ready.

BLITZER: Your Republican colleague, Tom Reynolds, the chairman of the Republican Campaign Committee, who was in charge of trying to get Republicans elected to the House of Representatives.

He said this on Friday. These are strong words directly about you: "One day after millions of Iraqis lined up at polling places nationwide to cast their ballots in parliamentary elections, I am saddened to see my friend from Pennsylvania, John Murtha, turn his widely respected positions on the war in Iraq into a fund raising ploy for House Democrats." Do you know what he's talking about? MURTHA: Well, the DCC is sending out a letter to the Democratic Congressional Committee. Does the president ever go out and raise money? Does the vice president?

Does Reynolds not go out? That's part of the system. You've got to raise money. But let me say something about the election. In 1967, when I came back from Vietnam, one month later, they had an election in Vietnam.

And President Lyndon Johnson said, this is a turning point. He said this is part of my -- to legitimize Vietnamese government. We lost 38,000 people after that.

BLITZER: Are you saying Iraq is another Vietnam?

MURTHA: I'm saying Iraq is, not to the same extent of casualties, but I'm saying the military has accomplished its mission. It's done everything we asked them to do.

And nation-building is not part of the mission that the military does well.

BLITZER: I want to play an excerpt of what you said on November 17, followed by what the secretary of defense said. And we'll talk about this. First, your comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MURTHA: Our military and our families are stretched thin. Many say the Army's broken. Some of our troops are on their third deployment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think the people running around saying that the Army is broken are wrong; they're just flat wrong. I don't think -- there's never been an Army as well trained, as well led, as well equipped as the Army we will have today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So, one of you is right and one is wrong.

MURTHA: He's wrong. He's dead wrong. He's talking about something that -- he's using the line that he shouldn't be saying. If you go down to three of the major bases that are deploying troops to Iraq right now, we've got the lowest readiness level you could have.

They're not meeting the recruitment standards. The Guard and Reserve are at 80 or 84 percent of their recruitment. The Army didn't reach its goal. We have four critical shortages in MOS's.

We have translators, which takes years to train, bomb disposal people we will have to train. They have special forces. We have to pay $150,000 to a person to enlist.

And let me tell you: When they talk about polls -- you know what the polls are? When people aren't enlisting, it's a poll about trying to re-establish the Army.

It's going to cost $50 billion to rehabilitate the ground equipment.

Now, let's take the cost of this war. $277 billion to this date for Afghanistan and Iraq, $50 billion laying on the table right now in a bill we're in conference on about right now. And then $100 billion that going to ask for in the future in order to rehabilitate the army.

We could not go to a second front and sustain a second front right now.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, but I want your reaction to the president's acknowledgement publicly yesterday that he did repeatedly authorize the national security agency to spy on American citizens and others without court orders.

MURTHA: I'm worried about this. Under the constitution, we have to be very careful we don't start to take away the liberties of the American people in saying it's a fight against terrorism. This is a very fundamental thing not to spy without going to the courts, very dangerous situation in my estimation.

BLITZER: What do you think should be done about it?

MURTHA: I think Congress has to look into it. I agree with Senator Specter, he has to investigate it, and hopefully we'll find out that, well, it's got to be changed I think.

BLITZER: Congressman Murtha, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION" and Merry Christmas to you.

MURTHA: Thank you very much. Same to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And up next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the surprise visit to Iraq by the vice president, Dick Cheney. Stay with "LATE EDITION."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Perhaps an indication that Iraq or any country for that matter is on the path to democracy is when its own citizens can openly criticize their government.

Kanan Makiya has been an advocate for a free and democratic Iraq for more than two decades. Born in Baghdad, he gave up a career as an architect to document the atrocities of Saddam Hussein's regime. He's currently a professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. He's joining us today from CNN's studios in London.

Kanan, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

The elections in Iraq this past week, did they work?

KANAN MAKIYA, IRAQ MEMORY FOUNDATION: They more than worked, Wolf. It was an absolutely extraordinary moment.

Let me say that U.S. policy for the last nine months completely paid off. The size of the Sunni vote in the Anbar province was over 95 percent, less than 5 percent of those people voted in the equally historic elections back in January.

There has been a sea change in Iraqi politics for the better, I might add by that participation.

More than 11 million people put in their votes it seems, and this has truly got to be one of the most watershed events in modern Middle Eastern politics.

BLITZER: So, over the next few weeks and months, what are you bracing for?

MAKIYA: Well, we Iraqis have some very important discussions on our hands. But nothing, I just want to say from those discussions -- about those discussions should undercut the magnitude of the achievement of the Bush administration in bringing about this change.

As you've said in your open, none of this would have been possible without that unseating of the Saddam regime.

The big discussion on our hands is the importance of -- is the nature of the state we want to live in, the kind of community and society that we're trying to build.

What I'm arguing for, I'm intervening in that discussion, I'm saying that the constitution that we all voted on back on October 15th has some important holes in it that we need to Iraqis need to repair in the new parliament that comes into being in a few weeks once the results are announced.

And I'm drawing attention to the holes in that constitution. I'm drawing attention in particular to the importance of boosting up and strengthening the central state, for there can be no democracy, no federalism, no human rights without a strong center at the heart of the new experiment that is going on in Iraq.

I just, in response to Congressman Murtha's comments, who I know was just on your show, it's simply not true that this insurgency is about the presence of American troops in Iraq. That's -- really, nobody who knows the situation up close would say that. This is an old order that is an old backward-looking order made up of former Baathists and Islamists coming in from outside at war with the new emerging order that is all about the potential that this part of the world can bring.

Look at the changes, the ripple effects what you might call, of the Iraq transformation in Syria and in Lebanon today. These are enormous events that are going to reshape this region. True, it's all not going to happen overnight, but it will happen in five, 10-year period that we're talking about here.

So the elections are the watershed.

BLITZER: Yet, let me interrupt. Let me interrupt, Kanan.

Because in last Sunday's New York Times, as excited as you are about the potential for a new Iraq, you're also very concerned about some of the problems over the horizon. Let me read to you from that piece you wrote in the New York Times.

"Democracy is not reducible to placing an Iraqi seal of approval upon a situation that is manifestly worsening by the day. The 79 percent of people who voted in favor of a constitution that promotes ethnic and sectarian divisions are unwittingly paving the way for a civil war that will cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. Nothing is worth that."

That's remarkably different than what you're saying here today.

MAKIYA: No, it's -- I am -- that is part of a discussion. We are doing an experiment that is of enormous magnitude.

Do I know exactly -- can I predict exactly the success of that experiment? No.

What are our main problems?

Our main problems are that as the Pandora's box of tyranny and oppression was lifted, the furies of confessional sectarian and ethnic kind of concerns and identity politics started to emerge.

What I'm sounding is a warning note that those furies should not be allowed to control the course of Iraqi politics. And that warning note is addressed to Iraqi politicians above all that -- to come up with the imaginative forms of politics that will help transform and change that. It's my duty to do that. And the American public needs to know that these are the kinds of serious discussions that have been made possible. But of course they were going to happen.

Yes, there are very serious dangers. Sixty-five Iraqis are dying a day today fighting the insurgency and as victims of the insurgency. That's a horrific number.

And they are fighting, they are winning in the long run, I have not a shadow of a doubt. The insurgency is about pulling this experiment down. BLITZER: But you're very concerned, Kanan, about the constitution as drafted in October. There are possibilities for it to be amended down the road.

Here again from your article in the Times.

"By ceding and dismissing centralized power, Iraqis may end by ceding all their power. Iran in the short run and the Arab world in the long run will fill the vacuum with proxies, turning the dream of a democratic and reborn Iraq into a dystopia of warring militias and rampant hopelessness."

That is a very, very disconcerting thought.

MAKIYA: It is. It is.

These are real dangers that face us. Iranian interference in Iraqi politics is today at its highest ever. And Syrian interference is now being curbed because it's got its own problems to work with.

I am sounding the warning note on real dangers that face us. And the reason -- these dangerous will not happen simply because of pernicious Syrian or Iranian intentions; they will happen because of the failure of Iraqi politicians at the center and at the heart of Iraqi politics today.

The government that we choose, that emerges out of these coming elections is going to be crucial to making sure we do not fall into that abyss.

BLITZER: What are your -- I sense what some of the concern stems from the fact that so many of the Shia politicians see themselves as Shia first, so many of the Kurdish politicians see themselves as Kurds first, and that that's going to undermine this basic centralized notion of an Iraqi nationality.

MAKIYA: You put your finger right on it, Wolf. And that is what I'm trying to say.

In a moment of great transformation like Iraq is going through at the moment, it is the quality of leadership that matters more than anything else.

Now, you can't expect the Kurds to lead the future of the whole of Iraq. They're a monarchy. You can't even expect the Sunnis to lead the majority of Iraq.

Leadership today will emerge from inside the ranks of an overwhelming majority of Iraqis who are the Shia community of Iraq. If that community, which has been so victimized by Saddam and by the Baath experience in Iraq, thinks only of itself and does not think beyond its own pain, we -- the people of Iraq as a whole will pay a huge price.

I am reaching out to the Shiite leadership emerging out of these coming elections and say, think first like Iraqis. That way, you will protect everyone, not only your own Shiite community, and relieve it from the oppression that it suffered in the past, but you will protect everyone and you will save this country from civil war that might be coming in the future.

BLITZER: Kanan...

MAKIYA: So it is a particularly great responsibility.

BLITZER: Your Iraq Memory Foundation is collecting lots of evidence about atrocities during the Saddam Hussein era in Iraq. He's now on trial. You've been watching it together with all of us. Some are concerned it's turning out to be a farce.

How concerned are you about the direction this trial is moving?

MAKIYA: My main concerns have to do with the fact -- with simply it's public presentation. But the fact that the judge is being so lenient with the defendants is OK by my book. For when he is sentenced down the line, Iraqis will remember with pride that they actually conducted a true and fair trial in which defendants like Saddam Hussein got a chance to speak out.

My concern is that the case against him and his leaders has not yet been put forward properly by the prosecution. And I'm hoping that, that will be corrected.

BLITZER: Kanan Makiya of the Iraq Memory Foundation, thanks as usual for joining us. And we'll continue this discussion down the road.

MAKIYA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: In a moment, let's get our update on what's said on some of the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. "In Case You Missed It," right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And now, "In Case You Missed It."

Let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended President Bush's authorization of domestic spying after 9/11. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We need to think back to what the analysis of what happened to us on September 11th told us. And it told us that there was a gap, a gulf, between our intelligence agencies which looked outward, as if threats were only on the outside, and our law enforcement agencies, which looked inward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But on CBS's "Face the Nation," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Joe Biden both expressed strong concern about the president's action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE): This is neither, I think, legal nor is it necessary, what he's been doing. It is concerning. It is a little bit frightening how broadly he asserts his authority as commander in chief.

U.S. SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): We are at war, and I applaud the president for being aggressive but we cannot set aside the rule of law in a time of war because that's what we're fighting for in Iraq, for them to follow the law, not an outcome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On FOX News Sunday, the Senate democratic leader, Harry Reid, explained why the Senate defied President Bush and refused to renew the U.S. Patriot Act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: We to make sure that big brother doesn't take over this country. And yes, I think it was good for the American people that we stopped that conference report. It was a good thing we did it. A bipartisan group of senators defeated cloture on this because it was not a bill that is -- not a bill that's good for the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On ABC's "This Week," the actor/comedian Albert Brooks talked about his new movie that's likely to spark some controversy but hopefully a lot of laughs, as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERT BROOKS, ACTOR/COMEDIAN: Americans, I believe, are overly scared of Muslims. There's over 1 billion Muslims in the world, and I would imagine that the majority of them don't want to do any harm to anyone, let alone us. So the title in itself, "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World," comedy is a friendly word, and the title is meant to diffuse this in some way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States here on "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

Up next, the results of or web question of the week, "Should the Patriot Act be extended permanently?" First though, this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What's his story? Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney announced he's not seeking reelection in 2006 fueling speculation that the first-term Republican wants another job: president of the United States.

Romney's decision is hardly a surprise to many. He spent a lot of time on the road this year visiting early election states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Some pundits say a national race will be a challenge for Romney. Southern Republicans may doubt the conservative credentials of a New Englander, and his Mormon beliefs may be a turnoff for some of the party's most fateful voters, Christian Evangelicals.

Kathleen Blanco, what's her story? The Louisiana governor was on Capitol Hill this week pushing lawmakers to rebuild New Orleans' damaged levees and defending her response to Katrina. The first-term Democrat blames the inadequate levee system and a slow response from the federal government.

Blanco says lawmakers need to send a strong signal to displaced residents that it's safe to return and rebuild their homes and lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our "LATE EDITION" web question asked this: Should the Patriot Act be extended permanently?

Here's how you voted: 9 percent of you said yes, 91 percent of you said no. Remember, this is not a scientific poll.

Let's take a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines here in the United States.

Time magazine has its persons of the year, philanthropist Bill and Melinda Gates and rock star and activist Bono.

U.S. News and World Report tells you 50 ways to improve your life in 2006. And Newsweek magazine features next year's hottest movie, "The Da Vinci Code."

And that's your final "LATE EDITION" for 2005. We'll be off next Sunday, but please be sure to join us again next year, that would be Sunday, January 1st, at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

I'll be back tonight at both 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. Eastern right in "The Situation Room" before and after the president's address to the American people from the Oval Office on Iraq.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. To all of our viewers, have a happy holiday. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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