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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Interview With Senator John Kerry; Interview With New York Congressman Peter King; Donald Rumsfeld: Man of War

Aired September 28, 2006 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you all for joining us.
There's a lot of breaking news coming out of this town tonight.

Our "Top Story" is word that one of the biggest scandals to hit Washington in years may be on the verge of getting even bigger. Here's what we know right now.

The Capitol Hill newspaper "Roll Call" is reporting that a congressional investigation is about to report that disgraced and imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates had hundreds of contacts with top White House officials.

Apparently, the congressional report specifically names the president's top political aide, Karl Rove, as having been offered expensive meals and exclusive tickets to premier sporting events and concerts by Abramoff and his associates.

The "Roll Call" story also says the report claims Abramoff also had contacts with Ken Mehlman, another top aide, who's been the chairman of the Republican National Committee since early last year.

A White House official contacted by CNN is defending the president's aides, saying the congressional report is based on billing records that are widely regarded as fraudulent. That official goes on to say the report simply shows that Jack Abramoff had a penchant for exaggerating.

There's another very important developing story out of Washington tonight. Just an hour ago, the Senate approved one of President Bush's top priorities. That is a bill setting up rules for the questioning and trials of alleged terrorist detainees. It passed 65- 34.

That is a big victory for the president, but the bill isn't going to him just yet. It is going back to the House of Representatives, because they passed a different version.

And that brings us to tonight's "Top Story."

Despite tonight's Senate vote, there are complaints from coast to coast that this is a do-nothing Congress. Is that really true, or just election-year politics?

Congressional correspondent Dana Bash begins our in-depth coverage with a look at the real record. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One last time before Election Day, the president came to Capitol Hill, looking for an 11th-hour victory on his signature issue, national security.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people need to know we're working together to win this war on terror.

BASH: This time, Mr. Bush got what he wanted, bipartisan approval of a bill allowing tough interrogations of terror suspects. Yet, a slew of other priorities will be left undone by the GOP Congress, and Republicans head to campaign battling this Democratic mantra.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: Like the do-nothing Congress of 1948, it's very difficult to get anything out of this Republican Congress.

BASH: In 1948, the year Harry Truman made an election issue of what he called the do-nothing Congress, the Senate was in session just 114 days. This year, the Senate is scheduled to meet a few more, 126. But, in 1948, the House was in session 110 days. This year, they're scheduled to meet only 93, before campaigning.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: We have seen a Congress with fewer real hearings, fewer oversight hearings, less serious work and legislating to fulfill major issues, more show and less work, than any I can remember.

BASH: Republicans insist they have sent the president significant legislation, a prescription drug benefit for Medicare, a bill making it harder to declare bankruptcy, a measure to protect pensions.

And Congress has approved billions to fund disasters, like Katrina and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But major Bush priorities have stalled in the Republican-run Congress -- perhaps the most stinging loss, creating private accounts for Social Security, which the president spent months trying to sell -- another, lobbying reforms promised in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Then, there's comprehensive immigration reform, pushed from the Oval Office in prime time...

BUSH: Therefore, I support a temporary-worker program.

BASH: ... killed by fellow Republicans. GOP leaders blame Democrats for obstructing.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: So, you know, they have blocked the legislation that we would like to finish.

BASH: But some Republicans, like Congressman Ray LaHood, admit, internal party squabbles cost them crucial achievements. REP. RAY LAHOOD (R), ILLINOIS: So, there are big divisions within our own party and, in some cases, within the leadership of the House and Senate that are both governed by Republican leaders. So...

BASH: LaHood is disappointed they didn't get more done, but says sometimes doing nothing is not so bad.

LAHOOD: I think lowering gasoline prices has been more for us. And the fact is, we didn't have a dang thing to do about it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: But the one thing it is responsible for, of course, Dana, is funding the government. How did Congress do on that note?

BASH: So far, not so well at all. And that's something that Congressman LaHood, another thing that he admits he wished they did better on.

You know, there are 11 appropriations, or spending, bills that they're supposed to send to the president. It's really one of their main functions in the Constitution, and right now they're scrambling to get at least two before they leave -- no surprise, two other top priorities, funding the Defense Department and Homeland Security -- unclear if even that's going to happen. They're going to have to pass a resolution to keep the government running before they go home to campaign -- Paula.

ZAHN: Dana Bash, thanks so much.

If you wouldn't mind standing by, we're going to come back to you in a little bit for a related story.

But, first, whether you think of Congress as a bunch of do- nothings or not, can our lawmakers get more done?

Let's ask a "Top Story" panel of journalists from some of Washington's publications for political insiders. A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of "The Hill,." John Mercurio is a senior editor "The National Journal"'s "Hotline." And Jill Barshay is a reporter for "Congressional Quarterly."

Glad to have all of you with us.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: John, I'm going to start with you tonight.

A lot of unfinished business. How does this Congress relate to others in the past?

JOHN MERCURIO, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE HOTLINE": Well, I mean, historically, this is, as Dana Bash was mentioning, one of the least productive Congresses that we have seen in a long time.

Major, major issues that this Congress tried to tackle, Social Security, a lot of the tax cuts that the president wanted, port security -- Remember that? -- immigration reform, comprehensively, this Congress has not -- has not done anything with.

We haven't actually seen any final action. Now, that's important, I think, is, if you look at the sort of overall congressional reputation or record. But what impact it has on the midterm elections just six weeks away is an entirely different question.

For Democrats, it's not the silver bullet I think that they need going into this election, because, despite the fact that voters might not approve of the Congress overall -- their approval rating is in the -- in 20 percent range -- people still like their own representative. They distinguish the two.

ZAHN: So, how did things get this bad, A.B.?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "THE HILL": Well, there is now -- there's a direct correlation between the professionalization of the business of politics and the polarization that we see now sort of poisoning and paralyzing this system.

The techniques for winning reelection have now been so perfected, and they're so effective, it's easier for members to rely upon them, than it is for them to tangle themselves up, taking political risks in legislative compromises with the other party, and risking the wrath of the voters at home.

ZAHN: So, Jill, if you were going to be perfectly honest about that, how do you assign blame here? Is it -- does it fall more on the Republicans or the Democrats?

JILL BARSHAY, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": Well, I think the question assumes that it's a good idea to pass legislation; the more laws you pass, the more that the legislature has accomplished.

And there's a school of thought that says it's better not to pass laws. And I think that is part of what the Republican agenda was doing, particularly in the Senate, was bringing up issues that they knew would mobilize their base and come out for elections. They weren't interested in passing laws all the time.

Also, they need 60 votes in the Senate, and they can say, please elect more senators, so that we can have the 60 votes, so that, when Republicans are in charge, we can pass all the laws that we need.

ZAHN: So, John, come back to the idea of the impact you think this is going to have on voters, when you said that people usually vote their own personal interests. Do we have any idea how this plays out...

MERCURIO: Sure.

ZAHN: ... and whether the American public is really upset about this?

MERCURIO: Well, exactly.

I mean, if you -- there's a CBS News poll out this week that says 75 percent of Americans can't name one thing that Congress did this year. And Democrats are seizing on that as -- as a show of evidence that this is a do-nothing Congress.

But if you ask American voters if they still support their own individual member of Congress, by a large margin, they still do. This is not the silver bullet. I think, much like Democrats earlier this year tried to make the culture of corruption this sort of major campaign issue, they are going to find that the do-nothing Congress works in the macro level.

But when you actually talk about individual districts, competitive districts that Democrats need to win in order to take back the House and the Senate, they're going to fall short, if they just rely on this argument.

ZAHN: John Mercurio, Jill Barshay, A.B. Stoddard, thank you all.

(CROSSTALK)

MERCURIO: Thank you.

ZAHN: Coming up, other top stories we're following tonight, including an outrage that some put squarely on the shoulders of Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): The wasteland -- with a shortage of migrant workers, American crops are rotting on the ground, and family farms are losing millions. Is this one harvest of the so-called do-nothing Congress?

And "Man of War" -- a CNN exclusive up-close profile of Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary's remarkable journey from the corporate suite to the war in Iraq -- all that and more just ahead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: We continue our "Top Story" coverage: the allegations of a do-nothing Congress and the real impact it's having on American families, farmers, with plenty of work, but not nearly enough workers. And they say Congress is sowing the seeds of discontent with its inaction.

Ted Rowlands explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hundreds of tons of wasted pears are rotting on trees and on the ground in Northern California, equalling millions of dollars lost -- the reason, according to growers, tighter security on the Mexican border.

TONI SCULLY, PEAR GROWER/PACKER: The pickers didn't come, and didn't come, and didn't come. And, finally, we realized we were sitting on top of a full-blown disaster.

ROWLANDS: They say it's a problem only Congress can fix. And they're still waiting. Standing in an orchard of rotting pears, growers Toni Scully and Nick Ivicevich, and Barry Bedwell, who represents California fruit growers, talked about their frustration with Congress for not passing new immigration laws with a provision for farm workers.

BARRY BEDWELL, PRESIDENT, CALIFORNIA GRAPE AND TREE FRUIT LEAGUE: I understand politics, and I understand that, but I also understand the frustration of growers like these individuals, when we see this situation. And, all of a sudden, my feeling for politics is not very high.

ROWLANDS: The worker shortage, estimated to be about 30 percent from last year, has hurt other crops. But because of a bumper crop this year, more pears were lost than anything else.

NICK IVICEVICH, PEAR GROWER: And I have been here for 45 years. And this is my -- it would have been my 45th harvest. And this is the biggest and best, prettiest crop I ever had, and -- and I didn't get to pick it.

SCULLY: This is not a joke. And we haven't staged this. This is the canary in the coal mine for California agriculture.

ROWLANDS: The three say, because an estimated 70 percent of the agriculture work force is illegal, farmers, for years, have been forced to take part in a don't-ask/don't-tell type of charade, while Congress has done nothing.

SCULLY: Agriculture has lobbied Congress every year for a workable guest-worker program, and Congress has refused to deal with the issue.

BEDWELL: This is a win-win situation, if we look at it properly. There are individuals that want to come here to better their lives and their families. We need that labor.

SCULLY: We need a program that will let laborers come in for six or seven months that it takes to make the California harvest loop, and then go home.

ROWLANDS: The average picker makes about $13 an hour, but these three say Americans simply will not do this work. So, while this year's crop may be gone, they're hoping that the folks in Washington will do something soon.

SCULLY: Nothing could be more helpless than the feeling that you have got a problem, and it's going to take an act of Congress to fix it.

ROWLANDS: Ted Rowlands, CNN, Lake County, California.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And, even as we're on the air here, the Senate is debating immigration issues, including a 700-mile fence along the border with Mexico.

Let's go back to Dana Bash for a moment.

When it comes to immigration reform, we know it's not a black- and-white issue. But can you pinpoint for us tonight what the real holdup is on comprehensive reform on the Hill?

BASH: You know, Paula, as soon as President Bush decided to make comprehensive immigration reform with a guest-worker program part of his -- his agenda, and a priority for him, he knew he was going to face stiff opposition from his own party, and because many in his own party made clear from the start that anything that gives citizenship eventually to people they consider lawbreakers is amnesty.

No matter how many times, Paula, the president and his supporters said, it's not amnesty, that you're going to have -- have these people pay fines, they are going to go to the back of the line, they simply couldn't overcome the opposition and resistance, mostly from Republicans, from people in their own -- his own party.

So, that opposition, actually, instead of the president sort of winning the argument, the opposition grew. You remember those rallies over the spring and the summer. The more this issue made headlines, the stiffer the resistance became from Republicans, especially, Paula, as they went home, and started realizing that perhaps running against the president on this issue, because their constituents, many of them disagreed with the president, that was actually politically beneficial to them.

So, in the end, the president simply couldn't win this one. And, as you said, what we're seeing right now on the floor of the Senate is a far cry from what the president wanted. A temporary-worker program, or a guest-worker program, is not in the cards at all. And, simply, what they're debating right now is border security, that 700-mile fence.

That is the thing that everybody agrees on in the Republican Party. So, they're punting, for now, until maybe after the election. Who knows when they can get to that issue that Ted Rowlands was talking about in his piece, a guest-worker program.

ZAHN: We will -- we will be watching it together.

Dana, thanks so much, a member of the best political team in TV.

Just ahead, much more "Top Story" coverage from Washington.

First, though, let's check in for the first time with Melissa Long, who joins us from our Pipeline studio to start out countdown tonight. Hi, Melissa.

MELISSA LONG, CNN PIPELINE: Good evening, Paula.

Twenty-one million people logged on to the Web site today. And many were curious about reading about a story at number 10. It was about a California teenager who has begun serving a life sentence for killing the wife of prominent criminal attorney Daniel Horowitz. Scott Dyleski never admitted murdering Pam Vitale, and offered no motive. He will not be eligible for parole.

Story number nine: a new audiotape said to be from the man identified as the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq -- on the tape, he claims more than 4,000 foreign fighters have died battling U.S. and Iraqi troops.

And story number eight seems to be a case of art imitating celebrity life. Mel Gibson's recent legal troubles have made their way to prime time TV. NBC says an upcoming episode of "Law & Order" will feature Chevy Chase playing a celebrity who spews religious epithets after being pulled over by police for drunken driving. Filming started this week. I should say, as well, that the spokesman for NBC says that that "Law & Order" series is completely fiction -- Paula.

ZAHN: Oh, yes?

LONG: Mmm-hmm.

ZAHN: We will watch and decide for ourselves.

LONG: Exactly.

ZAHN: Thanks so much.

LONG: OK.

ZAHN: Here in Washington today, I had a chance to sit down with the Democrats' 2004 nominee for president, Senator John Kerry. Is he already running for the 2008 nomination? We're going to get his answer in an exclusive interview next.

And, then, a little bit later on: an in-depth look at the man who has become the lightning rod for criticism for the U.S. military's failures in Iraq.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Our "Top Story" coverage continues from Washington, politics are focus.

And, today, President Bush, at a Republican fund-raiser in Alabama, took the gloves off, suggesting Democrats don't have the stomach to fight the war on terror.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Five years after 9/11, the worst attack on the American homeland in our history, the Democrats offer nothing but criticism and obstruction and endless second-guessing. The party of FDR and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut-and-run.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Fighting words.

And, just a little bit earlier, I put them to the man the president defeated two years ago, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

And, in an exclusive interview, I asked him how the Democrats can fight off that perception.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: This administration has cut and run from common sense, and they have cut and run from the truth.

The truth is that Iraq is not the center of the war on terror. Afghanistan is. These are the people who cut and run from capturing and killing Osama bin Laden. I'm not going to stand for the president suggesting we have only criticized. We have offered alternative after alternative, and they have turned them down.

ZAHN: But even Democrats have told me they think your party has given the president ammunition, that it is a divided party; until you start speaking with a unified voice, that you're going to be vulnerable to this charge.

KERRY: I disagree. I think we do have a unified voice.

Iraq is not the center of the war on terror. Iraq is a mess. And we need to change course in Iraq. Our troops did not go over there to be involved in the middle of a civil war. And the more we can break through to America and talk common sense -- what kind of accountability is there in this administration for having young American kids from Ohio, from Massachusetts, from Florida, elsewhere in America, dying because they don't have the equipment? This is a disgrace.

ZAHN: Hasn't congressional inaction added to that problem?

KERRY: Well, who runs the Congress? The Republicans run the Congress. And they shut the doors on legitimate effort between the Republicans and Democrats. Enough is enough.

ZAHN: Do Democrats share any blame for that?

KERRY: Sure, Democrats absolutely share some blame, for having trusted the president and given him the power in the first place.

ZAHN: You said in a speech yesterday that you had some unfinished business you wanted to take care of. Are you going to run for president again?

KERRY: Well, I'm working on that unfinished business right here in the Senate. And I'm testing whether or not I will take that out in the context of a candidacy. I don't know the answer yet.

ZAHN: What is the test? What is the deciding factor?

KERRY: Well, you have got to go out and find whether or not there are people there who are prepared to do that fight with you, whether you -- whether, you know, the support is there. I -- I believe I have been finding it.

ZAHN: The initial polls would suggest no. An Iowa poll shows John Edwards way ahead of you in Iowa.

KERRY: Yes, the polls. Listen...

ZAHN: Another poll, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore way out of in front of -- does that trouble you at all?

KERRY: The last thing I'm going to do is take a poll or listen to a poll.

ZAHN: At what point will it be that you know whether your following is there or not?

KERRY: It's not a question of whether your following is there completely, Paula. What it is, is whether or not you believe your campaign is viable, whether your candidacy is viable.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Do you have a date specific?

KERRY: Yes. I'm going to decide somewhere around the end of the year, somewhere in that vicinity.

ZAHN: If Hillary Clinton runs and wins, what kind of president would she be?

KERRY: I think Hillary would be a very confident president. I think she's a very confident senator. And I have great respect for Hillary Clinton.

But my decision, as to what I do or don't do, will not depend on who may or may not be a candidate. It will depend on my agenda.

ZAHN: Wouldn't you rather not face her?

KERRY: I think she's obviously got great assets.

But, you know, if you believe in something, and I make the decision to do it, it isn't going to make a difference to me who else is there. I will do it because I believe in what I'm -- what I'm fighting for. And that's the unfinished business that I referred to the other day. ZAHN: Well, we thank you for your time tonight.

KERRY: Thanks. I'm glad to be with you.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Glad to be with you as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So, as you can see, we're just going to have to wait until the end of the year, at the earliest, to find out if Senator Kerry will try again in 2008.

Our "Top Story" coverage continues in a moment.

First, let's go back to Melissa Long, who continues our countdown -- Melissa.

LONG: Paula, story number seven also about politics, but a rather unusual political candidate has made it to the list this evening, a porn star. Mary Carey is running as an independent write- in candidate for governor of California. Her opponents are calling her campaign a stunt to promote pornography.

Story number six: Amanda Peet. The actress says she and her partner, screenwriter David Benioff, are expecting a baby, and that they will marry over the weekend.

And story number five, it is a story we have covered in great detail today live on CNN Pipeline -- authorities in Florida still tonight searching for a man accused of killing one deputy and wounding another during a gunfight near the town of Lakeland, Florida -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Melissa, we will be back with you in just a little bit.

Coming up in our next half-hour: a former general who went to Capitol Hill to call for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation.

Plus: a congressman who claims that 80 to 85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamist extremists.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Our "Top Story" coverage moves now to the buzz here in Washington over veteran investigative reporter Bob Woodward's new book on the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. In an upcoming "60 Minutes" interview, he says the administration has failed to tell the truth about the level of violence against U.S. forces in Iraq, which he says are now facing an average of four attacks an hour. And he says President Bush is getting advice from Henry Kissinger.

Well, also tonight, a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll showing Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's popularity has plummeted in the last three years. Take a look at this graph. Only 35 percent of those polled say they have a favorable opinion of him now.

Rumsfeld is the focus of our next story. For the last five months, special correspondent Frank Sesno has been working on a new "CNN PRESENTS" documentary on the defense secretary. He's had rare access to Rumsfeld and his staff for "Rumsfeld: Man of War."

Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Take out Saddam Hussein and his military, while preventing him from using the weapons of mass destruction we're told he has. Do it while preserving Iraq's infrastructure and securing its oil fields. Do it all faster and with fewer troops than anyone, especially Saddam, thought possible.

That was Donald's Rumsfeld's challenge. He would win the battle. But winning the peace would be another matter.

So, what happened? How did we get here? Insurgency and sectarian bloodletting have brought Iraq to the edge of civil war. Critics say the problem began with a war plan that, looking back, was fatally flawed.

Former General John Batiste commanded the 1st Infantry Division, the Army's famed Big Red One.

GENERAL JOHN BATISTE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: We -- we did not have a campaign plan beyond the day when we took down Saddam Hussein to win in Iraq.

SESNO: Rumsfeld's plan was to follow the same model that had been established and was working in Afghanistan. Reducing troop strength, fast, was part of the plan from the beginning.

Heated debate over troop strength had been going on behind the scenes. Less than one month before the war began, it burst into public view. Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki testified before Congress that postwar Iraq would need far more troops than the Pentagon was then advertising.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FEBRUARY 25, 2003)

GENERAL ERIC SHINSEKI, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: Something on the order of several hundred thousand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: It was a direct contradiction of Rumsfeld and his team.

According to generals who were there, Shinseki was taken to the woodshed and marginalized. Word quickly spread.

MAJOR GENERAL PAUL EATON (RET.), U.S. ARMY: We -- we got the message. SESNO (on camera): Which was?

EATON: If you speak up and give your best advice, and it's counter to what's coming out of the third deck E-ring, then you're going to have a problem.

SESNO: A lot of the rap, TV, books, articles -- you have read all these things -- is that he wants to be surrounded by yes-men.

(CROSSTALK)

SESNO: That would make you one of those yes-men.

GENERAL PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: But that's an absolute fallacy. He wants people to push back.

SESNO (voice-over): But anyone who has been in the room with Rumsfeld will tell you, you can take him on, but you better be prepared. It's a demanding management style that can be intimidating, even for people who have been to war. But it's a style that carries risks.

MAJOR GENERAL JOHN RIGGS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: If you press the military, like the generals, so hard, they will eventually say, yes, sir, Mr. Secretary, three bags full. We will take what you have given us, and we will do the best we can with it.

SESNO: I put the issue directly to the secretary.

(on camera): I mean, could somebody come in and slam the desk and say, you're wrong?

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You bet. You bet.

SESNO: And you say?

RUMSFELD: I say, why? Explain it. Make your case. Let's hear it. And I say, talk about it. Tell me about it. And have we ended up adjusting or changing or calibrating. it

SESNO (voice-over): But Rumsfeld's ability to adjust to change, to calibrate, would be tested.

(on camera): You were told you were going to be greeted as liberators.

GEL. JOHN KEANE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: That's absolutely true.

SESNO: So, you didn't plan for an insurgency.

KEANE: That's true.

SESNO: How do we...

KEANE: And were -- and were dead wrong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Special correspondent Frank Sesno joins me for a "Top Story" panel now, along with one of the generals who you just saw in Frank's report, retired Army General John Batiste, who says the defense secretary should step down, and former Undersecretary of Defense Jed Babbin, who says Rumsfeld should stay.

Glad to have all of you with us tonight.

Jed, you heard the criticism from the general, that the war plan was seriously flawed, not even taking into account the potential of this insurgency movement, and that there was no post war plan in place. Why would you keep a guy like that?

JED BABBIN, FORMER DEPUTY UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, number one, there was a postwar plan in place. The president was presented with two plans before the Iraq invasion.

ZAHN: Is it working?

BABBIN: No.

The problem is, the president chose the wrong plan. He chose a plan that was drafted not by Don Rumsfeld and the Pentagon, but by George Tenet and Colin Powell.

ZAHN: So, it's their fault, not Rumsfeld's fault?

BABBIN: Well, it's their fault, because they -- the president -- it's the president's fault. The president chose the wrong plan. He chose to not stand up an Iraqi government fast enough. He chose to not get American troops out of there fast enough, and chose to not put the people who wanted that plan in charge of implementing it.

ZAHN: So, doesn't Donald Rumsfeld bear any responsibility for this?

BABBIN: Well, of course he does. Donald Rumsfeld is not perfect, but to blame Donald Rumsfeld for all -- number one, all of these political allegations, most of which don't stand up to the light of day, number two, to blame him solely is just simply not on.

What you see from these generals is a lot of epiphanies, post- retirement epiphanies. Why, Paula, didn't they do their moral and -- moral obligation and raise these things when they were active-duty? None of them did.

ZAHN: Well, let's -- let's set the record straight.

General Batiste, did you ever raise your concerns while you were on active duty?

BATISTE: Sure.

This is an argument that I thought the American people had solved four or five months ago. We have been through this ground. Of course we all did. You can bet...

ZAHN: Were you afraid of losing your job by voicing your opposition to the plan that was being followed?

BATISTE: No, no, no. Never.

In the days and weeks and months leading up to the deployment of the 1st Infantry Division, you bet I voiced my concerns. I brought armor that I wasn't authorized to bring. Every time I had to deploy a battalion or a brigade outside the 1st Infantry Division zone of responsibility, I raised a big beef as well.

ZAHN: Are...

(CROSSTALK)

BATISTE: The problem is, we started with the wrong strategy, totally, that never addressed the postwar Iraq.

So, our great military was never able to make the transition between war fighting, attacking in zone, and building the peace, the peace enforcement side of the mission.

ZAHN: All right.

BATISTE: We didn't have the numbers. We didn't have the capability.

And the soldiers, most importantly, didn't have the mind-set to make that transition.

ZAHN: All right.

BATISTE: And we have one secretary of defense, who is responsible for that madness.

ZAHN: You are shaking your head no, Jed. Are you accusing General Batiste of being a liar? He said he voiced many concerns.

BABBIN: Well, he voiced many...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Took his own armor.

BABBIN: Well, what he -- think of what he just said. He did not say that he voiced the concerns, other than about his own unit or anything else.

What General Batiste was saying before he went over there was: I want to train my own people before I go, which nobody went. I want to change the command.

He was offered several different commands to go back again. He turned it down. General Batiste is taking a political line. They're trying to attack Don Rumsfeld because these guys are unhappy with the president and unhappy with the way Don Rumsfeld treated the Army in general. It's got nothing to do with what happened in Iraq.

ZAHN: Is this all about politics, General Batiste?

BATISTE: I am not a political general.

Let me remind the American people that I made the gut-wrenching decision to turn my back on an institution that I loved after 31 years of service, two-time combat veteran, Bosnia in 1995, '96, Kosovo, the first Iraq war. Oh, I have two.

I made that gut-wrenching realization that I could do more good for my soldiers and their families out of uniform than I could in. I had to speak out.

ZAHN: And, Frank Sesno, General Batiste certainly did, and has taken a lot of heat for that.

In -- in your conversations with Secretary Rumsfeld, how does he respond to this criticism?

SESNO: Well, this is -- welcome to Rumsfeld's life and my life, anyway, for the last several months. This is what you hear.

This debate that you have just experienced is what is going on outside the building and to some extent inside the building. And he knows it.

What does he do, Paula? He basically shrugs it off. He says, you have got to do what is right. He says -- and there are plenty of people, by the way, who support Donald Rumsfeld in this documentary.

ZAHN: All right.

SESNO: And you will hear their point of view.

ZAHN: But does he listen, Frank, before he shrugs it off, or he just discounts it completely?

SESNO: He pretty much discounts it completely.

I mean, he will listen. But he -- does -- does he accept that he's made mistakes? No, Paula, he does not. Does he say that -- that -- that this insurgency came out of nowhere, and surprised on the dimension of it? Yes, he does acknowledge that. And I think even that's significant, because he's a guy who takes pride in asking questions and saying he's looking around the corner and anticipating the future.

They missed this. He missed this.

ZAHN: We have got to leave it there, trio, Frank Sesno, Jed Babbin, John Batiste -- more of that debate to come.

And you can catch Frank's report on Rumsfeld, "CNN PRESENTS: Rumsfeld: Man of War," coming up this Saturday night at 8:00 p.m..

Let's quickly go back to Melissa to wrap up our countdown -- or get close to wrapping it up.

LONG: Yes.

At number four tonight, we're going to talk about money. And I know it's never nice to talk about what somebody makes, but we're going to do it, because our readers have made this story number four. "The Hollywood Reporter" says Charlie Sheen is about to sign a new deal that would make him this season's highest paid sitcom actor. OK, now for the paycheck. The star of "Two and a Half Men" could earn $350,000 per episode, if that deal, which has been in the works since July, goes through.

Story number three: The medical examiner of Chicago says anesthesia provided during a dental exam caused the death of a 5-year- old girl. Diamond Brownridge fell into a coma during the exam over the weekend. And she passed away yesterday. Family members say she was given a triple dose of sedatives, Paula.

ZAHN: Oh, that's awful.

LONG: Mmm-hmm.

ZAHN: All right. We're going to be back with you in just a little bit.

Coming up next: a "Top Story" in homeland security, a New York congressman's controversial claim that up to 85 percent of the mosques right here in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Our "Top Story" coverage moves now to the controversy here in Washington over one key congressman's claims about Muslims in this country.

Representative Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has said that the vast majority of mosques here in the U.S. are controlled by Muslim extremists. And that's only the beginning of the charges he's making, charges that are causing a lot of outrage.

Jason Carroll has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the holy month of Ramadan, and this is the image Muslims here say truly reflects who they are: law-abiding, peaceful people, not, as their own congressman claimed in a recent campaign letter, part of an Islamic threat that could cause another 9/11.

And New York Republican Peter King has also said, according to law enforcement sources he spoke with, 85 percent of mosques in the United States, including this one, are run by extremists.

FAROQUE KHAN, MOSQUE MEMBER: Where is this 85 percent? Who did the study? On what basis? What questions were asked? And how did he come up with this number?

CARROLL: Several members of the mosque agreed to speak to us about the claim.

KHAN: It's very painful to have a senior politic to make those statements, without really having any direct interaction with the community.

ERIC BYASERIC, MOSQUE MEMBER: You have extremists in basically any community, any -- any belief system. So what? You deal with them accordingly.

CARROLL: A federal law enforcement official agrees that there are some extremists in American mosques, but dismisses the validity of 85 percent, saying it was much too high.

(on camera): Do you actively try to seek out those who may have extreme thoughts or extreme points of view?

KHAN: Do we conduct interviews with all the people who come in and out? No. But, if we hear something -- and I haven't heard anything yet -- believe me, I will be the first to call the FBI.

CARROLL (voice-over): There's another concern King has raised. He says the mosque fosters 9/11 conspiracy theories that the CIA or Zionists may have been behind the attacks. But, of those we interviewed, just one had reservations about who was behind the terrorist attacks.

MUNIRE TERPIS, MOSQUE MEMBER: How do we know they did it? I mean, it was just -- it happened -- like, instant, as -- as soon as the towers fell, it was, like, Muslims did it. How -- how do you clarify? How do you prove that?

CARROLL (on camera): Well, who do you think is responsible for what happened?

TERPIS: I don't know. I don't know. To this day, I don't know.

CARROLL (voice-over): A recent Zogby poll showed 42 percent of all Americans believe the government is covering up something surrounding the attack. So, Muslims here wonder, why focus on them?

The national director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says this is about King trying to win reelection.

NIHAD AWAD, NATIONAL DIRECTOR, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: It's very disturbing to see a member of the United States Congress exploit the anti-Muslim prejudice and fear within the society just to get a few more votes and some money.

CARROLL: So, during this holiest of months for Muslims, some here will be praying for forgiveness and the hope there will be more understanding.

Jason Carroll, CNN, New York. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And joining me now, the man stirring up all the controversy, Representative Peter King.

Welcome.

Representative King, I want to start off by reading from a letter that you wrote to your constituents this month. And you said, "Because I have put aside political correctness and spoken out against these radical leaders, I have been denounced by Muslim organizations as a Muslim hater."

Are you a Muslim hater?

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Absolutely not. In fact, I work very closely with a number of Muslims.

But you were talking there to the Islamic Center of Long Island, which I actually had a very close relationship prior to September 11. But, despite what people like Dr. Khan were telling you tonight, the fact is, throughout the fall of 2001, people like Ghazi Khankan, who was the interfaith director of that mosque, said that there was no proof that al Qaeda or Muslims had attacked. The mosque -- he said that Mohamed Atta was alive and well in Emirates, that two of the other hijackers were alive in Saudi Arabia, that the FBI knew this and was covering it up.

And he also said that the Zionists, the Jews, could well have been responsible for it. The co-president of that mosque was peddling the rumor that Mossad was behind it all.

Dr. Khan, who you saw tonight, was the president-elect at the time and the most prominent spokesman at the mosque. He never once, during that entire time, in any way rebuked Ghazi Khankan, who stayed on as the interfaith director, and today, as an individual, is still saying the Mossad could have been behind the attacks.

My basis for the 85 percent was Sheikh Kabbani, who's one of the leading Muslims in this country, back in the year 2000, said that he thought at least 80 percent of the mosques were taken over by extremist leaders, by radical Muslims.

ZAHN: All right.

KING: And that has been my experience.

ZAHN: But we heard him also say those numbers are absolutely preposterous. Do you still stand by that 85 percent statistic?

KING: I'm saying that Sheikh Kabbani, who was -- again, he -- he testified back in the year 2000 and said that.

And I'm telling you I know of any number of mosques in New York where the police are very concerned about them, where there are radicals in there. And, absolutely, yes, I stand by that number. It was 80 percent back in 2000. Based on the radicalization since then, it has to be -- I have no doubt, I have problem at all in saying it's 85 percent. If it's not 85, it's still 80.

ZAHN: All right.

Let me close with this. You just heard, in Jason Carroll's piece, that -- that Muslim leaders are accusing you of stoking this kind of fear to get elected and fund your campaign.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Your reaction to that.

KING: Absolutely untrue. I have been saying this...

ZAHN: Your opponent thinks that's the case.

KING: I have been saying this -- he can say what he wants.

I have been saying this for a number of years. I have been in this debate with people like Dr. Khan and the Islamic Center of Long Island going back two, three, four years. They -- what they did was absolutely outrageous. I have said this time and time again. This is nothing new.

What I have been saying now is consistent with what I have been saying for the last several years. And Dr. Khan comes out a mosque, where his interfaith director said that the CIA and the FBI were behind what was happening. They knew that Mohamed Atta was still alive, that he knew that the other two hijackers were still alive in Saudi Arabia. And he implied that the Zionists -- that's the Jews, the Israelis -- were behind that attack. Dr. Khan never once rebuked him -- never once.

ZAHN: All right, we have got to leave it there.

Congressman King, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

KING: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: We are going to take a quick "Biz Break."

The Dow gained about 29 points, closing just four points short of its all-time high. The Nasdaq gained six points, the S&P up two.

Here's our nightly look at gas prices all over the country, our "Crude Awakenings" -- the states with today's lowest prices in green, highest in red. The average today for unleaded regular, $2.34 a gallon, down another two cents since just yesterday, as gasoline appear to -- gasoline prices, that is, continue their downward trend.

Let's quickly go back to Melissa to wrap up our countdown.

LONG: And, Paula, our readers have made this story in the top 10 the last few days now, and the speculation about when the body of Anna Nicole Smith's son will arrive in the U.S. Tonight, the body remains in the Bahamas. The pathologist who did a private autopsy says tests show the combination of antidepressant drugs Zoloft and Lexapro, along with methadone, caused Daniel Smith's death.

And story number one: more details about Wednesday's deadly school siege in Bailey, Colorado. Authorities say some of the six girls taken hostage were sexually assaulted. The gunman shot and killed a student when she tried to flee, as the SWAT team stormed the room. The gunman then committed suicide.

And, also, on our Web site tonight, we're hearing from the young girl who passed away through a text message that she sent to her dad. Her last words: "I love you guys" -- Paula.

ZAHN: That is so, so sad.

Melissa, thanks.

Just ahead in our "Top Story" coverage: how a Mozart opera became the latest flash point in efforts to prevent offending Muslim sensibilities.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tonight, the world famous Berlin is at the center of a controversy over Islamic extremism of the kind we talked about just a little bit earlier.

Our "Top Story" coverage turns now to the growing fear of terror and its effect on a German opera production, as you will see from Paula Newton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The opera is gruesome, but now just performing it could be life-threatening.

It's called "Idomeneo," and is the work of Mozart. But the most controversial material was added for this German production, scenes depicting the severed head of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha, and the one causing all the controversy, the Prophet Mohammed, revered by Muslims.

The director of the Berlin opera house canceled the scheduled fall opening of the show after a warning from police.

KIRSTEN HARMS, DIRECTOR, DEUTSCHE OPER BERLIN: If the German opera puts on 'Idomeneo' in its original version, it would be a security risk for the audience and actors of an unimaginable scope.

NEWTON: Police said a caller warned, the opera was just too offensive to Muslims, and the outcome could be violent.

But the cancellation has outraged many free-speech advocates in Germany, even the chancellor herself, who said the country should not cave in to terrorists. ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): The cancellation was a mistake. I think self-censorship does not help us against people who want to practice violence in the name of Islam.

NEWTON: But, in the name of Islam in the last few weeks, there were protests when Pope Benedict quoted from a medieval text that said Islam was spread by the sword. The pope later said the quote did not reflect his personal views.

And there were more violent protests last year, after Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed ignited fury around the world. More and more, it seems, cultures are clashing over the fine line between artistic freedom and religious reverence.

NIHAD AWAD, NATIONAL DIRECTOR, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: I think that's -- that's the challenge for all of us, to strike a balance between free speech, the -- you know, the -- the ability to express one's artistic expressions, and, at the same time, be sensitive to the feelings of other people.

NEWTON (on camera): Stung by all the outrage over the cancellation, the Berlin opera says it will consider reinstating the production, but only if it can get security guarantees from the police.

Paula Newton, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And time now to turn our attention to "Life After Work" and a man who realized a boyhood dream to become a cowboy.

Valerie Morris has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VALERIE MORRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On 1,000 acres in Arizona along the Mexico border, 74-year-old Bud Strom is miles away from traditional retirement. He's a cowboy.

BUD STROM, CATTLE RANCHER: All right, guys, let's push them on.

I have two missions in life, I think. One is to be a steward to my hand. And the other is to be a steward to my animals.

MORRIS: A cowboy at heart since spending summers as a teenager in Montana, Strom, however, chose a career in the military, and served 31 years in Army intelligence.

STROM: When I retired, I just said I think I would like to give this a chance. And then this ranch came up, and I found an opportunity to make an offer on it. And the offer was accepted. And, lo and behold, my hands became very sweaty.

MORRIS: Storm says raising cattle is a hard living, but he loves his work so much that he depleted his savings to stay financially afloat.

STROM: It's constant.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Well, his passion made very clear tonight.

That wraps it up for all of us here. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.

Please join us same time, same place tomorrow tonight.

"LARRY KING LIVE" will start in just a couple of minutes.

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