Skip to main content
Search
Services


 

Return to Transcripts main page

CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview with John Bolton

Aired October 15, 2006 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We think that the fact that North Korea has conducted a nuclear test does amount to a clear threat to international peace and security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Dealing with a nuclear North Korea. Will diplomacy work with defiant leader Kim Jong Il? We'll ask the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.

Plus, perspective on North Korea, Iraq and Iran from two top U.S. senators, Democrat Carl Levin and Republican Chuck Hagel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've been giving people the tools necessary to protect the homeland, and our Democrat colleagues back in Washington have taken a very different approach to the war on terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush campaigns to keep a Republican Congress in November. How will the president's foreign policy, the economy and the Foley scandal play at the polls? We'll talk to the chairmen of both U.S. political parties, Republican Ken Mehlman and Democrat Howard Dean.

With just 23 days until election day, Democrats are gaining ground with voters nationwide. Will it be enough to take control of the House and Senate? We'll get insight from our political panel: L.A. Times columnist Ron Brownstein, political analyst Stu Rothenberg, and CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.

"Late Edition's" lineup begins right now.

It's 11 a.m. in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4 p.m. in London and 6 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 the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now. CNN's Fredricka Whitfield joining us from the CNN Center. Hi, Fred.

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. Now to the escalating crisis with North Korea. The man leading the charge at the United Nations this week to put the squeeze on North Korea after its declared nuclear test, the U.S. Ambassador John Bolton. I spoke with him just a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "Late Edition."

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Glad to be here.

BLITZER: Let's get to this resolution, unanimously passed yesterday by the United Nations Security Council. Some loose ends that I just would love you to clarify, if you can.

Does this resolution eliminate the option, at least for now, of military action against North Korea?

BOLTON: Well, it doesn't preclude a later resolution of the Security Council. You know, when we introduced our text for the council to consider on Monday, it didn't include at that point authorization to use force.

So that was never part of our plan for this resolution, which was to impose sanctions largely against North Korea's programs of weapons of mass destruction. And those provisions were adopted essentially as we had proposed them on Monday.

BLITZER: Because the resolution does include this language. I will read it to you. It says: "All the parties should refrain from any actions that might aggravate tension and to facilitate the early resumption of the six-party talks."

Some have interpreted that as meaning that the United States now is making it clear it has no intention or does not plan on using military force.

BOLTON: Well, I think the president has made it clear on any number of occasions that we want to solve the problem posed by North Korea's aggressive pursuit of weapons of mass destruction through peaceful diplomatic means. And that phrase that you have just read is entirely consistent with the policy the president has been pursuing these past several years.

BLITZER: The other outstanding loose end there that -- is whether or not the inspections of cargo coming to and from North Korea, for that matter, the inspections cannot take place on the high seas. They can only take place on the ground or in port. Is that right? BOLTON: No. The resolution doesn't really change the existing authority to conduct inspections, whether it's in territorial waters, airspace, or through land routes, or where it's appropriate, through interdiction on the high seas.

Certainly, our concept is that the overwhelming predominance of the inspections would take place in ports or at land crossings or that sort of thing. But the resolution neither increases nor decreases existing authority to interdict on the high seas.

BLITZER: It doesn't go as far as calling for a blockade of North Korea, that's correct, though?

BOLTON: Right. And we had not proposed that. Japan had proposed stronger measures than we had. We did pick up, actually, one of the proposals that Japan made to bar travel by North Korean officials engaged in their programs of weapons of mass destruction.

Japan, on its own, imposed those sanctions unilaterally earlier in the week, bringing them actually comparable to a kind of comprehensive sanctions the U.S. already has against trade with North Korea.

BLITZER: The Chinese ambassador, after the resolution -- after voting for the resolution, said this, which was a little perplexing to me. I want you to listen to what the Chinese ambassador to the U.N. said, and we'll get your response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WANG GUANGYA, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: For China, our political position is, we are not in favor of inspections because for a number of years we -- as a general principle, we feel that it will lead to negative consequences.

So I do hope that with the watered-down language in the draft -- in the resolution itself that this has to be exercised with great care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now if the Chinese are not going to engage in inspections, it doesn't look like the resolution will have a lot of teeth, because, as you know, most of the trade between North Korea and the rest of the world goes through China.

BOLTON: Right. Well, the Chinese did vote in favor of the resolution. They did vote in favor of it as the Council acted under Chapter 7, which their own legal interpretations over the years have taken to mean that it's binding, binding on China as it's binding on the rest of the U.N.

And the guts of the resolution is to prohibit trade in weapons of mass destruction-related materials and high-end conventional military equipment. And I'm sure, sure that China is going to abide by the very resolution that it voted for. How it accomplishes that, I'm sure we'll have discussions about. But let's be clear, they voted in favor of the resolution that provides for an inspection regime.

BLITZER: But they're saying they are not going to engage in those inspections.

BOLTON: Well, the burden is on China to comply with the resolution. I'm sure there are a lot of different ways to do that. And I wouldn't want to think within just hours after the resolution that China was saying that it wasn't going to abide by what it had just voted for.

BLITZER: The resolution calls for an arms embargo of heavy equipment, but not necessarily light equipment, which, you wanted a total arms embargo. You didn't get it. Is that fair?

BOLTON: This was a compromise with China and Russia. What we cover here are warships, combat aircraft, battle tanks, high-end artillery equipment, many of the mechanisms by which nuclear or chemical or biological weapons could be delivered. So we were satisfied with this outcome.

BLITZER: Here is what the Russian defense minister, Sergey Ivanov, is quoted as saying this morning. He said: "Russian and China agree that means of political pressure on North Korea by the U.N. Security Council mustn't last indefinitely, that is, if the DPRK," the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, "returns to the six- party talks and progress is reached at those talks, sanctions must end automatically."

Is that the U.S. assessment as well?

BOLTON: Well, that's not what the resolution says. If you look at paragraph 15 of the operative section of the resolution, it says that in light of North Korean compliance with the terms of the resolution, the sanctions could be increased, modified, suspended or lifted, so that we've left open all of the possibilities depending on how North Korea itself behaves. That is why the ball is really in North Korea's court to see what direction we go in here.

BLITZER: So it sounds like there could be a split between the U.S. and Russia on this issue?

BOLTON: Well, again, Russia voted in favor of that paragraph, too. So I don't there is any split in terms of what they committed to.

BLITZER: The Russians were upset about a comparison that you made after the resolution was adopted, referring to that empty chair where the North Koreans had bolted right after the resolution -- after making the statement, the North Korean ambassador left, and you made a comparison between that empty chair and Khrushchev's appearance at the United Nations many years ago.

The Russian ambassador, Mr. Churkin, said, even in an emotional state, not to use an inappropriate -- not to use inappropriate analogies. He was critical of you for comparing, in effect, Russia to North Korea. Do you want to revise or amend that statement?

BOLTON: Well, I wasn't comparing Russia to North Korea. I was making a statement about the Soviet Union, which is gone now.

And I think -- I'm revealing myself as a child of the Cold War, I suppose, that I even remember that, but what it reflected, with Krushchev's shoe and North Korea, now, twice within three months, getting up and walking out of the Security Council is their attitude toward this body. And I think people can draw their own conclusions.

BLITZER: So you're not going to revise the statement?

You're standing by what you said?

BOLTON: Right.

BLITZER: And just ahead, the blame game: Who's more responsible for the current crisis with North Korea, the former president, Bill Clinton, or the current president, George W. Bush?

And what lessons should Iran learn from the current crisis with North Korea?

More of my interview with the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton. That's coming up.

Also coming up, I'll speak live with two key U.S. senators about what used to be called the axis of evil, Iraq, North Korea, and Iran.

And later, how will all this play out on election day here in the United States, just some three weeks away?

I'll ask the party chairmen, Democrat Howard Dean and Republican Ken Mehlman.

Remember, for all the politics all the time, you can sign up for the CNN political ticker. Just go to CNN.com/ticker. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Ambassador John Bolton is the face and the voice of U.S. policy at the United Nations on issues of global policy, from North Korea to Iran and beyond.

More now with my conversation this morning with the ambassador, John Bolton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little more about the reaction from North Korea. Listen to what the North Korean ambassador said after this resolution was unanimously passed. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAK GIL YON, NORTH KOREAN AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: It is gangster-like for the Security Council to have adopted, today, a coercive resolution, while neglecting the nuclear threat and moves for sanctions and pressure of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. They are totally rejecting this resolution. What do you think?

What is going to happen, now, because it looks like the North Koreans are standing adamantly firm in going forward with their nuclear program?

BOLTON: Well, let's look for a moment at what he said again. He called the action of the Security Council "gangster-like." He said the United States had manipulated the rest of the council to vote for the resolution, which I can tell you, from my own experience, doesn't bear any resemblance to the reality we live in up here.

And most of his speech was a long attack on the United States, essentially saying that, if it weren't for the United States, they wouldn't be developing nuclear weapons, proving that North Korea is part of the "blame America first" crowd.

But I just -- I think that it's instructive -- people ought to watch the entire North Korean speech, and they would get, I think, a good indication of what their attitude is. Now it is possible that that speech will not reflect the considered judgment in Pyongyang after they consider the terms of the resolution.

We certainly hope that's right. We want them to come back to the six-party talks and pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis. But we'll have to wait for a definitive response from Pyongyang.

BLITZER: I listened to the entire speech from the North Korean envoy -- North Korean ambassador, and you are right, most of it was directed at his anger, toward the United States, including this. Now let me play another clip for you, because he had -- this is a strong threat that he's making.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAK: If the United States increases pressure upon the Democratic People's Republic of Korea persistently, the DPRK will continue to take physical countermeasures, considering it as a declaration of war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Your response?

BOLTON: Well, I hope that's just rhetorical excess on their part, but it's not untypical of the way North Korea conducts its diplomacy, through threats and bullying and attempted intimidation, hoping that others will back down.

And the Council, I think, by sending a very swift, very strong, unanimous response to the nuclear test of last Sunday, demonstrates, I think, it's not going to succumb to that kind of rhetoric or intimidation.

BLITZER: Has the U.S. government definitively concluded that the North Koreans, this past week, did engage in a nuclear weapons test?

BOLTON: Well, I don't think all the evidence is in, or a conclusive judgment has been made. Others can address that. I think it is interesting that the North Koreans themselves unambiguously claimed it was a nuclear test and that the Russian Federation has said publicly, through their own national technical means, that they believe it was a nuclear test as well.

BLITZER: The president has made some strong statements warning North Korea to slow down and not go forward with, first, a missile test back in July, and now a nuclear test. I want to play a few clips of what the president of the United States has said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A clear message to the North Korean leader that, first of all, launching the missile was unacceptable.

A clear message to the leader in North Korea: Your behavior is unacceptable.

The proclaimed actions take by North Korea are unacceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. He keeps saying everything is unacceptable. The North Koreans don't seem to be overly concerned about that.

BOLTON: Well, I think they need to be concerned, in light of the unanimous passage of this Resolution 1718, combined with the unanimous 1695 a few months ago, that their isolation is growing.

And their ability to finance their leadership's luxurious lifestyle and to finance their programs of weapons of mass destruction in ballistic missiles are now imperiled by the sanctions that we have imposed, not just in the trade of the materials and technology of weapons of mass destruction but going after their financial networks too, going after their illicit activities: counterfeiting American money; selling illegal narcotics through diplomatic pouches. If we can cut off their hard currency earnings, we can put a severe crimp in their lifestyle, and more importantly -- of the leadership -- more importantly do considerable damage to their financial ability to carry on the weapons of mass destruction programs.

That's what our objective is. And I think, if we can get these sanctions implemented effectively, it will make a big difference. BLITZER: The president and you and other top officials have said you will engage in direct talks with North Korea. And you have engaged in direct talks with North Korea through the six-party dialogue but not outside of that six-party framework.

And some are asking, in order to prevent this crisis from escalating, what would be wrong with going outside the six-party dialogue and just having the United States and North Korea do what the North Koreans want and have that direct exchange of ideas?

BOLTON: Fundamentally, because we have had that direct exchange of ideas. When we say within the context of the six-party talks, the way this has worked out is that there have been meetings between North Korean and American representatives, just those two countries, in a room, alone, but at the same time that the six-party talks are also being held, which is entirely appropriate, so that the countries of the region -- South Korea, which shares a border with North Korea, Japan, which is within missile range, China and Russia, which also share borders, are fully aware of the conversations that we're having with the North Koreans.

We don't think that the neighbors should be excluded from these talks. We don't think that the talks should go on as if this were a problem between North Korea and the United States. It's obviously not. As this recent 15-0 vote by the Security Council shows, this is a problem between North Korea and the rest of the world.

BLITZER: I want your quick reaction to what Senator Hillary Clinton said earlier in the week on Monday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON, D, NEW YORK: Some of the reason we are facing this danger is because of the failed policies of the Bush administration. And I regret deeply their failure to deal with the threat posed by North Korea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You want to respond to her?

BOLTON: Well, not directly. But I'll say that when President Bush came into office, he found increasing evidence that the North Koreans were violating an agreement that they had struck in 1994, in fact, had probably been violating it almost before the ink was dry.

And he took steps to confront the North Koreans with this evidence that they were pursuing nuclear weapons through a completely separate route than had been thought before. The situation had been changing even before President Bush took office. So he was confronted with the reality that he had to deal with and that he's been attempting to deal with since then.

BLITZER: The argument, though, that Clinton administration officials will make is that there was a framework -- there was a formula to deal with that kind of violation within that existing 1994 agreement that the Bush administration unilaterally abandoned. Your response?

BOLTON: Well, of course, there was not such a framework. Let's be clear who abandoned the Agreed Framework. North Korea formally renounced it. Of course, they had shredded the agreement already by their persistent violations.

And there are a variety of other issues that you could get into. But the real fact that we need to address is that North Korea, for some 15 to 20 years, has been pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. And ignoring what was happening as they pursued it through the uranium enrichment route in the late 1990s was something that President Bush had to try and turn around, that he did turn around by sending a delegation to Pyongyang and saying to the North Koreans, you have been violating your commitment.

And the North Koreans quite forthrightly said, you are right, we have been violating our commitment. So that was a new fact that the president had to consider, and he did consider.

BLITZER: One final question, Mr. Ambassador, before I let you go. No one is watching this whole crisis more closely than the leadership in Iran, which is pursuing its own nuclear program.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said on Tuesday, the Iranian nation will continue its path of dignity based on resistance, wisdom, and without fear. What message do you hope that the Iranians will learn, will accept from the North Korean crisis?

BOLTON: I hope the lesson they learn is that if they continue to pursue nuclear weapons, they will face the same kind of isolation and restrictions that we've just imposed on the North Koreans. The Iranians as well could have dialogue with the United States. They could enjoy a completely different relationship with the United States if they would suspend their uranium enrichment activities.

This is an unparalleled offer that President Bush's administration has made that the Iranians spurned because they seemed to be obsessed with the idea of getting nuclear weapons. And as long as they pursue that course, we'll have to respond accordingly.

BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

BOLTON: Glad to be here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And up next, I'll ask two key U.S. senators, Republican Chuck Hagel and Democrat Carl Levin, about the current crisis with North Korea and the escalating violence in Iraq.

But up next, we'll have a quick check of what's in the news right now. And this vote for our North American viewers, only about 90 minutes away or so, "This Week at War." CNN's John Roberts checks in with our correspondents in Baghdad, Tokyo, the Pentagon and the White House. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. A North Korean nuke, new warnings about the risks in Iraq, scandal in the U.S. Congress, all in the spotlight this week.

Helping us sort it all out, two powerful U.S. senators: in New York, Democratic senator Carl Levin of Michigan; he's the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

And with us here in Washington, Republican senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committee.

Senators, welcome back to "Late Edition."

And Senator Levin, let me start with you. Do you have a problem with anything you heard from the U.S. ambassador of the United Nations, John Bolton?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Yes, I have a problem with just about everything that he said, frankly. He thinks the U.N. resolution is a strong resolution. I'm afraid it's not. I wish it were. But the Chinese already said that they're not going to enforce inspections against goods going into North Korea without total Chinese support. There's no way a sanction regime can work.

And then, near the end, he said that, well, we have no problem sitting down with the North Koreans, just one-on-one; well, we've done that. Wolf, I really have got to tell you, I am utterly amazed to hear our U.N. ambassador say that, when just a few months ago, the president repeated what he has said over and over again.

And here's the way the president the way put it. He said "One thing I'm not going to let us do is get caught in the trap of sitting at a table alone with the North Koreans."

Now, it's incredible to me that our ambassador would make the representation that he did on your show. It's also a mistake, in my judgment, not to sit down bilaterally with the North Koreans, providing our allies want us to do that, and they do.

They've been urging us -- the South Koreans have urged us, repeatedly, to sit down, one-on-one, with the North Koreans.

Instead, the president presents this false choice, that we're either going to go it alone or do this with allies. There's a third choice, which is to have bilateral talks with the North Koreans, providing our allies want us to do that, which they do.

BLITZER: Let me let Senator Hagel respond. Go ahead, Senator.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Great powers engage, Wolf. We do need to engage the North Koreans, as we need to engage the Iranians and the Syrians. A U.N. sanctions resolution is fine. It is limited. As Carl said, it is weak. We heard on your program about 15 minutes ago what the Chinese ambassador said. Essentially he said we're not interested in enforcing that resolution. And China is the most important country in dealing with the North Koreans, with that sanction, because they share a 900-mile border.

But the United States must, now, find a resolution to this issue. We're not going to resolve the issue with North Korea through a sanction.

BLITZER: Let me get this straight, Senator Hagel. You think the United States should engage in direct discussions with the North Koreans outside the framework of what's called the six-party negotiations?

HAGEL: Well, obviously, you keep your allies and your friends together. That six-party talks format is important; there's no question about it.

But the fact is, we are the great power here. We are the adult power in the world. It is because of the United States, our action or inaction, that there will be a resolution here.

And it is rather clear to me, part of the process in getting to that resolution is a bilateral conversation. Now, I know what Ambassador Bolton said about we do talk; we have talked, but those are side talks. Those are part of the six-party talks.

We have got to get to the core of the issue. If we do not do that, we are going to find the world, daily, in a far more dangerous situation.

And it does include the Iranians, and it does include the Syrians. Yes, North Korea is separate in this case, but we have a wide scope here that we're dealing with.

And just as Jim Baker said last week, we always must engage our enemies, because that is the only sure way to drive toward the core of a resolution.

BLITZER: James Baker, the former secretary of state, during the first Bush presidency, Bush 41, as it's called.

Your colleague, John McCain, was very tough this week, Senator Levin, in saying, you know what, there were a lot of direct bilateral talks between the U.S. and North Korea during the Clinton administration, and look what it got the world. Listen to what McCain said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): Every single time the Clinton administration warned the Koreans not to do something, not to kick out the IAEA inspectors, not to remove the fuel rods from their reactor, they did it. And they were rewarded every single time, by the Clinton administration, with further talks. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was speaking in your home state of Michigan. You want to respond to Senator McCain's charge?

LEVIN: Well, the Clinton administration succeeded at least partially. They succeeded in keeping the plutonium canned, under inspections, so it could not be used. And they succeed in doing that for eight years.

When the North Koreans broke out, they broke out in a way which is obviously unacceptable, but in a less dangerous way, which is trying to figure out how they could upgrade their uranium. So there was partial success.

And by the way, that's not just me saying that. Colin Powell, former secretary of state, gave the Clinton administration credit -- even after the uranium discovery was made, he gave the Clinton administration credit for at least partial success with North Korea.

Compare that to the total failure of the Bush administration relative to North Korean policy.

BLITZER: Well, let me read to you what Madeleine Albright, who was the secretary of state during the Clinton administration, said this week.

She said, "During the two terms of the Clinton administration, there were no nuclear weapons tests by North Korea, no new plutonium production and no new nuclear weapons development in Pyongyang. Through our policy of constructive engagement, the world was safer. President Bush chose a different path, and the results are evident for all to see."

Do you blame the president of the United States, Senator Hagel, for the current crisis with North Korea?

HAGEL: Well, I think we should put all this behind us. I know this is a political season. I know both parties, and candidates everywhere, are trying to score as many points as they can over the next three weeks.

But the fact is, this is far too important to be held captive to a political agenda. The Clinton framework of agreement they negotiated in 1994 did score some very successful and important points. Carl noted those. And the fact is, and we now know this, the North Koreans cheated on some of those. But we've got to move forward now. We are where we are, and it further divides our country and the world and our allies, and it makes us look a little silly, and we isolate ourselves, if we hold this captive to a political debate in this country.

We've got to find a resolution...

BLITZER: The blame game is in full force...

HAGEL: It is.

BLITZER: ... here in Washington.

HAGEL: Well, it is. And again, I understand that. I'm part of the political process, and I have a clear appreciation of that.

But the fact is, some consensus of purpose and focus has to be brought together with our allies. And we are the leaders of that. And we have got to take what's worked and understand what's not worked.

Both administrations have had failures on this. There is no question about that. But there have been some successes, too. Let's build on those. Let's bring some bipartisan focus together. I hope, after the voters speak on November 7, we'll be able to do that.

BLITZER: All right, and we're going to take a quick break, but we have a lot more to talk about, Senators. Please stay with us. We're going to talk about the upcoming election. Is it a referendum on President Bush?

The war in Iraq, scandal in Congress, much more coming up with these two United States senators.

And for our North American viewers, don't miss the "War of Words" segment with John Roberts coming up on "This Week at War." That airs at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

And this additional programming note: Tomorrow night on Larry King live, he captured the world's attention with false claims about JonBenet Ramsey. You've heard all the theories. Now John Mark Karr tells his story. That's coming up tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern on Larry King live.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank you for what you have done, and I encourage you to continue to work to turn out the vote, come this November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush this week rallying the party faithful to boost Republican turnout on election day, now only about three weeks away. Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're continuing our conversation with Democratic Senator Carl Levin and Republican Senator Chuck Hagel.

Senator Levin, you just got back from a visit to Iraq. And I wonder if you agree with what the new British Army commander, Sir General Richard Dannatt, said this week. Among other things, he said, it's time to "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems. Whatever consent we may have had in the first place has largely turned to intolerance."

Is that your bottom line as well?

LEVIN: It has been for a long time, and we have to find a way out of there sooner rather than later. He spoke up, and I think it's great that we have top professional officers like him, whether here or in Britain, that do speak out, because they know best.

They've been to war. They understand. And what our leaders in Iraq, our uniformed leaders in Iraq, tell us is basically the same thing. There is no military solution to this conflict. Now, either the insurgency or the sectarian violence requires a political solution, and that we've got to put pressure on the Iraqis to take over their own country.

If they're going to have a civil war, they're going to have to do it without us, and what the leaders, our uniformed leaders in Iraq, really tell us is that we've got to find a way to put some pressure on the Iraqis to make these tough decisions. And what they're going to do by the end of the year, and I'm talking here about General Casey and others, is they're going to take a review of our whole situation and come up with some recommendations, relative to transferring authority to the Iraqis. This is long overdue. We've got to focus Iraqi leadership attention on this by telling them we need to begin a phased redeployment of American troops from Iraq within the next few months.

BLITZER: You know, Senator Levin was in Iraq, Senator Hagel, with John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who came back also with a rather gloomy assessment of what he saw and heard from U.S. military commanders and others in Iraq. Listen to what Senator Warner, Republican of Virginia, said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR JOHN WARNER, R-VIRGINIA: In two or three months, if this thing hasn't come to fruition and if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function, I think it's a responsibility of our government internally to determine, is there a change of course that we should take?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I don't know about you, but I was pretty surprised by Senator Warner's comments, given the fact that from day one he's been an ardent supporter of the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq.

HAGEL: Well, I agree with Chairman Warner's assessment. Carl essentially said the same thing. We are going to have to find a new strategy. Let's start with this very clear understanding, and Carl noted it. The future of Iraq is going to be determined by the Iraqi people. It will not be determined here in Washington.

Now, that is a fact of life as far as I'm concerned, and we are now in a situation where we have very few options. Our options are limited. The American people are not going to continue to support, sustain a policy that puts American troops in the middle of a civil war.

Let's also examine what the Iraqi parliament did about three days ago, when they voted to go ahead and allow the 18 provinces in Iraq to start thinking about breaking up into autonomous regions. Now, they can't activate that for 18 months, but these are the kind of political decisions that are going to have to be made by the Iraqis. We do need to change some kind of course here.

Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton's commission is going to come back in by the end of the year with some new recommendations. That's a hopeful sign, finally, that we're getting another point of view. Also, this issue is going to be forced upon us by the U.N. because by the end of this year, coalition forces, the legal mandate to have U.N. forces in there, including the United States, is up.

So we need to find a new strategy, a way out of Iraq, because the entire Middle East, wolf, is more combustible than it's been probably since 1948, and more dangerous, and we're in the middle of it.

BLITZER: You know, Senator Levin, the president describes your policy for Iraq, other Democrats' policy, as simply one of cut and run. Listen to what he said this past week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: If we were to abandon that country before the Iraqis could defend their young democracy, the terrorists would take control of Iraq and establish a new safe haven from which to launch new attacks on America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Whether it was like this to begin with, it is now, he says, the central point, the central front in the war on terror, and the United States can simply not abandon Iraq. You want to respond to that?

LEVIN: Yeah, we're on a downward spiral in Iraq. And we're not succeeding in Iraq. And the way that, hopefully, that we can succeed is by pressuring the Iraqis to make the political compromises relative to resources and relative to power-sharing, which only they can make. Chuck Hagel's absolutely right, the Iraqis have got to make these decisions. They're political decisions.

The current course is a course which is not working. And when that is true, you try to change that course, change the direction, to try to get to something that will work. The only thing that will work here is pressing the Iraqis to make those difficult decisions and compromises that only they can make.

BLITZER: You're a Republican, Senator Hagel, and clearly, you're probably worried about going from the majority status to the minority status in the U.S. Senate. If you lose six seats, you're going to be a minority senator as opposed to a majority senator.

Here's some recent polls that we've had that could explain why Republicans are in deep trouble right now in the Senate and the House. How is President Bush handling Iraq? Thirty-two percent of the American public approve of the way he's doing it. Sixty-six percent disapprove. Has the war in Iraq made the U.S. safer from terrorism? Thirty-six percent say yes, 53 percent say no. Did the Bush administration deliberately mislead the public about how the Iraq war is going? Fifty-eight percent of the American people say yes, 41 percent say no.

You add up those polls, and a lot of other poll numbers, and you as a Republican have to be deeply concerned about what's going to happen on November 7th.

HAGEL: Democracies force events and actions in leadership. The Republican Party is the majority party. We have controlled government almost six years, in the Congress almost 12 years, so we're accountable. We're all accountable, each of us. And this business is about accountability.

I hope that the Republicans win enough seats that we stay in the majority on November 7th. It's up to the people. And that is the essence of a democracy and the strength of a democracy. If the people of this country think we need to change course in every way and change leadership, they'll make that determination.

We're accountable. And yes, I'm a Republican, and yes, I want to stay in the majority. But we have to earn the trust and the confidence of the American people.

And I don't think in a political way or in any substantive way, the Democrats have produced clear alternatives to some of these big problems. Are we going to have to take this responsibility for governing? Yes, we are.

But that's a democracy. And I would hope that after November 7th, Wolf, whatever happens, whether Carl becomes the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee or not, that this country can come back together with some consensus over the next two years, and deal with these big problems that we face.

BLITZER: We're going to have to leave it on that note. Senator Hagel, thanks very much for coming in. Senator Levin, thanks to you as well.

And coming up on "Late Edition," I'll explore more of the political landscape with the two party chairmen. Howard Dean gives us the Democratic strategy to regain control of Congress. Ken Mehlman has the Republican plan to try to hold on to the majority in the House and the Senate.

And with just three weeks until the 2006 congressional elections, stay with CNN for the best political team on television for all your campaign coverage. You can also find the latest political news, including highlights from all the Sunday talk shows, on our CNN political ticker. Just go to cnn.com/ticker.

Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Ban Ki-moon, what's his story? The South Korean diplomat is set to become the United Nations' next secretary general, succeeding Kofi Annan. Ban is currently South Korea's foreign minister and has played a prominent role in the six-party talks to stop the standoff in North Korea. Fluent in English and French, the 62-year-old Ban holds a graduate degree from Harvard University. As the head of the U.N., he'll oversee a $5 billion budget and over 90,000 peace-keepers.

People close to Ban say his goal in life is to be the world's best diplomat. He's scheduled to assume the U.N. secretary general duties on January 1st. Anna Politkovskaya, what's her story? Hundreds of mourners paid respects to the Russian journalist, who was buried this week after being gunned down in her Moscow apartment building. One of Russia's most outspoken writers, Politkovskaya was a fierce critic of the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia's war in Chechnya. Her work won her many accolades, including Amnesty International's global award for human rights journalism. Politkovskaya was shot four times at close range, and there are indications that her death was a contract killing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's take a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines here in the United States. Newsweek has a look at how for 50 years, North Korea plotted to go nuclear. Time magazine features a story on why Barack Obama could be the next president of the United States. And U.S. News and World Report looks at science and the soul and how new research is challenging our cherished ideas of self and the human spirit.

Time now for your e-mail. Jeff from Las Vegas visited the CNN Election Express Yourself and writes this: "It seems that Bush is planning on an attack in the near future by gaining alliances with China and going on the news with a list of reasons why we should go into North Korea. When we go into North Korea, will our military be too thinly spread?"

The CNN Election Express Yourself gives people a close-up political experience as it visits more than 13 American cities. It is now on its way to Kansas City, Missouri and will arrive on Wednesday the 18th. As always, we welcome your comments. The e-mail address, lateedition@cnn.com.

There's much more ahead coming up on "Late Edition." Will the latest sex scandal on Capitol Hill topple the speaker, Dennis Hastert, and the Republican Party? We'll ask the party chairmen, Howard Dean and Ken Mehlman. They're standing by live.

And I'll follow up with Ron Brownstein, Candy Crowley, Stu Rothenberg. They've been keeping a close eye on the upcoming elections. And don't forget, for our North American viewers, right after "Late Edition" at 1 p.m. Eastern, John Roberts hosts "This Week at War." Stay with us. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: They're going to get in that booth, and they're going to be thinking about, you know, how best to secure the country from attack. And, you know, how best to keep the economy growing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER (voice over): With just 23 days to go until the U.S. midterm elections, the commander in chief is out trying to shape the issues for the American public.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: This Foley issue bothered a lot of people, including me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But the GOP is struggling to regain footing after the Mark Foley scandal. Could it lead to a shift in the balance of power on Capitol Hill?

The party chairmen join me, Republican Ken Mehlman and Democrat Howard Dean.

How will it all play out at the polls?

Expert analysis from our panel, Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report and CNN's senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Welcome back. We'll be speaking live to the two major political party chairmen here in the United States, Howard Dean and Ken Mehlman. That's coming up in just a few moments.

First, though, let's go to CNN's Fredricka Whitfield for a quick check of what's in the news right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: In Iraq, deadly attacks, as Fred just pointed out, continue against U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians, with apparently no end in sight.

One key insurgent group, though, has now broken its usual silence. Our correspondent Michael Ware is joining us with an exclusive report. He's joining us from Baghdad.

Michael, tell our viewers in the United States and around the world what you are picking up, now, for the first time. MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we have here is, amidst this wave of dreadful violence during the holy month of Ramadan offensive by the insurgents, we have one of Iraq's leading insurgent groups, part of one of the most powerful homegrown alliances of guerrilla organizations, reiterating its offer to negotiate with U.S. forces for what effectively would be a truce or a cease-fire.

What we have is the Islamic Army of Iraq, one of the backbones of the insurgency. In an interview conducted by what's purported to be its spokesman, Ibrahim al-Shimary (ph), with CNN.

CNN forwarded a number of questions through known Islamic Army channels to the leadership of the insurgent group. And their response to CNN came back in a professionally produced videotape with the spokesman answering CNN's questions. On the issue of negotiations, he says that the Islamic army is again prepared to negotiate with U.S. forces.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNKNOWN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We in the Islamic Army, as we have announced many times, do not reject the principle of negotiations with the Americans, but only if the Americans are serious.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WARE: In this wide ranging interview, Wolf, he sets two condition conditions for those negotiations, a time-table approved by Congress for the withdrawal of U.S. forces and a formal recognition by the U.S. of the Iraqi insurgency.

It was a wide- ranging interview, where the Islamic army canvasses the role of Al Qaida, the civil war here in Iraq and, most pertinently, what it considers to be the driving force behind the Sunni insurgency, which is Iranian influence in Iraq.

The speaker talks directly to the American people, urging them to question President Bush's record on Iraq. Wolf?

BLITZER: I take it that the Iraqi insurgents blocked out this insurgent leader's face. That wasn't what we were doing. Is that right?

WARE: Absolutely, Wolf. We sent written questions. We have known channels of communication with this very powerful insurgent group, which has been on the guerrilla radar, here in the war in Iraq since 2003.

So it's one of the oldest, strongest and most active groups, representing a key faction within the insurgency.

And the video that came back, much like their propaganda videos that we've seen, is rather slick. It has a setting akin to a studio. It's professionally lit and it has the group's logo or watermark on the screen. So this is the form of the answers that they sent back to CNN's questions. Wolf? BLITZER: All right, Michael Ware, doing some excellent reporting for us. Michael, we're going to check back with you, so stay tuned for that, Michael Ware, doing some exclusive reporting for us, as he so often does.

Let's move on, though, to some other important issues we're following here, only about three weeks to go before election day in the United States.

Is it a popularity contest for the president, a referendum on the war in Iraq?

Is it reaction to the congressional page scandal or is it just local to the core?

We're talking today to the chairmen of both political parties. First, let's speak with the Democratic party chairman, the former presidential candidate Howard Dean, also the former governor of his home state of Vermont.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction to what Michael Ware was just reporting exclusively.

Should the U.S. be doing what this insurgent leader is demanding, offering a timeline, a withdrawal schedule to get out of the Iraq?

DEAN: Well, here's the problem. What are we doing in a country where terrorists think that, in order to end this civil war, they have to negotiate with the United States?

It kind of implies that we're really the problem there and that that's what most Iraqis believe, which, in fact, unfortunately, is true.

So you know, I do believe what Jim Baker says, that we ought to talk to our adversaries. But I think that we've seen these propaganda videos in the past. We don't know if this is real or not.

The real problem with the Iraq policy is not that we are not negotiating with the terrorists; it's that the Iraqi government, which we're propping up, is nonfunctional and that we're in the middle of a civil war.

BLITZER: But the bottom line -- forget about this propaganda video, if in fact, that is what it is -- should the U.S. have a hard and fast timeline for pulling out its troops from Iraq?

DEAN: The U.S. should establish some sort of a timeline. This is not what the president calls cut and run. This is what the president refuses to acknowledge, that we cannot stay there forever.

The president has said that we ought to stay there and leave this problem to the next president. I think that is not only irresponsible and doesn't show leadership; it also doesn't make any sense.

That was the approach, in Vietnam, under Nixon and Agnew, which this administration reminds me of a great deal. All it did was resulted in 10,000 more deaths of American soldiers, who were doing the best they can over there.

If we really want to support our soldiers, we'll do what the military wants to do, which was put in more troops when we went, and now, many military people believe that we can't sustain what we're doing over there. And I agree with the military.

BLITZER: It's only a little bit more than three weeks to go before the elections November 7. The Republicans are putting out their best lines right now.

I want you to listen to what the vice president, Dick Cheney said, to his conservative Republican base this year, warning of what would happen if you and the Democrats were to assume the majority in the Senate and House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If the Democrats take control, American families could face an immense tax increase and the economy would sustain a major hit. As the president has said, this nation needs more than a temporary economic expansion. So we need more than temporary tax relief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The bottom line is that, if Democrats are elected, the warning goes out to the American people: get ready to pay higher taxes.

DEAN: That's nonsense. We have no interest in doing that. In fact, 80 percent of Americans have seen their income go down. The reason the economy doesn't work for the president is only his friends have benefited from increased earnings and corporate earnings and so forth.

What we're interested in doing is building a health care system that works for everybody.

Initially, I think what we'll do is raise the minimum wage, which the president refused to do without giving tax breaks to his contributors.

We're not going to be the party of tax breaks to oil companies and insurance companies. We're going to be the part of middle class tax fairness. That does not include any increases of taxes on middle- class Americans of any kind.

You know, we always see the Republicans coming out -- your country's going to be blown up if the Democrats take over; your taxes are going to go up. They're desperate. The truth is we believe that we ought to increase the pay of average middle class Americans and working class Americans. We believe we ought to do something about their health care.

And we also believe there ought to be real ethics reform in Congress, which the Republicans refused to do.

BLITZER: Which tax cuts the Bush administration implemented do you want to see eliminated or just allowed to run its course and go away?

DEAN: You know, we may not need -- the principal tax cuts that we need to eliminate are the tax breaks that the president gave to ExxonMobil and the other oil companies, and the secret tax breaks they gave in the middle of the night to HMOs and insurance companies. That would save us $36 billion a year. We plan to make sure that middle- class people pay less taxes, not more, and that they make more money.

BLITZER: What about the tax cuts for the upper-income brackets?

DEAN: Well, you know, I'm not interested in raising anybody's taxes. What I'm interested in is ethical reform and honesty in government. I'm interested in balancing the budget, which we haven't -- which the Republicans have made a mess of. I'm interested in restoring moral values to the Congress of the United States. Those are the things that I think you're going to see high on the Democrats' agenda, should we win three weeks from now.

BLITZER: Here's what the president's top political advisor Karl Rove said this week. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: The problem for them is that their views have consequences. And their policies would make America more, not less, vulnerable. In war, weakness emboldens your opponents, and it's an invitation for disaster. You cannot will the end without willing the means to an end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. That's another strategy that Republicans have, to go after Democrats on the issue of homeland security, national security. That they're better at fighting terrorists than Democrats are.

DEAN: I think the American people have been lied to by this group just one too many times. Here's the president's and the Republicans' record on defense. The president came in and identified three countries as a problem. Iraq, Iran and Korea.

Six years later, we're in the middle of a civil war in Iraq we can't get out of. We're in the middle of a testing program by North Korea for nuclear weapons. Not one additional nuclear weapon was added when Bill Clinton was president. But now George Bush comes along, and they're testing nuclear weapons, and Iran is about to get nuclear weapons. Osama bin Laden, who is responsible for the murder of 3,000 Americans, is at large.

I would argue that the Democrats are likely to be much stronger own defense than Republicans. I think they're weak on defense. They talk tough to scare the American people at election time, and in the meantime don't do anything.

Look at the U.N. resolution. Big thing I saw on all the talk shows this morning, Josh Bolten, oh what a great U.N. resolution. The Chinese have already, before the ink is dry, said they're not going to search any North Korean trucks going into North Korea.

This a toothless administration. They have not defended the United States of America, and we need a tough and smart defense policy, not just talk tough at election time.

BLITZER: John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., not Josh Bolten. Josh Bolten...

DEAN: Oh, pardon me.

BLITZER: ... is the White House chief of staff. They are not related...

DEAN: That's true.

BLITZER: ... although their last name is the same. I want you, though, to hear what the president said this week about the Democrats also harping on this issue of national security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: There's a difference of opinion in Washington, if you listen closely to some of the leaders of the Democrat Party, it sounds like, it sounds like they think the best way to protect the American people is wait until we're attacked again. That's not the way it's going to be under my administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that the strategy of the Democratic party, wait to be attacked...

DEAN: Of course not. Of course not.

BLITZER: ... and then simply respond?

DEAN: That's George Bush having been basically incompetent in managing the budget, incompetent in managing natural disasters, incompetent in -- his party being incompetent in managing attacks on children -- or seductions of children in the Congress. And now incompetent in defending America.

They talk big at election time. They don't deliver. We want is the policy of Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt and Jack Kennedy: Be tough on defense, but be smart. Be able to tell the difference. And listen to -- between a situation where we can win and a situation we shouldn't get involved in, such as a civil war in Iraq.

Listen to our military, which nobody in the administration did other than Colin Powell, who was fired for his trouble. We can do better than this, and we will do better than what's been going on in the last six years, both in defending America, in having a real economy where 80 percent of the Americans benefit, not get hurt. And in responding to natural disasters the way Bill Clinton and James Lee Witt would have, had they been in power when Hurricane Katrina hit.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Governor. But I want you to respond to Senator John McCain, arguably the front-runner, at least one of the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He really slammed the Democrats, the Clinton administration hard this past week on the issue of North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZONA: We had a carrots and no sticks policy that only encouraged bad behavior. When one carrot didn't work, we offered another. Now we are facing the consequences of the failed Clinton administration policies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is he the Republican you fear most in 2008?

DEAN: Not if he keeps talking like that. He's clearly pandering to the right-wing base in the Republican Party. The truth is, and Senator McCain knows this very well, is that not one nuclear weapon was added to the North Korea arsenal while Bill Clinton was president. Under this president, we believe the number of nuclear weapons have quadrupled, and they have now set off a test.

The truth is, you can't trust Republicans to defend America because of just exactly like statements of the kind Senator McCain just made. They're willing to say things for election purposes but not willing to stand up and do the hard work every single day of making the tough decisions where you have to defend America. The smart decisions, not getting involved in civil wars but standing up in places like Afghanistan and North Korea where it really matters.

BLITZER: Howard Dean is the chairman of the Democratic Party. Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

DEAN: Thanks so much for having me on, Wolf.

BLITZER: And up next, we'll cross the aisle to the Republican side and ask the chairman of the Republican Party, Ken Mehlman, whether his luck and hard work will pay off one more time.

And will a disgraced congressman in the congressional page scandal make a difference? I'll ask our political panel, Ron Brownstein, Candy Crowley and Stu Rothenberg. And at the end of the hour, our special "In Case You Missed It" segment takes a closer look at who said what on the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

For our North American viewers, coming up in the next hours, John Roberts takes a special "This Week at War" look at the election impact of the North Korean nuclear test. Much more "Late Edition" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now, the final weeks of campaign 2006. Both national parties pushing hard to try to get control of the U.S. Congress. We just heard from the Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean. Let's get a different perspective now. The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, is joining us. Ken, welcome to "Late Edition."

KEN MEHLMAN, RNC CHAIRMAN: Thank you for having me. I appreciate the opportunity.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about one reason why the Republicans are in deep trouble, as you well know, in the House and the Senate going into this election.

How have the GOP leaders handled the Mark Foley matter?

Seventeen percent of the American public, according to our CNN poll, say "appropriately." Seventy-five percent say "inappropriately."

The widespread assumption is that there is some sort of cover-up going on for Mark Foley.

How do you deal with that kind of issue, only a few weeks before the election?

MEHLMAN: Well, Wolf, I think you answer with the truth. The fact is the speaker and our leadership could not have been more aggressive. The moment they found out about this, they gave Mark Foley the political death penalty.

They said, get out of Congress or we're going to throw you out. They called in the FBI and the Department of Justice to investigate.

They tried to bring in Louis Freeh to make sure the program was appropriate in the future. I think when people find this out, they're going to appreciate it.

I traveled around the country this past week, to a number of competitive states. What people were talking about there was whether their tax cuts were going to stay in place or taxes were going to increase.

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second. Because there are Republican aides on the Hill who are now testifying, suggesting that it was at least years a ago and maybe even six years ago that Foley's behavior toward these young congressional pages was a problem.

MEHLMAN: Well, I think -- there's an investigation. I trust the Ethics Committee. I trust the Department of Justice. I trust the FBI to look into this. If people knew about it, they should be held accountable. Mr. Emmanuel was on another of the shows last week...

BLITZER: Congressman Rahm Emanuel.

MEHLMAN: Congressman Emanuel was asked about it. And he said, "I didn't see it." He didn't say whether he knew about it or not. Let's find out what everyone knew, what everyone saw. And let's make sure there is total accountability.

BLITZER: But if Republican leaders knew that there were inappropriate contacts, whether e-mail or whatever, between Mark Foley and these 16, 17-year-old boys, these individuals should go as well, I guess?

MEHLMAN: I think that we need to let the investigation go forward. I think anybody that knew, anybody that had information that that was going on, which is outrageous and unacceptable, needs to be held accountable.

BLITZER: Let me read this, from an editorial: "The Republicans were wrong. They really ought to have acted like Republicans from the first signs of questionable conduct. They should have pushed Foley out long ago. His district is so Republican, any Republican could win it. Instead, needlessly, the Republicans behaved too much like the other party, not the way their own base would have wanted them to act. They did not grasp the peril they were in."

That was not the New York Times. It was not The Washington Post. Do you know what publication wrote that?

MEHLMAN: The National Review.

BLITZER: The National Review, a very good conservative publication. They make a good point.

MEHLMAN: They make a very good point. I disagree with the premise, though, that Republicans knew about it. i can tell you, as the Republican chairman, this is a seat that we have unquestionably would have won.

I think we still have a chance to win it because it's a 54 percent Bush district.

But the fact is, it was in nobody's interest to, as soon as this information was out there, not to provide it. We need to get to the bottom of it. We need to let the investigation go forward.

And we need to remember that what this speaker did and what this Congress did was, the moment they found out about it, they gave the individual in question, who's responsible, the political death penalty. BLITZER: Maybe you can help explain this e-mail that, now, has surfaced, between Mark Foley, the former congressman, and the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush.

Before you became the party chairman, you worked for the Bush- Cheney campaign. You were, before that, the political director inside the White House, during the first term.

Let me read to you from this e-mail. "Have I done something to offend the White House... I am always getting the shaft... The came to Ft. Pierce a few weeks ago and said I was not allowed to attend, yet Joe Negron is there -- Joe Negron is the new Republican candidate for that district -- Tomorrow POTUS (President Bush) is in Martin County and I am told I am not allowed to be there, either. I can't quite figure out what I have done, but this is a continuing pattern of slights. I have constantly put the president in the best possible light on everything from Haiti to hurricanes. Sorry to trouble you and I wouldn't if this wasn't so frequent."

What was the problem?

Why was he getting a snub by the president and the White House before the election?

This is at the end of the September 2004.

MEHLMAN: I don't recall Mr. Foley getting the snub. I, at the time, was the campaign manager for the re-election campaign. I wasn't focused on those issues.

But I think it sounds like -- I don't know the specifics of it -- he was worried about it. My understanding is that Governor Bush replied back that there's nothing to worry about. So I'm not exactly sure. I can't explain it.

BLITZER: Was it, potentially, the fact that he was gay, even though he had never acknowledged it, that it was widely assumed by a lot of people that he was gay?

Was that a potential reason why he might have been snubbed?

MEHLMAN: Absolutely not. The fact is -- again, I don't know the specifics here -- a lot of congressmen sometimes think, because they're not at this event or if they are at this event, they might be snubbed.

I can assure he wasn't being snubbed, as far as I know. And I think the e-mail probably was inaccurate.

BLITZER: There's a story in the Los Angeles Times today that directly involves you. And I want to give you a chance to respond to it.

It suggests that an official at the State Department was fired, a man named Allen Stayman, who was involved in the tiny Pacific Island nations of the Northern Mariana Islands. He was fired because Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Republican lobbyist, now confessed felon, came to you and basically said, fire this guy; he's not allowing the policies in the Northern Mariana Islands that Abramoff and his clients wanted.

"Newly disclosed e-mails," the L.A. Times reports, "suggest that the ax feel after intervention by one of the highest officials at the White House: Ken Mehlman, on behalf of one of the most influential lobbyists in town, Jack Abramoff."

You were then the political director.

MEHLMAN: I was.

BLITZER: Is that true?

MEHLMAN: It is not true. And I'm not sure that those e-mails suggested that. First of all, I did not have the authority, as the political director, to fire anybody. It wasn't my decision.

As political director -- now second of all, I also don't recall the specifics of this matter involving Mr. Stayman. But as a matter of course, and certainly the first term, I had, frequently, people come to see me with political issues they wanted talked about.

BLITZER: Including Jack Abramoff?

MEHLMAN: Or personnel issues that they wanted talked about. And when they would come see me, what I would do...

BLITZER: Jack Abramoff, also?

MEHLMAN: Again, I don't recall that specific matter that he came to me for, but I had a way of dealing with all these matters, which is to let the policy-makers or the personnel deciders know exactly what people said. And they made the decisions.

What's interesting about this, though, Wolf, while I don't recall it specifically, I have seen some articles since then, since this came out. And what they suggest is that Mr. Stayman violated the Hatch Act, which is a federal law that prohibits employees of the government engaging in politics on their official clock.

And it also suggests he may have been working with the DNC on some things. So while I certainly didn't have the authority to fire anybody and I don't recall this specific matter, it does appear, from what other news reports indicate that there was apparently cause for Mr. Stayman to be removed.

BLITZER: Because, in the L.A. Times, it quotes an e-mail from one of Abramoff's associates, as saying, "Mehlman said he would get him fired.

MEHLMAN: Yes, Mehlman didn't have that authority. Mehlman wouldn't say he had that authority. And remember, you're dealing with individuals who, as we know, have pled guilty to defrauding their clients by saying they did things they weren't able to get done.

My job as a political director, and any job as a political director, is to hear from people, whether it's about personnel or about policy, and make sure that the policy-makers understand their concerns.

BLITZER: When you were the political director, did you work with, did you know David Kuo?

MEHLMAN: I did.

BLITZER: David Kuo has now written a book. He's going to be on CNN tomorrow, in our program, "The Situation Room." Among other things, it says this: "National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and the were dismissed behind their backs and described as "ridiculous," "out of control," and just plain "goofy."

That's from his book, "Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction."

He was the deputy director of what was called the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives."

He says that the president, Karl Rove said one thing in public to try to get that religious conservative base on board, but behind their backs they were ridiculing them.

MEHLMAN: That's ridiculous. Anyone who knows the president and Karl Rove and others at the White House know that's ridiculous. Someone said to me, don't you think that the president is a conservative Christian and someone who has a strong philosophy, based on his faith and based on, also, his politics?

I've seen some of the stuff that was alleged in Mr. Kuo's book is just not true. You know, Wolf, the first place this president started his campaign was at a faith-based event in Indianapolis, Indiana.

And one of the reasons people like myself so strongly supported this president was because we loved his vision that said, we as conservatives, as compassionate conservatives can help people in need. But the best way to help them may not be bureaucracy but may be a church or a synagogue or a mosque or the Salvation Army.

This was essential and is essential to this president's philosophy and his agenda. It's something he's very proud of. And I can tell you, being part of his team, I'm very proud that we've worked hard and pushed that issue very strongly.

BLITZER: Here are some poll numbers, getting back to the election, only a little bit more than three weeks away.

Who does a better job on the economy?

According to our CNN poll, Democrats get 54 percent. Republicans get 35 percent.

Who does a better job on Iraq?

Democrats 51 percent, Republicans 34 percent.

And this, perhaps most worrisome for you as a good Republican: Who does a better job on terrorism? -- which should be, at least has been a very strong issue for Republicans: 45 percent for the Democrats; 40 percent for Republicans.

What's going to happen November 7, given those poll numbers?

MEHLMAN: I'm confident we're going to maintain our majorities in the House and the Senate. And here's why. What the American people are going to vote on -- they want the economy; wonder where the economy is. Democrat have said that they will raise taxes, across- the-board tax increases.

BLITZER: You've just heard the chairman of the Democratic party say "not on the middle class."

MEHLMAN: Well, that's what he says. But the guy that writes the tax laws, a guy named Charlie Rangel, the week they got out of town, said across-the-board tax increases.

Nancy Pelosi, who'd be speaker, has a record of being in favor of across-the-board tax increases.

The war on terror -- if American believe we're at war, think about what we saw this last week. North Korea tests a nuclear device, tests long-range missiles.

Republicans stand in favor of missile defense to protect us. Even after 9/11, most Democrats voted to cut missile defense, just like they voted against the Patriot Act, just like they voted against the interrogation effort, just like they voted against the surveillance program, and just like they want to set an artificial deadline, which people like James Baker and Senator Warner and others have acknowledged would surrender Iraq to terrorist enemies.

It's the wrong approach, and the American people aren't going to say in the face of war we need to be weaker, and in the face of economic challenge we need higher taxes and more regulations and more lawsuits. The Democrats have promised both.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to leave it right there because we're out of time.

MEHLMAN: Thanks a lot.

BLITZER: Ken Mehlman, you're going to be a busy guy...

MEHLMAN: I am.

BLITZER: ... the next three weeks. We'll talk early and often, as they say.

MEHLMAN: Looking forward to it. BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.

And when we come back, we're still on the political beat. I'll be speaking to Ron Brownstein, Candy Crowley, Stu Rothenberg for the inside story on these final weeks before the election here in the United States.

But up next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on today's deadly violence in Iraq. And remember, another way to keep up with all the election news, sign up for the CNN political ticker. Go to cnn.com/ticker. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Joining us now to discuss what they think the voters will be thinking November 7th, three expert political observers. Stu Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report, Candy Crowley, our senior political correspondent, and Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Ron, let me start with you and just ask you this question. We have our most recent CNN poll asked likely voters their choice for Congress. Democrats get 58 percent to Republicans' 37 percent. That's a huge spread, but how significant is that generic, general number?

RON BROWNSTEIN, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, that's larger than most of the other polls, but clearly consistently now in October, we're seeing double-digit advantages for the Democrats on that generic question in polls across the board. And what that means, Wolf, is the playing field is broadening as we speak. Races that were not expected to be competitive are becoming competitive. Incumbent Republicans...

BLITZER: In other words, what you're saying is Republican races...

BROWNSTEIN: Republican incumbents.

BLITZER: Republican incumbents...

BROWNSTEIN: Who did not think they were going to be having a nervous and difficult October, suddenly find themselves in races.

I was searching around the Internet this morning looking at papers in different states. Colorado, Ohio, the same story. Safe Republican district suddenly under siege. The president is under 40. Sixty percent of the country thinks we're on the wrong track. You have a double-digit generic advantage. And what happens? What happens is that Democrats are able to expand the battlefield, and the question is whether they can bring some of those races home in difficult terrain. BLITZER: Is this 1994, shaping up to be 1994 in reverse, 1994 when the Republicans all of sudden became the majority and a lot of Democrat incumbents didn't even think they had a problem? They wound up after that election losers.

STU ROTHENBERG, POLITICAL ANALYST: In a word, yes. The problem from the handicappers' point of view is we know the playing field is getting bigger. The Republican risk is bigger. The question is, how big?

So there is no doubt that this is going to be a terrific, Democratic year. They're going to make major gains in the House and the Senate. We still don't know exactly how high. But there are races that, six months ago, three months ago, I would have laughed off as not competitive, that could indeed bow down to the wire.

BROWNSTEIN: Can I just point out one difference -- two differences from '94? One difference is that Republicans, by and large, although there are some who are clearly being surprised now, by and large have been more aware of this problem than Democrats were and have gone out earlier to try to insulate themselves.

But the bigger difference is the terrain. And that's the real challenge for the Democrats. If you look back at '94, Republicans picked up 52 seats. About three-fifths of them were districts that had voted presidentially Republican only two years earlier. This year, both in the Senate and in the House, Democrats have to win districts that have been voting Republican. And that is still the challenge. In the end, can they bring those voters over the line?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Then there's redistricting between the Gingrich revolution and now, where Republican territory has been made more Republican and Democratic territory more Democratic. And also...

BLITZER: So there are less seats theoretically at play?

CROWLEY: Well, no, I don't want to argue against that there are a lot of seats in play.

BLITZER: No, since 1994.

CROWLEY: Yes. And I think you have to look at the candidates, because in '94 what we had was a number of freshmen candidates who weren't that well-known in their districts who got booted out. We're looking at old bulls here who have, you know, been to the rodeo a couple of times.

ROTHENBERG: All right. Well, let me just respond then. Two things, two other things in particular. First of all, this president's job approval, this president's numbers, they're worse than Bill Clinton's, much worse. President Clinton's...

BLITZER: In '94.

ROTHENBERG: ... ranged between 44 percent and 48 percent right before that disastrous midterm election. Second, this is a six-year election into the presidency. There have been two years of bad news. I think the environment is actually as bad -- I'll bet you it is, I think it's worse for the Republicans now than it was in '94.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, I agree. I agree the environment is worse. The structure is more stable than it was. And that really is the challenge.

BLITZER: Because of the gerrymandering.

BROWNSTEIN: Because of the gerrymandering, and also because we're seeing a growing parallel between the way people vote for president and the way they vote for the House and the Senate. Republicans under Bush have been winning Senate and House seats in the places where he's popular and losing them in the places where he's unpopular. And what Democrats have to do this year, especially in the Senate, is reverse that trend. To take back the Senate, Wolf, they have to win places like Missouri, Ohio, Montana, Virginia, Tennessee, that voted for Bush both times and where Democrats have had a hard time winning.

BLITZER: I want to get to the Senate in a moment, but let's talk about the House a little bit more. And just to remind other viewers what's going on, there are 231 Republican incumbents, 201 Democrats right now. One independent, three vacancies. The Republicans need 15 seats to become -- the Democrats, that is, need 15 seats to become the majority. We've estimated at least a week or so that there are about 25 seats at play, all of them Republican-held right now. You believe that there are more.

BROWNSTEIN: Probably today. I think there are more. I mean, I'll defer to Stu as the person who watches this more closely than almost anyone, but yes, I mean, as you go around the country, Republicans are worrying about and Democrats are seeing opportunity in place that were not on the map earlier in the year.

BLITZER: How many seats are in play right now? How many seats are Republicans really, really nervous about?

ROTHENBERG: Well, we're watching between 50 and 60 Republican- held seats right now. If you want to give me an exact number, we have it at 52 they're watching. There are a handful more that I think are, I've got to keep an eye on.

But, no, it's the second- and even third-tier districts, Wolf, that are coming into play now that we are seeing polls that show Republicans have reason for concern. Doesn't mean the Republicans are going to lose all those districts, but it means that those seats are certainly in play.

BLITZER: One moderate Republican, Chris Shays in Connecticut, he's fighting for his life right now against the Democratic challenger, Diane Farrell, Connecticut 4th District. Chris Shays said this this week, told the Hartford Courant, "I know the speaker didn't go over a bridge and leave a young person in the water, and then have a press conference the next day. Dennis Hastert didn't kill anybody." Those were strong words in reacting to the congressional page scandal, reviving the whole Ted Kennedy Chappaquiddick affair back in the '60s. This is not typical of Chris Shays, who's been a very moderate Republican.

CROWLEY: But you're seeing a guy up against the wall here. I mean, you know what happens when somebody is in a tough, tough fight. I mean, it's not first time he's said something, you think, whoa. I mean, he also talked about Abu Ghraib this week and said, well, it was really a sex ring. I mean...

BLITZER: It wasn't torture, it was sex.

CROWLEY: ... it wasn't torture, it was about a sex ring of National Guard. So there's a lot of things coming out of there that tell you this is a guy in real trouble.

BLITZER: But very quickly because I want to take a break, that's not going to help him with his constituents in Connecticut.

BROWNSTEIN: It's a Democratic-leaning district. His current ad on television starts, I'm not a partisan politician. He was way off message. He was a truck running right into his message.

BLITZER: Is he in trouble in Connecticut? Who's going to win that race?

ROTHENBERG: Oh, of course. I mean, we have this race as toss- up, tilting, actually, to Chris Shays. One thing that that comment showed is this is a much more combative, confrontational Chris Shays. In the past, he used to allow himself to be a punching bag. He'd be attacked and he wouldn't respond. He's running a pretty good campaign. This wasn't the best message of the entire cycle.

I think he's got a fighting chance, but look, he is in a competitive race, and he knows it.

BLITZER: And Connecticut is a blue state to begin with.

All right, guys, stand by. We're going to talk about the Senate. Our political panel is going to be with us. We'll get much more on the election countdown in just a moment. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. As we tick off the days to election day, we're continuing our conversation with our special "Late Edition" political panel: Stu Rothenberg, Candy Crowley and Ron Brownstein.

Candy, the Mark Foley impact on these elections this year, I've heard various estimates. It's going to be huge, it's not going to be huge. The speaker, Dennis Hastert, clearly is concerned. I want you to listen to what he said this week. We don't have it, but he said, basically, in 20/20 hindsight, we would probably do everything better, but if there was a problem, if there was a coverup, then we should find that out through the investigation process. What is going on? The political impact from the congressional page scandal on these elections, especially in the House.

CROWLEY: Clearly, it puts something more toxic into the groundwater. So, yes, there is an effect. Certainly if we believe the polls, there's been an effect nationwide. It obviously affects some races more than others. Reynolds in New York. It obviously affects Foley's district.

So there are some specific districts that really are hurt by it, but I think it adds that whole -- this not a Foley issue, this a leadership issue. And it just fits right, dovetails so nicely with what the Democrats are out there saying.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the Senate. Ron, let me pick your brain a little bit. A lot of people assume, maybe correctly, maybe incorrectly, that the Democrats are going to be the majority in the House of Representatives.

Let's see what the challenges are for the Democrats in the Senate. Fifty-five Republicans right now, 44 Democrats, one independent who almost always votes with the Democrats. That means the Democrats need to capture six seats in order to have a 51-49 majority. If its 50-50, the vice president of the United States, who's the president of the Senate, he breaks the ties, and then the Republican is the majority. Eight seats in great danger right now. Seven of them Republicans-held, one Democratic-held. What's your assessment right now?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, as I said, the basic trend under George Bush is Republicans have been winning Senate seats in the states that vote Republican for president, and then losing them in the states that vote Democratic for president. That's generally been a good trade for Republicans, because there are 29 states that voted Republicans in the last two elections for him, and only 18 that voted for Kerry and Gore.

Democrats have two targets in those 18 blue states: Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania. Even if they beat both of them, Wolf, to win back a majority, they have to reverse the trend and win Senate seats in the red states. So what have you got? Montana, they've got a very strong chance. Ohio, they've got a very strong chance. And then it really comes down to them for three border states that are tough states for Democrats, especially in rural areas: Missouri, Virginia and Tennessee.

Assuming they can hold New Jersey, which is the one Democratic- held seat that's in play.

If they can win two out of three in Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri, hold New Jersey and win those other four, they get the majority. But the challenge is getting socially conservative voters, especially in rural areas, enough of them to vote Democratic. I saw today in that Washington Post poll that had Jim Webb crushing George Allen in the northern Virginia suburbs but losing in the rest of the state badly enough to give Allen a lead. That's what they have to get over the hump.

BLITZER: So it comes down to the Republicans have been exceedingly well in 2000, 2002, 2004. And we'll see what happens in 2006. Get the turnout, get that base excited and get them to the polls.

ROTHENBERG: Turnout is a huge unknown. It's a huge question mark. You ask political analysts, journalists, reporters about turnout. We go on and on about how important it. We have, actually, we really have no idea how to measure it, how to project it. All we can say, Wolf, is that you talk to Republican strategists and operatives, they see it as a hope but also a danger. They're very concerned about Republican enthusiasm or lack thereof, and a whole number of races could turn on turnout.

BLITZER: Who's more excited, the Democratic base or the Republican base?

CROWLEY: Well, the Democratic base is angry. And the Republican base is at best sort of noncommittal at this point. And if you had your choice between a superior turnout machine, which the Republicans have, and anger, which the Democrats have, I'd take anger any day.

BROWNSTEIN: The Republicans have a great turnout engine, but the engine needs fuel, and the fuel in '02 and '04 was passionate support for President Bush. Right now, the passion is on the other side. If you look at the national polling, twice as many Americans say they strongly disapprove of his performance as strongly approve.

There was a poll put out this week by veteran Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and James Carville. And they found even in four dozen Republican-held districts that there was twice as much strong disapproval as approval. So the challenge for Republicans is, can they make this machine go without what has powered it in the past, which is a strong attachment and support for the president?

BLITZER: And I'll just put these numbers up to wrap this up, Stu. In terms of the president's job approval numbers in our so- called poll of poll, CNN had him at 39, USA Today/Gallup 37, ABC at 39, CBS/New York Times 34. The average 37 percent. Not a good number to go into this election.

ROTHENBERG: A disastrous number. Now this election still, in spite of the Mark Foley discussion and questions about weapons of mass destruction, it's about George W. Bush. His overall performance, particularly in Iraq, but overall.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there, guys. Thanks very much. A great discussion as usual.

Up next, in case you missed it, we'll bring you the best of the other Sunday morning talk show sounds. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Up next, in case you missed it, "Late Edition" Sunday morning talk show roundup. And coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week at War." Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In case you missed it, let's check the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows.

The main topic on CBS and Fox was the United States response to North Korea's nuclear tests.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: They're going to have to get accustomed to the fact that this is not a problem with the United States. This is a problem with the world. That is why it is so important not to allow this to become a bilateral negotiation, because the north would like nothing better than to simply deal with the United States so that we are the ones that isolate it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR JOHN KERRY, (D-MA) They've pulled out of the Non- Proliferation Treaty. We no longer have cameras in the reactor. We no longer have inspectors in the reactor. We no longer know where the fuel rods are. We know that they have now tested. The United States of America's less safe. And the six-party talks have been a cover.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, October 15th. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. For our North American viewers, "This Week at War" just ahead, right after a quick check of what's in the news right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

Search
© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines