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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Mike Huckabee; Interview With Mike McConnell

Aired February 24, 2008 - 11:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, GUEST HOST: It's 11:00 a.m. here in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, and 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for "Late Edition." I'm John King. Wolf is away today.
Mike Huckabee says he didn't major in math, but in miracles. Well, the math says he needs a miracle to win his party's nomination from Republican presidential front-runner John McCain.

And this morning, consumer advocate Ralph Nader announced a third-party, run further complicating an already dramatic presidential race.

That was the first topic when I spoke with Governor Huckabee just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Joining us now, the former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee. He joins us from New York.

Good morning, Governor.

HUCKABEE: Good morning, John.

KING: In the news today, Governor, the prospect of another Ralph Nader candidacy, the Green Party candidacy in the past, Democrats have said that hurt them in presidential elections. What's your take on Ralph Nader?

HUCKABEE: Well, I think it always would probably pull votes away from the Democrats, not the Republicans. So naturally Republicans would welcome his entry into the race and hope that maybe a few more will join in.

KING: As you know, there has been chatter, from time to time, about the prospect of a third party candidacy from the right. Have you picked that up at all in your travels, that if John McCain is the Republican nominee, perhaps there would be a significant third party challenge from the right?

HUCKABEE: I don't think so. I mean, a couple of times it will get mentioned. But people will say, would you ever consider it? And my answer is emphatically no. I think it's a suicide mission. Third party candidates are not going to win the election. At best, they are going to take away from one of the major parties. And I just don't see that happening within the conservative wing at all.

KING: One of the trademarks of your campaign, and I spent some time out on the road with you, is you have a great sense of humor. Last night you tried your hand at "Saturday Night Live," during the "Weekend Update" segment. I want to play a little segment of the show. And then we'll talk about it on the other side.

Let's listen.

HUCKABEE: All right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SETH MEYERS, "SNL WEEKEND UPDATE ANCHOR": Even if you won every remaining unpledged delegate, you would still fall 200 delegates short.

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE: Wow. Seth, that was an excellent explanation.

(LAUGHTER)

But I'm afraid that you overlooked the all-important superdelegates. Don't forget about them.

MEYERS: Well, I won't forget about them. But the superdelegates are only in the Democratic primaries.

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE: They can't vote in the Republican primaries?

MEYERS: They cannot.

HUCKABEE: Uh-oh.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Uh-oh. Governor, first tell me -- take us behind the scenes. Is it a fun experience?

HUCKABEE: It's an awesome experience. The "Saturday Night Live" crew and cast have to be some of the most amazingly talented people in all of America. And they are also some of the hardest working people. You just can't imagine how long the hours are these guys put in. And to put that show together, to do it live, it is truly one of the most remarkable things I have ever witnessed in my life.

KING: Good humor from you, sir. But you also said in that segment on "Weekend Update" that, don't worry, when the time came, you would make a graceful exit. Were you trying to send a signal there? HUCKABEE: Well, no. I'm just simply saying what is, you know, the obvious. I'm going to stay in this race until somebody gets 1,191 delegates, or until we go to the convention. And that still is a possibility.

But I have also said very clearly that, if John McCain gets the magic number before I do, then I'll accept the verdict of the voters. But I just think voters in these states that haven't voted yet, particularly places like Texas and Ohio -- these are big states, lots of Republicans -- they haven't even voted yet.

So why should they let the voters in New York and New Jersey make their choice for them, without even having a choice?

I just feel like that that's not exactly the way politics ought to happen, is that you have millions of people whose votes, frankly, are told won't matter.

KING: You mentioned Texas. It is the biggest state still out there on the primary calendar. And if you pick up your New York Times this morning -- and you are in New York City, maybe you have one nearby -- you will see the Texas governor, Rick Perry, quoted in The New York Times Magazine.

And he says this, and he is speaking of you, sir: "It is time for him to drop out. We have a mercy rule in six-man football. After halftime, if you are behind by more than 45 points, you can stop so it doesn't get to be really ugly."

It's not the first time Governor Perry has suggested you find the exit. What do you make of this?

HUCKABEE: Well, Governor Perry supported Rudy Giuliani. And Giuliani ended up dropping out. Now he is supporting John McCain. Maybe he will do for John McCain what he did for Rudy Giuliani. That's my hope.

(LAUGHTER)

You know, Rick can support who he wants. But I'm not going to listen to somebody who is supporting the other candidate to take my cue as to what I'm supposed to do. It would be as stupid as being on that football field he is talking about and letting my plays be called by the opposing team.

You don't do that. And, as long as the cheerleaders on our side are still waving their pom-poms, then the game is still on.

KING: I want to ask you a question about your calculations. As I do so, I want to show our viewers the delegate math, because the math is pretty daunting for you.

HUCKABEE: Sure.

KING: Here is our delegate map as it is right now. You need 1,191, as you mentioned, to win the nomination. Senator McCain has 918; Governor Romney, who has suspended his campaign, 286; you, sir, Governor Huckabee, 217; and Ron Paul pulling up the rear with 16 delegates.

Obviously Senator McCain at 918, Governor Huckabee at 217, that is pretty daunting math to make up. And as I travel, a lot of people pull me aside and now they say, what does Huckabee want? What is he looking for?

What are you looking for, sir, if the math doesn't work out? Any preliminary conversations with the McCain people about a convention role? Any effort on your part to shape the platform?

Any one specific thing you would be looking for?

HUCKABEE: No. We are not talking to the McCain people about that at all, because right now I still want to make sure that we are talking seriously about getting rid of our tax code and the IRS, replacing it with a fair tax.

I want to make sure we are unapologetic and unflinching in our support for a human life amendment. It has been on our platform since 1980. I know Senator McCain has not supported that. But I do, and I think a lot of Republicans do. We need to keep that out there.

And you know, I understand the math, but also you look at some of these delegates in that list -- many of them are not pledged delegates. They still could make decisions otherwise. This could go to the convention.

Now, I know a lot of you are saying, well, it's not likely. But it could. And until we know the outcome, I think it is just a little bit silly on my part to have worked this hard for 14 months and to let, whether it's the news media or John McCain supporters, tell me that the game is over when the clock is still ticking out there on the field.

KING: Some of your own advisers are beginning to think ahead about this. I want to read you something from your campaign chairman, Ed Rollins.

He told this to The Politico, the Web site -- the political Web site: "At the end of the day, we'll do whatever we can to help John McCain in the fall. If he wins, great. If not, the game starts all over again. It may be open again in four years, and Mike is 51. He's got a long way to go before his political career is over."

Are you thinking ahead, sir, to 2012 or beyond?

And just, as you campaign now, how often do you sit down and say, OK, I'm in this until somebody gets to 1,191, but am I making sure that I'm protecting myself, that I'm not hurting my own political future?

HUCKABEE: No, I'm really not thinking about what's going to happen in four, eight or years beyond. I'm thinking about what's going to happen to this country. And I'm very concerned about it. I'm concerned that we are going to see our taxes go up. That will kill small business. It will kill free enterprise. It will further create the -- even more of a trade imbalance.

Look, we need some big ideas when it comes to the economy. There are a lot of Americans struggling, and they are not going to get better, and their lives are not going to be any better until we do something dramatic and bold, with the kind of tax system that punishes people for working and punishes them for their productivity. That's got to stop, or we are going to just send this nation's economy into a spiral.

KING: As you know, sir, one of the big conversation items in Republican politics, especially, but across the country, this week, was this front page New York Times story, earlier in the week, suggesting that Senator McCain had some form of an inappropriate relationship with a Washington lobbyist.

He fired back quite forcefully. Let's listen to Senator McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: At no time have I ever done anything that would betray the public trust nor make a decision which in any way would not be in the public interest and would favor any one or any organization.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The McCain campaign and the Senator himself says, case closed, they are moving on, there is no story here. What do you think, sir?

HUCKABEE: Well, I think he has been very, very forceful in just saying, hey, it is not true. I'm going to take him at his word, because I have no reason to doubt him. And apparently a lot of people in America are taking him at his word.

In fact, it seems like that this New York Times thing is the best thing that's happened to the John McCain campaign. I'm, kind of, beginning to think I'm going to ask him if maybe they would attack very viciously on the front page. It might do me some good too.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Governor, you sat down with Dr. James Dobson this past week.

KING: And he is the head of Focus on the Family, a very influential Christian conservative, social conservative leader in this country. He has backed your candidacy, as an individual, not as the head of Focus on the Family.

HUCKABEE: Right.

KING: He has also been quite critical of Senator John McCain, saying that he can't envision how he could support Senator McCain. You know the influence of Dr. Dobson, whether it is on the radio, the magazines that go to millions, obviously you want his support, obviously you haven't give up hope yet, but in that private meeting, did you at all say, hey, Dr. Dobson, if it is John McCain, you need to rethink this?

HUCKABEE: Well, our meeting was in fact a private one. And we didn't talk as much about the specifics of political strategy as we did really the broader and bigger issues. And it was more a discussion about the big picture of this country. And we didn't get into the nitty-gritty of what is going to happen in the election.

That would be a decision that Dr. Dobson would make. Obviously, I'm delighted to have his personal support.

It means a lot to me, not just politically, but personally, because he does recognize that I'm the one candidate left in this race who supports a human life amendment and a marriage amendment, things that I think are fundamental to really establishing a proper understanding that this country cannot have a strong government if it doesn't have strong families.

And it can't have strong families if it doesn't have respect for each human life as having intrinsic worth and value. Those are things that are fundamental. These aren't peripheral political issues. They are really foundational issues upon which we build the rest of our culture.

KING: We are going to have the director of national intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell on the program today. As you know, there has been a controversy. Congress would not pass a reauthorization of the controversial surveillance policy the administration says are necessary to protect the American people in the war on terrorism.

Congress says it offered a temporary extension. The administration said no. The administration says, because of this impasse, the American people are less safe today and that some intelligence has fallen by the wayside, if you will. What do you think about that dispute?

HUCKABEE: I think it is important to have very thorough surveillance capabilities, but they also need to be monitored by Congress. This is a delicate area. And it is an area that is new to us, because, with technology being what it is today, we have new tools that have never been available before, things that our founding fathers never envisioned when the Bill of Rights was crafted. And so it is uncharted territory.

Two things we need to remember -- one, the first job of the president is to keep this country safe. He should us every -- everything at his disposal to do so. But it is also the job of Congress to make sure that the executive branch does not overstep its boundaries in terms of power.

That is why we have the balance of power. It is why we have equal branches of government. And I think there is a healthy tension that was designed into our system. Now, when that tension gets so tight that it starts breaking rather than just stretching, then we have got a problem. And that is what is wrong in Washington.

There is not a willingness to sit down and say, let's really try to make this decision best for the American people. I'm afraid we have a lot of people trying to make the decision best for each political party, and that is why people are so angry and frustrated with the dysfunction of Washington.

KING: The former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee. The week ahead brings you to Rhode Island, Ohio, and Texas. Governor, thanks for joining us on "Late Edition." We will see you out on the trail.

HUCKABEE: Thank you, John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And coming up, Senator McCain's lobbyist controversy: Could it derail his effort to shore up support among conservatives?

We'll talk with the McCain campaign national co-chairman, Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Coming up in our next hour, we'll hear from two top supporters of the Obama and the Clinton campaigns, Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell.

But now, the Republican race for the White House. This past week, Arizona senator John McCain denied a New York Times report that he had questionable ties to a female lobbyist several years ago.

Joining us is the McCain campaign national co-chairman, Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. Governor, welcome to "Late Edition."

PAWLENTY: Thanks, John.

KING: I want to get to that controversy in a minute, but I want to start with the news of the day, which is Ralph Nader saying he's running again. Impact?

PAWLENTY: Well, Senator Obama, the other day, I think, said that Ralph Nader was an American hero. I think it's a free country. People should be able to run. But, obviously, it's going to unsettle the Democratic race, to some small degree. I don't think it's going to be a big factor, but it will be a small factor.

KING: As you know, some conservatives had some unease about your candidate, John McCain. Do you see any threat that there could be another third-party challenge, if you will, this one from the right?

PAWLENTY: No, the only real candidate that's been talked about with any credibility is Michael Bloomberg. I suspect, when he looks at the offering that Senator McCain represents, Michael Bloomberg is going to support Senator McCain. And so I don't think that's a realistic scenario, at this point.

KING: You're the national co-chairman of the McCain campaign. This past week, the campaign had to deal with a crisis, the front-page story in the New York Times suggesting there was an improper relationship with a lobbyist, perhaps Senator McCain doing some favors for this lobbyist.

You know his message, out across the country, is, I draw the line on lobbyists; I'm the guy who fights pork barrel spending; I'm the reformer in Washington.

Take me behind the scenes in the McCain campaign. This has to cause you, even if you think it's all false -- has to cause some dread.

PAWLENTY: Well, first of all, John, it's one of the worst pieces of journalism I've seen, at least in recent times, journalism by insinuation. There's no actual evidence that he had an improper relationship with this woman, but it's insinuated in the articles.

And, in fact, this morning, in the New York Times, the ombudsman for the newspaper is essentially say it was sloppily done. And so that's disappointing, to say the least.

So I don't think this is a significant derailment or problem for Senator McCain because it's insinuation.

On the lobbying side of it, he simply wrote a letter -- his office wrote a letter to an agency, not taking a position on one side or the other, but just saying, would you please make a timely decision?

I don't see anything wrong with that.

KING: So, in your view, case closed?

PAWLENTY: Well, there's just nothing there. It's a story by insinuation. And unless and until there's actual evidence to support these insinuations, they don't have credibility.

And everybody knows Senator McCain is one of the most courageous, most character-filled people in public office. I mean, part of his trademark, part of his brand is character, and this story just doesn't meet up with the John McCain that we know. And I think we know that the New York Times has taken some liberties with this story.

KING: One of the challenges facing Senator McCain, now, is unifying the party. He's not quite had the nomination locked up, just yet; perhaps he will on the morning of March 5th, after Ohio, Texas, Vermont, and Rhode Island cast their votes.

The campaign is beginning to think about things like the Republican convention, starting to think about things like who might his running mate be?

They're very early in that process. They don't even have a formal process, as yet. But, as you know, there's quite a bit of speculation.

Senator McCain -- he's a very vigorous man, but he's 71 years old. He's even older than Ronald Reagan. So they say he's got to look around the country, find a young, vibrant conservative.

And many say you could be that man. Let me read you, from The Washington Post, a story in The Washington Post, back on February 17th, about the short list, perhaps, for the number two spot.

"Tim Pawlenty, the two-term governor of Minnesota, may be the strongest potential pick, at least on paper. He's been with McCain from the start, didn't abandon during the dark days of summer, hails from the Midwest, a general election battleground, and is south of 50 years old, 47 to be exact."

Does Tim Pawlenty deserve to be on that list?

(LAUGHTER)

PAWLENTY: Well, first of all, I support Senator McCain because I believe he's going to be a fantastic president for the United States -- great courage, great valor, great vision for our country.

I don't need a day job. I have one, I'm focused on being governor.

(LAUGHTER)

And so I'm supporting him for those reasons, not because I want to be vice president or not. There's going to be a lot of great choices that he'll have to pick from, and he's not even thinking about that now. And I'm focused on being governor of the state.

KING: If he called you up and said -- take your name out of the mix -- just what do you think I need? You're a Midwestern governor. You know the Republican Party is in a bit of a funk right now. If you look at the turnout in the primaries, Democratic turnout is way up; Republican turnout is down. What does he need?

PAWLENTY: John, remember that primary turnout is not always a good indicator of general election turnout. So I'd start with that observation.

And second of all, Senator McCain is somebody that I think wants somebody who is going to match up with his values, his belief, his vision for the country. And so I don't think he's somebody who's going to pander. He has got a reputation for being a straight shooter. And I think he's going to find someone who works well with him and shares his vision for the future of the country, more so than trying to play some geopolitical scheme or strategy.

KING: More on that one down the road a bit, I'm sure. But let's deal with some of the issues in the campaign. One of the big issues the Democrats believe they can turn to their advantage is the whole debate about health care. Now, Senator Clinton and Obama are having an internal Democratic dispute at the moment about should your plan be universal and cover everybody, or Senator Obama's a little short of that, but I want to let you listen to Senator Obama talking about he would contrast his case against Senator McCain on health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Both my plan and Senator Clinton's plan are far better than what's being offered by John McCain. John McCain's medical or health care approach is a tax break that goes to everybody, including the wealthiest of Americans, doesn't guarantee coverage, and doesn't make sure that health care is affordable for the working families who need it most.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, both of the Democrats propose a stronger role for the federal government in making sure that more people get health insurance. Are you comfortable that Senator McCain's let's keep the government out of it to the degree we can, can you sell that to the American people at a time we could be in the middle of a recession in the middle of the campaign? Many middle-class Americans are saying they are hurting and they do want some help here. PAWLENTY: There's no question Americans all across the country are very concerned about the affordability of health care, and both parties I think recognize that and have proposals.

It should come as no surprise and not exactly news on CNN that Barack Obama is against tax breaks, and he wants the government to take over the system to a large degree. Senator McCain has a different vision, which is to give people who can't afford insurance or who need more help with insurance a tax break so they can better afford it, but to have them be in the driver's seat, consumers in the driver's seat and their doctors, not having another big federal entitlement program.

KING: I want to ask you lastly about how you think Iraq will play out on the campaign trail. And before I get your answer, I want you to listen to Senator Clinton. It's clear how the Democrats will try to force Senator McCain back into a corner, saying he's essentially George W. Bush and this war is unpopular.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: The contrast between me and our likely opponent on the Republican side could not be starker. Senator McCain is willing to continue the war in Iraq for 100 years, he said. I will start bringing troops home within 60 days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Perhaps some hyperbole on Senator Clinton's part about continuing the war for 100 years. Senator McCain has said he will keep a U.S. troop presence there as long as he believes it is necessary.

But your National Guard has served there. You've had to go to some of the funerals. What is the mood in the country? Can Senator McCain's stay-the-course, fight-until-we-win message, can he succeed in the general election with that?

PAWLENTY: Yes. (inaudible) they turned the corner in terms of benchmarks, measurements of success in Iraq. There's certainly a long ways to go, and there's a lot of mistakes that were made.

However, the situation now is it's improving. Senator McCain alone was a visionary in that strategy. I think the American people are going to respect the fact that he stood up and said I see a different way to do this war, and it's working.

And withdrawing summarily, like the Democrats propose, having destabilized Middle East, is not in the best interests of America's national security.

KING: Governor Tim Pawlenty, we'll have you back as the campaign progresses. Thanks for coming in, joining us on "Late Edition" today.

PAWLENTY: Thank you.

KING: Thank you, sir.

And just ahead, will Republican Senator Chuck Hagel support his party's nominee in November? Or will he go his own way? We'll ask the senator with an independent streak when we come back. Stay with "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Republican Senator Chuck Hagel was once considered a potential 2008 presidential candidate, but he has decided to sit this campaign out. He's retiring from the Senate at the end of the year.

For now, though, Senator Hagel is busy as the top member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he joins us now. Senator, thanks for joining us on "Late Edition."

Let me start -- you've been mentioned from time to time, some thought you might seek the Republican nomination, then you've been mentioned in these conversations perhaps a Mike Bloomberg/Chuck Hagel ticket. As you know, Ralph Nader dropped his toe into the race today, saying he is going to run again. What is the impact of that? And is Chuck Hagel out of the mix here? Have you talked to Mayor Bloomberg lately?

HAGEL: Chuck Hagel is out of the mix. I'm going to continue to focus on my job in the Senate, and do what I can do to influence the direction of our country over the next year.

As to Nader, I think it's one of those years that is very unpredictable, and I think there will be many twists and turns with a very unpredictable current running right now. And we'll see what happens.

But I think democracy should be about choices, and certainly people who have something to say should offer themselves as legitimate candidates for president.

KING: You say Chuck Hagel is out of the mix. You are still the Republican senator from Nebraska, a fellow Vietnam veteran. John McCain is likely to be your party's nominee.

Any question -- will you support John McCain?

HAGEL: Well, I've not been involved in the primary and I am still not involved in any of that. At the appropriate time, then I'll have something to say about it.

KING: Are you saying you might not support the Republican Party's nominee?

HAGEL: I said at the appropriate time, I'll have something to say about it.

KING: Let me ask you -- let me see if it's an appropriate time to ask you about this one. This is something you said to the Cornhusker on February 9th about one of the Democratic candidates, a man who at the moment might be considered the Democratic frontrunner, Barack Obama. You said -- "I like Barack Obama a lot. He's smart. He listens. He learns. He's a worthy candidate for president."

Could Barack Obama potentially get your support in a race against John McCain?

HAGEL: I think he is a worthy candidate for president, as is Senator Clinton, as is certainly Senator McCain, others.

KING: Others. You think we're going to get more than Ralph Nader?

HAGEL: I don't know. You've been covering the campaign, I haven't.

KING: I think you might be involved in some of these conversation, I'm not.

I want to ask you something else now. You're on the Foreign Relations Committee, and I want to talk about your recent trip to Pakistan in just a moment, but one of the debates in this campaign has been about Senator Obama's pledge that he would sit down, whether it's Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, whoever the next president of Cuba is, that he would sit down with these leaders that President Bush has refused to meet with, essentially leaders of what the administration calls rogue nations.

I want you to listen to something Senator McCain said about this. He said, quote, "Senator Obama says he would meet with Cuba's dictator without any such steps in the hope that talk will make things better for Cuba's oppressed people. Meet, talk and hope may be a sound approach in the state legislature, but it is dangerously naive in international diplomacy, where the oppressed look to America for hope and adversaries wish us ill."

Who's right, McCain or Obama?

HAGEL: Well, I'm not going to get in that debate. I've had my own position on all those issues for the last 12 years.

On Cuba, I've said that we have an outdated, outmoded, unrealistic, irrelevant policy. John Ashcroft and I in 1999 were two of the first to offer amendments to begin engaging with trade. It's always been nonsensical to me about this argument, well, it's a communist country, it's a communist regime. What do people think Vietnam is? Or the People's Republic of China? Both those countries are WTO members. We trade with them. We have relations.

Great powers engage. Great powers are not afraid. Great powers trade.

HAGEL: If we're going to see any improvement in the Middle East, in Central Asia, the two wars that we're bogged down in right now, we're going to have to engage Iran.

That doesn't mean we give up our position, that we in any way dilute our sovereignty, but in fact, Iran is going to have to be part of any mix of any solution, certainly any settlement, peace settlement, in the Middle East.

Are things getting better, John? I don't think things are getting better. I think things are getting worse. We're not going to be able to sustain the policies that we have in Afghanistan and Iraq. Right now we own both of those countries.

We're not going to be able to continue to spend $12 billion to $15 billion a month in Iraq when our generals are telling us that the rate of re-deployment of our troops can't be sustained.

We just came back last week from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Turkey. And even though our military is doing a spectacular job everywhere, we have so overloaded them, we have so overburdened them, they can't do it all.

And the other thing we're going to have to sort out, and the next president's going to have to really focus on this, is what is the objective. Are we nation-building? Are we going after terrorists? Or what is it that exactly we're doing?

Well, clearly, we are nation-building. This administration began seven years ago saying, "No nation-building." Well, that's what we're doing. We're nation-building.

KING: Let's break some of those down. And first, let's start 90 miles offshore. President Bush is still president for another 10 months. Raul Castro, by the end of the day, could be the nest president of Cuba. As you know, Fidel Castro has said he is going to step down. I don't think there's any likelihood the administration would do this, but do you think, just to take the measure of the man, President Bush should agree to sit down with the next president of Cuba and say, "Let's see if we can figure this out?"

HAGEL: Well, I think there's some steps before you get to President Bush sitting down with Raul Castro. And that's where I think you should start -- for example, engaging with some trade. The governor of Nebraska, Dave Heineman, over the last three years has led four trade missions to Cuba. And he has signed over $70 million in contracts, actual money changing hands, buying Nebraska agricultural products.

Now, that's part of diplomacy. That's part of reaching out. That's part of engaging. That's part of improving our situation. And I think that those are the things you need to do to start building bridges to engage.

When the appropriate time would be for the president, whether it's McCain or Obama, or whoever it's going to be -- the currents could dictate that. Policies would dictate that.

But the fact is a great nation like America should never be afraid to engage. And the reality is until you engage, things will only get worse. We're in a battle, John, of ideas.

We're not going to win in Afghanistan or Iraq to start with. That's never a win or lose thing. What will happen in Iraq, in Afghanistan, will be determined by the people, the Iraqi people, Afghanistan people.

Our military can play a role. They are. It is part of our arc of our instruments and our instruments of power. But so is diplomacy, so is alliances, so is trade, so are all the factors involved.

And the bottom line is the human dimension, improving the people's lives. Do they think they're doing better?

KING: And do the people of Iraq think they are doing better? And do you see enough political and security progress to continue the surge, or at least to continue the Bush administration's policy?

They're saying probably suspend bringing troops home in the short term. Eventually they'd like to draw down some. But let me just ask the question this way. Is the surge policy working, or are the Democrats right?

HAGEL: Well, I don't think it's one or the other. Any time you overload a zone with superior American firepower and military power, you're going to have a consequence. And so that consequence you have seen over the last six months.

We've put over 30,000 troops in there. We now have 160,000 troops. We have 190,000 troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

So when you overload the zone with American firepower, with the excellent kind of leadership and people that we have in our military, there will be a consequence, but there's also a consequence from that concentration of military power.

You've essentially taken Baghdad and you've cordoned if off and sequestered it into non-Shia areas, non-Sunni areas. We've got problems in the north. We've got problems in the south. It is far from stable. And I would answer your question this way. If we've had so much success there -- and by the way, we're going into our sixth year there in Iraq next month. We're seven years now in Afghanistan.

If we've had so much success, then why are our commanders concerned about pulling troops down and wanting to freeze them at at least the level that we had before the surge?

There's still great instability. And until there is Iraqi political accommodation leading to, hopefully, some reconciliation, then it won't matter. We're trying to buy them some time.

So we've had some successes there, absolutely, but we're a long way from where we need to be.

KING: Let me jump in. Finally, you're just back from Pakistan -- obviously, enormous turmoil going on in Pakistan right now.

This is something the former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said about the election. He said, "Musharraf used to say that when people expressed no confidence in him that he would leave. Now the people have announced their decision."

Should Musharraf leave? And what are the implications for U.S. policy, especially in the war on terror, with what is going on, the domestic turmoil, in Pakistan right now?

HAGEL: Well, first, I think Pakistan -- in particular, the border between Pakistani and Afghanistan, those frontier areas -- represents the most dangerous area in the world today. It represents the most significant threat to the United States.

It's not Iraq. The forefront of the battle against terrorism is not Iraq. It is in that strip between Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's no man's land. It has never been governed.

So the new government, whom we met with -- we met with Sharif. We met with Zardari, Bhutto's husband. We met with Musharraf. In fact, we met with Musharraf the morning after the election. And our words with him -- and we met with the ISI directors and all the leaders.

And our words to them were, "Do not squander this moment. Come together in a way that is relevant for your country, with some purpose."

Musharraf, I think, accepts completely the free, fair, transparent election. Was it perfect? No. But it was far, far better than any election they've ever had. And here's something that's very important. This was historic in the sense, John, that never in the history, the short history, of Pakistan, independent Pakistan, since 1947, have you seen a transfer of power peacefully.

Musharraf's not contesting it. They will form a coalition government. My guess is that Musharraf wants a graceful way out of this. And I think that's what you'll see. Then it will be up to the coalition government to take on some of these tough challenges.

KING: More on those challenges in the months ahead. But for now, we're out of time. Senator Chuck Hagel, thanks so much for joining us today.

HAGEL: John, thank you.

KING: Thank you, sir.

And up next, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been courting the endorsement of former Democratic presidential candidate Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

We'll hear what he's thinking right after the break. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You're watching "Late Edition." I'm John King reporting from Washington.

Since ending his race for the White House, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has been the subject of some serious courting by Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Earlier this week, he spoke with Wolf about a possible endorsement.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, D-N.M.: I think we have two excellent candidates. Hopefully I will make an endorsement. But you know, the reality is politicians endorsing each other -- I don't think it makes a lot of difference.

I got out of the presidential race. I've been dealing with my legislature. I've been growing my beard. You know, I don't have to be pressured into doing anything these days, but I suspect I will...

BLITZER: A sure sign, Governor, that you're not running for president anymore, when you grow a beard. Is that what you're saying?

RICHARDSON: Well, yes. This is my period of decompression.

BLITZER: All right. So you say you will -- you're about to endorse somebody? You're thinking about endorsing either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? Make the news. Go ahead. RICHARDSON: Well, no. I'm going to decide very shortly. But the reality is I think there are too many superdelegates. There are over 800. That's the latest count that I saw.

BLITZER: There's almost 800.

RICHARDSON: Who elected these people? I think it's important that those...

BLITZER: Well, you're a superdelegate. You were elected by the people of New Mexico.

RICHARDSON: Well, that's right, but that doesn't mean that you appoint every big fundraiser, you appoint every governor, every member of Congress, every leader that contributes money.

I just think this should be decided by voters. And in my view, there are too many superdelegates. They have too much influence. I would cut down the number.

But I think superdelegates should vote according to who they represent. If somebody's appointed as a superdelegate because they're Hispanic or a governor, they should pay attention to what their voters and their constituencies are saying.

BLITZER: Well, the Democratic caucuses in your state, New Mexico, decided that Hillary Clinton got the most votes. Does that mean you have to go with the Democrats of New Mexico, because she won the caucuses there?

RICHARDSON: Well, she won by 1 percent, you know. It was a very contested race.

BLITZER: Well, you know what they say. A win is a win.

RICHARDSON: No, I know that. But I'm going to decide in the next few days. I just think superdelegates have too much influence. It should be voters in states. It should be delegates according to the proportion of the vote or the candidate.

It shouldn't be, you know, fat cats, big contributors, politicians deciding this. Let the people -- let the Democratic voters -- decide. That's my view.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Coming up, he's represented some of the Washington's most powerful players, including former President Clinton. Attorney Robert Bennett talks about his new book, "Inside the Ring," when "Late Edition" returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Republican presidential candidate John McCain is just one of many high-profile clients represented by Washington power attorney Robert Bennett. He joins us now and is recounting his experiences in a new book titled "In the Ring: The Trials of a Washington Lawyer."

It is a good book, Bob Bennett. We have it right here. We'll get to the book in just a second. I want to start, though, with your representation at the moment of John McCain, this dustup in this New York Times story that alleges some form of improper relationship with a Washington lobbyist.

I want to get to the substance of this dispute, which is whether he intervened to help somebody with business before the Senate Commerce Committee. And there's a bit of a disagreement, if you read the newspapers the last couple days, over whether a meeting occurred. As you know, Mr. Paxson, the head of Paxson Communications -- and this can get a little bit in the weeds -- says he met with Senator McCain before a key letter to the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission.

This from Washington Post, "Paxson said he talked with McCain in his Washington office several weeks before the Arizona Republican wrote the letters in 1999 to the FCC urging a rapid decision on Paxson's quest to acquire a Pittsburgh television station. Paxson also recalled that his lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, likely attended the meeting in McCain's office and that Iseman helped arrange the meeting." That in the Washington Post on Saturday.

Now, this from the Associated Press. The former president of Paxson, Dean Goodman, says, "I never met with McCain or discussed this with Senator McCain. I don't recall Bud meeting with McCain. It would be extremely rare that there would be a meeting that I didn't attend, and I can tell you that I didn't have a meeting with McCain on this issue."

He's the chairman, Senator McCain is, at the time of one of the most powerful committees in Washington. I assume he keeps a pretty good log of who he meets with just for when questions like this arise. Was there a meeting?

BENNETT: Look, it's irrelevant. Senator McCain doesn't dispute that there may well have been a meeting. The point is he knew Mr. Paxson wanted something. He did not give Mr. Paxson what he wanted.

He wrote a letter, which was very commonplace, to urge that action be taken. This was nine years ago. It's much to do about nothing. And you know, really, I think this McCain issue is over with.

You know, if you look at the New York Times today, Mr. Hoyt, on the editorial page...

KING: The ombudsman.

BENNETT: ... criticizes his own reporters. So let's talk about the book.

(LAUGHTER) KING: Let me ask one more question about this. You say it's much ado about nothing, but the fact that whether or not there was a meeting, whether or not Senator McCain tried to help somebody, could be a question of his credibility at the time he's running as a reformer.

He says he's the guy who stands up to the lobbyists. He's the guy who wants to change the way Washington works.

And Senator McCain said this in a deposition back in 2002, "I was contacted by Mr. Paxson on this issue. He wanted their approval very bad for purposes of his business. I believe that Mr. Paxson had a legitimate complaint."

So senator McCain says to the FCC, "I'm not taking sides, just do your business, do your job and vote." But the campaign puts this out on Thursday, when all this is dusting up, "No representative of Paxson or Alcalde & Fay," which is the lobbying firm, "personally asked Senator McCain to send a letter to the FCC."

You say he doesn't dispute that there may have been a meeting.

BENNETT: They made a mistake. They made a mistake. It was years and years ago. They checked their records. And they saw an absence of -- you alluded to keeping records. They found nothing there, and they made that statement. It was incorrect.

But again, it made no difference. He knew -- he never disputed Paxson wanted something. He didn't give Paxson what he wanted. He did what most senators and congressmen do. When something is unduly delayed, he wrote a letter and saying please decide, but never took a position. It's much ado about nothing.

KING: In this book, you recount your work for a number of people in Washington who most Americans never get to meet, they read about only in the newspapers.

One of the cases you're involved in at the moment involves this whole controversy about the destruction of the CIA interrogation tapes at Guantanamo Bay. You represent Jose Rodriguez, who ordered the destruction of the tapes.

And I wanted to read you a quote from the federal prosecutor looking into this. He says, "The investigation team is actively reviewing whether any person or persons obstructed justice, made false statements, or acted in contempt of courts or Congress in connection with the destruction of the videotapes."

Is your client in legal jeopardy?

BENNETT: I don't believe he's in legal jeopardy. He was the head of the clandestine service. Before any orders went out from his office, he checked with the lawyers, one, do I have the authority to do it; two are there any legal impediments to do it. And the answer was no. And he felt that it was for the national security, the protection of his covert agents, that these things had to be destroyed. And I think he did the honorable thing.

I would emphasize that there is a record of what went on. There's a written record -- not exactly a transcript, but close to a transcript -- of what occurred, so that is there.

BENNETT: And, John, I will tell you, I just think in this war of terror, which nobody -- fellows like Jose Rodriguez looked at the terrorists eye to eye.

And for him to now have to go out and get a lawyer and be subject of an investigation by the very government that asked him to do these things is pretty shameful.

KING: So I'm looking at the book, and I was joking with you before we came on the air here that it reminds me how old I am and how many of these things I've lived there.

But you were President Clinton's personal attorney back through the whole Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit.

BENNETT: Yes.

KING: And you're talking here about how you came to get involved in the case, and you're surprised that when the White House reached out to contact you -- and to get the job, you not only had to meet President Clinton, but before then you had to sit down with the first lady, Hillary Clinton.

And you say this of the meeting in the book here. You say, "It was obvious she was very knowledgeable about the several matters under investigation, and she asked me several questions as to how I thought they should be handled."

Talk about your surprise at that moment. You're being asked to possibly represent him, but first you have to go through her. She's the gatekeeper.

BENNETT: Well, you know, that's your term. I had successfully represented a number of friends of the president, and I knew the White House counsel who was a very good friend of mine, one of the great statesmen, who recently passed away, Lloyd Cutler.

And I was asked to come up to a meeting, and Mrs. Clinton was there. And she talked to me at length about the whole variety of matters that were -- I was coming on to be a member of the team to deal with all these things.

And we spent an hour. I was very impressed with her. And next thing I knew, I was called and was hired by the president.

KING: And had Bill Clinton settled the Paula Jones suit way back when -- there was all this talk; there were negotiations about settling -- would we have ever heard the name "Monica Lewinsky?" Would we have ever had the impeachment saga?

BENNETT: You know, I don't know. I write about some of this in the book. Before I ever got hired, the Paula Jones representative had offered, I've been told, to settle the matter for $25,000, but that was rejected.

After I got retained, we made a number of efforts to -- but the demands were incredible -- not simply monetary, but the president had to stand on the steps of the Richmond courthouse and apologize, and whatever.

When we got very close to settlement with her first set of lawyers, the Clinton-haters pulled the rug out from under that, and so settlement was really impossible.

KING: So you say you wrote much of this out in longhand. And you know how this works in Washington. They do what's called the Washington read. Everybody looks in the back to see if I'm in here.

BENNETT: Right, right.

KING: Well, it's a pretty Who's Who of Washington back in this book. When you're doing a book like this about so many sensitive things you've been involved in, how do you deal with the issue of, "Oh, my clients are going to be furious here?" Where is the line between privilege?

BENNETT: I was in a very difficult position as a lawyer. I got the written consent or -- you know, I didn't get the president's written consent, because he liked the book so much he gave me a blurb for the book, so I...

KING: You're safe there.

BENNETT: ... I'm safe there. But I got the written consent of my clients, and it's not about secrets, you know, but what I try to do -- I don't tell secrets that shouldn't be told. I try to bring the reader into the room with me in these high-profile cases.

KING: You're in these high-profile cases. They are among the most sensitive cases in Washington over the past quarter-century or so. And you write this. You have a good sense of humor. Maybe it doesn't always come across in town when you're sparring with people.

But you write this in the book, "A friend in Washington is someone who stabs you in the chest rather than in your back."

BENNETT: That's right.

KING: What do you mean by that?

BENNETT: Well, it's a tough town. I mean, you know, New York's tough, but this is not only tough, but it's a mean town. KING: Well, you say a tough town, mean town. How is it different today, in part because of this, because of cable news, the blogosphere and everything else, than it might have been, say, 20 years or 30 years ago?

BENNETT: Well, it's more vicious. It's nastier. You know, people go out to kill you, toss in a sex angle in almost any case. And they try to destroy you.

It's not enough to beat you. It's not enough to win. But they figure that the way to win, the way to beat you, is to personally destroy you.

You remember Vince Foster, who committed suicide. He was an adviser to President Clinton. You know, he said it's a blood sport. Trying to destroy people is a blood sport in Washington. And it is. We all see it every day.

And as I point out, you know, I'm a great dog lover, as I write. And you know, Harry Truman said, "If you want a friend in Washington, you buy a dog," and I mention I have several.

KING: Well, it's worth the read -- and as Bob noted, there's a blurb from President Bill Clinton right on the cover there, so he approves of the book -- if you want to understand inside Washington and some of the most interesting cases of this one Washington lawyer, a very good one.

Bob, thanks very much.

BENNETT: Thank you, John, so much.

KING: Thank you.

BENNETT: I appreciate it.

KING: Thanks for being on "Late Edition."

And still ahead, Barack Obama hoping for a knockout punch, Hillary Clinton fighting for a big comeback. We'll talk with two governors about the Democratic race for president. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: There's much more ahead, including top two supporters from the Clinton and Obama campaigns. We'll talk with Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, when "Late Edition" continues at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice over): Tracking terror.

MCCONNELL: We cannot do the job we have to do without the cooperation of the private sector. KING: The law allowing controversial surveillance measures expires. Now, how safe is the United States?

We talk to the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell.

Texas showdown.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: I offer a lifetime of experience and proven results.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: I want to help America be as good as its promise.

KING: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fight for the Democratic presidential nomination. We talk with two top supporters from the campaign, Pennsylvania Ed Rendell and Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius.

Plus, insight on the week's big developments in the race for the White House from three of the best political team on television. "Late Edition's" second hour begins right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And welcome back to the second hour of "Late Edition." I'm John King, sitting in today for Wolf Blitzer.

The director of national intelligence is accusing Congress of compromising the nation's ability to fight terrorism by allowing the Protect America Act -- that's an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- to expire.

So is the United States really in more danger?

Joining me here in Washington is the director of national intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell.

Admiral, thanks for joining us today.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.

KING: To most Americans out there, and to a guy like me who's spent most of his time, in the past several months, out covering a presidential campaign, this is highly detailed stuff that's pretty hard to follow.

So, the FISA -- the Protect America Act expires. One thing, let me ask you right off the top, Congress says it offered a 21-day extension. Why not just sign on to the 21-day extension and give it three more weeks to try to sort this out?

MCCONNELL: Well, John, since it is so complex, let me just start with the fundamentals, and then, maybe, we can build from there.

First of all, why do we have this act? Why was it passed? There was some abuses in the past. In the late 1970s, Congress conducted hearings. And at the end of that, they wanted to be able to do two things; one, protect Americans from unauthorized surveillance; and two, enable my community to do foreign surveillance.

So the issue is doing foreign surveillance while protecting Americans. So, now, the act, which was passed in '78, did not accommodate the fact that technology changed. So we might be conducting surveillance of a foreigner, a terrorist in a foreign country, talking to another terrorist in a foreign country, and our access to that information might be here in the United States. That's the issue.

KING: That's the issue. And so you signed on to this letter. because the act expired and you were unable to reach an agreement with the Congress, you signed onto a letter.

It's you and the attorney general, Michael Mukasey, who said this, "We have lost intelligence information this past week as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Congress' failure to act."

Now, if I'm an average American sitting out there, I'm thinking, so I'm less safe today. How do you know -- if you can't gather the intelligence, how do you know you lost some?

MCCONNELL: You're less safe today because we lost some of our ability to monitor.

Here's the issue, John. We cannot do this mission; we cannot do this activity without the help of the private sector.

And when the act expired, there is a portion of the act passed last year that provided prospective liability protection. It's expired.

So the private sector partners said, well, wait a minute, are we now protected?

So we went through a discussion, for the entire week -- now, this is the problem. We may have authority to conduct surveillance, and we do, of, for example, Al Qaida, but you can't make that actionable if you have something specific to load into our systems to target.

So when we wanted to load new information, the private sector partners said, we're not prepared to do that. So we negotiated all week to be able to come to cloture.

KING: Help the layman understand what you mean by "load new information." You mean load somebody's cell phone code; load some Internet conversation? what are we talking about?

MCCONNELL: Well, let me start with the accusation first. Some would say that our community is broadly spying on Americans, combing through lots of data. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the situation we're in, we have to be very surgical about what we reach in and take out. So, an identifier, a telephone number would allow us to do that.

So if you want to put in a new telephone number, because you have now identified a terrorist, a member of Al Qaida, be you didn't know who he was before, didn't know his telephone number, that's the part we had to negotiate over the week.

So, for five or six days, there's information we missed. We don't know what that was because we miss it. We may never recover it.

KING: I know you don't like to get involved in the politics of all this.

MCCONNELL: That's correct.

KING: But Senator Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, says this, "No amount of fearmongering will change the fact that our intelligence-collection capabilities have not been weakened last week. Even the president's own director of national intelligence agrees."

That would be you, sir, Harry Reid putting you in his statement accusing the administration, of which you are a member, of fearmongering.

MCCONNELL: John, we're less safe because we're not as an agile. And we have to have the cooperation and partnership from the private sector. And we are actually negotiating -- so, think about it. We may be able to get information that's fleeting, seconds or minutes, and you have to sit down with a lawyer to say, well, can I do this?

So that's the issue that makes us less capable because we can't keep up. We have to be agile, and it takes full partnership from the private sector.

KING: I want you to listen to something you yourself said to the Intelligence Committee on February 14, that some are citing you're saying, now, the damage is worse than you said just a short time ago. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: The provisions of the bill allow us that, once we had submitted to the FISA Court the procedures and so on, they were approved. And we are loaded. From the date that's approved, we get a year. So some level of connection -- collection will go forward if it, in fact, expires on Saturday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It expired. It expired, some level of collection goes forward. Explain, to the best you can, to someone out there who doesn't understand the intricacies of, A, how you gather it, and, B, what this intelligence is.

To the degree you can, what's the missing piece?

MCCONNELL: The missing piece, John, is directive. Now, this gets a little technical, but an authorization is one thing, an authorization to collect against Al Qaida. They put it in last August. We can collect against Al Qaida today.

However, a new personality, a new phone number, a new location -- we now have to put it into the system to be able to collect the information. That's the question, because the private sector partners said nothing new.

So we had to negotiate that. Because what it created was uncertainty, and the position from the private sector point of view, "Am I protected? Does the law allow you to compel me to comply?"

And when the act expired last week, that's in question. And that's why we feel that we are less capable of doing our job.

KING: You say "private sector partner." It's the phone companies, Internet service providers, somebody out there, in a private enterprise, where you think we have a number we need to trace; we have a conversation we think we need to trace; here's our evidence that it's worth doing; we need you need to cooperate with us now.

One of the disputes in this, as you know, is a legal question is about immunity.

I want to read you something else from Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader. He says, "For the president, this debate isn't about protecting America. It's about protecting the telecommunications industry and his own administration. He's explicitly refused to compromise on immunity for telecommunications companies, even as he's claimed the law's expiration endangers Americans."

I can only conclude then that the president would put American lives on the line to let the phone companies off the hook."

Now, there are some who say, if you're wrong, and I am somehow abused by this process, I should have the right to sue the phone companies. Why not?

MCCONNELL: Well, since you're reading, let me try. Because I anticipated your question. And this is the language that comes out of the Senate Oversight Committee, bipartisan that voted out the current bill in the Senate.

And they did an extensive investigation. This is what they said. "The committee was concerned that, without retroactive immunity the private sector might be unwilling to cooperate with lawful government requests in the future without unnecessary court involvement and protracted litigation." And this is the most important point. "The possible reduction in the intelligence that might result from this delay is simply unacceptable for the safety of our nation."

Now, there is a debate between some members of Congress and the administration over how the program was conducted immediately after 9/11. That's a disagreement by some members on the Hill and the administration. What we're talking about here is getting a bill that allows us to conduct electronic investigation against foreigners that wish us harm and protect U.S. persons.

There's something else that was added to the bill. Previously, under the law, and under the executive order, if a U.S. person was conducting unlawful activities, for example, as a spy, and he traveled overseas, the attorney general could authorize my community to conduct surveillance.

In the Senate bill, that changes, and it makes it very simple. A U.S. person gets a warranted protection, supervised by a court, anywhere on the globe.

The other part is also true. It does not require us to have a warrant to conduct surveillance against foreign entities. And the foreign entity could be a terrorist; it could be North Korea. It could be Syria.

MCCONNELL: And our mission is foreign intelligence. So it's not like we're spying on Americans. We are using a system that's global. Global communications pass through America, and we need the ability to pull out the foreign communications.

KING: Let me ask you about a number of other hot spots around the world after the break, but before we take a break, one more quick question. I know you don't like to get involved in the politics. But how much of this in your view, the dispute, is a legitimate disagreement or dispute over some policy things? Whether it's the immunity provision, whether it's about the scope of your powers, how much power you should have, especially within the confines of the United States, and how much of it is just lingering tensions and frustrations between the Democratic majority and a Republican president that many of those Democrats simply do not trust?

MCCONNELL: I think some of this is lingering concern. I think some of it has been politicized. But what I would point out, after very strenuous debate -- and I watched almost all of it -- on the Senate side, the bill passed 68-29. And I believe in my heart of hearts, if it would be brought up on the House floor, it would get a similar vote, and we would move on. And then if those who disagree with the president's past activity, let them disagree with the president, but let us go do our job. And then of course the electoral process will take care of those disagreements in the eyes of the American people.

KING: Admiral Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence. Stay right here, because in a moment, we'll get to the political strife in the race for the Democratic nomination. But when we come back, more from the Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell discussing key world hot spots. Stay with us. You're watching "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Once again, I'm joined by the director of national intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell.

Before the break, we were talking about this controversy between the administration and Congress about surveillance powers. I want to wrap it up and move on to some discussion of other world hot spots, but just tell me first, in this dispute, you're trying to change some things in the surveillance laws that you believe are necessary to modernize it. Specifically, what is it you are looking for? MCCONNELL: John, I'll answer that with just three basic points, points I've made since I came back into government. First of all, do not require us to get a warrant for surveillance against a foreign terrorist in a foreign country talking with someone else in a foreign country. The issue is it may pass through the United States, and under the old rules we had to get a warrant, and it takes a lot of time.

Second issue, warranted protection for a U.S. person anywhere on the globe. That's the right thing to do. We're for that. And that in fact is in the Senate bill.

The third thing, and this is very important, we can't do the mission without the assistance of the private sector. So we have to do several things. One, a means to compel them to help us, and then for that help, liability protection. And when the bill was passed last August, it was prospective, future liability protection, but not retroactive. And the retroactive, billions of dollars in suits, so that's the part we have to get corrected in the new legislation.

KING: OK, we'll keep track of this as it goes on.

I want to turn your attention to some other places in the world that might be causing Americans some angst at the moment. We have seen the political turmoil in Pakistan. Most Americans probably don't follow as closely the political parties in Pakistan, how this all works out, but they do know that Pervez Musharraf has been a key ally in the Bush administration in the war on terrorism. Many of the opposition parties are saying it is time for him to go. And there was some questions actually just before the elections as to whether he was doing what you were asking him to do, doing things on his own right, using his intelligence services and his military, and allowing our intelligence community the freedom to operate in some cases within Pakistan.

The state of play right now, sir. Are you more confident or less confident that you can do what you think is necessary within the borders of Pakistan, especially up in the Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal areas. Can you do everything you need to do today, or has the political uncertainty there compromised that?

MCCONNELL: John, that's the question. That is the key question.

Let me start by saying, first of all, that Pakistan, led by President Musharraf, has been our best partner. We have been able to kill or capture more of the Al Qaida leadership in partnership with Pakistan than anyone else.

Now, that said, you can always be better, and our dialogue and negotiation was how to get better and what would we do differently.

Now, the election has changed the political scene there. The two parties that are going to form a coalition do not have enough members to impeach President Musharraf, although some are talking about that. So the question is, what happens when a coalition is formed in the new government and what is the position of the president? So we'll be very carefully monitoring that, engaging with the Pakistani government as this goes forward.

KING: And some of the members of the new coalition, frankly, resent the United States for thinking it put too many eggs in the Musharraf basket, if you will, stood by him too long. Do you suspect that there will there be fallout in terms of the tone and tenor of the relationship with the new members of the coalition?

MCCONNELL: John, it could be, but one thing that's sort of not noticed or reported upon very much is many of the fundamentalists, those radicals who were very vocal about engagement with the United States, lost in the election. And the more secular members are the ones that prevailed.

So I'm optimistic that we'll be able to figure out how to work with the Pakistani government going forward and be more effective than we have been in the past.

KING: I want to read you something. This is from Lieutenant General Dell Dailey, who's the State Department's counterterrorism chief. This was in the New York Times a little more than a month ago. He's talking about what's going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan right along the border area.

"We don't have enough information about what's going on there. Not on Al Qaida, not on foreign fighters, not on the Taliban."

If I'm an American citizen, worrying about Al Qaida or Osama bin Laden, the potential of another attack here in the United States, that leaves me pretty worried.

MCCONNELL: It does indeed, and me worried also. But what I would highlight, John, is this region of the world has never been ruled from the outside -- not by Pakistan, not by the British when they were there. It's a very inhospitable region. It's tribal. It's located at very high altitude. It's primitive in many regards.

Example -- literacy among women in that area is about 2 percent. Literacy among men is 20 percent, 25 percent. So this is a very difficult region to get into and conduct the kind of surveillance or get the information that we need to be effective.

MCCONNELL: With the information you have, is Al Qaida in a position now, is it training, is it planning in a way that makes it more likely that it is capable of another attack like September 11th, or less likely?

MCCONNELL: It is training. They're enjoying safe haven. They have the leadership that they had before. They have rebuilt the middle management of the trainers, and they're recruiting very vigorously.

So while they were degraded significantly in 2001 when -- to about the 2006 timeframe, when they established the safe haven, they have been improving their capability.

I reference back to our conversation earlier. That's the very reason we need to have this Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act capability, because that's one of our principal tools in tracking someone who may be recruited in Europe, go to Pakistan to train, and then come back to Europe to be positioned, without a visa, because visas are not required in many cases, to fly into the United States. That's why we need those tools.

KING: As you know, the national intelligence estimate on Iran came out back in November. And it has been used by many around the world to say this is not as much of a crisis as the United States is trying to make it to be, the whole controversy about Iran's nuclear program.

Because the NIE said this. "We judge with his confidence that, in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program."

Now I know you have voiced some regret at the language in this intelligence estimate. Give the American people your best sense, right now, of the state of Iran's nuclear program, particularly whether it is a threat.

MCCONNELL: Let me correct something you said. And I did not say it halted a nuclear weapons program. What it said is it halted the design of -- a specific design of a nuclear warhead.

A program has to have fissile material. They're continuing to do that. You have to have a means of delivery, ballistic missiles. They're continuing to do that.

So the hardest part in that three-part equation is fissile material, and they're continuing.

You know, I went back to see, because I was out of government at the time; in 2001, we did an estimate. we did an estimate; and then, last year, at the end of the year, we did an estimate.

And our estimate for when they would have nuclear weapons hasn't changed throughout that period, 2010 to 2015 -- probably in the middle portion of that is most likely.

So the threat continues. They canceled a very specific portion of it, or halted, I should say. And what were the circumstances?

In 2003, the U.S. had just -- with the allies -- had just invaded Iraq, and significant pressure was being applied to the Iranian government.

So I think that activity and the pressure caused them to halt a very specific portion. It was secret. They've never admitted it. And, for all we know, they could have turned it back on. We are doing everything we can to understand that, but we don't have perfect knowledge. KING: And so, in your estimation, has the international reaction to this report, which is to say, it's OK, we can take more time; everybody can calm down a little bit; the Bush administration's pushing too hard for sanctions and further -- is the international reaction to the NIE -- has it been counterproductive to what you think needs to be done to avert a threat?

MCCONNELL: I think the international community overreacted. When you quoted what the NIE said, many heard it that way. And I think they, sort of, took a deep breath and overreacted. However, I would point out that the permanent five, China, Russia, France, U.K, and the United States, plus one, Germany, have now agreed to continuing sanctions.

So I think, after the initial "what is this; what does it mean," we've, sort of, gotten beyond it. And I think sanctions will continue.

KING: I wish we had more time. We have to call it a day for there. The direct of national intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell. Sir, thank you very much.

And coming up next, Hillary Clinton says Barack Obama should be ashamed of his campaign tactics. Are these charges real or just a sign the race for the nomination is getting tough, as it comes down to the wire?

We'll hear from both campaigns in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back to "Late Edition." The candidates were all smiles at their most recent debate -- almost all smiles, anyway. But it's getting a lot frostier out there on the campaign trail, Senator Clinton accusing Senator Obama of underhanded political tactics.

Real outrage, or just another political tactic?

Let's put that question to key leaders of both campaigns. The Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius has endorsed Senator Obama and the Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, an outspoken supporter of Senator Clinton.

Governors, thank you both for joining us here on "Late Edition."

Governor Rendell, I want to start with something you said recently that has stirred up a bit of controversy. You're not a stranger to controversy from time to time.

You said this to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette back in February. "You've got conservative whites here, and I think there are some whites who are probably not ready to vote for an African-American candidate."

And you know, some took that as, as a Clinton supporter, you were trying to push back on Senator Obama. RENDELL: NO, actually I was in a room with no windows talking to six men and I had no intention of trying to influence the campaign.

I also said, in the next breath, that Senator Obama has brought an incredible amount of new voters into the political process, and that could counterbalance that.

I also said that there were some Pennsylvanians who probably weren't ready to vote for a woman as commander in chief.

Those things are truisms. And Senator Obama -- give him tremendous credit for overcoming a lot of that on the campaign trail.

Do I think some of might exist? Sure, at the margin. But it's not a big factor. And he's done a terrific job overcoming that. But, no, I wasn't trying to influence the campaign. There were six people. I was talking about my education budget. I was about to leave, and they said, "Handicap the Pennsylvania primary for us."

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Is that a fair statement, that there are some white Americans who won't vote for an African-American, and maybe some who won't simply vote for a woman as commander in chief?

SEBELIUS: You know, there may be. But I think Democrats are making history this year. And that's terrific. It's good for the country. It's good for the world. It's good for the party.

So we have an African-American and a woman. One of them will be the nominee. I think it will be Senator Obama. But one of them will make history, all the way through.

And I think what happens, a woman governor shows citizens that women can be CEOs. You know, an African-American candidate who does very well in white states and black states proves that you can win; you can win over voters. And I think people get over their original hesitation and prejudices when they get to know the candidates.

KING: Campaigns get testy sometimes, as you both well know. And this is a very contentious time. Senator Obama, if you count the Democrats abroad voting, has won the last 11 contests. And you don't want to be 0-11 in whatever you're in, politics or any sport.

Senator Clinton, in Ohio yesterday, was objecting to some flyers put out in the past by the Obama campaign, but, now again, about NAFTA and about health care, mailings, essentially direct mail pieces to the voters. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Shame on you, Barack Obama. It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public. That's what I expect from you. Meet me in Ohio. Let's have a debate about your tactics and your behavior in this campaign.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is it fair to say, Governor Rendell, that when a candidate is challenging the opponent to more debates, that's usually the candidate who is worried he or she is losing?

RENDELL: Well, maybe so. Maybe a candidate has got a lot of things to say. And Senator Clinton, I think, was particularly upset about Senator Obama's flyer -- and maybe the candidates don't read all the flyers that go out -- but which said that poor people were going to be left out because they weren't going to be able to afford health care coverage under her plan.

The very essence of her plan is to make sure that everyone can have health insurance regardless of what their income level is. It's a subsidized plan and the subsidy depends on your income level.

So that was a scare tactic. And I can't believe that someone as fine a guy as Senator Obama would have done that.

And then the second flier said -- they committed a cardinal sin. They attributed a quote to Senator Clinton saying NAFTA was a boon to the economy, when in fact it was Newsday who said that, and Newsday actually had done a retraction.

RENDELL: I testified before Senator Clinton at a hearing two years ago in which she wanted to crack down on unfair trade, and we gave examples of how China's manipulating currency, China's theft of intellectual property, our failure as a country to be aggressive in the World Trade Organization, was hurting Pennsylvania businesses, and Senator Clinton got it. So she's been interested in cracking down on unfair trade for a long time, way before this campaign started.

KING: Tough mailings, whether they're fair or he said somewhat unfair in this case, pretty traditional politics. People sent these direct mail pieces. They tend to be somewhat controversial at times. There are some who would say it proves to them that Senator Obama is another traditional politician, not some new fresh voice.

SEBELIUS: Well, I think it's clear that Ohio is a battleground. 20-point difference as recently as two weeks ago. Ohio's closing.

Ohio's economy has been devastated by NAFTA, and the results of what people see as unfair trades, shipping jobs out of America. And I think there is a clear difference. It was put on the table by Senator Clinton's husband. It was a trade agreement that a lot of people in that Rust Belt area, in the manufacturing area, in a state like Ohio, where I grew up, see it as devastating.

And I think there is a clear difference in their health care plans. Again, one has an individual mandate; you must buy insurance, really, regardless of whether or not you can't afford it. And at some level, I would agree with Ed. Both have subsidies for the very low income, but that breaks at a point.

There are people in Massachusetts who are paying a fine, and they still can't afford insurance. And that's been a point I think Senator Obama has made is, you know, the individual mandate doesn't work. What we need to do is lower the costs of the plan overall and encourage people to purchase health insurance and make it available to everyone. And I think that's a strategy that works.

RENDELL: I don't think Kathleen would endorse using a flyer that attributes a quote to a candidate that she didn't make.

SEBELIUS: That's true.

KING: We'll continue on that.

I want you to listen, both of you listen now to something Senator Obama has been saying. He's trying to essentially break Democrats that don't support her, support me. And I want you to listen to one of his reasons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It's not a choice between speeches and solutions. It's a choice between a politics that offers more of the same divisions and distractions that didn't work in South Carolina and didn't work in Wisconsin, and will not work in Texas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Divisions and distractions. You know, all of the Democrats have been saying McCain would be a third Bush term. Obama there essentially saying that Democrats shouldn't want a third Clinton term, isn't he? You don't want polarization, division, distractions?

RENDELL: Well, I think he's trying to shift the emphasis away from solutions. Because I would invite any of our viewers today, John, to go on, as I did, the Web sites of both the Obama campaign and the Clinton campaign and look at their solutions for health care, the economy, energy -- things that are crucial to the nation's future.

Senator Obama has good plans, and I can support him if he's our nominee. In fact, I'd like to see Kathleen here as his running mate. The prairie duo.

But, but...

KING: The prairie duo.

RENDELL: But if you look at Senator Clinton's plans, they're absolutely stunning in how smart they are, how new they are.

Talk about change. Change is on that Web site, in solutions. That's the real change, and people should pay attention to that.

SEBELIUS: I think, again, I would enthusiastically and will enthusiastically support the nominee who is chosen by the party. I think what Senator Obama's addressing there and has addressed across the country is we have a system broken in Washington. We have -- this race is about past versus future, and I don't think there's any question that he is the candidate who represents the change that we can believe in.

You can't have a plan that works, you can't get to a solution unless you can bring people together, unless you have an overwhelming mandate to go to Washington and get it done.

KING: We're almost -- we're going to be short on time, so let me just ask you, we're almost certain to have John McCain as the Republican nominee. I want you to listen to something Senator McCain said earlier this week in Columbus, Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: No more than an eloquent but empty call for change that promises no more than a holiday from history and a return to the false promises and failed policies of a tired philosophy that trusts in government more than the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now there's a criticism there. Senator McCain is criticizing Senator Obama there. But I want both of you to assess the strength of a McCain candidacy. He is someone who has proven appeal among independents. He thinks he can reach out and get some conservative Democrats to support him. You both are governors of states with a fair number of conservative Democrats. Senator McCain win this election?

SEBELIUS: I think Senator McCain definitely has appeal. People admire and respect his service, his military service, his heroism. But I think there's no clearer opportunity than to talk about the past and the future. If you have Barack Obama measured up against John McCain, you have choices that people really will be looking at very carefully.

You know, we had this race a little bit. Bob Dole was a war hero. Bob Dole was a Kansan. He had a lot of experience inside the Beltway. John McCain has been there for 25 years. And I think we have seen that matchup once before.

And while people gave him respect, gave him admiration, they ultimately chose the candidate who they thought was more connected with their lives, who was interested in health care and interested in the economy, interested in moving America forward, and frankly had new, fresh vision. I think we have an opportunity to do that once again.

KING: Bush won Pennsylvania twice. They thought they could get it, they thought they could get it, they couldn't get it. John McCain is a better candidate in Pennsylvania?

RENDELL: Yeah, I think he's the strongest Republican that they'll field in the last five presidential elections. But where Senator McCain falls down in his rhetoric yesterday is both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton want to get us out of Iraq. Senator McCain has said that we might be there, American men and women will be there for 100 more years. As governors, we talk to the families of national guardsmen, of servicemen who die in Iraq. It's the single toughest thing I do, John, and it's very hard for me to explain to them exactly what it is our policy is, and what their sons and in one case in Pennsylvania daughters are fighting for.

Senator Obama -- and that attack I think was aimed at Senator Obama -- Senator Obama intends to change a lot of things. First and foremost, the process. And that's important.

Where I think Senator Clinton has the advantage is her substantive ideas are where the change is going to occur. New theory in the economy, invest in research that will allow America to stay on the cutting edge.

So both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton are not empty suits when it comes to change. We're talking about real change.

KING: Governors, I wish we had more time, but we're out of time this day. We have a few more months left in this campaign. I suspect we'll get some more time to visit with both of you, Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. Thank you both so much for joining us on "Late Edition."

SEBELIUS: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

And coming up on "Late Edition," we're just over a week away from four big contests that may decide the Democratic nomination. We'll tell you who's up, who's down, with the best political team on television when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NADER: And in that context, I have decided to run for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ralph Nader announcing for president as an independent, earlier this morning, on "Meet the Press." It's the latest political event in what's been another wild week in politics.

So let's get right to our political panel. CNN correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is covering the race in Toledo, Ohio. That's not Hawaii. That's Toledo, Ohio.

Welcome back to the mainland, Suzanne.

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is standing by in Austin, Texas. And with me here in Washington is CNN political contributor Amy Walter, editor and chief of The Hotline.

I'm not being fair to Suzanne. So we'll talk to Suzanne about this first, out there. Welcome back to the mainland. Toledo is not Hawaii.

MALVEAUX: Don't be a hater, John.

KING: I'm not a hater, just welcoming you home.

(LAUGHTER)

So Ralph Nader runs again, and the reflex reaction of most people in politics is that hurts the Democrats, right, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Well, we've heard from both Senator Clinton, as well as Barack Obama, on this, Senator Clinton sounding incredulous before reporters this morning, saying, "Is he really? What is his rationale?" and then launching into the fact that it's quite unfortunate, that it's sad that the last time he ran with the Green Party, he prevented the greenest possible presidency, that of Al Gore, back in 2000.

We've heard from Barack Obama, trying to downplay it, as well, saying that he believes whoever gets the nomination and ultimately the win is going to have to win by a large enough margin so that someone like Ralph Nader doesn't matter.

You'd expect for both of these candidates to say that something like this. But I did speak with a prominent Democrat inside the party who essentially said they don't believe Nader is going to make all that much difference.

They point to reasons. They say John Edwards ran with this message against corporate America. Where is he now? He's back in North Carolina.

They also say the kind of campaign that Obama is running now, with all these thousands of new voters coming in, fresh to the process, is just the kind of campaign that Nader had dreamt of the last time around, but didn't see it happen, that Obama is actually making that kind of campaign happen.

KING: So, Bill, what's your sense of that?

You look at all the polling data. Is there a niche for Ralph Nader that could actually have an impact on the race?

SCHNEIDER: It's a disappearing niche. In 2000, when he ran, he got about 2.8 million votes. In 2004, he got fewer than half a million votes. I imagine anyone left who's going to vote for Ralph Nader -- these are probably people who wouldn't vote if Ralph Nader weren't running. They're the real diehards.

I mean, he really has gone, over the past, what, eight years, when he ran back in '96 as a green candidate -- he's gone from being a revered, national icon to something of a public nuisance.

KING: Something of a public nuisance?

Amy, presidential elections are decided on the electoral college. So is there a state out there that you think Ralph Nader actually could switch -- and are we done? Is Ralph Nader going to our only conversation about a third-party candidate...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Are we going to have Mayor Bloomberg, or are we could going to have somebody else coming in?

WALTER: I mean, I think the two words for Ralph Nader -- "won't matter." That's my summation of the Ralph Nader vote. I mean, you have -- Democrats are more enthusiastic than ever, as voters, both for Hillary Clinton and for Barack Obama -- so very different environment, also, after eight years of a Republican president.

But let's look at Michael Bloomberg. And The Hotline actually did a poll this week, looking at the Bloomberg factor. He doesn't draw a whole lot votes. He wasn't getting any higher than 6 percent against any of the matchups. But he was drawing more from Republicans. And he especially helped in a Hillary Clinton-John McCain matchup, absolutely helped Hillary Clinton much more than John McCain. KING: So we'll keep our eye on Mayor Bloomberg perhaps more than Ralph Nader, in Amy's view.

Let's move onto another subject. The Democratic race -- obviously Barack Obama is 11-0 in the last 11 contests, if you count the Democrats abroad voting.

And he is hoping to put this race away, with wins in Ohio and in Texas, Ohio, a key industrial battleground.

I want all of you to listen to Senator Barack Obama criticizing Senator Hillary Clinton on NAFTA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The truth is that Senator Clinton supported NAFTA before she ran for president. You can't be for something or take credit for an administration and 35 years of experience and then, when you run for president, suggest somehow that you didn't really mean what you said back then. It doesn't work that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: NAFTA, of course, the North American Free Trade Agreement pushed through by then President Clinton back in the 1980s.

Suzanne Malveaux, there are workers in a place like Ohio who feel these trade deals have cost them their jobs. Obama and Clinton in quite a fierce back-and-forth about this.

MALVEAUX: Well, that's absolutely right. And, in the past, she has praised NAFTA. She has evolved in her position as well. She's also been critical of it.

So, clearly, it's very important for her to make her position clear and to take on Obama, if there is any misrepresentation that they feel that is happening here.

One of the reasons why we saw such a spirited Senator Clinton yesterday, taking him on over fliers that she said misrepresented her position, over the trade deal, is essentially, according to one of her closest friends, is that she really runs a much better campaign when she's the underdog, when she is not the incumbent, when she is not on top.

She is a true fighter. And they believe, as long as she continues with this kind of fight, this spirit, that is how she won New Hampshire. They believe that that is how she is ultimately going to come on top when it comes to Ohio and perhaps Texas.

KING: At the close of our Democratic debate, the other day, in Austin, Bill Schneider, Hillary Clinton gave a statement that her campaign immediately e-mailed transcript; then put a link out to the video, saying this show her to be the fighter, the woman you want to be your nominee and your president.

Let's listen to a bit of Senator Hillary Clinton at the end of our debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people. And that's what this election should be about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Bill, some took that as Senator Clinton saying, "I'm a fighter for the American people." Some took that as the statement of a woman who seems to understand the trend in this election, and that she was saying, this is what my campaign was about, almost a valedictory address. What was your take?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it did sound to some people like a concession speech. You kept hearing that from people, is she giving up, when she says, "Whatever happens?"

That usually is, you know, the way you talk in a concession speech.

For most of the debate, she did come across as a fighter, however, someone who kept saying, again and again, I will fight for you; I've always been there to fight for you; I'm on your side.

What, I think, she's missing here is that, this year, unlike most years when partisans want a fighter, this year they may be looking for someone who doesn't fight a lot, who doesn't pick fights.

And that's what Obama is really running on. And I think that's why his message is working better than her message. Because people are tired of all the fighting. Obama is running against what he calls the last 20 years, including the '90s, the Clinton wars. And he's getting a response from an electorate that's looking for someone who can deliver what George Bush promised, way back in 1999, when he said "I'm going to be a uniter, not a divider." And he utterly failed to deliver. That's why his message seems to be working this year better than hers.

KING: And one of the fights in the Republican Party has been whether its conservative talk show hosts will rally around their candidate, John McCain.

I want you all to listen to Rush Limbaugh. This was after the New York Times story earlier in the week, suggesting John McCain may or may not have had an inappropriate relationship with a Washington lobbyist. Rush Limbaugh is no fan of John McCain, but listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: The story is not the story. The story is the drive-by media turning on its favorite maverick, trying to take him out. The media picked the Republican candidate. The New York Times endorsed that candidate while they sat on this story, and now, with utter predictability, they are trying to destroy him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, Amy, Rush Limbaugh essentially telling John McCain, you get what you asked for. You're a media darling. Guess what? Now you're a media villain.

WALTER: Right.

KING: Where is this going in the Republican Party? Is it a nonevent?

WALTER: It sure seems that way. Well, let's rewind it for a minute. I think whether or not this happened, the idea that John McCain needed conservatives to rally around him has been sort of this conventional wisdom. And at the same time, when you look at all the polling, there's nothing to suggest right now that conservative Republican voters aren't going to come home to John McCain. That yes, some of them, especially evangelicals and others who you have been seeing too in the exit polls have been supporting Mike Huckabee. But it's not because they dislike John McCain as much as they just like Mike Huckabee better. And they may not be enthusiastically embracing him.

So this gave I think for many, Rush Limbaugh and others, an opportunity to put themselves back in the spotlight more than anything else, and to help, you know, John McCain curry favor with those folks.

KING: Well put. Amy Walter here in Washington. Suzanne Malveaux in Toledo, Ohio. Bill Schneider still down in Austin, Texas. Thank you all for joining us on our panel today.

And up next, the big news on the Sunday morning talk shows. As we reported, Ralph Nader's announcement on his presidential bid. We'll bring you all the highlights in our very popular "In Case You Missed It" segment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: And now "In Case You Missed It," let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows.

On NBC, Ralph Nader rejected the argument that he'll be a spoiler in this year's presidential race as some are saying he was back in 2000.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RALPH NADER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 25 percent of my vote, according to a Democratic pollster's exit poll, would have gone to Bush, 39 percent would have gone to Gore, and the rest would have stayed home.

Every third party in Florida got more votes than the 537 vote gap. So let's get over it in trying to have a diverse, multiple- choice, multiple-party democracy the way they have in Europe and Canada. This bit of spoiler is really very astonishing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: On CBS, a senior adviser to the McCain campaign discussed the impact of a controversial New York Times story about the Republican presidential frontrunner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES BLACK, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN: I don't think it makes much difference in the campaign in the long run, but the story was a phony story designed to smear Senator McCain's integrity. It didn't, because it did not meet journalistic standards.

We're moving on, and want to talk about why John McCain is best qualified to be commander in chief and how he'll solve the big problems facing the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: On Fox and ABC, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison weighed in on the possibility of being vice presidential candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. TIM KAINE, D-VA.: I do have a very important job at hand, which is governing Virginia, and I want to do everything I can to help Barack win Virginia, and I think I can do that as governor. SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, R-TEXAS: I don't want to be vice president. I do support Senator McCain. I think he is a hero. He's a decisive, independent person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

And coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week in Politics" with host Tom Foreman. Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're rolling out the red carpet on "This Week in Politics" for the high noon drama of the Democratic debate. The Republican brawl with the press and the trouble that can happen to a politician with a song in his or her heart.

All this and much, much more coming up right at the top of the hour.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: And that's your "Late Edition" for Sunday, February 24th. Wolf Blitzer will be back next Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm John King in Washington. For international viewers, stand by for world news. For those of you in North America, "This Week in Politics" begins right now.

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