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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interview With British Defense Minister John Reid; Interview With Saddam Hussein's Attorney Giovanni di Stefano

Aired July 17, 2005 - 12:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon here in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5 p.m. in London and 8 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 this week.

We'll get to our interview with the British defense secretary, John Reid, in just a few moments. But first, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.


KING: And more details now on our top story. An Iraqi tribunal has filed the first formal charges against Saddam Hussein. That development comes during what has been a deadly weekend in Iraq.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad tracking both stories for us.



First to the news today that Saddam Hussein and other members of the former regime could face trial as early as September. It follows the formal referral of charges today by the chief investigative judge. You're seeing him there on your screen.

There's a 45-day minimum period that must pass between today's referral and any start of a trial date, which is why we're saying at the earliest it could take place in September.

Now, Hussein, as well as the other members of the regime, are facing charges in this trial specific to a 1982 incident in the town of Dujayl, north of the capital city. There in July of 1982, Saddam Hussein narrowly escaped an assassination attempt. Following that, some 150 people, residents of Dujayl, were executed.

The video you're seeing came out last month when Saddam Hussein was interrogated about this specific case.

Now, the special tribunal will not be trying these individuals one by one. Instead, John, they're going to try this as a case-by- case basis. So this will essentially be the first of what would likely be many trials Saddam Hussein will face. Ahead, he'll face trials for the 1991 killing of some 150,000 Shiites, for the gassing of the Kurds in the north.

All of them, he faces the potential of the death penalty.

Now, this announcement comes as violence once again ravages Iraq.

First, the death toll rising today in what has become one of the deadliest insurgent attacks since the war. It took place late yesterday evening local time, south of the capital city in the town of Musayyib. At least 90 people are confirmed dead, some 160 others wounded.

This video is the morning after, as residents just began to digest the enormity of what had taken place after a suicide bomber detonated next to a fuel truck in the town center, next to the gas station, next to apartments, next to homes. At the same time of that explosion, mortars were launched at the police headquarters, as well as the hospital.


KING: Aneesh Raman for us in Baghdad.

Thank you very much, Aneesh.

And at the top of "LATE EDITION's" next hour, we'll hear from the attorney for Saddam Hussein.

Now to London, where more information is emerging about the suspects in that city's terror attacks. And there is, of course, in the wake of those attacks, an evolving political debate, as well, about how to fight terrorism.

CNN's Charles Hodson is in the British capital with details.


CHARLES HODSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, I'm outside King's Cross station, and police here in Britain have released a video still captured on CCTV about an hour and a half before the first of the bombings. It was taken at Luton railway station, railroad station, about, only less than half an hour by train from here, from King's Cross station, at 7:20 a.m. on the morning of the bombings.

Let me describe what you see. All four of the suspected bombers. On the left-hand side, the imposing figure of Habib Hussain. To the center of the screen, you see Lindsey Germaine in white trainers. Behind him, Mohammed Sidique Khan in the white cap. He is supposed to have been the ringleader of these attackers. And Shehzad Tanweer on the right-hand side. So those are the four suspected bombers.

Police hope that this picture will jog the memories of those who may have seen them boarding that train at Luton in order to come here to King's Cross. In the days ahead, though, the focus will shift back on to the political sphere. The home secretary, Charles Clark, here is expected to discuss in the next few days with opposition leaders the possibility of introducing additional anti-terror legislation. This would, for example, include making an offense to indirectly incite terrorism. This is seen as a means of tackling preachers who praise suicide bombers.

This within the context of Tony Blair, the British prime minister saying, "Within Britain, we must join up with our Muslim community to take on the extremists."


KING: Charles Hodson for us in London.

Charles, thank you very much, tracking that very difficult investigation.

And although the four suspects in the London terror attacks were all longtime British residents, the investigation is stretching into other countries.

Joining us now from London is British Defense Minister John Reid.

Mr. Reid, welcome to "LATE EDITION."

And let us follow up on that point. Charles Hodson just showed us the pictures of the four suspected bombers in this case. But how big of a conspiracy are we talking about? Ultimately, how many people do you believe were involved in these bombings?

JOHN REID, BRITISH DEFENSE MINISTER: Well, I think that's a matter to be ascertained. Of course, there's a degree of shock when we find that some of them bred here in Britain and brought up in Britain, apparently moving in our communities.

But that shows the all-pervasive nature of what we're trying to deal with, because at the same time as we're recognizing that domestically, we're seeing innocent children slaughtered by terrorists in Iraq, Muslim children, tourists being murdered in Turkey and elsewhere in the world. So this is truly an international phenomenon, as well as a domestic fight.

I think that the effect, if it was to cow the British and break our spirits and divide the population here, has been exactly the opposite. I think there's been a great deal of resilience here among our people and a great deal of coming together, not only the whole community, with the Muslim leadership playing a fine role in condemning and working with others to urge people to give information, but also every spectrum of political opinion, now coming together and discussing what we need to do in this democracy to safeguard our democracy from those who would try to undermine it by misusing our freedoms.

KING: I want to discuss those new measures you might take in a moment. But first, let's focus for a bit on the investigation.

Egypt, at Great Britain's request, took into custody a man by the name of Magdy el-Nashar. Now, the interior ministry in Egypt says any allegations that he was involved are quote/unquote, "unfounded."

Does that concern you, sir, that another government takes into custody somebody at the request of your government, and within a day the Egyptian government saying they see nothing here?

REID: No, I think this is a process of discovery, of going through millions of pieces of evidence, much of it forensic -- leads to be followed up, allegations, and then the normal way of proceeding that you would do in any investigation.

I mean, what is absolutely clear to all of us is, even though the four people of which we know are residents in a particular part of this United Kingdom, the specter that we're facing is an international battle of enormous proportions.

It is not a clash of civilizations. It is a relatively small number of people who want to impose their will by the use of terror on the rest of civilization, who have got a program. It's not blind violence. It's with a purpose. They want to destroy the state of Israel. They want every westerner out of the Arab countries, Middle East and elsewhere. They want to re-establish a caliphate over which they will have control irrespective of the wishes or the pursuance of democracy of people in those countries, which is why they are fighting so damn hard in Iraq to make sure that democracy doesn't succeed.

So we recognize that we have an investigation as to what happened here in the United Kingdom, but it's part of a common struggle which all civilized nations have against the terrorists.

KING: Mr. Reid, Prime Minister Blair has specifically mentioned Pakistan as a country involved in this investigation. Is that simply because of the heritage of some of the bombers, suspected bombers here? Or has the United Kingdom asked Pakistan to take any individuals into custody?

REID: Well, I think, on the one hand, I would say that President Musharraf has played a very constructive role in the aftermath of New York and the terrible tragedy there and the intervention in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, I think that people do recognize that the madrasas, literally schools in which terror is taught, are an immediate source of international instability and contribute largely toward the growth of terrorist activity.

So we continue our discussions with President Musharraf.

But it's not just in Pakistan. I mean, this is the reason that we've been so solidly alongside the United States and our allies -- is this is an attack on the whole of civilization. In terms of Muslims and this community here in the United Kingdom, they have been solidly aghast and condemnitry of these actions and stood with their fellow citizens here in this country, and internationally of course.

The 20-odd children who were slaughtered in Iraq only 48 hours ago -- they were Muslim kids, the innocent citizens of Iraq who had been murdered day in and day out by the terrorists are Muslims. It is not just our soldiers and the United States soldiers who are under attack, but innocent civilians.

And this is a phenomenon which is, in its immorality, immense. And it is a challenge to all of us, to every single civilized country and civilized group in the world. And that is what my own prime minister, Tony Blair, has been saying about the magnitude of this task and what we're required to stand up to it.

KING: Mr. Reid, there's been a great deal of speculation as to what explosive was involved in these attacks. I don't think any official government confirmations as yet. The speculation has focused on an explosive known as TATP.

Sir, can you confirm for us what type of explosives were used in these attacks?

REID: John, I know you'll understand that I will leave that to the appropriate authorities here.

One of the things that we've tried to make sure, because we are a democracy and we know that part of the intention of the terrorists is to undermine our way of life, but so far as we can keep that commensurate with protecting ourself against those who would misuse our democracy to undermine the very basis of our freedoms, so far as we can do that, we do it.

And that means it's appropriate for the civil authorities -- that is, the police themself, those who are working to assist them, and their oversight, which is the home secretary, the secretary of state for home affairs -- it's appropriate they deal with it.

As far as I'm concerned, as minister for defense, we stand ready to assist. But I would rather they made the statements on the nature of the explosives involved.

KING: Let me ask you this question, sir. As you know very well in this country, in the wake of the September 11th attacks, there is a great deal of debate -- in fact, a debate that continues -- over whether the government could have done more, about whether these attacks could have been prevented.

I want to read to you a quote from a sheikh in London back from the year 2004. This is Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed. And he said this: "Here in London, there is a very well-organized group, which calls itself Al Qaida Europe. I know they are on the verge of launching a big operation."

Was that taken seriously, sir? Do you know of any clues that perhaps were passed up?

We know one of the gentlemen blamed for these bombings was on a watch list. There have been some reports that others blamed for these bombings have come up in past investigations, their names have come up as associated with key players in other significant investigations.

Were clues missed here?

REID: Well, it was taken seriously. But I think whether it's in the United States or the United Kingdom -- two countries which greatly value our freedom -- it is a very difficult challenge to balance the freedoms of speech, of movement, of activity, which we value so much, while at the same time trying to protect them against those who would use that speech and would use that freedom to destroy the very democracy of which we are so proud. There's no question about that. So that balance is difficult.

But what certainly is happening now is that there is a cross- party consensus here. And I believe it crosses more than just the politicians but the whole of our society, every religion, every background, which is intent in saying whatever necessary measures have to be put in place in order to combat these people, then we will put them in place.

But we won't do it with a knee-jerk reaction. We won't do it in terms of a backlash against the Muslim community here. Why? Because that is precisely one of the things that the terrorists want.

I mean, one of the reasons that they involve themself in these wicked acts is to provoke, not only to act as a force multiplier for a small number of people injuring so many, but to provoke a vast majority in a democracy into turning against the minority, to divide the community. And that satisfaction we will not give them.

And that's why I'm so glad that the leadership of the Muslim community here has stood shoulder to shoulder with everyone else in it.

And I think that's very important, therefore, that we have a robust response to any legislation or any other means that are necessary to combat terrorism. But it is also a rational one, not done in a knee-jerk, emotional reaction.

KING: I want to shift your attention, sir, to the ongoing British and American deployments in Iraq. You've mentioned them earlier, in terms of the violence there.

A memo came out in the mail this past week talking about the possibility, or at least the wish, on both governments, that the United States government and the British government, that troops could be reduced in the year head. I want to read a bit from that memo.

"There is a strong U.S. military desire for significant force reductions, to bring relief to overall U.S. commitment levels. Emerging U.S. plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006, allowing a reduction in overall multinational forces from 176,000 down to 66,000."

Sir, given all the violence we are seeing, including again today these deadly bombings, is that a realistic possibility still, significant troop reductions quickly?

REID: Well, just let me make my position absolutely plain in this.

We went into Iraq, and we will stay there until the Iraqi people themselves have taken democratic control and feel competent in order to combat terrorism themselves and to take the lead.

So there's no quitting. We ain't leaving there until such times as they are happy and we are happy that those conditions have been met.

Having said that...

KING: No quitting, sir -- let me interject myself quickly. No quitting, you say. But do you believe that by early 2006 the Iraqis will be in a position to let you begin to withdraw? Not quitting, withdraw.

REID: Let me finish my sentence, John. I was going to give you a full answer.

Having said that, we have no long-term imperialist ambitions, nor does the United States. And if had an open-ended presence there and were never envisioning that Iraqis could take control of their own country, we would be rightly criticized for long-term imperialist ambitions. We have none.

And therefore, we look forward to the day that the Iraqis build up their own security forces, commensurate with taking control, as they are of their own democratic processes, in order that they can initially take the lead, and we can then give them support, but gradually run down our presence there.

Now, that isn't going to be an event. That will be a process. I believe it is a process that could start, no more than that, over the next 12 months.

But as your own Secretary Rumsfeld has said, the insurgency itself might go on for a long, long time.

So what we have to envisage is a transitional handover over a period of time so that the Iraqis themselves -- they've now got 170,000 trained troops, more than the multinational forces that are in Iraq itself for the first time.

As that proceeds, they can gradually take control of their own security and counterterrorism.

But we will not be going unless and until they're in a position to do that.

So it will be a conditional withdrawal, not set according to any immutable time scale. And the conditions, as they are met, will allow us to hand over to the people who should have the democratic control in Iraq, and that's the Iraqis themselves. KING: I want to ask you, in closing, sir, in condemning the "evil ideology," as he put it, responsible for the attacks in London, your prime minister, Mr. Blair, also said that he did not believe there was any connection between this anger and hatred that led to the bombings and the fact that the United Kingdom has stood with the United States in Iraq.

Many in this country find that statement a bit surprising, if you will. Many would, particularly, especially, blame the attacks perhaps on the fact that your country has stood with the United States. A connection, in your view?

REID: Well, what I find surprising are those people who say that Iraq and Afghanistan were the cause of these acts of international terrorism, when anyone who does not want to rewrite history can see quite plainly that the intervention in Afghanistan and then Iraq came after and as a consequence to some dreadful acts of terrorism, not least the thousands of people, innocent people who were massacred in the United States, in New York. So, the disco dancers in Bali, the innocents who were murdered long before we went into Afghanistan and Iraq, how is their murder supposed to be caused by something that happened later? Similarly, with the attacks in Tanzania and Kenya and East Africa and North Africa and India and elsewhere.

So, the truth of the matter is that we went into Afghanistan because international terrorism had found a nest there, a haven there. And we went into Iraq, originally, because we wanted to make sure the threat, not least the threat of the redevelopment of the means of mass slaughter through weapons of mass destruction and the person who had used it was removed, because we could not find any other way to do it.

They were the consequence of a pattern of international terrorism that had gone on long before Afghanistan or Iraq.

Now, that continues, and no one should think that to defeat this will be easy or short or shallow. It will be long, it will be hard, it will be wide, and it will be deep.

But one thing we have learned in this country, as we celebrated the 60th anniversary last week of the end of the Second World War, is that, though the costs of such a struggle are high, the costs of appeasing those who would carry out these acts will ultimately be immensely higher. And we found that 60 years ago, and it's the same today.

We have no option but to take these people on, and to do it in unity with all civilized people throughout the world. Because to pretend that we in London can close our eyes and say, "Well, if we don't stand up to them, they won't come for us; let others do it, in Tanzania, Kenya, United States or elsewhere," or for anyone else to do it -- you know, in Madrid the commuters who were murdered there, the tourists in Turkey, the innocent children in Iraq, the commuters here in London, the workers who went to work that morning in New York, they were all slaughtered by the same phenomenon. And we have an international obligation to stand together in making sure it will never dominate the civilized world. KING: On that note, we need to go. But, Sir John Reid, the British defense minister, thank you so much for your time today on "LATE EDITION."

REID: Thank you.

KING: Thank you, sir.

And just ahead, Supreme Court watch. As the chief justice ends speculation about his future, two top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee weigh in on the potential battle over the next high court nominee.

Then, Iraq files formal charges against Saddam Hussein. We'll talk with the former dictator's attorney about conditions for a trial.

And later, President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, under fire. Has he become a liability for the White House? We'll talk with Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman and Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack.


KING: Our "LATE EDITION" Web question of the week asks: What is the best way to fight terrorism: promoting democracy, military action, or tighter security?" Cast your vote at We'll have the results at the end of the program.

But just ahead, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, we'll get their take on where things stand in the war on terror, Iraq and much more.

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


KING: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're joined now by two key members of the United States Senate: Here in Washington, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. He serves on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. And in his home state of Delaware is Senator Joseph Biden. He also serves on the Judiciary Committee and is the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senators, welcome to "LATE EDITION." I want to spend time talking about domestic politics in a minute, but let's start on some international issues.

Just had the British defense minister on, talking about the possibility, the possibility, of bringing troops home from Iraq beginning next year.

Senator Biden, to you first. Is that feasible, in your view?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: It's possible. It's unlikely. It depends on how rapidly we train up the Iraqi forces. He uses the figure 170,000 trained. There's 170,000 in uniform, about less than one-fifth of that trained.

But they're making progress. It is possible but I don't think likely.

KING: You agree with Senator Biden?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I don't disagree, except for one thing. Last year we had one battalion trained. This year there are over 100 battalions. Now, they're not all perfectly trained, but nevertheless it's a far cry from last year, and we're making a lot of headway.

As far as leaving, I think this is a much longer-term situation, and we're just going to have to have to be there until we can win this thing.

KING: Well, one of the key issues, of course, is not only how fast are the Iraqis trained, but how does this political transition under way go?

There is a report in The New Yorker about an effort by the administration, then aborted, or they decided against it in the end, to have a covert effort to support some individual candidates in the Iraqi elections several months back.

Let me start with you, Senator Hatch. You're on the Intelligence Committee. Did the administration come and say, "Here's our plan"? What were they thinking? And why did it not happen?

HATCH: Well, I can't talk about that. All I can say is that the administration has tried everything to try to bring about a successful conclusion over there.

It's critical that we have a successful conclusion. You know, if we're successful there, it brings democracy to the Middle East in a way that's never been done before, puts pressure on every country there.

It creates -- democracies don't fight each other, generally. And as a matter of fact, it would solve a lot of problems over there that never could otherwise be solved. I think we're on a grand activity there that hopefully will result in peace in the Middle East for a long time to come.

KING: Senator Biden, I assume Senator Hatch says he can't talk about it because it's a classified matter. Did you know about this plan?

BIDEN: You know, one of the things that you're going to be talking about later in the program with Karl Rove, one of the things that most people don't know, we would violate the law, Orrin and I, if we confirmed or denied an official report without us having cleared whether or not it's still classified. So I hate to say this, but I can't comment on it. KING: I can appreciate that, and we may use these statements later when we do get to the discussion about Karl Rove.


Let's talk about the terror investigation now under way in London and whether there are any ramifications here at home. Again, without getting into classified information, you're on the Intelligence Committee. The United States is helping Britain in this investigation. Egypt detained someone. Prime Minister Blair has said that he might need help from Pakistan and others.

Anything you know about this investigation that you can share with the American people about where it's going from here, and especially whether there should be any concerns here in the United States?

HATCH: It ought to be amazing to everybody how fast they're uncovering information, identities, bomb-making facilities, et cetera. I think it sends a message to everybody in the terrorist world, we're going to get you.

You may be successful with some of these suicide bombing situations because it's almost impossible to stop them, but in the end, we're going to get you. And we're going to get the people who helped to you to do it.

And we just have to keep doing this. We cannot allow international terrorism to take over our country or any other country in the world in the sense of countries that are important to us.

KING: But, Senator Biden, did not the terrorists send a pretty scary message here by the use of suicide bombs for the first time in a major Western city?

BIDEN: Absolutely, positively.

And two messages should come from this: that fighting terror is not merely a military problem, it is also a police problem. And we need closer cooperation. It's good cooperation. We need even closer cooperation with our international friends on the police side as well as the military side.

And, secondly, it should send a message to us. Look how the Brits were able to identify these groups. They had cameras in the stations, cameras around. We virtually have nothing remotely, remotely similar to protect our transit system and to be able to follow up if anything happens here in the United States. And we've been derelict.

KING: What about on the issue of these types of explosives that could be used for suicide bombings? What do we do compared to what the British do? Are we better? Worse?

BIDEN: We are worse, as it relates to protecting transit, because we have virtually no detection capability. We do not even have dogs that are sniffing people getting on and off -- baggage getting on and off trains. We do not have ventilation. We do not have lighting. We do not have escape routes in our tunnels.

We only have -- I'm allowed to, but I'm not going to tell you the number, but we have a paltry number of police in our stations.

For example, tomorrow morning at rush hour in New York City, there's going to be more people sitting in six tunnels built in 1917 under New York City in aluminum tubes, cars, than in five to seven full 747 trains, with virtually no escape, no ventilation to take out chemical or biological weapons, et cetera. I mean, we have to move, and we're not.

HATCH: Well, let me just add, I think we have a way to go, but I differ with Joe somewhat, because in the short time that we've had to really get prepared, yes, we're not the same as the British -- they have cameras everywhere. We've seen that in how they've uncovered things. But we've had, under our homeland security people, they've done an awful lot of things with regard to detection.

But we can do a lot more, and we're going to have to do a lot more. I agree with Joe on that.

BIDEN: John, if I could say one thing.

KING: Quickly, Senator, quickly.

BIDEN: Chernoff, the head of Homeland Security, said rail is a state problem. Rail is for the localities because it's not like airplanes.

You can kill thousands of people in Union Station or up in New York City. I don't know what he's been reading, where he's been. It is a federal responsibility.

KING: Well, that debate will continue as well.

And we will continue our conversation with Republican Senator Hatch and Democrat Biden. But up next, a check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on Hurricane Emily. Stay with "LATE EDITION."


KING: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're talking with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Democratic Senator Joseph Biden.

I want to turn now, gentlemen, to the homefront and the battle over the Supreme Court.

We at least know for now the president will have one, not two picks. And we know that because of this statement put out by Justice Rehnquist as the week drew to a close. The chief justice saying, quote, "I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement. I'm not about to announce my retirement. I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits."

So we have one vacancy, Senator Hatch. You will have a key role in that. The president says he is consulting. Do you have any sense now, has he narrowed the list? Is he down to two or three?

HATCH: Well, I'm sure he has a pretty good idea of who he wants to pick.

But this has been the most amazing consulting that I've seen in the whole time I've been in the United States Senate. They've consulted with well over -- almost two-thirds of the senators, maybe more by now, but last time I heard.

Normally, the president will consult with the leadership and then the chairman and ranking member and then members of the Judiciary Committee. But they've really made an effort to try and get as many ideas as they can. So it will be interesting to see who he picks.

KING: Well, Senator Biden, I talked to you the other day, and you had not been consulted as of yet. Are among the one-third to not get a phone call?

BIDEN: No, no, I have gotten a phone call. I got a phone call, and I actually misspoke when I told you that, because Andy Card called me immediately after and said, "Joe, don't you remember we talked?"


And I said, "Yes, we talked for two minutes or so." And he said, "Yes, it was short, but we talked." But no, we have talked since then, and he asked my advice as to what I'd suggest to the president. And I told him that he should do what Clinton did with Orrin Hatch and also put Senate leaders on the line. Say, "Here are the 10 or so people I'm thinking about," like Ronald Reagan did with me, ran down the list and said, "If I nominated him, what would happen, nominated her, what would happen?" So that he had a sense of what was going on.

KING: You have one pick here to replace Justice O'Connor. Now she was a swing vote on many issues. So you have, as both of you know well, groups on both sides, not just members of the Senate, but the interest groups of both sides, ready for what they believe will be a feisty, polarizing, perhaps multi-million-dollar fight.

I want to bring one issue into the debate, and that is abortion. Many view Justice O'Connor as a swing vote, if you will. There's still enough votes, probably even without her, if a conservative took her place, to uphold Roe v. Wade.

But look at this CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll: "Should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade?" Sixty-eight percent say no.

Senator Hatch, you're a conservative. I assume your personal opinion is that Roe v. Wade was a mistake. Should a president take the mood of the country into account when he is picking to fill a vacancy that he knows could swing the court either way? HATCH: Well, I don't think any single litmus test should determine who's picked for the United States Supreme Court. And that certainly has been a litmus test for certain Democrats and Republicans. And I think it's too bad that it is.

But I can cite liberal law professor after law professor, including Justice Ginsburg, who said that there was no justification for deciding Roe v. Wade under constitutional law. But they still are pro-choice.

So these are matters that whoever is picked is going to have to really weigh. And whether the 32 years that Roe v. Wade has been in existence makes it settled law or makes it so that it's very difficult to overrule, they're going to have to make that determination long after they're confirmed.

KING: Senator Biden, the president says he won't ask a nominee or potential nominee his or her position on this issue. Do you believe that that will have already been asked in the preliminary stages?

BIDEN: Well, I don't know. I take the president at his word.

You know, there's a lot -- there's so much more at stake than that one case.

I mean, the real question behind this -- and Orrin knows it well, as do you, John -- is, how much is government able to intrude into your personal life, like the Schiavo case or like abortion, or, more fundamentally, is there a right to privacy in the Constitution?

And there's a real debate among constitutional scholars in that. I happen to think there is, but many don't. So it's a big issue, and it goes well beyond Roe v. Wade.

KING: I want to move on to the debate and the controversy over Karl Rove and his involvement, alleged involvement, in the CIA leak investigation.

I want to begin by using a quote from Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, to set the parameters of our discussion. Let's listen, this is the White House press secretary on September 29, 2003, talking about the standards Mr. Bush sets for those who serve in his administration.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has set high standards, the highest of standards, for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Senator Hatch, you're an attorney. You're on the Intelligence Committee, the Judiciary Committee. You just refused to talk to me about whether there was even a plan, a potential covert plan, to get involved -- the United States -- involved in the Iraqi elections.

We now know that Karl Rove spoke to at least two reporters. And he continued a conversation that involved a CIA operative. Now, he says he broke no laws. In his training, should not a red flag have gone up the minute somebody mentioned CIA, said, "Can't talk to you about that; got to go"?

HATCH: He may not have even known that some thought she was a covert agent.

KING: She's a CIA -- this is a CIA operative.

HATCH: Be that as it may, I said from the beginning that I did not think she qualified as a covert agent. First of all, she hadn't been outside of the country in the last five years, and there's a real question whether she even deserved that status. Some out there are political and may have thought that she did, but not under the law does she deserve that status. So that shouldn't even be a question.

But secondly, Rove did not disclose her name. He did not do it with -- he did not say Joe Wilson's wife with malice. He certainly was not trying to break the law. And I don't think he even intended to. And he said it on background to this reporter. But he also gave everybody authority to, through the grand jury process on through, to use whatever he'd said.

So, you know, I think this is a tempest in the teapot. And you know why I think that? I think that a lot of Democrats and a lot of anti-Bush people, knowing that Karl Rove is one of the most effective people we've ever had in Washington, knowing he's an ebullient, straightforward, decent, honorable guy, they want to get rid of him. And they want to damage the president in the process.

And that's what this is all about. It isn't about covert action or the wife of Joe Wilson.

In fact, if you look that over, it's an unsavory affair from their standpoint, too, because Joe Wilson didn't tell the truth on a number of occasions. I was on the Intelligence Committee. We heard the information. The Intelligence Committee basically came out and said he was dishonest in some of the comments he made.

KING: Senator Biden, I want to let you into this conversation, I promise. I want you first to listen to a comment by your leader, Harry Reid, on the Senate floor just this past Friday.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: This is a cover-up, it's abuse of power, and it's a diversion. They have no interest, my friends, in coming clean and being honest with the American people. And the American people are seeing through this.


KING: Now, Senator Biden, the floor is now yours. But as you speak, I'd like to ask you, one, talk about what Senator Hatch said. And two, there's an old rule in politics that if your enemy's on fire, why throw more fuel on it? Just let your enemy burn. Why don't the Democrats just stay out of this? If Karl Rove has a problem, we'll find that out.

BIDEN: You know, we can look at this from a political standpoint, and we can look at this from a standpoint of what this is all about in fact.

Politically, it's above my pay grade to know what's the best way to deal with this if you're looking about political gain.

But practically, you know, you've got to ask yourself, is there no honor here? I mean, look, anybody who's ever made a mistake in this administration has never paid at all. Everyone who has been right in this administration has been fired.

You know, this is so much bigger than Karl Rove. This is about the question -- remember the underlying issue here is, whether or not Joe Wilson said things rightly or wrongly, he was right, flat right, that Niger was not selling yellow cake to Iraq, which was a justification for going to war.

Remember how that was being brought up at the same time that the vice president was on shows like this, on one Sunday when I was on, saying that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons.

This was all about -- this is all about whether or not those who had access to intelligence information in this administration used it appropriately, not just whether or not the agency was right.

But with regard to Karl Rove, I mean, one thing no one has ever argued, starting with John McCain and what happened in South Carolina, is that Karl Rove doesn't play the hardest hardball attack politics of anyone that I have known in my 34 years of elective office.

He's entitled to do that, but let's not turn this guy into the honorable, straight-shooting, you know, guy. This is the guy's job. The guy's job is to torpedo the opposition. He did it with John in South Carolina, and he tried to do it with Joe Wilson here.

And the real issue is, it's just unsavory. I mean, we should just get on with this. I think the president -- well, I'm not going to say anymore.

KING: We're out of time for this segment, but Senator Hatch wants to say something.

So I want to give you 15 seconds, sir, and Senator Biden 15 seconds, and we'll have to close this up. HATCH: Well, the fact of the matter is that the Intelligence Committee report said that what he did in Niger was not accurate. The Butler report, the British report, said that, if anything, you know, he was certainly not accurate, and that the matter of yellow cake was more serious than people have thought.

And last but not least, look, Karl Rove -- I've known him for all these years -- he was raised in Utah in part. And I can tell you one thing, he's a straight shooter, but he is a tough player, and he has to be to be at that level. And I think that's what's involved here. They want to get rid of him.

But, you know, they can't make a case, in my opinion, that this was a covert action person who was disclosed. And even if they could, it was on background that he gave this information, to try and get the reporter to not misreport. And last but not least, there certainly was no intent to disclose an agent at the CIA. And I think it's an over-reach for the Democrats to try and make that case.

KING: Last word, Senator Biden, quickly?

BIDEN: Middle-class people can smell a phony when they see it. This is phony.

HATCH: Well, he's not one of them, I'll tell you that.

KING: All right. Senator Biden of Delaware, Senator Hatch of Utah, gentlemen, we thank you. We wish we had more time.

Please stay with us at home, folks. "LATE EDITION" will be right back.


KING: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

This former teacher turned lawyer turned politician became the first woman to be nominated by a major party for vice president of the United States. As part of CNN's anniversary series, "Then and Now," we look at Geraldine Ferraro and where she is today.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Political history was made when 1984 Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale named New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as his running-mate. It was the first time a woman was a contender for the country's second-highest office on a major party ticket.

GERALDINE FERRARO: Whether it was a rally, whether it was a press conference, whether it was a debate against the vice president of the United States, my biggest concern when I walked in was making sure that I did it right and didn't let down the women.

ZAHN: The re-election of Ronald Reagan ended her executive office hopes, but Ferraro went on to serve as a U.S. ambassador and, after leaving government, host of CNN's "Crossfire."

In 1998, while campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat, Ferraro was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a very rare and often fatal blood cancer. She is now in what her doctors call pathological remission.

Besides raising awareness for myeloma, she's traded the life of a politician for a slightly less demanding VP role with a global consulting group.

Ferraro has been married for 45 years, the mother of three, and the grandmother of seven. She considers herself a very lucky person.

FERRARO: I went from being a kid who lost her father and who lived in the South Bronx almost to going to live in the White House. That just tells you about what this country is all about.



KING: Welcome back.

We'll get to our interview with the attorney for Saddam Hussein in just a few minutes, but first, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.


KING: It's been a very bloody weekend in Iraq with a series of suicide bombings claiming nearly 100 lives. All this violence comes as Iraq's former leader, Saddam Hussein, is formally charged by a tribunal.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad for us.


RAMAN: John, good afternoon. Two important stories to tell you about.

First, the news today that Saddam Hussein and other members of the former regime could face trial as early as September. It follows the official referral of charges today by the special investigative judge of the Iraqi special tribunal.

There is a minimum 45-day period that must pass between now and when any potential trial could start. That is to allow the defense, in this case Saddam Hussein and others, a chance to have an appeals process.

Now, in this first trial, Saddam Hussein and the others will face charge that stem from a 1982 incident north of Baghdad in the town of Dujayl. There, in July of that year, Saddam Hussein escaped an assassination attempt, only to then allegedly order the execution of some 150 members of that town.

This is the first of a number of trials we will see. Many or all of them could include Saddam Hussein.

The tribunal, John, not trying each individual one by one, instead doing this case by case. Ahead we will see charges stemming from the 1991 killing of some 150,000 Shia after their failed uprising. Also, of course, the gassing of the Kurds in the north.

Now, this news comes on an incredibly violent day in Iraq. The death toll rising now from last night's massive suicide bombing south of the Iraqi capital in the town of Musayyib. The death toll standing at at least 90 people; the number of wounded close to 160.

It has become one of the deadliest attacks in Iraq since the war. A suicide bomber there detonating next to a fuel tank in the town's square. At the same time, mortars were fired at the police station and at the general hospital.

This underscores the need, John, for security throughout Iraq, not just in the capital city. It also, though, further complicates the job ahead for the Iraqi government. They now face a deadline just about a month away to finalize that constitution and prepare it for a referendum.


KING: Aneesh Raman in Baghdad for us. Difficult day.

Thank you, Aneesh.

And a short while ago I spoke with Saddam Hussein's attorney, Giovanni di Stefano, from Rome.


KING: Giovanni di Stefano, thank you for joining us today on "LATE EDITION."

You have complained, sir, in the past, where are the charges against your client, Saddam Hussein? Well, today, the special tribunal in Baghdad said that the former Iraqi leader will stand trial and quite soon, on charges related to the 1982 massacre of Shiite villagers north of Baghdad.

In an odd sense, sir, is this some progress in your mind, that they are finally laying the charges on the table?

GIOVANNI DI STEFANO, SADDAM HUSSEIN'S ATTORNEY: Well, of course, when we talk of charges, those charges have to be formulated, drafted and served upon the defense.

What we now have from the investigative judge is an indication of a charge that Saddam Hussein may face. And I emphasize the word "may," because under the rules of the Iraqi special tribunal, a second judge has to confirm those charges.

And one of the things that we will be doing of course, will be asking, why is it that the indications that we were given, even six weeks ago when President Saddam Hussein was questioned about this matter, was it confirmed that he was not a suspect? Even on the special tribunal's own Web site, the five main suspects, the detainees for this alleged offense, Saddam Hussein does not appear as one of those.

KING: So let me ask you something -- excuse me for interrupting...

DI STEFANO: And that's something that still has to be resolved.

KING: Excuse me for interrupting, but let me ask you this: Our viewers can obviously tell you speak to us today from Rome. You have said in the past that to meet with Saddam Hussein, you needed to know what the charges were.

Now that at least this is moving forward, to the point where, as you know, the second judge has to confirm this, but in Baghdad, they are saying this trial will start to proceed now, will you travel to Baghdad to see your client? And when was the last time you saw him?

DI STEFANO: Well, I last saw him in 1998, under far different circumstances, when he was still a serving president of Iraq. Certainly, if the charges are confirmed, there will have to be what we call preliminary issues discussed, but certainly it goes without saying that all those that are involved in the trial process must attend the client and accept instructions. He may, like President Milosevic, decide to do the trial himself. He is, after all, a lawyer, Saddam Hussein.

KING: And he has counsel in Baghdad. He does have Iraqi attorneys helping him. Are you in regular communication with them? And what would Saddam Hussein say, if I could ask him the question, sir, "What was your role in this massacre of the Shiites? Did you in fact, order it? Are you in fact, responsible for it?"

DI STEFANO: Well, he was the president of Iraq. The allegation, we understand, was going to be announced on the 8th of July of this year, which is the anniversary of the alleged offense. But of course, events in London prevented the Iraqis from doing that, because they, of course, and quite rightly so, understandably, wanted the maximum exposure on this there.

This surrounds a sequence of events where 1,500 people have been jailed without a trial and without knowing a trial date, something that we know something about, because Saddam Hussein is 547 days himself without charges and without a trial date. And that 143 of them were ultimately executed after a trial, a trial where no documents, they say, were served upon the defense, and 15 of those were summarily executed.

As of today, we still do not have a single document purporting to be anything where we can be ready for trial. And under their own rules and regulations, Article 20 of their own statute, we will require time to be able to prepare a defense.

Anything other than that would make it a show trial or a farce. And that's not something that we will be prepared to entertain.

KING: You say you would not be prepared to entertain a show trial or a farce, but, sir, as you wait for the official documentation, is it your position, as you sit here today, that Saddam Hussein had no role in any of the persecution of his political critics within Iraq? Or do you say that he is somehow immune because he was president of the country at the time?

DI STEFANO: Well, Article 40 of the constitution, as we have said from last year, is very clear and very precise, and it's ratified, even by the new constitution and even within the articles of the special tribunal.

President Hussein, like it or not, avails himself to sovereign immunity in accordance with the constitution of Iraq at that time. So whether he's guilty or not, whether he ordered anything or whether he didn't, in our view, we don't arrive to a trial because he avails himself to the constitution at the time.

Now, if we are to run over and forget all those things and just carry on, well, I mean, that's a different story. But if we are to apply the law as it should be applied, then this man cannot be tried for anything. That's the state of affairs as a matter of law. Anything else, we'll have to just take it as and when it arrives.

KING: Well, obviously, sir, the new Iraqi government does not respect or recognize that immunity, and it's preparing to go forward with these charges.

My biggest question, I guess, if you are to be a lead member of this defense team, at some point, must you not go to Baghdad? Do you have any plans to go and stay there, now that the process seems to be moving forward? Or is this largely in the hands of his Iraqi attorneys for now?

DI STEFANO: Well, the Iraqi attorneys are in Jordan, so there is not a single Iraqi attorney that is housed and based in Baghdad. It is extremely dangerous there. We see every day on the news, on all the news, where there are bombs. It is extremely dangerous to hold a process there.

We have been calling for a trial -- if there is to be a trial, and that's to be doubted, but if there is to be a trial, it should be in a place where both the prosecution and the defense can feel safe and that the matter can proceed in a proper way, without having to fear that either the prosecution or the defense are going to be assassinated, killed or in danger. That is not conducive to any type of trial.

KING: Let me ask you lastly, sir, Saddam Hussein has said during past court proceedings that he does not recognize the new government, he does not recognize the U.S. military and the coalition troops in Iraq, and that he considers himself to still be the legal president of Iraq.

Would you make that case in a proceeding, or would you advise your client to set that aside?

DI STEFANO: Well, as a matter of pure law, that, I think, is without doubt the position. However, whether it's a matter of law or not, there is another president, there is another government, the Americans are there.

But it's somewhat ironic that America and Britain have attacked Iraq only to put this man on trial, if there is to be a trial, for events that occurred 23 years ago, which are internal matters there. And it's somewhat insulting on the citizens of America and Great Britain and other countries that have joined in that all those things we were told that he was guilty of, all they can find as best is something that occurred in 1982, which he may or may not have had some involvement in first hand and whether in any case he was president of the country and avails himself to that.

It's a little bit like having a game of football, scoring a goal when you are off-side. Well, of course, the ball has gone in the net but of course you have to respect the rules that you are off-side, and this is one of those cases.

We don't have a document. We don't have a charge. All we have is an announcement from the judge that these are charges that he intends to bring when he had told, said otherwise, and has tried to capture everyone by surprise. But, you know, we're not surprised by anything at the moment.

KING: Giovanni di Stefano, sir, we thank you for your time today.

The tribunal, of course, says those documents will be forthcoming. As well, the tribunal says additional charges will be forthcoming. We will deal with those when we have the specific materials.

Thank you, sir, for joining us today.

DI STEFANO: Thank you, John. Thank you.


KING: Just ahead, President Bush's deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, on the hot seat. What does it mean for the White House? We'll talk with Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman and Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack.

And later, our highlights from the Sunday morning talk shows.


KING: It is, to say the least, turning into a politically explosive summer here in Washington, with President Bush's deputy chief of staff and long-time friend and political adviser Karl Rove at the center of the drama.

Republicans are fiercely defending Rove against suggestions he leaked the identity of a CIA operative to journalists about two years ago.

Joining us now to talk about that and more is the chairman of the Republican National Committee and a close Rove friend, Ken Mehlman.

Welcome to "LATE EDITION."


KING: I'm doing fine. How are you?

MEHLMAN: Thanks for having me on.

KING: I want to begin first by, let's set the parameters of our discussion, first by listening to the president of the United States. This is back in September 2003, just as this investigation was getting under way. Let's listen to the president.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Listen, I know of nobody -- I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it and will take the appropriate action. And this investigation is a good thing.


KING: That's the president from September 2003.

Now I want you, Ken Mehlman and our viewers, to listen to Matt Cooper, one of the reporters, of course, at the center of this investigation, Matt Cooper of Time magazine earlier today on CNN's "Reliable Sources."


MATTHEW COOPER, TIME: Before that conversation, I had never heard about anything about Joe Wilson's wife. After that conversation, I knew that she worked at the CIA and worked on WMD issues.

But as I made clear to the grand jury, I'm certain Rove never used her exact name and certainly never indicated she had a covert status.


KING: Matt Cooper says Karl Rove never used her exact name, but the first he learned that Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked at the CIA was from a conversation with Karl Rove.

You say Karl Rove has been vindicated by everything out in the last few days. How does that vindicate Karl Rove? MEHLMAN: Well, I think it starts with what you opened with: The president of the United States said we need an investigation, we need to see, was someone responsible for leaking classified information?

Pat Fitzgerald, a career prosecutor, is looking into it. The process is going forward. Karl Rove is cooperating fully and truthfully with the process.

And this past week, two things came out, both of which vindicate Karl and say he was not the source of a leak of classified information.

First, Bob Novak's story, according to Friday's newspaper, suggests that he had another source of the information, that Karl Rove found out, actually, from Bob Novak.

And secondly what Matt Cooper said was, Karl Rove told him, correctly, to watch out for some of what Joe Wilson was saying, and he told him that because much of what Joe Wilson has said has turned out to be misleading and false, but did not reveal her name or her undercover identity.

So, I think what we've seen this past week, unfortunately, has been a partisan smear campaign. And it's unprecedented. Look, politics gets tough in this town, particularly in the summer sometimes, but to have someone who is cooperating fully and truthfully with an investigation smeared by the Democrat leader in the Senate, by John Kerry, a candidate for president of the United States, a former first lady, to say this guy should lose his job and lose his security clearance is outrageous, and it's unprecedented.

KING: There is the political debate, but there also is the record. The White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, coming into the briefing room on several occasions, not just saying nobody broke the law, but saying he specifically went to Karl Rove and he had nothing to do with this, nothing to do with this. Did the White House not have a responsibility, once it realized that Karl Rove had some involvement in this, perhaps nothing illegal -- we don't know that, and we should be very clear we do not know that, and, as you suggest, the record so far indicates nothing illegal. But the White House press secretary went before the American people and said, nothing to do with this.

When he learned that that was -- that some might say that's not true, did he not have a responsibility to fill out the record?

MEHLMAN: The most important thing the White House has a responsibility to do, in my opinion, is to cooperate fully and truthfully with this investigation and say and do nothing that could impede it.

That's what's so important about what Karl Rove is doing and what Scott McClellan is doing. Scott is a friend of mine. He's a smart guy, and he's an honest guy. He'd love to be out here, talking and explaining himself. But unlike some administrations, this White House is totally focused on cooperating truthfully, and it doesn't want to comment, because it worries it could undermine or in some way hinder the investigation.

KING: Well, it did comment, Ken Mehlman, a number of times, up until this point, when it decided that perhaps it was in its interests or perhaps it got another admonition from the prosecutor. But the president himself and Scott McClellan on a number of occasions have commented.

I want you to listen to this from Scott McClellan. This is October 7, 2003. Scott McClellan had said a number of things about Joe Wilson's story, because the White House says some of his story is simply not true. I want you to listen to what Scott McClellan says about setting the record straight.


MCCLELLAN: Now, that is perfectly acceptable, when you're talking about setting the record straight. It's perfectly acceptable, when someone makes statements that aren't based on the facts, to correct that information. And this White House will vigorously work to set the record straight when facts -- when information is presented that is not based on the facts.


KING: Ken Mehlman, why, then, if the White House worked so vigorously to set the record straight on what it believed were inaccuracies presented by Joe Wilson, why did it not work so vigorously to set the record straight when they found out -- everyone at the White House had to turn in their e-mails that had anything to do with this investigation.

It turns out Karl Rove wrote an e-mail to then-Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley, saying he had a conversation with Matt Cooper in which this subject came up.

Why didn't the White House come forward, Scott McClellan come forward and say, "I told you once he had nothing to do with this, nothing. Now I have learned he did have a conversation with a reporter. We believe that was completely appropriate, but I wanted to set the record straight vigorously"?

MEHLMAN: I think you're prejudging what may or may not have been seen by people within the White House.

Look, here's what we know. There are two different issues.

One is the issue of the things Joe Wilson said. Joe Wilson misled the American public about who sent him to Niger. He misled the American public about what he found when he was there.

He misled the American public about which documents he did or did not look at. He misled the American public about who at the White House or in the administration may or may not have seen his documents.

When asked to explain himself, he said he sometimes used literary flair. He then appeared in a big spread in Vanity Fair magazine. And talking about this, he said, "I'm wondering who's going to play me in a TV movie."

This is not somebody who's got a good record of being a source of accurate information.

KING: I think it is, to use the term...

MEHLMAN: But separate and apart from that, separate and apart from that, is the question of how should the White House respond when it's being investigated.

And I think it's actually quite admirable and not in its immediate interest, and certainly not in its political interest, that this White House, rather than defend itself, says, "We're not going to comment so this investigation can go forward, and so that nobody can say..."

KING: But that is a selective decision, Ken Mehlman, the timing of the White House deciding it won't comment anymore.

MEHLMAN: Certainly right now it would be in the White House's interest to comment.

KING: To use a term overused in this investigation, it is perhaps fair game for you to say everything you're saying about Joe Wilson, to question his story. You have that right; you certainly do.

My point is you have a man who works for a president who promised to restore honesty and integrity to Washington, who promised to have a higher standard than the administration he succeeded, who came into the briefing room and said Karl Rove has absolutely nothing to do with this.

He then does not have an obligation to come back into the room and say, "Look, we are still confident. No laws were broken. Everything we did was appropriate. We had every right to rebut what we believe to be inaccurate information. But I wanted to be clear with you, because I said 'absolutely nothing,' Karl Rove did have a role."

MEHLMAN: The ultimate definition of that higher standard we're talking about is the fact that Scott McClellan is not out there defending himself. Again, this is an honest man, he's a good man, he's a smart man. He'd love to be out defending himself.

KING: But he has...

MEHLMAN: Listen, the president appoints the attorney general who is responsible for overseeing a special prosecutor. And the fact they're not commenting is only because they believe it could impede the investigation or create an appearance of impropriety. What you are mentioning, the fact that Scott doesn't defend himself, the fact that they allow the other side to be out there with these smears and not respond to these smears, is exactly what we're talking about when we say the higher standard.

And the fact we're seeing this on the other side, this kind of a smearing campaign, the fact they're trying to pre-judge, makes you first question if they don't have confidence in this process and in Mr. Fitzgerald. And second of all, what it shows, I think, is they're trying to have short-term political gain and smear a good man. And it's wrong, and they should apologize for it.

KING: I want to note for the record, since you are voicing so much confidence in the special prosecutor, that the White House initially resisted a special prosecutor and thought the Justice Department under General Ashcroft should handle this investigation.

But let me -- we talk about loyalty. And you call Scott McClellan a good man. I agree with you. A little dangerous for me. I'm supposed to be objective here.


He is a good guy. He has one of the toughest jobs in Washington. I've been in that briefing room during questions like this in this administration, questions like this in the Clinton administration.

He has, if you watch, fairly or unfairly, suffered some damage in that room. His credibility is at question with the people who cover the president every day because of this.

So you're essentially saying that it is a fair price, Scott McClellan, a man who has been loyal to this president back to his days as governor of Texas, his credibility is a fair price to defend Karl Rove?

MEHLMAN: What I'm saying is that Scott McClellan and Karl Rove and George W. Bush are less worried about personal credibility than they are about a process. They want to get to the bottom of this. They want to make sure that justice gets done.

And the way justice gets done is not to have the White House and president making comments from the podium about an investigation of the White House.

And so I think what he is doing is, frankly, very admirable, and I think the fact that he's willing to put himself second and put the process first is exactly what we talk about when we say somebody who's coming to Washington to serve rather than worry about themselves.

KING: I want to move on to another issue, but I want to button it up with this then. Let me accept for the sake of this conversation that you need to wait because of the sensitivity of all this. Do you think that Karl Rove needs to sit down with reporters and have a free- for-all and answer all these questions once it's over, once the special prosecutor says, "I'm done, going home"? MEHLMAN: Look, I'm an attorney, and the way I've approached this is that it's always wrong to prejudge how an investigation's going to come out. And it's always wrong for us to say this one ought to do this or that one ought to do that when the investigation (inaudible).

Let's let the process move forward. Let's see what happens. Let's see what comes out. And let's please allow the other side, including the leader of the Democrats in the United States Senate, including the former Democrat nominee for president last time, including the former first lady of the United States, to not be out there smearing and trashing people and showing a lack of confidence in an investigation. That is outrageous. It is wrong.

There was a terrible overreach this week. And it's time that people put partisanship second and follow the example the White House is showing, which is full cooperation and allowing Mr. Fitzgerald to do his job.

KING: I want to quickly turn, Ken Mehlman, to a story that I think would be getting more attention this week if it weren't for our fascination, whatever you might call it, with Mr. Rove and that investigation right now.

You went before the NAACP and you repudiated a strategy of your party that dates back to the 1960s, begun under Barry Goldwater, perfected, many would say, under Richard Nixon. It was called the Southern Strategy.

I want, first, our viewers to hear what you told the NAACP just a few days ago.


MEHLMAN: Some Republicans gave up on winning the African- American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I come here as Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.



KING: "We were wrong," Ken Mehlman says. That's a pretty big deal.

Let me ask you, as you explain why you decided it was time to say that, why didn't the president himself go and say that? It would have a lot more cache, if you will, if the president of the United States went to the NAACP, a group he has refused to speak to throughout his administration. Still a big deal, but had the president said it, it would have carried a little more boom.

MEHLMAN: Look, the fact is that we both agree, and the president proves it every single day, that policies and the people that engage in politics that is polarize along race is wrong. It always interests me when people say it was a Southern strategy. The fact is that folks in the North, the South, the East and the West sometimes did this.

People up north sometimes think that this is a southern problem. If you look today, the number-one state in America that has African- American elected officials is Mississippi. There's one state in the country that has the most state-wide officials, Texas -- three African-American Republicans, by the way.

And today it's the Democrat Party that is engaged in racially polarizing politics.

So what I said at the speech and what I strongly believe is that it's a new day; that the party of Lincoln -- because of this president, because of his leadership, because of his agenda to improve education, to make more access to health care, to close the gap in wealth between minorities and non-minorities, to help more people afford their own homes -- because of all those things, there's a new opportunity for the party of Lincoln and for the African-American community to restore our historic bonds.

It's not in the Republican interest and I don't think it's in the interest of most African-Americans when 90 percent of the African- American community votes for one party, which allows that party, the Democrats, to take their votes for granted.

KING: We're about out of time, and you didn't answer why the president himself wouldn't go before the NAACP.

But let me ask you this question, looking forward. The Democrats, as you know, are accusing you of using this very strategy you just repudiated in 2000 and 2004.

We can also look at other races, including the election in I believe it was 2002 of the Republican governor you now have in Georgia. One of the issues he used during the campaign was saying he put to a referendum the whole issue of changing the state flag, which had a version of the confederate flag built into that flag.

If a Republican candidate in the next election cycle uses the confederate flag or anything like that, will Ken Mehlman and the president of the United States, George W. Bush, stand up and say "stop" and cut off their money?

MEHLMAN: You mentioned Governor Perdue of Georgia. Governor Perdue is a good man. Governor Perdue got a significant percentage of the African-American vote and, in both his leadership and his appointments and his policies, has done a fantastic job of reaching out.

You know, one of the things people on the left try to do is they say if they don't agree with me on a particular policy, you got to be a bigot. That's wrong, too.

What the governor of Georgia put forward was something that had been discussed for a long time. He said let the people decide it.

I certainly will, going forward, if either party engages in things which are racially polarizing unnecessarily -- for instance, a good example, in 1998, the Democrat Party put up ads in Missouri that said -- I mean, this is appalling -- that said, "Every time you don't vote, a church burns. Vote Democratic." That's an appalling example.

The NAACP unfortunately in the 2000 campaign likened the president to James Byrd, who was a racist killer in east Texas, who the president brought to justice.

But when we see that happening, we all need to speak out. This isn't a problem in the South, the North, the East or the West. All Americans need to come together. We need more racial reconciliation. And we need to work to bring justice to this country, which this president's policies are doing.

KING: We are out of time. Can I get a yes or a no: will you recommend to the president that he speak to the NAACP? Next year their convention is right here Washington, D.C.

MEHLMAN: I think this president spoke to an outstanding organization as well. There are a number of important organizations around the country, and I appreciated the opportunity to speak before the NAACP.

KING: Ken Mehlman, we thank you for your time today. Thanks a lot.

MEHLMAN: Thank you.

KING: And how is this political tug of war here in Washington playing in the rest of the United States? We'll talk with the Iowa governor and the new chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, Tom Vilsack.

But up next, a check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on Hurricane Emily. Stay with "LATE EDITION."


KING: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

They are the minority party here in Washington, but still the Democrats are taking on the White House on a number of issues, from Social Security to the CIA leak investigation to warnings against a divisive nominee to the Supreme Court.

Joining us now from Des Moines, Iowa, is that state's Democratic governor, Tom Vilsack. He's also the new head of the Democratic Leadership Council, which advocates centrist policies to the Democratic Party.

Governor Vilsack, welcome to "LATE EDITION," and congratulations on your new job. Let me begin where we left off with Ken Mehlman. He says these Democratic attacks on Karl Rove -- "Fire him, Mr. President;" "Strip him of his security clearance, Mr. President" -- Ken Mehlman says this is all part of a Democratic smear campaign. You say?

GOV. TOM VILSACK (D), IOWA: I tell you, John, I don't think it's that. I think it's about the fact that Karl Rove -- I think he owes an apology to the administration and to the people of the United States.

Rather than focusing on the people's concerns and business about how to improve education, how to expand access to health care, how to get better paying jobs, we're focused on what he said, who he said it to, when he said it.

It seems to me that he should be held accountable. Certainly, if this were in a corporate structure, do we have any doubt what would have happened to Karl Rove and do we have any doubt what the CEO of the company would have said under these same circumstances?

KING: Well, Governor, let me ask you. In your experience -- you are a chief executive, you're a governor, you run a state, a job comparable to the presidency on a smaller scale. You also have been a candidate for office, of course, in some tough campaigns. Draw the line for me. I certainly assume that you think it's appropriate for political aides on your staff to go out and pretty aggressively rebut information if you believe you are being wrongly criticized.

VILSACK: Well, there's no question about it. I mean, the people really need to know what happened here, and they need to have the truth. The nation would be best served by getting this matter behind us so we could attend to and focus on the people's business.

John, at the end of the day, this is not putting anybody to work. This is not improving our schools. This is not expanding access to health care. This is taking precious time away from the people's business. It ought to get resolved, and we ought to be able to move on to the important business of taking care of the American people.

KING: You are the host this weekend of a very large group of governors, Democrats and Republicans, who, for some reason, thought it was so critical to come to Iowa at this time.

I want to ask you, sir, without betraying any confidences, in private conversations -- never mind the Democrats for a minute; they obviously see a political opening here -- any of the Republican governors bringing up Karl Rove? Is that a subject of quiet talk at the meeting there?

VILSACK: To be honest, John, we are really not talking about Karl Rove and what's going on in Washington, D.C. We're trying to put the partisanship that takes place in Washington, D.C., behind us. We're working in a bipartisan fashion.

Just today, a bipartisan group of governors signed a compact to develop a uniform method for keeping graduation rates so that we can really compare how well our high schools are doing. We're talking about redesigning high schools -- a more rigorous and more relevant high school curriculum so our young people can be better prepared for a competitive situation they find themselves in.

We've talked about Medicaid, health-care reform. Later today, we're going to talk about homeland security, which is an issue that is absolutely vital to every single governor.

So we are again focused on the people's business. That's what governors do.

KING: Let me ask you quickly, Governor. I want to move on to politics and your new job at the DLC, but you mentioned homeland security.

One of the complaints governors have made is about all these deployments of National Guard troops overseas. Where are we, in your sense? Are you hurting at the state level because of that? Does something have to be done at the federal level?

VILSACK: Well, let me answer, first of all, as the governor of Iowa. I'm certainly proud of the fact that we still maintain 100 percent recruitment levels, and we've not had a serious problem.

But other governors have. And it's fairly clear that, given the demands that we're placing on our military, that we have to have a conversation in this country about whether or not we have adequate numbers of full-time troops. And if not, we need to address that problem immediately.

And then I think we have to have a long-term conversation about the future of the National Guard, whether we're going to be able to depend on individuals being recalled and redeployed every couple of years or whether we need to create a new mission for the National Guard. I think that has to be part of the conversation.

KING: I want to move on to your new job as head of the Democratic Leadership Council. Back in 1991 and early 1992, I had a lot fewer gray hairs, but I spent some time with then-Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas. He then had just become the chairman of the DLC, and he was going around the country, ended up running for president, you might recall. And he was criticizing the national party, saying it was too liberal. That, of course, is a consistent message from the DLC.

I want to read you something that the leaders of the DLC wrote recently about the Democratic Party, the organization you now lead. This is from Al From and Bruce Reid in the DLC magazine, Blueprint, in March of this year.

"The best thing a party chairman can do is to keep his head down and his nose to the grindstone and give potential candidates a clear field to have that debate. Dean will be fine as long as he remembers the Hippocratic oath, 'First, do no harm.' If Democrats want to make a lasting difference in American life, we have to define ourselves by what we are for, not simply what we're against." As you know, Governor Vilsack, many of those in the DLC are not fans of Howard Dean. They think he's too liberal. They think he's too combative. What do you think?

VILSACK: Well, I tell you, John, I think that the Democratic Party generally has a very important responsibility that we have to live up to. And that important responsibility is to provide an alternative; a progressive, centrist alternative; a positive alternative on issues involving education, health care, homeland security, national security and the like.

And I think it is very incumbent, and I think one of the jobs and responsibilities of the DLC will be to create that positive agenda, that progressive agenda.

It should be an agenda that unites us as a party. It should be centered on values, responsibility, opportunity and security. It should reward and emphasize the importance of community.

We cannot, as a party, afford to be anti. We cannot be always against things. We must be for things. And the American public should be clear about what we are for.

We can't be an angry party. Americans don't want that. They want a hopeful, optimistic party. They want to know what the future's going to look like, and they want to know that the future's going to be brighter.

And I think it's incumbent upon all Democratic leaders, regardless of what their position might be, to work on that progressive, positive agenda. KING: Well, you mentioned security as one of the hallmarks, the lynch pins of the DLC. Let me read you one other quote from the Blueprint magazine. This one goes back to December 2004.

KING: And as I read it, I should make clear, of course, Governor Dean, as a presidential candidate last time, was very critical of the Iraq war.

Will Marshall, a security expert at the DLC wrote this: "Let's face facts. America is at war, and the public isn't yet convinced the Democrats have the stomach for that fight. Democrats themselves seem unsure of their true identity. Are they the anti-war party or the party of tough-minded liberals? The party of Governor Howard Dean or the party of Senator Joe Biden? Resolving this ambivalence is essential to making headway."

To resolve this ambivalence, Governor Vilsack, does the DLC have to be at war with the national party, the DNC, much as it was when Bill Clinton took over?

VILSACK: I think Democrats need to be able to say without hesitation that we will do what it takes, we will pay whatever the price may be to secure Americans here and abroad.

Now, there are smarter ways to approach national security, in my view and in the view of many Democrats. There are more comprehensive ways, perhaps, to approach homeland security.

There may be a different direction that we ought to look at in terms of Iraq, in terms of ensuring that we rebuild that country and bring our troops home as quickly as possible but only, only after the mission has been accomplished.

KING: You're being very careful, Governor, not to get into a fight, and I applaud your diplomatic skills.

Back in those days Jesse Jackson called the DLC "Democrats for the leisure class." I ask an honest question here. Have those differences been put aside? You clearly have some policy differences, which are fine, as long as you litigate them right. But is there a struggle within the party over who Democrats are, or do you believe that has passed?

VILSACK: I think it's important for us, John, at this point in time. I think the American public absolutely needs an engaged Democratic Party. They need a party that talks about values comfortably.

We can talk about opportunity and job growth in this country, in the Democratic way of stimulating better paying jobs. We can talk about responsibility of educating our children and preparing them for a better future.

We can talk about security in a wide variety of ways, national security, homeland security and certainly not the least important which is health-care security and in retirement security.

All of that involves and demands an engaged Democratic Party. We cannot afford to be a fractured party. We have to be united in our message, and I think we can unite around a set of common goals. I think we can unite around a positive agenda. America is desperate for that, and I think the DLC can help deliver on that.

KING: Making his case diplomatically but forcefully.

Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa, thank you for your time today, and I suspect we will speak again in the days and months ahead.

VILSACK: You bet.

KING: Take care, Governor

VILSACK: Thank you.

KING: And up next, in case you missed it, our highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows.


KING: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from other Sunday morning talk shows.

On "Fox News Sunday," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter and Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu offered their vision of the next Supreme Court justice.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The kind of a person I would like to see is somebody with a good educational background, a good professional background, a good character. I have expressed the view that it would be useful, in my judgment, to have somebody on the court who does not come from the graduates of the courts of appeals.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: The president as the leader should, I think, have an overwhelming feeling to appoint someone that the Senate can agree on, to keep the country together.


KING: On the CBS program "Face the Nation," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson weighed in on the CIA leak and the White House deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove.


FORMER AMBASSADOR JOSEPH WILSON: The president, in response to a question about whether he would fire somebody if he found that they had leaked this information, said yes.

The president is a man who prides himself on keeping his word. I do believe it's a question of trust with the American people. I also believe -- and I've said this repeatedly -- that the president should fire Karl Rove.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Mr. Wilson is at best disingenuous when he tries to tell the American people he didn't have a political agenda. He's been attacking the president constantly...


KING: Highlights there from the other Sunday morning talk shows, right here on the last word in Sunday talk. Up next, the results of our Web question of the week: What is the best way to fight terrorism?


KING: Our "LATE EDITION" Web question asked, "What is the best way to fight terrorism?"

And here's how you voted: Thirty-five percent said promoting democracy. Thirty-seven percent said military action. And twenty- eight percent said tighter security.

Remember, this is not a scientific poll.

And that's our "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, July 17th. Be sure to join Wolf next Sunday at noon eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm John King in Washington. Have a great weekend.