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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interview With Walter Mondale; Interview With Richard Perle

Aired April 15, 2007 - 11:00   ET


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

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: There is an enemy willing to bomb innocent people in a symbol of democracy.


BLITZER: Terror strikes the heart of the new Iraq. Is the new U.S. strategy really working? Democratic Senator Jim Webb and Republican Senator Jon Kyl weigh in.

Plus perspective from Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.


MONDALE: He's been a cheerleader for one of the most disastrous policies in modern history.


BLITZER: Tough talk from former Vice President Walter Mondale on the current vice president, Dick Cheney, and the war in Iraq. Plus, he speaks out on Jimmy Carter's book, "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid."

And insight from former Pentagon official Richard Perle.

The fight over war funding, missing White House e-mails and the 2008 presidential race -- the best political team on television will join us: CNN's John Roberts, Andrea Koppel and Jeffrey Toobin.

From the Don Imus firing to the Duke University lacrosse scandal, we'll discuss a week of racial controversy and the state of black America with National Urban League president Marc Morial, Children's Defense Fund president Marian Wright Edelman and commentator Amy Holmes.

"Late Edition's" lineup begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.

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

It's a little bit of the calm before the storm, but we are following severe weather expected to hammer the Northeast part of the United States later today. Our meteorologists are following the situation very closely. We're going to bring you a full weather report. That's coming up later this hour, some serious weather down south in the Florida region as well. All that coming up.

But right now, we want to go straight to our discussion with two key United States senators. This week's attack against the Iraqi parliament inside heavily-guarded Green Zone, the bombing of key bridges in Baghdad, and word that the deployment of U.S. soldiers in Iraq will be extended from 12 to 15 months are all adding more fuel to the already heated debate underway here in Washington about the U.S. strategy.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. He's a key member of the Armed Services and the Foreign Relations Committees. And Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, he has the Senate Republican Conference. He recently visited Iraq.

Senators, thanks to both of you for coming in.

Senator Webb, let me start with you and get your immediate reaction to what we just heard from Vice President Dick Cheney. He was on CBS, on "Face the Nation." He says progress is being made right now with this U.S. strategy, and he added this. Listen.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do believe we can win in Iraq. I think it is a worthy cause. I think it's absolutely essential that we prevail, and I think the United States of America, at the beginning of the 21st century, is perfectly capable of winning this fight against these people.


BLITZER: All right. You agree or disagree?

WEBB: Well, you know, he also really took off after the Democratic Party saying this is the return of the McGovern era and had a lot of, I think, unfortunate rhetoric that tends to continue to polarize us.

I think the question in Iraq has always been, A, first of all, whether we should have gone in. And there were many of us with long national security experience who still support the Vietnam War, by the way, to counter something that Vice President Cheney was saying yesterday, who believed that this was a huge strategic error to go in.

And then the second question is, how do you define a success in Iraq? And the only way that we are going to have a success in Iraq is to have a regional, diplomatic solution that can provide some sort of an umbrella for us to remove our troops, and we don't see them saying that.

This is a totally one-dimensional approach. The surge is not a strategy. I was saying that the day that the president announced it. It's just another tactical adjustment. It's burning out our troops.

Senator Hagel and I jointly put in a bill. We're the only two ground combat Vietnam veterans in the Senate. We put a bill in to try to stabilize what's happening to the troops on the other end, and I think the administration needs to have some more flexibility here.

BLITZER: All right. You speak not only as a United States senator, but also a former Marine and a former secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration.

You disagree, Senator Kyl?

KYL: I do. I certainly respect Jim's point of view and his past service to our country, but the generals on the ground, the Marine commandant was just over there, and many others have reviewed the situation and concluded that we are beginning to make progress.

Senator Webb is correct. The surge is not the entire part of the strategy. There are other elements to the strategy. There's the political, the economic, the diplomatic.

BLITZER: But he says that you need a regional solution with all the neighbors of Iraq, and I take it you don't see the administration, Senator Webb, moving in that direction?

WEBB: This administration hasn't, and even other people on the Democratic side tend to focus purely on the Maliki government and what they call reconciliation among the factions in Iraq. And that's simply not enough to guarantee long-term stability.

KYL: All of these things are part of the overall strategy. That's one reason you saw an historic meeting in Baghdad of the representatives of all the countries in the region, including Iran and the United States, as a prelude to another meeting that's supposed to occur in the near future.

There are diplomatic efforts underway. There are political efforts underway in the parliament in Baghdad. But until you have security on the ground, it's very difficult to consolidate all of these other efforts and assure the Iraqi people that they have an opportunity for stability in the future.

BLITZER: Do you believe, as the vice president said this morning, that -- this is a direct quote -- "We can win in Iraq"?

WEBB: The question is how do you define a win. And, actually, I don't disagree with what Senator Kyl said about the importance of the diplomatic process that the State Department has attempted to put into place. And I've said many times that I support Secretary Rice in these efforts. In fact, I met with her this week to discuss this.

The difficulty is that you are not going to have the kind of stability that they want if you simply continue to do what we've been doing. The Iraqis themselves have a stake in this. This isn't even a sectarian situation anymore. It's a breakdown among the sects.

For instance, there was an article in The Washington Post yesterday that said that Al Qaida and the Sunni elements have a new division in Al Anbar. That's not true. Al Qaida and the Sunni elements have always had a division. So this thing has fractioned out in so many different directions that you simply cannot do it without more robust diplomacy.

BLITZER: The vice president insisted today that progress slowly but surely, with the new strategy, implemented since February -- the surge as it's called -- is working. But Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, he rejects whatever the vice president has to say. Listen to what he said earlier today.


SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Vice President Cheney has zero credibility. I don't think anybody more than 5 percent or 10 percent of the hardcore, solid Republican base believes much that Vice President Cheney says. He has no credibility. He's been wrong consistently on Iraq. He has misled the people consistently on Iraq. He has misstated. He has exaggerated. And I don't think he has any credibility left.


BLITZER: Does he have credibility left with you?

KYL: He does, and that's not a very constructive way to engage the administration in dialogue. Look, this is a very complicated situation. People can disagree agreeably about it.

What I think is clear is that after the Senate unanimously confirmed General Petraeus, he was sent there to try to execute a new strategy. And the news coming back is that there are areas in which that new strategy appears to be working. Now, nobody is saying it's over, that we can declare victory or anything of the sort, but it is clear that there are positive signs there.

And my only question is, why would you want to pull the rug out from under the troops, deny the funding at the very moment that it looks like we may have been able to turn the corner?

BLITZER: What is the answer, Senator Webb?

WEBB: Well, I think, first of all, in terms of regretting the disagreeability, I mean, if you look at what Vice President Cheney is saying, if you look at the one-dimensional approach that that faction in the Republican Party has been taking, it's not going to solve the problem on the ground.

We want to encourage the activities that have been taken by people like Secretary Rice. We need a diplomatic umbrella. But this whole situation of incremental successes tactically, we could be talking about that 10 years from now.

What we want is a diplomatic agreement in place so that we can begin to withdraw our troops and increase stability in the region, increase our ability to fight international terrorism, increase our ability to look at the strategic issues around the world and increase American prestige around the world.

BLITZER: The president says he needs a bill to fund the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan without any strings attached. Listen to what he said this week.


BUSH: We can discuss the way forward on a bill that is a clean bill, a bill that funds our troops without artificial timetables for withdrawal and without handcuffing our generals on the ground.


BLITZER: Is he going to get that kind of legislation, that kind of war funding?

WEBB: Well, that's another example of the one-dimensional approach of this administration. He wants only the bill that will fit his one-dimensional strategy.

WEBB: In the Congress -- in the Constitution, the Congress writes the checks. We appropriate. We have sent him a bill. It's got $100 billion in it, in a supplemental, so-called emergency supplemental to fund this war.

Nobody is cutting the money away from the troops unless the president wants to veto the bill that the Congress sent him.

KYL: Well, the Congress hasn't sent the bill yet. We have to work that out in the Congress.

BLITZER: The Senate has passed legislation. The House has passed separate legislation.

KYL: Right. But they're very different.

BLITZER: But there's a lot of agreement. They want a timeline that would force the president's hand -- basically, another year or so to get the job done.

KYL: That's the poison pill that the president says he simply cannot accept.

It says that, in the Senate version, within 120 days, we start the withdrawal of the troops. And the goal is to complete it before the end of another 12 months.

That's not just sending a signal to the president. That's sending a signal to our allies, to our troops, and most especially, to the enemy, all they just have to do is wait us out. It was only a couple of months ago that almost everybody in the House and Senate rejected the idea of deadlines, as simply a very bad...


BLITZER: Go ahead. Go ahead.

WEBB: There is not a deadline in this. There is a 120-day period after this bill is signed to begin a withdrawal. I think that's constructive, when you look at how the numbers have gone up and how we're burning out our troops on the ground. Retention levels are falling -- those sorts of things.

The goal, on the other end, is a goal. It's not a deadline. And it depends on progress.

What we want to see, and where the Democratic party, I think, has been wrongly accused of being irresponsible -- what we want to see is diplomatic efforts to tie in with the military efforts.

And this administration has simply been one-dimensional.

BLITZER: And they want to see the Iraqi government -- we're going to be speaking, shortly, to a spokesman for the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, take the steps they promise to take on oil revenues, on a real ability to end the deBaathification, bring in some of those Iraqi Sunnis.

They want to see the Iraqi government take the tough steps that, so far, they're refusing to take.

KYL: That's not exactly true. I was just there about six weeks ago.

First of all, you are right. They need to take these steps. But secondly, think are beginning to take these steps.

BLITZER: They're talking about it, but they're not doing it.

KYL: Well, the cabinet has already passed a provision for the distribution of the oil revenue.

BLITZER: But they're not doing that yet.

KYL: Well, the parliament still has to approve it.


KYL: What I think is incorrect here is to say that they are refusing to do anything. They are taking time, and we wish that they would do it faster. But it's not as if they are saying, we refuse to do any of these things.

And here is the irony of it. The best way to bring our troops home is for these steps to be taken. The irony is that the benchmarks should actually be, if they do these things, then we bring our troops home, because that's what will enable us to bring the troops home, not if they don't do these things, we'll bring the troops home.

So it seems to me that we have to put the pressure on diplomatically, the pressure on the Iraqi government politically. But until you have a stable environment there, where the people can live in some degree of peace, it's very difficult for them to get together and make political agreements.

BLITZER: I'm going to take a break, but you want to just wrap that up?

WEBB: 30 seconds, 30 seconds, if I may. I mean, the difficulty is that this is a very weak central government, very similar to when I was in Beirut as a journalist in 1983 when the Marines were there.

It doesn't have the power, in and of itself, to compel a lot of these actions among the factions in Iraq.

That's why we need these other countries in the region to come to the table, as, hopefully, is going to happen with the process that has begun by the State Department, and with the opposition of people like Dick Cheney.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by, Senators. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about, including Alberto Gonzales.

He's scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this Tuesday. Will he survive or will he be forced out?

We'll talk about that and a lot more.

And after this week's attack inside Iraq's parliament, question about whether any place is really safe in Baghdad. We'll talk about that with the Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh.

Then we'll get some perspective from a prominent proponent of the war, the former assistant defense secretary, Richard Perle. He's standing by to join us live. What does he think of this current U.S. strategy?

And coming up later for our North American viewers at 1 p.m. Eastern, John Roberts hosts "This Week at War." You're watching "Late Edition." We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This note: coming up in our second hour, at noon Eastern, my interview -- it's a rare interview -- with the former vice president, Walter Mondale.

You'll want to see what he has to say about the war and the man who is currently, currently the vice president of the United States. That interview with Walter Mondale, coming up.

But right now, we're continuing our conversation with Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia; Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.

Only moments ago, the Department of Justice released the opening statement of the testimony of Alberto Gonzales. He's scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

Among other things, he says this. And I'll read it to you from the advance statement they released. "I know that I did not and would not ask for a resignation of any individual in order to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain."

I also have no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. attorney for an improper reason." He's under fire for the dismissal, Senator Webb, of those eight federal prosecutors; a lot of allegations being made right now. What do you think?

Should he go or should he stay, Alberto Gonzales?

WEBB: Well, I think we should receive his testimony. And I think that, you know, Senator Kyl is on the appropriate committee. Senator Leahy has done a really good job of trying to bring this issue to the forefront.

The difficulty that people of the Democratic side have with this situation is, A, that they were selective firings; and B, that some of them did appear to have political overtones.

For instance, the woman who prosecuted the case against former Congressman Duke Cunningham...

BLITZER: In California -- Carol Lam?

WEBB: ... in California, and who apparently had other cases that were being considered, was fired.

And that not only impacts on the particular cases, but if those sorts of firings go unanswered by others in the political process, it could create a chilling effect on those sorts of cases.

BLITZER: He suggested earlier, Senator Kyl -- I know you're a member of the Judiciary Committee, so you know all about this. He suggested earlier that he only had a marginal role in all of this.

I want you to hear what he said on March 13. Listen to this.


ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES: I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood.


BLITZER: That's a serious acknowledgement on his part that he was really not much involved.

He writes, in today's Washington Post, this: "I also know that I created confusion with some of my recent statement about my role in this matter.

BLITZER: To be clear, I directed my then-deputy chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, to initiate this process, fully knew that it was occurring and approved the final recommendations."

So what was it? Was he deeply involved in all of this or only marginally involved?

KYL: That matters a lot less than the central question which was, were any of these people removed for an improper purpose, whether he was involved or not involved? And the answer so far is, there is no evidence to that. This is what you asked Senator Webb.

And while Democrats have suspicions because there are political corruption cases going in virtually every U.S. attorney jurisdiction today -- and there always are -- there is no evidence that any of these individuals were removed in order to stop a prosecution or, in fact, that any prosecutions were stopped or investigations were stopped.

The problem is the attorney general here is trying to prove a negative. I didn't do something for a bad purpose. It's really incumbent upon those who are casting aspersions on him and on the administration to show the evidence if there is any, and so far there is not, that any prosecution was stopped because of this or that it was done for that purpose.

BLITZER: Senator Kyl makes a fair point. Suspicion -- Democrats have suspicion that in California, for example, and some of the other U.S. attorneys whose were fired, that they may have been getting too close to some other Republicans and, as a result, they may have been fired, or they weren't being aggressive enough in going after Democrats.

But there is no hard evidence that anyone was fired because they were doing something that the White House didn't want.

WEBB: Well, I mean, that's why we have hearings. And that's why I think these hearings are appropriate. It shouldn't be incumbent on the people who discover an irregularity to have to provide evidence as to why the irregularity was there.

It is incumbent on the administration to explain why, selectively, eight of these people were fired, and coincidentally or otherwise, people like this individual who had prosecuted Congressman Cunningham, who went to jail, are suddenly without a job that. And that can provide a chilling effect on the judicial process. So I think these hearings are appropriate and it will be very interesting to see what happens this week.

BLITZER: Hovering over all of this now is this new scandal involving these missing White House e-mails -- millions of them, potentially. Top White House officials, including Karl Rove, were using Republican Party e-mail systems that -- and a lot of those e- mails were simply discarded, displaced.

And people are wondering, especially Democrats, including the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, what about those e-mails? Listen to what Leahy said this week because he was irate.


SEN. PATRICK J. LEAHY, D-VT.: I don't believe that. I don't believe that. You can't erase e-mails, not today. They've gone through too many servers. They can't say that they've been lost. That's like saying the dog ate my homework.


BLITZER: He says it doesn't work that way. You're shaking your head, but there's deep concern, as you well know.

KYL: But you called it a scandal, Wolf. And there is no scandal here. There will be testimony about what has happened. I asked the attorney general, for example, why some of these new documents came out. And he said the reality was that most of them are duplicates of documents that have already been released to the committee, but they simply hadn't asked all of the people who might have a copy.

They discovered that there were additional people who had copies of pretty much the same documents. Now, there are a few new documents, but by and large, they were all duplicates of what existed already.

Before we get all excited and call it a scandal and suggest that something was deliberately erased, let's hear the testimony and see what actually happened and if there's something wrong, people have plenty of time to get into it.

BLITZER: Senator, you were around during the Clinton administration. If the Clinton White House told you, "You know what? Top officials were using Democratic e-mail systems, laptops, not White House laptops, and you know what? Those documents, there are millions of them now that have been erased, that have been deleted," you would be outraged.

KYL: First of all, there is -- as far as I know, it's actually a good thing to divide the political from the governmental thing.

BLITZER: But if those e-mails, if you wanted them, and the Democratic Party said, "Well, you're not going to get them because we've lost them," would you believe them? KYL: Well, first of all, if the Democratic Party is asking the Republican party For its e- mails, I'm not sure that the Republican Party has an obligation to...

BLITZER: No, no, the Congress, the Senate Judiciary Committee wants those e-mails.

KYL: Yes, the Democratic chairman of the committee wants the political e-mails of Karl Rove. Now, do you think that if you wanted to turn the tables that if the Clinton administration had had political e-mails, that it would have been appropriate for the Republicans to say "We want your political e-mails?"

Wolf, I don't know. And that's what this hearing and the investigation will get into. But before we call it a scandal and start pointing fingers and suggest that something is wrong, let's get back to the original question which is, what was wrong to begin with? Was somebody fired improperly? And there is, as yet, no evidence that that occurred.

BLITZER: What's your bottom line because we are out of time?

WEBB: Well, the bottom line is, if these legal proceedings were wrongly interrupted, that is obstruction of justice and then you do you have a situation similar to Watergate when they were asking for political communications. I don't have a legal view myself on that yet, but I'm looking forward to the hearings. That's what they are supposed to be looking at.

BLITZER: We'll have extensive coverage on Tuesday of the hearings with Alberto Gonzales before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Kyl, I know you will be there...

KYL: I'll be there.

BLITZER: ... among the questioners. Thanks to both of you for coming in.

KYL: Thanks, Wolf.

WEBB: Thank you.

BLITZER: And still ahead, a deadly breach in Baghdad's heavily- guarded Green Zone. What does it say about the strength of the insurgency? We'll talk about that with the Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. He's standing by live.

Then later, assessing race relations here in the United States after the Don Imus controversy. We'll get special insight from National Urban League president Marc Morial, Children's Defense Fund president Marian Wright Edelman and conservative commentator Amy Holmes.

And we'll also get an up-to-the-minute look at the storm that's now battering the East Coast here in the United States. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. You are watching "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Right now, some are saying it's the calm before the storm, forecasters saying a massive Nor'easter could blow in along the East Coast of the United States, causing a long list of very serious problems.

BLITZER: Our meteorologist Bonnie Schneider is at the CNN Severe Weather Center. Bonnie, what is the latest?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, the latest, Wolf, is we still run the risk for tornadoes across the Southeast. Yesterday and the day before was a very active day. And we still have numerous tornado watches that will go all the way through the afternoon.

Some of the strongest storms right now are in South Carolina. We had tornado warnings earlier. They had expired, but the threat for severe weather has not. So we are seeing damaging winds. We have reports of power outages in the Gainesville area in Florida, and we are also watching for some of the storms near the Orlando area, as well. A tornado watch also holds through the afternoon for Florida. And looking at South Carolina and North Carolina, we are looking at some very, very severe weather at this hour.

Let's take you to the Northeast, where we are really getting ready for this nor'easter to get cranking tonight, and especially tomorrow morning, up towards Boston. You can see the winds to the south had picked up a great deal just over the past couple of hours. We are looking at winds right now at 26, 25 miles per hour from Philadelphia and to Yonkers, New York. Boston not too bad, at least not yet, because that's -- the storm hasn't really made its way through there just yet. But we are looking at snow in the back half of this storm.

And you know, this is really affecting travel. We're seeing major airport delays right now, across the country. And Wolf, you can see these numbers are in the multiple-hour units here. Look at this -- New York City, over four hours and 40 minutes. So this will get worse before it gets better.

BLITZER: We'll check back with you, Bonnie. Thanks for that update.

Up next on "Late Edition," the spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. We'll talk about all of that with Ali al- Dabbagh, about this week's deadly attacks inside Iraq's parliament in the so-called "Green Zone," and why the Iraqi government can't contain the violence, at least not yet.

Don't go away. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A very serious setback for the security crackdown in the Baghdad area this week, as a suicide bomber managed to infiltrate the Iraqi parliament building, right in the heart of the city's heavily guarded so-called "Green Zone."

One Iraqi lawmaker was killed; 22 other people were wounded, the group Al Qaida in Iraq claiming responsibility for the attack.

Welcome back to "Late Edition." Joining us now, the spokesman for the Iraqi government, Ali al-Dabbagh. Mr. al-Dabbagh, thanks very much for coming in. AL-DABBAGH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Laith Kubba, one of your predecessors, another spokesman for the Iraqi government -- he said this on Thursday: "Security in the Green Zone is getting worse. I think the message is, the Iraqi security forces cannot maintain security over the Green Zone. It is porous. The possibilities of such attacks being repeated in the future is high."

You live there. You work there. You're about to go back to the Green Zone. How worried are you that the situation is getting worse, not better?

AL-DABBAGH: Thank you, Wolf. I don't think it's getting worse. This is part of the war against Iraqi civilians. This is war from evil enemies. Sometimes they find soft places, soft persons which they can misuse.

It might be -- I can't assess right now -- but it might be somebody from a member of the parliament who has been privileged and given certain permission to enter, and then this is -- this could be -- but at the end, they are trying. The government is trying, but...

BLITZER: Why is it so hard?

It's been four years. Why is it so hard for the Iraqi government, which has hundreds of thousands of soldiers, police force -- why is it so hard for the Iraqis themselves to maintain security?

AL-DABBAGH: Part of the problem is political. Everybody knows that. This is not -- the violence...

BLITZER: Because of the split between the Sunni and the Shia?

AL-DABBAGH: It's a political split. It takes some time. Even in the Shias and the Sunnis, you have splitting. You find that they are split. But at the end, that this needs to be fixed by the Iraqis, with the help and support of the international troops.

They are trying. The Baghdad security plan is going well. But the problem of those enemies -- you could find that this is part of attack and so it is not easy to predict.

BLITZER: As bad as that attack was, in the Green Zone -- it was a shock -- the destruction of the bridge, a key bridge, one of the 11 key bridges over the Tigris River in Baghdad, and now an attack on a second bridge -- a lot of Iraqis are telling me they're even more concerned about the attack of the infrastructure, successful as it was.

AL-DABBAGH: Yes. See, they want to cut the bridges. They want to break the bridges between the Iraqis. This is the symbolic issue of the thing.

BLITZER: Which was worse, the attack in the Green Zone or the destruction of that bridge? AL-DABBAGH: Well, I think the destruction of the bridge. The destruction of the bridge...

BLITZER: Because it's a historic bridge.

AL-DABBAGH: It's historical, and then it's meaning, that this is the bridging. I don't think that they will succeed to break the bridges between the Iraqis.

The Iraqi community, the Iraqi people are so connected, are so integrated in a way. Until now, partially they had succeeded in -- flourished in the sectarian feeling, the sectarian war, but at the end, even after the shrine at Samarra, they couldn't succeed to flourish the civil war.

BLITZER: I spoke with the chief spokesman for the U.S. and multinational forces in Iraq, Major General William Caldwell, this week. And he is, like other U.S. and civilian officials, pinning a lot of the blame on Iran. Listen to what he said.


LT. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. MILITARY SPOKESMAN: ... Iranian intelligence agents that are associated with this effort to provide munitions which are been smuggled into Iraq and then used against the Iraqi security forces and our coalition forces.


BLITZER: Now, here's what I don't understand. Your government, the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has good relations with the government of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What's going on?

Why is Iran, according to General Caldwell and other U.S. officials, undermining this whole operation and trying to kill Americans?

AL-DABBAGH: I think this is a reflection of the relation between the United States and Iran.

We are urging both countries to settle their dispute out of the nuclear issues. Iraqi issues are much more important. I think that any improvement in a relation, any better relation between the United States and Iran will help Iraqis.


AL-DABBAGH: We don't deny. That is an unfair (inaudible) -- sorry. We do understand there is interference from Iran, and they want to take Iraq as a battlefield for their difficulties and their relation with the United States.

But we do urge Iranians that this is not going to go for long. And they are, well, Americans do have the evidences, and which is...

BLITZER: Do you believe that?

AL-DABBAGH: I think that there is an interference, but not to the level that they do such attacks.

BLITZER: Because the -- to listen to you, to an American it sounds almost like you have moral equivalency between what the United States is doing in Iraq and what Iran is doing.

AL-DABBAGH: No, definitely not. We told the Iranians that any attack, any participation, any support of attacks against the Americans is an act of war against Iraqis.

The United States troops there are in Iraq at the approval of the Iraqi government, and any attack is against Iraq.

This is very clear. The United States is playing a major role, positive role to help Iraqis, until now. We don't see any positive role from the Iranians to help Iraqis.

BLITZER: Do you want the U.S. to hold on to those seven Iranian intelligence officers, as described by General Caldwell, or release them to Iran?

AL-DABBAGH: We think that releasing them is much better. We think that it will help the better understanding between -- since we have now the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, this could be a goodwill from the United States to have a better relation.

This is all reflected on Iraq. As long as the relations improve between the two countries, we will be benefited. We will be -- the violence will be less.

BLITZER: How much longer do you think U.S. forces have to remain in Iraq?

AL-DABBAGH: I think until security, Iraqi security forces will be ready to take...

BLITZER: How long will that be?

AL-DABBAGH: I think it's not much more left. We did a good job; the United States sacrificed, a lot of sacrifice. We don't need to lose that sacrifice. We Iraqis have had sacrifice. We don't want to lose the sacrifice because of short time left. I can't give a time, but we are going after the plan of President Bush and the prime minister, in order to make the Iraqi security forces well-trained, well-ready, well-equipped, in order to take control.

BLITZER: Ali al-Dabbagh, I know you're heading back to Baghdad. Good luck over there. Be careful. We'll speak to you from Baghdad.

AL-DABBAGH: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.

And just ahead, he says invading Iraq was the right thing to did, but the Bush administration botched the war.

BLITZER: My conversation with former Assistant Defense Secretary and leading neoconservative Richard Perle. He's standing by live.

And later, former Vice President Walter Mondale in a rare interview responds to criticism of his former boss, Jimmy Carter, and his controversial book "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid."

Stay with "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up later, a discussion of the lessons learned from the Don Imus controversy. What it tells us about unresolved issues of race in the United States. That's coming up.

But first -- in fact, right now -- a different perspective on the war in Iraq from a man who played a key role in promoting the 2003 invasion. Richard Perle served as a top Pentagon official during the Reagan administration. He was a member of President Bush's Defense Policy Board.

He's now part of a new documentary airing this week on PBS as part of its "America at a Crossroads" series. This segment is called "The Case For War: In Defense of Freedom."

Richard Perle, welcome back to "Late Edition."

PERLE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk about looking ahead before we look back. Will this surge work?

PERLE: I certainly hope so. It's terribly important for our country, for the people of Iraq, for the world, because if it fails, if we are driven out of Iraq, we will see another kind of surge, a surge in recruitment for Al Qaida and terrorists around the world who want to destroy...

BLITZER: But you just heard Senator Webb say there's another option between just a military option or a retreat, and that is a diplomatic solution, if you will, to try to bring in the neighbors -- Iran, Syria, the Saudis, the Jordanians -- and come up with some sort of diplomatic solution. Is that workable? PERLE: No, it's not workable. If I had to choose between the likelihood that the surge would succeed and the likelihood that we will get our enemies in the region to reverse themselves and come to our assistance, I'll take the Defense Department surge any day.

BLITZER: You think that talking to the Syrians and the Iranians is a waste of time?

PERLE: What are we going to say to the Syrians and the Iranians? "Please reverse your policies? Stop facilitating attacks on the United States?" And what are we going to promise them in order to do that? What Senator Webb is proposing hasn't a prayer. It's not a realistic option. It's can't succeed. It won't succeed.

BLITZER: It's not just Senator Webb. It's the Iraq Study Group, the Baker-Hamilton Commission. They also said virtually the same thing. Start a dialogue. Talk to -- you served in the Reagan administration. Even though the president, Ronald Reagan, called the Soviets the "evil empire," he spoke to them.

PERLE: Well, we negotiated from a position of strength. Now, you are talking about going to the Iranians, going to the Syrians in a weak position.

BLITZER: But the United States is a superpower; they are not.

PERLE: Well, they happen to be manipulating the instruments of terror in Iraq to our disadvantage. And the idea that we are going to talk them out of that, I think, is just nonsense.

But it seems to me, incumbent upon Senator Webb and others who propose that, to tell us what we should say. What are the talking points? What are we going to promise Ahmadinejad if he reverses his current policy of fueling the insurgency and joins with us in trying to dampen the insurgency?

BLITZER: Knowing what you know right now, was this war, the invasion back in March of 2003, a mistake?

PERLE: No, I don't believe it was a mistake.

BLITZER: Even though the premise of the war, major premise, the weapons of mass destruction, turned out to be false?

PERLE: Well, the premise was that Saddam posed a threat to the United States because he had a history of weapons of mass destruction, he refused to account for those weapons in any reasonable fashion and he had lots of links to various terrorist organizations.

BLITZER: Here is what you said on March 9, 2003. You were here, a guest on "Late Edition," and just before the war started. I want to play this little clip.


PERLE: Saddam has inventories of chemical and biological weapons that he has hidden, that he has not revealed to the inspectors.


BLITZER: All right. Nobody has found any of those inventories yet.

PERLE: Clearly, our intelligence on that was wrong. It was simply wrong, but you can't go back and say that because the intelligence was wrong, the logic of the decision aiming to manage risk was wrong.

It's a little bit like saying it was wrong to buy insurance last year because your house didn't burn down or you didn't have an automobile accident. You buy insurance to hedge against disastrous things happening.

BLITZER: Besides the weapons of mass destruction, the other argument that was suggested, if not directly alleged, was that there was a connection somehow between Al Qaida, Saddam Hussein and even 9/11. In fact, this is what you said on CNN in October of 2002. I'll play this clip for you.


PERLE: I think there are other indications of other meetings with other members of Al Qaida, including hijackers, and intelligence officials from Iraq, the Iraqis, a fellow by the name of al-Ani. I think the evidence is compelling.


BLITZER: Now, you believed that. I'm sure you were sincere in your belief. The Senate Intelligence Committee report last September concluded this: Quote, "According to debriefs of multiple detainees -- including Saddam Hussein and Former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz -- and captured documents, Saddam did not trust Al Qaida or any other radical Islamist group and did not want to cooperate with them."

PERLE: Well, first of all, the idea of relying on what Saddam Hussein says about what Saddam Hussein was doing is preposterous.

BLITZER: Well, they say other documents and captured...

PERLE: Well, there are other documents, there are captured documents, and there is documentation that demonstrates a relationship between Saddam Hussein and a variety of terrorist organizations, including Al Qaida.

And you don't have to believe me. George Tenet, then-director of the CIA, wrote a letter to Senator Bob Graham, then on the Senate Intelligence Committee, in which he said, "We have solid evidence of a relationship going back a decade or more, and it included the training in Iraq by Saddam's intelligence of Al Qaida people in the use of chemical weapons." And there's lots of other evidence.

BLITZER: So you're still convinced that there was a direct connection between Saddam Hussein and the Al Qaida of Osama bin Laden?

PERLE: There was a direct connection and there were other connections with terrorists. The point...

BLITZER: Other terrorists -- Abu Nidal, for example, he did have a base there.

BLITZER: But Al Qaida and 9/11, there's no connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, that is right? PERLE: No one has been able to establish a connection, so I think we have to say there is no evidence of such a connection, but there is evidence of a connection between Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein's intelligence.

BLITZER: I know you supported the war, you believe it was the right thing to do, but you don't believe necessarily -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- it was handled in the best possible way, the invasion, the post-invasion. Here is what John McCain said on January 24th.

"The president was very badly served by both the vice president and, most of all, the secretary of defense. Rumsfeld will go down in history along with McNamara as one of the worse secretaries of defense in history."

Do you agree with McCain?

PERLE: Well, I'm very wary of instant history. It takes awhile to reflect and understand how events flowed. And I think there is something personal between John McCain and Secretary Rumsfeld.

Look, I think mistakes were made. The main mistakes were political in nature rather than military. The initial operation that destroyed Saddam's defenses was brilliantly done. It will go down in the annals of military history, in 21 days.

BLITZER: But there was really no serious or substantive planning for what happened next.

PERLE: No, there was a great deal of planning.

BLITZER: But they ignored it.

PERLE: No, they didn't ignore it. There was planning that contemplated every conceivable mishap. Things don't always work out the way you want them to work out. And some decisions were made that didn't...

BLITZER: What was the biggest mistake?

PERLE: The biggest mistake was not turning political authority over to the Iraqis immediately when Baghdad fell.

BLITZER: Instead of letting Paul Bremer become sort of the pro council, if you will?

PERLE: That's right, and if...

BLITZER: Whose idea was that?

PERLE: Well, I think it was partly Paul Bremer's. But it was acquiesced in by the entire administration.

BLITZER: And in the Vanity Fair article, the famous one in the January issue, you said "At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible." PERLE: Of course, and his team, the cabinet officers who worked alongside the president. But the decision to enter into a protracted occupation at a time when there was no insurgency against the United States was a dreadfully wrong decision. And I think history will prove that. And when it does, I think we'll get a more balanced view of Don Rumsfeld's performance, too.

BLITZER: Bottom line right now, looking ahead a year from now, where will this situation in Iraq be based on what you see?

PERLE: Well, I've given up clairvoyancy in this area. Some of my past predictions were clearly wrong. I hope that the changing emphasis where we are now trying to obtain a level of security in urban areas so that the government of Iraq can get traction and govern, I hope that will succeed, but nobody can predict that.

BLITZER: No guarantees. Richard Perle, thanks for coming in.

PERLE: Thank you.

BLITZER: And we'll watch your documentary Tuesday night on PBS.

A reminder for our North American viewers, coming up right after "Late Edition" at 1:00 p.m., John Roberts hosts "This Week At War."

And, starting tomorrow, John Roberts and Kiran Chetry are the new anchor team for CNN's "American Morning." They'll bring you the most news in the morning, Monday through Friday, beginning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern. You'll want to see it.

And also kicking off tomorrow, CNN's week-long celebration of Larry King's 50 years of broadcasting. That starts tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. The full hour tomorrow night with Oprah Winfrey.

"Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We're keeping a very close eye on the severe weather heading up the East Coast. Our meteorologists are analyzing the radar. We're going to bring you a full weather report later this hour. Some severe weather breaking right now.

In our first hour of "Late Edition," we heard from two top U.S. senators, Democrat Jim Webb and Republican Jon Kyl on the war in Iraq. Take a listen to this.


WEBB: The only way that we are going to have a success in Iraq is to have a regional diplomatic solution that can provide some sort of an umbrella for us to remove our troops. The surge is not a strategy. I was saying that the day that the president announced it. It's just another tactical adjustment. It's burning out our troops.

KYL: The news coming back is there are areas in which that new strategy appears to be working. Now nobody is saying it's over, that we can declare victory or anything of the sort, but it is clear that there are positive signs there.


BLITZER: That was in our first hour here on "Late Edition." When I sat down to talk with the former vice president, Walter Mondale, in a rare interview on Friday, he wasn't pulling any punches, giving his candid views on the war in Iraq, the Vice President Dick Cheney and even his old boss, the former President Jimmy Carter and his controversial book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."

We began with the current state of affairs in Iraq.


BLITZER: Vice President Mondale, thanks very much for joining us.

MONDALE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what the president said this past week when it comes to the war in Iraq. Listen to this.


BUSH: We are at war. It is irresponsible for the Democratic leadership in Congress to delay for months on end while our troops in combat are waiting for the funds they need to succeed.


BLITZER: All right. Where do you come down on this issue of funding the troops? The president says they need the money, the commanders say they need the money. The Congress says you can have the money but you have to have a timeline for withdrawing those troops from Iraq.

MONDALE: There is no debate about supplying the troops with that they need. The debate is about how we're going to end this war and we have to get a conversation going with the president engaged on that issue. That is what the voters decided in the last election. That is what the Iraq Study Group found.

And I think, increasingly, the evidence out of Iraq, including the bomb that went off in the Parliament yesterday afternoon, killing some parliamentarians, tells us that this thing is not going right and we've got to change course.

BLITZER: What would you do if you were in charge?

MONDALE: I would sit down and -- a long time ago -- first of all. If I were in charge I wouldn't have gone in there. Secondly, I would have told the truth about where we were, weapons of mass destruction and the rest. And, thirdly, I would try to find some reasonable way to leave Iraq with as little damage as possible.

Hard to do, but just to stay there, just say "We're going to keep going forever in this thing with our kids being killed, with terrorism I think being fed through this process, no signs of success" -- I mean, I think that though the details are different, it reminds me of my young days in the Senate in the latter days of Vietnam.

There was no way of winning. Nobody wanted to take the deep breath and finally bring it to an end. It took us five years to do it. Probably another half the kids you see on the monument out here died while we were trying to make up our minds. And I think it's time for us to make a decision.

And the president, up until now, all the way through -- the war has now gone on now longer than World War II -- has refused to sit down and discuss how we might end this.

BLITZER: When you say "tell the truth," are you suggesting that the president and/or the vice president when they said there were stockpiles of weapons of destruction in Iraq, they knew there weren't?

MONDALE: I never used those words but I think you've described it. BLITZER: Explain it because I'm still a little confused. What do you say? Did they deliberately lie to the American people?

MONDALE: I didn't mean it that way. They may have meant, they may have believed that there were weapons of mass destruction, but we now know with all the information coming out that they had all kinds of warning signs from their own government that these arguments were probably without substance.

So I wouldn't use that word but there was a lot of irresponsibility at least.

BLITZER: Here is what Joe Lieberman, who supports the president and his new strategy to try to find some sort of success in Iraq said the other day -- listen -- actually, he said it to me here on "Late Edition" last Sunday.


SEN. JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN, I-CONN.: There's General Petraeus, our new general there, a whole new approach. There are statistics that say it is working. It is worth it in the sense that sectarian killings in Baghdad are way down, and more of the people who have fled the city are coming back.


BLITZER: He and others are suggesting that progress is being made but you don't buy that.

MONDALE: I hope some progress is being made but there is a lot of evidence that it is just being pushed outside of Baghdad. As we saw yesterday with the explosion in Baghdad, it's not safe there. One of the parliamentarians there said it's not safe anywhere in Iraq.

So while there might some marginal tactical advantages, I don't think there is any basis for believing that we are making long-term progress. The dissidents are starting to speak out again, the big demonstrations in Najaf the other day. This is not working.

BLITZER: The current vice president, one of your successors, Dick Cheney, says as bad as the situation is right now, if they took your advice and the advice of a lot of Democrats, it could get a whole lot worse.

MONDALE: If they ...

BLITZER: Listen to this.



VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: The reality is that if our coalition withdrew before Iraqis could defend themselves, radical factions would battle for dominance of the country. The violence could spread throughout the country and be very difficult to contain. Having tasted victory in Iraq, jihadists would look for new missions.


BLITZER: And some of those new missions presumably could be right here in the United States.

MONDALE: How -- he has been wrong all the way through this war, from the beginning, to his description of the war, to his estimates of the prospects of succeeding. All the way through he has been wrong. How does he know he is right on this one?

I believe that this war is hurting us. I believe we have got to find a reasonable way of ending it. And I think if we do, America will be better off. The world will be better off.

BLITZER: The vice president gets a vote of confidence from the president. Late last year he said, "I value his judgment and his advice and he has given me good advice. He is a trusted adviser. He is not out there trying to make his own way. He is an integral part of this team."

You don't have very high regard for Vice President Cheney.

MONDALE: Now, I want to be fair to him. He's an integral part of the team. I'll grant you that. But I think that he has been a cheerleader for one of the most disastrous policies in modern history, the invasion and the continuance of the war in Iraq.

BLITZER: How would you rate this war in terms of success or failure for the United States compared to other U.S. wars, including Vietnam? MONDALE: I think it's the worst. I think Vietnam is a close second. They both ended up, I think, with failure. They both began by not understand the societies that we were entering with military force and they were both sustained long after reality made those facts clear.

BLITZER: The last time we spoke, a few months back, you were with former President Carter.


BLITZER: Celebrating the 30th anniversary of your taking office.


BLITZER: And I asked you a question about Jimmy Carter's controversial new book, "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid." This is what you told me then. Listen to this.


MONDALE: ... haven't talked about this. I have read the book. I think there is a lot of good materials in there. I do have a few problems with it but, if I might, I'd like to talk to the president about it first.


BLITZER: All right. You've obviously had a chance to talk with Jimmy Carter about this book and now you and I can talk about it.

What do you think? Because it's caused a huge uproar, as you know.

MONDALE: Let me, if I could answer it my way, pointing out some things I do agree with.

Number one, I think that the buildup of the settlements on the West Bank, as he points out so strongly in his book, have gone clear beyond what is acceptable. It has contributed to the destabilization of the region. If there's ever going to be any hope for bringing some settlement, fulfilling the roadmap, I think that is a key issue.

The second thing that the president talks about is the failure for six years of this administration until recently -- I'll grant Condoleezza Rice that -- to do anything on the diplomatic front to find an alternative to this madness going on there. And I think it's helped. The fact that we haven't been active diplomatic has helped Hamas develop into the danger that now exists. So there's a lot of things in that book I agree with.

BLITZER: What about the choice of the word "apartheid" in the title of the book?

MONDALE: I think that was an inapt selection. Now the president says it doesn't apply, he's not talking about Israel itself, he's talking about the separation on the West Bank, but I do think the word is not one that I would have used.

He points out that he doesn't mean it in a racial sense and he couldn't mean it in a racial sense. But I that think the word is sort of poisoned for historical reasons in South Africa, and even though he means it in a different sense, I think it has led to some confusion.

BLITZER: Here's what he writes in his book: "Israel's continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land. In order to perpetuate the occupation, Israeli forces have deprived their unwilling subjects of basic human rights."

BLITZER: Very strong words condemning Israel.

MONDALE: I think that these settlements have gone way too far. I think they have undermined Israel's security as well as the future of any kind of Palestinian state.

I think we should concentrate on that policy and try to change it in the context of some peace negotiations. And I think that the president speaks very clearly on that.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about politics before I let you go. Who do you like among the Democratic presidential contenders?

MONDALE: Well, I'm looking at all of them, of course. Most of them are friends of mine. I think it's early. I think maybe the biggest rock star right now is Obama, based on my conversations around Minnesota. I think Hillary is doing very well and Edwards is showing strength in Minnesota.

You read the same polls I do. I think we're going to have to go through some of these primaries and some of these debates for the public to kind of settle on who would be the best candidate.

BLITZER: You haven't made your mind up yet?

MONDALE: No. I'm going to wait a while.

BLITZER: But you're going to support a Democrat?

MONDALE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, the former vice president of the United States, Walter Mondale. Thanks for coming in.

MONDALE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good to see you.

And coming up here on "Late Edition," much more on the firestorm over Don Imus. He's gone from the airwaves, but what about racism in the rest of the media in the United States?

A full discussion on that -- that's coming up later. But straight ahead, the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, takes the hot seat on Capitol Hill this week. We'll discuss that and lots more with the best political team on television.

And, believe it or not, you can live well past 100. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta on how decisions we're making right now can help us live longer, healthier lives. CNN special investigations unit presents "Chasing Life" tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, with Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

"Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Washington, this week, was full of questions. What did attorney general Alberto Gonzales know about the fired U.S. attorneys?

Where are four years of White House adviser Karl Rove's e-mail?

Who's up; who's down in the race for the White House?

Here to discuss that and a lot more, including the situation in Iraq -- CNN senior analyst Jeff Toobin. He's in our New York bureau. Here in Washington are Capitol Hill correspondent, Andrea Koppel and John Roberts, senior national correspondent and the new co-anchor of CNN's "American Morning."

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Congratulations, John, to you on your new job. We'll talk about that a little bit later.

ROBERTS: Well, thank you. My alarm clock is happy. It's going to be getting a lot of work.

BLITZER: You're going to be getting up very early in the morning. That's all right. You're a young guy.


Let's talk about President Bush for a moment. In our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, "How is President Bush handling his job as president?" Thirty-six percent approve; 62 percent disapprove.

In this showdown he now has with the Democrats and some Republicans over funding for the war with Congress, who's got the upper hand?

ROBERTS: I think, right now, President Bush has got the upper hand. And I think he really got the upper hand a week ago, when Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, said, I might sign on to the Russ Feingold bill to cut off funding for the war. I think that was a real mistake. And I think the president is taking no end of glee in rubbing Harry Reid's face in that.

I've talked to a lot of other Democrats, too, who believe that Harry Reid overstepped himself, that he should have been more measured. Now it's looking like this real petty fight on the part of the Democrats. And when it comes down to this idea of funding the war, funding the troops in the field, it's very difficult to make an argument to cut off the funds in the middle of a war. It's never happened before.

BLITZER: Because they're face-to-face, Andrea. You cover the Congress on a day-to-day basis.

The Democrats say there's got to be some timelines on when the troops should start pulling out. President says no strings attached to this funding bill. Who blinks first?

KOPPEL: Well, I think the first example that we'll see as to who blinks first will happen on Wednesday, when the Democratic leaders head over to the White House.

And remember last week, Wolf, they couldn't even agree where the meeting would take place, if it was going to take place.

But the fact of the matter is, both sides are dug in. Both the House and Senate Democratic leadership have made clear that they want this deadline in there.

But the question is, what happens after President Bush vetoes it?

There is no plan B at this point, as far as the Democrats are concerned. They have as yet to figure out how far they're going to push it, whether they're going to come up with some other formulation as to how to set a timeline, whether it would be based on the guidelines that were set out by President Bush with the Iraqi government. They don't know what they're going to do next.

BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, speaking of plan B, John McCain, in an interview published today in the New York Times, said this. He doesn't have a plan B if the current new strategy doesn't work.

"If I saw that doomsday scenario evolving, then I would try to come up with one. But I can't give you a good alternative because, if I had a good alternative, maybe we could consider it right now."

The American, at least, based on all the public opinion polls, wants to see the U.S. start withdrawing troops from Iraq. But this president, backed by John McCain and others, seems to be determined to move forward.

TOOBIN: What McCain is saying, essentially, is just, in more blunt terms, what President Bush has been saying all along. McCain and Bush are in an identical political position on the war, which was, this is our only hope; this is our only strategy.

But it's not a popular one. It has shown no particular signs of success. I mean, some people have said that the surge is showing some signs of reducing the violence, but the past couple days in Baghdad have been absolutely horrendous.

So this is how they are dug in. And they are living with the consequences, as the polls show. This is an unpopular war. And McCain and Bush are not popular because they're associated with it.

BLITZER: It's interesting, John, Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska -- he's in Iraq right now. He had a news conference in Baghdad. He's a big critic of the president's strategy in Iraq.

Listen to this dig that he gave Senator McCain. Listen to this.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-NEB.: We did no shopping while we were here. I think my assessment, as I have noted on my fifth trip, is that Iraq still has great challenges ahead of it.


BLITZER: The reference to "no shopping" clearly aimed at Senator McCain.

ROBERTS: I didn't go to the Shorja market with 100 soldiers around me and helicopters overhead and the snipers on the roof. I think McCain really hurt himself when he came out and he made those comments before the trip to Baghdad, that things were getting better there, that he could walk around.

You remember Michael Ware rebutting those comments; Petraeus's people, to me, saying, no, that never happens, that he goes around in an unarmored humvee. He's got to go around with a lot of armor.

ROBERTS: The thing for John McCain is that he had a lot of credibility on this Iraq issue, and now he's struggling to get it back. And he's talked to President Bush about it to say, "I think you've got to be more open, you have got to tell people what's going right and what's going wrong."

But if you listen to John McCain's version of what's going right and what's going wrong, I mean, where exactly is he coming down on the issue and can we believe him after what he said?

BLITZER: You know, Senator Mitch McConnell is the Republican leader, the minority leader in the Senate, and he took a swipe at the Democrats this week as well, Andrea. You cover the Hill. Listen to what McConnell said.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: Regretfully here at the end of 100 days, our opponents, the Democratic majority in the Senate, have played small ball. They have pursued their poll-tested, highly partisan agenda, and the result of that, of course, is that nothing has been accomplished.


BLITZER: The fact is the House did pass some legislation very quickly in their first so-called 100 hours, but not much of that has really gone through the U.S. Senate at this point. What are the Democrats saying in response to the charge from Senator McConnell and others that they're just interested in scoring political points, they're not interested in passing legislation?

KOPPEL: Well, I mean, in point of fact, Wolf, we all know that the Senate is a much more deliberative body and it's much easier to get legislation through when you're the majority party in the House than it is in the Senate.

In point of fact, the Senate has passed some legislation but they haven't been able to conference it, the two sides, the House and the Senate, have as yet to agree on any legislation so it's a legitimate point.

But they've only been in office for 100 days, and I think that the legislation that is most important right now and some that everyone is focused on right now, is on Iraq and whether or not you're going to be able to come up with that $100 billion that President Bush says that he needs to keep this war going both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

ROBERTS: I was told something by a highly placed Democratic aide a few months ago when this whole thing started and they said, "Look, you're missing the point. The point is we want President Bush to own this war, which to me suggests that everything that's happened after that is just to try to put it on President Bush so that the Democrats look like, to their constituents, they're doing something when they really don't want to because if they do and war goes badly, they're going to get blamed for it.

KOPPEL: Well, exactly.

ROBERTS: And they want the president to owe them.

KOPPEL: And when President Bush vetoes this supplemental, as he said he's going to, that's exactly what the Democrats will be saying. You could have had the money. You vetoed it.

ROBERTS: Stand by. Jeff Toobin, stand by in New York as well. We have a lot more to talk about including Alberto Gonzales. He has now released his opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee. That statement will be delivered formally on Tuesday. Jeff Toobin and our team will assess what we have learned today.

We're also going to get an update on the storm that's battering the East Coast -- a lot more coming up. And don't miss what the Vice President Dick Cheney had to say earlier this morning. We're watching the other Sunday morning talk shows "In Case You Missed It."

Stay with "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.


BLITZER: Welcome back. You're watching "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Folks in the Northeast are bracing for the worst from the storm expected to hit later today.


BLITZER: Coming up, more with our political panel. We'll talk about Alberto Gonzales. Will he survive? Won't he? They just released his opening statements scheduled to be delivered Tuesday morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

BLITZER: We're continuing our discussion of all things political with senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin, Capitol Hill correspondent Andrea Koppel, and the new co-anchor of CNN's "American Morning," John Roberts.

Jeff, let me start with you and read to you an excerpt from the attorney general's opening statement. He will deliver it Tuesday morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the Justice Department released the full text earlier this morning, just a little while ago.

"The Department has provided thousands of pages of internal and deliberative documents to the Congress. I consistently and voluntarily have made Justice Department officials available for interviews and hearings on this subject. I have taken these important steps to provide information for two critical reasons: one, I have nothing to hide; and two, I am committed to assuring the Congress and the American public that nothing improper occurred here."

You've had a chance to read all of those pages that the Justice Department released this morning. What's the bottom line on his defense?

TOOBIN: The bottom line is it's all Harriet Miers' fault. I mean, it's really an amazing document, this opening statement.

BLITZER: Harriet Miers, to our viewers that might not be familiar, was the White House counsel.

TOOBIN: Was the White House counsel, and he said basically when President Bush started his second term, Harriet Miers called and said "Well, maybe we should replace all 93 U.S. attorneys." Gonzales said, "No, but maybe we should review whether all of them should continue serving."

She then -- and he delegated the issue to his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson. At that point, he says he got periodic updates but essentially knew nothing about who was going to be fired or why they were going to be fired, and that's his explanation.

I mean, I think it's perplexing that the attorney general would seemingly have nothing to do with firing 10 percent of the U.S. attorneys in the country, but certainly this will add to the Democrats' wanting to ask questions of the White House because they appear to be the people who were running the show. BLITZER: It sounds like a no-win sort of defense, John, because on the one hand, if he was involved, that might not necessarily be good but basically he's saying "I really wasn't involved," so what does that say about his management style when they fire eight U.S. attorneys?

ROBERTS: Well, that's the point a lot of people made is, what kind of a CEO are you if you don't know what's going on in the department? And he's not going to get a break from any of the senators who are going to listen to him either.

I listened to Arlen Specter this morning on the Stephanopoulos show a little earlier, and said, "I looked at that editorial that he wrote in The Washington Post today and there were no facts in it, and I'm dealing with facts here." So Arlen Specter is not going to cut him a break and Chuck Schumer is not going to cut him any kind of a break.

He was saying this morning in a prerelease to a press conference he was supposed to have today that, "I do not recall is not going to be an acceptable answer." And take a look at this testimony. On page four when he is talking about a couple of potential suggestions for replacements that Kyle Sampson brought to his attention, he says four times "I do not recall, nor do I recall, I do not recall, I do not recall."

He's going to have a really hard time on Tuesday. He's going to get flounced by a couple of these senators and I think Chuck Schumer is probably correct when he says it's a make-or-break day for him.

BLITZER: These Democrats are really gearing up for some tough questioning. You'll be covering that hearing for us, Andrea. What's your assessment right now as they go forward?

KOPPEL: Well, the assessment -- and, remember, they just got another 2,400 pages of documents dumped on Capitol Hill by DOJ on Friday. And in point of fact, Wolf, right now we have about 6,000 to 8,000 pages that they've gone through. There is no smoking gun. So while I...

BLITZER: That it's some sort of criminal action?

KOPPEL: That they were fired for political reasons and this wasn't -- as DOJ and the White House has maintained, this wasn't done for performance reasons. And, in point of fact, they did have a couple examples of cases where perhaps they weren't the best of managers.

Nevertheless, I do agree with John, they're going to be grilled by both Republicans and Democrats, and we saw a preview of that on the floor on Thursday when we saw Patrick Leahy go down there and say, "This is just like the 18-minute"...

BLITZER: He was screaming.

KOPPEL:: ... screaming on the floor, "This is just like the 18 minutes that Rosemary Woods erased" -- Rosemary Woods, of course, being the former secretary for Richard Nixon -- and he's claiming that the White House and Gonzales are lying.

BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, go ahead.

TOOBIN: Well, Gonzales has two things going for him on Tuesday. One is the Democrats on that committee are absolutely terrible at asking questions. They are incompetent questioners, as they illustrated during the Roberts and Alito hearings. They like to talk much more than they like to ask questions. So that's a big thing that Gonzales has going for him.

Also, it does appear that the bleeding of Republican support has stopped. The only way he's going to get thrown out of office, I think, is if Republicans abandon him. And other than Senator Smith from Oregon, and Senator Sununu from New Hampshire, there have not been significant Republican defections. So as long as this is purely a Democrat-Republican thing, Democrats want him out, the Republicans want him to stay, I think Gonzales will survive.

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there, guys. But we'll continue this discussion, Jeff Toobin, Andrea Koppel, John Roberts.

And I just wanted to alert our viewers, John and Kiran Chetry are going to be co-hosting, co-anchoring "American Morning" starting tomorrow morning, 6:00 a.m. Eastern.

John, give our viewers a little preview of what you have in store?

ROBERTS: I got a couple of great things coming up. General David Petraeus is going to be joining us from Baghdad. We're also going to have John Edwards. We're hopeful that Elizabeth Edwards is going to join him as well.

Apparently there are some issues here about she may need to stay at home, which is interesting because that really shows the pressures of this campaign. But we're trying to figure out a way that we can get the two of them together. And we have got a lot of other great things coming up tomorrow morning.

BLITZER: And you'll be spending a lot of time in Washington too, not just in New York.

ROBERTS: I will be, yes. Kiran also has an interesting series all week long on the children of war, seeing how the Iraq war is affecting the families of U.S. servicemembers who are serving over there.

BLITZER: 6:00 a.m. tomorrow morning -- 6:00 a.m. Eastern until 9:00 a.m. Eastern. John Roberts, Kiran Chetry, "American Morning," the most news in the morning. You'll want to see it starting tomorrow morning.

Coming up next here on "Late Edition," Don Imus is gone, driven off the airwaves in a storm of criticism over his racist and sexist remarks. But what about the rest of the American media? We'll discuss that, a lot more. Stick around.

"Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

The facts were clear this week when Don Imus smeared the Rutgers University women's basketball team. He was wrong: wrong about the team, wrong to use such racist and sexist language.

Here are some facts, though, that may not necessarily be well known. Blacks are 10 times more likely to be the victim of homicide than white; the median income of black men is more than $12,000 less than white men; and three times as many blacks live below the poverty line.

These facts come from the "State of Black America 2007" which will formally be released tomorrow. Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League which has produced this annual study since 1976. He's joining us now from New York.

BLITZER: And with us here in Washington, Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund; and Republican political strategist and commentator Amy Holmes.

Thanks to all of you for coming in.

Marc Morial, I'll start with you, since you released this report. I'm going to play a little sound bite from Don Imus, and I want to get your reaction to what he says.


DON IMUS, FORMER CBS RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: That phrase didn't originate in the white community. That phrase originated in the black community. And I'm not stupid. I may be a white man, but I know that these young women and young black women all through that society are demeaned and disparaged and disrespected by their own black men.


BLITZER: He said that on "The Today Show" on NBC earlier in the week.

What do you say to that charge from him?

MORIAL: He brought it to the public airwaves. And what I hear him saying is he knew it was wrong, and he knew it was demeaning, and he knew it was coarse, yet he still continued to broadcast it and continued to make it a part of his show.

No doubt, the coarseness of language, the use of disparaging terms about women is something we cannot tolerate. But that doesn't get Don Imus off the hook. The fact of the matter is, is he had a pattern of very coarse things to say about African-American women, and I even learned, from The Washington Post, about Jewish Americans, in the past.

So I think that's the point. The point is that he needed to go. And I think CBS and NBC made the right decision this week.

BLITZER; Marian Wright Edelman, but his point, Imus's point, is that the ugly, abhorrent words he used originated from black men.

EDELMAN: I don't care where it originates. We should all stand up against it. I don't care. Whether it's black intolerance and misogyny and racism or disrespect for any other human being, based on personal characteristics or stereotyping, we must stand up and say, anything and anybody that seeks to demean other human beings and to widen the community's gaps rather than bringing people together is wrong.

And so I think that Don Imus is just the latest manifestation of that. But we should stop it. We should all try to bring people together.

BLITZER: And Amy, I guess you would agree; it doesn't make any difference who's saying it; these are awful things that are being said. It doesn't make any difference if you're white or black. They shouldn't be said.

HOLMES: Correct. And I agree, of course, with all the other panelists that NBC and CBS made the right decision this week.

But I'm hopeful that what happened in this last week is going to broaden the discussion to the language that's being used in gangsta hip-hop and popular culture that demeans women. And we've talked a lot about it this week.

But it also demeans young men. It's teaching values of nihilism, of narcissism that creates a dead-end value system for the young men. And so the National Urban League report that's coming out this week -- I think it's very timely, very cogent, and something I hope we all look more closely at.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Marian Wright Edelman, with Amy?

EDELMAN: Oh, absolutely. But I think that the real issues of racism and inequality, of which this is just another wake-up call -- Katrina was a wake-up call to say that it's still very much alive, and that intolerance is resurging.

But the real issues of inequality relate to what is happening to our children. A lot of the things are reflected in Marc's report, of the Urban League.

But the fact that we have got 9 million uninsured children, that black children are twice as likely to die in the first of life, to have low birth weights at birth, to go without needed health care in almost all other areas; the racial disparities not only in our health care system, in our education system, where over 85 percent of black and Latino children can't read proficiently at grade level; the inequalities in our juvenile justice system, where black young people are 48 times more likely to be incarcerated than white young people, and for the same drug offenses, leading us to a cradle-to-prison pipeline.

It's the issues of how do we get all children covered, this year, with health care?

How do we end these inequalities?

BLITZER: All right. Marc Morial, let me bring it back to the original discussion we were having.

Russell Simmons, who is the chairman of the Hip-hop Summit Action Network -- he was on CNN earlier in the year. And I want to you listen to what he said about some of the language that is very, very prominent in a lot of the hip-hop kind of music.


RUSSELL SIMMONS, CHMN., HIP-HOP SUMMIT ACTION NETWORK: We have a violent and oversexed country. I'm just saying you can't blame the artists for the sexism that exists in our society.


BLITZER: What do you think about that argument, that they're artists, and what they're saying, using these bad words, are just reflecting part of the conversation in the African-American community?

MORIAL: I support the idea of creativity and the idea that artists ought to have an opportunity to paint a picture of what they see in America.

But we're at a point, Wolf, and this is what the state of black America really says this year, with its focus on the black male, at a tipping point.

And the tipping point means, I think, we've got to embrace the idea that there ought to be some decency. There ought to be some basic standards. And we have to understand that it's not all hip-hop music or all hip-hop artists, and that so many of the purchasers of the music that we may be talking about are suburban young people, not urban young people.

So it's not a simple thing of whether you agree with hip-hop or you support hip-hop. It's something about decency. And the distinction has to truly be made between a CD that one purchases, I believe, and the public airwaves where Imus does his work, where Imus, in effect, talks about public issues and interviews public figures.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Marian Wright Edelman, with that distinction?

EDELMAN: Well, that is a distinction. But I guess I really do think that anything that glorifies violence, that glorifies prison, that makes, you know, the disrespect of women good currency, wherever it's coming from, really needs to be challenged.

And we need to begin to get cultural values that really foster success and achievement. And so I just think all of us need to speak out against messages that demean women and talk about violence and prison.

BLITZER: Here's what Jason Whitlock, a columnist for the Kansas City Star, Amy, wrote on Wednesday.

"We all know where the real battleground is. We know that the gangsta rappers and their followers in the athletic world have far bigger platforms to negatively define us than some old white man with a bad radio show. There's no money and lots of danger in that battle, so Jesse and Al are going to sit it out" -- referring to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

Do you agree with Jason Whitlock?

HOLMES: I do. I agree with Jason that the popular culture has a far bigger platform and far more influence on the values of young people. But I do -- again, I hope that this is a tipping point. We seem to finally be reaching a consensus that this is unacceptable.

I remember when C. Delores Tucker first started her campaign against this type of misogyny and indecency in our popular culture, and everyone said, oh, she's out of it; she's old; she doesn't know what she's talking about; and again, these are the authentic voices of the street.

Well, there's nothing authentic about rented mansions in video, rented Bentleys, borrowed bling, to be trying to promote these values.

And I'm hoping that we're coming together, after we did after the Michael Richards fiasco, to say that this is unacceptable across the board, and we have far bigger problems. We need to be putting back together the black family. And that can't happen if young men and young women are disrespecting each other.

BLITZER: Let me get back to Marc Morial. You have a report coming out tomorrow on the state of black America, the National Urban League.

Another issue came out this week, the three Duke University lacrosse players, all of them exonerated, found innocent by the attorney general of North Carolina. He says they didn't do anything wrong in this case.

I want you to listen to what one of those Duke University players, Reade Seligmann, said. Listen to this.


READE SELIGMANN, FMR. DUKE LACROSSE PLAYER: This entire experience has opened my eyes up to a tragic world of injustice I never knew existed. If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I can't imagine what they'd do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves.


BLITZER: I thought that was a poignant and very incisive comment, coming from a very young man like him. Because they had top- notch lawyers. They spent millions of dollars on their legal fees. But, as you know, and Marian Wright Edelman made a similar point, there are a lot of poor people out there who don't have those kinds of lawyers. And they could be railroaded through the justice system, if you will.

How concerned are you about this?

MORIAL: The State of Black America report that we're going to release is going to highlight some significant disparities in the criminal justice system. And what Reade found out is what it is to be black in the criminal justice system in America today.

Now, he acknowledged he had the resources. But he felt the unfairness, the idea that you could be unfairly branded. But he had the wherewithal and the resources to fight back.

And the report, and I hope people will go to our Web site at, the National Urban League State of Black America report, because it will highlight disparities in criminal justice in, in health, education, in a whole wide range of areas, insofar as it relates to the portrait of the African-American male.

BLITZER: Let me ask Marian Wright Edelman to weigh in on the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that came out this past week.

We asked black Democrats in the country, "Do these candidates understand problems of blacks?"

And look at this: 88 percent said Hillary Clinton does; 77 percent of black Democrats said Barack Obama does; 42 percent of black Democrats said John Edwards.

Were you surprised that Hillary Clinton comes out better with black Democrats on this sensitive issue than Barack Obama, who himself is African-American?

EDELMAN: Well, I think we've got a lot of strong candidates. But on the other hand, Hillary Clinton is somebody we know, who's been out there working for children and working on inequalities for a very long time.

Barack Obama is very promising. But I guess I'm not surprised because her track record is much, much clearer.

EDELMAN: And the real test of everything right now is how do we move the media to dealing with the substantive issues that we're facing? How do we get as much attention to the children who have died in the last six weeks from tooth abscesses in this country and from the opportunity for the Congress to stand up and for every presidential candidate to stand up and say "We're going to cover all uninsured children in this rich nation this year and start trying to make sure we close that gap of hope in health care."

So I think that the judgment should be about how we get all of our candidates running for office standing up for health care for all children and all Americans, for equal educational opportunity, and we are running our own candidate, Susie. She's 10-year-old Susie Flynn.

BLITZER: I've seen those commercials.

EDELMAN: And we want to make sure that all nine million children get insured and that's Susie's platform and we hope the others will join her.

BLITZER: An excellent challenge to all of us in the news media. Marian Wright Edelman, thanks very much for coming in. Amy Holmes, thanks to you as well. Marc Morial, we'll be reading your report starting tomorrow. Appreciate all of you joining us here on "Late Edition."

Coming up next, "In Case You Missed It," our Sunday morning talk show roundup. Don't go away. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: There's a developing story we're following out of the Middle East. Atika Shubert is in Jerusalem for us.

Atika, what do we know about this missing BBC correspondent in Gaza?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know for sure is that a written statement came out this afternoon from a group calling itself the Palestinian Tawad and Jihad Brigades, a previously unknown group. They claim to have kidnapped Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent, and also killed him.

Now, I have to stress, there has been no independent verification of this report. The Palestinian interior minister responded to that statement saying that his security chiefs also have not been able to independently confirm. This is, however, the first contact that we've heard of any group claiming to have kidnapped Alan Johnston.

Now they claim that their demands were not met. The Palestinian government says that they have not received any demands. The BBC says it is deeply concerned by these reports. They have contacted Johnston's family, but they stress at this point they say it is simply rumors and there is no independent verification, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Atika. We'll stay on top of this story with you. Thanks very much. We hope and pray that he's OK. We'll take a quick break. "In Case You Missed It" when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Now "In Case You Missed It," let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. On CBS, Vice President Dick Cheney expressed optimism about the outcome of the war in Iraq.


CHENEY: I do believe we can win in Iraq. I think it is a worthy cause. I think it's absolutely essential that we prevail and I think the United States of America, the beginning of the 21st century, is perfectly capable of winning this fight against these people and setting up and establishing in Iraq a democratic government that can defend itself.


BLITZER: On NBC, the former head of the U.S. military Central Command, retired U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni said despite the troubles in Iraq, it's important for the U.S. to maintain a military presence in the Middle East.


GEN. TONY ZINNI (RET.), FMR. COMMANDER OF U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: People that talk about benchmarks and withdrawals, what are we going to do, disband CENTCOM? We're going to be in this part of the world. We aren't going to leave. Now we can readjust our strategy for Iraq. We can extricate our troops from the sectarian violence, but we're going to have to contain the problems that could spill over and cause this critical part of the world to spin out of control.


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

And that is your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, April 15. Please be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. We're on the air for two hours.

I'm also in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, another hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Until tomorrow, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

For our North American viewers, "This Week At War" with John Roberts starts right now -- John.