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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interview with Presidential Candidates

Aired December 30, 2007 - 11:00   ET


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


BIDEN: Hello, Iowa!



GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, D-N.M.: The choice that I've given you is different.



CLINTON: Vote on primary day.


BLITZER: The Democrats and the Republicans. They're sprinting to the Iowa caucuses, the first contest in the 2008 race to the White House. We'll go to Iowa for last-minute interviews with the candidates and their closest advisers.

And we'll get inside story from three of the best political team on television: Candy Crowley, Dana Bash and Suzanne Malveaux.

The assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. What does this mean for the future of this nuclear-armed nation? We'll get analysis from two veteran national security experts, former Senator Sam Nunn and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen.


BENAZIR BHUTTO, ASSASSINATED FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF PAKISTAN: The situation in Pakistan is very grave. Pakistan is imploding from within, and yet, there is very little appreciation of the deepening crisis here.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: And in Benazir Bhutto's own words, from some of her last interviews. "Late Edition's" lineup begins right now.

It'S 11 a.m. here in New York, 10 a.m. in Des Moines, Iowa, 9 p.m. in Islamabad, Pakistan. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."

The Iowa caucuses are coming up Thursday evening. We're about to hear from several of the major U.S. presidential candidates over the course of the next two hours, including senators Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden. But first, though, let's go straight to former Republican Senator Fred Thompson, who was in Ames, Iowa, when I spoke with him just a short while ago.


BLITZER: Senator Thompson, thanks very much for joining us.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you again.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the stakes, and the stakes are enormous for the United States in Pakistan right now. This is a country that has a large Al Qaida/Taliban presence, a resurgent presence with a proven nuclear arsenal as well.

Do you have confidence in the president, Pervez Musharraf?

THOMPSON: I think that we have to have confidence in him for the short run to maintain stability, Wolf, because it's so important to us. And I think that we're undoubtedly doing everything we can to enhance that stability and to assist him in maintaining that.

You pointed out the nuclear arsenal. They have missiles with which to deliver those nuclear weapons also. And there are elements even inside the government that are very problematic as far as relationships with extremists are concerned.

We can't let those weapons fall into those hands, so I think our immediate interest is to make sure that we maintain stability there and that those weapons don't fall into the wrong kinds of hands.

I think ultimately, the people of Pakistan are going to have to decide about Musharraf's fate. He had been moving in the right direction. He had taken off the uniform, he had set elections for January the 8th, he had backed off of some of the things he was doing with regard to the court system that were all antidemocratic. And so things were moving in the right direction. We probably would have continued that with Madam Bhutto.

But all that's been thrown into a cocked hat now, and it's very troublesome for us.

BLITZER: What about, Senator, the billions in U.S. military aid that's been provided to Pakistan, some $10 billion since 9/11? Should that money continue to flow? THOMPSON: Yes. Certainly in the short run. We send lots of money around the world to a lot of places, including places in the Middle East like Egypt. So this is no time to start being parsimonious in that particular area. That's a rounding error compared to the waste that's going on in Washington nowadays. This is a matter of national security. This is a matter of stability, and the only Muslim world that has nuclear weapons.

So let's don't be pennywise and pound foolish in the short run here. Let's wait and see what's going to happen in the streets.

BLITZER: Would you support an international investigation into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, or do you have confidence that the Pakistanis themselves can get the job done?

THOMPSON: It looks like they're getting the job done there. They're talking about already exhuming the body, and the government has said if that's what her party wants to do, that they'll cooperate with that and so forth.

There is undoubtedly going to be conspiracy theories about all of that, but Al Qaida is claiming credit for it. I believe them in this case. I believe they could not stand the notion of a secular woman who is antiterrorist coming into power and ruling in that nation.

And they assassinate foreign leaders on a regular basis over the years who are democratic and moving in that direction, so it all fits a pattern to me. But they'll ferret all that out hopefully among themselves there without the United States of America or any outside countries coming in and telling them how to do it.

BLITZER: We're only a few days away from the Iowa caucuses. You made an intriguing comment yesterday, and I'm going to play a little audio clip for you because I want you to explain what you meant. Listen to this.


THOMPSON: I have the background, the capability and the concern to do this and I'm doing it for the right reasons. I'm not particularly interested in running for president, but I think I'd make a good president.


BLITZER: All right, Senator, what does that mean when you say, "I'm not particularly interested in running for president"? Because that seems to contradict what you're doing. You're obviously running for president.

THOMPSON: Well, as often happens, you have a nice, long, interesting discussion in a public forum like that with an average citizen, and some in the media take bits and pieces, not you, but some have taken one sentence out of the middle of that and make it sound like something that wasn't intended. The point was, we were talking about the process. We were talking about how process now seems to be more important than substance in a lot of people's minds and how they judge people by the number of visits they've made and things of that nature instead of matters that are affecting our national security, even.

And if you notice, I put the emphasis on running. I said, I'm not particularly interested in running for president. But then I gave all the reasons why I thought I'd make a good president and why I was sacrificing to be president and my family was doing so, and how I was concerned about the future of our country and the future of our children and so forth.

So when you put it in context, it makes sense. I am just determined to continue to be open and honest and say exactly what's on my mind, even with some in the media using bits and pieces, you know, to fit their foregone conclusions.

BLITZER: All right.

THOMPSON: That's all that amounts to.

BLITZER: OK. Let's talk a little bit about the chances that you have in Iowa right now. Some of the more recent polls have you coming in at third or fourth. What do you have to do? How do you have to emerge in Iowa in order to justify moving on to New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan and beyond?

THOMPSON: Well, the overwhelming number of polls out this way have me running third right now, and the last couple of credible polls that have come out have showed me in the teens or the high teens and not that far back from the pack.

You know, I think I have a decent chance of coming in second out here, and it's moving in the right direction.

We're in the middle of a 50-county, 50-town and city tour out here. And we're going out, taking the grassroots, the numbers are reflecting that. People who get a chance to hear us, and we've had a little chance to spend time with them, it's resulting in on-the-ground activity, and it's resulting in contributions coming in and things of that nature.

So, I feel a whole lot like I did in '94 in Tennessee. It's a grassroots deal. It's a lot like a state campaign in many ways out here.

I'm just going to keep on doing what I'm doing. Look, there'll be no change in strategy. There will be no change in message. There will be no change in Fred. It's going to be the way it's always been.

While all this hullabaloo is going on around me and everybody's attacking each other and everybody's talking about process and who's got the most political ambition to drive them, I'm just going to stay steady up the middle with the same conservative common sense message that I've had and what I've always been in my political life from day one.

And we'll see if that works or not. I feel pretty optimistic about it.

BLITZER: Good luck to you, Senator Thompson. Thanks for joining us.

THOMPSON: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it. Thank you.


BLITZER: And straight ahead, the Democratic presidential front- runner. My interview with Senator Hillary Clinton on the dangers of a failed state in Pakistan after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. "Late Edition" continues right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." There have been major developments today in Pakistan. The party of the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto has met and has decided to enter the next election and name 19-year-old Bilawal Zardari, Mrs. Bhutto's son, to lead the party. He is a student at Oxford University.

One of the primary fears of the foreign policy planners has been that a chaotic potential situation in Pakistan could result in their nuclear weapons arsenal falling into the hands of Islamic radicals.

To discuss those fears, joining us on the phone, right now, from Islamabad, is the top army spokesman for Pakistan, Major General Waheed Arshad.

Major General Waheed, thanks very much for talking with us.

How secure is Pakistan's nuclear arsenal right now?

MAJ. GEN. WAHEED ARSHAD, ARMY SPOKESMAN, PAKISTAN: Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is very secure. We have a very robust command-and- control system. And our security measures are one of the best in the world. So I think all these fears are basically unfounded and nonsense, of course, about nuclear weapons falling into Islamic radicals. There's nothing like that.

BLITZER: Is arsenal spread out around the country, and various components separate from each other so there could not be any accidental detonation, for example?

ARSHAD: I will not be able to give you any details of what is where, but, basically, we very well understand how to keep our nuclear weapons secure, how to look after them.

We are a very responsible people, with a responsible institution and a responsible country. So I think it is all basically unfounded fears and militias and vested interests which are giving out such reports.

BLITZER: And who do you believe, Major General Waheed, was responsible for killing Benazir Bhutto?

ARSHAD: Well, you'd have to ask the people from the government about that, but, basically, it was an act of terrorism. They targeted one of the major political leaders in the country. BLITZER: But do you point the finger towards the Taliban and Al Qaida?

ARSHAD: Yes, of course. I think the spokesperson for the ministry very clearly said that it's Al Qaida and these people, Baitullah Mehsud, who was behind this act of terrorism, which killed Minister Benazir Bhutto.

BLITZER: How much of a threat is a resurgent Taliban and Al Qaida to the political stability in your country right now, Major General?

ARSHAD: Well, we are -- as you are aware, the basic problem of Taliban is in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan. And we're also facing the brunt of that. And we have segments of local militants in our area, or local extremists, and are dealing with them quite effectively and are very confident that we're going to deal with them and eliminate them, ultimately, from our place.

BLITZER: Major General Waheed Arshad, the top spokesman for the Pakistani army, thanks very much for joining us.

ARSHAD: Thank you.

BLITZER: This week's assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, instantly affected the presidential campaign right here in the United States.

All the candidates were faced with some very tough questions about how they would handle this crisis in a nuclear-armed ally in the war on terror.

I spoke with senator Hillary Clinton a day after the assassination and asked the Democratic presidential front-runner if she trusts the Pakistani government to investigate Benazir Bhutto's death.


CLINTON: I don't think the Pakistani government, at this time, under President Musharraf, has any credibility at all.

They have disbanded an independent judiciary. They have oppressed a free press. Therefore, I'm calling for a full independent international investigation, perhaps along the lines of what the United Nations has been doing with respect to the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri in Lebanon.

I think it is critically important that we get answers. And really, those answers are due, first and foremost to the people of Pakistan, not only those who were supportive of Benazir Bhutto and her party but every Pakistani. Because we cannot expect to move toward stability without some reckoning as to who was responsible for this assassination.

And therefore, I call on President Musharraf and the Pakistani government to realize that this is in the interest of Pakistan to understand whether or not it was Al Qaida or some other off-shoot extremist group that is attempting to further destabilize and even overthrow the Pakistani government, or whether it came from within, either explicitly or implicitly the security forces or the military.

BLITZER: So, Senator, just to be precise, you want a United Nations international tribunal or commission of inquiry, whatever you want to call it, along the lines of the investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri?

CLINTON: Well, there are other institutions that are international that have credibility, like Interpol and others. So it doesn't have to be the exact model of the Hariri investigation, but it needs to be international; it needs to be independent; it needs to have credibility, and nothing that would happen inside of Pakistan would.

I'm reluctant to say it should be an American investigation where we send our law enforcement personnel, because I'm not sure that would have credibility for a different reason. So that's why I'm calling for an independent international investigation.

BLITZER: This is a damning indictment of President Pervez Musharraf. Some are calling on him to step down. Do you believe he should step down?

CLINTON: What I believe is that he should meet certain conditions, and quickly. We should immediately move to free and fair elections.

Obviously, it's going to take some time for Benazir Bhutto's party to choose a successor. Nawaz Sharif has said that he won't participate at this time.

I believe, again, some kind of international support for free and fair elections in a timely manner would be incredibly important.

If President Musharraf wishes to stand for election, then he should abide by the same rules that every other candidate will have to follow.

We also want to see a resumption of the move toward an independent judiciary. I think that was a terrible mistake.

You know, this is an odd situation, Wolf. The people in the streets are wearing suits and ties. They are lawyers. They are professionals. They are the middle class of Pakistan, which really offers the very best hope for a stable, democratic country. And that is in America's interests, but, more importantly, it is in the interests of the Pakistani people.

BLITZER: Over the years, since 9/11, the United States has provided the Pakistani military with some $10 billion. Will you, as a United States senator, continue to vote for funding of these billions of dollars going to the Pakistani military? CLINTON: No. And I'm very pleased that finally the Congress began to put some conditions on the aid. I do not think we should be giving the Musharraf government a blank check. And that's exactly what the Bush administration has done.

Even after Musharraf cracked down on the judiciary and the press and the pro-democracy movement in Pakistan, President Bush was saying he was a reliable ally.

Well, I don't think he's a reliable alley when he undermines democracy and when he has failed to rein in the Al Qaida Islamist elements in his own country.

So I think we do need to condition aid. I would do it differently. I would say, look, we want to know, very specifically, what accountability you're going to offer to us for the military aid that we believe should be going in the fight against Al Qaida and the Taliban.

BLITZER: But aren't you afraid, Senator, that, as imperfect and as flawed as President Musharraf is, there's a possibility, whoever comes to replace him in this large Muslim country with a nuclear arsenal already, a heavy Al Qaeda presence, a resurgent Taliban, that the alternative could be even worse from the U.S. perspective?

CLINTON: Of course. We all fear that. And that's why we need to take remedial action immediately. You know, when I came back from my last meeting with President Musharraf in January of this year, I called the White House. I asked that they appoint an American envoy, a presidential envoy.

I suggested that a retired military leader who could relate to President Musharraf on a one-to-one basis and could shuttle back and forth between President Musharraf and President Karzai. Because there were a lot of tensions.

And also, perhaps serve as a kind of support to President Musharraf. Military man to military man about what it takes to really move toward democracy, that President Musharraf in every conversation I've ever had with him has given lip service to. But I don't think the Bush administration has, frankly, asked enough of President Musharraf, has provided the right kind of assistance, has given the support needed.


BLITZER: I also spoke with the other two leading Democratic presidential candidates this week and asked them what they would be doing if they were faced with the current situation in Pakistan. First the former North Carolina senator, John Edwards.


JOHN EDWARDS, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What America needs to do and what the president needs to do is be a source of strength and calm in this very volatile environment. I actually spoke with the ambassador who you had on earlier in the program this morning, told him I'd like to speak to President Musharraf who I got to know a few years ago, and would he have the president call me.

He did. And in that conversation I urged him to continue the democratization process. He said he would. I also urged him to allow independent international investigators into Pakistan, with a transparent process that the rest of the world could trust to get to the bottom of this.

I mean, why did it happen? He said he hadn't considered it at that moment, but that he would consider it. I think it's very important for the international community to attach some credibility to what the actual facts are.


BLITZER: We asked Illinois Senator Barack Obama what he would do if he were confronting the current crisis in Pakistan.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: The first thing we want to do is to contact the Pakistani government to get assurances from them that the nuclear stockpiles are secured and all indications, based on the information I gathered today, is that there's a high degree of confidence that they are.

The second thing is to make sure that Musharraf is sending a clear message to the family of Bhutto and her supporters that he recognizes this is a tragedy and express sympathies to try to keep tempers cooled in the capital cities and major urban areas.

And the third thing that we have to do is to make sure that elections continue. If they're not going to continue as planned on January 8th, then shortly thereafter, but there has to be a clear message from the Musharraf government that in fact this won't be used as an excuse to subvert democracy.


BLITZER: And still to come here on "Late Edition," we'll have live interviews with two other Democratic presidential candidates, senators Chris Dodd and Joe Biden.

But first, we'll turn to the Republicans once again. We'll speak to some top campaign advisers. "Late Edition" will continue from New York right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back. New polls coming out this morning. One thing is clear: It is increasingly competitive, both in Iowa and New Hampshire. Let's go get some reaction now from Greenville, South Carolina. That's where Senator Lindsay Graham is standing by. He's the general co-chairman of Arizona Senator John McCain's campaign.

Thanks very much, Senator Graham, for joining us. He's doing very well by all accounts in New Hampshire. Not necessarily all that well in Iowa. What do you anticipate? How's he going to do in Iowa?

GRAHAM: I really don't know. I think it's a little more difficult to poll a caucus state than it is a more traditional primary. We'll see.

I think the movement out there of Ron Paul is probably pretty hard to track. So, I wouldn't be surprised if he does better than the polling numbers because his people are very committed and, you know, polling doesn't have cell phone numbers yet.

So, we'll see how all that goes. I really don't know about Iowa. I do know that John is moving in New Hampshire very well and his message is resonating.

BLITZER: His message certainly is resonating. And Mitt Romney, his main rival in New Hampshire, is really going after your man, John McCain. Listen to this ad that Romney has running in New Hampshire.


ANNOUNCER: John McCain, an honorable man. But is he the right Republican for the future? McCain opposes repeal of the death tax and voted against the Bush tax cuts twice. McCain pushed to let every illegal immigrant stay here permanently, even voted to allow illegals to collect Social Security.

And Mitt Romney? Romney cut taxes and spending as governor. He opposes amnesty for illegals. Mitt Romney, John McCain. There is a difference.


BLITZER: All right. Well, that's a pretty tough ad against McCain. What do you say?

GRAHAM: Well, I think it just shows that John's doing well and Governor Romney is going after Huckabee in Iowa, Senator McCain in New Hampshire. He spent tons of money.

And at the end of the day I think the Republican primary electorate and independent voters who choose to vote in our primary, particularly in New Hampshire, are going to look at John McCain they know. And I don't think these ads are going to change people's opinions about John McCain in New Hampshire. They know where John stands in terms of trying to fix hard problems like immigration, and some of the things in that ad are factually wrong.

But I think...

BLITZER: Well, on the immigration issue, Senator Graham, Romney's really even going further, going back to McCain's support for comprehensive immigration reform and an eventual pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Romney said this the other day. He said, "The point is that under his bill that he fought for, everybody who came here illegally could stay forever. And does he still believe that or does he not believe that?"

Does he still believe that?

GRAHAM: Under the bill that I helped write that if you committed a crime apart from immigration you would be subject to be deported only after you paid a fine, learn English, get in the back of the line, go back to your home country, could you become a citizen. So there was a pathway forward.

But it had many gates and many conditions, and I think it was a practical solution. But John's message to the American people is, I got the message. We're going to secure the border first. And this is the same Governor Romney who, to the Boston Globe, I think it was, in 2005 said the comprehensive approach was a reasonable way to move forward. So, at the end of the day, I think people are going to look at who can best govern this country, who will take on the hard problems, who is reliable, who is consistent, who has the best experience.

GRAHAM: And given the show this morning, I hope people will be looking for a nominee for the Republican side who understands the world from a first-hand basis.

BLITZER: Well...

GRAHAM: And John McCain has the endorsement of Henry Kissinger, Larry Eagleburger, George Shultz and Al Haig...

BLITZER: And he has the endorsement...

GRAHAM: ... four prominent...

BLITZER: ... of Lindsey Graham, also...

GRAHAM: Right.


BLITZER: ... who's not a novice, necessarily, in these areas.

But here's the question to you. Does Mitt Romney have the national security experience, the readiness to take over as president in a crisis such as the current crisis in this Pakistan?

Is he ready to be commander in chief?

GRAHAM: I would say that his portfolio of being commander in chief is far interior to Senator McCain. And if he gets the nomination, Governor Romney would have to compare his credentials with the Democratic nominee.

I'm going to support the Republican nominee, but the Republican Party and the American people would be wise to choose someone with firsthand knowledge, that understands the world, that knows the world leaders for who they are and what they are.

And one thing that John did I thought was very important, after the assassination of Ms. Bhutto, he came forward to say that he would support General Musharraf as we move forward in this transition period, not undercut him; try to support him as this country tries to reconstitute.

The strongest institution in Pakistan, for good or bad, is the army. And there will never be democracy without the army buying into it. And I think John understands that Musharraf is moving in the right direction and we need to stand behind him as he moves that way.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, we've got to go. Thanks very much.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

BLITZER: That's how things look from the McCain campaign. When we come back, we'll take a closer look and see how things look from the Mitt Romney campaign. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from New York today.

As we head into the final stretch, the Iowa caucuses are still way too close to call, so we're going straight out to the campaigns.

Standing by in Des Moines right now, the former Missouri senator, Jim Talent. He's a domestic policy chairman for the campaign of Republican Mitt Romney.

Senator Talent, thanks very much for coming in.

TALENT: Hi, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'll read to you from what they're calling an anti- endorsement from the Concord Monitor the other day. "If a candidate is a phony, we assure ourselves and the rest of the world, we'll know it. Mitt Romney is such a candidate. New Hampshire Republicans and independents must vote no."

Strong words about your candidate, presumably because he's changed his position on a lot of these very, very sensitive issues, as Lindsey Graham just pointed out, a supporter of John McCain. What do you say?

TALENT: He has a remarkably consistent record of support for conservative principles, really, across the board, immigration being one of them.

He's the candidate in the race who has consistently opposed amnesty. When he was governor of Massachusetts, early in his term, before he ever thought of running for president, he vetoed a bill that would have provided in-state tuition benefits for unlawful immigrants, and he... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So was Lindsey Graham wrong, Senator, when he said that, back in 2005, Governor Romney supported comprehensive immigration reform?

TALENT: Oh, yes, he's been very clear that he's opposed to amnesty. I really think he's the only one of the top-tier candidates who has. Now, they referred to a comment he made, when he -- you know, he's not an uncivil person. He doesn't refer to his opponents as unreasonable people, but he's made clear, over and over again, that he's opposed to an amnesty, just as Senator McCain's bills, of which he was the chief sponsor, have said, over and over again, he's for one.

So, I mean, look, this public record is what it is. Mitt Romney is the guy, and I believe, for the last year, the one guy who can unite all the different elements in the Republican Party and vigorously, then, go after the center, according to conservative principles. And I think the campaign's showing that.

BLITZER: But what about the argument that he doesn't have the national security experience that, let's say, a John McCain has to deal with a crisis like the crisis in Pakistan, right now, from day one?

Well, look, we've conceded -- and you have to -- that John McCain's record of service and sacrifice for his country and record of service in the Congress is outstanding.

Mitt Romney has the same level of experience that Ronald Reagan had, that the current President Bush has. And he's shown, through the debates, his understanding, his judgment, his sagacity as regards to foreign policy. I mean, he's fully up to that.

But we made the point that, on key issues, which, by the way, this isn't just a question of governance. It's a question of electability.

I mean, if we have Senator McCain, or, for that matter, Governor Huckabee as the nominee, we've lost the tax issue in running against the Democrats; we've lost the immigration issue.

The last time we had a nominee who tried to run without the tax issue was 1992. And we saw what happened there, so...


TALENT: Mitt Romney is the guy who can unite the party and win this election and govern as a conservative.

BLITZER: What do you say to the Huckabee supporters out there who make the point that Huckabee came from nowhere, has got a limited amount of money; he's being wildly outspent by Governor Romney in Iowa, yet it's a neck-and-neck race by almost all accounts?

How do you explain that?

TALENT: We ask people to look at the record. Look, again, in every ad, we've run everything we say. We honor Governor Huckabee for his service. We just think that there are big differences on the issue, immigration being one of them, taxes another, and in Governor Huckabee's case, crime. I mean, I know he was basically saying today he didn't like the claims that we've been making, but we're just saying what's in the public record, what conservative thought leaders are saying, what Arkansans are saying about Governor Huckabee's record. And it's one of support for higher taxes.

He did commute the sentences for over 1,000 prisoners. He did support in-state tuition benefits for immigrants. So, again, when people say these things about Governor Romney, we're just talking about the record, what people have done, what they will do in office.

BLITZER: Senator Talent, thanks very much for joining us.

TALENT: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the countdown to the Iowa caucuses coming up here on "Late Edition."

Democratic candidates Chris Dodd and Joe Biden are both standing by live to join us.

Straight ahead, though, are we looking at a failed state in the nuclear-armed Pakistan right now?

Two veteran policymakers, former senator Sam Nunn and William Cohen are standing by live to join us. "Late Edition" continues after this.


BLITZER: The tragic death of Benazir Bhutto has clearly thrown U.S. foreign policy in this critical region into chaos to a certain degree. Will President Pervez Musharraf's government survive? More importantly perhaps, who will end up in control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons?

To help us answer those questions and more, the former Defense Secretary William Cohen. He's joining us from Washington. And in Atlanta, former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senators, thanks for joining us. Senator Nunn, you know a lot about what they call loose nukes out there. How worried are you, if at all, about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal?

NUNN: Wolf, any time you have a nuclear-armed nation, particularly one sitting next to another nuclear-armed nation who have been a bitter enemy for years, with great deal of instability bordering on chaos, it's certainly a big problem. So, that is our number one concern, and we've got to stay in close touch with the army in this regard because they are the ones that have to secure the weapons. So, that's a very big concern.

And certainly also a vital concern is Pakistan's participation in terms of border crossings and the Afghan war. And I think we need to do everything we can to make sure that we stay in touch with all the factions, that we support the Pakistani people, not simply one individual.

BLITZER: Secretary Cohen, we heard earlier from the chief spokesman for the Pakistani military that there's no problem whatsoever. He's 100 percent confident that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is secure. Do you buy that?

COHEN: Well, I hope it's 100 percent secure. We don't know that. I think the army has maintained security over the years, and we have to count on them to make sure they continue in that fashion.

But surely, it's always an area of concern whenever you have any country, as Senator Nunn has indicated, that has nuclear weapons, and you have the kind of chaotic situation you have now in Pakistan. So, we hope that the army has it fully under control. They have maintained it to date, and we would hope that would continue.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence, Senator Nunn, in Pervez Musharraf that he can get the job done right now in Pakistan?

NUNN: I think he has a real problem of legitimacy. And I think, though, that we ought to make sure that we are on the side of all parties coming together to set the election date and not really indicate we're for one candidate or another. We ought to be neutral in this process. Our interest is making sure that there is emerging some legitimate government that can bring about stability in that crucial nation.

I also think we all would be well-advised to recognize how unpopular the United States is in Pakistan. Anyone we embrace may be in some difficulty, so we need to handle this in a discreet and low- visibility manner as much as possible.

BLITZER: A quick question to you before we get to some political issues out there, Secretary Cohen. The $10 billion the U.S. has provided the Pakistani military since 9/11, some question how effective that has been. Do you think that kind of level of support should continue?

COHEN: I think the level of support should continue, but we ought to insist upon accountability. You and I have discussed this in the past, that this is not some gift to the Pakistani military. We want the military to use this equipment and aid to go to fight the terrorists who are living on the border or coming over from Afghanistan.

We need to be -- insist upon accountability. So the United States government has a responsibility here, too, not just simply to give the money and hope it's going to be well spent. So, we have an obligation as well as to continue to provide the money, insist that it be fully accounted for and oversee how that money is being spent. BLITZER: All right. Let's move on to some presidential politics, because both of you are working together, a former Republican senator, a former Democratic senator, with others to try to get beyond some of the friction in the U.S. political system right now.

And you write, both of you, in the Boston Globe today this -- these words: "Our political process seems determined to engage in gang games of trivial pursuits. The very process of campaigning and fund-raising for public office today draws candidates toward partisan extremes, compressing substantive discussion into 30-second sound bites or the silly and superficial. The price of a haircut or authenticity of a laugh drowns out any candidate who talks seriously."

Senator Nunn, I read the article, and I also read David Broder's article in The Washington Post saying the two of you, among many others, will be going out to Oklahoma next week to discuss forging what he is calling a government of national unity, bringing Republicans and Democrats together, potentially forging the basis for a third-party candidate if necessary. Is that what's going on right now?

NUNN: In Oklahoma, David Boren and I have extended an invitation to a number of people. And Bill Cohen's very much involved in that. And of course Mayor Bloomberg is very much involved in it.

But the invitation came from us. It is no one's meeting. It is not the beginning of a third party. It is not a meeting to forge an independent candidacy.

All of that is possible in the future, but what we are is a group of people who trust each other because we worked for years together across party lines. We're frustrated with the political process. We think the two-party system is not working now for the best interests of the American people.

We believe the next president of the United States, whoever that is, has to have some consensus to govern, and that consensus has to be partially built, at least during the campaign. And it's not being done.

So we're going to try to focus on the fundamental issues facing America. Bill Cohen and I are going a lot further with the help of CSIS and with help of the Gilman Foundation. We're going to have a series of discussions on these fundamental issues so that we can really get the best and the brightest in America and the American people from every walk to really begin to follow the issues that are enormously important to the future of our children and grandchildren.

BLITZER: CSIS being the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Secretary Cohen, I read the list of some of those who will be going out with you and Senator Nunn to Oklahoma next week, including Michael Bloomberg.

Many centrists, well-known politicians here in the United States, Chuck Robb, Bill Brock, a former chairman of the Republican Party, Chuck Hagel, the former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, former Senator John Danforth. I could go on and on.

But Broder says specifically that if there isn't progress in working together between Republicans and Democrats, a lot of these people will be prepared to back Bloomberg or someone else in a third- party campaign for president. Are you ready to go that far?

COHEN: Wolf, I'm not interested in backing candidates. I'm interested in being a catalyst to examine the issues that I think need to be focused upon, as Senator Nunn indicated. He and I with the help of the Howard Gilman Foundation and CSIS are going to sponsor a series of dialogues in the next six months.

And we are going to call upon the best and brightest in this country to focus upon issues of how we repair our broken government, something that CNN has been covering, to be sure. How do we restore American leadership throughout world, how do we ensure our security from homeland security, international security, fiscal security, health security. How do we really make the kind of sacrifices that are really necessary to bring this country back to the center?

Because we have to restore that exhilarating sense we're all in this together. That's what's missing from our current political debate. So, I'm not interested in talking about candidates. I want to be a catalyst for examining issues in a much more profound way.

BLITZER: But let me press you, let me press you, Secretary Cohen. If the Republican and Democratic nominees are bickering and aren't working at all together, would you, in theory, be prepared to support a third-party candidate along the lines of Michael Bloomberg?

COHEN: As I indicated, I'm not talking about a third party. I want to make sure whoever is president, whether it's a Republican or a Democrat, becomes president. That that person not only can win elections but can govern. You cannot govern from the extreme polarization position.

So we want to bring the candidate, whoever it is, Republican, Democrat or independent, to the center, where most people live and where the only place you can govern this country. So, that's our goal is, and that's what my goal will be in working with Senator Nunn.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Senator Nunn, because we're out of time, would you support Michael Bloomberg if it comes down to that?

NUNN: I think a lot of Mayor Bloomberg. He has an outstanding record. He's not even a candidate now. I have no intention in the near term of getting involved in anybody's campaign. I want to put the issues out there where the American people can deal with them.

Frankly, the American people, as Bill Cohen has said, are in the middle of the road, or at least they are in the left or right lane. The money in some of the most extreme participants in the political process, the way it is rigged today, are in the ditch. And so I think that we've got to get back to the middle of the road and we've got to really build a consensus here in America for taking the hard steps we need to, to basically address the issues that face us both at home and abroad.

BLITZER: Senator Nunn, Secretary Cohen, good luck with your dialogue over the next six months. We'll be watching it closely. Thanks very much.

NUNN: Thank you, Wolf.

COHEN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And up next, we'll speak with Democratic presidential candidate Senator Chris Dodd. We'll get his reaction to what we just heard. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition."

On the phone now from Sioux City in Iowa, where he's currently fogged in, unable to get to any of our live cameras, is Democratic presidential contender, the Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd.

I take it the weather is not that great out there, Senator Dodd, but we can hear you perfectly well. Thanks very much for joining us.

DODD: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's get your reaction to what we just heard from Senator Nunn and Secretary Cohen, old friends of yours. They are saying, together with some other centrists out there, that if you guys in the Democratic Party and the Republican Party don't get your act together, start working together, there is going to be an opportunity for an independent, third-party candidate, maybe a Michael Bloomberg, to come out and run for president. What do you think?

DODD: Well, first of all, they're both wonderful friends of mine. I've worked with both of them over the years, have a high regard for both of them, for Sam and Bill and their significant contributions.

And their message is one that I've been resonating, talking about the last year and a half. I mean, we don't elect a king or a queen in November of next year, and no one party is going to solve these issues. Historically, this nation has worked because people have been able to build consensus, what I've done for 26 years. So I welcome their contribution to this.

And I'll tell you, it resonates with Democratic audiences. And when I've been talking to house parties and gatherings in this state and New Hampshire over the last year and a half, Wolf, in every speech I've given, I've made that point, that we need to nominate someone who can attract, obviously, independents and Republicans who seek change, but more importantly, we need to elect someone who can govern that way.

BLITZER: Because the argument is, as you know, Senator Dodd, that the Democratic presidential candidates in their primaries, they try to appeal to the sort of the far left, and the Republicans appeal to the far right, and this chasm keeps getting wider and wider.

DODD: Well, I don't necessarily agree with that, Wolf. My message has been, over the last year and a half, I'm a pro-growth Democrat here. I believe in fiscal -- pay-as-you-go Democrat fiscally here. In all the work I've engaged in, over the last year and a half, and 26 years for that matter, has been to build consensus on every issue I've been involved in. Working with Arlen Specter when I started the Children's Caucus, working with Phil Gramm when we did financial service reform, with Kit Bond and Dan Coats on family medical leave. In fact, you know, I've been advocating here with the CSIS, with Chuck Hagel and I, have worked on this infrastructure bill.

So everything I've been involved in over the years, it has always involved bringing Republicans and Democrats together. That's been a central part of my message here over the last year and a half, that I'm the candidate that actually can bring Democrats and Republicans together. It's what I'm known for, what I've done over a quarter of a century.

So I like their message. I think they're absolutely right about it here. If we hope to get our country moving on the ground here, restoring our credibility around the world, it is going to take that kind of leadership.

This is not an allocution contest or a contest about how many celebrities I know. People in Iowa want to know whether or not you have the experience and background to actually produce these results.

In the events this last week, with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, have really sobered I think the electorate up in Iowa here. They are saying to themselves -- they are pausing and saying, this is a serious and dangerous world. Who do we want sitting in that chair in the Oval Office when the unexpected happens? And I think, frankly, as tragic as this event is, and the points that Bill and Sam made about Pakistan, I agree with totally -- stability is the key word here -- that talking about eliminating Musharraf at this point here or insisting that it may have been the military who assassinated her, those are irresponsible statements, in my view. That does not contribute to this stability. And voters out here want to know that they are going to nominate someone who has years of experience of dealing with these matters, as I have over a quarter of a century, that's it (ph).

BLITZER: Senator Dodd's been a member of the Foreign Relations Committee for some 26 years. Good luck with the weather out there. Good luck in the caucuses, Senator. Thanks very much for joining us.

DODD: Thanks, Wolf. Thanks very much.

BLITZER: And there is much more ahead here on "Late Edition." The latest on the Iowa campaign from Senator Joe Biden. He's standing by live.

And the inside story on the caucuses from three of the best political team on television. "Late Edition" will continue right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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


BLITZER: The 2008 presidential campaign is in full swing, and it's a wide open race as Republicans and Democrats count down to the Iowa caucuses only four days away.

BIDEN: Ladies and gentlemen, if you get me out of here one, two or three, I warn you, I'm your next president.

BLITZER: We'll talk to Democratic candidate, Senator Joe Biden, former Senator Tim Hutchinson, the top adviser to Republican Mike Huckabee, and Steve Forbes, a campaign co-chairman for Rudy Giuliani.

We'll go live to our CNN correspondents out in the bitter cold of Iowa -- Candy Crowley, Dana Bash and Suzanne Malveaux. The latest analysis from the Emmy-Award winning best political team on television.

Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, you're a courageous woman. Good luck when you go back.


BLITZER: And Benazir Bhutto's final words. Interviews she gave shortly before this week's tragic assassination.

The second hour of "Late Edition" begins right now.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our second hour.

The crisis in Pakistan this week, an early foreign policy test for the presidential candidates. Joining us now, Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. The senator is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He is joining us from Mason City in Iowa. He's a presidential candidate, as well. Senator Biden, thanks for coming in.

BIDEN: I'm happy to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Pakistan, first and foremost. I know you have been on the phone. You've spoken with President Musharraf, not only in recent days, but over this long period.

First and foremost, do you have confidence in the president of Pakistan?

BIDEN: No. I don't have confidence. I have confidence in the process if we shift our policy from Musharraf to a Pakistan policy and insist on a couple of things. Making clear to him that failure to have transparent elections in this month is going to be extremely consequential for him and for the army. And two, that there's need to be -- there is a need for a transparent investigation as to the cause and who's responsible for Benazir's assassination. And I think international help should come in, including some of our forensic help, in order to make that determination...


BLITZER: Do you have any reason to believe, Senator, that President Musharraf is going to allow some sort of international investigation of the assassination to take place?

BIDEN: No, I don't. I'm not very hopeful. They have fingered, as you know, a tribal leader from the Federal Tribal Areas as being responsible. There's reason to believe from my staff on the ground in Pakistan that that's probably true.

But this is the very guy that the day he declared martial law, that Musharraf cut a deal with, releasing 25 of his people and cracking down on the real democrats in that country, the lawyers who were running this operation to call for a free election.

So I don't have confidence even in his judgment. It is possible this could work out, but it's going to require this administration, I think, coming down very hard on him to make sure there are transparent elections.

Look, the last e-mail -- I got an e-mail the morning I woke up, the morning that Bhutto -- that we learned Bhutto had been assassinated, from a guy named Ed Joseph, who is at Brookings Institution, who had met with her that night, where she was asking me to call Musharraf again and insist that he allow exit polling in the election that was due to go the 8th, so that there be some reasonable belief that we were going to get an honest election.

So right up to the very end, we've been trying to pressure for free elections, and I think the administration should be doing even more than they are now to ensure that.

BLITZER: There's been some very dramatic developments in the past hour or two, Senator Biden, in Pakistan. I'm going to ask you and our viewers to pause for a second. Zain Verjee is on the ground for us in Karachi right now.

And Zain, update our viewers in the United States and around the world on what has just taken place. And then we're going to go back to Senator Biden and get his immediate reaction. Go ahead, Zain. VERJEE: Wolf, it was a very significant and very dramatic development here in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto's 19-year-old son Bilawal has been named as chairman and leader of the party, the Pakistan People's Party, that she had been the leader of.

It was really interesting, Wolf, to see how things unfolded here. What happened was that Benazir Bhutto's will was read out to the party leadership, and she said in the will that she wants her husband, Asif Zardari, to become the chairman and take over from her. Then what happened, the will -- it was finished, and Zardari said, well, actually, I want to now transfer the chairmanship to my son Bilawal, and the party, they stamped it, they endorsed it, they said yes, this is OK with us.

A short while ago, they had a press conference, and her son Bilawal, very emotional. Here's what he had to say.


BILAWAL ZARDARI, BENAZIR BHUTTO'S SON: My mother always said democracy is the best revenge.


VERJEE: Wolf, Benazir Bhutto also said that she wants Bilawal to finish school first. He just started his first term. He's doing political science at Oxford University in Britain. So he is going to finish school, and his father's going to run the show in the meantime.

One other significant thing was that the Pakistan People's Party said that they will stand for elections whenever they're held -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain Verjee on the scene for us in Karachi. Zain, thank you very much.

All right, Senator Biden, you just heard that, very dramatic developments going on. What is your immediate reaction?

BIDEN: My immediate reaction is it's obvious that her son will not be the next prime minister, assuming her party wins. The real question is, whether or not her husband is going to be a caretaker prime minister and appoint someone that, in fact, is -- choose someone, in fact, who may or may not have the support of the people of Pakistan.

There is reason to believe from my staff on the ground who told me this about eight, 10 minutes ago that they may very well pick a caretaker chairman, who has been operating in Benazir's absence, as the prime minister.

The real key here is, you have to get elections under way quickly to give an outlet for a democratically elected parliament to be able to give the moderate majority, which Bashir (sic) represented, an outlet. Otherwise, you're going to see real chaos ensure in Pakistan, the most dangerous country in the world.

BLITZER: In this interim period, should the U.S. continue to provide billions of dollars in military assistance to Pakistan?

BIDEN: No. Not unless there is a clear quid pro quo in three areas. One, that the elections are fair and open. Two, that there's a genuine investigation that is credible to the world. And three, that we condition the military aid on performance.

Here you have -- you have Musharraf having cut a deal in the tribal areas -- in large part I might add because we walked away in large part from Afghanistan, and I think he made a calculation he better cut a deal to see what he could work out for him. You leave me alone in Islamabad; I'll leave you guys alone up there in the tribal areas.

But those are the three conditions. One, actually use the military to go after what we know to be where bin Laden is, Al Qaida is and the Taliban. And two, insist that there be fair, free and credibly open elections.

If that occurs, yes.

In the meantime, I made a speech two months ago and laid out a policy, Wolf. I think you and I talked about it. There's a need to focus on the Pakistani people, not on Musharraf, and I called for significant economic aid to the vast middle of that country, that are moderate, building schools and roads and giving them an economic opportunity. That's the basis upon which you're going to grow a democracy, and they have to know that that's not conditional. That is not conditional. That is a U.S. commitment. It's a Pakistan policy, not a Musharraf policy.

BLITZER: I wonder if you heard the conversation we had earlier with former Senator Sam Nunn, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen on this conference that's going to take place in Oklahoma next week. Former Senator David Boren, Michael Bloomberg is going out there. There's a lot of frustration among these centrist Democrats and Republicans that it's getting too nasty between the political parties right now, and if you guys don't get your act together, there could be an opening for a third-party candidate, maybe even Michael Bloomberg.

I wonder if you want to react to that, Senator Biden?

BIDEN: Yes. I'd be happy to. If I win this nomination, there will be no need for them to have that conference.

I have great respect -- David Boren is a close friend, as Sam Nunn is, as Bill Cohen is. And I think they're reacting to the, quote, "concern" that one of the three, quote, "leaders" in the Democratic nomination may get the nomination, knowing that will spark a very bitter, bitter fight.

BLITZER: Who are you referring to, Senator?

BIDEN: Well, you know, the people with the money. John Edwards and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- all really good people, but everyone knows that that's going to spark a really spirited, spirited fight that's not likely to change in tone from the last election. Whereas if I were nominated as the Democrat, or Chris Dodd for that matter dominated as the Democrat, you would see the boiling point lower a great deal. And we both have long records of cooperating extensively with Republicans, without yielding one bit on our principles. We would not be personal in the case of me being the nominee, and I think you would see the temperature go way, way down.

BLITZER: Senator Biden, good luck to you. Thanks very much for joining us. BIDEN: Thanks an awful lot. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: And in just a few moments, we'll get a closer look at this incredibly close race for the White House with three of the best political team on television.

But when we come back, the inside story from the campaigns of Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. In just a moment, we'll speak to Steve Forbes. He's a top adviser to candidate Rudy Giuliani. But let's go out to former Arkansas Senator Tim Hutchinson in Des Moines, campaigning for the former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Senator Hutchinson, thanks very much for joining us.

HUTCHINSON: Thanks, Wolf. Glad to be here.

BLITZER: What do you say to all those who are now arguing in the aftermath of the crisis in Pakistan that Mike Huckabee simply does not have the foreign policy, national security experience to become president of the United States and they claim this is underscored by some of the so-called gaffes, mistakes he's made over the past few days.

HUTCHINSON: Well, Wolf, my response is, that's the same thing they said about Ronald Reagan before he was elected president and had simply been a governor. It's always the rap on the governor that they don't have foreign-policy experience.

Governor Huckabee has travelled to over 40 countries internationally. He's met with international leaders. He's been to Pakistan. He is intellectually curious. I have absolute confidence in the leadership he would provide this nation.

What the people of Iowa are telling me, that they want somebody who understands the danger and the threat of our enemy. Mike Huckabee does. They want somebody they can trust, and they can trust Mike Huckabee. He's authentic.

So, I have, as a former member of the Armed Services Committee, someone who's met Musharraf, I have absolute confidence that Mike Huckabee would be a great president on national security issues.

BLITZER: Governor Huckabee's being criticized for suggesting that the Pakistan crisis is related in some way to the immigration problem here in the United States. And I'm going to play a little clip of what he said. Listen to this.


MIKE HUCKABEE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There were more Pakistanis who illegally crossed the border than of any other nationality except for those immediately south of our border, 660 last year. That's a lot of illegals from Pakistan who came into our country illegally because we don't have secure borders.


BLITZER: Now, The Washington Post in an editorial Saturday said this: "The cynicism of this attempt to connect Pakistan's crisis with an anti-immigrant sentiment was compounded by its astonishing senselessness."

You want to back up what the governor had to say?

HUTCHINSON: Well, you know, the governor's acknowledged that the numbers that he cited were not precise. But if you get beyond that, the larger point is absolutely on target, that the tragedy in Pakistan should be a wake-up call to the risk that we have on our -- on securing -- if we don't secure our borders.

So I think the people of Iowa, the people of the United States are absolutely sensitive to that larger point that the governor was making. And so I certainly support him on that.

BLITZER: Romney is really going after Mike Huckabee, who he sees Romney -- Romney sees Huckabee clearly as his biggest threat in Iowa. And that caucus is coming up only in a few days. Here's the attack ad that Romney has leveled -- a little clip of it -- against your candidate.


ANNOUNCER: Mike Huckabee, soft on government spending. He grew a $6 billion government into a $16 billion government. Backed in- state tuition benefits for illegals and granted 1,033 pardons and commutations, including 12 murderers.


BLITZER: All right. Those are tough charges against Huckabee. What do you say?

HUTCHINSON: Well, that's the reason I'm in Iowa. You know, it takes a lot to get me out of a peaceful, tranquil after-Senate life, but to hear the desperate and dishonest attacks that Romney is leveling against Governor Huckabee, I couldn't stay away. I had to get up here and help defend Governor Huckabee.

Point by point, that ad that you just played is dishonest. It's just not giving the accurate truth about Governor Huckabee's record, and I'm here to defend him on that. I saw much of this in Arkansas, the kind of political attacks that Romney's rehashing and spending 20 to 1 over every dollar that Governor Huckabee has to spend in Iowa. Romney's spending 20 times that. And so that's a lot to counter.

And it's unfortunate that -- and I believe the people of Iowa will reject that. Traditionally, they don't like that kind of sleazy, negative campaigning, and I think they're going to reject it again. But he was very strong on immigration. That's why he's been endorsed by the founder of the Minutemen Project because that man, Jim Gilchrist, says he has the strongest -- Governor Huckabee has the strongest plan to deal with our insecure borders.

BLITZER: And he's lucky to have you a good supporter like you, Senator Hutchinson. Thanks very much for coming in.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Wolf. Good to visit with you and good luck.

BLITZER; Good luck to you out on the campaign trail, as well. Good luck to all the candidates.

Let's get a different perspective. Right now, joining us here in our New York studio is Steve Forbes, the editor in chief of Forbes magazine. He's a national co-chairman of the Rudy Giuliani presidential campaign. He himself is a former Republican presidential candidate.

Steve Forbes, you did well in Iowa back in 2000. You came in second. So you know something about this race.

FORBES: Yes. And one of the things that I think is striking about this cycle is how unprecedented it is having 22 states, having primaries on February 5th so this isn't a sprint, where you could win in Iowa and win in New Hampshire and lock up the nomination. You have to do well in the early states and be ready for the 22 states on February 5th.

BLITZER: The question is this: Will Rudy Giuliani do well in Iowa? Will he do well in New Hampshire? Will he do well in South Carolina? Because his strategy has always been, you go for Florida at the end of the month, then you go for Super Tuesday February 5th.

But can he compete if he doesn't do well in those earlier contests?

FORBES: I think he'll do credibly in the earlier contests, and I think he's made it clear he is not ignoring a state like Iowa or New Hampshire. The next few days he's going to be spending in New Hampshire, make a credible showing.

But realize this is a marathon, not a sprint. And he's been devoting resources, time and resources in the not only the early states but the later states so that he's ready. For example, if Huckabee does not win in Iowa, he's finished. If John McCain does not win in New Hampshire, he's finished. Same with Mitt Romney.

Rudy Giuliani's got a national strategy rather than a regional or one-state strategy. And I think that's a sign of his effective leadership. He sees the long term.

BLITZER: Here's what Robert Novak wrote on Thursday, a columnist that you're very familiar with, all of us are.

BLITZER: "Senator John McCain, given up for dead a few weeks ago, as he ran a cash-starved, disorganized campaign, today is viewed by canny Republican professionals as the best bet to win the party's presidential nomination. What's more, they consider him their most realistic prospect to buck the overall Democratic tide and win the general election."

Do you agree with your old friend Bob Novak?

FORBES: I think, clearly, Senator McCain is making a surge in New Hampshire. I think he can win New Hampshire even if Romney wins in Iowa, which I think he will.

But I think, for the nomination, Rudy Giuliani will win. And he is the strongest Republican candidate. He puts every blue state into play.

I come from New Jersey. New Jersey's been a blue state for almost 20 years. Rudy Giuliani can win New Jersey. He can make New York competitive, Pennsylvania, California. No other Republican can do that.

So, just from a political point of view, Rudy is by far the strongest Republican candidate.

BLITZER: Here's a question that's come up, because he spent the night in the hospital. How does he feel?

FORBES: He feels good. He had a headache. They did all the tests. He's in very good shape, campaigning vigorously yesterday in Iowa, today in New Hampshire.

His health is good and he'll make the economy of this country's health good when he gets into office next January 20th.

BLITZER: What's the biggest problem that he faces right now, in getting the Republican nomination?

FORBES: Like any Republican, you have a very fluid situation, highly unconventional situation. And we'll see how the thing plays out. But he's got the issues. He showed himself to be a fiscal conservative in New York City, far better than what Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts, who was a tax increaser, while Rudy was a tax cutter.

People are going to be -- I think Republicans are going to be impressed with that. BLITZER: Speaking of New York City -- and put on your hat as a political expert, because you've got a pretty good sense out there -- Michael Bloomberg: Do you see the possibility that, when the dust settles from the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating processes, he decides he's going to run as a third-party candidate?

FORBES: I think it would be highly unlikely that he wouldn't run.

BLITZER: Really?

FORBES: I've thought, for a long time, he's itching to do it. He may have blown hot and cold on it, short-term. But he's itching to do it. And so he can wait. He's got the resources to wait until after February 5th, see who the two party nominees are.

But unless something extraordinary happens, I expect him in the race.

BLITZER: So what do you think of him?

FORBES: I think he'll be formidable. At the end of the day, I think Rudy Giuliani's going to triumph.

BLITZER: Steve Forbes -- and Rudy Giuliani's lucky to have you in his camp. Thanks very much for coming in.

FORBES: Well, it's a privilege to serve him. And good to be with you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you, Steve Forbes.

Straight ahead, the best political team on television. They're standing by, live, to join us with the latest from Iowa, four days away.

And there were other candidates speaking out today, as well. We're going to bring you what they had to say in our very popular "In Case You Missed It" segment.

"Late Edition" continues from New York right after this.


BLITZER: OK, this is it; four days to go to the first event in the 2008 presidential campaign, so let's get the story from the people who know it best.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley -- she's covering the Edwards campaign, right now, out in Boone, Iowa. Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux -- she's with the Obama campaign in Knoxville, Iowa, right now. And our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is keeping tabs on all the campaigns from the state capital in Des Moines.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Candy, I'll start with you and I'll put up on the screen the latest poll number that just came out today -- a Mason-Dixon poll -- likely Democratic caucus- goers in Iowa: Edwards at 24 percent; Clinton at 23 percent; Obama 22 percent. Bill Richardson got a 12 percent; Biden at 8 percent; Dodd, 2 percent; Kucinich, 1 percent.

But the top three, statistical dead heat, Edwards, Clinton, Obama, right now. That's about as close as it can get.

Give us a sense, Candy, of how it feels out there?

CROWLEY: Well, it feels like it's a statistical dead heat. I mean, they are all over the place, all of them drawing really sizable crowds.

So, obviously, the interest has peaked among Iowa voters. The tension is high among the candidates. So you put those two together and you've got a really exciting race. And what's interesting here is that they're now, as you know, sort of, forecasting fairly good weather, cold but clear.

And what the Obama campaign and what the Clinton campaign are counting on is bringing in some new voters. So they're out here with, sort of, double duty: first, attract those undecideds -- and believe me, we're meeting them, literally here on the streets, as they come to the Edwards event here, saying, well, I'm really undecided.

So these candidates have to reach out to those undecideds, kind of, make that final sale, and they have to get their people out to the caucuses. Because particularly Obama and Clinton are depending on new caucus goers.

BLITZER: Have you, Dana, seen any shift in strategy, among these top three Democratic candidates, in recent days?

BASH: Well, among the Democratic candidates, it seems as though they're each, sort of, playing to the theme and the message that works best for them.

For example, Hillary Clinton. You have seen her -- more and more talk about the "E" word, experience, particularly in light of what happened in Pakistan this past week.

She has really tried to seize on that and to play to that strength, whereas you see Barack Obama try to seize on some of the things that he thinks are negatives for Hillary Clinton, his top aide this past week saying that perhaps one of her decisions in the Senate, to support the Iraq war, that helped to divert attention from going after Al Qaida in Pakistan.

So you do see them, as we, sort of, get to the finish here, play to the issue and the theme that they think works best for them. No surprise there, but it's interesting to watch them -- those themes, sort of, gel, if you will. BLITZER: It was interesting, Suzanne, also to see how they responded to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the crisis in Pakistan, trying to underscore their own respective advantages from their obvious standpoints. But talk a little bit about that.

MALVEAUX: Certainly, Wolf. We saw Senator Clinton talk about her personal relationship that she had with Senator (sic) Bhutto, how it was a personal loss for her, that she and Chelsea went on this trip and that she knew her very well; she had kept up with her, and that she was really able to talk in a very authoritative and even presidential way, if you will, on how she would be very tough with President Pervez Musharraf.

And then we also saw this, kind of, almost jockeying, if you will, for who was able to get access. We saw that Senator Dodd has reached out and he has called for Musharraf to resign. We saw Senator Biden has talked to President Musharraf, as well as Senator Edwards, both of them having the ability to get them on the phone.

And we've even seen more people here in Iowa talk about Senator -- Governor Richardson, rather, and Senator Biden, how these two in particular have that kind of statesman -- and that experience that's necessary to jump in, head on, when it comes to foreign policy, from day one.

We'll see if that really resonates with voters. But so far, they are saying it is important but not as important as some of those domestic issues, health care and education.

BLITZER: And when they go into these meetings, Candy, these caucuses, Thursday night on the Democratic side, they go in with their own particular person in mind that they would like to support, but then there's an opportunity over the next hour, hour and a half for them to change their minds, to have a second or third choice who might emerge as the winner or the second-place candidate.

BLITZER: It's a complicated process, but describe it in a nutshell.

CROWLEY: Well, I mean, in a nutshell, when you go into a caucus, if you're say, for Bill Richardson, 15 percent of the people within that caucus have to be for Richardson. If you don't meet that 15 percent threshold, you've got to pick somebody else or go into the undecided group.

So there are discussions back and forth on why if your candidate hasn't met that 15 percent threshold why you should come with candidate X. And what we're seeing here in some of the polling, at least that polling today in the internal numbers, that Edwards does very well among those who say, well, my second choice would be. Obama also doing well there.

So it is key here, particularly in some of these smaller places, that that 15 percent threshold be met, and already these top-tier campaigns looking and saying, if you're Hillary Clinton, well, if they're for Biden or they're for Richardson, then they're looking for experience, so they'll come my way.

Whereas Obama people say, listen, they would go for Clinton already. She's so well-known. They're going to come for change. So, they're already trying to parse out where those second-place, second- choice votes will go.

BLITZER: You did a good job explaining that in a nutshell. All right, guys, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about, including the race on the Republican side. Our panel on the road in Iowa. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: We're back with Candy Crowley. She's in Boone, Iowa, with the Edwards campaign. Suzanne Malveaux at the CNN Election Express and Dana Bash, she's in Des Moines. All of them keeping track on the action out there.

Dana, let's take a look at the Republican race in Iowa right now. And we'll go to this latest Mason-Dixon poll that's just come out today. Romney ahead right now at 27 percent. Huckabee at 23. Fred Thompson third at 14, McCain 13, Giuliani 5, Ron Paul 5, Duncan Hunter at 1 percent.

Very close, a statistical tie almost between Romney and Huckabee. This is a must-win, though, for Huckabee given the nature of what's happened, I take it.

BASH: Right. You're right. It's a statistical tie, for sure. But it does show for the first time in some time Mitt Romney sort of back on top in that tie.

And that is really evident, Wolf, in the past couple of days on the campaign trail, particularly with Mike Huckabee, first of all because he had several missteps in the wake of what happened in Pakistan. Some misstatements about that.

And also in the way he shifted his tone. And it's a pretty dramatic shift, Wolf. Just yesterday he decided instead of talking about "my opponent" and the attacks that he said "my opponent," meaning Mitt Romney, was waging on him when it comes to taxes, when it comes to immigration, when it comes to spending, he started directly naming Mitt Romney by name and really going after Mitt Romney on some of the things that Mitt Romney has done, whether it is said that he was endorsed by the NRA and not been endorsed, whether it is his change in position on abortion.

This is really interesting because one of the things that has really gotten Mike Huckabee far here, you talk to Iowa voters, it's because they think he's a nice guy, and it's something that Mike Huckabee has really hung his hat on. But he's trying to shift because he knows he has no choice. And whether or not that is going to help him to show that he's tough and combat the attacks against him or hurt him because it sort of shatters that nice guy image remains to be seen.

Right now as we speak, he's cutting a brand new ad, and we're told it could be a lot more aggressive against Mitt Romney, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, he's got four days to see what he can do in Iowa. In New Hampshire, Suzanne, John McCain is clearly making a major, major comeback, threatening Mitt Romney who's former governor of a neighboring state, Massachusetts. John McCain looking good in New Hampshire right now, I take it.

MALVEAUX: He certainly is. And this really comes after the string of endorsement that is really gave his campaign a boost. You may recall, Wolf, that a lot of people thought his campaign was dead in the water. That he couldn't afford to move forward. That he didn't have the money. He didn't have the staff. We had seen that they had dwindled down to just single numbers.

This really has been an incredible resurgence for his campaign. There's been a lot of enthusiasm and momentum behind it, but it's still unclear whether or not he can carry that into later on down the road Super Tuesday. But clearly a big turnaround for him. BLITZER: The Giuliani strategy, the strategy that we just heard Steve Forbes expand on, Candy Crowley, is one -- he doesn't necessarily have to do all that well in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. He's going to wait for the big states like Florida and New York and California at the end of this month, early in February. Does that strategy really have legs? CROWLEY: Well, I guess we'll see. It's certainly an untried strategy because obviously the strategy for years has been, you come out of Iowa, you get the momentum, you move into New Hampshire. By South Carolina, it's down to maybe two candidates.

So what Rudy Giuliani has done here, really, is taken himself out of the conversation in a lot of ways. He's taken himself out of the headlines, and we have seen him try to get back in it at some points.

He gave a speech in Florida at one point. He was here in Iowa where, frankly, he hasn't made all to that much of an effort with the strategy you outlined, so he's trying to kind of get back in the headlines. He's appearing on various shows.

But it's really hard when we have this intense competition going on in Iowa if you have sort of said, hey, these early states don't matter. It's hard to keep yourself on top. And I think we have seen a reflection of that in the national polls.

BLITZER: The strategy that Fred Thompson had apparently, Dana, and you've been watching this very, very closely, is that he was hoping that he would really do well in the third major contest in South Carolina, a neighboring state from his own Tennessee, even if he doesn't necessarily do all that well in Iowa and New Hampshire. Does that strategy have some merit?

BASH: Not if he doesn't do well here. He has been -- you know, you talked to him -- he has been here in this state now for about two weeks total, going to 50 cities. He's really banking on the fact that he has to do well here because, you know, this sort of -- the constituency that he's appealing to in South Carolina is the same as it is here, those Christian conservatives. And he's trying to make the case that he is both a social conservative and a fiscal conservative, something that others aren't.

I'll tell you a very quick anecdote, though, Wolf, that might show you kind of the trouble that he's in. And that is, I was with John McCain earlier this week. I met a woman, and she said, I'm here with my husband. I really promised Fred Thompson personally I would be with him. After the event, she came up to me and found me, and she said, I've got to write Fred a letter. I can't be with him anymore. I've got to be with John McCain.

And that just shows you the volatility of this race, particularly among the people who are frankly at this point vying for third. That really does matter, not necessarily in what happens here but what happens in the next states, in New Hampshire and South Carolina and beyond. That is sort of an anecdote to tell you where things could be shifting here in Iowa. BLITZER: Dana Bash, Candy Crowley, Suzanne Malveaux, three of the best political team on television. You guys are going to be very, very busy over the next few days and weeks.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

When we come back, a check of what the presidential candidates had to say on the other Sunday morning talk shows, in our "In Case You Missed It" segment. That's straight ahead.


BLITZER: And 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.

Senator Hillary Clinton and former senator John Edwards sparred over the possible role of the former president Bill Clinton, for instance. Would he be involved in national security briefings?


CLINTON: He will not have a formal official role, but just as presidents rely on wives, husbands, fathers, friends of long years, he will be my close confidant and adviser, as I was with him.



EDWARDS: Well, I think it's a complete fantasy. You watch President Clinton out on the -- and I like president Clinton very much -- but you watch him on the campaign trail and he spends an awful lot of time talking about his views and not as much time talking about Senator Clinton's, which is understandable given his history and leadership.

No, I think it's unrealistic to think that President Clinton wouldn't play a major role.


BLITZER: Senator John McCain was asked his opinion of the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf.


MCCAIN: He has done most of the things we want us to do. He's disappointed me terribly on the Waziristan situation, which has provided a safe haven for Taliban. But some of that has to do with problems within his own military.

But I think he's done most of the things we want us to do. He can play a key and pivotal role. I want us to urge him to move forward with a democratic process, and I think he may do that.


BLITZER: On NBC, the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee criticized the Pakistani government's efforts to fight terrorism.


HUCKABEE: What we do have to recognize is we've spent over $10 billion in aid. And the purpose of that aid, in Pakistan, was to fight terrorism.

Now, as we, kind of, look at where that money's spent, we realize that not that much of it has likely gone to fight terrorism in Pakistan. A lot of it has gone to their military, for reasons that didn't have to do with terrorism.


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

This week's tragic death of Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto cut short the life of a vital and very intelligent woman. When we come back, her fears for her country, in her own words. And coming up at the top of the hour, more on the future of Pakistan, the wars in Iraq, the war on terror, in a special program, "This Year at War," with host Tom Foreman.


BLITZER: Over the past few months, the former Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto spoke often of her concerns for her country's future, concerns that drove her to return to Pakistan despite fears for her personal safety.


BHUTTO: The situation in Pakistan is very grave. Pakistan is imploding from within. And yet, there's very little appreciation of the deepening crisis here.

I received reports, in the frontier, about how the Taliban are advancing, advancing into our cities. And the administration simply can't fight. The military is leaderless. And without -- it's a great military. It knows how to fight. It's fought wars in the past, but it needs the will of the people behind it and that will is not there. And I'm just worried, as I said yesterday, that where will they go to next?

UNKNOWN: What about you? What next? What are some of your plans now? BHUTTO: Well, I believe that democracy is the only way that can save Pakistan. And I believe that it's the free expression of the will of the people mobilizing the strength of the people that can save our country.

Unfortunately, General Musharraf's regime is more concerned about containing democrats than it is concerned about containing extremists. BLITZER: You have called President Musharraf a dictator and he runs a dictatorship. But as you know, the Bush administration, the U.S. government, has a strong relationship with President Musharraf's government and relies on the Musharraf government to cooperate in the war on terror, to provide some sense of stability and security in that part of the world.

What's your basic complaint with what the U.S. is doing right now? In other words, is the U.S. supporting a dictatorship?

BHUTTO: I certainly think that the United States has supported a dictatorship for its own short-term, strategic reasons arising out of the war against terrorism, where Musharraf is seen -- has been seen as a reliable ally. But last year, President Bush went to Pakistan and made a pledge to support democracy and free elections, and Condoleezza Rice yesterday gave a statement expressing her disappointment about the arrest of political activists. So I think that the United States is gently trying to prod General Musharraf on to the path of democratization, which I welcome.

BLITZER: But do you have any doubt that President Musharraf is committed to destroying Al Qaida, which has gone after him on several occasions, as well?

BHUTTO: Well, he says he's committed to destroying them.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BHUTTO: I don't think he's been very effective. I think that the longer -- many people think the military's the solution. I don't. I think the situation has become anarchic and will continue to be anarchic as long as there is a military-dominated regime in Pakistan.

BLITZER: Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, you're a courageous woman. Good luck when you go back.

BHUTTO: Thank you.



BLITZER: The former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, said on Friday that as bad as President Musharraf might be to some, the situation in Pakistan could still be a whole lot worse. I want you to listen to what the former secretary said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: General Musharraf, for all his faults, has in fact been helping in a number of ways to fight terrorism, which is a genuine issue. The people that hit us on 9/11 came out of Afghanistan. And Pakistan has been a very important country in helping us fight that.


BLITZER: So what do you want to say in -- because she represents a view that is pretty prevalent here among some that it could be a whole lot worse?

BHUTTO: I understand and respect Madeleine Albright, and I understand that view. But I want to say that what General Musharraf has done is simply not enough. Because Al Qaida and Taliban have regrouped, and pro-Taliban elements now control the tribal areas of Pakistan. They have entered into the settled areas of the frontier province of Pakistan, and there is a fierce battle taking place between the military and the militants.

Now the military is engaged in blanket bombing at times, and instead of targeting just the terrorists, this actually ends up targeting the local population, too. We'd like to see the local population co-opted. We'd like to see the military go in instead for combat against the militants like the Americans did in Abujera (ph) -- what was that place in Baghdad, near Baghdad. The hold-outs of the militants.

That's the kind of support we need from our military, and we need to support our military by also co-opting the local population. I know the local population would have defended their towns if we had given them the arms and the guns. They turn to me and ask me to get them some help.

And I spoke about this at the diplomatic reception too, to caution the government that the militants were coming, but unfortunately, the people aren't given the support they need to fight and face the militants themselves. And in the meantime, the militants spread. So I think that what General Musharraf has done may have been a little bit, but it hasn't stopped the spread of militancy or extremism in Pakistan.



JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's say a U.S. president calls you up and says the United States wants to bomb the northwest frontier because Pakistani forces cannot contain the Al Qaida and Taliban threat. What do you do?

BHUTTO: Well, I would not like any unauthorized violation of Pakistan's sovereignty, but I would like to work very closely with the U.S. government and with the NATO troops in Afghanistan for our common objectives of reclaiming the frontier area and cleansing it of terrorists. So, the first challenge for a new government is to come in, reclaim the tribal areas of Pakistan and ensure that no militant or terrorist activity can take place from there, and no militants or terrorists can hide there.


BLITZER: Recent interviews CNN had with Benazir Bhutto.

The assassination of the former Pakistani prime minister prompted many of you to weigh in on what role the United States should play in the future of Pakistan. Usman in Ohio writes this: "I believe Benazir Bhutto's death is intolerable and should be brought to justice, but she was not an effective or honest leader for the Pakistani people. If we want to see Pakistan advance as a democracy, it is essential that we support the right people within the Pakistani political sphere."

Joe in Michigan feels the administration is taking the wrong approach, writing this: "I feel it is wrong for the U.S. to automatically attribute this tragic event directly to the current administration of Pakistan. It would be better if the U.S. stayed out of any investigation, as the current administration of Pakistan is fully capable of conducting such investigations on its own.'

Benazir Bhutto, assassinated this week on the streets of Rawalpindi. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: And this just coming in to CNN. According to the office of the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, in a telephone conversation just a little while ago, the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has agreed to consider, to consider international support for an investigation of the death of the former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. We'll watch this story together with you.

And that is our "Late Edition" for this Sunday, December 30th, our final program for 2007. Please be sure to join us every Sunday in 2008 at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. We're in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. Eastern.

I'll be anchoring our special Iowa caucuses coverage Thursday night. Until then, thanks very much for watching. Happy New Year to all our viewers. I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York.