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Court Filing: Scooter Libby Testifies Bush Authorized Intel Leak; Immigration Bill Close; Representative Cynthia McKinney Apologizes

Aired April 06, 2006 - 13:58   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get an update now on a developing story. It involves the long-running controversy over U.S. intelligence leaks on Iraq. Court papers made public today revealed that a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney testified that Cheney told him he was authorized by President Bush to leak sensitive intelligence information.
The former aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Libby has since been charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to FBI agents who were investigating the 2003 disclosure of a CIA agent's identity. That CIA agent is married to a prominent critic of White House intelligence claims used to justify the war in Iraq.

Let's take a moment now to examine the political fallout of this developing story. Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, joins me now from Washington.

Good to see you, Bill.


WHITFIELD: All right. So we heard from Jeffrey Toobin earlier, our legal analyst, telling us that this really is less of a legal issue and more of a political one; namely, because the president is authorized to declassify information whenever he wants. So if that's the case, why in the world have we gotten to this point of Scooter Libby in court, testifying before the grand jury, facing perjury and other charges.

SCHNEIDER: Well, Scooter Libby obviously was trying to get off the hook by saying it was the president himself who authorized the leak of this information, which means he declassified the information, passed the word to the vice president that he wanted it leaked to the press just before Mr. Libby met with a "New York Times" reporter.

That's not a crime if the president has declassified the information, again, according to the legal experts. But it does raise some serious political questions, and that question is about the president's political credibility.

You may remember, a year after the meeting with "The New York Times" reporter, the president -- this was in June 2004 -- the president said he would fire anyone in his administration shown to have leaked information about the identity of that CIA agent.

Now, I hasten to add, there's no indication from the testimony summarized by the special prosecutor that the name of the CIA agent was ever leaked, but the president said he would fire anyone involved in that leak. And then later he amended that statement the next year and said, "If someone committed a crime they will no longer work in my administration."

And, of course, legal experts have said that the president's declassification amounted to -- the president's authorization amounted to a declassification, so it wasn't a crime. But it is a real question about political credibility; namely, when is a leak not a leak?

WHITFIELD: Right. So if no crime -- and the prosecutor is even indicating that -- well, is not really saying whether a crime or whether no crime was committed, but we've heard it from the legal analysts, no crime, as you put it. So what does the president owe the American public, if anything, in terms of an explanation of how we have even gotten to this point and what does this mean from this day forward for his presidency or for his credibility?

SCHNEIDER: I think is it very damaging for the president to be seen here to have come out after his political enemies by authorizing -- no crime -- by authorizing the leak of classified information from the National Intelligence Estimate.

Again, we don't know what classified information that was, it's only described in the special prosecutor's report as certain information, key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate, relevant portions that were aimed at discrediting the published views of Ambassador Wilson, who criticized the administration's intelligence-gathering efforts.

He was out to get his political enemy, to discredit Joe Wilson. And he did it by authorizing intelligence information to be leaked. I think most Americans would say that's a very dangerous and very foolish thing to do.

WHITFIELD: So, the old issue of legality was a topic of conversation, or at least exchange, on Capitol Hill with U.S. Attorney General Gonzales and New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler.

Let's listen in to what they had to say.



REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: So he could do it for political reasons and that would be -- and no one can second-guess that if he wanted to?

ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This president could make the decision to declassify information based upon national security reasons. NADLER: He could do it for political reasons if he wanted to and no one could second guess that because he's the commander in chief, right?

GONZALES: The president is going to make the determination as to what's in the best interest of the country.

NADLER: Yes, he might, but he could -- I'm asking you a theoretical question about the authority of the president, not necessarily this president. A president could declassify something for political reasons and no one has the authority to second-guess him because he's the commander in chief, that's what you're saying?


WHITFIELD: So, Bill, if the president's approval ratings were in the toilet before, now you can almost expect that they're going to drop even some more. And what does a president do? I mean, is he essentially a lame-duck president?

SCHNEIDER: Well, look, his approval ratings have dropped for any number of reasons. I think where this does him damage is, on the one issue, the one characteristic that has always been his strong suit, Americans have for the most part considered Bush to be honest and trustworthy. That is really the thing that got him elected, at least by the electoral college, in the year 2000.

In January 2001, when he first took office, 64 percent of Americans thought he was honest and trustworthy. President Clinton's ratings was down in the 20s. That contrast was very important for President Bush. But now, questions -- or serious questions are being raised, is he really honest and trustworthy? Does he level with the American people?

You just heard the congressman say he was leaking political -- sensitive intelligence information apparently for political reasons, political reasons, not national security reasons. And that, I think, is going to be very difficult to explain.

WHITFIELD: So I imagine we can all expect that other Republicans will soon, if they haven't already, aggressively start distancing themselves from the White House, just simply merely because of the notion of guilty by association?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I don't want to say what Republicans are going to do or not do. But I will say that...

WHITFIELD: But not to be surprised, yes, if that were to happen.

SCHNEIDER: We'll see what they do. But I think at this point, many Republicans are responding as if President Bush is not exactly helpful to them politically.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well said. Much better said than I would have done.

Bill Schneider, thanks so much.


WHITFIELD: And one more note on President Bush. At an event in North Carolina this morning, a man in the audience criticized the president's policies on a range of issues, including the use of electronic surveillance in the war on terror. The man said he's ashamed of the nation's leadership and asked he the president if he was ashamed of himself.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never stop talking about freedom, and I appreciate that. But while I listen to you talk about freedom, I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me without -- without charges.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we're at war, we ought to be using tools necessary within the Constitution on a very limited basis, a program that's reviewed constantly to protect us. Now, you and I have a different agreement on what is needed to be protected, but you said would I apologize for that? The answer is absolutely not.



WHITFIELD: The exchange happened at the end of an appearance before a nonpartisan group called the World Affairs Council.

Well, the word today from Capitol Hill, it's close. We're talking about final language for a hotly-debated bill that could mean eventual citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.

Let's go to CNN's congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel, for the very latest -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, they haven't uncorked the champagne just yet, and Democrats are saying it's not a done deal. But certainly the picture told the story this afternoon.

Just a short time ago we saw both the Republicans and the Democratic leaders standing shoulder to shoulder. They were flanked by other key Republicans and Democrats who were really slogging in the trenches over the last number of weeks here in the Senate trying to work out some kind of compromise. And you could see it really also in the face of the Republican leader, Bill Frist, who himself has reversed course in the last several weeks on his position, basically looking and sounding elated.


SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: The good news is that because of the hard work of the people who are with me, we've had a huge breakthrough which will allow us to pivot in the next several hours that will lead us to the conclusion of passing a very important bill.


KOPPEL: Nevertheless, not all Democrats and Republicans are on board as yet. Some of them raising certain objections. Here's Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama.


SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: I'm not impressed. That's not -- I'm not going to now line up and say, oh, great, we've got a compromise and this is going to be the law. This is so important. We should do it right.


KOPPEL: At the heart of really what has been the impasse over the last number of days has been what to do over the fate of those 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S. The compromise that they've worked out right now that they're hoping to bring to the floor tomorrow for a procedural test vote to see if they have the 60 votes necessary to have a debate and a final vote on the floor of the Senate before week's end is really a three-tiered process depending upon how many years immigrants have been in this country.

If they've been here less than two years, they would have to leave. If they've been here between two and five years, they'd have to return temporarily to their home country to apply for a visa to come in as a temporary guest worker. And then anyone who was here five years or longer would be really put on a path to U.S. citizenship.

It would not be, according to its supporters, giving them a free pass or amnesty, but rather what they call earned citizenship, Fredricka. They'd have to meet certain requirements, and if they didn't, presumably, they'd have to leave -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And so, we're saying -- bottom line is, there's almost some agreement on those stipulations and there isn't necessarily any more wiggle room on how to promote more changes in the compromise?

KOPPEL: Well, there may be some more wiggle room. But really, what they're doing right now -- and the Democrats have just wrapped up or are in the process of wrapping up one of their caucus meetings. And after that meeting, we're going to have a much better idea as to where the votes are.

They're head-counting right now to see if they have those 60 votes which, clearly, the leadership is encouraged. They think those votes are there. And President Bush has also said that he's encouraged by the bill. So it sounds like the votes are there. We'll find out soon. WHITFIELD: All right. Andrea Koppel from Capitol Hill.

Thanks so much.

Well, underscoring some of what Andrea said, millions of people are already in this country illegally. Their lives stand to change dramatically depending on the bill that comes out of Congress.

CNN's Lou Dobbs joins me now. He regularly takes up the immigration issue on his nightly show.

Lou, good to see you.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Good to be with you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well, do you see that a compromise is likely, is workable, that there could be these 60 votes for this test vote?

DOBBS: It's impossible really right now to say. It is clear, given the senatorial theatrics that we're witnessing, that this all could have been done 30 days ago because this is pretty much what everyone assumed would happen: a strict border enforcement passed in the House, then we would watch games in the Senate -- they've been played skillfully -- and here we are with U.S. senators congratulating each other, patting themselves on the back for a compromise that, as Senator Pat Leahy today said rather honestly, the devil's in the details and we don't yet know what the details are.

That's a remarkable statement for people who are trying to reform legislation and law in one of the most critical areas in the country. It's a remarkable performance.

Nothing that they have said today -- literally what they've said is that they're going to separate illegal aliens into three groups, as Andrea Koppel reported.. Those with five years or more get basically blanket amnesty. And there's no discussion whatsoever of border security. And this becomes laughable.

WHITFIELD: And that is -- and that is, you know, the springboard issue of the whole thing.

DOBBS: It's the critical issue. We don't have port security; only five percent of the cargo in the country is inspected. Three million illegal aliens cross our borders every year. We're four and a half year past September 11th.

The American people can be fooled, but they're not going to be fooled by this -- these senatorial theatrics. They won't be fooled by presidential theatrics. They know our borders are insecure. They know our ports are insecure and, therefore, the American people are vulnerable.

They also understand the straightforward basic logic in play here. You cannot reform immigration if you can't control immigration. And you can't control immigration if you can't control your borders and your ports. And we're doing neither. Therefore, if this compromise, if it is ultimately produced with details without securing our borders and removing the vulnerability that the American people find themselves in, this Senate will have done the nation another disservice rather than resolve a critical, critical national issue.

WHITFIELD: Well, do you see that those on the Hill are actually conceding to not being able to win the fight of border control and that this compromise, perhaps, is kind of the bone thrown to Americans that they feel like, OK, something is being done even though the primary issue is not being addressed? What do you do about the porous borders?

DOBBS: This isn't a bone thrown to Americans, the 280 million legal citizens who live in the country. In point of fact, it appears to be a continuation of corporate America's domination over our political system, bringing in more cheap labor, providing no way in which to constrain future millions of illegal aliens from entering the country.

It continues the assault on our middle class in the labor market. Working men and women in this country are not going to be fooled by this nonsense. And to watch Senator Kennedy and Senator McCain congratulate themselves for what, at this hour -- now, they may find sincerity and depth of purpose and principle and actually secure our borders and come to terms with meaningful reform in the next 24 hours. I'm skeptical, I'm not cynical, but I'm skeptical.

WHITFIELD: And trying to be realistic all in the same breath, huh?

DOBBS: Always realistic, because the reality is, it's not a partisan world we live in. It's a nonpartisan, non-ideological reality, and the reality is millions and millions of our fellow citizens are suffering because they have to pay for the services, the social, educational and health care costs for illegal aliens.

And illegal employers, you'll notice there's no discussion here of making it a felony to hire an illegal alien or a significant penalty for hiring an illegal alien.

WHITFIELD: For a second we heard that argument.

DOBBS: Oh, it's -- the American people will not be fooled. We may be, once again, witnessing the victimization of our middle class, but there's going to be no doubt in the minds of the American people about the persons sitting on Capitol Hill, in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House, when they move to conference who are creating those victims.

WHITFIELD: All right. Lou Dobbs, thanks so much.

And, of course, more on the topic of immigration and everything else tonight and every night on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." Tune in at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN. Well, was it a mea culpa? Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney speaking up about her Capitol Hill scuffle. Hear what she has to say when LIVE FROM continues.


WHITFIELD: A surprise twist today in the saga of the congresswoman and the cop. After several days of portraying herself as the victim in a confrontation with a Capitol Hill Police officer, Georgia Democrat Cynthia McKinney says she's sorry for the misunderstanding. McKinney issued her apology on the House floor today.

CNN's Brian Todd joins us now from Washington.

And Brian, is McKinney's apology going to put an end to all of this?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That remains to be seen, Fredricka. Just moments ago I got off the phone with a member of Congress, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who was at a meeting last night, a meeting -- a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill that was called by Representative McKinney.

This member told me, not for retribution, that McKinney was told flat out at that meeting she had to apologize, that the members present said that this situation needed to be diffused and deescalated and that it was laid on the line for Ms. McKinney that she needed to apologize. So just about two hours ago on the House floor, you see the video there, here is what Mrs. McKinney said.


REP. CYNTHIA MCKINNEY (D), GEORGIA: There should not have been any physical contact in this incident. I have always supported law enforcement and will be voting for HR756, expressing my gratitude and appreciation to the professionalism and dedication of the men and women of the U.S. Capitol Police. I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all and I regret its escalation. And I apologize.


TODD: Now, other congressional sources have told us today that the Democratic leadership of the House was growing increasingly frustrated at the tone of this whole story and that so much attention was focused on McKinney and this incident when she had a scuffle with a Capitol Hill Police officer last week.

You heard that from McKinney just a moment ago.

Earlier today, we heard from the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, on McKinney's situation. This is what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Let me just say this on Cynthia McKinney, this is a matter that is under investigation. I have said that I don't see any conceivable reason why someone would strike a Capitol Police officer, and I have the greatest regard for the Capitol Police.

They protect us, they protect this Congress. They protect the people who visit here, our constituents, our staff. They protect the press who cover us. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.


TODD: S members of Congress weighing in on McKinney's situation. The political situation may have been addressed by the McKinney apology a short time ago. Does the legal situation have any ramification here? That is still unclear.

Law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation tell CNN that this investigation is continuing. They say it's unclear what impact, if any, her apology will have. No decision has been made on any possible charges.

Two eyewitnesses to this incident were scheduled to testify today before a grand jury at D.C. superior court here in Washington. One of them we're told is testifying this afternoon.

So, that is ongoing. We have not heard any result of that testimony. No decision has been made on charges. No decision will likely be made for at least a couple of days -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Brian Todd in Washington.

Thanks so much.

And of course we'll have more on McKinney's apology and any potential ramifications on "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer. That's today and every weeknight at 4:00 p.m. Eastern and again at 7:00 p.m. Eastern for the prime time edition.

The gospel of Judas. An ancient manuscript on the relationship between Jesus and Judas is stirring debate now. We'll get the details from our faith and values correspondent when LIVE FROM returns.


WHITFIELD: A real profile in courage and an example for her fellow soldiers. Army Reserve Sergeant 1st Class Juanita Wilson is one of 37 reservists re-enlisting later today on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Back in 20004, Sergeant Wilson lost part of her left arm when the convoy she was riding in near Baghdad struck an explosive device.

Sergeant Juanita Wilson joins me now from Washington to talk about her experience in Iraq and her decision to re-enlist.

Good to see you. SGT. 1ST CLASS JUANITA WILSON, U.S. ARMY RESERVE: Thank you for having me.

WHITFIELD: And congratulations on your recovery.

WILSON: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Now, a year after you were in Iraq, and then now eight months after your recovery, you've made a decision, a very conscientious decision that you want to re-enlist. Why?

WILSON: This is a very, very exciting day of my career. I wouldn't have it any other way. I knew from the moment that I was injured that I would continue serving my country.

WHITFIELD: Really? Not even for a moment did you say after your injury, you know what, I'm going to have to just focus on this recovery and no more military for me?

WILSON: Not even for a moment.


WILSON: Never.

WHITFIELD: What is it about the draw and what is it about being in the military that really is your lifeblood?

WILSON: Well, I'm a soldier. I love what I do. I love serving my country.

It's a proud moment. I'm very proud to wear the American uniform as an American soldier. And it's just indeed an honor to serve my country, as well as it is for my daughter to see that serving your country is the thing to do.

WHITFIELD: And your daughter's 7 years old. Kenya (ph) was very much a part of the decision that you made to re-enlist, along with your husband, Charles. How important is it for you, do you feel like, to be an example for your daughter, to see the kind of commitment that you are carrying through?

WILSON: The commitment that I'm carrying through is very important for me. I want my daughter to know in life that, no matter what happens to you or what challenges you face in this life, that you can still reach the sky.

I taught my daughter that the sky is the limit. I want her to see that there are no inabilities, that you may have some challenges in life, but if you struggle and you keep your head up, that you will make it to the top.

WHITFIELD: And your challenges are not over. Tell me what your recovery even post-release from the hospital has been like for you. You know, how you're feeling these days. WILSON: Well, most of the time I'm -- well, I'm a happy individual, anyway. My recovery at Walter Reed has been outstanding. I feel, first of all, that the Army has provided me with the top of the line, if I can use that word. They've provided me with the best of equipment.

They have equipped me to go forward as an amputee. I'm very proud of what I've accomplished. I'm more grateful for what my country has provided for me to continue my service and to take care of my family.

My prosthetic is, like I said, one of best prosthetics out there. I don't see myself as a disabled soldier. I have one or two inabilities, but I'm able to do pretty much everything I did before.

WHITFIELD: And now you are also showing that you are even more able, more fit to really be that source of inspiration and help the other amputees and other casualties of war by re-enlisting and now working directly, right, at Walter Reed with a lot of people there. So you have an idea, you have a firsthand knowledge of the things that people need as amputees.

What do you believe that you'll be able to bring to the table to help the other soldiers in their recovery that perhaps was not there for you?

WILSON: Well, you know, at this very moment, and I'm very happy to say this, that I can't think of anything at the moment that wasn't there for me. And I think that's what encourages me to go forth and help the other soldiers and encourage them that they can make it through the trying days.

When I came into Walter Reed from the 25th of August until the present day, all of my senior leaders that has crossed my path has taken great care of me, and I'm very proud of that. And for that I will be eternally grateful. And I know that to the next soldier that's coming behind me.

WHITFIELD: Well, you're an incredible source of inspiration and we thank you for your service and your commitment.

Sergeant 1st Class Juanita Wilson.

And congratulations for re-enlisting today.

WILSON: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And we thank you for that.

Meantime, President Bush says he won't be moved on Iraq. The issue as a whole, his latest defense of the war took place today in North Carolina today during a speech to the World Affairs Council of Charlotte.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: They can't shake my nerve. They just can't shake it. So long as I think I'm doing right thing and so long as we can win, I'm going to leave our kids there because it's necessary for the security of the country. If I didn't think that we could win, I'd pull them out. You've just got to know that. I cannot sit with the mothers and fathers of our troops in harm's way and not feel like victory is necessary and victory will be achieved.


WHITFIELD: The president did face sharp criticism from one member of the audience who blasted a number of administration policies, including the government's warrantless surveillance program. The president said he authorized the program to protect the American people and he will not apologize for that.

Well, they are names that Biblical scholars of all ages and backgrounds are familiar with: Judas and Jesus. But how much is known about the two men? New revelations. We'll be bringing them to you next on LIVE FROM.