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Some Top Democrats Calling New Senate Report On Iraq Devastating Indictment of Bush Administration; President Bush Prepares For Fifth Anniversary of 9/11; New 9/11 Poll Numbers; Michael Chertoff Interview

Aired September 08, 2006 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, new ammunition for the political war over Iraq. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington, where a new Senate report revisits pre-war intelligence failings, and there were many of them. But it also explores this question: was Saddam Hussein in cahoots with al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq?

Also this hour, the president's plans for 9/11, revealed. Will his primetime address to the nation help ease the pain of the fifth anniversary, or will it make the date even more political? We'll set the stage with the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff. He'll join us live here in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Also, Bill Clinton speaking out about the "Path to 9/11," urging ABC to tell the truth about the miniseries. The controversy over the miniseries is intensifying and driving an even bigger wedge between the left and the right. We'll have our own debate about the facts and fall-out.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Some top Democrats are calling a new Senate report on Iraq a devastating indictment of the Bush administration. But the White House insist there's nothing new in the study of pre-war intelligence. In the long awaited report, the Senate Intelligence Committee found no evidence -- no evidence -- Saddam Hussein's regime had any ties to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the Iraqi al Qaeda leader who was killed by a U.S. airstrike this summer.

The committee also looked at inaccurate pre-war intelligence provided by the U.S. -- to the U.S., that is -- by the anti-Saddam exile group the Iraqi National Congress and its then leader, Ahmed Chalabi.

Our Kathleen Koch is traveling with the president in Kansas City, Missouri.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel. She's got latest details on this Senate Intelligence Committee report -- Andrea. ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the first part of the Intelligence Committee's investigation looked at how the intelligence community made a variety of mistakes leading up to the invasion of Iraq, regarding Iraq's WMD. This is only part now of the Senate Intelligence Committee's exhaustive investigation into the use of pre-war intelligence leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

One chapter in this more than 350-page report concludes that Iraq's former president, Saddam Hussein, had no relationship with al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi. It also concludes that there is no reliable evidence that one of the former 9/11 hijackers, Muhammad Atta, ever met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague.

A second chapter concludes that Iraqi exiles, including the very well known former head of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi, that they went out of their way to mislead the U.S. intelligence community about Saddam Hussein's efforts to develop WMD. Democrats, as you said, called it a devastating indictment of the Bush administration, and said that they were making misleading comments linking Saddam Hussein to Iraq, the group responsible for 9/11.


SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Most disturbingly, the administration, in its zeal to promote public opinion in the United States for toppling Saddam Hussein, pursued a deceptive strategy prior to the war of using intelligence reporting that the community -- intelligence community warned was uncorroborated, unreliable, and in critical instances, fabricated.

The committee has uncovered information in its investigation that shows that the administration ignored warnings prior to the war about the veracity of the intelligence trumpeted publicly to support its case that Iraq was an imminent threat to the security of the United States.


KOPPEL: But in a written statement, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, fired back, accusing Democrats of playing politics, saying, quote, "Unfortunately my colleagues continue to use the committee to try and rewrite history, insisting that they were deliberately duped into supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime. This is simply not true. And I believe the American people are smart enough to recognize election year politicking when they see it."

Now, what still remains to be completed is a potentially much more controversial examination of the public comments made by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other members of the Bush administration. And this is ahead of the Iraq war, comparing it with the evidence that was provided to them by the intelligence community.

Wolf, Democrats are accusing Republicans of playing politics here, too, saying that part of the report probably won't be released until after the November elections -- Wolf. BLITZER: Andrea Koppel reporting for us. Andrea, thank you very much.

Many Americans, by the way, still think Saddam Hussein did have ties to al Qaeda. Our new poll out this week shows 43 percent say the Iraqi leader was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks. More than half, 52 percent, say Saddam was not involved in the attacks on America five years ago, a finding supported by the 9/11 Commission and by this latest Senate Intelligence Committee report, saying Saddam Hussein had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 and had no contacts with al Qaeda, either in Iraq or elsewhere. Very, very strong words coming from this Senate Intelligence Committee report.

Let's get the White House reaction now to this report, even as the president prepares for the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Kathleen Koch is traveling with the president. She's joining us from Kansas City, Missouri, right now.

What is the reaction, Kathleen?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, right now let me tell you the president is on his way here to Kansas City, where he is going to be speaking to the second of two fundraisers he's addressing today for a Republican senatorial candidate. But as -- when it comes to the reaction, the White House reaction to this critical Iraq report, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow really made short business of it, saying, quote, "it's nothing new."


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In 2002 and 2003, members of both parties got a good look at the intelligence we had. And they came to the very same conclusions about what was going on. And it's one of the things that I think drew Americans together, it's one of the reasons why you had overwhelming majorities in the United States Senate and House for taking action against Saddam Hussein. You know, both sides were looking at the same intelligence and coming to the same conclusions.


KOCH: Now, Tony Snow said that the administration will, quote, "let people quibble over three years ago. The important thing to do is figure out what you're doing tomorrow." So, Wolf, the administration clearly downplaying this report, that does come from a Republican-led committee.

Back to you.

BLITZER: What about Monday night? The president has decided to give a primetime address to the nation. What's behind that?

KOCH: Well, Wolf, you know, the president will Monday be very busy. He'll be attending ceremonies both in New York City, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and also at the Pentagon. But the president won't be speaking at any of those very somber, solemn events. So the president will be, instead, making this primetime address at 9:00 p.m.

And spokesman Tony Snow says this will not be a political speech. This will be very reflective. The president will look back on the lessons that the nation has learned from 9/11, from the terrorist attacks, and how the nation can continue to move forward. And it's expected to last some 16 to 18 minutes.

BLITZER: All right. Kathleen, thanks very much. And this programming note to our viewers. I'll be right here in THE SITUATION ROOM to bring you live coverage of the president's address, marking five years since the 9/11 attacks. That coverage Monday night 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific, right here on CNN.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats are refusing to sit back and let President Bush get the last word on the 9/11 anniversary, national security or the war in Iraq. They know their fight to regain control of the Congress may depend on it.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, all week long, Democrats have been churning out legislation, letters, report after report like this one that they just released, which says that the Bush administration has failed to implement many of the recommendations given by the 9/11 Commission. And it's all part of a strategy to try to blunt what has been the GOP's big edge since 9/11.


BASH (voice-over): You can't turn a corner on Capitol Hill without hearing a Democrat say something like this.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MINORITY WHIP: We are not as safe as we should be.

BASH: Democrats returned from summer recess determined to hit Republicans where they hope it will hurt most -- their biggest strength, national security. And it has been a week of rapid-fire attacks. Monday, senior Democrats wrote this letter asking the president to consider changing the civilian leadership at the defense department. Tuesday, a report on what they called Bush national security failures.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.) (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In plain language, invading Iraq was a mistake. A strategic blunder.

BASH: Wednesday, an ill-fated Senate resolution calling for Donald Rumsfeld to resign.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: And at the center of so many of the wrong calls, the misjudgments, the strategic blunders, has been the secretary of defense.

BASH: Thursday, this response to the president's dramatic announcement high profile terror suspects should be tried by military commissions Congress must set up.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MINORITY LEADER: He's had years to bring these murderers to justice. And he has waited until now, two months before the election. It's a cynical but typical move from the campaigner in chief.

BASH: The dizzying number of Democratic events are aimed at competing with the president's election year megaphone. He's telling Americans that Republicans, not Democrats, are going to keep them safe. The Democratic party chairman says it's a strategy for an out of past mistakes.

HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATL. COMTE: To be honest with you, I think the Democrats used to run and hide when this kind of stuff used to come up.

BASH: And Republicans are making sure national security comes up.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: The bill before us now will provide the structure and resources necessary to strengthen our seaports vulnerabilities.

BASH: From port security to border security, to military commissions to NSA surveillance, September's calendar is filled with national security measures, Republicans hope to take back on the campaign trail as accomplishments, while they slam Democrats as obstructionists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well the defeatocrats is pretty good name for the Democrats I think at this juncture.


BASH: Now in the past, Democrats did block security related measures and they did pay a political price. For example, in 2002, right before the election, Democrats blocked the Homeland Security Bill and Republicans were able to beat even veterans like Max Cleland by saying that he was weak on defense. So that's why the strategy this year is when the security measures come up, Wolf, expect most Democrats to vote yes.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you. Dana Bash on the hill.

The 9/11 anniversary is so political in part because it is still so emotional. Many Americans feel the pain and the anger that all of us felt on that horrible day, even more so than some might think. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider has some brand new poll numbers. Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, they say time heals all wounds. They are wrong.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Have the wounds even started to heal? Not when alleged terrorist plotters are arrested in London.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: It's so important that we use this as a reminder that we're at war. This is not a law enforcement activity. We're at war.

SCHNEIDER: Like Mayor Giuliani most Americans have not gotten over their anger. One year after 9/11 about two-thirds of Americans said they felt angry when they thought about it and five years after, nearly three-quarters now say they feel angry. The government issues scary warnings.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We also must continue to guard against infiltration of this country by international terrorists, international terrorists who have the capability and the intent to cause real damage to the functioning of this country.

SCHNEIDER: One year after 9/11, 31 percent of Americans said they felt fear when they thought about the attacks. Five years after the attacks, that numbers is up to 44 percent.

One year after 9/11, nearly half the public expressed a desire for vengeance. Osama bin Laden is still out there. Only now are some of the terrorists being brought to trial.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will continue to bring the world's most dangerous terrorists to justice.

SCHNEIDER: The desire for vengeance is about the same five years later. Do Americans believe the country will ever completely return to normal? No, a view shared by more and more people. One year after 9/11, 54 percent felt the country would never get back to normal. Now, five years after the attacks, 70 percent believe the country will never return to normal.


SCHNEIDER: One year after 9/11, it was an easy, glib assessment to say things will never be the same. Five years later, it sounds like the bitter truth. Wolf?

BLITZER: Bill, thank you very much.

Bill Schneider, Dana Bash, Kathleen Koch, Andrea Koppel, they are all part of the best political team on television. CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

In the lead-up to the 9/11 anniversary CNN will replay its widely praised documentary "In The Footsteps of bin Laden" this weekend. It airs tomorrow night and Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 Pacific. And on Monday you can go online and see all of CNN's original coverage of the 9/11 attacks, uncut and unedited, as it happened. That's on CNN Pipeline. That begins at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Monday morning.

Jack Cafferty has the day off. Jack and the Cafferty File will be back on Monday. Up next this hour a powerful blast rocks the capital of Afghanistan. We'll have the latest on a very deadly day in Kabul as well as in Baghdad.

Plus, is the battle for Congress just an appetizer for the main course? That would be the next race for the White House.

Later, what happens if the Democrats take over Congress? Would they investigate President Bush? Would they go even farther? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's check in with Zain Verjee for a closer look at some other important stories making news. Hi Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi Wolf, the Taliban is taking responsibility for today's suicide bomb attack in Kabul. The blast went off near the U.S. embassy, killing two U.S. soldiers and at least 11 civilians. It was the second fatal bombing this week directed at coalition forces in the Afghan capital. CNN's Anderson Cooper is in Kabul and we're going to bring you a full report from him in the next hour.

Two people were killed and six wounded when a roadside bomb targeting police went off in Baghdad today. A bomb blast south of Baghdad today killed one U.S. soldier and west of Baghdad a bomb struck an Iraqi army convoy, killing four Iraqi soldiers. Meanwhile, police found 14 bodies dumped in various parts of the city.

At least 31 people are dead and some 100 injured after bombs went off outside a mosque in western India. The two bombs were attached to bicycles and they were rigged also to explode as worshipers were leaving afternoon prayers. Thousands of police are now patrolling the city of Malegaon and officials have placed it under a curfew to prevent revenge attacks.

Lebanon's ports are opened for business again after Israel lifted its naval blockade of the country. Lebanese officials say the two- month long blockade cost the country up to $50 million a day. Four Italian naval vessels are patrolling the coast until a U.N. force can take charge. Israel says it will pull the last of its troops out of the south within two weeks.

Police in New York think that they have an escaped fugitive cornered. They believe 44-year-old Ralph "Bucky" Phillips is hiding in a wooded are along the New York/Pennsylvania state line. Police evacuated a nearby golf course and locked down two schools. Phillips is believed to have killed two officers and wounded a third since he escaped from a New York State prison last April.

At the 11th hour, NASA pulls back. The agency canceled today's scheduled of the Space Shuttle Atlantis less than an hour before it was scheduled to lift off. Officials say one of the shuttle's troublesome fuel sensors is malfunctioning. NASA's going to try again to launch at 11:15 tomorrow morning. Now, if that fails, it will be October before they try again -- Wolf. BLITZER: Have they rescheduled it yet, Zain?

VERJEE: They rescheduled it, Wolf.

BLITZER: They did -- OK, thanks. Thank you.

Up next, there's no let-up in the fight over ABC's 9/11 docudrama. A major player from the Clinton administration speaks out about the controversy right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, a new report say there is was no connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq. Will this add new ammunition for the political war over the war? Find out in today's "Strategy Session." Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

In our "Strategy Session" today, the uproar over the ABC miniseries "The Path to 9/11." Two days before it is scheduled to air, ABC says it is still editing the part fact, part fiction movie on events leading up to the terror attacks. But the network won't discuss any specific scenes that may be changed.

Former Clinton administration officials charge the film drastically distorts their roles, and history should be corrected or even pulled. Former President Bill Clinton acknowledges he hasn't seen the film but he shared his concerns about it with reporters last night in Arkansas.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think they ought to tell the truth, particularly if they're going to claim it's based on a 9/11 Commission report. They shouldn't have scenes which are directly contradicted by the factual findings of the 9/11 Commission. That's all. I just want people to tell the truth, you know, and not to pretend it's something it's not.


BLITZER: Joining us now are CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Terry Jeffrey, the editor of Human Events Online. You worked for President Clinton. You served in the administration. I take it you have not seen the film.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, but you know what is interesting? Rush Limbaugh has and Bill Clinton has not. That suggests that there's a political agenda here, that ABC and the Walt Disney Company are trying to boost ratings or I don't know what they're agenda is.

But when you don't show the movie to Bill Clinton who is featured, many people believe, dishonestly in the film, but you've showed it to Rush Limbaugh? What possible historical value or input can you get from showing to a right wing radio blowhard?

BLITZER: You have a thought on this?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, HUMAN EVENTS ONLINE: Well, I think they're showing it to other people in the media to get reviews. There are newspapers that are reviewed this. Let me say this. I think the Clinton people have a point to an extent. ABC should not be putting words in the mouths of people that they didn't say. They shouldn't be attributing actions to people that they didn't take.

But if you look at the 9/11 report, Wolf, and correlate it with the reports about what is in the movie they seem to have taken a little bit of dramatic license, but there is real things that went on. In 1998 and 1999, there were three plans to take out bin Laden by the Clinton administration. Two of them were terminated before they took place. One of them failed. That was when they fired the missiles into Afghanistan.

I understand that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has said that they attributed to her warning the Pakistani government. That's not what the 9/11 Commission report says, but our government did, in fact, warn the Pakistani government. And there's a real question of whether or not the Pakistanis ...


BLITZER: Well, they didn't exactly warn the Pakistanis. They sent over the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Ralston, to Pakistan to be with the top military leadership once the missiles were going so that there would be no confusion these missiles weren't coming from India arrival. They said don't worry. These are ours and that was the way it happened. Apparently it's not depicted like that in the film.

JEFFREY: Right. And it should have been depicted like that. And I will tell you another thing about the 9/11 report. If you read it, you look at chapter four that has these incidents, the principles gave conflicting stories to the 9/11 Commission report itself.

For example, allegedly in the movie there's a scene where some CIA people were with some Afghan tribals, they're thinking about capturing Osama bin Laden. In fact, in May of 1998 the Clinton administration was putting a plan together to capture Osama bin Laden in a place called Tarnak Farms.

The CIA thought they could do it, like they had taken Veramil Consey (ph) out of that region. It was, in fact, terminated by the Clinton White House. Some people thought Berger was responsible. George Tenet took credit for it.

BLITZER: The 9/11 Commission report says it was terminated by George Tenet ...

JEFFREY: He took credit for it.

BLITZER: ...but not Sandy Berger which apparently what the movie suggests. Now, if you're Sandy Berger or Madeleine Albright and you're depicted in ways that make you look bad, you're going to be pretty upset about this.

BEGALA: I'm going to sue them. It's defamatory. This -- Terry is right. There's a whole lot of ground to cover. You know, I don't think anybody could make a movie about this. Who does needs to make stuff up. Plenty of mistakes on the part of our government, the Clinton administration, the Bush administration, plenty of heroic actions and people like Richard Clarke who served in both administrations trying desperately to stop bin Laden before he attacked us.

They don't need to be making stuff up. And this is about the integrity of the Walt Disney Corporation.


BEGALA: And the outrageous -- I just think it's all about this corporation misserving our citizens.

BLITZER: Well, here's my sense why they made it available to conservatives, to Republicans, to Governor Tom Kean, who is going to be joining us in the next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the former chairman of the 9/11 Commission, and not to Democrats as much or to liberals in the weeks leading up to this, because of what happened to CBS on that movie about Ronald Reagan a couple of years back when conservatives and Republicans were very critical.

CBS eventually pulled it. It aired on Showtime and had a much smaller audience. And I think ABC was probably trying to preempt that kind of reaction from the right as a result they tried to ...

BEGALA: It's still unfair and biased. And I went back, actually, to Terry's magazine, "Human Events," which, even though I'm a liberal, which may kill your subscription, it's a lively magazine, it's a smart magazine.

JEFFREY: That's absolutely right.

BEGALA: And I went back and looked at the review that you guys did of the Reagan miniseries. Back when I was doing "Crossfire" we had debated it then. Michael Reagan wrote the review. OK, and he said it was a shameful fictionalization, but in the whole review even Michael Reagan couldn't cite factual flaws the way just Terry cited, two or three factual flaws.


BEGALA: I watched the movie when it aired on Showtime. It was unfair. It was an unfair depiction of Nancy Reagan.


JEFFREY: They put words in the mouth of Ronald Reagan that he not only didn't say, he never should have said. And I agree, that should not be done to Sandy Berger. It should not be done to Madeleine Albright. But if you look at the 9/11 report, Wolf, and read the footnotes too, in all of these stories you had conflicting reports about what actually happened.

The guys from the CIA say one thing. The guys from the military say something. Richard Clarke says another thing. George Tenet says another thing. It's really up to someone with a critical eye to make up their own mind what actually happened because you have conflicting stories told to the commission.

BEGALA: It's up to Robert Iger, Bob Iger, who is the CEO of the Walt Disney Corporation. It's up to George Mitchell, the former Democratic senate majority leader who is the chairman of the Walt Disney Corporation to tell the truth. And they're telling their viewer that this is based on the 9/11 Commission report, and it's not.

BLITZER: By the way, we just got a letter signed by Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, Sandy Berger, the former national security to Bill Clinton.

And, in their letter to Governor Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, one of the co-executive producers of this film, they urge him. They say, "We ask that you use your influence to persuade ABC to withdraw the broadcast altogether."

In other words, they don't just want changes.

BEGALA: Right.

BLITZER: They want to see this film off the air.

BEGALA: Absolutely, because it defames people who served our country honorably. It makes stuff up.

There's been tons of coverage. How many hours, I mean, hundreds of hours, have you spent covering the 9/11 Commission and its report.

Terry just cited it a couple of times. There's a best-selling book out now. People can find that.

JEFFREY: Paul...

BLITZER: All right.

BEGALA: But when -- when you take it and fictionalize it...


BEGALA: ... and lie about people, as Walt Disney...


BEGALA: ... Bob Iger, is doing, I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

JEFFREY: On page four -- chapter four, page 113 of the 9/11 Commission report, it says that this attempt where they were going to capture bin Laden in the Tarnak Farms, they're talking about why it was called off.

In the discussion of that, they say that Sandy Berger was worried that they would not have the evidence to convict bin Laden to be acquitted. That scene epitomizes what was wrong with the U.S. approach to al Qaeda under the Clinton administration and the early part of the Bush administration.


JEFFREY: We approached these murderous terrorists as if it was a law enforcement problem, rather than a foreign enemy that had attacked us and was bent on killing innocent civilians. That's in the report.

BEGALA: We launched dozens of cruise missiles.


BEGALA: We had lots of covert operations, many of which were later revealed in the 9/11 Commission.

There was a whole lot that the Clinton administration did, a whole lot more than the Bush administration did. Did they do enough? No. We should have killed him.

JEFFREY: But, look...

BEGALA: And we should have killed him in the five years since he has attacked the country.

JEFFREY: Here's...


BEGALA: But we should -- I think what we can agree on is that the Disney Company, ABC, is being grossly irresponsible...


BEGALA: ... by putting on something...


BEGALA: ... that is a lie.

JEFFREY: If they put false words in people's mouths, they should take that out.

BEGALA: Not just false words. They create whole scenes.

JEFFREY: But that doesn't...


BEGALA: Not just false words.

JEFFREY: If they put scenes in there that did not take place, that distort history, they shouldn't be...


BEGALA: The star of the movie, Harvey Keitel, said...


JEFFREY: That does not mean -- that does not mean they have to cancel the whole show. You don't know.

BLITZER: All right.

JEFFREY: You haven't seen it. And you...

BEGALA: But that -- isn't there something wrong with the fact that they haven't shown it to Bill Clinton, but they're showing it to gasbag Limbaugh?


BLITZER: Guys, we got...

BEGALA: I mean, come on. This is a setup job.

BLITZER: We got to leave it right here. We will see what ABC does Sunday night and Monday night, when these two parts of this miniseries are scheduled to air. We will see what happens. Good discussion.

Thanks very much.

BEGALA: Thanks a lot.

BLITZER: We will have more on this story and on Iraq and the war on terror.

This weekend, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, will be among my guests on CNN's "LATE EDITION." I will also be joined by Senator, former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. "LATE EDITION" airs 11:00 a.m. Eastern. We go on for two hours. We start at 11:00 a.m. with Condoleezza Rice. We also continue for another hour at 12 noon, until 1:00 p.m., with John Kerry -- "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

Up next: the midterm elections, the battle for Congress raging. But is the real fight still to come?

Plus: Should President Bush be worried if the Democrats retake Capitol Hill? Do you think he would face -- get this -- impeachment, if Congress changes hands?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On the campaign trail, you can practically feel the adrenaline pumping, the election now less than two months away. Or is that two years and two months? The '06 campaign is, in many ways, a warm-up act for the main event, the wide-open, high-stakes presidential showdown in 2008.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, will be following both elections every step of the way.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the end, the '06 election will be the beginning.

DICK GEPHARDT, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Well, it's kind of the -- the starting gun going over off for '08. And, so, everyone that has been looking at it, thinking about it, perusing it, has to make a decision almost the day or the week after '06.

CROWLEY: Attention, presidential candidates. The days of playing coy are dwindling down to a precious few. This man knows where of he speaks. Less than six weeks after the last midterm election, Dick Gephardt was off and running for president. After all, there was only two years left.

GEPHARDT: If you're not in the mix, you can get far behind, just like a foot race, because the early runners will get way out ahead, have the infrastructure in place, the relationships, everything that you need to run a presidential race.

CROWLEY: But '06 is more than a launchpad for wannabes. It's a road map, bread crumbs from voters marking a path to the White House.

JACKIE KOSZCZUK, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": John Kerry and Hillary Clinton and all those prominent Democrats so situated in the Senate to be even contemplating presidential runs have to be looking at the results of '06 to hear, what are people trying to tell us on the -- on the war?

CROWLEY: Right now, the latest poll from CNN and Opinion Research Corporation shows, 41 percent of Democrats will not support a candidate who voted for the Iraq war.

Since that eliminates nearly every Democrat ogling the White House, expect '06 to force some Democrats into what is known in the trade as repositioning.

KOSZCZUK: Two years is a long time to be able to say, yes, I supported the president then, but now I see, and, you know, I have got this vision for getting us out of this -- this situation in Iraq.

CROWLEY: Even the makeup of Congress will play into the '08 race. Even though Americans say they prefer Democratic candidates over Republicans, 70 percent expect a Democratic Congress and a Republican president would create stalemate. And, mostly, they are right.

GEPHARDT: Holding one house, or even two houses, when the president is of the other party, really is not a prescription for an elaborate or an energetic legislative program.

CROWLEY: Divided government is no way to make law, but it's a great petri dish for campaigns. Look for the 10 to 12 lawmakers thinking about running for president to begin launching trial balloons from the Senate floor, testing out campaign agendas, before taking it on the road.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: Let's bring back our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, any interesting -- other interesting little facts that came out of the poll that Candy just mentioned?

SCHNEIDER: Well, do people think it would be good or bad for the country if Democrats gained control of Congress and conducted investigations of what the Bush administration has done in the past six years?

Good idea, the public says, 57 to 41 percent. But do they think President Bush should be impeached and removed from office? No, by better than 2-1. Those numbers are almost the same as they were for President Clinton in 1998. Twenty-nine percent wanted to impeach Clinton then. Thirty percent want to impeach Bush now -- but, you know, probably not the same people.

BLITZER: It's Friday. That means you got "Your Play of the Week."

What do you have in mind?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Congress came back from vacation this week with a lot of things on its agenda. But the House acted right away on one bill, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.

It outlaws the slaughtering of horses for human consumption, almost entirely outside the United States -- one of the key forces behind the vote, the perfect "10," actress and horse lover Bo Derek, who lobbied members, visited the Republican breakfast caucus, and watched from the gallery as Congress voted.

Now, the Bush administration opposed the ban, arguing that it was a humane way to deal with unwanted animals. "We have serious concerns" -- this is a quote -- "that the welfare of these horses would be negatively impacted by a ban on slaughter," the secretary of agriculture said.

In the end, the ban prevailed, 263-146. It was a bipartisan vote. Ms. Derek achieved bipartisanship. Now maybe she will stick around and do the same thing with Congress on energy and immigration. And how about that federal budget? Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect she won't have that much luck on those issues, Bill. Thank you very much. Bill Schneider and Candy Crowley are part of the best political team on television.

Up next: California's governor apologizing for some private remarks about a Latino lawmaker. But will it be enough to get him out of hot water? The story in our "Political Radar."

Also coming up in the next hour: Did officials rushing to save victims of the World Trade Center attack sacrifice the health of the rescuers? Mary Snow is looking into the story. She will have details.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee's campaign says his Web site was hacked. The moderate Chafee is in a tight primary race in Rhode Island against conservative Steve Laffey. It's the second time we have seen a campaign site go offline right before a primary election.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, an intentional act of foul play, that's how it was characterized by a spokesman for the campaign of Lincoln Chafee.

For a few hours yesterday, the campaign Web site was down, their e-mail inaccessible. The FBI is now investigating. Now, the -- the senator's campaign staff says they think they know who was behind this. They make it clear that they do not think this was politically motivated.

The Web site was very quickly put back online again by the campaign. Now, you may recall that, last month, on the eve of the Connecticut Democratic primary, Senator Joe Lieberman's Web site went down. At the time, a Lieberman spokesman called it "a coordinated attack by our political opponents," charges his opponent, now Democratic nominee Ned Lamont called scurrilous. His campaign is demanding an apology.

The Connecticut attorney general is still investigating that incident. Senator Lieberman's own Web site went back online this week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi.

Coming up, the secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, he is standing by live. Can he convince all of us that we're safer today than we were five years ago? We will talk security, politics five years after 9/11 with the secretary.

And in our next hour: an exclusive report from the Pakistani border with Afghanistan. Is everything that can be done being done to track down Taliban fighters and Osama bin Laden?


BLITZER: As we near the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, many questions are being asked.

For many Americans, though, there is one overriding issue: Are we now safer than we were five years ago on that day the nation changed forever?

Joining us now is the secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff.

Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Some nuts and bolts first.

A lot of Americans are wondering, Monday, is this a day they want to be flying in an airplane?

CHERTOFF: Well, history, or experience, shows that the terrorists do not necessarily pick anniversary dates as the dates to do operations. They tend to plan, and then conduct an operation when the planning has been completed.

So, I wouldn't be concerned about a massive terrorist attack. But we always have to be careful in an anniversary, because you may get some disturbed individual or someone who is sympathetic to a terrorist cause who decides they want to make a statement, much as we saw in Seattle, I think, a couple months ago, when an individual went in and shot some people outside a Jewish community center.

So, I think it is always wise to be vigilant for -- particularly for the oddball who wants to take some kind of action. But we're not seeing any particular reason to elevate our posture for this September 11.

BLITZER: Because some analysts have suggested, with this latest Osama bin Laden video that was released yesterday, old video showing him five years ago, before 9/11, with some of his cohorts, that that could be a signal to others to do something.

CHERTOFF: Well, we always analyze any tape -- and there have now been quite a number of tapes -- that come out of bin Laden or Zawahiri, in order to see whether there's a coded message.

But the fact that they release something on an anniversary is really a propaganda issue. And I don't think we ought to let them play with our heads. Obviously, there was an effort last month to mount an attack. That was frustrated. And it's understandable that they may want to put themselves on the board by doing something with propaganda value.

So, while we will analyze this, I don't see any reason, at least at this point, as we sit here, to suggest there's a particular danger on Monday.

BLITZER: What would be wrong, because your predecessor used to do it around big occasions, Tom Ridge, with raising the security threat level, from yellow up higher? Would there be a downside to doing that, out of an abundance of caution?

CHERTOFF: Well, for one thing, we have generally raised the posture of our security over the last several years, so that our regular steady state of yellow is now in fact much more secure than it was three years ago.

And, therefore, the need to take steps that might have been necessary when my predecessor was in office, and more understandable, are no longer necessary, given the steady state in which we find ourselves.

BLITZER: So, you're -- there's no change -- no consideration being given right now to raise the threat level?

CHERTOFF: You know, absent something that comes to our attention in the period of time between when I leave this show and 9/11, I don't anticipate something.

But, you know, one thing I have to say, Wolf, is, these things can change in a moment. So, if something should arise that caused us to think we needed to take some additional steps, of course, we would do so immediately.

BLITZER: Let me get back to my first question. Would you advise your loved ones to fly on Monday?

CHERTOFF: Absolutely. I mean, I wouldn't be more hesitant about flying on Monday than I would be any other day.


BLITZER: Even taking a flight to New York, shall we say, or to Washington, D.C.?

CHERTOFF: I would not hesitate to fly or go about normal activities on Monday, in the same way that I would on any other day.

BLITZER: That British threat, that plot that was aborted, the alleged plot, a few weeks ago, are you convinced right now that all of the loose ends, all of the elements of that plot have been rounded up?

CHERTOFF: Well, the home secretary said some weeks ago that they believed they had found and arrested the main players. And I have no reason to doubt that.

But I also know there was a significant amount of material that was discovered in searches. That material is being reviewed. We are looking at that material ourselves. And, therefore, we are continuing to pursue all of the threads and loose ends. And I'm not in a position to say that there isn't something else out there. And that's one of the reasons we continue to maintain our -- our aviation level at orange.

BLITZER: Are you in a position to say now what you couldn't say a few weeks ago, that -- that you know this was an al Qaeda-related event?

CHERTOFF: The constraint we have, Wolf, is the British legal system.

And I think, if I were to say something that's beyond what the British have said, I would be running the risk of putting their case in jeopardy. That's the last thing I want to do.

But I will repeat what I said then. The plot had the hallmarks of an al Qaeda plot. And it certainly resembled a 1994 plot that was planned by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

BLITZER: Here's the nightmare that a lot of people are worried about, not only average people out there, but analysts in the U.S. government, in the intelligence community, the law enforcement community, that al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, or some splinter group gets their hand on weapons of mass destruction, maybe even some sort of nuclear device. They come into an American port in a container cargo, and blow it up.

At this point, five years after 9/11, not 100 percent of the cargo in the containers is being inspected.

CHERTOFF: Well, 80 percent of it goes -- 80 -- by the end of this year, 80 percent will go through radiation portal monitors.

In addition, any container that is unknown to us, that we have reason to believe is not completely validated, is opened up. And 80 percent of those are opened up overseas, before they even get on to a ship.

So, we have actually put into place some very, very robust and tough security measures at the ports. A terrorist who was trying to sneak a weapon in would be very ill-advised to try to use a ship container, because the chances of our intercepting that are very high.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, a lot of Democrats are suggesting that this is the glaring failure of this administration, that it hasn't been put in place yet that 100 percent of that cargo is inspected.

CHERTOFF: Well, we have to be clear.

We are going to be screening, through radiation detectors, 100 percent, or close to 100 percent, by the end of the year next year, not just at the seaports, but at the land ports as well. We also analyze all of the containers, in terms of intelligence, in terms of what we know about the shipper and the destination. And anything that is high-risk, we actually physically open. So, all that is virtually done.

Now, those people who say, well, you have got to physically inspect every container, my answer to them is, that would be the fastest way to shut our ports, because it is not physically possible to open every container of the millions that come into the U.S. And that would give bin Laden the victory he wants, because what he said years ago was: I want to bankrupt the American economy.

And we should not do his job for him.

BLITZER: Michael Chertoff is the secretary of homeland security.

Let's hope this day and the rest of these days go by very peacefully.

CHERTOFF: Wolf, good to be here.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.

Up next: A private comment brings public criticism for the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. But can a public apology get him out of the political hot water? Right now, our "Political Radar" tracks the developments.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On our "Political Radar" this Friday: The California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is apologizing for suggesting Latinos are naturally feisty and temperamental.

He told reporters today that, reading his own words in "The Los Angeles Times," his words made him cringe. Schwarzenegger's remarks were captured on a six-minute taped from a closed-door meeting from his advisers back in March.

Here's an excerpt of the tape, when the governor was talking about a Latina state lawmaker.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: She's either Puerto Rican, or the same thing as Cuban. I mean, they are all very hot. They have the -- you know, part of the black blood in them, and part of the -- the Latino blood in them, that together makes it."


BLITZER: Our Jeanne Moos is going to have much more on this story. That's coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In the battle for Congress, some candidates are calling for a cease-fire on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In Pennsylvania, Republican Senator Rick Santorum and his Democratic challenger, Bob Casey, reportedly plan to yank their campaign commercials from the airwaves on Monday. The two have been in an all- out air war in what is considered to be one of the nation's most competitive races.