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Sunday

Election 2000: FBI Widens Probe Into Stolen Bush Debate Tape; Bush and Gore Prepare For Debates

Aired October 1, 2000 - 5:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: Back here at home, the FBI is engaged in a high-level investigation into how and why confidential material from the Bush presidential campaign wound up in the hands of a Gore adviser. The probe appears to be widening just two days before the first presidential debate in Boston.

CNN's Kate Snow has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Well, once again, Mr. Vice President, you've...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I give up.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As George W. Bush took on a senatorial stand-in for Al Gore in mock debates, his campaign was taking on another issue: the FBI is intensifying its investigation into who sent a debate briefing book and a videotape of Bush to a member of Vice President Al Gore's team earlier this month.

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: We have been assured by the person in charge of the FBI, the director of the FBI, that the FBI will conduct a thorough investigation, and no one wants to know more who took our debate materials than people who support Governor Bush.

SNOW: But a senior law enforcement official tells CNN the FBI is looking at the possibility the tape may have been sent by someone inside the Bush campaign. The investigation is now focused on an employee of this company, Maverick Media, run by Bush media consultant Mark Mckinnon.

The officials tell CNN, the FBI is investigating whether a superior may have asked this women, Juanita Yvette Lazano (ph), to mail the debate materials from a post office in Austin to a Gore adviser.

WILLIAM DALEY, GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: If that was to be true, it would be a rather disturbing piece of news, because it would be an attempt to try to circumvent and try to affect the voters.

SNOW: It's a theory the Bush campaign flatly rejects. HUGHES: Any implication that any senior member of the Bush campaign would have been interested in helping Al Gore prepare for his debate is just ridiculous.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: George W. Bush has said that he would fire anyone in his campaign caught stealing. On Saturday, senior campaign adviser for the Bush campaign, Karl Rove was interviewed by the FBI for about a half an hour; the agency now making its way down the list of folks on the Bush campaign who may have had access to that kind of debate preparation material.

The investigation proceeding very slowly. The FBI saying -- cautioning that at this point they have not had time to analyze all of the forensic evidence. Both campaigns saying that they will fully cooperate with the FBI -- Gene.

RANDALL: Thanks, Kate.

Governor Bush is preparing for the debate at his Texas ranch. Vice President Gore, meanwhile, is gearing up in Florida.

Jonathan Karl has more on the weekend of getting ready.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Vice President Gore takes a three-day hiatus from the campaign, the stakes could not be higher. One of Gore's top advisers tells CNN -- quote -- "There is a good chance this election could be decided definitively by the first debate on Tuesday." One factor is the enormous audience expected to tune in.

TAD DEVINE, GORE CAMPAIGN SR. ADVISER: So that's what we're looking to do in these debates, to go on to the big stage.

KARL: Adding a twist to the usual debate prep process, the vice president has brought along a dozen people he has met along the campaign trail. At a lunch before a practice debate session, these "real people," as aides call them, offered advice on style, telling Gore to act naturally and to be too technical, and talked about issues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he wants us to give him those differences, those twists, those different context readings that the American people are looking for, the undecided voters are looking for, something that they can hook on to and say, that's what I've been waiting to hear.

KARL: Meanwhile, at his remote ranch near Crawford, Texas, George W. Bush has been huddled with advisers, bringing his campaign to a halt to prepare for the debates, including practice sessions with New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg playing the role of Vice President Gore. As Bush prepares, his supporters are playing down expectations, calling Gore a world-class debater. GOV. TOM RIDGE (R), PENNSYLVANIA: If America was going to elect the president of the debate society, we'd go with Al Gore ultimately, and ultimately have probably the best lines that Hollywood can write for him.

KARL: The latest CNN/"USA Today" Gallup tracking poll shows the race dead even: 45 percent for Gore, 45 percent for Bush.

For a week now, virtually every major national poll has had the race in a statistical tie. Strategists on both sides are saying the race is in a temporary freeze as the last remaining undecided voters wait for the debates to make up their minds.

(on camera): While aides say the most important audience for the debates are the undecided voters, the Gore campaign also hopes to use the encounters to energize their core supporters. The campaign claims to have organized 700 debate watching parties around the country to bring those supporters together.

Jonathan Karl, CNN, Sarasota, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RANDALL: For more on what this all means, we turn to Voter.com, which bills itself as the home of unfiltered campaign information. Randy Tate is the vice president of Republican Outreach, and Craig Smith, vice president of Democratic Outreach.

Well, reach out here and tell me how the battleground states will decide this election, Mr. Smith.

CRAIG SMITH, VOTER.COM: Well, I think we are going to come down to a handful of states, eight or 10 states that -- most of them have a significant number of electoral votes, some of them are small -- Delaware, Arkansas -- that are going to decide the election. The polls show this race as very close. If you look at the state by state count, it also shows a very close race. So what happens in states like Florida, and Pennsylvania, and Missouri, and Michigan, are going to determine who gets the number of electoral votes they need to win.

RANDALL: Mr. Tate, given the closeness of the numbers we are seeing in all of the polls at this point, how crucial a role will the debates play, in your view?

RANDY TATE, VOTER.COM: I think the debates will play an enormous role, just like I think Al Gore's speech at the Democratic Convention and George W. Bush's speech at the Republican Convention kind of set the groundwork for who these two individuals are. I mean, for George W. Bush, he has to get up there and show he has a clear grasp of the issues -- he doesn't need to be a policy wonk, he doesn't need to have the pocket protector, so to speak, he needs to get up there and talk about those general themes and where he wants to take the country, and -- for it to be a success for George Bush.

RANDALL: Let's talk about debate strategy. Mr. Smith, on your resume a prominent place is given to your leadership of the Gore campaign. Now, if you were advising the vice president at this point what kind of strategy would you advise for Boston, Tuesday night?

SMITH: Well, I think what you have to do -- what the vice president needs to do is remember he's talking to the American public, and he needs to talk about issues that they care about. So don't get drug into the weeds on esoteric issues. The American public cares about health care, they care about education, they care about the safety of their children and their streets. They care about -- seniors care about prescription drugs.

RANDALL: He likes esoteric issues.

SMITH: It's not -- the American public is not going to respond to those as much as they will to the broader themes of this campaign and the issues that affect people in their daily lives.

RANDALL: Mr. Tate, George W. Bush has never been accused of being in love with esoteric issues. What kind of strategy do you think he has to adopt in Boston?

TATE: Well, I think he has to lay out where he wants to take this country in clear terms, he has to talk about what his tax cut will do and how that will benefit working Americans, he needs to talk about his education plan, which -- he clearly feels comfortable on the issue of education. He needs to talk about bringing integrity back to the White House. But I think he also needs to make the point that the proposals that Al Gore is putting forward -- the $3.4 trillion in new spending would even make LBJ blush -- I mean, these are programs that aren't the new Democratic way, this is a throw back to a bygone era, and I think that George Bush needs to make the point that he will continue the prosperity and continue the growing economy, and Al Gore will put us back.

RANDALL: Let's go back to the numbers again.

Mr. Smith, there is a booming economy in this country, the vice president was part of the administration which oversaw this booming economy, and yet the election is so close. Why is that, and is that cause for concern?

SMITH: Well, I think part of the reason is that because the nation is at peace, and prosperity -- we have the longest period of sustained economic growth in the history of this nation -- is that people are somewhat complacent and they haven't yet focused into this election. If you look back through the period of this year and the periods of time where the American public has been focused on this race, in the primary season, right after the conventions, Al Gore had significant leads. I think once the debates come around and people get close to the election, they will focus on this race again and Al Gore should win.

RANDALL: Gentlemen, the FDA approval of RU-486, the so-called "abortion pill," does either candidate have a vested interest in letting that resurrect the abortion issue in this campaign -- Mr. Tate?

TATE: I think it can play a role in some of those battleground states that Craig mentioned earlier, in Michigan, in Pennsylvania, which has a high Roman Catholic population, where the issue of abortion could play a role, particularly for the side that loses on this. There tends to be a little more intensity, and it could make the difference in those competitive, strongly Catholic states.

RANDALL: Mr. Smith.

SMITH: Well, I think abortion, like guns, is an issue that you won't see either of these candidates spend a lot of time talking about, but the organizations that are -- feel strongly about those issues are communicating to their members in a serious way right now, and I think it will have some impact on turnout patterns.

RANDALL: In just a few seconds, will voters start paying attention Tuesday night, playoffs aside, Mr. Tate?

TATE: I think they will. I think there is so much at stake in these debates, and they're expecting a large turnout of people, and this is the first two -- first time these two gentlemen have come together.

RANDALL: And Mr. Smith.

SMITH: Well, you know, the American public has limited opportunities to see their -- the candidates for president in longer than either 30-second ads or seven-second sound bites on the news. This is one of them, and I think the American public is going to watch.

RANDALL: Craig Smith and Randy Tate, thanks very much, thanks for being with us, from Voter.com.

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