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CNN Late Edition

Colin Powell to Make First Foray Into Mideast; Will Bush's Tax Cut Prevail, or Will Democrats Scale it Back?

Aired February 11, 2001 - 12:00 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:00 p.m. in Jerusalem and 8:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this special Late Edition.

We're coming to you today from the Newseum just outside of Washington. It's an interactive museum where you can see and experience how news is produced.

We are also here because, during the second hour of Late Edition, I will be hosting a special NBA town meeting. The topic: All-stars too soon? The NBA's age dilemma. And we'll have that for you in the second hour at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

We'll get to interview with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Michael Jordan shortly, but first, the hour's top stories.


BLITZER: Later this month, Secretary of State Colin Powell will travel to the Middle East in the Bush administration's first foray into Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Earlier today, I spoke with Secretary Powell about what he hopes to accomplish on the trip and more.

Secretary Powell, thanks for joining us. I used to call you "General Powell," but now we call you "Mr. Secretary," is that right?

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: I guess that's right, Wolf. You can call me anything you like.


BLITZER: All right.

Let's get to a very serious subject, the submarine incident with the Japanese ship. What exactly is the latest?

POWELL: Well, the latest is that we are continuing our rescue efforts. We've expressed our deep regret to the Japanese government, to the Japanese people. Yesterday morning I expressed President Bush's regret after talking to President Bush and bringing him up to date.

We're doing everything we can for the families, and Ambassador Foley is in touch with the prime minister. And I believe he is on his way down to Osaka to meet with members of the families as they depart for Honolulu.

We extend our condolences to the Japanese people and of course to the family members, and we'll do everything we can to find out what happened present that information to the public. And we are very regretful that this incident took place.

BLITZER: Is that the same as a formal apology to the government of Japan?

POWELL: We have apologized. We've apologized every way we know how. The president has expressed his regrets and apologies, and I conveyed that yesterday. Ambassador Foley is in touch, as I mentioned, and we are also doing it military to military. Secretary Rumsfeld has spoken to his defense counterpart. And so we're doing everything we can to express our regret and also to make sure this doesn't affect the very strong relationship that we have with Japan.

BLITZER: I know there is a full-scale investigation. You're a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and pending that investigation, you don't know precisely what happened. But are there some initial indications on how such a tragic situation could have occurred?

POWELL: I don't have any, and I think it is best that I not speculate. This will be investigated thoroughly, and I'm sure Secretary Rumsfeld will be on top of it. So I think it best I not speculate as to what might have happened.

BLITZER: OK, let's move on and talk a little bit about the new prime minister-elect of Israel, Ariel Sharon. There is a statement that he made immediately after the election. Let me read to you what he said.

"I am visiting Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for the last 3,000 years, the undivided capital of Israel, with the Temple Mount in its center forever and ever."

The concessions that Prime Minister Barak was willing to make on Jerusalem -- clearly Sharon doesn't accept those concessions. Does the U.S. government consider those positions of the former Israeli government to be the standing positions of the government of Israel?

POWELL: No, clearly they are not. Prime Minister Barak, who is still the acting prime minister, the caretaker prime minister until Mr. Sharon forms a government, has pulled those concessions off the table. They were negotiating positions that were suggested by former President Clinton. When President Clinton left office, he withdrew those. Those came off with him. They were his personal ideas, and he made that clear.

And so the only positions that exist are those the two sides put forward. And we will have to wait to see what the new Israeli government wishes to put forward as its new negotiating positions and then see how that is responded to by Palestinians.

As you know, I will be traveling in the region at the end of this month to get a sense of where we are, to talk to the leaders, not only in Israeli and Palestinian side but also to speak to the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait. And I have also found that I will be able to get into Damascus, Syria, to speak to leaders in Syria.

BLITZER: You have added Syria as a stop?

POWELL: I have added Syria to my stops, yes.

BLITZER: The fact of the matter is that President Bush, when he was running for office a year ago on this program -- I asked him about the Republican Party platform calling for moving the embassy of United States from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I want to play to you what he said to me on this program a year ago -- I played it for Condoleezza Rice last week -- and get your reaction.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would start the process is what I said. Upon swearing in, I would start the process.

QUESTION: What if the parties come back as they do, the Arabs, and say, well, that would totally disrupt the peace process by the U.S., taking this unilateral gesture?

BUSH: No, I understand. But I think the part of the president's job is to make it clear that that is my intention. That's exactly what campaigns are meant to be. I've sent the clear signal, and this is what I intend do.


BLITZER: Have you started the actual process of moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

POWELL: What you heard is not only President Bush's position, it's the position of the United States government that we should eventually move our embassy to Jerusalem. And the process is something that one looks at, how you actually start it. And we have not started turning dirt, obviously. But we are continuing examining what it would take to put the embassy into Jerusalem. But in light of the tense situation that exists there right now, we will continue to examine that process to see when it should begin.

As you know, later this spring, we have to make a certification to the Congress as to whether we are or are not starting that process and going to move the embassy. So I think I will leave it at that point.

BLITZER: All right. Last night, former President Clinton delivered a speech, much of it on the Middle East, outlining his own personal views. I want you to listen to this excerpt of what he said and get your response.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON. FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is clear that in the end some provision will have to made for Palestinian homeland, some resolution of the refugee problem will have to be made. The United States and Europe, among others, will have to be willing to take some Palestinian refugees.


BLITZER: He's outlining his own personal views -- now he is a former president. But is this helpful for you and for President Bush to have the former president outlining strong positions on various sensitive issues in the peace process?

POWELL: Well, President Clinton is, of course, free to say whatever he wishes to now that he is in private life.

It has been the practice of previous presidents to sort of take some time out before offering positions, but I don't think that it is unhelpful. It is his personal view.

It is the view of the administration that we should work with the leaders in the region, and rather than tell them what they ought to do, help them come to position that they can negotiate with each other on.

And at the end of the day, the kinds of positions that President Clinton just mentioned will have to be decided by the people in the region: Jerusalem, the right of return, where refugees might go elsewhere in the world. At the end of the day, these are not American positions to be imposed upon the people but positions they have to arrive at through a process of negotiation. And that's what I hope get started during my trip at the end of next week.

BLITZER: And as much as you'll be talking about the peace process during this trip, you'll also focus on the situation involving Iraq. And Saddam Hussein reports that, over these past two years since there have been no inspectors there, he's pursuing weapons of mass destruction. What, if anything, can you do to reverse that situation if in fact that's unfolding inside Iraq?

POWELL: I think what we have to do is make sure we continue to tell the world that we are not after the Iraqi people, we are after these weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein said he would not be producing and entered into an agreement at the end of the Gulf War that he would not be producing.

And we have to make sure that we keep the pressure on him to meet that commitment, because those weapons are not threatening American youngsters, they're not threatening the American people, they're threatening the people of Jordan and Syria and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and Israel and of the region. And so he has to comply with what he said he would do and what the UN insisted that he does as part of the end of the Gulf War. And so, what I will be doing when I visit is to make sure everybody has this message clearly and to make have sure we do what is necessary to keep him contained so that he cannot get access to weapons, he cannot get access to the materials that allow you to produce weapons of mass destruction, and that we control the money that is available to him.

The tragic situation here, the tragicness of this whole situation is that he could be taking care of every youngster in Iraq. He could be of providing medical care and food and everything everybody in his society needs if he would turn away from this ridiculous pursuit for weapons of mass destruction and use the money that is made available to him to build his society and make it ready for the 21st century and to become a responsible nation in that part of the world and not threaten his neighbors.

His neighbors are the ones who are being threatened, not the United States. And we are helping his neighbors deal with the threat that he presents to them.

BLITZER: But the coalition that you among others helped put together 10 years ago seems to be crumbling right now, at least big chunks of it. The Russians don't like these sanctions, even the French don't like these sanctions. Several of the Arab allies are now dealing with Iraq rather openly. Is this going to be your major challenge, trying to put that coalition back together?

POWELL: I don't know that it's fallen apart. I think there certainly have been some fractures in it.

But I think we all have a common objective, and I think we can rally everybody around that common objective. And it's an arms control objective to not let this regime get access to weapons of mass destruction. And I think it is possible to rally not only the members of the Security Council around that objective again but all of our friends in the region, because we have a mutual interest in him not getting those weapons and we have a mutual interest in helping the people of Iraq.

We are not after the people of Iraq, we are after those weapons. And until he satisfies the international community that he does not have such weapons, he's not developing such weapons, we have a goal to make sure that we keep he pressure on.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about another controversial position of the Bush administration, the national missile defense shield. The Russians clearly are not happy with it. The Chinese aren't happy. The Russian security adviser, Sergei Ivanov, said this only the other day: "It will result in the annihilation of the whole structure of strategic stability and create prerequisites for a new arms race." You have a tough sell in convincing them that this is not a direct threat to them.

POWELL: Well, I look forward to an early opportunity to speak to my Russian colleagues on this subject, but it will not destroy the entire scheme of arms control that we've built up over the last 40 years. I think it will add to that system by adding a new element of deterrence. Don't see the national missile defense standing alone and separate from what we're doing with offensive weapons, what we are doing with arms control activities, what we are doing with nonproliferation activities.

And I think when we have presented this in a comprehensive framework for the world to see, we'll be able to persuade our friends and persuade the Russians and Chinese that, rather than taking away from deterrence, this will enhance deterrence.

BLITZER: Specifically, who is the national missile defense shield designed to protect against?

POWELL: The national missile defense shield that we are looking at now and the concepts that we are pursuing are directed principally against those irresponsible states that continue to pursue this kind of technology.

BLITZER: Like, specifically?

POWELL: Let's be specific and say North Korea and Iran, for openers. Iraq is pretty much contained right now, and we're going to keep it that way.

But any nation such as Russia or China that has a fairly good number of missiles has the ability to overwhelm the systems that we are talking about. And so I do not think it threatens their concept of deterrence, but I think it enhances deterrence overall.

And as we get further down the road, as Secretary Rumsfeld has had a chance to examine the concept in more detail and come up with the programs to support that concept, I think we can also show our European friends and our friends in other parts of the world that it enhances their deterrence as well, because the kinds of missiles we're talking about and the irresponsible states we're talking about have targets much closer to them, in the neighborhoods of our friends, than they do in the United States.

So I think there are ways to present this case to the Europeans, to our friends in Asia, to the Russians and the Chinese which will enhance deterrence, not take away from deterrence.

BLITZER: We only have a limited amount of time, but I want to ask about withdrawing U.S. troops from the Balkans, from the peacekeeping forces there. During the campaign, this was an issue that came up. Any movement at this point to start that process of bringing U.S. troops home from Kosovo, from Bosnia?

POWELL: We are in consultation with our allies. As we have said repeatedly in recent weeks, we are not going to do anything of a precipitous nature. We went in there as an alliance; we will come out as an alliance.

But we see nothing wrong with reviewing the kinds of forces we have there. Can we start to shift? Can we bring out some of the heavier equipment? Can we change some of the combat forces and the police forces? In other words, let's constantly review our presence there to make sure that presence is appropriate, and in fact that is a continuing process in NATO headquarters.

So we are in consultation, and I have spoken to so many of our friends and allies in the three weeks that I have been secretary of state on this subject. And I think I've persuaded all I have spoken to that we understand our obligations. We do all want to come out at some point, but we will not come out precipitously or in a way that destabilizes the region.

BLITZER: As far as the personal challenges that you are going to be dealing with right now as secretary of state, are you going to be a secretary of state along the lines of a Henry Kissinger secretary of state role model, a Warren Christopher secretary of state, a Madeleine Albright? Who are you looking back as? A lot of people think George Marshall was sort of a role model for you. Who do you see as the kind of secretary of state you want to be?

POWELL: Well, you have mentioned some very credible people who served our nation so very, very well. I'm going to be Colin Powell. I'm going to be who I am. I'm going to bring my personality and my experience and background. I was a solder 35 years, I have been a national security adviser, I have been a deputy national security adviser. So I'm going to bring Colin Powell to the State Department.

But at the end of the day, it isn't what I am or who I am. What I'm going to try to do the best of my ability is to reflect what President Bush wants and to make sure that I respond to his initiatives, his imperatives, and that I help him serve the American people in the execution of our foreign policy.

BLITZER: And finally, everybody sees your little red wagon over there: America's Promise.

POWELL: Still there.

BLITZER: I guess, now that you're back in the government, you can't be directly involved?

POWELL: I can't be the active chairman any more, but I'm the founding chairman. And I continue to do everything I can to support the children's issues, and I continue to wear my little red wagon as a symbol of the commitment that all of us should have for children.

And even though I may be going around the Middle East and Africa and other places, there are children there too who can be motivated by the symbol of the little red wagon, a better life for all children of the world.

BLITZER: General Powell, always good to speak to you. Secretary Powell, General Powell, I guess you'll go by your...

POWELL: Make up your mind, Wolf.

BLITZER: We started off like this...

POWELL: You're indecisive. Don't be wishy washy.


BLITZER: Appreciate it very much, thanks for joining us. Hope you'll be back many times.

POWELL: I look forward to it, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And just ahead, the debate heats up over tax cuts: Will President Bush's plan prevail, or will Democrats in Congress force a scale-back? We'll ask Oklahoma Republican Senator Don Nickles and California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein about these taxing times.

Late Edition will be right back.



BUSH: For those who want to diminish the size of the tax cut, that would be inadvisable. And for those who want to increase the size of the tax cut, it would be inadvisable. It's the right size.


BLITZER: President Bush defending his $1.6 trillion tax cut proposal. Democrats and Republicans disagree on whether his plan is the right approach.

Joining us now to weigh in on this tax cut debate are two members of the U.S. Senate: in Washington, Republican Don Nickles of Oklahoma. He's the number-two Republican in the Senate. He's celebrating his 20th year in that chamber. And in our San Francisco bureau, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California. She's a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee and the Appropriations Committee.

Senators, welcome back to Late Edition.

And let me begin with you Senator Nickles. This $1.6 trillion number, some of your Republican colleagues are suggesting it's not enough. Are you among those that thinks it should go up higher?

SEN. DON NICKLES (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, I'm going to follow President Bush's lead. He said $1.6 is the right number. We have to pass a budget, we have to put a number in there, and I happen to agree with him. I think it's a fair number. I personally would love to see it be more, but I count votes. I hear most of the Democrats saying they want it to be less. We have quite a few Republicans that say they'd like to have it be more, but you have to pick a number.

I think the president has a good number. I think it's one that's doable, I think it's passable, I think it's right. I happen to think it's fair for the American taxpayers. They're long overdue. They haven't had a real big tax cut or a significant tax cut since 1981. We did pass a little tax relief in 1997. We passed some last Congress, but of course President Clinton vetoed those.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Feinstein, that $1.6 trillion number? You're among those Democrats that think that's way too much.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I think it is way too much. And I think it is actually more than $1.6 trillion, because if you add the interest that's -- the fact of the matter is that the tax cut, most of it goes into play in later years. That reduces interest. It's what we call backloaded. And it doesn't take into consideration the interest that it uses up, which is about another $400 billion. So it's really a $2 trillion tax cut.


BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second, Senator Feinstein. You know that at least one of your Democratic colleagues in the Senate, Senator Zell Miller of Georgia, he says that number sounds about right to him.

Listen to what he wrote in USA Today only on Thursday. He wrote this: "Yes, this plan gives refunds to wealthier Americans, as it should. Who are we to pick and choose among our taxpayers? Who are we to play eenie, meenie, minie, moe with them? All of them combined have paid more than it takes to run the government. All of them combined should get a break."

That's a Democrat from Georgia, Zell Miller.

FEINSTEIN: Well, I think that Mr. Miller's perception of it at the present time. But my own, you know, just short eight years in the Senate, indicates to me that when these packages come over, give them a lot of analysis and scrutiny before you jump onto the bandwagon.

This tax package has a lot of problems in it. In the first place, I don't think there's an employee out there that could go to their company in this economy and say: Will you pledge to me a salary increase for the next 10 years? What we in essence are saying that we are able, based on surpluses that can swing from year to year in billions, we are saying we are going to commit a huge tax cut to the American people.

Additionally -- let me just make have my point. There is no trigger in this. If the surpluses do not occur, this tax cut still is paid out to the American people. There are six of us, three Republicans and three Democrats, that really seriously want a trigger in any tax plan.

BLITZER: All right, Senator, we are going to get to that in a second. I just want to bring back Senator Nickles and get his response to not only what you said but what one of his fellow Republicans said earlier this week, Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont.

Listen to this, Senator Nickles.


SEN. JIM JEFFORDS (R), VERMONT: The size of it, I think, is too high, so I would vote to cut it. And I think it's not oriented as well as it could be for those people that need it, especially low- income people needing health insurance and others who need funds just to live.


BLITZER: That's the argument. It's loaded predominantly for the wealthy. They're going to get most of these tax breaks.

NICKLES: Well, I disagree with that. The larger tax cuts percentage-wise certainly are in lower income. The president's proposal takes millions of people from paying income tax to not paying any income tax, and it gives largest percentage to those on the lower- income side.

Also, on the size, yes, we may have a couple Republicans want a little less, we have a lot of Republicans want it to be more, Democrats mostly want it to be less, maybe some want it to be that much. But you have to pick a number.

And really we shouldn't be focusing on the number so much. We should be focusing on, what does it do? We start eliminating the marriage penalty. We have a $500 tax credit additional tax credit per child. We passed that a couple years ago. That passed. We had some bipartisan votes for that.

We have passed repeal or replacement of the death tax with basically a capital gains tax. That had bipartisan support.

BLITZER: But what about this notion that Senator Feinstein suggests this trigger to make sure that all these projections for this huge budget surplus really pan out? She referred to a letter that she and some colleagues wrote, Democrats and Republicans. Let me read an excerpt from that letter.

"A trigger mechanism offers a safety valve to protect against what many senators fear are return to deficits, should economic conditions and budget projections change in the years ahead."

And there is no doubt about that, Senator Nickles. Those budget projections have changed many times in the past few years.

NICKLES: Well, I have great respect for my colleagues. I'm concerned, though, if -- it depends on how you define the trigger and how it was set up. I'm afraid it could be, well, if Congress spends more money, we are going to have to have automatic tax increases. That would be easy to have become a reality. So I don't want to see that. I don't want to reward Congress for being irresponsible, so therefore we have to have tax increases.

Also if the economy really goes down, I don't think you want to have automatic tax increases in that scenario. So I have serious reservations about a so-called trigger. BLITZER: What's the other side of story, Senator Feinstein, on the triggers?

FEINSTEIN: Well, the trigger proposal at the present time is a rather basic and simple one. It says that if the surplus is not there at the time the taxes go, that you hold that tax cut for the next year and take a look at it. And I think that that is a very prudent thing to do.

I think right now, economically, we are at a very precarious point. There certainly is an argument that can be made that there have been a number of terminations of employments throughout the country, that the dot-com industry is not in good shape, that many in manufacturing are reducing payrolls, that we have energy problems emerging on the American scene.

Additionally, this is a country that's infrastructure-poor. We don't have the highways, the roadways to get people to their work place. We don't have housing. We don't have an adequate school system. And therefore, this is the time to begin to repair America's infrastructure and bring it into the context of what will be a very sophisticated global economy. Instead, we're sacrificing all of this for tax cuts that are so big that it doesn't even permit a normal spending program to take place.

BLITZER: All right, Senators, stand by.

We have to take a quick break. We still have a lot more ground to cover, though, with Senators Don Nickles and Diane Feinstein. Late Edition will continue right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We're continuing our conversation with Oklahoma Republican Senator Don Nickles and California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Senator Nickles, on this whole tax cut issue, there is a new CNN- Time magazine poll just out today. Look at when we asked the American people if it was extremely or very important to use the surplus for various issues, look how they responded: As far as Social Security was concerned, 81 percent said yes, very important or extremely important; education, 81 percent; cutting the national debt, 64 percent. Tax cuts was way down there, only 54 percent, just slightly more than a half of the American people thought it was very important or extremely important to use the surplus for tax cuts. In other words, it doesn't appear to be that the American people are clamoring for tax cuts right now.

NICKLES: Well, I disagree. I think, one, you can do both. You can pay down the national debt. Under President Bush's proposal, we're going to pay down trillions of dollars in national debt, really reduce it significantly. We can still fund education, we can fund national defense, but we still have a surplus.

And some people can still come up with more ideas and ways to spend it, but frankly, taxpayers are paying too much. And so, if taxpayers are paying too much, we ought to give taxpayers a reduction. Let them keep more of their own money. It's not a refund. We shouldn't be taking so much.

Wolf, some of these taxes are too high. It is wrong for a self- employed person who makes $30,000 dollars taxable income to be paying 28 percent federal income tax, 15.3 percent Social Security and Medicare tax. That's 43.3 percent in addition to whatever they have to pay through their home state. There are already at about 50 percent marginal bracket for any additional dollar they make. That's too high.

President Bush is talking about reducing those marginal rates, putting that 28 percent taxpayer into a 25 or maybe even a 15 percent rate. Putting 15 percent taxpayers that are now paying 15 percent, let them pay 10 percent. And the maximum rate, I might mention, goes from 39.6 to 33. Thirty-three is still much higher than it was when President Clinton was sworn into office. So he gives across-the-board tax cuts for taxpayers and, percentage-wise, much greater for those on the lower end of the economic ladder.

BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, on that last point, what's wrong with reducing the maximum rate from 39.6 percent down to 33 percent which is still a considerable chunk of someone's income?

FEINSTEIN: Well, sure, it's a considerable chunk. I'll tell you, I have never had anyone in that income category come to me and say, we need a tax cut. Most people in that income category find that there are other things that are more important.

Now, the problem with this cut is, first of all, it is much too big. There are many of us that would agree on a tax cut in the vicinity of $750 billion, $800 billion. If you took the 15 percent tax bracket and reduced it to 13 percent, that in itself is over $400 billion. If you took the estate tax, a $675,000 exemption and increased it to $2.5 million a person, for a couple that's $500 million. You'd still protect the small farms, the small business people.

And if you then took the marriage penalty tax and took the bi- marriage (ph) penalty and put that on this bill, and then a tax credit for those who pay their own health insurance, you would have a much more balanced tax package. It would give most of its impact to those people that you want to spend to fuel the economy, and I think would it be much fairer.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Nickles, let's switch gears for a second and talk about another major controversy that erupted over these past few weeks, President Clinton's controversial pardon of the fugitive Marc Rich. There are some senators including Arlen Specter who are suggesting maybe it's time to restrict the absolute constitutionally provided pardon ability that a president receives. Are you among those that says maybe in the aftermath of this pardon it's time to change the Constitution?

NICKLES: No, I wouldn't go that far. I do think President Clinton's pardon of Mr. Rich was inexcusable.

To pardon somebody who is a fugitive, to pardon somebody who is on one of the most-wanted lists, and then when you find out that either he and/or his ex-spouse have contributed $1.3 million to Democrats, another $450,000 to his presidential library, which he thinks his presidential library is a cash cow that he can spend anyway he wants to -- evidently maybe it can go for his office expenses maybe it can go for a home in Little Rock -- I think is ridiculous.

It really doesn't smell good. It looks bad. It is demeaning to the office, and I think it shows a real contempt of the Constitution and the powers of the presidency. I think he abused it in this case, but I don't know have that we should rewrite it because of one ex- president's flagrant abuse of it.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Feinstein? You have been a supporter of President Clinton over the years. Did he go too far? Did he make a major mistake pardoning Marc Rich?

FEINSTEIN: Well, based on the facts as they have come out, I'm sorry to say I really believe he did make a major mistake. If it is true that this is the biggest tax evasion case in history, that this man was essentially and is essentially a fugitive from justice, to take this pardon at this time I think is a huge mistake.

Now, I also agree that nothing should constrict the president's pardon authority. I think that is a very important executive privilege. And it's more than a privilege, it's a right in the Constitution.

But this pardon, I think, looks very bad. The Senate Judiciary Committee, of which I'm a member, is going to be doing its own investigation and holding hearings, and I think they begin this next week. So we will look more deeply into it, but there are no redeeming qualities to it that I can find.

BLITZER: As far as a presidential appearance by Bill Clinton before one of those committees, Senator Nickles, earlier today Dan Burton, the Chairman of House Committee that is looking into this, was on Meet the Press with Joe diGenova, who is representing Jack Quinn, the lawyer for Marc Rich, the former White House counsel. They had this exchange on whether or not President Clinton should be called to testify. Listen to this.


JOSEPH DIGENOVA, ATTORNEY FOR MARC RICH: If we find that there is a reason to call Bill Clinton to the committee, then we will consider that.

DAN BURTON (R), INDIANA: It is quite obvious based on the records produced by Mr. Quinn and everybody else to the committee that the President of the United States was fully aware of this pardon and its consequences.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Would that be an appropriate decision right now to bring President Clinton before a committee of Congress to explain his decision, just as President Ford came before Congress to explain why he pardoned Richard Nixon in the 1970s?

NICKELS: Well, President Ford did go before Congress and explain his pardon of President Nixon. It was a very controversial pardon. I would love to see President Clinton explain this pardon. I said it's unexcusable. Maybe has an excuse, but it just doesn't look good. And you know, sometimes some people should have some care and consideration for the office that he held.

And I would love for him to come before Congress and explain it. It would be before the Judiciary Committee in the Senate to make that invitation. That would be their decision to make, and I will certainly support it. If they conclude it would be appropriate to have the president come in, I would certainly support that.

BLITZER: How about that, Senator Feinstein? Would you welcome President Clinton's coming before a committee of Congress to explain his decision?

FEINSTEIN: Well, this case, has taken on a huge dimension in the country. I heard President Clinton's explanation for it when he held sort of a brief news conference on the street of New York, and I didn't understand the explanation. It may well be that in order to really understand what he has done and why he has done it that he may well be requested by the Judiciary Committee to come before it.

Right now, I don't know the witnesses, and my staff is looking into some of the details of it. There may be a better explanation that we don't need him for, but at this point it seems that it might well be the case that he would be called before the Judiciary Committee.

BLITZER: One final question on this issue, Senator Nickles. Your colleague, Senator Specter, was on Fox News Sunday earlier today, and he discussed what would be a hypothetical possibility, not necessarily one that he would support, but he raised this fascinating notion, as far as dealing with President Clinton on this whole issue of the Marc Rich pardon. Listen to what he said earlier today.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: But President Clinton technically could still be impeached. And you say how can that happen, he is out of office? Because a president may be impeached for the emoluments of office, such as the substantial sums being spent on the library, such as the body guards, such as his pension.


BLITZER: Is that a road you want to walk down, Senator Nickles, this notion not necessarily supported by Senator Specter but one raised earlier today by him?

NICKELS: No, I don't think so.

One, President Clinton has already been impeached. That's already happened. He wasn't convicted in the Senate, which requires a two- thirds vote.

Now, whether or not the Senate or Congress would consider some changes in the financial arrangements, albeit maybe reducing his pension or taking some other step to cut off the financial assistance or reduce the financial assistance to his offices and so on, that can be done. I mean, we can tell GAO don't spend any more than such for his presidential office. We can inquire on the status of this foundation that he has that evidently he thinks he can build a library but also build a house or living quarters. I'm not sure that foundations are supposed to be building living quarters.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, Senator Nickles, Senator Feinstein, we are all out of time from this segment, but it was kind of you to join us, on Late Edition today. Thank you very much.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And up next, in advance of his appearance on my special NBA town meeting at 1:00 p.m. Eastern -- that's at the top of the hour -- a conversation with basketball legend Michael Jordan.

LATE EDITION will continue, right after this.



JORDAN: It is sad that I'm leaving the game, but it is happy, because my life is starting to go into another stage. Basketball for me was the first stage. It got me to this point in my life.


BLITZER: Basketball superstar Michael Jordan speaking at his retirement press conference back in January 1999.

Welcome back to Late Edition.

Many basketball fans say the game hasn't been the same since Michael Jordan left. He is now the president of basketball operations for the Washington basketball team, the Wizards, and as the NBA celebrates its all-star weekend here in Washington, Michael Jordan joins us now live on Late Edition.

Thank you so much for joining us, Michael.


BLITZER: You got to take a look what's happening right now and say, I really miss not being inside the game. JORDAN: Well, I do miss the game quite a bit in all honesty. If you didn't love the game, and you would not have the love for the game, if you get away from the game, quite frankly you are going to have to have some just remembrance of being away from the game. But I do have those itches. I love watching the young players play. I think, to some degree, they are very, very exciting.

BLITZER: Well, you could change all that, you know, with a quick decision that would electrify the game and cause a huge celebration around the world.

JORDAN: Well, I think the whole Mario Lemieux got everybody starting to think that way, but in all honesty I'm very happy where I am. And I still have a challenge ahead of me in Washington.

BLITZER: It's a huge challenge that you have here in Washington. The team, the Wizards, is not doing what you had hoped would it be doing at this stage.


Well, in all honesty, you are absolutely right. I think I believed in what they were capable of doing. I think the one thing that was kind of lost in the shuffle is that it takes some time for adjustments and continuity and chemistry to work in favor of winning, you know. We brought in a new coaching staff. You had some adjustments with the team members and signing players, but it's going to take some time, you know.

I guess my whole competitive nature was going in to see if we can motivate the guys that have the belief that they can win, but it takes a little bit more time before that happens.

BLITZER: This is really, I'm just guessing, the first time in your life where professionally you have not had a success right away. How are you dealing with what is so far turning out to be a failure at the Wizards?

JORDAN: Well, I think the thing that everyone is comparing it to is that, you know, the whole time I was in my professional career I was on the basketball court where I could control what was happening. You know, now I have stepped into a whole different arena, where now I have got to rely upon everyone that I put on the basketball court to have the same animosity, the same desires and determination to go out there and play the type of basketball that it takes to win.

That is an adjustment. I think that's one of the reasons people look at it in a sense of failure. But I think they have to really understand that, you know, whatever they view Michael Jordan on was always considered to be what he was doing on the basketball court.

BLITZER: All right, that is just the beginning. We are going to continue this conversation in our town meeting right here at the Newseum.

Michael Jordan, thanks for joining us. JORDAN: Sure.

BLITZER: Stand by.

When Late Edition returns, we'll reveal what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines, plus Bruce Morton's last word.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Time now for Bruce Morton's last word on how the Bush presidency seem to be playing out in its early days.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's the second Bush presidency of course. It has a lot of faces from Gerald Ford's presidency, but it may most resemble the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who turned 90 this past week.

Think about it, Reagan made three basic campaign promises: He would cut taxes, increase defense spending and balance the budget. He did the first two, and as they say in baseball, two out of three ain't bad. He didn't balance the budget, though his defenders always blame free-spending Democratic Congresses for that.

Anyway, George W. Bush campaigned for the same things, a big tax cut, increased defense spending, and some things have changed since Reagan, keeping the budget balanced.

To quote baseball great Yogi Berra, it's deja vu all over again.

And like Reagan, Bush is using humor to sell his program, as when a reporter asked at a session with families who'd benefit from the tax cut, why there weren't any representatives from the wealthiest tax bracket.


BUSH: Well, I beg your pardon, I'm representing. I got a little pay raise coming to Washington from Austin. I'll be in the top bracket.


MORTON: Or heading into a session with Congressional Democrats.


BUSH: And I might answer some questions, and then I'm going to head on home and take a nap.


MORTON: OK, Reagan did better one-liners.


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just can't wait till the Congress gets back in town.


MORTON: But Bush, like Reagan, will probably get a tax cut passed, maybe not exactly his, but something.

On defense, the generals had been spit shining their wish lists for months. But Bush's defense secretary is Donald Rumsfeld, and he's held that job before. Wait a minute, he said to the military, don't count all those planes and helicopters yet. We're going to review everything and then decide what we need.

Still, he is going full speed ahead with plans for a defense against incoming missiles. And which president first championed that? You guessed it, Ronald Reagan.

Reagan had one other aim: to make America feel better about itself after Watergate and Vietnam. Bush wants you to feel better after the scandals of the Clinton years. So far, naps and all, he may be doing that.

I'm Bruce Morton.

BLITZER: Thanks, Bruce.

Let's take a look now at what is on the cover of this week's major news magazines. Time magazine does a double take, "Human Cloning Is Closer Than You Think, But There Are Perils," on the cover.

"U.S. News & World Report" asks, "Are You Ready For A Tax Cut?" on the cover with a new president George W. Bush dollar bill.

And on cover of Newsweek, "Tax Cuts And You, Bush's $1.6 Trillion Gamble."

Before we go, it's your turn to have the last word. There was lots of reaction to my interview last week with the new Democratic and Republican party chairmen.

Raymond Silver (ph) writes this about Democrat Terry McAuliffe: "Please keep that classless Clinton clone off your program, will you? Talk about making my blood boil. The Democrats are whining about getting along, the Republicans reach out to them and get their hand slapped away. Shows how phony the Democrats are."

But Maru Angarita (ph) writes, "I was very pleased that you brought face to face the RNC and DNC chairmen. That was impressive. It is very important that the RNC in the new administration be aware that the nation is still divided."

Mary Lou Whitman (ph) writes, "I just would like to ask you to encourage your bosses and fellow newscasters to give George W. Bush his deserved time and respect in your reporting and to let Mr. Clinton fade into the masses as a private citizen. We had him in front of us for eight long, long years." And finally Joanne McCarthy (ph) had this reaction to my interview with Republican Senator Phil Gramm of Texas: "I think Wolf needs to brush up on his interview skills. He just let Phil Gramm say that we should have a huge tax cut to keep Congress from spending the money. Wolf didn't ask how the tax cut will stop Congress. We tried that before under Reagan and we got a trillion-dollar debt."

Remember you can e-mail me at Late Edition at I just might read your comments on the air. And you can sign up to receive an e-mail every week from me at

For our international viewers, World News is next. For our North American audience, there's still a lot more ahead on this special Late Edition.

Up next, join us for an hour-long NBA town meeting: All-Stars too soon? The NBA's age dilemma. Among our guests, basketball legend Michael Jordan and NBA commissioner David Stern. Stay with us. We'll be right back.



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