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McCain Discusses Compromise on Patients' Bill of Rights; Leahy, Specter Debate FBI's Future; Will the Chandra Levy Case Ever be Solved?

Aired June 24, 2001 - 12:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5:00 p.m. in London and 8:00 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this two- hour LATE EDITION.

We'll get to our interview with Arizona Senator John McCain shortly but, first, the hour's top story.


BLITZER: Republican Senator John McCain has teamed up with Democrat Senators Ted Kennedy and John Edwards to cosponsor a bill that allows patients to sue HMOs and insurance companies. President Bush has, as you know, threatened to veto that bill, instead favoring one which puts limits on lawsuits.

A short while ago I spoke with Senator McCain about HMOs, his relationship with President Bush and much more.


BLITZER: Senator McCain, thanks for joining us once again. It looks like a beautiful day over there in Phoenix.


BLITZER: I want to get right to top issue on the Senate's agenda this week, the so-called patients' bill of rights. President Bush, this week, made it clear, your version, the version that you've cosponsored with Senators Kennedy and Edwards, he's ready to veto that unless major changes are made. Are you ready to meet President Bush's concerns at least halfway this week?

MCCAIN: Absolutely. And we have had negotiations with Josh Bolten at the White House and with his people, and we will continue to have negotiations. I have spoken to the president twice now about our willingness and his willingness to try to see if we can't resolve these issues.

The president knows that we need a patients' bill of rights as well as any one, and he doesn't want to have to veto. So I'm cautiously optimistic that we can reach an agreement on a bill that he can sign.

BLITZER: He has cited several reasons that he would veto your version, your patients' bill of rights. Among other things in his written statement, he said this: "Your version circumvents the independent medical review process in favor of litigation." The president believes that patients should be given care first. Litigation should be the last resort. Then he goes on to say, "Your version jeopardizes health care coverage for workers and their families by failing to avoid costly litigation."

That seems to me to be major stumbling block, right now, the whole issue of being able to sue your HMO.

MCCAIN: Well, let me -- you're right, and there's about three sub-issues that make that up issue. One of them is the protection of employers from liability. Senator Snowe and Senator Mike DeWine, Senator Lincoln, Senator Nelson and others are working on a compromise amendment that I think -- I haven't seen it, but we have been working with them on it. I hope we can support that. That may help with this issue.

As far as the...

BLITZER: And specifically on that point, in terms of limiting the opportunity to sue employers as opposed to the insurance companies and the HMOs, that's a key issue as far as many of these so-called moderate Republicans, these centrist Republicans are concerned.

MCCAIN: You're exactly right. And they are working -- as far as I know, their staffs are working as we speak, and hopefully by Monday or, at the latest, Tuesday morning they would have some amendment that we could vote on. And I'm hopeful about that.

BLITZER: Are you hopeful also, Senator McCain, that if you do provide that protection for employers as opposed to the insurance companies that that would be enough to allow President Bush to sign this legislation into law?

MCCAIN: I don't know, because I think he has other concerns, one of them which is important -- and I'm not sure how we bridge that gap -- is state court versus federal court, whether the suit should be taken -- the president's position and the opponents' position is that all these suits should go to federal court. Ours is that, in the case of a contract dispute, that it goes to federal court; in the case of denial of care or irreparable damage, then it would go to state court.

And this is a bit of a strawman in our view, because the state law that was passed in Texas, there have only been 17 cases that have gone to court. In California, there has only been a handful of cases. And that's because there's such an intensive internal and external review process. First, an internal review process, then an external review process.

The president supports the Breaux-Frist bill. The Breaux-Frist bill allows the HMOs to appoint and pay for the external review panel. We don't think that is subjective. But these are sorts of issues that I think we can get resolved.

And finally, Chief Justice Rehnquist, as part of a judicial review panel, stated that he believes, as does most of the judiciary, that managed care cases should be settled in state court versus federal court.

BLITZER: The other major complaint from the White House and the Office of Management and Budget is that there are already some 43 million uninsured Americans who have no health insurance; that if your version of the HMO reform, the patients' bill of rights, were to become the law of the land, that could increase that number by as many as 4 million Americans.

BLITZER: And the Chamber of Commerce and other groups are now playing ads across the country making this suggestion, that it's going to be counterproductive for millions of Americans. Listen to this one ad that's running right now.


NARRATOR: Working Americans rely on their health insurance for quality medical care and peace of mind. The Kennedy-McCain bill will flatline that coverage for more than 1 million of them.


NARRATOR: We can make health plans accountable to patients without killing the coverage of working Americans.

Say no to Kennedy-McCain.


BLITZER: All right. That's a tough ad. What do you say?

MCCAIN: That it's a tough ad, and not too surprising.

But, again, most Americans believe that, if you're allowed to sue your nurse, if you're allowed to sue your doctor, if you're allowed to sue the hospital, then also you should be allowed to sue your insurance company if they are guilty of causing irreparable damage or harm or denial of care.

And we know that the reason why they are not allowed to be sued is because of a loophole in a law called ARISA, which we get -- you get a thing called "MEGO" -- my eyes glaze over -- in a big hurry when you talk about this. But the fact is, there's a loophole in the law that gives the health insurance companies, the HMOs, immunity.

All we're trying to do is level the playing field here. We think that it will not cause an explosion of lawsuits. And, in the last year or so, there has been an increase in the costs of health insurance that, yet, according to recent figures, there has not been a drop, in fact there's been an increase in people who have been able to obtain health insurance. No one wants to have the uninsured increase. In fact, that's our next major challenge, is to help every American get health insurance coverage.

BLITZER: Is the version of the HMO reform, the patients' bill of rights, that House Speaker Dennis Hastert is now suggesting on the other side of Capitol Hill, is that something that's closer to your version, something that you could live with?

MCCAIN: Well, it's interesting, because, for the first time, now, the House of Representatives and the speaker have said that they want to propose legislation which allows this right of people to sue under certain circumstances -- and I want to emphasize -- after an extensive internal and external review process, before they can go to court. But it's interesting that they have shifted in that direction. I hope we can work with them.

I believe we are -- the negotiations that we're having with the White House and with the opponents of this legislation can, and I'm cautiously optimistic that we will reach a fair resolution and get a bill that the president can sign.

BLITZER: And are you talking to Senators Frist, Breaux and Jeffords, who have this sort of middle position in the Senate, a position different than yours, but something that's obviously not as opposed to what you have in mind as Senator Nickles has put forward, as far as he's concerned?

MCCAIN: Yes, and I have had numerous conversations particularly with Senator Frist, and those conversations will continue.

BLITZER: This is only one issue, Senator McCain, on which you disagree seriously with the White House, and you've aligned yourself with Senator Kennedy, Senator Edwards of North Carolina. But there are others of course as well.

Campaign finance reform, the widely known McCain-Feingold. You've cosponsored that legislation -- which has now passed the Senate, is in the House -- with Senator Feingold. It doesn't seem to be moving any place right now. Is that deliberate, or do you think it's eventually going to get through the House?

MCCAIN: Well, apparently they are going to take up the bill after the Fourth of July recess, which would be around the 10th of July.

Look, they have stated openly, the opponents of the bill, that their strategy is to delay consideration of the bill, which they have done for several months. Obviously, a lot of us find that frustrating.

But I'm still cautiously optimistic that they will act on this legislation and that we will be able to get a bill out before the August recess. It's going to be tough. Have no illusions about the fact that the big money and special interests people are mounting as fierce and as sharp an attack on this legislation as they possibly can, but I still believe that we can succeed.

BLITZER: If your companion legislation in the House, Shays- Meehan, as it's called, if it does get through, and there's a House- Senate conference committee, and they work out all the differences, as inevitably there will be some differences, are you convinced President Bush will sign campaign finance reform into law?

MCCAIN: I have not spoken directly to the president about this. I have read and heard reports that he has said to the House leadership, "Look, try to handle this in the House, because I will sign a bill." But I don't know, because I think he's probably going to want to examine the provisions of the final product before he would make a decision on it. But I hope that we can get a bill that he would sign.

BLITZER: On another issue, you've aligned yourself with Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democrat from Connecticut, on gun control. You want to tighten up some of those loopholes as far as buying guns at gun shows. Is that legislation moving along, or is it getting strong opposition from many of your Republican colleagues and the White House?

MCCAIN: Well, it's the same language as was on a ballot initiative in Colorado and in Oregon. In Colorado, it was supported by the conservative Republican governor of Colorado. It passed by over 70 percent.

All it does is say, look, felons cannot go to some small dealer in order to acquire a gun without a background check, that the background-check requirements that are in place would apply across the board, and that's really all it is.

MCCAIN: In fact, it shortens the time frame to 24 hours and, hopefully, once technology is in place, to have instant background checks.

So, I hope we can make progress on it. But, no, it's not on the agenda yet, Wolf, because we obviously have not taken up -- we haven't heard of the agenda yet from the new majority leader.

BLITZER: You know that a Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association has come out strongly against you on this issue. Earlier in the week, he said this. Let me read to you what Wayne LaPierre said.

He said, "For years," -- he, referring to John McCain -- "voted with the NRA on every single vote. During the primary against George Bush, we told people he was a good guy. He voted with the NRA every single vote. I look at what he's doing now, I just shake my head. I go, John, what are you doing hanging out with that crowd?"

MCCAIN: Well, you know, in all due respect, Mr. LaPierre and the NRA opposed me in the primaries and supported President Bush. I respect that, but we might as well tell the truth.

This is a very modest measure. Everybody knows that our goal has got to be to keep the guns out of the hands of felons. And I believe that when you look at the results of the Colorado initiative and the Oregon initiative, that overwhelmingly Americans would like to see this happen. I hope I can work with them and make it happen.


BLITZER: Just ahead, more of my interview with Senator John McCain. I'll ask him about his differences with the administration on tax cuts, as well as his own political future. LATE EDITION will continue right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. Now, more of my interview with Senator John McCain.


BLITZER: You were one of two Republicans who voted against President Bush's $1.35 trillion dollar tax cut, which is now, of course, the law of the land. Among other things, you expressed concern at the time that this huge tax cut could undermine military spending.

I want you to listen to what Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld told the Senate earlier this week about defense spending and where money is going to come from. Listen to this.


DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We have underfunded and overused our forces. We find that, to meet acceptable levels of risk, we are short a division, we are short of air lift. We have been underfunding aging infrastructure and facilities. We are short high- demand and low-density assets.


BLITZER: Well, where is the money going to come from for all of this additional defense spending that the defense secretary wants now that the tax cut has been approved?

MCCAIN: I don't know. And the problem has been exaggerated, obviously, by the less than robust economic conditions, to say the least. And that can put a greater squeeze on how much money is available, plus, the reports already from appropriations committees saw that they are vastly overspending.

I think one of the ways we could find the money is to have a very strict threat from the president, which I would strongly support him on, to veto bills that are loaded up with pork-barrel spending and earmarks. And I want to and would be eager to work with the president on this issue.

We waste billions of dollars in defense just on pork barrel spending and earmarked projects that have nothing to do with defense, and that's one of the ways we could find some of the money.

But I'm still concerned about, when you talk about the Medicare trust fund, the Social Security trust fund and increased defense requirements, as to where we are going to find those funds. And that's what I was concerned about when I voted against the tax bill.

BLITZER: And so no regrets about voting against that tax bill?

MCCAIN: No, unfortunately my concerns are probably becoming validated, and I'm sorry about that.

BLITZER: There's another issue that the White House has to deal with in the next few weeks. The president is, obviously, torn on this issue of stem cell research, research that would, many medical experts say, help in dealing with such diseases as Parkinson's and diabetes. The president's torn by those who say that using these stem cells from fetuses could undermine his entire anti-abortion policy. On the other hand, he wants to see if he can deal with some of these new medical advances.

Where do you stand on the whole issue of stem cell research?

MCCAIN: I'm leaning towards supporting it very strongly because of the information that I have received. There is one individual that a lot of us respect, Orrin Hatch, who has been one of the leaders in the pro-life effort, and he has come out in favor of stem cell research, as many others have.

I think that if you allow it, though, there has to be incredibly strong restrictions and government supervision as to what happens to the stem cells, how are they harvested and all that.

But, overall, I think it is probably something that is good for America, good for medical research, and could save lives, as you mentioned, because of diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other terrible diseases that afflict our society.

BLITZER: So you're hoping the president says go ahead do the research with those stem cells?

MCCAIN: And I believe that it's important that he -- I agree with him that he take his time on this, particularly when there has to be a lot of supervision and restrictions placed on this research.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, when Senator Jeffords, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, decided to become an independent, leave the Republican Party, you issued a very tough statement. I want to read to you an excerpt from that written statement that you released.

You said, "Perhaps those self-appointed enforcers of party loyalty will learn to respect honorable differences among us, learn to disagree with out resorting to personal threats, and recognize that we are a party large enough to accommodate something short of strict unanimity on the issues of the day. Tolerance of dissent is the hallmark of a mature party, and it is well past time for the Republican Party to grow up." Since that statement on May 24, do you see signs the Republican Party is growing up?

MCCAIN: Yes, I do. I see a much more tolerant attitude amongst my colleagues. I do see Governor Gilmore, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, is setting up outreach programs. I see the president spending time with a number of Republicans.

MCCAIN: I think we've got a long, long, long way to go, but I do believe that we are making some progress. And I think that Republicans did have a wake-up call, and I think they're starting to react to it.

BLITZER: You know, Senator McCain, that your positions on many of these issues, many of the independent positions you've staked out, the work that you tried to do with Democrats on a lot of these issues -- some of them we talked about today -- is driving a lot of hard-core Republicans, like Rush Limbaugh and others, crazy. They're worried about you. They're worried that you may jump away from the Republican Party and become an independent.

What is your thought now? What would convince that you it's time to leave the Republican Party?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, may I say that I noticed that Senator Kennedy and President Bush worked very closely together on the education bill, which may not be perfect but certainly is a significant piece of legislation. We have 50 votes or 51 votes or 49 votes, whatever it is. There's no doubt that any legislation that's going to be passed is going to have to have some bipartisanship associated with it. American people want that.

I envision no scenario in which I would leave the Republican Party. I have no intention nor cause to leave the Republican Party. And, nor have I had any discussions -- I repeat, any discussions -- with anyone of my friends or associates or aides on this issue.

BLITZER: You know that a new poll that CNN released this past week, the CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup Poll, asked about favorable ratings among various politicians. President Bush was at 62 percent. Senator McCain was at 60 percent. Senator Lott, the minority leader, was at 34 percent. Senator Daschle, the majority leader, was at 34 percent.

Looking at those numbers, what do those numbers say to you?

MCCAIN: I'm flattered, to start with.

Second of all, I think that most Americans want us to work together on issues that are important to them and that we can agree on. And second of all that, perhaps they might appreciate some streaks of independence amongst their elected leaders who perhaps stand up for what they what they believe in.

But all this stuff is very transient. And all I need to do is continue to try to work with everybody that I can, including the president of the United States, with whom I have a very cordial relationship, so that we can accomplish the greater good.

BLITZER: Finally, Senator, because we're almost out of time, there has been some speculation in your home state of Arizona that the former Vice President Dan Quayle might be considering running for governor of Arizona. A, have you heard about that? And, B, do you think that's a good idea?

MCCAIN: I have not heard about it. I have the greatest respect and admiration for Dan Quayle. He's a friend of mine. I'd be glad to talk to him about it.

We do have some other candidates like former Congressman Matt Salmon, our Secretary of State Betsy Bayless and others. But I think that Dan Quayle is a longtime resident of the state of Arizona and certainly qualified.

BLITZER: I know that tomorrow night, Senator McCain -- you may have had a few interviews today, but tomorrow night you're going to really face the heat when you are on Letterman's show. You prepared for that?

MCCAIN: I'm extremely nervous. My teenaged children don't watch me too often, but I know they will be watching tomorrow night, and they're my severest critics.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, always good to have you on our program. Thank you so much for joining us.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Wolf.


BLITZER: And just ahead, director Louis Freeh retired from the FBI this week. We'll talk about the future of the embattled bureau and a lot more with two senators, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy and Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter. Stay with us.



LOUIS FREEH, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I'm leaving very satisfied and very pleased.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The truth is, it's high time for a comprehensive, top-to-bottom look at the FBI.


BLITZER: Newly retired FBI director Louis Freeh and New York Senator Chuck Schumer, who has been critical of the bureau's recent series of missteps.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us now to discuss the FBI's future and much more are two key senators. Here in Washington, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, he's the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee; and in Philadelphia, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. He's also a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Senators, always good to have both of you on LATE EDITION. Welcome.

Senator Leahy, I want to begin with you. You chaired these hearings this past week on the FBI. Clearly, a lot of problems going on within the FBI right now. What does the agency have to do, the FBI, to get its act back together again?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Well, I think they have to take a good, clear look at themselves, and actually that's what the hearings are intended to be, and I think that's why it has been so much bipartisan support for it.

You know, they've been the crown jewel of law enforcement. As somebody said, they have lost the luster of the crown jewel through a whole series of mistakes that they didn't face up to themselves: Ruby Ridge, Waco, the bombing in Atlanta during the Olympics, the Hanssen case, the failure to comply with Director Freeh's direct order to turn over all the material in the Timothy McVeigh case and in other issues.

What we want them to do is say, "Look, you're not perfect, nobody's perfect. But if you make mistakes, don't spend all your effort in trying to hide the mistakes. Use that same kind of effort in trying to correct them. Make yourself better as a result of it."

BLITZER: Senator Specter, clearly, the American public lost a lot of confidence in the FBI. Look at these poll numbers that we recently had in a CNN-USA Today Gallup poll when we asked the American public, do you have a great deal or a lot of confidence in -- look at these numbers. State police, 63 percent said yes. Local police, 59 percent said yes. But when it comes to the FBI, only 38 percent of the American public said they had a great deal or a lot of confidence in the FBI.

Clearly a huge public relations problem for the FBI. Why?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Because the FBI has been found to have failed to make appropriate disclosures. It is understandable that they make mistakes, but they have a very severe cultural problem that they think the FBI can do no wrong, and if they do make mistakes, they ought not to admit it.

What I think there has to be, Wolf, is a change of the culture, and that's going to require a lot of very hard work, both within the FBI and on congressional oversight.

I believe that Congress, both the Senate and the House, are partly to blame for the failure of the FBI to measure up. During my 20-year tenure in the Senate, we've only had one really effective oversight hearing, and that was on Ruby Ridge. We did not do a job on Waco. And those sores festered, and two years after Waco, you had the Oklahoma City bombing. I'm not saying it wouldn't have happened anyway. And now you've had McVeigh, and Hanssen, and the laboratories.

And I've been working on a subcommittee on the Wen Ho Lee case, where it's like pulling teeth to get information from the FBI. And we've been trying to find out exactly what happened on Wen Ho Lee, from the time they had a search of his premises back in April of '99 until they arrested him in December, and the FBI always has one excuse after another.

But it's up to Congress to really pursue.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let's ask the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee, what are you going to do, if anything, differently than your predecessors in overseeing the FBI?

LEAHY: Well, I've asked for this kind of an oversight hearing for years, but of course I wasn't the chairman. So I want to make it very...

BLITZER: But you're the chairman now.

LEAHY: And that's the very first hearing I had after I became chairman, is to begin these hearings of oversight. I hope that sends a very strong signal that we are not going to say that the FBI is the one agency in government that no one can question.

Senator Specter is correct in saying that it has escaped that kind of scrutiny in the past. He and I conducted -- he chaired a hearing on the Ruby Ridge. It was one of the best hearings and one of the most searching hearings, one of the things I'm very proud to have been involved in, as I know he is.

That actually asked questions, but those kind of questions should be asked all the time. And I said when I became chairman that they're not going to be kept off the agenda any more, and I tried demonstrate that by making this the very first hearing I held as chairman. But there will be a series of such hearings.

BLITZER: Will you urge the FBI, Senator Leahy, to have an inspector general placed inside the bureau, as is the case at the CIA and almost every other agency in Washington, that will have an independent opportunity to investigate problems there?

LEAHY: If I thought it would be truly independent, yes. But unlike the CIA, the FBI is under the Department of Justice. And what we have had is this sort of bifurcated thing where the inspector general in the Department of Justice can inspect the FBI, but only after having gone through all kinds of hoops and getting all kinds of specific permissions. It shouldn't be that way.

They should realize they are part of the Department of Justice, just as I intend to make sure the new FBI director understands that he takes orders from the attorney general, not the other way around.

I want the inspector general currently in the Department of Justice to have no holds barred. If he or she wants to go into the FBI, he or she should be allowed to do that. BLITZER: Senator Specter, do you agree with that? Should the inspector general from the Department of Justice really be able to investigate the FBI? Or should there be a separate inspector general within the FBI that should have that responsibility?

SPECTER: I believe there ought to be a separate inspector general in the FBI. Right now, the inspector general for the Department of Justice can't even start an investigation without the attorney general's permission -- that is ridiculous -- as to what an inspector general ought to do.

One of the problems here, Wolf, is that the FBI has been given so many additional responsibilities that it has become an enormous organization. They now have 28,000 employees. They have a budget of $3.3 billion. And I think that Director Freeh, who had his last day in office last week, has done a good job. But he has been a guy who has been running around putting his finger in the holes of all these dikes.

And they have a culture and they have futile baronies where it is very, very difficult for the supervisors and the director to find out exactly what is going on. But if you had an inspector general who really looked at the FBI alone, like the inspector general on CIA -- and by the way, that is relatively recent, just came out of the Iran- Contra hearings -- I think it would be a big step forward.

Let me add one note, Wolf. And that is, while we are critical of the FBI, they have had some major successes. These indictments last week on Khobar Towers are an enormous achievement.

BLITZER: Senator Specter, let me interrupt you on that point, because you say it's an enormous achievement. Do you really believe any of those 14 suspects -- 13 Saudis, one Lebanese, a John Doe identified there in that indictment -- any of them are ever going to be tried here in the United States?

SPECTER: I think that there is a distinct possibility that they will. We have brought back to the United States people who have committed crimes overseas, Falwas Unis (ph). We have the people who have been tried in the United States for the embassy bombings. But that is an investigation which took years and years and years, and Director Freeh went there personally. There are also a great many success stories that the FBI has on stopping terrorism which are never told. I just wanted to put that in as an addendum there.

BLITZER: All right. I want to take a quick break.

But Senator Leahy, before we take a quick break, on that indictment, the Khobar Towers, the truck bombing explosion outside a U.S. military dormitory in Saudi Arabia that came forward, the FBI director and the attorney general both suggested that the real culprits, the real people behind this bombing were Iranian-backed terrorists groups, none of whom were indicted, presumably because there wasn't enough so-called hard evidence to go forward.

Were you frustrated that no Iranians where indicted in this particular case?

LEAHY: Well, it is frustrating, especially if you just go by the facts. I'm referring to those that have been in the press.

But I think you also have to know we wouldn't have gotten this far without Director Freeh's personal involvement. And he did spend a great deal of time -- I talked to him numerous times when he was over there and when he came back -- pushing at this hard. And you cannot overlook the successes the FBI has had in this regard.

I suspect a political decision was made how much further you go. Frankly, I believe that there were Iranians involved and that they helped with various aspects of it.

BLITZER: The political decision being that the U.S. did not want to disrupt relations with Iran?

LEAHY: The political -- right, to say, the White House say, look, we can't offend them. Frankly, as an old prosecutor, I feel when somebody's committed a crime, you prosecute them. Let the political aspects shape themselves out later on.

BLITZER: Very briefly, Senator Specter, do you agree with Senator Leahy?

SPECTER: I don't know, but what I do believe is we ought to have some prompt oversight. You see, Wolf, that is exactly what the Judiciary Committee ought to do.

I read the indictment and it said the Iranians inspired and supported what was done. Now that is a pretty tough charge in an indictment. But then when Director Freeh and Attorney General Ashcroft were questioned, they said -- I read the transcript of their news conference, it didn't quite measure up. And they said, "Well, if we'd had sufficient evidence, we would have proceeded." But I have a doubt about that.

BLITZER: All right.

SPECTER: And I would like to see the Judiciary Committee take a look. We've got some ex-prosecutors who have some standing to make an evaluation as to sufficiency of evidence, and that's precisely the kind of active oversight that our committee ought to be doing.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Specter, Senator Leahy, stand by. We have to quick break.

We'll continue our discussion with both senators. They'll also be taking your phone calls. LATE EDITION will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our discussion with Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat from Vermont, and Senator Arlen Specter, Republican from Pennsylvania. Senator Leahy, two federal executions in the last few weeks, Timothy McVeigh, of course, being one of them. You have legislation -- you're opposed to the death penalty. Do you think this legislation that you've now introduced is going to be able to eliminate the death penalty in the United States?

LEAHY: No. No, my legislation is really neutral on the question death penalty. That's why we've got a number of people who strongly support the death penalty who have become cosponsors of the legislation, as well as some who oppose the death penalty are cosponsors.

What I'm saying is, if you're going to have the death penalty, then make sure you at least have adequate counsel, not a case where you bring in somebody's who's ready to confess to anything, whether they did it or not. Next thing you know, they are on trial, with death penalty. Then you have a lawyer who sleeps through the trial or is drunk at the trial, and say, well, he's had inadequate counsel.

It all stemmed out of the number of places, like in Illinois, where they had half the people on death row, some hours away from execution, where they finally said, "Whoops, we've got the wrong people." What happens there, of course, you break down in confidence in the criminal justice system. If you've got the wrong person on death row for a murder, that means that the person who committed the murder is out running free somewhere. They could do it to others.

What we want to do is just make sure you have a real trial, you have real counsel, and you have all evidence available, whether it's DNA or anything, to both sides.

BLITZER: Well, Senator Specter, you're a former prosecutor. But as you well know, many of our viewers, not only in the United States, but around the world, who are watching, they don't understand why there is this death penalty in the United States. President Bush, when he was abroad recently, received a lot of criticism for the death penalty.

What do you say to those people out there who think it's barbaric for a government to go ahead and execute someone, even someone who commits a heinous crime?

SPECTER: I say that we have the death penalty because we believe as a society that it's appropriate; that we have really a tremendous criminal problem in the United States, a society where guns are commonplace, unlike Great Britain, for example, where the police officers for years didn't even carry guns.

I believe that the death penalty is an effective deterrent, and I can give you a lot of illustrations from my experience as district attorney in Philadelphia.

But I totally agree with Senator Leahy that we have to be extremely careful on how we carry it out. If we don't, we're going to lose it. And adequacy of counsel is fundamental. DNA evidence, if it might show innocence, is fundamental. But if you take a case like McVeigh where, in a calculated, deliberate, cold-blooded way, he plans to blow up a building, and he kills 168 people and he ruins hundreds more, and many are innocent women and children -- and I haven't seen I haven't seen a case that bad, but I've seen cases which warrant the death penalty.

BLITZER: Let's move on and talk a little bit about judicial nominees, Senator Leahy. Your committee has to approve, has to confirm president Bush's nominees. There's a major stumbling block right now standing in the way of reorganizing the Senate.

Are you going to hold firm on your position that the two senators from each respective state will have, in effect, veto power over these kinds of nominees?

LEAHY: That's never been my position. I have said that we have to have consultation, I mean, real consultation, with the two senators from those states, which we have always done. That they should then, once they've had that consultation, when they satisfy that consultation, and they've had real input, then let us in the committee know, and that their views carry enormous weight.

BLITZER: But if both senators -- let's say from California, two democratic senators, if they don't like a nominee that President Bush has put forward for judicial appointment, should that be enough to destroy that opportunity for those nominees to become judges?

LEAHY: In the past, it always has, and we'll take these case by case. We'll look at them, carefully. I've always, for example, said that what is more important is that we make known the views of the senators from those states, make public the so-called blue slips, and we're going to do that. I've already decided that. I'll make them public under the rules, I can.

But what I want to do is know from the individual senators from their states what they know. We don't expect that the senators of the opposite party from the president is going appoint the judges by any means, but they ought to have significant input. That has worked very well in the Senate, with some...

BLITZER: All right. Well, let me ask Senator Specter.

Senator Specter, where does it say in the Constitution that two senators from any particular state should have, in effect, veto power -- at least, even one of them should have veto power -- over a presidential nominee for a judicial post?

SPECTER: It doesn't say it anywhere, Wolf. To the contrary, it says there'll be confirmation by the Senate.

I have long opposed the blue slips totally. I think the blue ship is a form of a blackball, and it has real overtones of discrimination. And one of the two items which is holding up the reorganization of the Senate has been the insistence of the Republican caucus that there be a commitment in the reorganizing resolution that the blue slips will be made public. That is minimal, and so far we haven't been able to get that commitment.

BLITZER: All right, let...

LEAHY: I don't know how many times I have to say it, we're going to have the blue slip made public. In fact, I have proposed that what we do, the first day we actually meet, is just unanimously vote that we'll make all blue slips -- and I agree with Senator Specter that they should be public, if we have them at all. But just go back, open up our files, show where they've ever been.

That's not so much the issue. I'd like to get going on having judicial nomination hearings. We're going to start those. We're going to send out the notices on them within a day or so from the time we reorganize.

BLITZER: How close are you to a deal with the Republicans on this issue?

LEAHY: Oh, I don't know. I'm not involved in that. I mean, I have said over and over and over again, I don't know how many times I have to say it, that these are all going to be public anyhow, and so I think this is kind of a red herring.

The more important thing is that we have real consultation, that we have real involvement, that it's not just appoint and rubber stamp. But it's nominate, and then have advise and consent, and I intend do that.

SPECTER: Well...

BLITZER: Senator Specter, I just want to move on and -- because we don't have a lot of time -- ask you about this patients' bill of rights. Senator McCain, your Republican colleague, was on earlier. He's teamed up with Senators Kennedy and Edwards, two Democrats, and he's fighting hard for his version of a patients' bill of rights.

Will there be a patients' bill of rights that will pass through Congress that the president will be able to sign into law? Where do you stand on this?

SPECTER: Well, I think so.

But just a word on the last question, because I've been involved in the negotiations on reorganization. And when Senator Leahy says he's prepared to do it on the first day the Judiciary Committee meets, well, the Republican caucus has asked for the assurance in writing in the reorganization resolution.

But on to the patients' bill of rights.

BLITZER: Well, let's just pick that up.


BLITZER: You didn't give him the assurance in writing, Senator Leahy? LEAHY: Well, you know, they've also asked that we treat the nominees as fairly as they've treated President Clinton's. I said I'd hope we could do a lot better than that.

The fact is, my word is good. I said we're going to make these open, they're going to be open. Senator Lott and Senator Daschle are the ones who are going to have to decide what goes in the reorganization. I have complete faith in both men.

BLITZER: Senator Specter, you don't trust Senator Leahy's word? His word isn't good enough for you?

SPECTER: I do trust his word. The question, however, is, when you're reorganizing the Senate and you write down what the arrangement is, we have asked that it be written down in the reorganization resolution that the blue slips will be made public.

Wolf, I don't think these semicolons are nearly as important as the patients' bill of rights. So I'll come back to your...

BLITZER: Talk about the patients' -- tell us your view on it. Will there be a patients' bill of rights signed into law by President Bush?

SPECTER: I think the chances are very good. And I'm a cosponsor of the legislation which has been introduced by Senators McCain, Edwards and Kennedy.

The key stumbling block turns on what the liability will be in court. And employers and HMOs are very worried that in some state courts there'll be enormous verdicts, and plaintiffs are concerned that they not be limited from their traditional rights for damages.

And I'm putting in an amendment, have filed it, which would say that only the federal court will have jurisdiction over these claims, and there will not be limitations. Right now -- and this is really complicated, but let me give you a nutshell.

BLITZER: All right.

SPECTER: Somebody...

BLITZER: We only -- well, very briefly, go ahead.

SPECTER: OK. Somebody starts a suit in state court, and it's removed to the federal court under an ERISA preemption. And then the judge in the federal court makes a long decision based on a lot of technicalities, a coverage and quality of service, and sometimes sends it back to the state court...

BLITZER: All right.

SPECTER: ... and sometimes...

BLITZER: It's getting very technical, Senator Specter. I think you're losing some of our viewers. But I want to bring Senator Leahy back in. On this patients' bill of rights, I assume you support McCain, Kennedy and Edwards?

LEAHY: I do. My feeling is, the only way you're going to make HMOs actually pay attention to you is if they know it's going to cost them if they don't. I don't want the HMO to tell me, "Look, I'm going to pretend to be your doctor. I'll make these decisions for you, and there's not much you can do it." That's why the patients' bill of rights says, "Look, if I'm the patient, I've still got some say in what my care is going to be."

BLITZER: Senator Leahy and Senator Specter, unfortunately we are all out of time. I want to thank both of you for joining us.

SPECTER: Nice to be with you.

LEAHY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. We have to take another quick break.

For our international viewers, "WORLD NEWS" is next.

For our North American audience, stay with us for the second hour of LATE EDITION. We'll check the hour's top stories and hear the latest about missing Washington intern Chandra Levy from the assistant D.C. police chief.

Then, we'll talk to our legal team, Lanny Davis and Dick Thornburgh, about the case, the FBI transition, Roger Clinton's pardon and much more.

Plus, our LATE EDITION roundtable and Bruce Morton's "Last Word." It's all ahead in the second hour of LATE EDITION.


BLITZER: This is the second hour of LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're doing everything we can.


BLITZER: But are we any closer to finding missing Washington intern Chandra Levy? We'll ask Assistant D.C. Police Chief Terrence Gainer.

And we'll get some legal perspective on the case, the FBI transition, Roger Clinton's pardon and more from former Clinton White House Special Counsel Lanny Davis and former Bush Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.

Plus, our LATE EDITION roundtable: Steve Roberts, Susan Page and David Brooks. And Bruce Morton has the "Last Word" on taking a final bow.

Welcome back. We'll get the latest about the case of the missing Washington intern, Chandra Levy, in just a moment, but first let's go to Brian Nelson in Atlanta for check of the hour's top stories.


BLITZER: It has been seven weeks since Washington, D.C., intern Chandra Levy disappeared. Her parents have appealed to the public for information regarding her whereabouts. And this week her mother met with Democratic Congressman Gary Condit of California, who says he is a good friend of the missing woman.

D.C. police interviewed Congressman Condit for a second time yesterday. Here to discuss the latest in the case is Terrence Gainer, he's the assistant police chief here in Washington, D.C.

Chief Gainer, welcome to LATE EDITION. Thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: First of all, are you any closer today than you were seven weeks ago in knowing something about the whereabouts of Chandra Levy?

GAINER: Well, we haven't found her yet, obviously, but everything we gather I think helps us work towards that.

BLITZER: Well, is there some progress that you can report on this missing Washington intern?

GAINER: Well, I don't think anybody will accept progress except for ultimately finding her. But every time we interview someone, every time we paint the picture a little bit better, put the mosaic, I think it gives us additional information, and it helps us narrow down things. And we continue to get leads into our hotline, which we are following up.

BLITZER: And so, are there some specific new leads that is giving you some sense of encouragement that she will be found?

GAINER: Well, that's what we hope. When Chief Ramsey and I met with her parents, we pledged to them we would treat this as if it was our own child. And so we are going to keep hope alive, be very positive, and stay at it.

BLITZER: Are there any new leads right now?

GAINER: There are tips and clues that we are following up, but nothing that we think is going to produce an outcome this afternoon.

BLITZER: At this point, do you believe she is alive or dead?

GAINER: That's what we are hoping for. There are clearly several theories that she may have gone off on her own and assumed a new identity, she may have committed suicide, maybe she's wandering with some type of amnesia or other injury. We just don't know that, yet.

BLITZER: On any of those three points, though, do you have any evidence, anything, any tips, any suggestion to believe -- let's go through them, A, that she may have wandered off on her own?

GAINER: Well, those are the information, the facts that we are trying to gather in these interviews that help us discern that. So, our personnel are working. We're working with the FBI, trying to put together that profile of her to see if we figure that out.

BLITZER: Anything in her background at all that would suggest suicide?

GAINER: Well, nothing that we'd probably discuss publicly. I think part of what we're doing -- I just want to make it real clear -- is to put together that picture. And I think we all live pretty complicated lives. No one thing points in one direction, but all of it may help our detectives.

BLITZER: So you're working under the assumption she's still alive, though?

GAINER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: You met yesterday once again with Congressman Condit. Why?

GAINER: Well, it was a follow-up interview. We've conducted hundreds of interviews in this case. It's not unusual to re-interview people. He was one of many people we interviewed. So we're just again trying get some clarity, when he may have last saw her, spoke to her, what he knows about her, help put that portrait together for us.

BLITZER: Did you get some clarity on those questions?

GAINER: We didn't squander our time.

BLITZER: The information he provided you was useful?

GAINER: I think all the information we gather is helpful.

BLITZER: So could you share with us some of the outcome of that second meeting with Congressman Condit?

GAINER: I really can't. I think what we need to convey to anybody who wants to give us information is we're going to keep that close to the chest.

BLITZER: Is there, at this point, a third meeting scheduled with Congressman Condit?

GAINER: As we go through this, we may re-interview a lot of different people, but nothing specific is scheduled at this time.

BLITZER: No meeting, no additional follow-up, as far as you can see right now?

GAINER: Nothing scheduled at this time, no.

BLITZER: And the meeting yesterday lasted how long?

GAINER: About an hour.

BLITZER: And he was there with his attorney, Abbe Lowell?

GAINER: I wouldn't comment on that.

BLITZER: Why not? Wouldn't that be normal for him to go to a meeting like this with the police with his attorney?

GAINER: Then maybe the answer to question is obvious.

BLITZER: But I don't understand why you couldn't comment on that.

GAINER: Well, what we're really trying to do is respect the process. And, normally, we wouldn't even comment on who we are interviewing, but because, I think, of the nature and because of the accusations that have been thrown his way, it seemed fair, at least, to disclose that.

What went on in there and what we learned, what we're going to do from that is really the business of the police.

BLITZER: And it's fair to say that what you wanted to try to get from Congressman Condit was some information about, perhaps, her state of mind. He's acknowledged they were good friends.

GAINER: Exactly. I mean, he's not under investigation. Every time we interview someone, we want to know what they know about her. That helps us, again, work through those theories and gives us a better picture of her.

BLITZER: This is still a missing persons case. Her family is asked that it be reclassified as a criminal case. Why not make it a criminal case?

GAINER: Well, because what the incident is called is really not of particular value. We've put the resources in this. We have seasoned homicide detectives. We're working with the FBI. We have our forensic people; we're using the forensic lab of the FBI. So everything that could be done, is being done. And the whole issue about what the incident is called is really more ministerial, at this point, than anything else

BLITZER: And if it were to be reclassified as a criminal case, homicide case or a criminal case, in order to make that kind of switch from missing persons to criminal, what would it take?

GAINER: It would require some additional information, some indication that a crime has been committed. But, again, our hands aren't limited at all, or the power of the grand jury or subpoena or anything else, by what the case is classified.

BLITZER: So if there is even a little piece of evidence to suggest that there may have been foul play, then would it be reclassified?

GAINER: It would be, yes.

BLITZER: And as result of that, we assume there hasn't been that little piece of evidence, otherwise you would have reclassified it?

GAINER: Exactly.

BLITZER: So you're still moving on that.

Her family has hired a well-known, high-profile Washington attorney, Billy Martin. He says he's going to conduct his own investigation together with his former homicide private investigators. Is that going to help or hurt your effort?

GAINER: I think it can help. I met with Mr. Martin. We know his investigators. And if he shares with us what he learns, that could bring additional information. We'll take information from any source we can get it.

BLITZER: Give us some perspective from the District of Columbia, which is a relatively small area, how unusual is this missing persons case?

GAINER: We have no other cases that fit this type of circumstances. We've looked at that. We've looked at missing cases around this geographic area and across the United States, and nothing quite fits in. So we don't see any pattern, we don't see any stranger danger out there. There are other missing persons, but nothing like quite like this.

BLITZER: But it's been widely reported in the area where she lived, near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., there have three or four other cases involving young women who have disappeared within the last few years.

GAINER: But some of those people have been found -- unfortunately, some dead. And some of those cases involve no crime. But nonetheless, they are not related to this one. We have examined that.

BLITZER: The fact that there's been so much publicity generated, focusing in on this case, is that a source of help? Or does it hinder your effort that the news media has been so obsessed, in effect, by this case?

GAINER: Well, it can be of help, because we get additional word out and maybe we jog someone's memory or change their heart and they give us information. If our detectives get mucked up in it, it interferes with it. And it might slow down people wanting to come forward, if they think I'm going to sit on TV and discuss what they do. So, the job of Chief Ramsey and I is to create an environment where detectives can do their work and we keep everybody else at bay.

BLITZER: We only have a few seconds left. There are a lot of interns in the Washington, D.C., area, especially this summer, working for all sorts of organizations, government. What advice do you have for those young people working here as interns?

GAINER: They have to be sensible here, like in any other city. This is a very safe city. Crime has diminished a lot. But I think they have to stay in contact with friends and family.

BLITZER: Chief Gainer, thanks for joining us.

GAINER: Thank you.

BLITZER: And good luck to you in your investigation.

GAINER: Thanks.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And when we return, we'll get some legal perspective on the Chandra Levy case, plus the FBI hopes for new beginning. Roger Clinton denies a pardon problem, and Bush Adviser Karl Rove takes some heat. We'll talk with former White House special counsel Lanny Davis and former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us now to discuss the Chandra Levy case, the FBI's fresh start and a whole lot more are two of our regular guests. Here in Washington, former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis and former Bush Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.

Gentlemen, always good to have you on our program. Welcome back.

Dick Thornburgh, I want to begin with you. You just saw this interview with Chief Gainer. This case has generated all sorts of news media interest, all sorts of publicity. How extraordinary is this Chandra Levy case?

RICHARD THORNBURGH, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I think it some poses real problems for all concerned, for the people involved in the case, the families, the lawyers, the news media.

I think the important thing to emphasize, we have no idea what happened here. And until some evidence is developed that can lay the basis for a finding of that, we're going to be kind of pushing in the dark.

I think Representative Condit is the unfortunate victim of a kind of deja vu that, when people think of 53-year-old public figures and 24-year-old interns, they tend of think of the worst these days. And that's really not fair, and I think -- I hope the process works itself out to a resolution that doesn't take into account that kind of...

BLITZER: Lanny Davis, you helped the president, President Clinton deal with a problem with an intern. You understand why there's all this interest. You hear the words "politician," "Washington intern," "young intern," and unfortunately, tragically she's missing right now. You understand why there is so much interest?

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, yes, and no. Yes, because Congressman Condit can't speak out, and explain.

BLITZER: Why can't he speak out?

DAVIS: And obviously, there's a matter under investigation. He's got to pick the right time to do it. He's denied any involvement in the disappearance. If there was a relationship with this young woman, then there are certain matters that he should not have to be exposed to a press conference talking about a private relationship.

So he's got to speak out at some point, the only question is when. While the investigation is going on, I'm pretty sympathetic.

But I would say that the news media should really examine its conduct carefully. I just saw a cropped photograph, Wolf, where he was standing between two interns. One was Ms. Levy and one was her friend. They cropped the photograph of her friend, and that's the photograph that's been carried all over the country of Congressman Condit and Ms. Levy.

BLITZER: You saw that on this program?

DAVIS: I saw it on one of the Sunday shows this morning.

BLITZER: On another show, but not on this program.

DAVIS: No, no, it was actually broadcast as a photograph that's been seen all over the country in newspapers.

So we've got to be very careful about this frenzy that everybody jumps to conclusions too quickly.

THORNBURGH: At the same time, I'm calling for the media and the public to be fair to Congressman Condit. I think it's important to note that every citizen has an obligation to come forward with any knowledge that they have in an occasion like this. They have, of course, Fifth Amendment rights, if they're implicated in any way, but I think the delay here may have cost the police the freshness of any leads that might have been provided out of Congressman Condit's statements, and I think that's regrettable.

DAVIS: In all fairness, there's no evidence, Dick, that he has delayed meeting with the police. In fact, he met with them once, and he immediately met with them a second time when they asked him.

But I do agree, he's got to come forward and at least make absolutely clear publicly that he had nothing to do with this disappearance, but I don't think he can do that yet.

BLITZER: Why can't he do that yet? Because you know, the longer he remains silent, the more it fuels suspicion, fairly or unfairly.

DAVIS: Well, he's represented by a very good lawyer whose judgment he should be following, but I do think he needs to come forward and categorically declare that, if it's true, that he had nothing to do with the disappearance.

THORNBURGH: Most people find it inexplicable that he's taken this long to do that.

DAVIS: Right.

BLITZER: On this issue, the other point, Dick Thornburgh, that we saw this week, two high-profile well-known Washington attorneys, Billy Martin, who represented Monica Lewinsky's mother, representing the Levy family right now, and Abbe Lowell, who worked in the House Judiciary Committee, working with the Democrats, working now with Congressman Condit.

The fact that there are these two high-profile lawyers -- both of you know them both very well -- what does that suggest? What's the significance of that?

THORNBURGH: I hope it suggests nothing. People are entitled to the best counsel that they can get, and I think that this is what's happened here. There shouldn't be any stigma attached to engaging successful lawyers to look after your interests, and I don't attach any significance...

BLITZER: What does it suggest to you?

DAVIS: Well, it suggests, at least on the part of Mr. Condit, very good judgment, because Abbe Lowell is a great lawyer.

But I think that we do need people who are sensitive to Washington, on cases where there are political overtones. And both of those lawyers understand that they're not just defending in a particular investigation, they're in the public arena. And there are judgments, including being forthcoming with the press, that are different when you're in this arena than when you're in other arenas.

BLITZER: And you always advised your clients, including President Clinton when you were working for him, to, if there's bad news, get it out yourself, don't wait for your enemies to release it.

THORNBURGH: That's the gospel according to Lanny.

DAVIS: Can I plug my book?

BLITZER: Go ahead.


DAVIS: "Tell it all, tell it early, tell it yourself" is the subtitle.

BLITZER: Would that be good advice for Congressman Condit?

THORNBURGH: Good guidance for the congressman, yes.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to take a quick break. We've got a lot more to talk about when we return.

Also, your phone calls for Lanny Davis and Dick Thornburgh. LATE EDITION will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing our conversation with former White House special counsel Lanny Davis and former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.

Dick Thornburgh, how much trouble is the FBI in right now during this interim period after Louis Freeh stepped down this week before the president names a new director?

THORNBURGH: Well, let me say this, first, Wolf. I have been associated with FBI off and on in different capacities for over 30 years. I still regard them as the world's premier law enforcement agency. They're not perfect. They've had a lot of problems, they were referred to by the senators in your previous segment.

And I think it is an opportunity to take stock with a new director, to remedy some of the management problems that have cropped up. And I think a lot of the problems that they have had recently have been management problems. The chain of command has broken down.

And this is an opportunity with appropriate oversight from the Hill, with Judge Webster's group and with Attorney General Ashcroft's oversight committee that has been set up, to kind of get back to basics. And that will be a good thing for the country as well as the FBI.

BLITZER: A lot of blue-ribbon commissions are now investigating the investigator, in this particular case.

Lanny Davis, most people agree that Louis Freeh, his strength was not management at the FBI.

DAVIS: Well, first of all, I agree with Dick. The FBI, as a professional organization, should not be questioned.

But I do think that Mr. Freeh, for reasons that are just beyond me, has managed to escape all of the problems that have occurred under his regime.

And I do believe, as a somewhat biased a memory of the Clinton White House, that Mr. Freeh was overly political, overly engaged with members of Congress, briefing them, leaking, I think, information to press. Reporters would call me and say, "We've gotten information out of Freeh's office about this. What is your reaction?" I hope this next FBI director will be completely above politics and will absolutely learn to manage a little bit better than Mr. Freeh.

BLITZER: Briefly, is that fair criticism?

THORNBURGH: I think that's a little tough on Louis Freeh. I think he...

DAVIS: That wasn't tough at all.

THORNBURGH: ... was in office during a very challenging period of time. I mean, the FBI has gone from stolen cars to cyberspace in a little bit over two decades. And I think Judge Freeh set out to respond to those changes in the FBI's charge.

He did an absolutely fantastic job of creating a presence internationally for the FBI, which is absolutely essential in this multinational era.

BLITZER: Let's quickly go through a couple of issues now still before the Justice Department.

Earlier in the week the Justice Department rejected a request from Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey for a special counsel to take over the investigation of his alleged wrongdoing.

The deputy attorney general, Larry Thompson, issuing this statement: "The Justice Department has a long history of professionally and impartially handling investigations of members of Congress of both parties. Any charge that the traditional work of the department's career prosecutors might be colored by which political party is in the majority in the Senate is simply wrong."

Was that right decision, to deny the request for special counsel, to remove the investigation from the U.S. attorney?

DAVIS: Yes, in my judgment, we shouldn't be going down the road of special counsel for those of us who oppose the independent counsel act for that very reason.

But why is there not an investigation as we speak -- and I think Dick may agree with me -- on the leaks that are going on by investigators, federal investigators, getting into the New York Times and prosecuting through the newspapers, using grand jury, or at least grand-jury-related information? What they have done to Senator Torricelli in leaks, Dick, I think requires a criminal investigation.

THORNBURGH: There is an investigation ongoing.

DAVIS: Not of the leaks.

THORNBURGH: Yes, there is.

DAVIS: There is?


DAVIS: Well, I haven't read about it. But if Dick Thornburgh says so, then...


BLITZER: He's got good information.

THORNBURGH: But I couldn't have said it better myself. I think there's absolutely no call for an independent counsel here. The investigation is being carried out very competently by Clinton appointee, Mary Jo White in the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan.

BLITZER: Let's take another caller. From Georgia, please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Yes, Attorney General Thornburgh, with all the problems in the pardoning process, do you think it would be appropriate to make some changes?

BLITZER: All right, well, you didn't hear the question, but I heard the question. With all the problems in the pardon process, do you think it would be appropriate at this point to make some changes in the pardon process?

THORNBURGH: No. I think the president ought to have the unrestricted right to grant pardons. What he does with that right and that power should be, and is, a legitimate political issue. But I think that the pardon power is a good safety valve on our criminal justice process.

Lanny Davis, Roger Clinton, the president's half brother, was on "LARRY KING LIVE" earlier this week, vehemently denying any wrongdoing on his part, neither receiving a pardon from the president or encouraging the president unsuccessfully to grant some other pardons. Listen to what Roger Clinton had to say.


ROGER CLINTON, BROTHER OF FORMER PRESIDENT CLINTON: I am very disappointed in what seemingly is a system that allows me to be guilty until proven innocent. I'm very, very angry. There is no truth to money for pardons. There is zero truth to that.


BLITZER: Did Roger Clinton get a raw deal? You know, he's being investigated by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Mary Jo White.

DAVIS: I don't think he's gotten a raw deal to be investigated.

What he's gotten a raw deal from is the same kind of innuendo- based journalism, where people's names are put into newspaper articles, in this case, the New York Times, which is a pretty good newspaper, without having direct corroborating evidence. There are allegations of others about what Roger Clinton did or said, but there was nothing in the article that directly linked Roger to doing anything wrong. And this is right back to connecting-dot journalism that I fought when I was at the White House and which we all ought to keep fighting.

BLITZER: Dick Thornburgh, we only have a few seconds left, but I want to get your quick reaction to the Justice Department's announcement this week that they're going to try to seek a settlement with tobacco industry, as opposed to simply going forward with the Clinton administration's lawsuit against them. Isn't this sort of putting all your cards open on the table, suggesting publicly you may not have a very good case, so let's settle?

THORNBURGH: Well, it's not surprising that the perception is they don't have a very good case. When President Clinton directed the Justice Department to determine whether or not there was a basis for bringing this suit, they advised Attorney General Reno not to, whereupon the president directed they go ahead anyway. A large portion of the case was thrown out at the trial level.

I think it's an efficient use of resources to settle this case as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.

BLITZER: We have to leave it right there. Dick Thornburgh, Lanny Davis...

DAVIS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... two regulars on LATE EDITION, thanks for joining us.

THORNBURGH: You bet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And just ahead, this summer is heating up on Capitol Hill as the patients' bill of rights becomes the hot topic of the week. We'll go 'round the table on that and much more with Roberts, Page and Brooks.

LATE EDITION will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Time for now for our roundtable. Joining me, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today; Steve Roberts, contributing editor for U.S. News & World Report; and David Brooks, senior writer for The Weekly Standard.

Let's just pick up, Steve, very briefly, on the Chandra Levy case. I don't know how much -- are we going too far, the news media? You teach journalism at George Washington University. Are we going too far on this?

STEVE ROBERTS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I don't think so, for two reasons. One is, Gary Condit, the congressman, obviously, there is no evidence linking him to the crime yet. But he was in a position of authority over this woman. I mean, she was a young person working in Washington. I think he owes the public and I think owes the family a much fuller explanation. And as you pointed out, the longer he doesn't speak, that raises the profile of the case.

Secondly, her family has used the press. You know, for weeks, this story didn't bubble up very much until her family came to town and held several press conferences, because they wanted press scrutiny of this in order to perhaps force more attention from the police and also to force Congressman Condit to talk.

So, no, I don't think we've gone too far.

BLITZER: Have we gone too far, David?

DAVID BROOKS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think a bit. I think Gary Condit does owe the family. I'm not sure he owes us anything more, but he owes the family. The fact the family is upset with him is a real problem.

The thing that makes me a little nervous about this case, it's a typical upper-middle-class woman crime that we pay a lot of attention to, you know, the Central Park jogger a few years ago in New York. Anybody who fits the demographics of the average reporter, if something happens to that person, it's headlines. If something happens out in the middle of the country or to somebody who's not so affluent, it doesn't make the papers. So I'm a little nervous about that, you know, problem that we always have in the media.

BLITZER: I've noticed USA Today, your newspaper, Susan, has had extensive coverage of this case. You've got one of your best reporters covering it almost on a full-time basis?

SUSAN PAGE, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I think it's a good story. I mean, it's a big mystery. We don't know whether there's been a crime or not. We don't know what happened to her. It involves a member of Congress. It's perplexing.

I do think that if, in the end, Congressman Condit turned out to have nothing to do with her disappearance, this will be seen as quite unfair. But I don't think he's handled it in the way you'd think a person accustomed to being in the public eye would handle it, which there is a point where you need to step forward and answer questions. And I think that time has come, clearly.

BLITZER: All right, let's move on and talk about the patients' bill of rights. It was debated this week on the Senate floor. It's going to be debated this week. Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, wants a vote by July Fourth. He's threatening to keep the Senate in session. What's going to happen?

ROBERTS: Well, he wants a vote, but he doesn't necessarily want a bill.

I think that the Democrats have the upper hand on this. It's a Democratic issue. The public definitely wants this. They've moved the debate. You know, Republicans now are agreeing to a lot of what the Democrats have wanted.

But the Democrats still have to make a decision. Do they want a reasonable compromise, put some cap on damages, on the right to sue, and then they'll get a bill? Or do they simply want to have a slash- and-burn approach, force George Bush into a veto, and then go to the election? They haven't made that decision yet. It's going to be an important one, though.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BROOKS: I think they there will be a bill. You look them, and you see that there's going to be compromise on caps on damages, who appoints the boards that oversee. There's going to be a bill, you just feel it in the voices.

But the big picture here is two things: One, Bush has lost the agenda in Washington. Daschle and the Democrats have got it. The second thing is we're seeing a new kind of liberalism here, which is not liberalism toward the lower class, it's liberalism to the middle class. This bill benefits people who already have insurance. It benefits middle- and upper-middle-class people, and it's a small, tinkering bill.

So it is a different kind of liberalism, but the Democrats have controlled the agenda.

BLITZER: So you're saying the patients' bill of rights was not one of his top priorities, as far as President Bush is concerned.

BROOKS: Well, yes. Listen, this is a battle over agenda, and Bush has lost the agenda; the Democrats have it.

PAGE: You know, Bush has lost an agenda, and the Democrats have gained a kind of theme you see them using against Bush on several fronts, on energy and patient bill of rights: Who's he for? And when it comes to energy, they say he's for the big oil companies. And when it comes to the patients' bill of right, they say he's for the big insurance companies, which is not a good place for president to be. Because if there's anything less popular than the press, it'd be, you know, HMOs and big oil companies.

BROOKS: Yes, but watching trial lawyers go against the HMOs is like sharks eating each other.


BLITZER: You know, President Bush was in Alabama, speaking about how he's getting things done in Washington since coming here. Listen to what he said earlier in the week week.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I came up to the nation's capitol intent upon changing the tone in Washington, D.C., of setting an agenda that's positive and hopeful for every American, and to working with Congress to get things done. And I'm proud to report we are getting things done on behalf of the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: In fairness to President Bush, his number-one priority was tax cuts -- got it done; education -- working with Ted Kennedy to get it done.

BLITZER: He's moving along on his missile defense system. Why is he wrong in making that statement that he is get things done?

ROBERTS: I don't think he is wrong in making that statement. But I think that, at least in terms of the taxes, he is going to have to pay a price for the thing he accomplished. And missile defense, and defense spending in general, is a very good example.

He's given up not $1.3 trillion but $1.8 trillion, by all calculations, of the surplus. That means that there is not going to be money left for a lot of other things he wants to do, including spending for a missile defense system, including raising the pay and other things he wants to do for defense, including a lot of things Republicans want out of this administration.

You think there are any conservative Republicans in the Middle West on the issue of flood insurance today? No, of course not.

So, I think yes, he has accomplished something, but there's a ramification for what he's accomplished.

BLITZER: David, was Senator McCain right in defending his opposition to the tax cut, one of two Republicans to vote against it, in saying that what's happening now is bearing him out, that there is simply not going to be enough money left for major increases, for example, in defense spending?

BROOKS: Yes, I think he was right in defense spending. What we're seeing in the Bush approach, some increases but way too small. And what we are beginning to hear rumblings within the Bush administration and within the Pentagon is the idea we are going to abandon the two-war strategy we've always had, that the U.S. has ability to fight two wars. And we're going to try save a lot of money on combat troops by switching to high technology.

Now these are things that are just shimmers. These are not going to happen. And a lot of people who are, you know, within the defense establishment, say we need have this two-war strategy. We can't rely on these magic bullets, super bombs and things like that. And that means spending more money. And it could be that because of the tax cut, we don't have the money for that.

BLITZER: The abandonment of the two-war strategy, which has been a pillar forever here in Washington, do you think that's a political decision to simply find some money for missile defense and other priorities and move away from what has been the justification for having a regular conventional military capability?

PAGE: You know, I think it's unlikely an administration makes any decision in which politics doesn't play a part.

And one of the things that struck me over the last week or two is how many more Republicans are now speaking up against a series of decisions that President Bush has taken. You heard it on his remarks about President Putin of Russia, for instance, restiveness among Republicans. You hear it...

BLITZER: Jesse Helms was among those who spoke out against it.

PAGE: And Richard Lugar. I mean, that's a certain span of Republican Party there. On the decision on Vieques, you hear complaints from Republicans.

And this surely is worrisome to the White House, because one of the big strengths that the president has had since he took office is that he had his base united behind him. You are seeing some erosion of that.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about.

More with our roundtable when LATE EDITION continues. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our LATE EDITION roundtable.

All right, the IRS this past week sent out a letter telling everyone they're going to be getting -- the taxpayers they're going to be getting their rebate checks.

I want you to listen to this letter, David, because some of it may sound like a Publisher's Clearing House letter from Ed McMahon. But listen to this letter. It caused some controversy.

"We are pleased to inform you that the United States Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed into law, the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, which provides long- term tax relief for all Americans who pay income taxes. The new law provides immediate tax relief in 2001 and long-term tax relief for the years to come."

Now, that was seen by some as a political statement that the IRS should never have gotten itself involved in.

BROOKS: I don't see how you could see that. You may have already won a tax break. When Bush starts showing up at people's door in the middle of the Superbowl at halftime, handing out the checks, that'll be too far.


The letter's fine.

BLITZER: You know, a lot of people complained about that letter because it was expensive to mail that letter to every household in America.


PAGE: ... million dollars or something?


PAGE: Maybe that should have gone into the tax cut instead of the letter.


I was waiting to see if they'd have George Bush sign the checks that went to the taxpayers.

ROBERTS: Or at least they should have deducted the 30 -- have his campaign committee pay for this. I mean, this is clearly a political letter.

But, you know, it reminds me of that old joke, you know, what was the biggest lie in Washington? I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you.

But, you know, as I say, he's taken a lot of credit. But down the line, people are going to look at that tax cut -- even David agrees -- and say, "Hey, wait, where is all that money for all the things we want?" So maybe this isn't such a good idea forever.

BLITZER: Yes, but when people get a $300 or $500 or $600 check, they're going to say, maybe, "Thank you, George W. Bush."

ROBERTS: Yes, but in the end, that's not a lot of money for a lot of Americans, and it's also not going to have the effect on the economy. Every economist -- you know, George Bush tried to sell us this as going to kick-start the economy. Every economist says this is minuscule. In terms of the shape of the economy, it's not going to have much of an effect.

BLITZER: You know, on the energy front, David, the FERC, everybody knows what FERC is, right? The Federal Emergency Regulatory Commission issued some new regulations this past week to try to help California and 10 other western states deal with the increasing cost of energy out there.

Ari Fleischer was asked about the decision. He's the White House press secretary. Listen to what he had to say.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's important to note that FERC rejected price controls. This is not a price control. This is a market-based mitigation plan that now will extend to 11 western states.


BLITZER: All right. Market-based mitigation plan, as opposed to price controls, what's the difference? BROOKS: I think Gorbachev had an answer: This is not communism, it's market-based mitigation.


ROBERTS: No controlling legal authority.


BROOKS: This is the economic principle that one should not be a schmuck, that, if you have a state with 42 or however-many-odd electoral votes, you don't offend those people. And the Bush administration wasn't quite pure. They could have been a lot worse, though.

ROBERTS: But, you know, this is a very good example of something that the Bush administration is learning, which is that you can come in with these ideas -- and they had this presupposition, "We're a free-market administration, and this is a free-market problem, and it's going to solve itself." It was never going to solve itself, and the administration was going to have to get involved.

California is this huge economy, and, even though the Republicans have not done well there, it could spill over into other states. They were going to have to do something, and it was Republicans in Congress who forced their hand into it.

PAGE: But think what better shape the administration would be in if they had come in and, instead of saying to California, "We're not going to help you, it's your problem," had said from the beginning, "Hey, let's have a market-based mitigation program that's going to help you control your prices."


BLITZER: You know, the administration does argue that the difference between price controls and a mitigation plan is that the price controls are really socialism, it's going to deal with the marketplace; whereas this is only going to deal with spikes and undue profits that some of these energy companies are getting.

BROOKS: Yes, and, to be fair, this problem was caused by price- controls, by the fact that consumers had no incentive to save, that their prices were locked in.

So I think there was a good intellectual point to be made here. One would have liked to see the Bush administration push it a little harder.

But you can't blame them. You know, the interesting thing about this administration is they're firm, firm, firm on the big issues they really care about. On some of the other stuff, they're headsnapping in the way they will compromise, in almost a ruthless but very politically effective way.

BLITZER: You know, we asked Senator McCain earlier very briefly about the possibility that Dan Quayle may be seeking to make a comeback. There's a report that he's thinking of running for governor of Arizona, his new state. Do you think he's got a comeback in his political future?

ROBERTS: No. And the fact that he did so badly running for the Republican nomination -- I mean, he made no ripple at all -- I think that his political career is over.


PAGE: I don't know that at all. I mean, I think he was a reasonably well-regarded senator when he was a senator. The vice presidency was a tough gig for him, no question. But tell me who he's running against in Arizona, maybe he could win that. Do a great job and come back. I mean, Richard Nixon came back. Bill Clinton came back without ever leaving office.

BLITZER: We're going to have to leave it right there. David, you're going to have to hold your thoughts on Dan Quayle. We will get them next week, assuming there's some movement in this area. Thanks for joining us.

Up next, Bruce Morton's "Last Word."


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He was a reminder of old virtues, when the game was more of a game, less about free agency, millions of dollars in shoe deals, more about being part of a team.


BLITZER: Politicians could take a lesson from a baseball great.


BLITZER: Time now for Bruce Morton's "Last Word" on knowing when to take a final bow.


MORTON (voice-over): The Baltimore Orioles' legend and pride, Cal Ripken, announced this past week he is retiring.


CAL RIPKEN JR., BALTIMORE ORIOLE: And I just said yes. I said this is my last year.


MORTON: One colleague in the bureau says her 4-year-old will be sad.

I don't know what Ripken means to 4-year-olds, but to many older fans, he was a reminder of old virtues: When the game was a game, less about free agency and millions of dollars in shoe deals, more about being part of a team. Let Ripken say it.


RIPKEN: The main thing is you come to the ball park, you put the uniform on, the time you spent with your teammates, just the pure joy you get of competing on the field in front of fans, in front of people.


MORTON: It's hard for great athletes to know when to retire. Ask Michael Jordon, who broke some ribs working out for a maybe, could-be comeback.

Hard for politicians, too. Also this past week, Geraldine Ferraro, a woman who respected and tried to honor the profession of politics, revealed she has incurable cancer. But like baseball, politics goes on.

Bill Bradley, who skipped the Iowa caucuses last time and then didn't win a single primary, is visiting, you guessed it, Iowa this weekend. So is Massachusetts Senator John Kerrey, who is on everyone's list of possible presidential candidates.

The question may be, what will they talk about? Some issues like abortion, like what uses may be made of the American flag, matter a great deal to some voters. But no big issue divides the country now the way civil rights or Vietnam did in the last century.

The economy, usually the most important issue, is so-so, which may not add up to big gains for either party. And there is no sign that the national cynicism about politics, which goes back to Vietnam and Watergate, is lifting.

John McCain, in his 2000 campaign, used to urge young people to commit to a cause bigger then themselves. His cause was campaign finance reform, and the Senate, though not the House, has passed a bill banning what's called soft, unlimited money.

Still, President Bush will be attending a soft money fund-raiser this coming Wednesday at which the Republican Party hopes to raise something like $11 million.

The more things change, some wise Frenchman once said, the more they are the same. Maybe the voters need a Ripken.

I'm Bruce Morton.


BLITZER: Thanks, Bruce.

Now it's time for you to have the "Last Word." Michael writes us to ask this: "Why not share in the development of a missile defense with Russia? We were previously in a state of mutual assure destruction. Why not try changing that to mutual assured defense? That is the only way we can move forward into a trusting relationship with Russia."

Nick from Maryland has this message for politicians: "Enough of this inter-party fighting. Drop it. Get down to legislating for the good of the people."

And finally, Beverly had this question for us: "Will CNN ever quit comparing Bush to Clinton? Are you thinking if you invoke the Clinton name, Bush will perhaps seem to be presidential?"

As always, I invite your comments. You can e-mail me at And don't forget to sign up for my weekly e-mail at

When we return, we'll reveal what's on the cover of the this week's major news magazines.


BLITZER: And now a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines.

"Newsweek" has: "I Killed My Children: What made Andrea Yates Snap? Understanding postpartum depression," with a tragic Yates family picture on the cover.

"TIME" magazine tells us how to protect your privacy online: "10 ways to keep vital information secure," with a locked computer on the cover.

And on the cover of "U.S. News and World Report": "The '70s, from Dick Cheney to John Travolta. Why a really strange decade still defines us."

And that's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, June 24. Please join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

And if you missed any of today's show, you can tune in tonight, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, for a one-hour replay of LATE EDITION.

I'll see you tomorrow night on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.



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