CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Rangel, McInnis, Dreier Debate Condit's Future; Domenici, Sperling Discuss Budget Feasibility; Sharpton Talks About Possible Presidential Bid
Aired August 26, 2001 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington and here in Miami; 9:00 a.m. in Modesto, California; 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 begin today with Congressman Gary Condit. This week, the California Democrat broke his silence and talked publicly about missing Washington intern Chandra Levy. But instead of quieting his critics, he created more controversy.
CNN national correspondent Bob Franken has been covering the story from day one. He joins us now live from Modesto, California, Condit's home district -- Bob.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're beginning to see the fallout of the Condit media strategy, and what we're finding is it's falling on him. We're in his congressional district, as you pointed out, where CNN has just commissioned a poll with some interesting results.
If Condit was hoping to persuade the voters in his district that in fact he had conducted himself honorably, the results show that when the question is asked, did Condit lie during the Thursday TV interviews, the "yes" sample is 58 percent. Only 29 percent say "no," with a sampling error of plus or minus 7 points.
Now, this is the big one. Condit won his last congressional election by a 67 percent vote. He's always been almost an automatic shoo-in for reelection. But after the interviews, the question was asked, would you vote for Condit if he runs for reelection? "No" -- 61 percent, with "yes" at 29 percent. Here, we have a sampling error of plus or minus six points.
Now, that's not the only problem that Condit seems to be facing right now. You remember during the Connie Chung interview on ABC, he was asked about his relationship with Anne Marie Smith, the flight attendant who says she did have a relationship with him, a romantic relationship and that he wanted her to lie about it, something Condit denies. Well, Condit said during the program he did not have a relationship. And now Anne Marie Smith's lawyer has gone on the Sunday talk shows to say that he's planning a lawsuit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM ROBINSON, ATTORNEY FOR ANNE MARIE SMITH: Well, certainly he defamed my client. He slandered her. He libeled her -- all of the above. We have several causes of action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKEN: And as we've been witnessing, the TV interviews by Condit made his situation apparently go from bad to worse. And it's up to his lawyer now, Abbe Lowell, who's trying to do some damage control.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ABBE LOWELL, ATTORNEY FOR GARY CONDIT: I realized that people don't know Congressman Condit. But the people in his district know that he doesn't do things for the politics of it. If he did it for the politics of it, Tim, if he was so PR-oriented, he would have done it in a different way from the beginning. He chose a course that was true to his character, and it may be that people in the country don't accept it, and he'll live with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKEN: Now, Wolf, a lot of the times before the interviews were done, staff members, advisers would say Condit definitely was going to run for reelection. Now the word from Condit is, it's something he's going to think about -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A lot for all of us to think about. Bob Franken, thank you very much once again for joining us from Modesto.
And joining us now to discuss Congressman Condit's political future are three of his colleagues: In our Washington bureau, Republican Congressman David Dreier of California. He's the chairman of the House Rules Committee. In our New York bureau, Congressman Charlie Rangel. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. And in Grand Junction, Colorado, Republican Congressman Scott McInnis. He's also a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Congressmen, welcome to LATE EDITION, all three of you.
BLITZER: And let me begin with you...
REP. DAVID DREIER (R), CALIFORNIA: Always great to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, Congressman.
Let's begin with Charlie Rangel. The Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, Dick Gephardt, spoke out after the Congressman's interview with Connie Chung earlier on Thursday night. I want you to listen to what Dick Gephardt had to say about Congressman Condit's performance. Charlie Rangel, listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I think that Gary should have been straightforward in the statement. That's what I had hoped for. I think other questions as to his service on committees and all of that, we've got to figure out. I've got to talk to others in my leadership and others on committees in the Congress and sort those things out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Congressman Rangel, certainly no ringing endorsement for your fellow Democrat, Congressman Condit. What do you say now about Congressman Condit's future?
REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: It's clear that Dick Gephardt was disappointed. He had a personal relationship with Gary Condit and had confidence in him in putting him on a very sensitive committee. And he's saying he is rethinking that.
As far as the political future of Gary Condit, he's gone through some very hard times. The polls indicate, as Bob Franken reported, that he's losing his voters' confidence. His district is going through reapportionment. And so, he has some very serious decisions to make politically.
BLITZER: Do you think, Congressman Rangel, it's time for Congressman Condit to resign?
RANGEL: No, I don't really think that we should be pushing toward a resignation. You know, at the end of the day, when you think about it, Gary Condit not only has not admitted to any wrongdoing, but the District of Columbia Police Department says he's not a suspect. And with the exception of leaks, we don't even have any evidence to take to the Ethics Committee.
BLITZER: All right, let me bring in Congressman McInnis.
Your Republican colleague, Bob Barr of Georgia, was outspoken on Friday in the aftermath of these interviews that Congressman Condit gave. Let me read to you what he said. Among other things, he said, "In light of the mounting and overwhelming evidence, the committee has a constitutional responsibility to investigate whether Representative Condit has violated the ethical and legal standards of the House of Representatives." That's a reference to the Ethics Committee.
Do you believe it's time now formally, Congressman McInnis, for the Ethics Committee to consider the case of Gary Condit?
REP. SCOTT MCINNIS (R), COLORADO: Well, there are three things that I think should happen. No. 1, Dick Gephardt has an obligation that's inherent to his responsibilities to immediately remove Gary Condit from the Intelligence Committee. That's the most sensitive committee in the U.S. Congress. It requires very high integrity, and certainly any kind of indication that someone has not been forthcoming or truthful when put under pressure should not be in charge or sitting on the committee that oversees central intelligence and our spy networks throughout the world.
Second of all, I think Gary Condit should resign. I think that his conduct is inappropriate and it brings discredit to the institution of the United States Congress.
And third of all, if he refuses to resign, if Dick Gephardt does not remove him from the committee, I guess irregardless of whether Gephardt removes him from the Intelligence Committee, certainly I think the Ethics Committee has before it, put before it by Bob Barr, a complaint for inappropriate behavior by a congressman. And I think they have an obligation to pursue that investigation. But that's up to the Ethics Committee.
I think right now the ball is in Dick Gephardt's court to immediately remove him from this committee, which is the most top- secret committee in the United States Congress.
BLITZER: David Dreier, you're a leader among the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Should Dick Gephardt remove Congressman Condit from the House Intelligence Committee?
DREIER: Well, that's obviously Dick Gephardt's decision to make.
BLITZER: What do you think?
DREIER: Well, I mean, Dick Gephardt rarely asks me for advice, and I'm no going to give it to him on television. He is responsible for selecting the minority members of the Intelligence Committee.
Let me say at the outset, Wolf, that I didn't see the interview Thursday night. I was in Latin America trying to get the Free Trade Area of the Americas through so that we can in fact pursue economic growth, which I enjoy usually talking with you and Charlie and others about, which I think should be our priority.
This whole scenario is a very unfortunate thing. I want to mention the name of Chandra Levy. This package is really in two parts.
DREIER: First and foremost, we want Chandra Levy to be found alive and well. And if there is a silver lining in this horribly dark cloud, it is that there will be renewed attention focused on missing people in this country, which I think is something we should really look at very seriously.
Second is the political career and the standing of Gary Condit in the House of Representatives. Obviously, based on the reports that I've gotten -- I read the transcript of the interview when I got back from South America, and I will tell you, that there are very troubling questions that have come forward.
I watched Abbe Lowell's interview this morning with Tim Russert, and, I mean, it's clear that there are many questions that are out there.
Gary Condit is someone with whom I've worked; we're California colleagues. And I'm not going to demand his resignation today, but I will say that I clearly have a lot of questions. And I do believe, Wolf, that the House Ethics Committee is most likely pursuing what it should, in looking at this very, very troubling matter. But I think that Charlie Rangel has...
BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt for you a second, David Dreier. When you say the House Ethics Committee is pursuing it, you're saying that there's some sort of preliminary investigation under way?
DREIER: I don't...
BLITZER: Because we don't know of any formal investigation.
DREIER: Wolf, I don't know. I don't know if the House Ethics Committee is looking at this. I do know that, if a charge is brought, that the House Ethics Committee is charged with looking at a situation like this.
So I expect that they may have, but there are all kinds of other authorities -- the Justice Department, and obviously the D.C. police and others -- who are involved in this investigation. And I will clearly acknowledge that there are a lot of very troubling things that have taken place, but first and foremost should be finding Chandra Levy.
BLITZER: And that goes without saying.
Congressman Rangel, one of the issues that might come before the Ethics Committee and your colleagues is this issue of whether Congressman Condit told his staff members, including his chief of staff, Mike Lynch, early on in this investigation to lie about the nature of his relationship with Chandra Levy.
Abbe Lowell was on Meet the Press earlier today, and he insisted that was not the case. Listen to what Abbe Lowell had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LOWELL: ... the staff to go out and lie. Congressman Condit did not authorize those statements to be made. Those staff people spoke about what they hoped was the truth and what they thought was the truth. And they acted very quickly, and they acted sort of in what they assumed was the issue. And that is something that they have answered to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Congressman Rangel, Mike Lynch and others in when they made the statements denying any romantic relationship, they said flatly in the newspapers, The "Washington Post" and others, that they had discussed this issue specifically with the congressman.
If he did tell in fact or allow his staff to go out and lie, staff members paid -- who get salary from the U.S. government, what should happen to Congressman Condit? RANGEL: We should take this whole thing to the grand jury, because we're making up this mystery as we go along. The whole thing is "what if."
You know, Bob Barr has made this broad indictment as to what the Ethics Committee should do. But I ended my last comment in saying that we haven't got one scintilla bit of real evidence to say what Condit did. What is it that we could possibly charge him with in the Ethics Committee? Not one thing.
BLITZER: Well, when you say -- what did you mean when you just said that this should go to a grand jury?
RANGEL: It seems to me that, if we're talking about wrongdoing and possible criminal behavior, just speculating as to all of the things that could have happened, I agree with Dave Dreier, we should be concentrating on trying to find this girl.
And, of course, in doing that, the investigative authorities have to consider the good and the bad. The bad could mean that she could have come into harm's way. It would seem to me that, instead of speculating as to what Condit said or did not say to his staff, haul them all before the grand jury, put them under oath and ask these questions.
But where we stand now -- Scott says the man should resign. I challenge Scott, besides being an embarrassment to us and to his family and to his community and to the Congress as a whole, Scott, what would you charge the man with to force him to resign?
MCINNIS: Well, first of all, Charlie, you've got to let go of his hand. You can't provide -- continue to provide defense for an individual, it's very clear that he has lied on a number of occasions, he has misled the authorities, he has delayed the authorities. I mean, it's very clear that this kind of behavior -- and in addition, talk about that intern in California, not Chandra Levy but the other intern in California.
That's exactly why all of this speculation ought to go straight to the Ethics Committee. The Ethics Committee without delay should immediately investigate to see if, in fact, Gary Condit has brought discredit to our institution.
You're so scared of having a Democrat have to resign his seat that you're delaying this Ethics Committee, the Ethics Committee, to protect our integrity, Charlie, to protect yours, mine,...
MCINNIS: Just a second, Charlie, don't interrupt me. To protect this institution, we ought to be able to investigate our own. And that's what you're delaying on, and that's where you and I disagree.
RANGEL: No, Scott, we don't disagree. You're beginning to make sense now, and that is, you're saying, you haven't slightest clue as to what he's done, even though you're asking for him to resign. But where you and I agree is that there should be an investigation, but you haven't been able to say what the man has done wrong. What you know is what I know, that there's a lot of rumors out there, a lot of leaks out there, and it should be investigated. So back off the resignation, and...
BLITZER: Congressmen, stand by. Everybody, stand by. We're going to have to take a quick break. We're going to pick up this conversation as soon as we come back.
Just ahead, more of our discussion with Congressmen McInnis, Rangel and Dreier, plus your phone calls for them. LATE EDITION will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. GARY CONDIT (D), CALIFORNIA: This not about politics. Look, the voters will decide what the voters are going to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: California Congressman Gary Condit declaring his political future has little to do with missing Washington intern Chandra Levy.
Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We're continuing our discussion with Congressmen David Dreier, Charlie Rangel and Scott McInnis.
And I want to begin with you, David Dreier. You heard the exchange between your two colleagues, Congressman McInnis and Congressman Rangel, on this whole issue of an Ethics Committee investigation. Is there enough smoke out there for at least this Ethics Committee to begin the process of looking into Congressman Condit's behavior?
DREIER: The answer to that, Wolf, and I think all three of us can agree on that, is yes. I think that Charlie Rangel would agree that it's appropriate at this point for the Ethics Committee to look into this. He and I have been on a number of programs over the last couple months, and we've agreed there is a process through which we should go as we deal with this very difficult and troubling situation.
And the Ethics Committee may come forward and make no recommendation. The Ethics Committee may recommend something like a reprimand. And so, the idea that if the Ethics Committee takes action it'll be calling for or forcing someone to resign, is just inaccurate. I mean, that's not what the Ethics Committee is about. They take a very sober, thoughtful, deliberative look at a situation.
And so, I think, Charlie, you can even agree that they certainly are entitled to that, and that would probably be the appropriate thing, wouldn't you?
BLITZER: Well, let's ask Congressman Rangel. Do you agree with Congressman Dreier that the Ethics Committee should now begin the process of investigating, looking into Congressman Condit?
RANGEL: Well, first, let's say this. You agree that there's nothing but smoke out there. And since Bob Barr has already initiated a complaint, I don't know what he said, yes, I think his complaint should be investigated and we should see whether there's any fire here. But the whole idea...
DREIER: So we made history. All three of us are in agreement here that the Ethics Committee should proceed, and I suspect it already has.
RANGEL: Well, Scott wants him to resign right away.
DREIER: Well, I'm not going to call for his resignation.
MCINNIS: Let me tell you this, Charlie, let me say this. I think, and you know in your heart, in my opinion, that he has brought discredit to the institution and he should resign for the sake of your party, I think he should resign.
And at a minimum, your leader, Dick Gephardt, who on Wednesday called him an honorable man and by Friday had reversed his position and was worried about this guy, ought to immediately remove him from the Intelligence Committee.
Do you think he should continue -- let me ask you this, Charlie, should he continue to serve on the Intelligence Committee when all of this smoke is in air, considering the sensitivity of that committee?
RANGEL: That's the leader's call. He has the responsibility for the appointment.
MCINNIS: You're a leader in the Democratic Party, Charlie. You can answer that question.
DREIER: It is the appointment of Dick Gephardt. Dick Gephardt is the minority leader. And I will tell you I spend time looking at the process for appointments to committees, and that really is done. The speaker of the House of Representatives appoints the Republican, the majority members of the Select Committee on Intelligence and the minority leader. It's a single vote. It's not up to Charlie Rangel to make that decision, it's not up to Scott McInnis or David Dreier. And as I said, Dick Gephardt has never asked me whether or not Gary Condit should serve on the committee.
So really the responsibility is with Dick Gephardt, and he said that he is obviously in the process of rethinking it, Wolf.
BLITZER: I want you to hear, Scott McInnis, I want you to listen to what Abbe Lowell specifically said on the whole issue of whether Congressman Condit should serve on the Intelligence Committee. Abbe Lowell is the attorney representing Congressman Condit. Listen to what he said earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LOWELL: He's the person on the Intelligence Committee with there no being any secrets left. I mean, everything about him is out there. He's probably the person on the Intelligence Committee who can't be blackmailed anymore. And so, it seems to me that if it's not punitive for some reason, there's no good reason. He's served very well, his colleagues will tell you that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Congressman McInnis, will his colleagues say he served well on that committee?
MCINNIS: First of all, Abbe Lowell, there are lots of secrets out there. That's why Gary Condit's in the problem that he's in. He has not been open to the public, and I think that's where the complexity.
Second of all, Abbe Lowell is a high-paid defense attorney, he has shifted responsibility to the sex life of Chandra Levy. He has also now looks like their trying to shift responsibility to the staff of Gary Condit, saying that they were not authorized to make those statements; they're making pawns of those. Abbe Lowell is not one who I would consider a man of much credibility to determine whether or not somebody should be on the Intelligence Committee.
Dick Gephardt ought to make that decision, and he ought a decision shortly.
BLITZER: And, Congressman Rangel, on the specific issue of his trustworthiness, Congressman Condit, the new CNN poll in the 18th District of California, Condit's home district, people were asked if the Thursday TV interviews that Condit gave not only to Connie Chung but to our affiliate out there in Sacramento, if those interviews made you feel more or less suspicious. 51 percent of the people in his district say they're now more suspicious; 23 percent say they're less suspicious. He seems to be raising a lot of suspicions out there.
RANGEL: You know, even Gary Condit has constitutional rights. The man was elected to the Congress, and he was sworn in as a member of Congress. And I think we really are going down a slippery slope when, just because we lose confidence in an individual, we start demanding that he resign or he shouldn't run. There's a process, as David Dreier says, and we should let it run its way out.
We don't have to like each other. In the Congress, we're elected to serve our constituents. And so, he has a big problem.
DREIER: And let the record show, let the record show that I like both Charlie and Scott, though. I think it's important to note that.
BLITZER: All right. David Dreier, I want you to listen to what Congressman Condit told "Newsweek" magazine in an interview that's coming out today. I want to read to you the exchange: "Has anybody at the White House talked to you about the difficulties you've found yourself in? Yes, but I prefer not to go into that. Have they offered advice? No. Encouragement, a pat on the back or hang in there because they always saw you as somebody who was a potentially important ally in the House? Right, I still am."
As you know, he's a so-called blue dog conservative Democrat. He's allied himself with you on several occasions.
DREIER: Yes, he has.
BLITZER: He seems to be saying he's getting support from some people in the White House.
DREIER: Well, Wolf, let me say that I don't know exactly when those conversations took place.
Early on, in this process, over the past few months, I've had conversations with Gary. And when this immediately came to the forefront, Republicans and Democrats alike said to their colleague, with whom they had worked, "Gosh, we certainly hope this thing works out, we wish you well."
And so, I suspect that, because Gary Condit is someone who, yes, voted with the majority, helped us with a number of issues as a moderate Democrat, was there, that someone who worked at the White House may have just said early on. But I can't imagine that in the last week or two that people in the White House have been calling and providing encouragement, in light of these very troubling questions that have continued to come forward.
BLITZER: All right. David Dreier, Scott McInnis and Charlie Rangel...
DREIER: I'm headed to California now, Wolf, so I'm going to be out there right now.
MCINNIS: Stop in Colorado, David. We'd like to see you.
BLITZER: Have a good time.
DREIER: I'll be going over to you.
BLITZER: I'm sure Scott McInnis is having a good time in Colorado, and Charlie Rangel always has good time in New York. Thanks to all three of you...
DREIER: And I even have a good time with Charlie.
BLITZER: ... for joining us. Appreciate it very much.
Later in our program we'll get legal analysis on Gary Condit's future from three guests: former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis, former Bush Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former presidential adviser David Gergen.
But up next, we'll shift gears. Can President Bush keep his pledge to protect Social Security from the shrinking surplus? We'll talk to New Mexico Republican Senator Pete Domenici and former Clinton economic adviser Gene Sperling.
LATE EDITION will be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The budget's been decided, so that's why we're not fighting over the budget. The decision is whether or not Congress will stick to the budget.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush at his ranch yesterday declaring the budget is now in Congress' hands.
Welcome back to LATE EDITION.
Joining me now to discuss the budget and the Social Security surplus are two distinguished guests: Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico -- he's the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee; and Gene Sperling, the former Clinton economic adviser at the White House.
BLITZER: Thanks to both of you for joining us.
Senator Domenici, I want to begin with you. We'll put some numbers up on the screen to show the problem that has apparently developed out there.
The budget surplus projection -- in April, it was projected to be, by the Office of Management and Budget, some $281 billion. Take a look right now. The latest White House estimate, it's gone down to $158 billion. That means $123 billion has simply evaporated. And of that $158 billion surplus, all but about $1 billion of that comes from the Social Security payroll tax surplus.
How big of a problem is this?
SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R), NEW MEXICO: Well, as long as we understand what the problem is, it is a pretty serious problem. But I believe that the problem is, plain and simple, the American economy.
I remember when Gene Sperling's boss, the former president, was talking about situations like, are we going to have enough money for Social Security and for Medicare, he said, "It's the economy, stupid."
Well, I have been tempted to, in response to these questions, to say "It's the economy, stupid," and then put my name on it, and say that's what Domenici is saying. I don't think you can follow this, but let me just tell you, Gene Sperling had a marvelous economy during the time he was advising our president -- at least, the last four or five years. What has happened now for the last 13 months, Gene, and now we can confirm this, one year and one month, the economy has been coming down. The world economy has been coming down, and that means you take in less revenue. Business is paying a lot less taxes. That's where some of this surplus is going to.
BLITZER: All right, let's let Gene Sperling respond to that.
BLITZER: Gene, it's the economy's fault that this once very large projected surplus is shrinking.
GENE SPERLING, FORMER CLINTON ECONOMIC ADVISER: Wolf, you really have to separate two different things: what's happening this year and what's happening in our long- term budget situation.
This year, as Senator Domenici and I would both recognize, probably there is about $40 billion less because of a slowing economy. And so, part of the problem in this year has certainly been a slowing economy.
But what really should be most disturbing to the American public is that over the 10-year period, $2.5 trillion of our surplus has simply vanished -- $2.5 trillion, Wolf. And over 98 percent of that over the next 10 years is from President Bush's explicit spending and tax policies. Even assuming good times in 2002, 2003, 2004, where they're estimating growth about 3.2 percent to 3.5 percent, they still have us using all of the Medicare surplus, all of the surplus that doesn't come from Medicare and Social Security completely vanished. And these are in good times.
This administration has engaged in one of the most serious and reckless acts of fiscal management over the 10-year period. That should be the big concern. We should all agree that we should help stimulate the economy this year.
BLITZER: Senator Domenici, you heard Gene Sperling say it's the president's fault for pushing through this 10-year tax cut.
DOMENICI: Let's break this into pieces. Right now, we are very fortunate that our president recommended a tax cut. The tax cut is in effect. It will be in effect for next year. Democrats even wanted more of a tax cut there. When you put those tax cuts in place, you use up a part of the surplus because you want to cut taxes to stimulate the economy.
Now, if he wants to talk about eight or nine or 10 years from now, we can do that at another time with other kinds of details.
But right now, Congress has to ask itself, what would you do to fix this situation? I heard John Spratt say, we surely ought to fix it. He's the ranking member of Budget in the House. And then, when asked how you would fix it, he says, I'd send it back to where it came from and let them redo it. So what do the Democrats have in mind? He didn't have anything in mind.
I believe the president is doing absolutely the right thing. It is the economy which must come back and grow.
And I would do the following: The tax cut is perfect. Leave it alone and just look at it for a while. In addition, I would not even be on the side that says cut spending. I would say maybe even increase a little spending. The last person that cut taxes and cut spending in order to avoid a downturn in the economy was Hoover, and that's Hooverism, when you have a recession. And we don't want to do that.
BLITZER: And what about that, Gene Sperling? As you know, the tax cut for the current fiscal year 2001, the rebate checks that people have been getting, that's only a relatively modest portion of the shrinking budget surplus, and it's certainly a lot less than what the Democrats wanted this year. They wanted some $60 billion in instant tax refund checks, whereas the Republicans came in with, what, about $40 billion.
SPERLING: Right, Wolf, and that's why I don't want to have a false debate here. We do need to separate two different issues.
One, what should you do in this year when the economy is slowing? I am for the rebate. As you said, Democrats actually pushed President Bush to do that. That is not the problem. So I think Senator Domenici and I both agree that we should have done something for this year -- a one-time stimulus is what I think.
But the problem that we're having over the next, not only 10 years, over the next three or four years, is not about the slowing economy in this year. It is about an excessive tax cut and an excessive spending program that this administration has put through that has now taken us from having the largest surplus to actually looking at almost the entire first term of -- I hope first and only term of the Bush administration -- in which they are going to be taking all of the money that's supposed to be saved for Medicare and Social Security. We should be using that money to pay down the debt, to save for Social Security and Medicare reform and to invest in our children.
DOMENICI: Could I just close?
BLITZER: Senator Domenici, yes, go ahead.
DOMENICI: We are going to pay down the debt by the second largest amount in history. We're going to have the second largest surplus in history. All of these at the same time that Mr. Sperling is saying things are really going bad.
DOMENICI: In other words, the economy has come down, but we had such big surpluses that we still will be paying down the debt to an enormous degree just this year. In my humble... BLITZER: Senator Domenici, I want to pick this up when we come back -- we're going to take a quick break -- but think about this: A lot of people are worried, especially the baby boomers, about that Social Security money that may or may not be there when they're ready to retire.
DOMENICI: We'll talk about that.
BLITZER: We'll talk about that...
BLITZER: ... when we get back.
We'll also be taking your phone calls for Senator Pete Domenici and Gene Sperling.
LATE EDITION will continue right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We're continuing discussion with New Mexico Republican Senator Pete Domenici and former Clinton economic adviser Gene Sperling.
Senator Domenici, a lot of focus of attention on the Social Security trust fund, the Social Security surplus. The Democrats are going all out, running TV ads now in limited markets, saying that the Republicans, because of the tax cut, have endangered those Social Security funds. The president was out in Independence, Missouri, Harry Truman's hometown, earlier in the week. And in specifically referring to that, the Democrats ran this ad. Listen to this ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: The Bush budget violates one of Harry Truman's basic principles, protecting our seniors. The Bush budget raids the Medicare trust fund. Now he is using gimmicks to hide a raid on Social Security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator Domenici, are those fair complaints?
DOMENICI: Very unfair. Just pure -- you know, they say go on the offense. Well, this is in the offense offensive. It is very offensive, the way they're going on the offense.
BLITZER: Tell us why.
DOMENICI: Frankly, there is plenty of money in the federal budget for Social Security until the year 2037.
Now, if we can just get the economy recovering again -- and of course if we have a 10-year status of no growth in the economy, I don't know what anybody would recommend. But if it'll come back, to 3, 3.5 percent, where it was for right or nine years in a row until this international recession hit, if it'll come back to that, then everything will be replenished, there will be plenty of money for the growth in military and the like and, again, plenty of money for Social Security and Medicare. Right now, as much money as is needed for Medicare will be spent for Medicare. It'll only be used for that.
So I believe this is a true political advertisement that has nothing to do with the American economy and doesn't help our people one bit in solving the problem that we must solve.
BLITZER: Gene Sperling, a lot of Republicans are accusing the Democrats, the DNC, of these scare tactics, getting people scared about Social Security and its future. The Republican National Committee is now releasing a new ad of its own specifically rebutting these allegations, these charges. Listen to this new ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: He's protected every penny of Medicare and Social Security and still left the second-biggest surplus in history. But Democrats, who for years supported budgets that spent all Social Security money and left no surplus, are now launching partisan, misleading attacks on President Bush.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Referring to your administration, the Clinton administration, for so many years you did go through that Social Security surplus, didn't you?
SPERLING: You know, Wolf, it is true that since 1981, since Ronald Reagan's excessive tax cut, we ran huge deficits. And that means that both parties did use Social Security surpluses and even Medicare surpluses.
But then something very excellent happened, and it happened partly with not only President Clinton's leadership but people like Pete Domenici's leadership. We agreed that the money that comes in for Social Security and Medicare should be saved, the surpluses should be saved, so that we're increasing savings, increasing productivity. And we had a bipartisan agreement to do this.
Suddenly this administration comes in, puts forward an excessive tax cut that we said would mean breaking that commitment, taking Medicare surpluses, your payroll taxes for Medicare, and using it for overall spending or to support tax cuts.
And the facts are, whether Senator Domenici likes it or not, maybe he doesn't like it, is that right now, even assuming good economic times, this administration's plan for George Bush's first term -- and only term, I hope -- is to use all of the Medicare surpluses, not to save any of it to increase our savings.
DOMENICI: That's not true.
SPERLING: And by any reasonable projection, they will go into the Social Security surplus. In 2003, Wolf, the administration projects 3.5 percent growth, and they'll still use all of the Medicare surplus.
BLITZER: Senator Domenici, go ahead.
DOMENICI: He must have used all his time for the rest of the show and even tomorrow if we're on.
DOMENICI: But in any event, let me suggest the following: If we wanted to, we could start a series of ads like this. We could say, "Bill Clinton left us an economy that was in recession." Now, the truth of the matter is, we wouldn't be far off.
Quietly the economy was handed from one president to another, and what we have found out now, that we were already in an economic climate of coming down precipitously. It is now 13 full months, and I want everybody that's listening to me to know, I'm not very excited about this economy coming back real quick. The world is in economic recession. I'm not sure it's going to come back very quick.
And I would ask, in those situations, what should we do? Should we put more money on the public debt and cut expenditures? I think not. I think we ought to increase our expenditures, pay for our military.
And then what about taxes? We surely shouldn't send into this quagmire, where we have this enormous downturn, we shouldn't say, well, it's time to raise taxes.
I think the Democrats ought to let us wait two or three years before they put an amendment in that will raise taxes.
BLITZER: Unfortunately, we are all out of time. I want to leave it right there. Senator Domenici, Gene Sperling, good to have you both of you on this program, as usual.
DOMENICI: Thank you.
BLITZER: You've been on before, and I'm sure you'll be on again. Thanks to both of you for joining us.
SPERLING: Thanks, Wolf.
DOMENICI: Thank you.
BLITZER: And a leaner Al Sharpton is out of jail and focused on 2004. What are the reverend's chances in a national race? We'll ask the Reverend Al Sharpton about his presidential ambitions, the future of the Democratic Party and a lot more when LATE EDITION continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: The best example of my ability to govern is to look at the intimate and the thought process that I tried to demonstrate to compare with the present occupant. Every time I look at George Bush I know that I'm qualified to at least do what he did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Reverend Al Sharpton on CNN's "CROSSFIRE" last Monday.
Welcome back to LATE EDITION.
Joining us now to discuss his presidential exploratory committee, the future of the Democratic Party and much more is the Reverend Al Sharpton. He joins us now from our New York bureau.
Reverend Sharpton, welcome to LATE EDITION. Thanks for joining us on our program.
In a sentence or two, tell us why you want to be president of the United States.
SHARPTON: Well, I would want to really change the course of where I think the country has been going in terms of an insensitivity to a lot of its citizens.
The criminal justice system, to me, has accelerated into really just feeding industry and incarcerating people and not really trying to correct behavior. Keep crime down, but at the same time make people able to deal with re-entering life and re-entering building families.
I want to deal with how people at the bottom of the economic ladder will not be sacrificed during a recessional economy.
I also want to deal with our foreign policy, which I think has absolutely been insensitive to most parts of the world.
So I think in many ways I think the country needs to go back toward the beliefs that we can make it a real country for everybody, not just for a select few.
BLITZER: But Reverend Sharpton, you're only 46 years old. You're a relatively young man. Why not start and run for something perhaps a little bit more modest like mayor of New York or senator or governor from New York, your home state. Why, since you haven't really been elected to anything, as far as I can tell, why start off with running for president?
SHARPTON: Well, I think that that's politics, whether you choose to run for one level of a political office or another. I'm talking vision. The reason I'm talking about a presidential exploratory committee is because I think our problems on that level, and I have a vision that I want to address on that level. The political pundits and the political managers of campaigns deal with career steps. I'm not dealing with career steps, I'm dealing with a global vision to try and say where the nation needs to go.
BLITZER: All right, but we heard you say about President Bush coming into this segment that if he's qualified, you're qualified. But with all due respect, he was elected twice governor of Texas. You tried to be elected and you weren't elected when you ran the last time and the time before that around.
SHARPTON: Well, again, that's politics. We are now saying the basis of leadership and service is on what elections you win or lose, or are we saying based on what vision and policy you would bring to people? Bill Clinton had been governor of Arkansas, then lost and became president. I mean, you've had people that have won, you've had people that have lost.
I think the basis of leadership in this country must go back to what you stand for and how you will serve, not based on some talking heads looking at a sheet like as if you're talking about a prize fighter rather than a person of vision and a person of principles.
BLITZER: Well, what makes you think you're qualified to be the leader of the free world?
SHARPTON: Because we must have leadership that has a vision for the free world that will free everyone in the free world to become and live the life that they want to become.
SHARPTON: Again, I think we've reduced leadership in this country to statistics, to who has money, to who has what endorsements, rather than what they stand for.
Two million people are in jail today. Someone in leadership needs to deal with that.
We're facing -- you just finished talking about how the economy is going toward a recession, which means that you have people who are threatened with their Social Security, people threatened with their Medicare, despite what Republicans are saying.
We need to deal with people that have a sensitive leadership that deals with that. We can't leave it for the talking heads to keep a scorecard. Somebody needs to say the nation needs to turn another way, and that's what we're exploring in the possibility of my running.
BLITZER: A lot speculation that the Democratic senator from North Carolina, John Edwards, is thinking of running for president in 2004. And if you run for that Democratic nomination, you may be running against him.
He was asked earlier this week in a newspaper interview in his home state in Raleigh about you, and he said this, "I don't know anyone outside of North Carolina that ever heard of him" -- referring to Al Sharpton -- "and I've talked to three people this morning in North Carolina, and they hadn't heard of him." He seems to be suggesting that nobody knows really who you are outside of people in your hometown of New York City or perhaps in New York state.
SHARPTON: Well, then I think he needs to do a little bit of research, because I'm the president of National Action Network, and we're building a chapter right in North Carolina. In fact, the gentleman from Charlotte is in New York with us this weekend because we just had a march at the United Nations. So I think that Senator Edwards should check out his own state.
I was in North Carolina several times last year dealing with the hurricane floods hosted by the major churches in Raleigh-Durham. So I think his statement says more about his being out of touch with his own state than it has anything to do with me.
BLITZER: Do you see yourself now, politically speaking within the Democratic Party, the leader of the African-American community within that party?
SHARPTON: I think that there are many leaders in the African American community, and I think that the whole idea of trying to have one leader for one body of people is distasteful at best.
Secondly, I don't think you can limit what we're trying to propose to African-Americans. I just, as you did in the intro, I just finished doing a jail sentence for protesting for Vieques. That's not an African-American issue. When I've run for office in New York, I've gotten many white votes. So one, I'm not limited to one community.
I'm proudly based from my community. But I also think at the same time, the notion of one black leader is offensive and distasteful. We've never had one. We should never have one. And I'm not seeking to try and create that in whatever I end up doing in the 2004 race.
BLITZER: And the suggestion that many observers, many pundits have put forward, that you're trying to fill, perhaps, a vacuum left by Jesse Jackson, who, because of his own personal problems, has withdrawn somewhat from the political limelight right now?
SHARPTON: Well, first of all, Reverend Jackson has not run in the last three national elections. In fact, if I were to run in 2004, it would be 16 years after his last race. So how could I be dealing with filling a vacuum with Reverend Jackson when he has a long time ago stopped running?
Governor Doug Wilder from Virginia, who was African-American, ran since Reverend Jackson, was he trying to fill that void? Alan Keyes on the Republican side ran last time. So I don't understand why pundits want to try to make something out of me exploring a run more than they did the two that ran since Reverend Jackson ran.
BLITZER: A lot of Republicans are quietly saying they hope you run, because they think that you'll divide the Democratic Party, the liberal wing, from the Democratic Leadership Council -- the more moderate or centrist wing of the Democratic Party. Listen to what you said yourself on Crossfire earlier this week about this notion of you and the future of the Democratic Party. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARPTON: The Democratic Party has drifted to the right, and it's almost like they're saying we want to keep our base vote, but we want you to pretend like you're not there so we can get elected. We should never go back into that kind of politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: If your liberal wing of the Democratic Party were to get in the forefront, a lot of Democrats think that they wouldn't have a chance at all to be elected in 2004, going back to the George McGovern days.
SHARPTON: Well, two things. One, if there was a more progressive stand in the Democratic Party, maybe the hundreds of thousands of people that left the party and voted for people like Ralph Nader would return to the party and we would not have had what we had manipulated last year by the Republicans.
I think the counter-argument is more significant, and that is...
BLITZER: What about the centrists and the moderates -- excuse me for interrupting -- who might be alienated by some of the views that you and the liberal wing of the party would put forward?
SHARPTON: Well, first of all, the question is, are they alienating the centrist and the right wing of the party? Are they alienating so much of the base and are they alienating so many of the progressors that is why we are having problems?
You must remember, Wolf, that after the debacle of last year in Florida it is going to be a real challenge for the Democrats to convince a lot of base voters to even come out and trust the process, when many of them stood by silently while we were robbed of our franchise in Florida.
So, in many ways, a candidacy by someone like me may be the only thing that can help stimulate a base vote to come back out. I don't think the centrists can go into the base-vote communities and get that vote excited when, in many ways, they betrayed us with their silence in the year 2000.
BLITZER: All right. I just want to go through a little history. Many people in New York say you've really matured, you've moved beyond what happened in 1987, I think it was, the Tawanna Brawley incident, when you were working with her, you represented her. She accused white police officers, prosecutors, of raping her, of brutalizing her. A grand jury later said she was lying, and you were forced to pay $345,000 in fees in punishment for your role in all of that.
Have you ever formally apologized for that entire episode? SHARPTON: Absolutely not. A young lady and her lawyers came to me among others, and we represented what we believed. I still do not see where anyone has proved that there was no merit to it. And the fact is that when lawsuit went down and the fine was imposed, which was not $345,000 for me -- it was $65,000 -- it was leading Democrats that paid the fine. The former president, Percy Sonn, put the team together, which showed how the community respected what I did.
So I think that if you look at many progressive or, as you call them, liberal Democrats that have run for office that had questions about their own personal involvement in things, if you're going to compare that to me standing up for a young lady whose mother and lawyers and others stood and believed her, I think that that pales in comparison.
BLITZER: Unfortunately, Reverend Sharpton, we are all out of time. I just want to thank you for joining us and congratulate you because later today, I want to alert our viewers, you and your wife will be renewing your marriage vows in New York. And thanks for taking some time out on this special day for you and your family to spend some time with us.
SHARPTON: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thank you very much.
And we have to take a quick break.
For our international viewers, "WORLD NEWS" is next.
For our North American audience, stay tuned for the next hour of LATE EDITION. We'll discuss Congressman Gary Condit's future with three political and legal observers: David Gergen, Lanny Davis and Dick Thourburgh. Plus, our LATE EDITION roundtable and Bruce Morton's "Last Word." It's all ahead in the next hour of LATE EDITION.
BLITZER: This is the second hour of LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEPHARDT: I'm disappointed. I think the most important thing in life and certainly politics is credibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The reviews are in to Congressman Gary Condit's primetime debut. Was it too little too late too late for his colleagues and constituents? We'll ask former presidential adviser David Gergen, 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 Christopher Caldwell. And Bruce Morton has the "Last Word" on a partisan land grab in the nation's capital.
Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We'll get to our guests in just a moment, but first here is Brian Nelson in Atlanta with a check of the hour's top stories.
BLITZER: And is Congressman Gary Condit in legal jeopardy?
Joining us now to discuss that, as well as his political future, are three special guests: In our Boston bureau, David Gergen. He was an adviser to several former presidents, both Democrat and Republican. In Washington, Lanny Davis was the special counsel to former President Bill Clinton. Also in Washington, Dick Thornburgh was attorney general under the first President Bush.
Gentlemen, welcome back to LATE EDITION. Always great to have all of on our program.
Let me begin with you, Dick Thornburgh. I want you to listen to what Congressman Condit repeatedly told Connie Chung when he was asked about the nature of his relationship with Chandra Levy. Listen to his response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONNIE CHUNG, ABC NEWS: Why you would want her to say that she didn't have a relationship with you?
CONDIT: Because she didn't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Well, that's not exactly the sound bite that we wanted for that specific -- he kept saying, he kept repeating, Dick Thornburgh, this notion. He says, I've made mistakes in my life, but out of respect for my family, out of a specific request by the Levy family, it is best that I not get into the details of the relationship. That was the line he stuck to. No matter how much prodding she was going to give him, he refused to budge. How much damage did that cause him?
RICHARD THORNBURGH, FORMER BUSH ATTORNEY GENERAL: It seems he did a lot of damage. The whole interview was a disappointment, I think, to his friends, supporters, colleagues, the general public, certainly to the police. And it was insulting to the Levy family, in my view.
The whole programmed nature of his robotic responses, the fact that he tendered no apology whatsoever, no regrets for having impeded the investigation. It seems to me that he really dug himself into a deeper hole through this process. And why he chose to seek out these interviews and why he conducted them the way he did is a mystery.
BLITZER: Lanny Davis, what about that? Why do you think he did what he did?
LANNY DAVIS, FORMER CLINTON SPECIAL COUNSEL: I think quite frankly they were reading the script from the 60 Minutes interview and believed that because then Governor Clinton didn't want to go into details and said "I think the public understands what I'm talking about," that that kind of situation would be applicable here.
What Gary Condit and his advisers have never recognized that this is not about privacy rights and the sympathy that many of us would have if he didn't want to reveal a private relationship. This is about a missing person and whether he cooperated from day one to help find that missing person. And it's about Dr. and Mrs. Levy and doing what they need him to do. And because they don't get that distinction, I think they read from a script that wasn't applicable here.
BLITZER: And a lot of people, David Gergen, have pointed out that Bill Clinton got away with it with Hillary Rodham Clinton sitting by her man's side during that 60 Minute interview. But Gary Condit apparently is no Bill Clinton.
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER REAGAN ADVISER: Oh, that's for sure, and, as Lanny Davis points out, the problem here is not Bill Clinton's problem, it is not whether he had an illicit relationship outside his marriage. It is rather whether he got in the way or impeded an investigation into the potential murder of a young woman.
I personally think this interview with Connie Chung was extremely helpful because it showed all the world what has been implicit all along, and that is that Gary Condit is a jerk and unfit for public office.
BLITZER: Those are strong words.
Dick Thornburgh, you know, one of the points that, in saying that he had a specific request from the Levy family not to discuss the nature of the relationship with Chandra Levy, later they said it was some remarks that Billy Martin, the Levy family attorney said in an interview I conducted with him last Monday. Listen specifically to what Billy Martin had to say when I asked him what the Levys want to hear from Congressman Condit. Listen to this.
Actually we don't have that sound bite, but what he specifically said -- let me read to you what he said. He said, "They don't want to hear anything about the relationship. They don't want to know how he felt about Chandra. They don't want to know how Chandra felt about him. They're trying to put that behind them."
Did Billy Martin give Gary Condit the opening to duck those questions?
THORNBURGH: He gave him an opening, but certainly that's a tortured reading of what was clearly on the minds of the Levy family. The notion that they didn't want to know the kinds of things that would be helpful in a police investigation and know them in a timely manner is simply ludicrous. The amazing thing about David Gergen's characterization of Congressman Condit as a jerk is that it's taken so many people so long to find out including the minority leader in the House Dick Gephardt, who praised him as an outstanding public servant not two months ago and now finally has come to the realization that he's got a tremendous liability on his hands and is going to take appropriate action.
BLITZER: And, Lanny Davis, Dick Gephardt only last Sunday on Meet the Press said that he thought that Congressman Condit was in fact a moral man. We heard a very different line from Dick Gephardt on Friday after the series of interviews.
Why do you believe that, you know, Abbe Lowell, someone you know quite well, a good friend of yours, someone who's respected in the Washington legal and political community, allowed Congressman Condit to go out and behave and say the things he said?
DAVIS: Well, I watched Abbe today on Meet the Press, and I must say I'm mystified.
At the very least, I think at this point, Abbe, who's a very good lawyer and understands politics very well, should have flat-out said the decision to put him on television where he wasn't 100 percent truthful about the relationship, about being willing to take a lie detector test administered by the FBI, about being willing to meet with the investigators, about not splitting hair as to whether a meeting should occur first with the Levys and then with investigators, if that wasn't going to be their total transparency philosophy, then why put him on television?
It's sort of like the lie detector test announcement that they had, where they were willing to go public and try to use a lie detector test for their benefit but then do it behind closed doors under controlled circumstances. It simply defies common sense with a 101 rule of crisis management. You've got to be truthful 100 percent; you can't be clever and you can't be coy.
BLITZER: And, David Gergen, you know these people who are advising Congressman Condit quite well, and they're not newcomers. Abbe Lowell's been around Washington for a long time. He was, of course, the counsel for the Democrats of the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment process. He knows the game. How do you explain this, this almost inexplicable behavior?
GERGEN: Well, sometimes as you know, Wolf, very good people who are lawyers or public relations consultants and the like can take on the coloration of their client. The client ultimately makes the calls. The client is responsible for what he said on television, not Abbe Lowell.
And I think the client's problem is that the truth is not in him. He has been interested from day one in only one thing, and that was saving his own skin, politically and legally. He's acted all along as if, one thing, he wants to protect himself in the event of a trial. And he's parsed his words. GERGEN: He's continually misled the police, the Levys and now the American people. So it's very consistent behavior that I doubt Abbe Lowell has much control over.
BLITZER: But just to follow up, and then we're going to take a quick commercial break, David Gergen. You know how this works. They had plenty of time to prepare the congressman. I'm sure they did a lot of dress rehearsals, Q&A briefings. They got him ready with his talking points. Are those the talking points that all those people came up with to make him look at sympathetic as possible?
GERGEN: Well, it does defy imagination. As Lanny said, I think that it was clear from all of the commentary going in that the one thing people expected was candor and remorse -- those two things, really -- and they got neither.
And so, anybody who was preparing him would have understood going in that there had to be some form of apology, there had to be some statement of remorse about why he acted the way he did after she disappeared.
The issue here is not the relationship. The issue is how he acted after this poor woman disappeared -- whether he helped the family, whether he helped the investigators. And everybody knew he had to go into that conversation willing to say that. Why they even put him on the air is beyond belief if this is the defense they were going to offer.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about.
More of our discussion with David Gergen, Lanny Davis and Dick Thornburgh, plus your phone calls, when LATE EDITION continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDIT: I'm telling you I did four interviews, answered every question every time, gave every bit of detail that I could give them about Chandra.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: California Democratic Congressman Gary Condit insisting he did not withhold any information about Chandra Levy.
Welcome back. We're continuing our discussion on Condit's political and legal future with former presidential adviser David Gergen, former Clinton special counsel Lanny Davis and former Bush Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.
Dick Thornburgh, this whole notion of the legal jeopardy that Congressman Condit may still be in, is he in a serious legal jeopardy? Forget about the politics for the moment. THORNBURGH: It's very hard to say. As far as any criminal charges, there's not one single shred of evidence that we know of that connects him in any way with any wrongdoing in connection with her disappearance. There is some talk about his attempts through his lawyers to, perhaps, obstruct the investigation and the charges made or the allegations made by two other women with regard to activities.
But it's baffled me from the very outset as to why the congressman, from a legal point of view, has not come forward and been forthcoming. From the public relations standpoint, you can understand it, but he's lost that battle already. And it seems to me it behooves him to come out and be as candid and open as he can at this point.
BLITZER: Well, I guess there would be some who would be suggesting, Lanny Davis -- and you were once an expert on this subject, in damage control and spinning and talking to the press. Is there anything else he can do at this point, or there is just too much damage done? Can he still salvage his political career?
DAVIS: Well, I don't know about his political career. I think his constituents are probably making a pretty negative judgment about that. But in terms of what he can salvage on damage control, I probably think it's too late.
Certainly, I cannot imagine being in a room with him as an adviser, when he gave that robotic formulation in refusing to answer the question on the relationship over and over again, and not saying to him, "Gary, you're going to get killed tonight unless you simply say, `I'm not going into details. I had a personal relationship with this young woman. I apologize to her parents for not cooperating earlier. I want an FBI-administered lie detector test so that I can convince the parents that I'm innocent, and then I want to cooperate with the authorities.'"
That's the only thing he could have done to possibly salvage the situation. Why he didn't do that and why someone in the room didn't say to him, "Gary, you're going to get killed if you don't do that," is absolutely beyond me.
BLITZER: And compounding his problem, David Gergen, was the fact that he got into this confrontation with the Levy family, with Mrs. Levy, what he said to her, what he didn't say to her.
Listen to what he said to Connie Chung when he was asked about her assertion, Mrs. Levy's assertion, that he lied when she asked him point-blank if he had an affair with her daughter. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDIT: I never lied to Mrs. Levy at all. I'm sorry if she misunderstood the conversations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's not going to get very far in getting into a confrontation with the Levys, is he? GERGEN: He's sure not.
And, Wolf, the other thing that, since the conversation, of course, he's had other interviews, one with "Newsweek," and reportedly has said in there that he blames Connie Chung for what he was unable to say in the interview, even though he had, you know, 30 minutes of free air time; that he didn't have a chance to say how heartbroken he was. Oh, that poor man, poor victim of Connie Chung.
After all this, you know, everybody is wrong except Gary Condit in this story. Everybody has lied except Gary Condit. That's his story, and he apparently wants to stick to it.
I don't think there's any way he can now salvage his political career. What he could possibly do is salvage a little honor by leaving.
BLITZER: Well, it doesn't appear that he's going to be taking your advice at least any time soon, but you never know.
GERGEN: But, Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.
GERGEN: Yes, Wolf, I think the burden here is, to a degree, he has shifted the burden now to the Democratic Party. This party now has a responsibility to deal forthrightly with Gary Condit one way or the other. Are they going to let him stand as a candidate in the next election? Or are they going to choose, which they ought to do, to put a candidate up against him?
They ought to do several things, not only -- as Dick Gephardt's been moving in the right direction, to his credit, in the last few days. But now they ought to disown him, they ought to distance themselves from him; make it clear they're going to find another candidate; if he runs as Democrat, they're not going support him financially; and make it clear to the voters back home that, if he gets back into Congress, he is going to be at the bottom of the totem pole.
BLITZER: And, Lanny Davis, let me just pick up on that point, since you're a lifelong Democrat, and it doesn't look like the Republicans are going to be seeking to embrace Gary Condit any time soon, is there any possibility that the Democratic leadership will take David Gergen's advice?
DAVIS: Well, first of all, I think Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the DNC, has criticized him; Dick Gephardt certainly has. And I would like to see Speaker Hastert and even President Bush make it clear that they disown this lack of candor.
The president distanced himself from Gary Condit and said, I'm only interested in Chandra Levy, and I applauded him for that. But he should have also said he's concerned that Mr. Condit's conduct has made it difficult to find or at least have the police find Ms. Levy.
I think Republican leadership of the Congress needs to join with the Democrats. This is not about politics. This is about finding a young woman. And there needs to be more common criticism of Mr. Condit by both parties.
THORNBURGH: Well, Mr. Condit's status, however, is about partisan politics. I think the Democratic leadership clearly has in mind the fact that, if he resigns and there's a special election held in what is normally a Republican district, he will be replaced by a Republican, and that razor-thin margin in the House of Representatives will grow.
THORNBURGH: If he hangs on until the end of this term and the reapportionment process kicks in, they can fashion a new, safe, Democratic district for somebody else to run in. Let's not kid ourselves. There is some politics involved here.
BLITZER: Let's take a caller from Massachusetts. Please go ahead with your question.
CALLER: Yes, can you hear me?
BLITZER: Yes, I can. Go ahead.
BLITZER: We hear you. Go ahead.
CALLER: Can you hear?
BLITZER: We hear you, but you obviously can't don't hear us. Do you hear us?
She obviously does not hear us.
Let me pick up with Dick Thornburgh on another confrontation, a difference of opinion that Congressman Condit had with the local D.C. police in Washington.
Charles Ramsey, the D.C. police chief, was asked about what he heard from Congressman Condit in the interview with Connie Chung. He was less than enthusiastic in discussing Congressman Condit's behavior. Listen to Charles Ramsey the day after the interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES RAMSEY, D.C. POLICE CHIEF: One could say that he answered every question that Connie Chung asked him. He answered every question that we asked him. Now, it's up to the others to decide whether or not that's forthcoming and that you got any more out of that conversation after the interview that you did before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: As Deputy Chief Gainer says, talking to Congressman Condit is like pulling teeth, trying to get information out of him. It certainly doesn't appear he has a lot of support from the local D.C. Police Department.
THORNBURGH: Well, there are two things to keep in mind here. First, as you point out, if he gave the same kind of answers to the D.C. police that he gave to Connie Chung, that moved their investigation nowhere.
The second thing is the timeliness of the information that he had to impart. If whatever he knew about Chandra Levy and what her outlook on life was, what he lifestyle was, who her associates were, what her frame of mind was, was conveyed to them immediately, very early on in the investigation, it would have been useful. There's no question about that. Right now, four months later, questionable, the evidence is stale, the leads grow cold, and it really doesn't help them that much.
DAVIS: Wolf, a very quick comment on the damage control aspects of this, again. This morning, Mr. Condit's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said he would allow an interview with the Levys but not with the investigators, but maybe the investigators separately. And we're down to legal definitions of what you're willing to do.
Whereas the common sense way to handle this is, we'll do anything the Levys want us to do. Whatever they say -- with investigators, with an FBI agent present. The only way to contain this damage is to talk to the Levys, not to the lawyers.
BLITZER: But Lanny Davis, a lot of people have pointed out, lawyers -- and you're a lawyer. All three of you, in fact, are lawyers, and I say that with the greatest respect -- that there's a possibility of a civil lawsuit that the Levy family could file against Congressman Gary Condit. Why give them that opportunity? Go ahead.
DAVIS: Simple. There is nothing more important -- not civil liability, not political embarrassment, not even potential criminal exposure -- than helping to find that young woman. It's just mysterious to me to throw out the ghost of a possible civil case against Gary Condit as a reason why he won't go to the Levys and tell them "I'll do anything you want." It's putting lawyering above common sense, which unfortunately happens a lot in this country.
BLITZER: David Gergen, a lot of people know you as a political adviser. They don't realize that you, too, went to law school, together with your other colleagues.
GERGEN: ... lawyer.
BLITZER: That's right.
GERGEN: ... lawyer. BLITZER: In the new CNN poll in the 18th District of California, Condit's home district, the people were asked, did Condit try to obstruct justice? Look at this: likely, 59 percent; not likely, 35 percent. A lot of his constituents seem to think he tried to obstruct this investigation.
GERGEN: Well, it's not surprising, after he tried to obstruct their capacity to understand what as going on in going on television with Connie Chung. I mean, he went on and clearly tried to hinder their own clarity or their capacity to see what had happened and to understand it and to be able to weigh it in their own judgment as voters. He threw sand in their eyes. I think he insulted them. I think Dick Thornburgh was absolutely right way back when in this conversation. He insulted his own voters.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about.
When we return, more of your phone calls for David Gergen, Lanny Davis and Dick Thornburgh. LATE EDITION will be right back.
BLITZER: Beautiful hot day here in Miami.
Welcome back to LATE EDITION. We're continuing our conversation about Congressman Gary Condit's political future and the Chandra Levy case with former presidential adviser David Gergen, former Clinton special counsel Lanny Davis and former Bush Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.
Let's take a caller from right here in Miami. Please go ahead with your question.
CALLER: Hi, my question is this: Why aren't congressmen or other politicians, when a question of their character or their moral fiber come into question, why aren't they being suspended from office while an investigation is going on?
BLITZER: Let's start off with David Gergen. What about that?
GERGEN: Well, it's a very good question, and the answer is that there is no one element here that one can say that he is guilty. He has not been charged with anything. Indeed, the police are maintained so far that he's not really -- he's not yet a suspect. Maybe he will, maybe he won't become a suspect. But under those circumstances, there's no single charge that you can pin on him and say, we're going to suspend you for this.
Rather what we have is a performance over a period of weeks that has been odious, and it's difficult to suspend someone for that alone. Rather, the Democratic Party -- and I think that Lanny Davis is right, the Republican Party should join in this -- should find a way that the Congress can distance itself from this so that the good people of Modesto can be represented by somebody else. BLITZER: Lanny Davis, in the interviews that he gave, Congressman Condit, he flatly denied that he had had a romantic relationship, an affair, with Anne Marie Smith, the flight attendant who was on Larry King Live, on other programs detailing in great detail the nature of the relationship. He also denied another affair, the woman who gave him that watch and the watch box that he threw away, saying it was simply trash. Do those denials have any credibility whatsoever?
DAVIS: Well, I think they don't, and he also tried to define what he meant by a relationship in the "Newsweek" interview. But I must say the only thing I have some sympathy with Congressman Condit on, and I suspect that there was a chance that a lot of other people would have felt that way with Connie Chung trying to get an answer to the question, is that the focus on whether he had a relationship is really the wrong focus.
The focus should be on whether his holding back that relationship information impeded the investigation. Every investigator will tell you in a missing person case the critical first thing you have to do is the so-called tick-tock, everything the individual did in the week or two before the disappearance. And when Gary Condit chose not to volunteer to the police -- he said, well, I answered their questions. What Connie didn't ask him is, why didn't you volunteer immediately information about the relationship which would have assisted them from the first minute to help find that young woman?
BLITZER: All right, let's take another caller from Ohio. Please go ahead with your question.
CALLER: Yes, initially, I didn't believe that Congressman Condit had anything do with Chandra's disappearance at all, but he was so evasive the other night with Connie Chung and his behavior was so bizarre that now I'm actually starting to call that into question. I'm wondering, I know there's been no hard evidence to that fact, but I'm wondering if the other people on the panel feel the same way.
THORNBURGH: There's no question.
BLITZER: What about that Dick Thornburgh?
THORNBURGH: No question but that he's been his own worst enemy in this whole episode.
Wolf, over the summer I've been reading a number of books about the founding fathers and their efforts to create this great nation. And as I sit here and we talk about this process, I wonder if we would have reached the stage that we have now if they had been set about with a cordon of lawyers and public relations advisers and whatever to carry on their debates and to create the framework of the nation that we know.
Maybe there's an opportunity here to learn something on the part of those who hold high public office. That maybe it's a good time to remind themselves that the most believable kind of statement they can make is one that isn't filtered through all these experts, and simply standing up in your own two feet and speaking your mind has an advantage in the long run that may outweigh any lack of expert advice you might get.
BLITZER: David Gergen, let's end this conversation with the way we began it with the some of the experts, some of the lawyers, some of the advisers who were giving Gary Condit some advice. Abbe Lowell was on Larry King Live Friday night trying to explain in his words what the congressman conceded about his relationship with Chandra Levy and what he didn't concede. Listen to what Abbe Lowell had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LOWELL: When Congressman Condit looks you in the eye and you ask him what was the nature of your relationship and he says, you know, I'm not a perfect man, I've made my share of mistakes and he's told you that they became very close, you know what? I think Americans get it, I do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: David Gergen, do Americans get that?
GERGEN: I think they do get that. What they don't get is the fact that he is disagreeing on the facts with the Levy family, with the aunt, with the flight attendant, with the police. He is saying they are all lying, I'm telling the truth. Does anybody seriously believe that? I think the question we're all left with is the one the caller posed, and that is, what is Gary Condit hiding?
BLITZER: Well, we're going to have to leave that question for another occasion. We're all out of time. Lanny Davis, Dick Thornburgh, David Gergen, three of the best, thanks very much for joining us on LATE EDITION.
And just ahead, Congressman Gary Condit talks, Senator Jesse Helms retires and the budget surplus shrinks. We'll go 'round the table on that and more with Steve Roberts, Susan Page and Christopher Caldwell. LATE EDITION will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
Time now for our LATE EDITION roundtable. Joining me in Washington: Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today"; Steve Roberts, contributing editor for "U.S. News and World Report"; and Christopher Caldwell, senior writer for "The Weekly Standard" and a panelist on CNN's "TAKE FIVE," which airs Saturday nights, 8:30 p.m. Eastern.
And let's begin with you, Steve. This interview that Congressman Condit gave, one of the themes that he came out with was that it's all the media's fault, it's all the media's responsibility. Listen to what he told Connie Chung.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHUNG: Was Chandra Levy in love with you? Were you in love with her?
CONDIT: Well, I don't know that she was in love with me. She never said so. And I was not in love with her.
CHUNG: Did she want to marry you and have your child?
CONDIT: I only knew Chandra Levy for five months. And in that five-month period, we never had a discussion about a future, about children, about marriage. Any of those items never came up in that five-month period.
CHUNG: Did you ever make promises to her?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He also went on to say that if anyone should apologize right now, he said it's time for the media to apologize: "Actually, I would like to see you guys apologize."
What about that, Steve?
STEVE ROBERTS, "U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT": Well, I don't think we have a lot to apologize for. Look, there has been blanket coverage of this issue. It is August, there isn't a whole lot more going on. This is about one congressman. This is not like Bill Clinton, where we were talking about a president who had been elected twice and was a major political issue. In many ways, the stability of the country was in question. So I think at times we have over-covered this issue.
But to blame the press for his problems, as has been said repeatedly by our earlier panelists, and I would agree, Gary Condit is his own worst enemy. He's blaming everybody else. But this is an old trick. Politicians have been using it increasingly for years. Blame the media when you have a bad day.
Well, it reminds me of an old story. When Barry Goldwater was speaking and a woman supporter came running out of one of these meetings, tears streaming down her face, saying, "Stop them, stop those reporters. They're writing down every word he's saying." You know, and this is what we're doing with Gary Condit. We just broadcast his words, and he hung himself.
BLITZER: Christopher Caldwell, in the interview he gave Michael Isikoff in "Newsweek" magazine that's out today, will be on the newsstands tomorrow, he was asked specifically about the interview with Connie Chung. And among other things, Condit said this, "I sat there the whole time with Connie Chung waiting for her to ask me something other than a sex question."
Is that going to generate some sympathy with the American public, that line of attack? CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL, WEEKLY STANDARD, CNN'S TAKE FIVE: Absolutely not. As I've mentioned before, there is a sort of a rule on network television -- you can only ask a question three times, and then you're supposed to move on. Connie Chung really violated that rule, but I think we can be thankful that she did.
If anyone's to blame, it's Condit for not giving her an answer that's satisfactory enough to allow her to move beyond that to the link between the sexual relationship and Chandra Levy's disappearance.
BLITZER: And, Susan, if there was some notion out there among Condit and his advisers that Connie Chung would be sort of an easy interviewer, I think that notion was quickly proven false right at the top of that interview.
SUSAN PAGE, "USA TODAY": That's right. She did a tough interview, and she did a hard thing. It's hard to continually ask the same question over and over again when you're not getting a response. It's easier to move on to some other topic that your interviewee is more eager to talk about, and she didn't do that. I think she did the right thing.
You know, there are many mystifying things about this interview that Gary Condit did. One of the mystifying things is this is a story that was beginning to fade away. There was less coverage of it because there hadn't been any developments for some period of time. And so, it's mystifying that Gary Condit has chosen to revive the story and center it even more on him and less on Chandra Levy because of his odd performance in that interview.
BLITZER: And Steve, a lot of his advisers, political and legal, thought that he had to make some sort of public statement before Congress comes back from its recess. But certainly, given the reviews he's been getting in terms of the poll numbers, the reaction from average folks in the 18th District in California, by all accounts the whole process, the whole strategy, the media strategy, seems to have backfired big-time.
ROBERTS: Absolutely. I have never seen a situation where the reaction was total and complete condemnation.
ROBERTS: I mean, he's not -- there hasn't been a single voice defending him, not one. And I can't imagine what his advisers were thinking. But in the end, as one of your panelists earlier said, it was Condit's responsibility. You get advice and you take it, but it is hard sometimes.
You know, Lanny Davis, very frank candid on this show all the time, but he said his advice to Bill Clinton always was, you got to be -- you can't be clever and you can't be coy. And Lanny Davis went on television for a year, while Bill Clinton was doing being clever and coy and not being candid. So you know, he can say that now, but the fact is, he's been in a situation where the guy he was defending made a lot of the same mistakes that Gary Condit did.
BLITZER: Chris, is there any way that Condit can salvage that political career he's built up over 30 years in California, never having lost a race in his life?
CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": It looked pretty bad last week. But now it looks impossible, largely because of the reaction of the Democratic Party to this. There's a sharks-in-the- water sense.
And obviously the Democratic Party's dealing with Condit has been coordinated, because you had a real triple whammy this week. You had Gephardt coming out, removing official party support, you had McAuliffe coming out, which hints that Condit won't receive any money, and you had Cal Dooley, who's as close as Condit has to an ideological soul mate in the Congress, also withdrawing support, and a trial balloon about pulling Condit off the Intelligence Committee. He's in deep trouble.
BLITZER: Susan, what about that? If you take a look right now at the very harsh words that Dick Gephardt delivered the day after the interview, how do you explain that immediate quick response from Dick Gephardt, that condemnation, if you will? It certainly surprised me.
PAGE: Well, you know, it's interesting. Steve said there was no -- nobody came out and said he did a great job after the interview. In fact, the interview was the opening for people like Dick Gephardt to break with Condit, which Gephardt had not done. I mean, he is in a somewhat difficult position. He needs every House Democrat he can get.
But his performance raised enough questions that it made it possible for people like Gephardt, who had not spoken out against him, to do so. You know, his political future is clearly in some trouble now. I do think there's one scenario in which Gary Condit survives and wins reelection. That is if we find out what happened to Chandra Levy, it turns out he had nothing to do with it and he makes amends.
Because remember, it's not up to us whether Gary Condit has a political future. It's up to the voters in his district, who have elected him over and over again. I think it is conceivable, but certainly not likely, that he does have a political future.
ROBERTS: I think that it's a more likely scenario -- I think the Democrats are going to go to him privately and say "You've got to get off the ticket," because they do not want to be in a position of having to defend him as the official candidate of the party.
BLITZER: And we're going to take a quick break, but, Christopher Caldwell, very briefly, would you advise, if you were an adviser to Congressman Condit right now, for him to give one more sit-down nationally televised interview and try one more time to make his case?
CALDWELL: If he has something to say. I don't know that he has a good story to tell. It depends.
BLITZER: We'll leave it right there, and we'll see what happens.
We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about with our roundtable when LATE EDITION continues. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Welcome back to our LATE EDITION roundtable.
Susan, Jesse Helms made it official this week, announcing that he's not going to seek reelection next year. What does that mean for the U.S. Senate?
PAGE: Well, it means that we're going to lose one of the real characters in the U.S. Senate and somebody who disproved one of those Washington maxims, and that is, Jesse Helms managed to be very powerful and very effective over many years, and yet he got a terrible press. He had terrible relations with reporters. Reporters never cut him a break. It never mattered to him. So somebody who really was able to snarl things up, who had very conservative principles, is going to be gone.
I think it's likely that Republicans will hold the seat, probably with Elizabeth Dole. And so, that'll be an interesting but very different character from North Carolina in the U.S. Senate.
ROBERTS: You know, I think, Wolf, that Helms represented something else. He represented a whole movement within the Republican Party of a religious-based conservativism, which was very different from the frontier, sort of libertarian idea of the former Mr. Conservative, Barry Goldwater. Remember, Barry Goldwater was a member of the board of Planned Parenthood.
And Jesse Helms was a forerunner of this whole movement into the party. It was a big help, I think, in some ways, for the Republican Party. It brought in a lot of new voters, evangelical Christians.
But I think he's an anachronism. He also stood for racial polarization, of the idea that you could divide the Southern electorate. If the Republicans were the white party, and the Democrats were the black party, you could win.
But let's remember, the Democrats have taken back a Senate seat in North Carolina, they've taken back the governorship in North Carolina, they've won governorships in a lot of other Southern states. And that old policy, that old pattern of racial polarization, which Jesse Helms stood for and profited from, is a thing of the past, I think.
PAGE: But, you know, Elizabeth Dole will not be a candidate who follows that general political strategy in North Carolina. She'll be much more in tune with the new style in North Carolina, which is high- tech, which is, you know, more conciliatory on racial issues. So I don't think you're going to be able to make Elizabeth Dole into a Jesse Helms kind of candidate.
BLITZER: Christopher Caldwell, let me just bring you in. Elizabeth Dole, we're looking at the pictures now. She went and registered to vote in North Carolina this week. She'd not been living in North Carolina for some 30 years. I think she was registered to vote in her husband's home state of Kansas. Is this a foregone conclusion, Chris, that, A, she will run for the Republican nomination, B, that she'll get it, and, C, that she'll be elected the next senator from North Carolina?
CALDWELL: OK, on A and C, I think it's foregone that she's going to run. The fact that Jim Hunt, the four-term governor of North Carolina, has said that he's not interested in running for the Democratic nomination means that this is a weaker Democratic field, and that is going to bring more Republicans into it.
There are two people that Elizabeth Dole has to worry about for the Republican nomination. One is Richard Vinroot, the former mayor of Charlotte who ran for governor last time around, who has pieces of the old North Carolina Republican brain trust attached to him, like Carter Wren (ph), who sort of cut his teeth with the Helms operation. And there's Lauch Faircloth, who we tend to forget has a nine-figure fortune, was one of the richest men in the Senate when he was there. With North Carolina being a very expensive state, that gives him a bit of an inside track.
So I don't think it's a foregone conclusion, although I think the Republican candidate is in pretty good shape.
ROBERTS: Look, there's no doubt that she is going to be a strong candidate, but let's remember, she's 65 years old and she has never won an election for political office. So the notion that it's a foregone conclusion either that she's going to win the nomination or be elected senator, I think that's very premature.
BLITZER: And, Susan, as you well know, when she ran for the presidency last year for the Republican nomination, there were high expectations that never seemed to materialize.
PAGE: Well, running for president is a hard job to run for your first election out, but she's very experienced politically. She's kind of beloved by a lot of people in North Carolina, although, as you say, she hasn't lived there for a long time.
And she has a powerful ally in the White House. The White House would like to clear the field for her, they see her as the strongest candidate, they'd like to see her in that Senate seat. And I think that goes a long way with some of these other Republicans who think they have a shot at running as well.
BLITZER: That's it. Susan Page, Steve Roberts, Christopher Caldwell, unfortunately we're going to leave it right there. Thanks for joining us for the roundtable. I'll see you back in Washington next Sunday.
Up next, Bruce Morton's "Last Word."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Should Hoover have a bigger building than Robert Kennedy? A judgment call, of course, but I'd vote no. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Debating the best way to honor a legend. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Time now for Bruce Morton's "Last Word" on renaming Washington landmarks.
MORTON (voice-over): Some in Congress want to name the Justice Department building for the late Robert Kennedy. Good people want this -- his brother the senator, Representative John Lewis who campaigned with RFK in 1968 -- Republicans as well as Democrats.
It's none of my business, I didn't cover Kennedy much, didn't cover that '68 campaign, but I wish they wouldn't. Why?
Well first, because the Justice Department building is right across Pennsylvania Avenue from the FBI Building, and it's named after J. Edgar Hoover, and it's bigger than the Justice Department Building, kind of glowers down at it. Should Hoover have a bigger building than Robert Kennedy? A judgment call, of course, but I'd vote no.
Then, too, the Robert Kennedy I remember best wasn't the brash young lawyer on the Senate Labor Rackets Committee nor the tough- minded manager of his brother's 1960 presidential campaign, nor the attorney general. The Robert Kennedy I wished had lived longer was the man who, after his brother's murder, began reading Greek tragedy, began concentrating on issues like race, poverty, the Vietnam War.
The Robert Kennedy who broke the news of Martin Luther King's murder to a mostly black crowd in Indiana during his 1968 campaign. He quoted Aeschylus: "In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until in the end against our will comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
And he went on to say this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT F. KENNEDY: I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, and he was killed by a white man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORTON: Kennedy changed a lot after his brother died, was still evolving when he himself was killed, and I've always wondered how he'd have turned out.
That's the Bob Kennedy I remember, and if you want to put up something about him, well, he's in Arlington, you can't beat that. But maybe a small plaque somewhere near the Vietnam Memorial or on the Ellipse where the poor people camped the summer after Kennedy and King were killed. Some place that would remind us of where he seemed to be going, not where he'd been.
The Justice Department looking up at Hoover's building? Of course it may have made him laugh.
I'm Bruce Morton.
BLITZER: Thanks, Bruce.
Now it's time for you to have the "Last Word." Your money, the U.S. economy and our interview last week with budget director Mitch Daniels generated lots of reaction.
Paula Anderson (ph) of Pacific Grove, California, writes this: "It was a delight to view the absolute professional demeanor combined with the knowledgeable and calm responses made by Mitch Daniels. President Bush again demonstrates his managerial genius by selecting individuals such as Mr. Daniels."
Jeanne Rucker (ph) of Los Angeles writes, "I received my $300 from Austin, Texas. It such a small amount, there's not much I can buy. As for maybe needing to tap into the Social Security fund, what else is new? That has always been the Republican dream."
Harold Touchelle (ph) of Waterloo, Iowa, writes, "Why is it impossible for the Senate and House to agree on common-sense uses of our tax dollars without corporate welfare or pork barrel projects?"
As always, we welcome your comments. You can e-mail me at LATEEDITION@CNN.com. And don't forget to sign up for my free weekly e-mail at CNN.com/email.
Just ahead, we'll show you what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines.
BLITZER: And now a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines.
"TIME" magazine has "The sisters versus the world: Taunts, tantrums, talent," with tennis pros Venus and Serena Williams on the cover.
"Newsweek" examines "The 21 million Americans who suffer from arthritis: New drug warnings and alternative treatments, what you should know," on the cover.
And on the cover of "U.S. News and World Report": "How to make yourself happy. Cheer up. New science says you can do lots more to inject real joy into your life." I want to read that.
That's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, August 26. 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 program, tune in tonight 7:00 p.m. Eastern for our one-hour replay of LATE EDITION.
I'll see you tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Until then, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Miami.
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