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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Tim Roemer; Interview With Howard Dean

Aired April 4, 2004 - 12:00   ET

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, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7 p.m. in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
I'll speak with 9/11 commission member Tim Roemer in just a few minutes, and later a conversation with former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean and Bush-Cheney campaign chairman Marc Racicot. All that coming up.

First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's top stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: More details now on today's Shiite protest in Iraq, a protest that turned violent and deadly in the city of Najaf. CNN's Jim Clancy is in Baghdad. He's joining us now live with the very latest.

Jim, potentially a new front. Is that what's happening in these insurgent attacks in Iraq?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly looks that way, Wolf. And it's a very troubling development. There have been clashes between the followers of the 30-year-old Moqtada Sadr, a young firebrand Shia Muslim cleric, very anti-U.S., very anti-occupation.

But get this: Not only did he clash in these scenes that you're seeing in Najaf, he also clashed with British troops in Asmarra (ph), with Italian troops in Nasiriyah, and now we have reports with American troops in Sadr City, a part of Baghdad itself.

The worst, though, here in Najaf. The scenes that you are looking at right now, at least 14, perhaps as many as 20, Iraqis killed. Some 130 others wounded. After coalition sources say supporters of Moqtada Sadr opened fire on the Spanish garrison, killing four Salvadoran troops, wounding nine others.

This the most serious violence. It was decried by Paul Bremer on this day, who said it would not be tolerated by the coalition or the Iraqi people.

In Baghdad, there were more peaceful protests outside the coalition headquarters, but then in Sadr City, CNN has been told that supporters of Moqtada Sadr took over several government buildings or police stations in Sadr City, which is a sprawling Shia Muslim area.

CLANCY: Now, this development would be quite serious. There is a handover, a changeover in U.S. control there, in terms of which divisions are handling it. So on the streets tonight there are reports of gunfire. A lot of residents telling CNN they're staying inside their homes.

This is a troubling development, Wolf, for a lot of reasons. And that is, they did not need this other front. As you well know, the events in Fallujah, the problems there inside the Sunni triangle and with the Sunni-led insurgency on one hand were a big problem. To open up a Shia Muslim front at the same time, not what anybody here wanted.

BLITZER: Jim Clancy with some disturbing information for us in Baghdad.

Jim, we'll check back with you. Thanks very much for that report.

This Thursday, the U.S. national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, is scheduled to testify in public and under oath before the September 11th commission.

One of the key questions: How much of a threat did the new Bush administration consider al Qaeda to be during it's first eight months in office?

Joining us now, one of the commission members, the 9/11 commission member, the former Democratic congressman, Tim Roemer of Indiana.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

TIM ROEMER, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Great to be here, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: What's the biggest discrepancy that you'd like Condoleezza Rice to clear up when she testifies?

ROEMER: One of the biggest discrepancies -- and we'll have plenty of questions for Dr. Rice this Thursday. But one of them is, there was really a continuity in the plan between the Clinton administration and the Bush administration. There doesn't seem to be big, major differences between what the Clinton people were doing when they left office, and then the Bush people take about seven months in a bottom-up review to review all counterterrorism policy.

BLITZER: Nothing wrong with a bottom-up review when a new administration comes in, right?

ROEMER: Nothing -- no, it makes a lot of sense, Wolf. In a lot of ways, when you're looking at something as complex as this policy, you're looking at almost a Rubik's Cube from a multi-dimensional perspective with Pakistan and India and Kashmir, with the Pakistanis having been involved in this Taliban effort for many, many years. And so you don't want to fall into some kind of trap or make a mistake. But Mr. Clarke says you can do four or five things in the short term even while you're reviewing the policy from the bottom up. You can aid the Northern Alliance. You can fly the reconnaissance Predator. You can take some kind of action against the USS Cole, where we lost 17 sailors. Don't put everything on ice while you're doing this bottom-up review.

And if you finally get to a new review by September 4th, seven months later, what justifies that time period if you haven't done -- if you're not swatting flies in the meantime, have you substantially changed the policy? And we have found, not really. There is not really major differences there.

BLITZER: Well, from what I can see, his major criticism is that he felt that under the Clinton administration they took all this very, very seriously. There was an urgent crisis atmosphere, by and large. Whereas it was important, he says, during the first eight months of the Bush administration but not urgent.

Is that the biggest discrepancy that you can see?

ROEMER: Well, urgency rather than just having it be important is certainly one. Was there a plan handed off from one administration to the other?

Why in the spring and the summer of 2001, when this chatter is reaching crescendo levels, similar -- or maybe higher than what it was back in the millennium when Mr. Clarke served for President Clinton, why isn't there more done during this time period to try to task the CIA and the FBI to do something about this information coming in? Why isn't the domestic threat considered more carefully?

BLITZER: And where can Condoleezza Rice specifically help you better understand the answers to those questions?

ROEMER: Well, certainly in terms of the urgency. If you've got somebody like Richard Clarke, who has served four presidents, who is maybe one of the experts in the world on terrorism, why not have him brief the president on a proposal on terrorism?

In his seven or eight months, he never briefs the president on counterterrorism. Why doesn't Dr. Rice try to have that meeting come off? This is, you know, one of the preeminent experts who served his father as well, too, in addition to the Clinton people.

I think another key question...

BLITZER: Well, the suggestion is that some critics of the Bush administration have made is that, in those first months, they were much more preoccupied, for example, with missile defense than they were with terrorism.

ROEMER: And that leads me to another question, Wolf, is, if you're having principal meetings, the top-level people in your government, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the national security advisor, the president of the United States, meeting on Russia, on China, on arms control, missile defense, why not having some meetings on terrorism? Why doesn't this take place until September the 4th?

Those are fair questions to ask.

BLITZER: You've already questioned Dr. Rice for, what, four hours, in earlier...

ROEMER: Four hours.

BLITZER: ... not under oath, not public. Do you really expect to get new information that she didn't answer the last time around when you questioned her behind closed doors?

ROEMER: I do, and I don't.

Now, I hope that we will not only focus on "she said, he said." It's important for us not to try to trap Dr. Rice into some kind of a statement she made in private interviews or on MSNBC or CNN about what she has said about terrorism in the last few months, or even what she said in a May 2002 interview about planes as missiles, that she may not have anticipated that being used.

Well, why not, going back to 1996, when, in the '96 Olympics in Atlanta, we looked at the possibility of planes going into Olympic venues? We had 12 reports going to the intelligence communities about planes being used in some capacity by terrorists.

So, that, combined with the domestic threat, how do we improve this in the future? Well, if it's not just for us to -- I know the media would like to make this a big circus about "he said, she said," we need to also focus, as this commission in a bipartisan way has done, about looking forward and getting answers to make the country safer.

BLITZER: But there are differences between Clarke and Rice, not only on opinion or nuance, but on factual issues that presumably you're going to try to resolve.

ROEMER: There are. Urgency, was it a priority or not? Dick Clarke has said very adamantly, it was a high priority in the Clinton administration, it was not in the Bush administration.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the president and the vice president. You've agreed, the commission, the 10 members of the commission, the chairman, the vice chairman, that they will appear jointly but behind closed doors. Are you satisfied with that arrangement?

ROEMER: It's not the ideal situation, Wolf...

BLITZER: What would be the ideal situation?

ROEMER: The ideal situation, I think, would probably be to have former President Clinton and Vice President Gore and the president and the vice president talk in public. Maybe they wouldn't have to be sworn in, but we're at a stage here, around the world, when we're looking at what Cofer Black said before the House International Relations Committee...

BLITZER: He's the former CIA official.

ROEMER: And now at the State Department.

Where this Islamic extremism movement, these jihadists are spreading out in diffuse ways all over the world -- Indonesia, the Philippines, the Middle East, Africa. We had this coming at us for a long time.

And we need to be able to look forward in proactive and bipartisan ways to work with Congress, to get these reforms that our 9/11 commission will suggest to the president implemented and passed into law.

We're working, Wolf, if you can imagine, we're working off the 1947 National Security Act that was roughly organized, our threat against the former Soviet Union, not against this brand new dynamic threat coming at us now. How do we work together as a country to do this?

And the former president and the current president could really help focus us on what happened on 9/11 and move us forward.

BLITZER: Have you finally resolved all the issues, as far as documents from the Bush administration, the Clinton administration, that you want to see? Are you going to get access to everything you want to see?

ROEMER: Two points on that, Wolf.

I've disagreed with the commission and the White House on the presidential daily briefs. I thought we should have asked for the entire presidential daily brief, not just articles...

BLITZER: These are the most classified, sensitive documents available.

ROEMER: Most classified, sensitive documents that are briefed to the top policymakers in our government, to develop policy at the presidential level and push it down into the government, so that we do something about terrorism.

I think, instead of asking just for articles or paragraphs in these often eight- or nine-page documents, we should have asked for the entire document, so we saw how al Qaeda was put in there, with respect to other threats in the world. I think that was a mistake on our part, and the White House didn't -- you know, they had to vet and edit those before we could see them.

The second part, we've just gone through trying to get the Clinton papers. Well, we only got about 75 -- about 25 or 40 percent of the Clinton papers. Bruce Lindsey brought this to the attention of the media the other day.

BLITZER: The former White House counsel.

ROEMER: The former White House counsel. We're not all the way through this. While our staff now can go see the papers that the Bush administration has withheld from the 9/11 commission and review them, it's not clear yet if we can then take those into our possession and read them and take notes on them and keep those notes at our commission headquarters.

BLITZER: Still important work to be done.

ROEMER: Very important.

BLITZER: Tim Roemer, thanks very much for joining us.

ROEMER: Wolf, pleasure.

BLITZER: We'll all be watching the hearing on Thursday. I think the whole nation, much of the world will be watching Thursday morning.

The hearing starts at what time, nine o'clock?

ROEMER: Nine o'clock in the morning, first hearing.

BLITZER: We'll be there. Thanks very much.

Still ahead, new terror concerns here in the United States. We'll talk with two leading United States senators about the possibility of a summer attack.

Then, skyrocketing gas prices. Is OPEC to blame? We'll discuss the politics of petroleum and much more with the Saudi foreign policy adviser, Adel al-Jubeir.

And later, weighing in on the race for the White House, a conversation with former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.

"LATE EDITION" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our web question of the week: Do you agree with the White House's decision to allow Condoleezza Rice to testify in public and under oath before the 9/11 commission? You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results a little bit later in this program.

But up next a deadly setback in Iraq. Is the effort to establish democracy in Iraq losing ground? We'll speak live with two key U.S. senators about Iraq, the 9/11 commission and much more.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK KIMMITT, ARMY BRIGADIER GENERAL: We will be back in Fallujah. It will be at the time and place of our choosing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt reacting to what was a very bloody day this past Wednesday in Iraq. Five U.S. soldiers were killed by an explosion. Four American civilian contractors killed in an ambush, their bodies mutilated and hanged by a mob.

We are joined by two leading members of the United States Senate. Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And in Detroit, Michigan, Senator Carl Levin. He's the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He's also a key member of the Intelligence Committee.

Senators, welcome to "LATE EDITION."

And, Senator Roberts, I'll begin with you with Fallujah. The glee that we saw in the faces there as they attacked these four American civilian contractors and then they mutilated, hanged these bodies. What should the U.S. do right now?

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: Well, we can't turn our face away from that. It was a tragedy. It's a very emotional situation for us to see that.

One of the things I was very discouraged with is that on Friday, apparently, the Islamic cleric said it was all right to kill people, but not to mutilate them. We have got to get some kind of voice worldwide from moderate Islamic community to say that that kind of behavior just can't be permitted.

In addition, however, you only have about 5 percent of the 27 million (ph) that are involved in this. It's a very disparate group. But from now on out, until we transfer the sovereign power, I'm afraid we're going to see more of this, and it's going to be a very rough go, a big challenge for our intelligence and our military.

BLITZER: Well, Senator Levin, what do you think? Should the U.S. send troops into Fallujah now massively to look for those responsible?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Well, I think the security situation is obviously incredibly complex, but, Wolf, if I understand your question -- you're coming out a bit blurry here -- let me tell you that the political challenge is as great as the military challenges there. Because there's a date which has been set, arbitrarily, to restore sovereignty to Iraq on June 30th.

And that is going to be a very problematical situation there, and as a matter of fact, could backfire, unless we have the support of the Iraqi groups and also the support of the U.N. Now, we set that date without getting the support of the U.N. We set that unilaterally. And we now are trying hard to get the U.N. involved. But without the support of the international community, that date could really backfire on us.

BLITZER: Senator Roberts, you agree that date maybe should be rethought, the June 30th handover to Iraqi sovereignty?

ROBERTS: I don't know -- I don't see any good in really postponing it. I'm all for Carl's suggestion if we could involve the international community, more especially the U.N. But with the violence that's gone on over there or that is going on, I don't see them going in.

What seems to me to be our immediate concern is much better intelligence and then the military response, so that these people know that this will not be permitted. And then you got to go back...

BLITZER: So let me press on that point. What do you want the U.S. to do now in Fallujah militarily, if anything?

ROBERTS: Well, the Marines are there, and the Marines can handle it. But the Marines are not simply going in on some kind of an effort to simply overtake the city. I have had a lot of e-mails from back home saying -- well, you know what they would say out of a emotional response.

BLITZER: They want you to level...

ROBERTS: Yes. Exactly. But that's not an answer. And so you want to go in with the right kind of intelligence who know exactly who did this, and then in a very precision way take care of it in a very aggressive way. I think that kind of action can show these people that we are not really giving up.

But, again, if you have got the Muslim clerics preaching killing instead of mutilization, what kind of message does that send? And if we don't do this by, say, June 30th, then it's only going to increase. And then you're into a possible civil war, which isn't going to serve anybody any good.

BLITZER: Is there any good information, Senator Levin, that you have, who is responsible for what happened in Fallujah? We know this is part of the Sunni triangle. These are not Shiites. These are Sunnis. This is the hotbed of support, presumably, for Saddam Hussein.

But there is some indication that perhaps al Qaeda, or an associate of al Qaeda, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, may have played a role in this. Are you are getting any indications along those lines?

LEVIN: We do know that some of the leadership is now provided by outside terrorists. It's not just the old Saddam supporters in the Sunni areas.

But this thing, as Pat Roberts says, is going to probably get worse. And it's really incredibly important that we reach out now to the international community, offer to make them full partners. And we have to do that for a number of reasons, but one of them is that we're going to need additional troops in Iraq. And we need troops from Islamic countries and we're not getting them. And we won't get them without the full support of the U.N.

So we have to reach out to that international community for security reasons to get troops from those countries, but also for political reasons so we can try to put together some kind of an agreement as to what entity we are going to return this sovereignty to on June 30th. Right now there is no entity there.

BLITZER: Here is an excerpt from an editorial, Senator Roberts, in the Wall Street Journal. It ran on Thursday.

"Not a single one of the thousands of Iraqis and jihadists detained for plotting or participating on attacks on coalition forces and civilians have so far been visibly punished. Ditto for the members of Saddam Hussein's criminal regime. Is this how Douglas MacArthur would have administered Iraq?"

ROBERTS: Well, don't forget that Douglas MacArthur also went into Japan to head up the civilian government and did so with a very compassionate way. That's not a very good answer to you.

But rest assured, there is going to be a response by the Marines. And rest assured that if they meet any resistance, they are going to be successful. I think it's going to be a very quick strike. It's going to be a very aggressive strike. It's going to show all of these people who want to conduct these acts that there is a price to be paid.

BLITZER: Senator McCain told me this week, Senator Roberts, and I want to get Senator Levin to weigh in on this as well, he still believes the U.S. does not have enough troops on the ground to get the job done. What do you think?

ROBERTS: Well, one of the things we decided to do is to withdraw from some of these areas and try to replace our troops to avoid all of the bloodletting in regards to the Iraqi police and the Iraqi security forces. They're not trained well yet. They do not have the right kind of equipment. And so that's going to take a while.

So now we're seeing that we're going to have to bring these troops back in. We are increasing 30,000 additional troops in regards to the Army. The secretary of defense says that's only on a temporary basis. I don't think it's temporary. I would agree with Senator McCain.

BLITZER: What about you, Senator Levin? You're the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.

LEVIN: We're going to need additional troops there. But we should not -- they should not be our troops. We've got to get other countries to supply troops and police. And in order to do that, we're going to have to get the credibility of the U.N. behind this effort. That is the key. That will unlock troops coming in from other countries.

And as a matter of fact, even NATO is willing, at the request of the U.N., to provide its support to a military effort in Iraq. But it's going to take a request both from the Iraqis and from the U.N. Security Council to get that NATO imprimatur there, as well.

BLITZER: All right, senators, stand by, both of you, because I want to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about, including the latest intelligence that's coming in, the 9/11 commission. And what went wrong before the war? The weapons of mass destruction, where are they? Where were they? Were they there?

We'll take a quick back. When we come back, more of our conversation with these two senators.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're talking with the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts of Kansas, and the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also a member of the Intelligence Committee, Carl Levin of Michigan.

Senator Roberts, during the lead-up to the war in February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke before the U.N. Security Council and, among other things, he made a point of saying this, listen to what he said.

ROBERTS: All right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We know that Iraq has at least seven of these mobile biological agent factories. The truck-mounted ones have at least two or three trucks each. That means that the mobile production facilities are very few. Perhaps 18 trucks that we know of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now flying home from Brussels from NATO meetings on Friday, Secretary Powell says, you know what, the intelligence was not good and that was probably wrong.

This is pretty embarrassing to the Bush administration, isn't it?

ROBERTS: Well, it's embarrassing to everybody. It's embarrassing to everybody who used the intelligence, whether it was members of Congress or whether it was, say, the Clinton administration or the Bush administration, more especially Secretary Powell.

I would point out that we are now done with our draft report in regards to the pre-war intelligence. We have conclusions. Members are going over those conclusions right now. I think our staff has done excellent work. Carl has been a very valuable member of the committee, asking these kind of tough questions, especially on the mobile labs, as we all have. It now indicates that -- school still may be out, although I think there is a preponderance of evidence that those mobile labs did not exist, in regards to any kind of biological weaponry.

That's the kind of caveat that was not put in the National Intelligence Estimate that was given to policymakers, and that is a problem and one of the systemic challenges that we have to face.

BLITZER: When you released this report, Senator Levin, how embarrassing, how damaging will it be to U.S. credibility around the world in justifying going to war against Saddam Hussein?

LEVIN: I think the false intelligence and the intelligence errors and failures are very embarrassing to the United States. They undermine our credibility.

As recently as five or six weeks ago, Vice President Cheney was saying that those mobile labs were the very proof that he did have weapons of mass destruction immediately before the war. Apparently, the CIA did not even notify the vice president as of a month and a half ago that we don't believe those mobile labs had anything to do anymore with biological weapons.

So there have been some really significant failures on the part of the intelligence community and exaggerations on the part of the users of that intelligence.

BLITZER: When will we get this report that you've put out, Senator Roberts?

ROBERTS: Well, we hope to do it in late May. Of course, I've said that I hope it would be out in April, but we have several hurdles to go.

Let me point out that it's not only U.S. intelligence that have some problems. Every allied or global intelligence service was riding the same assumption train in regards to WMD, including the U.N. So it's not just a U.S. problem.

BLITZER: Let me question you on that, Senator Roberts, because Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, and Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief nuclear inspector, both, on the same day that Powell spoke before the U.N. Security Council, had very different assessments of what the threat was from WMD in Iraq than Powell had.

ROBERTS: Well, basically, what I'm saying is that if you take the Brits, and you take the Israelis, and you take even the Russians and, also, almost every intelligence agency, there was an assumption train saying that Saddam Hussein had the WMD. So that's one problem.

It's not only a United States problem, although we are the lead agency, I think, in the eyes of most of the world. And I would agree with Carl in that respect. But we have a real systemic problem on our hands. And I would envision that we ought to do this in May. We are now redacting the conclusions, members are going over the conclusions. We will then give it to the CIA for the declassification.

And I will say this: I know it's going to be a little tough. And I know we're going to have some meaningful dialogue. But we will set a time frame, because I want this out to the public. It's been too long now, anyway. Although this has taken a long time -- and we want to make it very thorough -- I think this is the best look at the intelligence community in the last 10 or 20 years.

And the biggest thing is to get to the reforms that both Senator Rockefeller and I and Senator Levin and others, you know, wanted to do on down the road.

BLITZER: But, Senator Roberts, what if the CIA says you shouldn't release certain parts of it? What are you going to do?

ROBERTS: We may vote to go ahead and release it any way.

BLITZER: Well, how will you vote on that vote?

ROBERTS: I would vote yes.

BLITZER: What about you, Senator Levin?

LEVIN: They shouldn't release what? I'm afraid you're still muffled coming in here.

BLITZER: The question is, if the CIA says don't release parts of it, Senator Roberts just said he would vote in favor of releasing it, put it up to a vote before the committee. What would you recommend?

LEVIN: Well, if the question is about CIA releasing material -- I'm afraid you're coming in totally muffled, so it's very hard for me to hear you -- then I'd be in favor of releasing all of the information that is available that does not jeopardize sources and methods.

I may not be getting your question clearly. I'm sorry.

BLITZER: Well, I think you got the gist of it.

ROBERTS: OK, let me put in a little caveat here.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

ROBERTS: We're going to give it to the CIA. We're going to try to work with the CIA, and we have been, and they've been very cooperative.

But if we have a report that is very critical, then you've got to get to the business of we're trying to redact that material. If there is anything wrong that the CIA says, "I'm sorry, you're absolutely wrong," obviously you're not going to put that in the report if we agree with it. And then if we get into names and sources and methods, why, obviously, we don't want to endanger anybody.

But if it means we're going to play rope-a-dope and we're going to delay this and delay this and delay this, we're not going to do that. We're going to have a time period.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Levin, go ahead.

LEVIN: I was going to say that, just the last week, the newest top weapons inspector for the CIA continued down the same bad course that the CIA had previously been going. He made a public statement. And that public statement that he made was significantly different from what the underlying classified intelligence was on some very key findings, including those mobile vans.

So the CIA should clearly declassify that material right now on the vans because the current weapons inspector, speaking to the public, is still saying, "Well, there is all kinds of open questions on this" without showing the questions where we do have factual information running counter to the open issues that he says still exist.

And I think maybe that Senator Roberts on this one, who was there as well as I, would agree with me that there was a real discrepancy between that public statement and the underlying classified material.

BLITZER: Senator Roberts, let me bring that -- let me get you to weigh in on this. He's referring to what Charles Duelfer, who replaced David Kay as the chief U.S. weapons inspector on the ground, what he said in private before your panel and what he later said in public.

Do you agree with Senator Levin that there is a discrepancy?

ROBERTS: It was all part of the same statement. And basically what he did is to go over the caveats, or basically the intelligence that was mentioned by Carl. But then in his public statement, in the same statement, indicated that school is still out.

Well, school is still out. I don't know whether they are able -- you know, you could conceivably find some information or find a mobile lab that could change your opinion. But to date, that has simply not been the case. And so it needs to be consistent.

BLITZER: We're going to have to leave it right there, unfortunately.

Senator Roberts, thanks very much.

Senator Levin, I apologize for the muffled audio. We'll clear it up the next time you're on "LATE EDITION."

Appreciate it, though, very much for joining us today on this program.

Just ahead, questions about whether Saudi Arabia is playing both sides of the war on terror. I'll speak live about that and more with the country's foreign policy adviser, Adel al-Jubeir.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

There are new questions this week about whether Saudi Arabia has been funneling millions of dollars to organizations that allegedly have terrorist ties. Joining us now to talk about that, the price of oil and much more, Saudi Arabia's foreign policy adviser Adel Al- Jubeir.

Welcome, Mr. Al-Jubeir, back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI ARABIA'S FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: Always a pleasure.

BLITZER: The new issue of Newsweek magazine just coming out today writes this, among other things: "A federal investigation into the bank accounts of the Saudi Embassy in Washington has identified more than $27 million in suspicious transactions, including hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Muslim charities and to clerics and Saudi students who are being scrutinized for possible links to terrorist activity, according to government documents obtained by Newsweek."

Is that true?

AL-JUBEIR: Oh, absolutely not. We are aware of the investigation. In fact, we are working with the U.S. government on it. We have provided them with a list of all the students in the U.S. who receive money from Saudi Arabia, as well as all the support that Saudi Arabia has given to various institutions in the U.S., not only over the past two years, but over the past 20 years. We want to know if any of them are not legitimate so we can take action.

With regards to the story in Newsweek, it's unfortunate that people tend to sensationalize things. Just like a year and a half ago, people accused Princess Haifa of giving money to terrorists.

BLITZER: She is the wife of the ambassador.

AL-JUBEIR: Of the ambassador, correct. And accused al-Bayoumi of being a Saudi agent. In fact, Mike Isikoff did that himself in Newsweek. The story played up very big. People's names were maligned. And it turns out that there was no "there" there. The FBI investigation of Bayoumi concluded he did not give money...

BLITZER: He was a Saudi in California.

AL-JUBEIR: Correct. And nor was he an agent of the Saudi government. But I don't see Newsweek or Mr. Isikoff apologizing for the mistake they made. BLITZER: Now, among other things, they also write in the new issue that the Riggs bank in Washington, D.C., one of the major banks in Washington, is so concerned because of these allegations that they have dropped the Saudi embassy as a client.

AL-JUBEIR: I would argue that it was the other way around. We had some issues with the bank that pertained to loans and lines of credit, and the ambassador made the decision to terminate the relationship.

But I want to also emphasize, Wolf, that when it comes to this issue, this investigation has been going on now for almost nine months. There is absolutely nothing that was found that was suspicious on the part of U.S. -- either the Federal Bureau of Investigations or the Treasury Department officials, and that's also pointed out in the Newsweek story you just mentioned.

BLITZER: Why, though, is this a problem still, presumably, if Newsweek is writing about it, other news organizations are still raising questions about Saudi Arabia allowing certain funds to go to various charities with questionable results of that money.

Given what happened in Saudi Arabia, the terrorist attacks in Riyadh itself, why a year later is this still a problem?

AL-JUBEIR: It really beats the hell out of me. I don't understand it. Anything that involves Saudi Arabia automatically is suspicious. I don't believe that this is fair. I don't believe that it is accurate.

We have taken tremendous steps, in terms of regulating charities, in terms of freezing bank account, in terms of putting in place financial control mechanisms. We've had international institutions audit our systems. We have gotten a clean bill of health in this area, and yet the suspicions continue to linger.

BLITZER: The suspicions linger in part because there's a sense that I've heard myself from various U.S. officials in the executive branch, the legislative branch, that there's a split still within the Saudi government; that some, like Crown Prince Abdullah and others, are anxious to get to the bottom of all of this, but others, perhaps in the defense ministry and the interior ministry, others are still holding back, resisting these efforts.

AL-JUBEIR: I think that's more stuff for novels than reality. As a government, Saudi Arabia's committed to fighting terrorism, because the objective of the terrorists is to destroy the Saudi state. The government works as one hand. The citizens are very concerned about this issue, and they want action. And the Saudi government is giving them action.

We are arresting terrorists. We're killing terrorists leaders. We're freezing bank accounts. We're cooperating with any country in the world that was willing to cooperate with us in this area, because our survival depends on it. And we're determined to win this battle. BLITZER: Listen to what Richard Clarke, the former U.S. counterterrorism adviser who's very controversial now, what he testified before the 9/11 commission about a week or 10 days ago. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNTERTERRORISM CHIEF: The Saudi Arabian government did not cooperate with us significantly in the fight against terrorism prior to 9/11. Indeed, it didn't really cooperate until after bombs blew up in Riyadh.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is he right?

AL-JUBEIR: To a large extent, yes. But that applies to any government in the world. Our people argue the U.S. government didn't cooperate with us in the hunt for bin Laden until after 9/11.

BLITZER: What are you saying? The United States didn't try to help you try to find Osama bin Laden before 9/11?

AL-JUBEIR: I'm saying, Wolf, that what we had before 9/11 is, there's a lot of blame to go around. And we all have to accept those responsibilities.

Could more have been done? Absolutely. We see this in the investigations of the 9/11 commission here in the U.S.

Are we doing more now? Absolutely we're doing more. Are we learning more? Yes, we're learning more. Are we learning how to cooperate better with each other? Yes, we are.

And that's what we're determined on further...

BLITZER: Because you still have a problem, when Richard Perle, for example, the former Reagan administration Pentagon official, still very influential among certain circles here in Washington, writes in his book, "An End to Evil," he writes, "The Saudis qualify for their own membership in the Axis of Evil."

Those are strong words from him.

AL-JUBEIR: Correct. But Richard Perle is a partisan, he's always been on the other side when it comes to Saudi Arabia. And with all due credit to him, he's been very consistent in being a hostile critic of Saudi Arabia. So I wouldn't take what he says about the kingdom at face value.

BLITZER: The Economist, in the April 3rd issue, ranks democracies, the level of democracy in the Arab world, one through 18. Morocco, Lebanon, Iraq, the new Iraq after Saddam Hussein, one through three. Sixteen, 17, 18 -- 18 they list as Saudi Arabia, in terms of democracy. And only in the past couple of weeks, the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was in Riyadh. I want you to listen to what he said in Riyadh after his meeting with the Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POWELL: We have concerns when people who are trying to express their views and do it in an open way and a democratic way are not able to do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is there any progress of democracy really taking hold in Saudi Arabia?

AL-JUBEIR: Absolutely there is. We have opened up our press, we're building institutions. We're moving toward holding elections, beginning at the municipal level. We have human rights organizations that have been set up.

With regards to the comment or the issue of the quote, unquote, "reformers" who are detained in Saudi Arabia, what people don't realize is, they were detained because they submitted petitions with names on it of people who did not want to have their names on it. And when those people complained, the government brought them in for questioning, and asked them to make a promise that they will not put people's names on petitions without their permission. Those that did were released, and those that didn't were not. I think we may have one or two that are still in custody, but all the others have been released.

This is not about detaining them because they wrote a petition. It's detaining them because they put people's names on petitions who didn't want to be on that petition.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the price of gasoline. OPEC met this past week and decided to curtail, to cut back on the supply of oil, despite the fact that here in the United States the price of a gallon of gasoline is now at record levels.

We'll put up on the screen what some of these levels are around the United States. $1.77 an average for unleaded self-serve gasoline. $2.00, $2.50 in parts of the country, in various parts of the country.

Why is OPEC, of which Saudi Arabia is a key member, cutting back on the supply of oil right now?

AL-JUBEIR: Wolf, the relationship between the price of crude and the price of gasoline is not as direct a relationship as people think. The oil markets, in terms of crude oil production and crude oil demand, are in balance. In fact, there's a slight surplus, and that's why OPEC cut back.

The reason you have high oil prices in the United States, to a large extent, has to do with refining capacity. I mean, there has not been a refinery built in America in the last 20 years.

And so, if you produce more crude oil but you can't refine it, it's not going to translate into gasoline. And that's why you have a run-up in the price of gasoline this year. Next year, expect another shortage of gasoline, unless you find ways to deal with the refining capacity.

It is also difficult to sell gasoline into the U.S. market because the U.S. has something like four dozen different formulas, mixtures or blends for gasoline, and it confuses the seller. Where do you sell your crude?

There's a refinery in Springfield, Illinois, that cannot supply gasoline to the Chicago market because the formulas in those two regions change or are different.

So unless the U.S. begins to simplify this area, and unless the U.S. deals with its refining shortage, there will always be a problem with gasoline.

BLITZER: On that note, we're going to have to leave it, because we're out of time. Adel Al-Jubeir, thanks very much for joining us.

AL-JUBEIR: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Coming up, he was once the front-runner for this year's Democratic presidential nomination. Now that Howard Dean is out of the race, how does he size up Bush versus Kerry? We'll ask him.

And don't forget to weigh in on our Web question of the week: Do you agree with the White House's decision to allow Condoleezza Rice to testify in public and under oath before the 9/11 commission? Cast your vote right now, cnn.com/lateedition.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And now some of your e-mail to "LATE EDITION." Many of you writing to us about Wednesday's attack in Fallujah.

Ahmed (ph) from Canada writes this: "I think it is imperative that the savage killing of four civilians is dealt with in a decisive and final way in conjunction with Iraqi forces."

Eric (ph) from Seattle writes, "I completely support finding those responsible for the atrocities committed in Fallujah. But I don't think an aggressive military raid or blockade of the city is the answer."

This from Eugene (ph) in California: "The situation in Fallujah cannot be allowed to continue. Without an immediate military response, the insurgents will continue their attacks and gather more local support."

We always welcome your comments. Our e-mail address is lateedition@cnn.com. Just ahead, we'll get a quick check of the hour's top headlines, including the latest dramatic developments, violent demonstrations unfolding in the Iraqi city of Najaf.

And later, the Bush strategy for victory in November. We'll talk with the president's reelection campaign chairman, Marc Racicot.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We'll get to my interview with former Democratic presidential front-runner Howard Dean in just a few minutes. But first, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of the hour's headlines.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: On Thursday, President Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, will testify publicly and under oath before a U.S. commission investigating the events leading up to the 9/11 terror attacks.

Just a short while ago earlier today, I spoke with former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean about that and much more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Governor Dean, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.

Let's get right to the issue of the 9/11 hearings coming up this Thursday. Dr. Condoleezza Rice will testify. What specifically do you want to hear from her?

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'd like some explanation, and I'd like some explanation from Secretary Powell about how he managed to present to the world the case to go into Iraq and now is admitting it wasn't true. You know, Colin Powell is one of the few people left in the Bush administration with credibility in foreign affairs. And for him to say that, I thought was shocking.

BLITZER: Let me interrupt you on that point. What he suggested was that his testimony, his statement before the U.N. Security Council on the specific issue of mobile labs, he says that was apparently now based on faulty intelligence. But he didn't say everything else was not untrue, just the specific reference to mobile labs.

DEAN: I know, Wolf. But when you put it all together, now we find out that the mobile labs allegations weren't true. It wasn't true they were buying uranium from Niger. It wasn't true that they were about to get nuclear weapons. There were no weapons of mass destruction. This administration has simply not told us the truth. And I can't understand why this isn't being investigated. This is Bushgate, which is far more serious than Watergate in many ways because 600 people are dead -- Americans are dead, in addition to countless Iraqis and over 2,000 Americans wounded, many of them permanently maimed.

What is going on in this country when this kind of stuff gets buried on page 6A, as it was in our local paper here this morning?

BLITZER: Well, let me just point out that there is a commission now that's investigating the WMD intelligence going into the war, which John McCain is a member of that commission. It will be released in March of next year after the election.

But there is a full-scale inquiry going on there, as well as in the intelligence committees in the House and Senate. So there are inquiries under way.

DEAN: Yes. I find it interesting, of course, that the inquiries are going to be put off until after the election. You know, if Bill Clinton were president today, there would be calls for his impeachment, there would be congressional investigations.

In fact, what's really happened is the right wing of the Republican Party, which apparently controls both houses, not just the House, is putting its party's interest just above the country's interest. We need a full-scale, open, congressional investigation about this.

The president of the United States took us to war. Six hundred brave American soldiers are dead, and we don't know why.

But we do know that this president was consistently untruthful, as was his administration, in telling us why we went to war.

BLITZER: Are you satisfied with the arrangement worked out with the 9/11 commission members, former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean and former Congressman Lee Hamilton and the other members, that the president and the vice president will appear before all the panel members, all 10 of them, behind closed doors?

DEAN: I think they ought to be testifying -- I think it's fine for them to testify behind closed doors. I think there are national security issues.

I do think they ought to testify under oath. That's important. This is a serious matter. Bill Clinton testified under oath during the Monica Lewinsky matter, which was a small matter compared to the national security of the United States. And I do think the vice president and the president ought to be testifying under oath.

I have a great deal of confidence in both Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton. I think the work of this commission ought to be taken seriously, and I think it ought to be taken seriously by the administration.

BLITZER: Based on what you know right now, do you believe 9/11 could have been averted?

DEAN: I think that's impossible to say. I think what we do know right now is the president of the United States paid no attention to 9/11 because of his obsession with Iraq, both before 9/11 and after 9/11.

We do know that we've consistently gone after the wrong enemy, which has always been al Qaeda, and that Saddam Hussein now is a diversion. And that the president of the United States has made consistently bad decisions, in many cases based on willful misinterpretation of the intelligence.

BLITZER: I don't think it's fair to say that the president paid no attention to al Qaeda. Richard Clarke said that this was an important issue for the president, but not a critical issue or an urgent matter, as it was, he said, for the former president, Bill Clinton.

You don't accept Richard Clarke, who was there for eight months, his assessment?

DEAN: What Richard Clarke's assessment was -- and I watched him because I think his testimony was riveting. What he said was that the president was consistently obsessed with Iraq and consistently demanded that his people who reported to him tell him, whether it was true or not, that Iraq had something to do with 9/11, therefore justifying the invasion of Iraq. When, in fact, we should have been spending our resources and our attention, not to mention sending the soldiers and so forth, to deal with Osama bin Laden.

That did not happen. The United States has been at continued risk because of that. So I think, true, perhaps to say he paid no attention is a little strong. But the fact is that he did everything he could to focus on Iraq, when Iraq in fact was not the problem. And that's jeopardizing the security of the United States of America.

BLITZER: Given what the United States faces in Iraq right now -- forget about the past for a moment -- but right now, what should the Bush administration, or a Kerry administration, for that matter, do in Iraq?

DEAN: Well, I prefer to talk about a Kerry administration, because I think the Bush administration is hopelessly out of touch with the defense needs of America. And I don't generally give public advice to a nominees. I think that can be done in private.

Let me just say what I think should be done in general. We need to rekindle the moral leadership this country has held until this administration came along since World War I. We need to enhance the kind of cooperation that should have been done in the beginning. And we need to bring foreign troops into Iraq, preferably Arabic-speaking and Muslim troops into Iraq, to set that country on a path toward real independence.

BLITZER: Have you thought about the possibility, with this major U.S. offensive now under way in Afghanistan looking for Osama bin Laden, if he is captured between now and November, what that impact might be on the presidential election?

DEAN: I think every one of us wants Osama bin Laden to be captured or killed. So I don't think you can think about what might happen to the presidential election. I mean, it's in the best interest of the country for us to get Osama bin Laden as soon as possible. And whatever happens in the election, it has to be secondary to that.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at some of the most recent polls nationwide, as far as the presidential horse race, as it's called, is concerned. A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll that came out in recent days had Bush at 51 percent, Kerry at 47 percent. A Los Angeles Times poll that came out a day or two later had Kerry at 47 percent, Bush at 44. But Ralph Nader was showing 4 percent in that race.

It's obviously a very close race right now. A lot could change between now and November. But this Ralph Nader factor must be a source of concern to Democrats. Is it a source of concern to you?

DEAN: It is a source of concern. I think there are always those who are attempted to, in their view, make the perfect the enemy of the good. And the pitch that I've been making is, this is not the year for that.

I think there are many times that third-party candidacies who have had a significant impact on America for the good. Bob LaFollette certainly is one of them.

But I think in this case, this is the one year where the damage to the country from four more years of George Bush, with these enormous deficits that are half a trillion dollars every year, cannot be -- the country is going to be set back so badly if John Kerry is not elected president that we can't afford to have people voting for Ralph Nader who would otherwise vote for John Kerry.

We know -- or I know, from personal experience with third parties, that in a turbulent election like this, you'll have a ratio of about -- for a third party, on the left, you'll have a ratio of about two voters who would have voted for John Kerry to one that might have voted for Bush, and then 10 percent might have voted not at all.

So it really is going to hurt John Kerry's candidacy. And I'm urging my supporters, many of whom are former Nader voters and Green Party people, this is the one time that we need to put aside our differences and support John Kerry, because we cannot afford four more years of George Bush.

BLITZER: So would you appeal on this program right now to Ralph Nader to step down and reconsider his bid for the presidency?

DEAN: Well, I have done that privately, and I've done that publicly. I think it's very clear that a vote for Ralph Nader is essentially a vote to reelect George Bush. And this country can't afford that.

BLITZER: Let's show some other poll numbers that are out in the CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll. As far as favorable opinion, in February, President Bush had a 56 percent favorable opinion. Now it's 57 percent. John Kerry went from 60 percent down to 53 percent.

And on another poll number, "Has John Kerry changed his mind on issues for political reasons," 57 percent said yes, 31 percent no.

And I think it's that number which is causing a lot of opportunity for President Bush and his supporters to go after John Kerry. Listen, for example, to what the president has said. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: My opponent is an experienced senator, and he's built up quite a record. In fact, he's been in Washington long enough to take both sides of just about every issue.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That line seems to be resonating, at least based on some of the public opinion polls we're getting. What do you think?

DEAN: I think it's funny for the Bush administration to talk about people being on both sides of the issue. George Bush is claiming he's a compassionate conservative. There's no compassion in his budgets when he's cutting a half a million kids off health care. There's no conservatism in his budget. He's a much bigger spender than Bill Clinton ever was.

This is a president who says one thing and does another on a regular basis. If there was ever a Washington insider, it's George Bush and his group of neo-conservative cronies who are running the country based on their own ideological agenda, and not based on what's good for the country.

So I find it laughable for George Bush to be accusing John Kerry, for example, of raising taxes. The largest tax increase in the history of America on the middle class was under George W. Bush, who has cut money for college, cut money for health care, cut money for cops on the beat, cut money for local schools.

All he's done is transfer the cost of programs from the federal government to individuals, who are now paying a lot more out of their own pockets for property taxes, college tuitions and health care.

This is a president who's the biggest spendthrift that I've seen since I've been paying attention in politics. And I find it laughable for him to be attacking John Kerry on this basis.

BLITZER: He does say -- and at least last month, the jobs creation number may be backing him up, 308,000 jobs created. He does say that the tax cuts, the series of tax cuts that he got through the Congress, are beginning to pay off in jump-starting the U.S. economy. Three hundred thousand jobs in one month is pretty impressive. DEAN: Let's remember what happened just a few short months ago, when there was 128,000 new jobs, supposedly, and then two months later they revised it downward to 29,000. So this is an administration, again, that you can't believe them.

You know, I find it amusing, this claim that Kerry voted for a 50-cent gas tax, which, of course, is completely untrue. This is an administration that got us into Iraq and is responsible for the deaths of 600 American soldiers by not telling the truth. Why in the world would you believe one of their ads?

BLITZER: Well, on that 50-cent tax increase on a gallon of gasoline, I was the senior White House correspondent for CNN during the early years of the Clinton administration. At that time, the president, then Bill Clinton, did support a 50-cent surcharge on a gallon of gasoline. There was no formal vote, but John Kerry did express his support for that 50-cent surcharge as a way of reducing dependence on imported oil, as you probably remember.

DEAN: Reducing dependence on imported oil is probably something we ought to have done a long time ago. There's a big article in The New York Times Sunday Magazine today that shows the incredible damage that this president has done to our air quality by gutting all the Clean Air Act.

It seems to me that balancing the budget and having a strong environment, which is a hallmark of a Democratic administration, is a much more worthwhile goal than passing tax cuts along to Ken Lay, who ran Enron, at the expense of middle-class Americans, which is the hallmark of this administration.

BLITZER: There's a story in The New York Times today suggesting that John Kerry's team has already started questioning various potential vice presidential running-mates. Among them, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Bill Richardson, Tom Vilsack, the governor of Iowa. What do you think of that list?

DEAN: I think any of them would be a big addition and a positive addition.

BLITZER: What about you?

DEAN: I haven't been asked.

BLITZER: Nobody sent you -- I mean, have you thought about the possibility, if Kerry's elected, serving in the executive branch of the government?

DEAN: I haven't been asked about that either. Those are the kinds of things I generally discuss in private with members of the Kerry team, and certainly not in public. As wonderful as this show is, I don't plan to have those kinds of discussions publicly.

BLITZER: I'll ask you one final question. In that same article, Adam Nagourney, the New York Times reporter, suggested, quoting some Kerry associate, that if John McCain were to reconsider and serve as his vice presidential running-mate, the election would be over. Kerry would certainly win. Do you believe that?

DEAN: I think he'd be a very interesting choice. I think the biggest problem would be his views on abortion, his views on gay rights and things of that sort. I'd want to know what those were very carefully.

I do think that, you know, in the national interest, we've got to have a strong ticket that will replace this most dangerous president in my lifetime, in terms of our economic future and our defense future.

But I do think if we go outside the party, we're going to have to look very carefully at the credentials of the person and the positions of the person who might be selected.

BLITZER: Governor Dean, as usual, thanks very much for joining us. I hope you'll visit often.

DEAN: Thanks, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: When we come back, a Republican view of campaign 2004. I'll be speaking live with Marc Racicot. He's the chairman of the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign.

Then we'll talk to three former national security advisors about what's at stake when Condoleezza Rice testifies on Thursday.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: The economy is growing, and people are finding work. Today the statistics show that we added 308,000 jobs for the month of March.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Presidential cheerleading Friday on new job growth.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

More new jobs may help the president keep his own come November. Joining us now to discuss presidential politics and more, Marc Racicot. He's the chairman of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign.

Governor, thanks very much. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

MARC RACICOT, CHAIRMAN, BUSH-CHENEY '04 CAMPAIGN: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

BLITZER: We'll get to jobs, the economy, some of the other issues in a moment, but Fallujah, very disturbing pictures coming out this week, what happened on the ground, the mutilation, the hanging of these U.S. civilian contractors.

Iraq, is that going to be a winning issue or a losing issue for the president come November?

RACICOT: Well, you know, he doesn't calculate on the basis of whether or not something might be winning or losing politically. He calculates on the basis of what is right to be done. And the fact of the matter is, it's an extraordinarily dangerous place, unquestionably in some respects.

But also there is tremendous progress being made in this, what used to be a very fertile ground for the spreading and for the breeding of terrorism.

BLITZER: Take a look at this chart we have from courtesy of USA Today. The number of casualties that took place in March, last month, as opposed to the month before, more than 600 Americans have now died, various forms, in combat, non-combat-related incidents in Iraq.

A lot of Americans are wondering, is it time for the U.S. to pull out?

RACICOT: Well, I think we regret the loss of every human life and appreciate the extraordinary sacrifice of so many people and their families to the best interests of this nation.

But what we are really talking about is making certain that this nation, the people that live here, and other freedom-loving people around the world have the opportunity to live in peace and freedom.

And we can either do that now, as the president has pointed out, and address it while it is still capable of being addressed. We can hold our breath and hope for the best. Or we can do what it is that the president has set about to do, and that's to make certain that we do everything we can to combat terrorism everyplace.

BLITZER: I know the White House had initially resisted the request, the unanimous request from the 9/11 commission members to have Condoleezza Rice, the national security advisor, appear publicly and under oath. They've reconsidered. She will appear this Thursday.

Is this an issue that causes you some concern, what might develop as a result of this commission inquiry?

RACICOT: No, and it never has caused the president any concern. He wants the facts produced. And he wants there to be a careful review of those facts so that any lessons that can be learned, obviously, will be learned by all of us.

BLITZER: But, you know, let me interrupt, because the commission members, many of them, including some Republicans, say it was like pulling teeth, getting documents, witnesses, from the executive branch, from the Bush administration, to come forward and go along with this commission. And the original request for the commission, they resisted as well.

RACICOT: Well, I think that the requirement here is to make sure it's probative and doesn't compromise national security at the same moment in time you're performing this searing review. That's a very difficult balance to be maintained.

And I think when you saw initially Dr. Rice not being able to appear, it was because of a very important institutional imperative, and that is to respect executive privilege. They found a way to address that by both the speaker and the leader of the Senate assuring them that no precedent would be set by this appearance. And, of course, the president believes this is an extraordinary situation that requires that testimony.

BLITZER: Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism adviser, both in the Bush administration and the Clinton administration before, was on this program, "LATE EDITION," last week and he said this. I want to you listen carefully to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARKE: If you look back at this last week, things have gotten very overheated in Washington and very personal and very vitriolic. And I'm told that the White House has decided to destroy me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's a very serious allegation from Richard Clarke, a career civil servant, spent two decades in the government, reached the highest levels, and he says the White House has decided to destroy him.

RACICOT: Well, that shows you how careless he can be in his assessments. I mean, the fact of the matter is, certainly the truth of the matter ought to prevail and ought to be presented by all of those of us who are associated with the campaign, who are speaking on behalf of the White House.

But to make that kind of careless allegation, I think, is a reflection of exactly what the commission ought to be concerned about when they consider the testimony of Richard Clarke, and that is that it's so full of contradictions, he impeaches himself. It's very difficult to know what is is that you might be able to believe.

BLITZER: But where does he impeach himself?

RACICOT: Well, when he talked about the earliest meetings, of course, he talked about some of the earliest meetings occurring with al Qaeda in mind in April. They actually occurred much earlier than that.

He has chosen to testify before the commissions in a way that's starkly, remarkably different from the way that he presented himself in front of this latest hearing, only last week or the week before.

It's just replete with instances where there are misrepresentations or at least there are differences in his testimony from prior occasions than the testimony that he presented and information that he presented in his book.

And then you consider that in light of the fact, also, that he has written a book. And isn't it a matter of great coincidence that somehow it's released at the very moment in time that he's before the commission, and the same moment in time that he appears on another network, I might add, to promote that particular piece of literature.

BLITZER: That was a decision his publisher made, not that he personally made.

RACICOT: All I'm saying is, Wolf, you know as well as I do, that when you testify, you have to consider motive, and you have to consider whether or not somebody's been truthful and consistent in the past. And the fact of the matter is, the verdict on Richard Clarke is he does has a motive. He certainly has not been consistent.

BLITZER: Because what I've been told from the 9/11 commission members, Republicans and Democrats, his 20 hours, 18 hours of private testimony, very consistent with what he said publicly. Although others on the Hill, Republicans, say what he testified before various intelligence committees while he was in government was not necessarily the nuances, the same as what he said in public this time.

RACICOT: I think that that's an accurate assessment, that he oozes and changes and molds and mutates according to the circumstances.

BLITZER: Let's talk about domestic economic issues. The L.A. Times poll that came out, which you probably saw this week: Who is best at protecting the financial security of the average American? Bush, 34 percent; John Kerry, 47 percent.

That's a number that must worry you.

RACICOT: Well, I think what it reflects is a lack of knowledge on the part of the American people about exactly what it is that John Kerry stands for. We've spent many, many months with the president being in the crosshairs of millions and millions of dollars of negative advertising by the opposition, a number of different candidates, started with Senator Kerry.

And as a result, over the course of the last couple of weeks of people learning about the record of Senator John Kerry, you're seeing all of these particular views, I think, start to change, and the race is very close. We believed it was going to be close from the very beginning.

BLITZER: This is what Kerry said in Boston on Friday, in the aftermath of the 308,000 jobs -- the new jobs that were created the month before. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president and his economic advisers themselves, after 9/11, in their post- recession forecast, said they were going to create 7 million new jobs. They're 7 million short. No, they're 5 million. They're 7 million short net.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's a serious statement from Senator Kerry, as well.

RACICOT: Well, I'm not really certain where it comes from, but I can tell you this. The president has always focused upon making certain that every person who needs a job finds a job.

So, you can calculate, tabulate, predict, speculate about the numbers that might be there, based upon economic models. The bottom line for this president is, as long as there's one American that doesn't have a job, he's going to continue to be up every morning and focused upon that responsibility.

BLITZER: Is it going to be a close election?

RACICOT: I believe it will be a close election. So does the president.

BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much for joining us.

RACICOT: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to take another quick break. When we come back, up next, a check of what's making headlines at this hour, including the latest on today's clashes, bloody clashes in cities in Iraq.

And after a bloody week in Iraq, we'll ask our panel of former national security advisors for their views about what lies down that dangerous road.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

As the investigation into the 9/11 attacks continues, many questions remain about potential signals that were perhaps ignored and the terrorist threats that remain very much alive right now.

Joining us now are three guests who've advised U.S. presidents. In Connecticut, Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state and the former national security advisor in both the Nixon and Ford administrations. Here in Washington, retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft. He served as national security advisor under both President Ford and the first President Bush. And Samuel Berger, he served as national security advisor in the Clinton administration.

Gentlemen, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Dr. Kissinger, I'll begin with you. The decision to go forward and allow a sitting national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, to testify before this commission created by Congress on a policy issue, is it an important decision, is it a good decision to go up there and tell the American people publicly and under oath what she knows?

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: It's an unprecedented decision, and I think it was a good decision.

I hope it does not become a precedent, because the president must have some confidential advisers who can talk to him on a personal basis without having to concern themselves with how they will present this publicly.

But in this case, it was the right decision and it was necessary.

BLITZER: Mr. Berger, you testified twice, once as deputy national security advisor, once as the national security advisor before Congress. But those were on potentially criminal-related issues, is that right?

SAMUEL BERGER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: They were investigations. I don't know whether they were criminal. They involved issues of controversy, not policy issues. Although I testified once on Haiti.

BLITZER: Was it a good idea to let Condoleezza Rice testify?

BERGER: I think it was essential. 9/11 is an unparalleled event in our history. She has important information. She's been on the talk show circuit talking about her conversations with President Bush. So having been publicly -- in the public arena talking about her private conversations with President Bush, it's pretty hard to invoke privilege to appear before this commission.

But I agree with Henry, that the general tradition ought to be that this is the exception, not the rule.

BLITZER: General Scowcroft, you never testified before Congress when you were a national security advisor.

BRENT SCOWCROFT, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: No, I did not.

BLITZER: So do you think that this White House did the right thing?

SCOWCROFT: I believe they did the right thing under these circumstances. I worry about a lot, because I think executive privilege is important for a president to get the kind of advice and to be able to talk with his aides without fear that it will become public.

But I think it is not widely understood, not even in Washington, let alone the rest of the country. And I think it was not presented well enough that there was any way to understand, for the public to understand, why she would not testify.

BLITZER: The nuance there was simply too complicated, and it looked like they had something to hide, so they had no choice.

SCOWCROFT: That's right.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism advisor, made this accusation against the Bush administration during his open testimony. And I'm sure this is going to be the thrust of the questioning for Dr. Condoleezza Rice. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARKE: I believe the Bush administration, in the first eight months, considered terrorism an important issue but not an urgent issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think about that?

KISSINGER: Well, I don't know how you would make a distinction between an important issue and an urgent issue, and how you would psychoanalyze an administration that had just come into office.

You have to remember -- and all three of us had this experience -- when a new administration comes in, the files in the White House are empty. There are a lot of people who tell them that matters are very urgent, and they have to sort their way through this in some systematic manner.

And so, I think one cannot judge it on the basis of the assessment of one observer, who is obviously an extremely dedicated and single-minded individual, and I don't think one should make the judgment on what was done or not done on the basis of such a statement.

BLITZER: Dr. Kissinger, I think what he was referring to is that summer, there were indications, so-called chatter, of some sort of potential terrorist attack against the United States coming in. The deputy director of the CIA was reporting this.

There was a lot of alarm in the law enforcement community, but he is suggesting the White House was sort of lackadaisical, didn't really pay the kind of attention that might have disrupted some of those efforts.

KISSINGER: Well, what I have read in the papers, and I don't know anything else, is that there was a meeting called in early July in which all the domestic agencies were put on alert. What they didn't do is what the Clinton administration also didn't do, namely, take preemptive action against Taliban in Afghanistan, for reasons which Sandy Berger explained very well in his testimony.

And even Clarke admitted that, even had preemptive actions been taken, it would not have affected what happened on September 11th, and there was probably the additional concern that one didn't want to make anything look like a retaliation to our actions.

BLITZER: Well, let me let Sandy Berger weigh in on that.

Is there any significant difference, the first eight months of the Bush administration, how they dealt with this issue, that you believe you would have dealt differently with if you had been still in the White House?

BERGER: Well, I think this is going to be a very important issue for the commission to examine, whether the facts bear out the assertion of Mr. Clarke or not.

I know when we had a threat spike around the millennium, I convened all of the national security principals in the White House every day for a month.

And we got more wiretaps in that month than ever in history. And people went back to their agencies at night, and they shook the trees, and they found out what they could find out.

Now, I think this is part of the reason why it's important for Dr. Rice to testify and to explain what was done.

And the difference between "important" and "urgent" is a question of priority, and whether this was given adequate priority or not, I think is a legitimate question. But the facts will determine that, I think, more than anybody's assertion.

BLITZER: Let's let Brent Scowcroft weigh in. He's got vast experience.

In a new administration coming in, the transition and the inclination, as you well know, to have some sort of bottom-up review, to see where the new administration should go.

SCOWCROFT: I think that's always the case, and I think it's fundamentally a matter of judgment. This administration came in with a certain mindset coming out of the campaign and so on, and, for example, ballistic missile defense was something they really wanted to get through.

BLITZER: That seemed to have so much more of a higher priority than terrorism.

SCOWCROFT: Exactly.

Now, all of this is a matter of judgment. If we could govern by hindsight, it would be wonderful. We can't. And so you have all of these problems out here, and you have to decide how you're going to allocate your time and attention to each one. Do we always get it right? No. But it's a matter of applying your best judgment, given all the facts.

And I don't really think that we're ever going to resolve the -- did they spend enough attention on this particular one? Even Clarke said, if they had followed everything he recommended, it still would not have prevented 9/11.

BLITZER: Well, to be precise, on the foreign policy part of it, if the U.S. had gone ahead and bombed Taliban and al Qaeda positions in Afghanistan, that might not necessarily have prevented 9/11, but what he does say is that, on the law enforcement, the cooperation between the FBI, domestic agencies, INS, if they had, as Sandy Berger said, shaken up the bureaucracy and had these high-level meetings, perhaps they would have learned that two of those hijackers were in the United States, as some U.S. law enforcement low-level had known.

SCOWCROFT: I think that, we're going to find out, is the biggest problem we face in this whole thing, and that is this line, being the U.S. border, between foreign intelligence and domestic intelligence. So you have to pass things back and forth between bureaucracies who have fundamentally different concepts of operation.

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

When we come back, get more assessment from our panel of distinguished former national security advisors. We'll also talk about Iraq and Fallujah: What must the U.S. do now?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're talking with a panel of distinguished former U.S. national security advisors: Henry Kissinger, retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, and Samuel Berger.

Dr. Kissinger, a new poll in the Los Angeles Times the other day asked, "Was President Bush more focused on attacking Iraq than dealing with terrorism as his top priority?" 57 percent said yes, 37 percent said no.

Listen to what Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism advisor, said on this program last Sunday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARKE: I just think, in my professional opinion, he made a mistake about how to fight the war on terrorism. And I think what he did, in fighting Iraq and thinking that that was part of the war on terrorism, was a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you agree with Mr. Clarke?

KISSINGER: No, I don't agree with Mr. Clarke. First of all, the president spent a year in fighting the war in Afghanistan, from which Taliban was ejected. Secondly, the question on Iraq, it's the same question, it's the "important" versus "urgent." It was a question of judgment whether fighting Iraq was an important component of the overall war on terrorism, which can't be measured simply by where al Qaeda is physically located, but has to be judged on the basis of the overall context of the United States being attacked from a region in which the mood made this possible and support was coming from all kinds of directions.

And the president decided that the country that had consistently opposed the United States, about which President Clinton signed a declaration that the Congress had passed that regime change was necessary, that was believed by everybody to have weapons of mass destruction, was a necessary component in the war against terror. And I agree with them.

BLITZER: Sandy Berger, there was a study that came out in September 1999, while you were President Clinton's national security advisor, from the Library of Congress, the federal research division, which among other things said this. And take a look, you can read it.

"Suicide bombers belonging to al Qaeda's martyrdom battalion could crash land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency or the White House."

When you were the president's national security advisor, how worried were you that terrorists would use commercial aircraft as bombs?

BERGER: Well, first of all, I would say that, from '98 on, we were extremely concerned about al Qaeda and bin Laden.

BLITZER: Specifically aircraft?

BERGER: But you know, there were dozens of modalities: truck bombs, assassinations, car bombs, hijackings, assassinations. And there was nothing in particular about airplanes as weapons that was pointed out as a modality that we should pay particular attention to.

BLITZER: Because I ask this, Brent Scowcroft, Condoleezza Rice suggesting and other White House officials that they really weren't alerted to the possibility that there could be four hijackings -- simultaneous hijackings of planes going into sensitive targets, which of course is something that's going to have to be investigated by this 9/11 commission.

SCOWCROFT: Well, yes. Without having been there, I don't know what the facts are. I think that, you know, they tried to look at as broad a spectrum as possible of what the attacks might be.

Looking at the past, from really '82, the barracks, '93 and so on and so forth, would they have figured that out? I don't know.

But I don't think that the attack on Iraq or the focus on Iraq prevented doing what was necessary on terrorism. BLITZER: I want to shift gears, General Scowcroft, about Fallujah, what happened in Fallujah this week. Could be a turning point, some are suggesting, the atrocities committed against these four civilian American contractors who were killed and then they were dragged through the streets, hung on this bridge.

What should the U.S. Marines who are encircling Fallujah do right now?

SCOWCROFT: I think we ought to proceed deliberately. I think we ought to crack down on the city and search for the perpetrators, the ones who stirred up the violence and so forth.

BLITZER: Go door to door?

SCOWCROFT: If necessary. But I don't think we ought to make the situation worse by either lashing out in blind fury or antagonizing the population.

I think we have responded about right. And I think the American people have. Unlike Mogadishu, when a similar atrocity, not this bad, resulted in pressures from the Hill and so on to withdraw.

BLITZER: To cut and run.

Dr. Kissinger, what do you think the U.S. military should do in Fallujah right now?

KISSINGER: I agree with Brent. I think we have to do two things. We have to demonstrate to the population that this sort of support is not free, but we should not just flail about ourselves and create new martyrs.

So that I think systematic pressure on the town and systematic searches and, of course, beating down any resistance that might emerge is what we should do. But we should do it in a very deliberate and careful manner, as we have been doing.

BLITZER: On that note, we're going to have to leave it, because we're all out of time.

Dr. Kissinger, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.

Sandy Berger, thanks to you.

Brent Scowcroft, appreciate it very much.

SCOWCROFT: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, the results of our Web poll question of the week about the White House's decision to allow Condoleezza Rice to testify before the 9/11 commission.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The results of our Web question of the week. Take a look at this. Ninety-two percent say yes, 8 percent say no. "Do you agree with the White House's decision to let Condoleezza Rice testify?"

That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday April 4th. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

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