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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With King Abdullah of Jordan; Interview With Joseph Wilson; Interview With Carmen bin Ladin
Aired July 18, 2004 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington; 9 a.m. in Los Angeles; 7 p.m. in Amman, Jordan; 8 p.m. in Baghdad.
Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "LATE EDITION."
We'll have my exclusive interview with Jordan's King Abdullah about Iraq, the war on terrorism and more. That's coming up just in a moment.
While the United States certainly has a vested interest in Iraq's immediate and long-term future, Jordan, its neighbor, clearly has a lot more at stake. Just a short while ago, I spoke with Jordan's King Abdullah about Iraq, the Jordanian militant believed to be behind many of the terrorist attacks there, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and much more.
BLITZER: Your Majesty, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Let's get right to a key issue at hand. Is Jordan prepared at this point to dispatch troops to Iraq, your neighbor, in order to help this new interim government?
KING ABDULLAH OF JORDAN: Well, Wolf, as I've always said, I don't think that Jordan is the right country, nor any of the countries that surround Iraq, because I believe that we can't work with transparency. We would all have sort of personal agendas. Therefore, I don't think that we are the right people, morally, to commit to Iraqi security.
But at the same time, this Iraqi government needs 110 percent support from all of us in the international community. So when the question was asked as a theoretical, if the Iraqi government was to ask of our support, it would be difficult for us to say no, even though I don't think we are the right people.
BLITZER: Well, I'm still a little bit confused. Why wouldn't Jordan be appropriate? You have good relations with the new prime minister, Iyad Allawi. This is a neighbor of yours. You want to see stability and security in Iraq as much as anyone.
ABDULLAH: Absolutely, and you know, from a practical point of view, you know, we want to be there to share in the dangers that Iraq is going through. The question really isn't that. We have our troops committed in Afghanistan and in hot spots all over the world. But we also have a history with Iraq, as does Syria, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
So the question morally is: Would it be difficult for us to help the Iraqis by committing troops and not stay out of internal politics? And I thought that there are countries further away that would be better suited than Jordan.
BLITZER: Because there are many U.S. lawmakers who have lamented the fact that there are really no Muslim troops serving as peacekeepers, as part of the U.S.-led coalition force in Iraq -- no Arab forces, for that matter, as well. And what message does that send, that lack of Muslim and Arab forces part of the international coalition?
ABDULLAH: Well, after that statement that was attributed to me that came out several weeks ago, we immediately got other Arab and Muslim countries that were prepared to commit to Iraq's stability, but not the countries of the region.
It's not we don't want to share in the dangers. It's just, again, it's a moral point of view that I think that, you know, we're just not the right people.
But again, it would be an awkward, difficult position for Jordan if the Iraqi government, who I don't think will ask for commitment of its neighbors, were to ask. It would be difficult for us to say no.
BLITZER: Do you have confidence in the interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, and the interim president, Ghazi Al-Yawer?
ABDULLAH: I have to say that I've only met the president at Sea Island several weeks ago. I have yet to meet the prime minister of Iraq. I hope to be doing that tomorrow. But from all I've heard, that the Iraqi prime minister is very courageous, very capable. And I think that the new interim government, we are very fortunate with the courageous people that have been picked.
We have something very good to work with, but again, we can't let them down. The international community has to give them all the support they can to face the immense challenges and hurdles that are challenging the future of Iraqi stability.
BLITZER: The prime minister, Iyad Allawi, today authorized the U.S.-led military force to go after what's being described as a safehouse of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist operating in Iraq in Fallujah. Supposedly 12 people, including some women and children, were killed.
Do you support these kinds of offensive actions that are designed to go after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?
ABDULLAH: Well, I think that in counterterrorism and intelligence community, as opposed to sitting back and waiting for the terrorist to hit you, you have to go after them. Now, the style and the manner that you do that, obviously when there's collateral damage, then that's something that should be reviewed.
But to take the fight to the terrorists? Yes, I think that is correct, and one that should be pursued. But again, sort of laser- guided bombs into buildings that might affect citizens and innocent people, you have to be very careful how you make those judgments.
BLITZER: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, as you well know, of course, better than anyone, is a Jordanian. How did he get to this point in his life, where he is literally the most wanted man in Iraq right now? What led him from Jordan to Iraq?
ABDULLAH: Well, I mean, it's a long history, but he was basically involved in criminal gangs. He was basically a street thug -- that's probably the best way I can describe it -- who then found his way to Afghanistan to fight sort of with the mujahedeen. And he's now in Iraq.
Although I must say that, I think, you know, you say that he's the most wanted man in Iraq. I think that the press have made him much more capable, much smarter and much more of a threat than actually he really is.
Having said that, we are working as part of the international community to track Zarqawi down, and hopefully the net is closing in on him.
BLITZER: Do you have any doubt that he personally was responsible for the assassination of the American diplomat in Amman, Lawrence Foley, in 2002?
ABDULLAH: No, he's definitely behind that killing and other criminal acts. The latest one was the attempted chemical bombings in our city several months ago that we managed to foil before he was successful.
BLITZER: But why do you -- and I don't know if this is a correct word -- diminish his overall threat level in Iraq right now, when everyone else seems to suggest that he is really the number one terrorist threat in Iraq?
ABDULLAH: Because when we listen to the press, all they talk about is Zarqawi, but it's a bit more complicated than that. There is a lot of different elements inside of Iraq. There are extremists from different factions. There are extremists sort of from the old regime that are holding out. We've got foreign fighters that are not affiliated toward him, as well as the makeup of the ethnic groups inside of Iraq that all are vying for power.
So he is one, maybe a sort of a strong element, but he's one or part of a larger group of resistance that Iraq is facing.
BLITZER: There were two polls that were done, questions that were done earlier this year in Jordan. The Pew Research poll asked these two questions. They were done in February and March, of Jordanians.
Very disturbing answers to Americans: Are suicide bombings justifiable against Americans and Westerners in Iraq? Seventy percent of the Jordanians who responded said yes.
And the other question, very disturbing to Americans: After Saddam Hussein, are the Iraqi people better or worse off, the capture of Saddam Hussein? The 70 percent of Jordanians said worse off.
First question, do you have any sense that those attitudes have changed since the transfer of power back to Iraq at the end of June?
ABDULLAH: Well, again, you have to be careful how you assess polls in there. We've seen polling questions asked before in Jordan. I think the overwhelming majority of Jordanians are against suicide bombings when they are towards the east of Jordan or toward the West, especially when it involves the loss of innocent life.
As for the future of Iraq, I think what disturbed all of us in the international community was the level of instability right after the military or the war phase supposedly was over.
And the nightly visions that Jordanians see on the news of the death count not only to coalition forces but to many, many Iraqi citizens, whether they are serving the government, the police, or innocent civilians, gives the impression that, you know, there was stability with Saddam. There isn't at the moment.
But again, it's a country in transition. Our hope is that with this new interim government, with a very strong, capable prime minister and a team, that they will be able to fight this challenge of bringing law and order back to Iraq.
With a new Iraqi government in the process now, it would be difficult for these extremists to continue targeting Iraqi civilians and personnel, in the name of targeting coalition forces. At the end of the day, I think there will be a natural reaction from the Iraqi population to say, who are you killing? You are killing our own brothers and sisters.
And so as this government settles in, as security is being addressed, which Prime Minister Allawi is taking as his foremost challenges, you'll see a shift inside of the society, that saying, look, at the end of the day, these extremists are just hurting us. And that reflection will become more understood in the Middle East, where they will see that these extremists that are not basically there for coalition, they are trying to use Iraq as an instable ground for breeding more extremism, is detrimental not only to the future of Iraq, but to all of us in the region.
BLITZER: A question on Saddam Hussein and his trial that is scheduled at some point down the road. As you know, two of his daughters are still in Amman, Jordan, where you are right now. Several of his lawyers have been based in Amman as well. Do you have confidence in the Iraqi justice system, that they will be able to do a fair job with Saddam Hussein? ABDULLAH: I think we have to give the benefit of the doubt to the new Iraqi government. Again, as I said, I've been thoroughly impressed by the president, the prime minister and many of the ministers that have been brought into positions of authority there. And I believe that, you know, this is the period where Iraq strengthens its institutions, and obviously the judicial one is one of the main important ones. And I do hope that we do give this government the benefit of the doubt, that they will abide by the rule of law, and justice will be served.
BLITZER: Ahmed Chalabi has come under some criticism, significant criticism here in the United States. He's wanted in Jordan for corruption, for scandals. What is your current thinking of Ahmed Chalabi right now?
ABDULLAH: Well, I think that you'll see from coalition statements and the interim government more allegations of improprieties and corruption linked to Ahmed Chalabi. He has always contested the problem with Jordan as being a political one, and that's never been the case. It's been a judicial one. He embezzled people's funds, not government funds. The same happened in Lebanon and elsewhere in the world.
And I think that it's becoming more and more clear to those in Iraq that there is a big question mark over Chalabi's head, and it's not directed because of Chalabi and Jordan, it's because of Chalabi himself.
BLITZER: Do you have confidence in Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, who is facing a major crisis right now, the resignation of his prime minister, Ahmed Qureia?
ABDULLAH: Well, I really do hope that the prime minister doesn't resign, because it would only weaken the institution, at a time where we really need to be able to move on security, where Arafat has to deal with the Israelis and the Egyptians and, obviously part of the road map, to bring in the new security phase that is necessary for the road map to move forward.
If the prime minister, as part of what we hope is the new institutions of government in the Palestinian society, has handed in his resignation, then we're running out of candidates -- Abu Mazen, a very capable man, had tried, had given up. If Abu Ala gives up on Monday, as is a possibility, then this will be a serious blow to all of us that are trying to push the process forward, and I think will reflect very negatively on President Arafat himself.
BLITZER: It looks like almost anarchy is breaking out in Gaza, in the midst of an Israeli plan to withdraw unilaterally over the next year or so.
ABDULLAH: And this is why institutions of Palestinian government need to be strengthened, and President Arafat and the Palestinian government need to be able to tackle these issues of building institutions as quickly as possible. And I think that maybe what's happening (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a street reaction will hopefully be a wake-up call to many of those in Palestinian institutions of government that they need to address these problems and address them now.
BLITZER: Do you welcome the decision by the Labor Party in Israel to open discussions with the Likud-led government about forming a new, so-called National Unity Government in Israel?
ABDULLAH: Well, listen, I hope that these discussions are going to give more flexibility to the Israelis to deal with the issues of the road map.
At the moment, you know, we're working on baby steps of moving the process along, basically on security. If the formation of a new government allows more interaction between the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the rest of us in the international community to move the road map along, obviously that would be a positive thing. But, you know, we have to wait and see and keep our fingers crossed.
BLITZER: There has been some suggestion that Egypt should be ready to play a significant role, a greater role in trying to deal with the situation in Gaza, given its historic responsibility there. And Jordan, perhaps, should play a more significant role in the West Bank.
Is Jordan ready to play some new and more assertive role in trying to deal with the situation in the West Bank?
ABDULLAH: Well, we haven't been officially asked. And I think that you have to keep these things in context. The Egyptians and the Israelis and the Palestinians, under the umbrella of the quartet, are now dealing with the issues on how to hand security and sovereignty to the Palestinians. So you see an Egyptian role.
Depending on how successful that is, then there may be a discussion on what Jordan can provide in helping provide training to Palestinian security forces. Now, we did this in the early '90s, when I was commander of special forces. We did train Iraqi policemen under the United Nations umbrella to be able to go into the West Bank and be able to take care of their own streets.
And so the discussions about that are being aimed at Jordan is basically reviving what happened in the mid-'90s to try and, again, provide instruction and training of Palestinians in Jordan to be able to go into the West Bank and take care of their own responsibilities.
BLITZER: I just want to clarify one point. You said you were training Iraqis to go into the West Bank?
ABDULLAH: Sorry, what I meant: the Palestinians.
BLITZER: Palestinians, right. I just wanted to clarify that point.
A final question on Iran. There is a 9/11 commission report that's going to be coming out shortly, suggesting that at least eight, maybe 10 of the hijackers of 9/11 passed through Iran at some point on their way to the United States. Is Iran part of this al Qaeda network as far as Jordanian information is concerned?
ABDULLAH: I would find that very surprising. This is the first that I've heard that there were 9/11 findings that linked Iran to some of the hijackers. This is new to me. And I'm sorry I don't have any answers. Initially, I would say I find that very, very surprising. But I don't have any more information to go on at this moment.
BLITZER: Fair enough. Now, Your Majesty, thanks very much for joining us. Always good to have you back here on CNN and "LATE EDITION."
ABDULLAH: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And coming up, with the new government now in charge, is there an end game for the U.S. military mission in Iraq?
We'll talk with two key United States senators.
Then another former CIA director, George Tenet, is out. Who's next in line to lead the spy agency -- my conversation with the acting CIA director John Laughlin.
And later, convention countdown. We'll look ahead to the Democratic and Republican political gatherings with the Bush-Cheney campaign chairman, Mark Racicot, and New Mexico Democratic Governor Bill Richardson.
Stay with "LATE EDITION."
BLITZER: "LATE EDITION's" Web question of the week: Should the United States postpone the presidential election in the event of a terrorist attack?
You can cast your vote right now. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results later in this program.
But up next, a blistering U.S. Senate report on pre-war intelligence on Iraq. But will all the facts ever be made public? Two leading U.S. Senators assess that and more.
You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I need, the Congress needs the best possible intelligence in order to protect the American people. We're determined to make sure we get it.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: President Bush commenting on a U.S. Senate panel's findings that the United States went to war in Iraq based upon some bad intelligence from the CIA.
Joining us now are two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee: in Chicago, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois; here in Washington, Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia.
Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
And Senator Durbin, I'll begin with you by reading from the current issue of "Time Magazine," reporting on what's going to be in the new 9/11 commission's report. Among other things, they say this: Between eight and 10 of the 14 so-called muscle hijackers passed through Iran in the period from October 2000 to February 2001. The report does not, however, offer evidence that Iran was aware of the plans for the 9/11 attacks.
What do you know about any alleged Iranian connection to the 19 hijackers?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I don't know of any personal connection. And certainly within the Intelligence Committee, anything that's been disclosed, we couldn't discuss here at this point.
But I will tell you that Iran continues to be worrisome not only in terms of it's relationship to the United States, but to the other countries in the Middle East. It also gives us fair warning that we focused so much energy on Iraq, when other countries may have been more directly linked to 9/11. That should give us pause as well.
BLITZER: All right, let me read another excerpt, Senator Chambliss for you, from the "Time" magazine article: "Iranian officials approached the al Qaeda leadership after the bombing of the USS Cole and proposed a collaborative relationship in future attacks on the U.S. But the offer was turned down by bin Laden because he did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia."
What do you know about this, if anything?
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Well, there's certainly a contradiction to the Iranian action relative to al Qaeda operatives who we know were located within Iran, who were arrested and kept incarcerated.
And I'm like Dick, obviously we can't talk about things that were given to us in a classified area. But suffice it to say that this is somewhat new and somewhat surprising information.
But is it relevant? I'm not totally surprised that any of the hijackers might have passed through Iran. It's been a safe haven for terrorists. President Bush identified Iran as one of the three in the axis of evil.
So Iran is a concern. It has been, and it's going to continue to a concern. BLITZER: Senator Chambliss, do you agree with Senator Durbin that perhaps the administration should have been paying more attention to Iran as opposed to Iraq?
CHAMBLISS: I think the administration has been paying a lot of attention to Iran. We know that they are working on even more nuclear capability than what they've got now. The administration has been very focused on that. And their political situation is a little bit different from what we had in Iraq.
I think the president was right to do what we did with Iraq first. But now I think there continues to be focus on Iran, and there should be.
BLITZER: Do you agree with this other reported recommendation, Senator Durbin, of the 9/11 panel that there should be a new so-called intelligence czar, director, for all of the various intelligence agencies at the Cabinet level, that that would be a better way of dealing with intelligence in the United States?
DURBIN: I'm open to suggestions for reform for one basic reason: Intelligence is our first line of defense in any war on terrorism. Our intelligence failed us before the invasion of Iraq. The people of this country were mislead as to the situation in Iraq. And we have lost almost 900 Americans soldiers, and thousands have been seriously injured. And there is no end in sight.
When you take a look at how important intelligence must be for our future, you realize that the current situation is untenable. And I don't use that as any reference to George Tenet.
But we need a new leadership, a new vision and reform in intelligence immediately.
BLITZER: What about that? Are you open, Senator Chambliss, to a new intelligence czar?
CHAMBLISS: I'm very open to it. I've been very hesitant about getting on board with any concept to declare somebody to be an intelligence czar because what we need to do is, well, we've got to step back and take a look at the whole intelligence operation in the United States and abroad. And we've got some 20 federal agencies, give or take a couple, that are involved in intelligence.
We don't have a coordination from an information sharing or the intelligence gathering standpoint or dissemination either vertically or horizontally that we need to have.
Now if you just add another level of bureaucracy -- and that's exactly what Dick's talking about here, that we need to look at -- if you just add that, we're not going to do anything. But we're going to start hearings this week in the Senate Intelligence Committee where we look at the budgetary side of this, where we look at whether we add something to the FBI or take it away, add to the CIA or take it away. If that's what we're going to do, then I think, yes, I'm very open to it. BLITZER: Senator Chambliss, at this late stage in the first term of the Bush administration, should the president nominate a new CIA director right now or let Acting Director John McLaughlin finish up?
CHAMBLISS: I think we need to go ahead and have a new CIA director, because whatever we do, we're not going to rush into this. We're going to take our time and get it right. If we don't, it would be a huge mistake for future generations.
BLITZER: So does that mean you don't have confidence in John McLaughlin?
CHAMBLISS: No, I have confidence in John. But you know, we need leadership in there that folks at the CIA know it's to be there for a while.
If John is going to be the permanent director, then fine, let's move in that direction. But if we're going elsewhere, I think we just need to get it done. And we can have hearings in a bipartisan way to make sure that we find somebody that's acceptable to us and to the Democrats.
BLITZER: Senator Durbin, do you want to weigh in on that?
DURBIN: Well, I'm torn on this, because on one side of it, I agree with Saxby, the sooner the better that we can feel that spot with a permanent person.
But I know the reality of the situation. I think we've made it clear, a number of us have, that we don't want a political choice. There are good people in Congress, but we need someone who is a professional, and not political.
We also need someone strong enough to wrestle together these 20 different agencies in a working relationship that has the confidence of the president, and here we are, 105 days away from an election. That makes it almost impossible for us to find that person and get that job done in short order.
BLITZER: Senator Durbin, when you say you don't want a political choice, I assume that means someone like Congressman Porter Goss, a Republican of Florida, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and himself a former CIA officer.
DURBIN: I like Porter Goss a lot, and I've enjoyed working with him in the House, and now in the Intelligence Committee. But I do believe that we should move away from a political person.
And we had so many allegations during our investigation about political influence, whether there was any or there wasn't. The next director of the CIA should be a professional person respected by both sides of the aisle who is not going to cave in to any political forces in Washington.
BLITZER: All right. I'm going to take a quick break.
But 10 seconds in order to tell us what about the not going forward with a, quote, "political" nominee.
CHAMBLISS: Well, it depends on what you consider political. If somebody in Congress is automatically labeled political, then I would disagree with that. I think Porter Goss, for example, does have the appropriate background. He's been a CIA officer. He understands the inner workings of the CIA. He knows what reforms ought to be made.
And, you know, we wouldn't take only his ideas, for example. It would be input from Dick and myself and others who are directly involved in it.
Whoever is the next director is going to have to be open to serious reforms.
BLITZER: All right, Senators, stand by. We're going to have a lot more to talk about. We'll take a quick break, though, first. When we come back, more of our conversation with Senators Chambliss and Durbin.
More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will continue our conversation on Iraq and more with two U.S. Senators, Dick Durbin and Saxby Chambliss.
Later, the former U.S. acting ambassador to Iraq, Joe Wilson, speaks out for the first time on television about new questions and controversy surrounding his and his wife's role in the gathering on pre-war intelligence on intelligence on Iraq.
"LATE EDITION" will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're talking with two members of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee: Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois, Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.
Senator Chambliss, I want you to listen to what Prime Minister Tony Blair said this week after their own intelligence report came out, the so-called Butler Report, on failures in British intelligence leading up to the war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY BLAIR, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: Any mistakes made, as this report finds, in good faith, I of course take responsibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Alright, now, he takes responsibility. There's a lot of criticism of the president in not making a similar statement after your Senate Intelligence Committee report came out.
CHAMBLISS: Well, the responsibility in the Senate report was taken by George Tenet. And George, being the leader that he is, has always been willing to step up and say: If the agency messed up under my watch, it's my responsibility, but I'm the one that told the president the information that was given to me by the analysts at CIA. And therefore, it's my responsibility.
You know, I don't think that...
BLITZER: So you're suggesting, Senator Chambliss, the buck stops with George Tenet, not with the president.
CHAMBLISS: Well, what I'm going to say is that it was not the responsibility of President Bush, nor Tony Blair for that matter, to go behind the information that was given to them to try to determine whether or not it was correct or not. So I think President Bush accepted it in the way that he should have accepted it. And he's willing to move on, which is what we've got to do.
BLITZER: Senator Durbin, do you agree?
DURBIN: No, I don't. I think what Tony Blair said was refreshing and honest. Even his critics have to acknowledge that he's standing before them and acknowledging mistake were made in a very, very serious decision. President Bush has not taken that approach.
I think that what it gets down to, Harry Truman was right, the buck stops in the Oval Office. And whoever the president might be, Democrat or Republican, particularly in a serious situation where a nation is asked to go to war, that president should step up. What's at stake here is about more than responsibility. It's about credibility. What happens with the next crisis when a president comes forward and says, "I have the intelligence, and I want the American people to stand behind us now, put the lives of so many soldiers on the line."
Will that be a credible request in light of what's happened?
BLITZER: All right, fair question. Do you want to respond to that, Senator Chambliss?
CHAMBLISS: Well, when you say that it's up to the president to do exactly what Tony Blair did, I don't know what more he could say other than, "I accept the Senate report for what it is." And that's exactly what he said. And the report was very critical. And the president acknowledged that. And the fact that mistakes were made were, therefore, acknowledged by the president. I'm not sure what more he could say to take responsibility.
BLITZER: I want you to listen, Senator Durbin, to what the president did say this past week, responding to the pre-war intelligence. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you agree with the president, Senator Durbin?
DURBIN: The majority of the American people and myself disagree. At this point, they've said this was a bad decision not because Saddam Hussein needed to be coddled or ignored, but because we needed a stronger coalition before we invaded. We needed an end game strategy so we wouldn't see so many Americans killed over a year after this has occurred. We need better advisers than Ahmed Chalabi, who became a darling of some people in this administration and has turned out to be a fraud.
Yes, we needed to take more time to make this decision before we put American lives on the line.
BLITZER: So, Senator Durbin, did those Americans, more than 850 now, die in vain, those killed who have died in Iraq?
DURBIN: Absolutely not. We'll continue there. It will be a long, hard and expensive struggle in terms of money and lives. But we are going to bring self-governance and movement toward democracy in Iraq. It'll take much longer than anyone anticipated at a much higher cost.
BLITZER: Based on what you know right now, Senator Chambliss, how worried are you about a terror attack against the United States between now and the November elections, specifically surrounding the two political party conventions: the Democratic convention in Boston, the Republican convention in New York?
And I want you to respond. Listen to what Tom Ridge, the homeland security secretary told me this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM RIDGE, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Credible trustworthy sources, not terribly specific in terms of who, what, when, and where, the targeting and the opportunity to attempt to undermine the Democratic process. Clearly, part of that is the two conventions. But you have this period of several months upon which we need to heighten our alert and heighten our vigilance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You're privy to all the intelligence, all the top intelligence out there. How worried should the American public be?
CHAMBLISS: Well, Tom, frankly is telling the American public exactly what we know: that there's a lot of conversation out there about another potential attack of terrorism occurring, but no specifics about who, what, when or where. Certainly, I think the terrorist community would like to disrupt our elections. They would like to not see George Bush in there because he is committing a positive force that's going to take them out.
But, you know, we've got to continue to do what we've been doing since September 11th, and that's do everything we can to gather the intelligence domestically and abroad relative to any attack against American assets. And hopefully we can disrupt any potential attack. The threat level within Washington and within the community has never been higher than what it is right now.
BLITZER: Only ten seconds left. I will give you the last word, Senator Durbin.
DURBIN: Well, I agree with Saxby. The information we have -- you know, there's a lot of things that are thrown out there, but when there's a match, when we have information coming from two separate sources, we take it very seriously. And I think that's what Tom Ridge is alluding to. But again, intelligence is the first line of defense. And we can do a much better job in collecting and analyzing intelligence.
BLITZER: Senator Durbin, Senator Chambliss, both of you, thank you very much for joining us on "LATE EDITION."
DURBIN: Thank you.
CHAMBLISS: Always great to be with you.
BLITZER: Thank you. And just ahead: Is the United States in for another terror attack? The CIA's new acting director, John McLaughlin, goes one-on-one with me.
"LATE EDITION" continues right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back. The embattled Central Intelligence Agency has a new chief. John McLaughlin takes over as the agency faces harsh criticism for its pre-war intelligence on Iraq and concerns about a possible terrorist attack right here in the United States before the presidential election, November 2nd.
Earlier, I spoke with John McLaughlin about the ongoing war on terror and more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you believe Osama bin Laden is right now personally directing terror attacks this summer against the United States?
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, ACTING CIA DIRECTOR: Well, it depends a lot on what you mean by "personally directing." Is he sitting behind some large console pulling wires and switches? I wouldn't say that. But to be sure, he remains the leader of al Qaeda. It's his guidance to his followers that certainly inspires them to proceed with the attacks that we have seen in places like Istanbul and Morocco and Spain and so forth.
But increasingly we see elements of al Qaeda operating with more regional independence than in the past. But if you're asking me does he have a role, is he the inspirational leader? Yes. BLITZER: How worried should the American public be this summer about a terror attack against the conventions in Boston and New York or elsewhere between now and the election?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think, as I've said elsewhere during this week, this is a very serious threat we're facing.
BLITZER: How serious?
MCLAUGHLIN: It's serious in the following sense, that I think the quality of the information we have is very good. We have a lot of experience now in terrorism. You asked before: How trustworthy is our information? Remember, this is the agency that brought to justice, working with others but on the basis of our intelligence, the architect of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; the chief bomber behind the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, Nasiri; the chief terrorist in the Eastern hemisphere, Hambali.
So we have now, particularly since 9/11, a very strong track record and highly reliable information on terrorism.
There's a tension all the time, and I know it's a frustrating one for the American public, that more of the details of what we know doesn't come out.
What I would say to people, though, is that it is necessary for us to hold back a lot of the specifics because those are the things we need to stop this, those are the things we need to fight terrorists.
One of the important things terrorists do, I'll tell you, it's very simple, very simple: They know how to keep a secret. Their work is highly compartmented to a small group of people, probably living in a cave somewhere, and our country doesn't keep secrets very well.
So we have to watch what we release about the details. But this is a serious threat period.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time. Are there sleeper cells here in the United States based on what you know right now?
MCLAUGHLIN: I can't talk about the details of that. We have to go on the assumption that they, despite all of the effective defenses we've erected and despite the increasing effectiveness of our homeland security, we have to go on this assumption: We can be excellent one thousand times; all they have to do is be lucky once.
So I can't go into details here, but we have to operate on the assumption that we are at risk and we have to operate on the assumption that we have to keep looking for those cells.
BLITZER: One interesting footnote. The whole Joe Wilson-Valerie Plame issue. Did Valerie Plame, a formerly clandestine officer at the CIA, was it her idea that her husband go to Niger to look for this information about enriched uranium?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that's a matter I can't get into. You know there is a Department of Justice inquiry under way looking into the leak of her name. And I'm concerned that anything I would say on that matter would somehow prejudice the case or get involved in the case.
BLITZER: What about you, your future? What are you planning on doing? There's speculation out there the president's about to name a new director of the CIA.
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I've been doing this now for three days, Wolf. What I can tell you is this: Being acting director doesn't mean being part-time director. This is a full-time job. I get up every morning with one mission, and that is to be the director of the CIA in an acting capacity. That's what the president has asked me to do.
I'm happy to do this, as I've told him, as long as he needs me to do it. It's his decision whether I continue in this capacity or whether he nominates someone else. Happy to do this. I've done this for a long time. I love the people of the intelligence community. I'm prepared to lead them.
Should he choose to nominate someone else, I'll be happy to work with that person to get them launched and work with them as long as they need me to work with them to help them.
BLITZER: A lot of speculation out there, the morale at the agency is bad right now. Is that true?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know, people don't join this business -- as our interview would indicate -- people don't join this business because they expect public praise. People join this business because they want to serve the nation. So, you know, no one likes to be criticized, but there's an ethic in our business.
I've even written notes to our work force in the past, saying: Expect to be criticized. Stop and think about it. Just stop and think about it for a minute. The very people who ask us to not be risk-averse are frequently the ones who criticize mistakes that are made in the course of our duties.
If you stop and think about it, to take a risk by definition means there's a high possibility of a mistake. We risk our lives around the world every day, and our analysts here in Washington risk their reputations every day by taking positions on issues on which the evidence is thin and uncertain.
So there's always a possibility of a mistake. That's built into our business. And if you're in this business, you know you're going to take a risk. You're not always going to be right. And you're going to take criticism.
And the only way we can deal with that is to learn from it, as we have been for the last year, when we started our own internal look at Iraq one year ago, and then make the appropriate changes and move on.
In fact, a colleague said to me today the best way to react to this is to go out and penetrate another proliferation network, or recruit another terrorist to bring down that network. BLITZER: One final question: Is the CIA being made a scapegoat right now?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know, I don't want to get into that, because that starts to draw me -- let's face it. This is a political year. Everything is hotter than it normally is. And I think the men and women of the intelligence community know that criticism is part of our life.
I would say that it's important to keep our intelligence services out of politics, because ultimately we are the first line of defense for the nation. As I said in a speech that I mentioned to you earlier, there's no perfection in this business. But people in this business are dedicated to doing the best job they can around the world, risking their lives to save the American people from terrorist attacks and other things.
So I would leave it there.
BLITZER: And we will leave it there.
Director McLaughlin, you've got an incredibly difficult job. Good luck to you. Good luck to the men and women over at the CIA. Thanks so much for joining us.
MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And don't forget our Web question of the week: Should the U.S. postpone the presidential election in the event of a terrorist attack? You can vote right now. Go to cnn.com\lateedition.
"LATE EDITION" will be right back.
BLITZER: Coming up, a quick check of the stories now in the news, including the latest on the impending withdrawal of Filipino troops from Iraq.
Then, Iraq, and the Africa connection: Was there evidence to support one of President's Bush's key pre-war claims after all?
I'll speak live with the former U.S. acting ambassador to Iraq, Joe Wilson.
"LATE EDITION" will continue right at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: This is "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.
Sixteen words. Endless controversy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A year and a half later, new intelligence reports reopen the issue of Iraqi attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction. Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Joseph Wilson defends his findings in an exclusive interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: This nation is on the path to progress, and we will not turn back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: The president may be too busy to speak to you now, but I've got news for you. He's going to have plenty of time after November 2nd.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A week before the Democratic National Convention, the battle for the White House already red hot. We'll talk with the chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign, former Montana Governor Mark Racicot, and the chairman of the Democratic National Convention, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Do you have any updates on the whereabouts or possible capture of Osama bin Laden?
BUSH: If I knew, I wouldn't tell you.
I'd be telling our forces, which are stationed over there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Osama bin laden, still at large. Is his family helping him avoid Saddam Hussein's fate? His former sister-in-law weighs in.
ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." In just a moment I'll speak live with the former U.S. acting ambassador to Iraq, Joe Wilson, about the reignited controversy over his role in gathering pre-war intelligence. It's his first television interview since the Senate Intelligence Committee report came out. We'll get to all of that.
BLITZER: The situation here in Washington confusing to say the least. From London to Washington, fresh questions about what the United States and its allies knew about Iraq when President Bush was making his case to invade that country.
One person who challenged the administration finds himself back at the center of a firestorm over intelligence and war. That person, the former U.S. Acting ambassador to Iraq, Joe Wilson. He is joining us now on "LATE EDITION."
Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us, your first television interview since the Senate Intelligence Committee Report came out, which raises serious questions about your credibility in this whole matter.
Let's go through some of the specific questions that they raise in that report, which was unanimously adopted by the Democrats and the Republicans.
Among other things, you had always said, always maintained, still maintain your wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA officer, had nothing to do with the decision to send to you Niger to inspect reports that uranium might be sold from Niger to Iraq.
This is what the report says. The CPD, the Counter Proliferation Division over at the CIA, reports officer told committee staff that the former ambassador's wife offered up his name and a memorandum to the deputy chief of the CPD on February 12, 2002, from the former ambassador's wife says, quote, "My husband has good relations with both the prime minister and the former Minister of Mines, not to mention lots of French contacts, both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity."
Did Valerie Plame, your wife, come up with the idea to send you to Niger?
JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER AMBASSADOR: No. My wife served as a conduit, as I put in my book. When her supervisors asked her to contact me for the purposes of coming into the CIA to discuss all the issues surrounding this allegation of Niger selling uranium to Iraq.
BLITZER: Who first raised your name, then, based on what you know? Who came up with the idea to send you there?
WILSON: The CIA knew my name from a trip, and it's in the report, that I had taken in 1999 related to uranium activities but not related to Iraq. I had served for 23 years in government including as Bill Clinton's senior director for African Affairs at the National Security Council. I had done a lot of work with the Niger government during a period punctuated by a military coup and a subsequent assassination of a president. So I knew all the people there.
BLITZER: Well, why do you think that this CPD reports officer says, as it's called, the Counterproliferation Division, told the committee staff that she offered up his name?
My understanding is that that quote was taken out of context. And in my letter to the committee, I've urged them to reinterview that report officer.
WILSON: But notwithstanding that...
BLITZER: What's the complete context, then?
WILSON: Well, my understanding is that, during the course of the interview, he made very clear to them that both Valerie and I were reluctant about anything to do with this, and in fact...
BLITZER: Let me interrupt. When you say she was reluctant, you don't deny she wrote a memo in which she said you have good contacts...
BLITZER: ... with the Minister of Mines, the former prime minister.
WILSON: There are a number of journalists who have gone to the CIA directly and asked about that, including David Ensor, who was told a different story about how that may have come about. In fact, my understanding -- and I don't want to put words in his mouth, so you better ask him -- is that he was told that somebody in that chain of command had asked Valerie to do my list of curriculum vitae.
But the fact of the matter is, the decision -- the invitation, the offer, or the request that I go out to Niger was made at a meeting, after this issue was discussed in a group of involving analysts from the CIA and other agencies. My wife was not at that meeting, and she specifically absented herself from that meeting, so as to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
BLITZER: And I spoke to David Ensor, our national security correspondent, who says that a high-ranking CIA official does say the Senate Intelligence Committee report got it wrong on that specific point.
WILSON: Well, on July 22nd of last year, a Newsday journalist asked the same thing. And he was told by a senior intelligence official that Plame was a Directorate of Operations undercover officer who worked alongside, but said she did not recommend her husband to undertake the Niger assignment.
BLITZER: All right. So your bottom line is, the Intelligence Committee report got it wrong, on that specific point?
WILSON: My bottom line on that is that they got that particular point wrong...
BLITZER: All right. Let's go to the second question that they raise now about your credibility.
And I'll read again from the Senate Intelligence Committee report:
"Committee staff asked the former ambassador" -- that would be you -- "how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the dates were wrong and the names were wrong when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports.
"The former ambassador said that he may have misspoken to the reporter when he said he concluded the documents were forged."
At issue here, an article in The Washington Post in which you were the source, you acknowledge being the source. You spoke of forged documents long before anyone ever knew that they were forged.
WILSON: No, no, that's wrong.
First of all, I was one of several sources.
Secondly, that article appeared in June. And, in fact, on March 7th of that year, Dr. El Baradei had described to the U.N. that these documents were forgeries.
In addition to that, on March 24th, I think, for the March 30th issue of The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh wrote a long article about it, in which he laid out the facts based upon an interview he had with the International Atomic Energy Agency...
BLITZER: So when the committee says that you told them you had misspoken, what did you misspeak?
WILSON: Well, actually, what I misspoke was, when I misspoke to the committee, when I spoke to the staff -- this interview took place 15 months after The Washington Post article appeared. I did not have a chance to review the article. They did not show me the article.
They threw it out there, and the question I took as being a rather generic question: Could you have misspoken? Yes, I am male, I'm over 50. By definition, I can misspeak. I have gone back since and taken a look at this particular article. It refers to an unidentified former government official. If it is referring to me, it is a misattribution, of facts that were already in the public domain and had been so since March.
My first public statement on this, in my own words, was on July 6th.
BLITZER: All right. Let's go to the third criticism of you, raising credibility questions in the Senate report. You came back, and you said, repeatedly, publicly, on this program, many other programs, and your book, that you concluded there was no truth, basically, virtually no truth to these reports that Niger was going to sell or provide uranium to Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and that these reports that there were negotiations, deals underway were simply not true.
That was the thrust of your conclusion.
WILSON: My conclusion was, the allegation that they had attempted to engage in a transaction involving several hundred tons of uranium yellow cake was highly unlikely.
BLITZER: All right. This is what the Intelligence Committee report writes in their conclusion:
"The reports officer from the CIA said that a good grade was merited" -- he said you got a good grade for your report -- "was merited, because the information responded to at least some of the outstanding questions of the intelligence community, but did not provide substantial new information."
He said he judged that the most important fact in the report -- that would be your report -- was that Niger officials admitted that the Iraqi delegation had traveled there in 1999, and that the Niger prime minister believed the Iraqis were interested in purchasing uranium, because this provided some confirmation -- a foreign government service reporting.
WILSON: Again, again...
BLITZER: Let me explain to our viewers, because it gets a little confusing. Basically, the CIA officer concluded from what you told him that there might be an element of truth in these reports because you confirmed to them that there was an effort along the same lines in 1999.
WILSON: There were two meetings between Iraqi delegations and the Niger government. One was a trip to Niger by an Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican, which as it turns out, as most people have now reported on, was part of a trip to the region to encourage presidents to break the travel ban and travel to Iraq.
There is nobody who has suggested that there is credible evidence that uranium was under discussion there.
The second meeting was between the prime minister and an Iraqi, who turned out to be the minister of information in the second Iraq war, on the margins of an international organization meeting in Algiers. And during the course of that meeting, actually before the meeting, the prime minister who took the meeting because a constituent asked him to, pondered whether or not uranium might be something to discuss...
BLITZER: But do you understand that this CIA officer told the Senate Intelligence Committee exactly the opposite of what you've been saying. He came away reassured that there might be some evidence of some sort of connection there...
BLITZER: ... based on your confirmation that...
WILSON: ... I think...
BLITZER: ... there was this meeting in '99.
WILSON: I think it was important for everybody to understand that we needed to continue to monitor Saddam Hussein and his ongoing interests in uranium. Notwithstanding that, the allegation that was backed by these documents later turned out to be forgeries, was not sustained by the evidence that it was out there.
At the meeting in Algiers, uranium was not raised. It was not a subject of conversation. Now,let me just say...
BLITZER: But is there any other export that Niger has?
WILSON: But it was not raised as a subject, so it is hard to get from there to saying that we have learned or the British government has learned that Iraq has attempted to purchase significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
Now let me just share a couple of things from you. One, on October 2, the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency...
BLITZER: October 2, of?
WILSON: Of 2002, 2002.
BLITZER: Before the war?
WILSON: Before the war, before the State of the Union address -- said to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he testified that one thing where I think they, the British, stretched a little bit beyond where we would stretch it, is on the points about where Iraq was seeking uranium from various African locations.
On October 6, 2002, the director of Central Intelligence called the deputy national security adviser to outline the CIA's concerns about this assertion. He testified, the director of Central Intelligence, on July 16, 2003, that he told the deputy national security adviser the president should not be a fact witness on this issue because the reporting was weak.
BLITZER: I assume you believe and everybody else believes the original source of a lot of this information were British intelligence reports. Is that right?
WILSON: I don't know.
BLITZER: But that's...
WILSON: I don't know, and I have... BLITZER: ... it's what I've...
WILSON: ... never, I have never known.
BLITZER: In the Butler report, the British version of the Senate Intelligence Committee report that came out this week, they say this. They say: The British government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. The intelligence was credible.
This is a reference to the visit in 1999 by Iraqi officials to Niger.
WILSON: That's right. And on October 6, 2002, the CIA sent a fax to the White House, which said among other things: We have shared points one and two with Congress, telling them the Africa story is overblown and telling them this is one of the two issues where we differed with the British.
BLITZER: All right, so let's talk a little bit about what all of this means, your bottom line assessment. The Senate Intelligence Committee comes out with a unanimously approved report which makes some serious allegations raising allegations of your credibility. How do you emerge from that?
WILSON: Well, the credibility issues, the issues related to Valerie and to myself, of course, are in the additional views that are offered by three Senators.
I have addressed those questions in a letter that I wrote to the Senate, which has actually been posted on a number of cites, including Salon.com.
BLITZER: And you've asked them to reopen their investigation.
WILSON: And I've asked them to reinterview the reports officer. I've asked them to take another look at this. And I've articulated to them areas where I think there was some confusion.
BLITZER: Is there anything you want to take back right now? Any statements you made based on current information that if you had had, you would have phrased differently?
WILSON: Well, I'll tell you, I'm surprised one of the things that I've always said is that I believe the vice president himself would have been briefed on this. And in fact, on March 5th, I believe...
BLITZER: Because the report says he was never briefed on...
WILSON: That's correct. On March 5, apparently he asked for an update. My own report on this was circulated a couple of days later. But he was never specifically briefed on it.
BLITZER: And when you said he was, that was based on your previous government experience? WILSON: Well, I have always said that the way the government works -- and I've always tried to articulate, separate out the difference between the vice president himself and the office of the vice president -- but I did believe, and I think I have said, that I believe that he was briefed. And frankly, I'm surprised that he wasn't.
Because, after all, just a couple of days before my report had been produced within the agency, he had actually asked for an update.
BLITZER: They argue, the CIA argues in this Senate Intelligence Committee report, they didn't pass this information from you on to the vice president because it really didn't provide a whole lot of new information.
WILSON: Right. Well, of course, when you're looking for something that is proof positive, something that doesn't provide that proof positive, doesn't change the equation to get you to where you can make a definitive statement on this or where, in fact, the president of the United States can confidently become a fact witness on this...
BLITZER: Do you have confidence that the current investigation into who leaked the name of your wife as a clandestine officer to Bob Novak, our colleague here at CNN, a columnist for the Chicago Sun- Times, do you have confidence that they will come up with an answer?
WILSON: Well, I'm glad you came up with that question because in fact there's two things that are important to remember in this. One is the 16 words in the State of the Union address and who put them in there. And I didn't. Somebody else did, making the president a fact witness. And two is who leaked my wife's name. Now, I have every confidence in the integrity and in the drive of both the special counsel, Mr. Fitzgerald, and the FBI team that's working with him.
BLITZER: Do you think that they're getting close to wrapping it up based on what you know?
WILSON: I don't know. But the fact that they haven't gotten to a conclusion yet suggests some of the difficulties that they may be encountering with certain members of the senior administration staff.
BLITZER: And one final question. Based on the sensitivity of the issue, I take it under the law, whoever leaked the name, your wife's name, Valerie Plame, to Bob Novak, had to know this was a violation of the law, that she was a clandestine officer undercover working for the CIA.
Do you believe whoever leaked that name actually knew that?
WILSON: I have no idea. And my understanding is it's quite possible that a number of different laws have been broken. But I'm not an attorney. I put in my book a piece that was done by Sam Dash before he passed away suggesting it might even be a violation of the Patriot Act.
BLITZER: All right. So now we have you, your future, Valerie Plame's future. What's next for both of you?
WILSON: Well, I don't know. Obviously, there's been this orchestrated campaign, this smear campaign. I happen to think that it's because the RNC, the Republican National Committee's, been involved in this in a big way...
BLITZER: But they weren't involved in the Senate Intelligence Committee report.
WILSON: No, they weren't. But they've certainly seized upon it as a way of smearing, sort of perpetuating the smear campaign against me. I think Valerie and I will fight back. If they think that I'm going to go away on this issue, they're wrong. And we will see where we go from there.
BLITZER: Joe Wilson, thanks for joining us.
WILSON: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, campaign 2004, a presidential race too close to call. We'll take a look down the campaign trail with the Bush-Cheney campaign chairman, Mark Racicot, and the Democratic National Convention chairman, Governor Bill Richardson.
Then, Osama bin Laden: a report from inside his own family. My interview with his former sister-in-law, Carmen bin Laden.
Stay with "LATE EDITION."
BLITZER: There's still time for you to weigh in on our web question. Should the U.S. postpone the presidential election in the event of a terrorist attack? You can vote right now. Go to cnn.com/lateedition.
Up next, the Bush-Cheney campaign chairman, Mark Racicot, and the Democratic National Convention chairman, Bill Richardson, square off on a very tight presidential race.
You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: Somebody said to me the other day that Senator Edwards got picked for his good looks and charm. I said, how do you think I got this job?
Why is that funny?
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Because it is funny. Vice presidential humor from Dick Cheney amidst new and adamantly denied rumors he could be bumped off the Republican ticket. Joining us now to take a look at how the U.S. presidential race is shaping up, two guests.
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the state's governor and the Democratic National Convention chairman, Bill Richardson. And here in Washington Mark Racicot. He's the chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign. He's the former governor of Montana.
Gentlemen, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Thanks very much for joining us.
Governor Racicot, let me begin with you and get your sense of this latest horse race poll, The New York Times/CBS News poll. Registered voters, July 11th through 15th, Kerry's now at 45 percent, Bush at 42 percent, Nader at 5 percent.
That's a very close race, but do you feel uncomfortable that Kerry is slightly ahead?
MARC RACICOT, CHAIRMAN, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN: Well, if you take a look at all of the polls since the last two or three months, you'll find that it's within that narrow band of four to five points. The president's been up, Kerry has been up. So it's actually unfolding as we had thought and predicted it would. It's going to be a very close contest throughout the course of the campaign.
BLITZER: I'm struck, Governor Richardson, about that 5 percent for Ralph Nader. In a state like New Mexico, if he comes in with 5 percent, I assume a lot of those voters, you'd think might be more inclined to vote for the Democratic candidate as opposed to the Republican candidate.
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Absolutely. Those I believe 80 percent are Democratic voters. In New Mexico, Nader got 6 percent four years ago when Al Gore won by less than 200 points.
What I think you're seeing, and I agree with Governor Racicot, it's going to be very close. I think there's 10 percent independent undecided voters, 45 percent are firm on both sides. We'll get a little bit of a bump after our convention, but not as much as some of the Republicans are saying -- we're going to get 15 percent so that if we get less the expectations game.
I think we'll get a little bit of a bump, but I think it's going to go down to the wire and it's going to depend on states like New Mexico, like Arizona, possibly Montana, some of the Western states that are really shifting a little bit toward the Democrats, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Governor Racicot, with Edwards, John Edwards of North Carolina now on the Democratic ticket, it looks like they got a little bump in North Carolina. This new Mason-Dixon WRAL poll had 48 percent for Bush, 45 percent for Kerry, three-point split, margin of error four percent, seven percent undecided. That's a lot closer in North Carolina than a lot of people anticipated. RACICOT: Well, I think if you take a look at the historical average, and I know you have, over the course of the last 20 years, 25 years, the bump has been on average of 15 points. And I do think that this is unusual this time around because you have the vice presidential selection being made so early and separated by some time from the convention.
We anticipated a bump, and I think most of the polls across the country put that at about three points. How that'll carry over to the convention we don't know, but the average has been 15 points over all of those years.
BLITZER: Governor Racicot, is there any chance whatsoever that the president will dump Dick Cheney as his running-mate?
RACICOT: No, I'm absolutely mystified at how that particular suggestion continues to remain alive. The president and vice president have a very solid partnership. The vice president obviously one of the most qualified people ever to occupy that office. He has a sterling career, remarkable capacities, faithful and loyal. And quite frankly I just don't have any explanation for how people could continue to suggest that.
BLITZER: Governor Richardson, the vice president is clearly going after the Democratic ticket, especially on the issue of alleged flip-flops, specifically involving support for the war in Iraq, opposition to going ahead and funding U.S. troops who serve there. Listen to what the vice president said this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: Senators Edwards and Kerry reviewed the intelligence and concluded that Saddam Hussein was a threat. They voted to authorize the use of force.
But now they have developed a convenient case of campaign amnesia. They seem to have forgotten that they looked at the same information the president did and that they came to the same conclusion. The president made the right decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you make of that allegation of Kerry-Edwards flip-flops, Governor Richardson?
RICHARDSON: Well, I believe, it's a false accusation because what is painfully obvious now is, one, there has been no proven al Qaeda link, the weapons of mass destruction are not there, the 9/11 commission has concluded basically that our intelligence system fell apart.
And so I think what Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards are saying is that we want to have a foreign policy with a much better intelligence system, we want to have a foreign policy, and this'll be a theme at our convention, we're going to be stronger at home and respected abroad. And another concern I have... BLITZER: But you've seen that commercial that the Republicans are running, Governor Richardson, in which the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, says he first voted for the $87 billion, then voted against the $87 billion. They keep playing that. Obviously, they think that's resonating with a big chunk of the American public.
RICHARDSON: I don't think it's resonating.
What we want to present at our convention is a positive vision on national security, on building alliances, on having an exit plan on Iraq, on having a strong domestic policy at the same time, Wolf.
As a governor, and I know Marc Racicot's a former governor, I worry that, for instance, here at home we are becoming less secure with lack of training funds for first responders.
What happens in a city if there's a biological attack? Nuclear power plants, chemical plants -- I'm concerned about that. And I think the last thing we should be doing is thinking of postponing the election. I think that gives the terrorists a victory that obviously they don't deserve.
BLITZER: I think Governor Racicot would certainly agree with you on that last point.
But, Governor Racicot, I want you to listen to what John Kerry is saying, responding to the criticisms he's getting from the president, the vice president, other Republicans on this notion that he's negative and gloomy and pessimistic. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: Believing that the loss of 4 million people off health insurance is the best that we can do, pretending to America that this is the best economy that we've had in years is pessimism. I'm optimistic enough to say that America can do better. We can do better. And we're going to do better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. I want you to respond to what John Kerry is saying when he points to what he would regard as the dismal regard on economic issues, health care issues of this president.
RACICOT: Well, isn't that pessimism? The fact of the matter is that's all he talks about, is how bad things are. And he talks down an economy that has virtually every indicator revealing that we're pointed in the right direction. The job loss started before the this president became president. We were on the way to a recession. Then we had 9/11. Then there were corporate scandals.
This president acted quickly and early, in a bipartisan way, I might add. Had it not been for Democrats, his tax relief efforts would not (ph) have passed. And the economy's completely turned around. And there is no way you can make a reasonable argument that the economy's not pointed in the right direction. BLITZER: All right. Let's see if Governor Richardson can make a reasonable argument on the economic issue.
Go ahead, Governor.
RICHARDSON: Well, I can tell you governors and states are the main engines of economic development. And in our state, we've cut taxes, we've been competitive with our surrounding states, we've cut food and doctors' taxes. Our economy is moving forward, in spite of a national economy that keeps dragging us down.
With all due respect to Marc, I look at those jobs overseas that we're losing. I look at the average wage of the American people. I look at job losses, unemployment rates. You know, some people may be booming on Wall Street, but the rest of the country, Main Street, maybe there's a little bit of growth, but I don't see the wild, great times that we're having economically.
BLITZER: We're going to pick up that in a moment. We'll take a quick break. First, give Governor Racicot a chance to respond. When we come back, much more of our conversation with these two governors.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: Up next, more of our conversation with Bush-Cheney Campaign Chairman Mark Racicot and Democratic Convention Chairman Bill Richardson. They're sizing up the race for the White House.
And you can give us your opinion on our web poll question. Should the U.S. postpone the presidential election in the event of a terrorist attack? Vote right now, cnn.com/lateedition.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: We're looking at live pictures of the Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards. He's in Florida, Lake Buena Vista, Florida, specifically right now addressing a campaign rally. He'll be spending a lot of time in Florida. So will John Kerry. So will the president and the vice president. Florida, a key battleground state, the polls down there showing it's too close to call, at least right now.
Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're talking about a hard- fought race for the White House, not only in Florida but around the country.
Two guests: Marc Racicot, the Bush-Cheney campaign chairman, he's the former governor of Montana; and Democratic convention chairman Bill Richardson, he's the current governor of New Mexico. Let's talk a little bit more about the economy right now. "Right track, wrong track": a poll question that The New York Times-CBS News asked this week, asking the American public, "Do you think the country's on the right track or the wrong track?" Look at this: 36 percent said right track, 56 percent said wrong track. Political experts say this is the number you have to look at. Because if so many people think that the country's on the wrong track, they might not want to rehire the incumbent.
RACICOT: Well, there are other numbers. There's one number that certainly you want to consider. There's other numbers pertaining to the economy and the president's ranking on the economy. Polls last week reveal that he's precisely where President Clinton was.
You know, Governor Richardson made mention of the fact that this economic recovery's not come full blossom. But the fact of the matter is we have a lower unemployment rate than the average of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. There have been 1 million new jobs created just this year, 1.5 million since August. Unemployment is down in 46 out of 50 states. Job increases in 46 out of 50 states is up.
As a matter of fact, in New Mexico, the governor's home state, they have a 5.3 percent unemployment rate, which is exceptionally good. And their economy's booming.
BLITZER: Governor Richardson will be happy to take credit for that. Governor Richardson, let's take...
RICHARDSON: I do take credit for that.
BLITZER: Let's take a look at an ad that the Bush-Cheney campaign released this week going after your candidate, John Kerry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Are John Kerry's priorities the same as yours? Kerry voted against parental notification for teenage abortions. Kerry even voted to allow schools to hand out the morning-after pill without parents' knowledge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: This is a part of a series of ads that the Republicans are running against John Kerry. I want you to respond.
RICHARDSON: Well, I hope Governor Racicot, who I consider a moderate, one of the few endangered species -- moderates in their party -- stops some of these wedge issues. The next one is going to be same-sex marriage. This one was abortion. I just hope that we stick on the positive note.
At our convention, what you're going to see is a positive, optimistic vision of the country. The Bush-bashing is going to be at a minimal. There will be some probably. But we want to talk about what's good about the country, the hope that John Kerry brings. And I just hope the Republicans just stop those ads.
I don't know what's next. I bet you there will be a same-sex marriage ad after their defeat in the Senate the other day, where there's no public support. The states should be doing these issues.
RACICOT: You know, the bottom line, Wolf, here, and Governor Richardson knows this as well, is who do the American people trust to lead this country? I mean, the fact of the matter is when we talk about John Kerry having voted against the $87 billion to fund our troops in Iraq, there's a point to that ad. And the point is that he voted, first of all, to authorize force, and then he changed his mind halfway through and voted against the provision of money.
There are only four people in the United States Senate that voted for the war and against the appropriations. And two of them, John Edwards and John Kerry, are running for president and vice president.
Why do we talk about these issues? It's the same reason. There's a difference in values, Wolf, here that the American people have a right to understand.
BLITZER: Well, I wondered how long it would take to get the values issue coming up. But, Governor Richardson, do you want to respond to that?
RICHARDSON: Well, I do, because $87 billion going to Iraq, hospitals, schools, money should be spent in America.
Secondly, no exit plan whatsoever. And I think what you were seeing is Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards saying, "What is the plan? When are we going to be having this Democratic society in Iraq? What is our objective? What about our alliances? What about other peacekeeping forces? Why don't we get other countries to share some of the responsibility?"
The answers weren't there, and I believe that's why you saw their "no" vote.
BLITZER: At the Republican convention, Governor Racicot, the main speakers during the prime-time coverage, in addition to the president and the vice president, are all considered moderate Republicans, raising questions among conservative Republicans that they're being shunted aside at least prime-time during the Republican convention.
Listen to what Lindsey Graham told The Washington Times on Friday, the Republican senator from South Carolina: "The most conservative speaker right now is John McCain, who is truly a fiscal conservative. But a lot of conservatives believe the conservative movement that got us here is being ignored at the convention."
You're going to have Schwarzenegger speaking, Rudy Giuliani speaking. Where are the Tom Delays, for example? RACICOT: Well, how could you do any better than the president and vice president? Tell me who are two more visible and credible conservatives in America than those two. And the entire schedule, of course, hasn't even come close to being completely filled out yet. There will be, I think, a reflection of the big tent under which all Republicans ultimately find comfort.
And so I think frankly there's much to be made by this by the pundits. But within the party, I don't believe that there's anything other than pride in our agenda.
BLITZER: A final question to you, Governor Richardson. How worried are you about security at the Fleet Center in Boston at the Democratic convention?
RICHARDSON: Well, we're concerned, but we that it's going to be a very positive, good convention; the same with the Republican convention. I think if we start thinking pessimistically and letting the terrorists dictate what we're going to do like talking about postponements and changes, then the terrorists win.
We've got excellent security at our convention. I'm sure the Republicans do the same. We're going to get through these conventions in a very, very good way, showcasing democracy to the rest of the world, which is, I think, a strength, irrespective of party, about our country.
BLITZER: Governor Richardson, Governor Racicot, thanks to both of you for joining us.
RACICOT: Thank you.
BLITZER: We'll look forward to covering both conventions. And of course, we'll have extensive coverage of both.
Just ahead, inside the family of Osama bin Laden. I'll speak with the world's most wanted man's former sister-in-law, Carmen bin Laden, about her experiences and her new book.
Stay with "LATE EDITION."
BLITZER: Osama bin Laden, terrorist enemy number one, whereabouts unknown. And from here in Washington to the wilds of the Afghan-Pakistan border, a huge effort under way to both understand and apprehend the world's most wanted man.
One person who brings special insights into the bin Laden family is a woman who married one of Osama bin Laden's brothers. I spoke earlier to Carmen bin Ladin about her new book, "Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Carmen bin Ladin, thanks very much for joining us. How did you get involved with the bin Laden family?
CARMEN BIN LADIN, AUTHOR: I was married to Yeslam bin Laden, Osama's brother.
BLITZER: When did you get married, and how long were you married to him?
BIN LADIN: Well, I was married in '74, and my divorce is still pending.
BLITZER: You met Osama bin Laden at least on two occasions. Is that right?
BIN LADIN: Yes, I did. Yes.
BLITZER: In your book you write this when you saw him, you say, "He was a tall man, despite a slightness of his build, and he had a commanding presence. When Osama stepped into the room you felt it."
What did you feel?
BIN LADIN: Well, you know, he had a lot of presence. He was a very tall man, and I got a glimpse of him. And you know, the Saudi, usually when they come in a room you feel their presence. And Osama was somebody who you could feel him. When I saw him I was struck by his presence.
BLITZER: Your ex-husband, Yeslam bin Laden, has denied any relationship, any support to his brother, Osama bin Laden.
In fact, he told NBC, he said I have been investigated by the Swiss, by the French, and their examinations of my affairs have not revealed any at all, any reprehensible or unlawful activity. I know my family, I would be surprised to think that anybody would help.
But you write in the book, you write, "I cannot believe the bin Ladens have cut Osama off completely. This would be unthinkable among the bin Ladens. No matter what a brother does, he remains a brother."
Are you suggesting that the bin Laden family, which is one of the wealthiest in Saudi Arabia, one of the most respected despite the fact that they have Osama bin Laden in the family, is still financially supporting him?
BIN LADIN: For me, it's very -- knowing that society and knowing how this society works, for me it's very difficult to believe that all the members of the bin Laden family have cut complete ties with Osama.
BLITZER: But you haven't been in Saudi Arabia in how many years?
BIN LADIN: Well, I have not been in Saudi Arabia since '86. But, you know, I have been in contact with Saudi friends, and the last time I talked with my husband it was in '94. And I remember very well he did mention and he knew the whereabouts of Osama. And he did mention that he was in Sudan. BLITZER: Even after the terror attacks in Riyadh over the past year that have killed so many Saudis -- we're getting information from top U.S. officials, in fact from the president of the United States on down, and the intelligence community at the FBI that the Saudi government of Crown Prince Abdullah, the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia, now gets it. They're cooperating in the hunt for terrorists because they recognize their own kingdom is in danger.
BIN LADIN: I'm not saying all the royal family and everybody supports Osama. I'm not in politics, and I don't know what it is going on.
Now that they have been hit in their homeland, there might be some changes. But I still, for me, it's very difficult to believe that, you know, suddenly all the Saudi society has turned its back on Osama.
BLITZER: During those years in the '80s, he was largely in Afghanistan, working with the mujahedeen against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan, working closely with the United States, in fact. The CIA deeply involved in that entire effort. Is that right?
BIN LADIN: Exactly. And he was very much admired. And I think the admiration of the Saudi has not faded.
He succeeded at making a name for himself as being a very, very good Muslim. And, in my opinion, he's still considered by a lot of Saudis as a very, very good Muslim.
BLITZER: You write in your book, "Inside the Kingdom," you write this, you say, "Saudi Arabia may be wealthy, but it is probably the least cultivated country in the rich and multifaceted Arab world, with the most simplistic and brutal conception of social relationships."
And you go on to say, "The only difference between Saudi Islam and that of the ultra hard-line Afghan Taliban is the opulence and private self-indulgence of all the Saudis. The Saudis are the Taliban in luxury."
Those are strong words, but those are words written on your experience in the '80s in Saudi Arabia, in the '70s.
Do you accept the fact that many Saudi leaders now say that things have dramatically improved in recent years?
BIN LADIN: I hope so, but, for me, it's very difficult to believe that because, you know, up to 9/11 and before I went public, I had some contact with some Saudis. And, you know, I think at the contrary, the Saudis that the opening that you had, you could have hoped for, it's even stronger now because the Wahhabist Islam has gained such an influence.
And it's much more spread than it used to be.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to what Adel al-Jubeir, the adviser to the Crown Prince Abdullah, said to me about a year or so ago. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADEL AL-JUBEIR, ADVISER TO CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH: We have opened up opportunities for women in terms of jobs. Women have access to education. Over 50 percent of our students at the college level and above are women. As our society develops, more women will enter the job force.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you believe him?
BIN LADIN: Well, I will believe it when I see it.
BLITZER: But right now you're still skeptical. Is that what you're saying?
BIN LADIN: Exactly.
BLITZER: Carmen bin Ladin's book is called "Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia." The ex-sister-in-law of Osama bin Laden.
Thanks very much for joining us.
BIN LADIN: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: And up next, your response to our Web question of the week. We'll show you that, when we come back.
BLITZER: Our "LATE EDITION" question of the week asked this question: Should the U.S. postpone the presidential election in the event of a terrorist attack?
Look at this. Here's how you voted: Three percent of you said yes; 97 percent of you said no -- overwhelming. Remember though, this is not a scientific poll.
And that's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, July 18th. Please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.
Next Sunday we'll be reporting live from Boston for a preview of the Democratic National Convention.
I'm here Monday through Friday, weekdays, noon and 5:00 p.m. Eastern.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
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