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Interview With Bob Dole; Interview With David Kay

Aired August 22, 2004 - 12:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in Washington, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 5 p.m. in London, 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 Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Rend Al- Rahim, in just a moment. First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of what's in the news right now.


BLITZER: We begin with the U.S. presidential race and what appears to be a link between a series of very controversial television ads questioning the Democratic candidate John Kerry's Vietnam War record and the Bush-Cheney campaign.

CNN's Jill Dougherty is over at the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas. She's covering the story for us.

Jill, this link appears to be someone who is an unpaid adviser to the campaign, who is featured in the one of those ads, one Ken Cordier. What do we know about this?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, we know that he is an Air Force colonel, and we know that he was a member of a veterans' steering committee for the Bush campaign.

They do not describe him, by the way, Wolf, as an adviser, per se. He was on this steering committee.

And he was involved in this ad, which was featuring the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the people who have been putting out those attack ads against John Kerry. And when this came out, he stepped down. He has quit.

And the campaign, the Bush campaign, says that it did not know that he was going to be involved in that ad.

BLITZER: Let's talk about a new Kerry ad that just has come out. It will be formally released tomorrow. We got an advance copy. Let's listen to this snippet from it.


ANNOUNCER: American soldiers are fighting in Iraq. Families struggle to afford health care. Jobs heading overseas. Instead of solutions, George Bush's campaign supports a front group attacking John Kerry's military record.

Bush smeared John McCain four years ago. Now he's doing it to John Kerry.

George Bush, denounce the smear. Get back to the issues.


BLITZER: Clearly, Jill, the Kerry campaign going on the offensive now, badly hurt, at least according to some polls, by two or three weeks from the other side going after John Kerry.

What do you hear about this new ad, the strategy behind it?

DOUGHERTY: Well, if you look at it, Wolf, you've got two strategies. You've got the "let's get back to the issues; we don't need to debate this anymore" part of it. And, in fact, both campaigns really are saying that, but they're not exactly doing it.

And then you have the McCain part of it. And that's where the Kerry people are saying that the strategy that allegedly was used back in 2000, the 2000 campaign, the primary against John McCain, is being resurrected and used against John Kerry. However, the Democrats are saying it's not going to work this time.

But they are obviously hurting, Wolf, and that is why they were on the defense.

And don't forget, they filed with the FEC a complaint about that. The Republicans, and I should say the Bush campaign, wrote a letter immediately and said that there's no validity and no hard facts involved in that complaint.

BLITZER: Finally, Jill, a reporter and editor of the Chicago Tribune who served with John Kerry on those swift boats, breaking a 35-year silence now and coming to the defense of John Kerry. Tell our viewers about that.

DOUGHERTY: Well, Bill Rood is an editor for the Chicago Tribune. He hasn't spoken about this for 35 years. He was in Vietnam. He was with Kerry when that incident on the river happened that has come up in all these attack ads. And he claims that Kerry did deserve the Silver Star that he got. In other words, he's buttressing the comments that the Kerry campaign has been saying and Senator Kerry himself about what he did.

BLITZER: Jim Dougherty, reporting for us from the Crawford ranch, covering the president's stay down there this weekend.

Thanks, Jill, very much.

Let's move on now to the standoff in Najaf. U.S. forces, hitting positions held by the Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi militia. Forty-nine Iraqis have been killed in the fighting this weekend alone.

CNN's Matthew Chance following the action for us in Najaf. He's joining us on the phone with more.

Matthew, what exactly is happening right now?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that action has sort of descended into stalemates and confusion over the course of the past several hours or so.

Stalemate, because even though there are still clashes sporadically occurring between U.S. forces and those fighters of the Mahdi army in the streets of the old city of Najaf, there's still no (UNINTELLIGIBLE) assault to sort of liberate the shrine of Imam Ali from the hands of the Mahdi army.

It's actually quite confused as well, because it's not entirely clear whether it's the Mahdi army's fighters that are still inside the mosque itself. We've been getting lots of video pictures from our own camera, which is in Najaf, indicating that the people inside, although clearly supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, do not appear to be from (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

There seems to be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) children amongst them. So a great deal of concern about that. Diplomatic (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are continuing to try and bring a peaceful end to this standoff. But they don't seem to be getting anywhere at the moment. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we're getting a disconnection obviously with Matthew Chance and his satellite phone there in Najaf. We'll try to reconnect with him, get some more information during "LATE EDITION."

The two-week standoff in Najaf presenting some very serious and sensitive challenges for Iraq's new interim government as it tries to convey that it is firmly in control of the entire country. For more on that, we're joined now by Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Rend Al-Rahim.

Madam Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us.

What are you hearing from your government now on the standoff in Najaf?

REND AL-RAHIM, IRAQ'S AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well, first of all, I should tell you that the standoff is a question of the restraint that the Iraqi government is choosing to impose on itself, because we do respect that shrine, as this Mahdi army does not. And we do not want to attack it. We do want a peaceful solution.

But ultimately, Wolf, this is a question of the rule of law in Iraq, whether the rule of law will prevail, about Iraq's political future, about whether our politics in Iraq will be carried out at the end of a barrel of a gun or through dialogue and political participation.

BLITZER: Are you going to arrest Muqtada al-Sadr or let him become part of the political process in Iraq?

AL-RAHIM: An invitation to him has been issued to become part of the political process.

BLITZER: That's so shocking to a lot of Americans in particular. He's been ordering his militia, so-called Mahdi militia, to go ahead and kill U.S. and other coalition forces, rocket-propelled grenades. He's been directly involved. And you're going to now bring him into the political process?

Al-RAHIM: The terms that have been offered to Muqtada al-Sadr are indeed generous from the government. The whole Mahdi army movement has been invited to disband, disarm and become a political movement.

Now, if there are any particular legal charges against individuals, those will be pursued in the courts. But as a whole, this should be turned into a political movement.

BLITZER: They've arrested already -- we've seen pictures of a lot of his Mahdi militia, men on the ground with their arms tied behind their back. They're going to go to jail, but Muqtada al-Sadr is going to be allowed to be a politician?

AL-RAHIM: We need to resolve the legal issue of Muqtada al-Sadr in due course. The important thing is to give up the armed confrontation and go into a political dialogue and to give up the occupation of the shrine and to disarm and disband the Mahdi army. This is the most important thing.

BLITZER: It sounds, Madam Ambassador, with all due respect, it sounds like your government is blinking here in Najaf, just as they blinked in Fallujah only a few months ago, which is now still controlled by rebels.

AL-RAHIM: I don't agree with you, Wolf. They are being patient. They're not blinking. They're exercising self-restraint. They're not backing off. And there is a distinction.

We want to solve this peacefully if possible. But if it's not possible, we will solve it in other ways.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. He's in London getting medical treatment right now.

Do you see him playing a positive or a negative role in this entire situation?

AL-RAHIM: Ayatollah Sistani is in a difficult position because he is not an ayatollah who gets involved in politics. All his life he has not -- this has been thrust upon him. This is a very difficult situation that he finds himself in.

We would like Ayatollah Sistani to play a positive role. And I think that they will be doing that, but they need to be very careful.

By the way, this whole issue of handing the key to Ayatollah Sistani is prevarication. What the people need to do who are in the shrine is to simply get out. It's not a question of whether Sistani will take the key or not to take the key or under what conditions. These fighters who are illegal, who are a paramilitary force, who need to get out of the shrine.

BLITZER: What role, if any, do you see Iran play in all of this?

AL-RAHIM: Well, we really can't talk about intelligence findings. This is not the public medium in which these should be aired. But we are concerned about Iranian official or non-official involvement. We are concerned about Iranian infiltration into Iraq. Whether sanctioned or not, we can't talk about that.

BLITZER: The defense minister of Iraq in the interim government is quoted in yesterday's Washington Post is saying Iran remains the first enemy of Iraq, "We can send the death to Tehran streets like they did to us, but we can't do it if we are a democracy. But if my people say do it now, I will do it."

He's talking about Iran as the first enemy of Iraq.

AL-RAHIM: Clearly, he is talking tough.

We can't talk about intelligence information. The Iraqi government does have some intelligence information that we can't discuss.

BLITZER: What about Ahmed Chalabi and his nephew Salem Chalabi? Both now charged with very serious crimes -- counterfeiting money and murder on the part of Salem Chalabi who is charge of the war crimes tribunal.

What can you tell our viewers about these charges?

AL-RAHIM: I can't tell you about the charges. But I can tell you that Ahmed Chalabi is back in Iraq. He was invited back by the prime minister and by the president, and he was assured of safe conduct and that the legal issue will be resolved in a legal way. And I think this will happen in both the case of Salem Chalabi and Ahmed Chalabi.

BLITZER: You know both of these men, is that right?

AL-RAHIM: I do indeed.

BLITZER: You believe that they would be capable of committing these kinds of alleged crimes?

AL-RAHIM: Well, charges have been made by the Iraqi courts. The two of them have rebutted these charges. And I think it's important to allow the course of the legal system to take its course in Iraq.

The thing that I would like to stress is that we must have due process of law, and that these two individuals ought to have their say in the courts.

BLITZER: The ambassador of Iraq to the United States, Rend Al- Rahim, thanks very much for joining us.

AL-RAHIM: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: We'll have much more coming up on this story and the latest, the battle for Najaf. That's coming up on "LATE EDITION."

How involved should U.S. forces be? We'll hear from two leading members of the United States Congress.

Then, his search for weapons of mass destruction of Iraq came up empty. We'll talk with the former chief U.S. weapons inspector, David Kay, about who he thinks deserves the blame.

And later, insight from former presidential candidate Bob Dole about the controversy surrounding Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's Vietnam War record and its impact on the very tight race for the White House.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.


BLITZER: LATE EDITION's Web question of the week: Who has a clear plan to overall U.S. intelligence agencies, President Bush or Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry?

You can cast your vote. Go to We'll have the results later in the program.

Just ahead, as New York City prepares for next week's Republican National Convention, how safe will the political gathering be from a potential terrorist attack? We'll speak with U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Chris Cox and one of the panel's leading Democrats, Jane Harman.

You're watching "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

Joining us now to talk about Iraq, the war on terror and more, two leading members of the United States Congress. In his home state of California, Republican Congressman, and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Christopher Cox. And here in Washington, California Congresswoman Jane Harman. She's a member of the Homeland Security Committee, as well as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

Good to have both of you on the program. Thanks for joining us.

Let me begin with -- I want to get to all of that, those issues in just a moment. But there's a big controversy, as both of you know, unfolding here in the United States right now. John Kerry's military record during the Vietnam War, the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, they've got a new ad that has been released in recent days. And John Kerry's campaign has a response.

I want both of you to listen to little snippets from both.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads.

JOE PONDER, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH: The accusations that John Kerry made against the veterans who served in Vietnam was just devastating.

KERRY: ... randomly shot at civilians...

PONDER: And it hurt me more than any physical wounds I had.



ANNOUNCER: American soldiers are fighting in Iraq. Families struggle to afford health care. Jobs heading overseas. Instead of solutions, George Bush's campaign supports a front group attacking John Kerry's military record.

Bush smeared John McCain four years ago. Now, he's doing it to John Kerry.

George Bush, denounce the smear. Get back to the issues.


BLITZER: All right, those are both tough ads.

Chris Cox, you're a good Republican. Should the president specifically denounce this ad put out by these Swift Boat Veterans for Truth?

REP. CHRISTOPHER COX (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, this is obviously what's going on now with campaign finance reform, 527s and so on. There's a lot going on around the campaigns that the campaigns don't control. I think that, for the candidates, the risk is, if you try and take ownership, either positively or negatively, of what's going on around you, then it looks as if you're even more involved.

With respect to the facts underlying all of this, there was a book published by swift boat veterans. It ought to rise or fall on its own merits, just as with "Fahrenheit 9/11," which is loaded with factual inaccuracies.

There are presumably some factual misstatements or not that might appear in that book. On the other hand, I think there's an effort under way in the Kerry campaign to say that everything that's in that book isn't true. Obviously that isn't the case either.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let me press you on this, Congressman Cox. John McCain, who is a POW of Vietnam, says these attacks against John Kerry are dishonest and dishonorable, and he says he's urging the president to go ahead and disassociate himself specifically from these ads. Is John McCain right?

COX: Well, of course, the president has stayed above all of this. The president is not involved in making any attacks on John Kerry or his service record. And I think the president has said, and the campaign has said repeatedly, that John Kerry's service in Vietnam is something that they honor.

John Kerry, on the other hand, has to be responsible for his public statements before Congress, both then and now. And so I don't think you want to paint with a broad brush and say that everything that John Kerry did was acceptable or not. Rather, I think things should be taken on their merits.

And I personally, for example, wouldn't feel comfortable saying that I disagree with everything in the book.

BLITZER: All right. Well, let me play for you, Congressman, what Vanessa Kerry, the daughter of John Kerry said earlier today on CBS.


VANESSA KERRY, DAUGHTER OF JOHN KERRY: In terms of hearing these things about our father, it's incredibly frustrating just in terms of seeing somebody sort of the moral character being attacked.

And I think that what upsets me is, I just have the question of which wound do you want to see, which scar do you need to see to prove that my father served?


BLITZER: Let me bring in Jane Harman. What's your bottom line on all of this?

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: That John McCain is right. And these are dishonest and dishonorable ads.

And the president may not have actually had a role in drafting the script, but if he doesn't denounce them, they are tied to him, as far as I'm concerned.

And this is a pattern. This happened to John McCain in 2000. It happened to Max Cleland in 2002. And I think the voters will react very strongly to this.

And it puts in play President Bush's service in Vietnam, and my view is this ought to be a campaign about the issues. The issues including Iraq, and the issues including support for our troops, and issues where President Bush can claim he's strong. But, nonetheless, it should be about issues. And who now, in 2004, would be the more effective commander in chief? COX: I couldn't agree more with that, by the way. And I think everybody that's watching these ads on television is quite anxious for it to move into the 21st century.

BLITZER: Well, what do you mean by that, Congressman?

COX: Well, I think that, you know, if this devolves into a discussion about, you know, who was there at the Jane Fonda rally in the 1960s, that we're going to miss the whole point here, the whole opportunity of electing the best president for the 21st century. And both campaigns have it in their best interest, it seems to me, to move off of this topic and move on to the next. And that's, of course, the trouble then with coming out as the candidate and saying "I think thus and so about particular ads that, by the way, we didn't even sponsor in the first place."

HARMAN: Yes, but the mention of Jane Fonda is not what we're talking about here. I think William Rood's piece in today's Chicago Tribune should settle once and for all whether John Kerry was a hero in Vietnam.

And I'm not asking other people about how they got their medals. Chris and I live in a part of California where most of the homeless vets from Vietnam are. And they're all heroes, as far as I'm concerned.

Questioning their leadership, which what is John Kerry did in his testimony, and questioning leadership now is totally appropriate in a democracy. And we should do that.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on. We'll have much more on this coming up later on "LATE EDITION." Bob Dole, another military veteran, he'll be joining us. We'll speak extensively about this with him.

But, Congressman Cox, you're the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. You're also a top Republican.

How concerned are you about the possibility of terrorism breaking out during the Republican Convention in New York City? And that's only coming up in the next several days.

COX: Well, I'll begin by saying that I'm looking forward to going to the convention. I think it's going to be a great showcase for the Republican platform for President Bush's campaign and for the city itself, for the city of New York, which will be on display for the country and the world.

I don't think it's without reference to the events of September 11th that the Republican National Committee decided to have the convention here in New York City. For the same reason, members of the Congress, Democrat and Republican, walked out in front of the United States Capitol right after -- within hours after the 9/11 attacks, and sang "God Bless America." Because we wanted the terrorists to know that we're not flinching. America is going to go on. We're going to carry on, just as before. And, in fact, every day, we're going to make America better.

So I know that our national security agencies, our local law enforcement are going to do everything possible to make that site secure and safe. And it will probably be one of the safest places in America to be that week.

BLITZER: All right.

Jane Harman, you're not only a member of the Homeland Security Committee, you're the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. You've seen the reports, the evidence of a possible terrorist strike coordinated, timed with the U.S. presidential election. Are you concerned?

HARMAN: Of course I'm concerned. I take those...

BLITZER: Because there are some Democrats who think that the White House is simply hyping this for political purposes.

HARMAN: Well, I think our threat warning system is broken. I've made that point repeatedly. People don't know what they're supposed to look for and what they're supposed to do. And we risk threat fatigue throughout the country.

But with respect to these five financial institutions and New York City and Washington and, actually, LAX and other parts of the country as well, I think the threats are serious.

There's no such thing as 100 percent security, but I agree with Chris Cox, that the NYPD, the first responders in Boston, the FBI are doing their maximum job to keep us safe.

What we still lack is a strategy to tie the country together. But with respect to the convention in New York City, I really commend all of those who are working hard to make it as safe as it can be.

BLITZER: So Howard Dean was simply wrong when he said this was at least in part politics?

HARMAN: Well, there's politics in everything these days. And I think the announcement was not handled skillfully.

But I think the threat is real. And I, again, commend our first responders for what they're doing.

BLITZER: All right. I want both of you to stand by, but we're going to take a quick break.

Much more to discuss. In addition to everything else, we'll have phone calls for Congressman Chris Cox and Congresswoman Jane Harman.

And beyond that, we'll move to some of the other stories that we're following in the news right now, including the latest from Najaf.

More "LATE EDITION" straight ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're continuing our conversation with Republican Congressman and U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Chris Cox of California and Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman, also of California. She's a member of the Homeland Security Committee, as well as the Intelligence Committee.

Mr. Chairman, the 9/11 Commission came out with their final report saying that all 19 hijackers, 9/11 hijackers, had something wrong with their immigration -- their immigration visas, their immigration status. They all had violated U.S. law. Yet no one picked them up, no one found them.

Can you assure the American people right now that the department of Immigration and Naturalization Service under Homeland Security has cleaned up this whole problem, that this couldn't happen again?

COX: There's no such assurance that can be given, because the revamping of our immigration enforcement is a work in progress.

It's a work that's moving very, very rapidly. But we're moving from a situation that obtained, up until 9/11 and certainly throughout the 1990s, where immigration laws were in a different category by themselves, not to be enforced. Now, we recognize not only shouldn't they be enforced, but they are a member of our national security.

You're right. In the staff report that was released this weekend by the 9/11 Commission, they went out of their way to call it a myth, and a much-publicized myth, that the 9/11 hijackers got into this country legally, that this really wasn't about illegal immigration.

In fact, it was. They forged their passports. They lied in their visa applications. They tampered with their visas. That evidence, I think, is going to be just as powerful as the other provided by the 9/11 Commission that will impel even more action in Congress and in the executive branch, and it's high time.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Jane Harman the same question.

Could terrorists get into this country now lying about visa or immigration status and simply repeat this kind of scenario?

HARMAN: Well, it would be harder.

We're doing some things right. The US-VISIT program, where we're trying to create biometric database, is a good idea. Integrating our immigration services is a good idea.

But we're late with things. We don't have one integrated watch list yet. We're now talking about the Transportation Security Administration taking over this issue of no-fly lists, which has made many mistakes in the past. And some of the other things are not there yet. Biometric IDs should be on all passports. We have to go there. The 9/11 Commission recommended it.

But I would say to most people, to those trying to get in here, sadly, you can still probably defeat some of our systems.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the 9/11 Commission's recommendation, Congressman Cox, that there be a new and national intelligence director, a so-called czar, to oversee all 15 agencies that are involved in intelligence gathering right now.

We got conflicting signals from top administration officials this week. Listen to this.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I am not in a position to say anything other than the devil's in the details.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The devil is in the details. And we're now engaged in very intensive discussions internally about those details.


BLITZER How far should the president go in accepting this recommendation?

COX: Well, the president, of course, jumped on this recommendation with great alacrity. And it's the president's recommendation at this point that we create a national intelligence director. That, it seems to me, guarantees that it gets done. That's why we're now moving to the level of detail that even the 9/11 Commission itself did not reach.

The Homeland Security Committee, which I chair, held hearings with the 9/11 Commission, as you know, this week. The Intelligence Committee, where Jane sits, also has had hearings; will have more, as will we.

But I think there's no question, first, that the national intelligence director is going to have enforcement authority to mandate sharing across, not just the 15 agencies in the intelligence community, but other aspects as well. And that's more important than any other lesson that we've learned from 9/11, any other recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.

But it's also necessary for that national intelligence director to have the authority to put in I.T. systems, so that computers can share, people can talk to each other, and to have some hiring and firing authority, so that people that don't get on the sharing bandwagon can be dismissed.

BLITZER: Let me let Jane Harman weigh in.

Is that enough? HARMAN: Well, I don't think the White House has been clear at all.

I'd like to salute a few Republican senators, like Susan Collins, who chairs the Government Affairs Committee, which has been given lead responsibility; and Pat Roberts, who, on some shows this morning, said he endorses the national intelligence director; and even...

BLITZER: He's the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

HARMAN: ... and even Bill Frist for assigning primary jurisdiction to one committee over there.

But in the House, the Republican leadership has done absolutely nothing. And I think the White House has spoken in generalities and missed an opportunity, when Porter Goss was nominated a couple weeks ago to be CIA director, to be more specific about what needs to be done.

I think there are specific proposals out there. The 9/11 Commission's is one. I've got a bill on the House side that's very specific. And there are others. Brent Scowcroft, former Republican national security advisor, is the grandfather of the NID idea.

And I think that the American public and the 9/11 families are rightfully impatient with this White House for not stepping up and leading on this issue.

BLITZER: All right. Unfortunately, we're going to have to leave it right there.

Congressman Cox, as usual, thanks very much.

COX: Happy to join you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jane Harman, thanks. Same to you, as well.

HARMAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, despite exhaustive searches, no weapons of mass destruction have been uncovered in Iraq. What went wrong? I'll ask the former chief U.S. weapons inspector, David Kay. He's got new insight.

And later, a heated faceoff for the White House. We'll size up the Bush-Kerry contest with the Republican Convention deputy chairman, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, and former Gore presidential campaign manager Donna Brazile.

"LATE EDITION" will continue after this.



DAVID KAY, FORMER CHIEF U.S. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: The dog that did not bark in the case of Iraq's WMD program, quite frankly, in my view, is the National Security Council.


BLITZER: The former chief U.S. weapons inspector, David Kay, not mincing any words during testimony this past week before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

David Kay led the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He's joining us now.

David Kay, thanks very much for joining us.

KAY: Happy to be with you.

BLITZER: You went right after Dr. Condoleezza Rice. Without mentioning her name directly, but you said the National Security Council basically did not do service, good service, to the president in the lead-up to the war.

KAY: Wolf, the context was I was trying to lay out the conditions I thought were necessary if indeed we're going to have a national intelligence director. And one of those is understand how the czar is to fit into national security policy. And to do that, you ought to look at immediate failures.

Yes, I think the National Security Council did not do a good job of running a truth trap for the president on WMD information as well as on other things.

BLITZER: Well, specifically what should they have done?

KAY: Look, it's essential for a president, regardless of whether we're talking about foreign policy or agricultural policy, to assume that people who come forward in his administration with information proposals and ideas aren't just accepted on their face without seeking to understand whether they're true.

Colin Powell understood enough that that's the case in Washington that he went out and spent three days at the CIA trying to test the data, and discarding some of it, before he went to the Security Council.

I think what the National Security Council did not do is examine the data and force the CIA to justify it in detail before it went to the president.

BLITZER: So this is clearly Condoleezza Rice's fault, that she didn't do the job she should have done. Is that what you're saying?

KAY: It's the National Security Council process. It does not have to be Dr. Rice that does it, but she's the manager of that process. The process must do it.

BLITZER: So you're blaming her at least in part. You're also blaming the CIA. I want to play for our viewers some of your testimony on what you concluded the CIA's responsibility was. Listen to this.


KAY: Iraq was an overwhelming, systemic failure of the Central Intelligence Agency.

And until this is taken on board and people and organizations are held responsible for this failure, I have real difficulty seeing how a national intelligence director can correct these failings.


BLITZER: Now, specifically what angered you is that some analysts at the CIA were getting bonuses for clearly coming up with faulty intelligence analysis.

KAY: Well, that was the immediate cause of it. But, Wolf, what angered me is that you had a broken culture, you had an organization that accepted data from foreigners that we did not control without suggesting that the data needed to be examined, that went to the president with stale and old information, that had no clandestine agents in Iraq after 1998 and failed to acknowledge that, which I think if the public had understood that, we would have been much more suspicious of the data.

And it also mismanaged the information they had and kept it away from other intelligence agencies who had the actual scientific expertise, for example, in the nuclear area to examine that and to understood that it did not mean what the CIA said it meant.

BLITZER: But almost everyone was wrong when it came to Iraq's WMD leading up to the war. Is that right?

KAY: Almost everyone was wrong in believing in the conclusions. But the reason for producing those conclusions were the responsibility of few, not many.

BLITZER: But Hans Blix, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector, he was agnostic about it. Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei going into the war on the nuclear part, he didn't say the Iraqis were going there.

There were some outside the United States who were urging caution.

KAY: And I acknowledge, I believed the data too. But you cannot walk away from the fact that neither Mohamed ElBaradei, Hans Blix, myself or any number of others had access to the intelligence data and used that intelligence data. We were the product of believing what we were told.

BLITZER: You believed, going into the war, that it was a slam dunk, that the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction.

KAY: Well, I hope I didn't use that...

BLITZER: You didn't necessarily use that word.

KAY: I don't believe in trite supporting analogies on serious matters on this.

BLITZER: But you believed there were stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

KAY: Yes, I did indeed.

BLITZER: And on the nuclear front, you believed they could have had a nuclear program almost at any time.

KAY: Well, actually I was much more suspicious, as I think most of us in the nuclear area were, because we knew what we had destroyed and how difficult it is to reconstitute it.

But let me emphasize, we weren't running the intelligence system.

BLITZER: But let me quote to you from your testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in September 2002, September 10th, 2002, when you spoke at length and were questioned at length by members about the nuclear, Saddam Hussein's nuclear program, which had been much more robust after the U.S. discovered after the first Gulf war...

KAY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... than what the International Atomic Energy Agency knew going into the war.

But you said this: "They will eventually surprise us in ways that will be terribly painful. And in the area I am concerned with, that is, nuclear, that means a much larger number of people potentially killed than were killed a year ago, tragically."

You left the impression that they could have picked up their nuclear program almost at any time.

KAY: Well, I think they could have, particularly with assistance from Russians. And that was a real worry there, and that's why I think the intelligence community should have had clandestine agents in Iraq after 1998.

I did not know we had no agents after 1998. I can't imagine anyone outside believed we didn't.

BLITZER: Because some CIA analysts and officials have suggested they were listening to people like you, outside experts who really had expertise on the nuclear program, more than any of the information they themselves had contemporaneously.

KAY: Wolf, if that's true, that's really frightening. I think you ought to think about what that says.

BLITZER: That's what I've heard.

KAY: People who run a $40 billion intelligence agency listened more to people on the outside than the data they're supposed to collect? We could reduce the federal deficit by $40 billion if that's true.

BLITZER: What does the United States government need to do right now to fix this problem? Because this has been a huge intelligence blunder.

KAY: Well, the first thing we need to do is realize that if you make a mistake you hold people accountable. You don't say, "Everyone was wrong, therefore no one is responsible."

BLITZER: Well, George Tenet is gone now.

KAY: But apparently not because of this.

We had 20 commissions over the last 20 years look at the intelligence community after various failures. They've all come to the conclusion it's got a broken culture, the analytical trade craft if in decline, the clandestine human service is no longer effective and functioning.

We need to repair the identifiable mistakes immediately and have a culture of holding people responsible for failure.

BLITZER: And in terms of that, do you want people to be fired if they screw up their intelligence analysis?

KAY: I think that's a good recommendation in almost any field of life. It seems only in the government that if you screw up, to use your term, you get promoted.

BLITZER: Wouldn't that, though, sort of encourage people to just be quiet and stay on the sidelines, not take any chances and not offer any forward-looking analysis?

KAY: Not at all, if you have the right leadership. If you have aggressive, competent leadership...

BLITZER: Well, if you know you're going to be fired if you're wrong going out on a limb, you're not going to go out on a limb.

KAY: You're going to be rewarded if you're right as well, Wolf.

And that's the way industry and universities work.

BLITZER: So what you're saying is, it doesn't make any difference if they have a new national intelligence director, if the system isn't changed from the inside, it's not going to make any big deal.

KAY: That's exactly right, and I think that's what history shows. Name me a czar that's made a real difference on any of the problems we've appointed czars for. BLITZER: Is Porter Goss, in your opinion, the best person to lead the CIA?

KAY: I don't know who the best person. I think Porter Goss is certainly very competent and qualified to lead the CIA.

BLITZER: And so if you were a member of the Senate, you'd vote to confirm him.

KAY: Yes, certainly.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the president. Recently on Larry King he offered this explanation of why the actual weapons of mass destruction, the stockpiles, may not necessarily have been all that significant. Listen to this.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we do know is Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons of mass destruction. And after September the 11th, a risk we could not take was that he would share that capability with our enemies.


BLITZER: All right. Two points the president makes, that they certainly had the capability to make weapons of mass destruction. There's no doubt about that.

KAY: That's correct.

BLITZER: They had weapons of mass -- in the '80s, they used them against the Kurds. They used them against the Iranians in the late '80s when they were at war at that time. So they had the capability.

The possibility that they would then hand over weapons of mass destruction to enemies -- I assume he's referring to terrorists -- is that a realistic possibility, given the fact -- was that a realistic possibility, knowing how Saddam Hussein operated?

KAY: I think it's a realistic one that it would be prudent for any president to realize.

BLITZER: That Saddam Hussein would hand WMD over to al Qaeda?

KAY: Look, this is a man who was among the worst risk-takers the world has ever seen. I would not like to go to the bank on the fact that he would not do something as stupid and risky as handing them over if he had them.

BLITZER: So the bottom line, was the war justified or not?

KAY: Now, look, Wolf, it's quite different than saying that Saddam had the capability and the intention at some point to have them. If we'd made the case to go to war on that, I think it would have been an interesting public debate. Because of faulty intelligence, we made the argument to the American public to go to war because there were stockpiles. In a democracy, it makes a difference on the basis that you argue a policy of going to war.

We made the argument on the wrong basis. I would have loved to have seen debate on what the president has now laid out. I think that's a much more serious -- and actually it applies to Iran right now.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we can't get into that subject right now. We're all out of time.

David Kay, as usual, thanks very much.

KAY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Still ahead, President Bush preparing for next week's Republican National Convention. We'll get perspective on his campaign from former GOP presidential candidate and Senator Bob Dole.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.


BLITZER: Let's take a quick look at some of your e-mail on the standoff in Najaf.

Ed in Hawaii writes this: "The military has done a good job of fighting al-Sadr forces in Najaf. I think it's a good opportunity to stop this insurgency before it becomes any more widespread."

Debbie (ph) in California adds this: "The U.S. forces have to be very careful while fighting in Najaf. Destroying the holy sites there could be interpreted as a sign of disrespect and send a bad message around the world."

We always welcome your comments. Our e-mail address,

Just ahead, we'll get a quick check of what's happening in the news right now.

Then, realigning U.S. troops around the world, is it the right move at the right time? We'll talk with two members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"LATE EDITION," including Bob Dole, coming up right at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

In just a moment I'll speak with the former Republican presidential nominee and Senator Bob Dole. First, though, let's go to CNN headquarters in Atlanta for a quick check of what's in the news right now.


BLITZER: In just 11 days, President Bush will lay out his case for four more years in office when he formally accepts his party's nomination at the Republican National Convention in New York.

Joining us now with his special insight into this presidential race, the former Republican presidential nominee, Bob Dole.

Thanks very much for joining us.

BOB DOLE, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about this whole Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad campaign, what's going on. It's a sensitive subject. I'm interested in your thoughts.

First of all, let's have a little excerpt from this latest ad they've put out going after John Kerry.


KERRY: They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads...

JOE PONDER, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH: The accusations that John Kerry made against the veterans who served in Vietnam was just devastating.

KERRY: ... randomly shot at civilians...

PONDER: And it hurt me more than any physical wounds I had.


BLITZER: First of all, Senator, what's your bottom line on this whole ad campaign?

DOLE: I think this can hurt Kerry more than all the medal controversy. I mean, one day he's saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons. The next day he's standing there, "I want to be president because I'm a Vietnam veteran."

And I think he's -- I said months ago, "John, don't go too far." And I think he's got himself into this wicket now where he can't extricate himself because not every one of these people can be Republican liars. There's got to be some truth to the charges.

But this is on tape. This is on television. This is before the Senate committee.

BLITZER: Just to remind our viewers, this is when he came back from Vietnam. He testified in 1971...

DOLE: Ran for Congress. BLITZER: Right. And he was quoting a whole bunch of other Vietnam veterans who opposed the war and making these allegations of atrocities, if you will, war crimes committed by U.S. troops.

And a lot of people have always suggested that what's really angered these Vietnam veterans, the other side, is, not so much what he did or didn't do when he served in Vietnam, but what he did when he came back.

DOLE: I think that's true. And I think this ad's going to take -- it's going to be tough on Kerry because -- and he says, "Well, this is all hearsay," what he picked up from other veterans. But he said it. He said it before a Senate committee. It had worldwide attention.

BLITZER: The fact that he said on Tim Russert's "Meet the Press" a few months ago he probably went too far. He was a young man just back from Vietnam, and he probably shouldn't have said some of those things during those statements when he came home from Vietnam. Does that ease the responsibility that he has?

DOLE: Maybe he should apologize to all the other 2.5 million veterans who served. He wasn't the only one in Vietnam.

And here's, you know, a good guy, good friend. I respect his record. But three Purple Hearts and never bled that I know of. I mean, they're all superficial wounds. Three Purple Hearts and you're out.

I think Senator Kerry needs to talk about his Senate record, which is pretty thin. That's probably why he's talking about his war record, which is pretty confused.

BLITZER: You know, the American public seems to be paying attention to these Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads. There's a CBS poll that came out. I think this is the right poll. Here it is. Presidential choice among veterans, 37 percent support Kerry-Edwards, 55 percent Bush-Cheney. But after the convention it was at 46 percent.

He seems to be losing support among veterans, which is an influential bloc of voters out there.

DOLE: You know, I think it's too early to tell what -- nobody maybe in six -- how many days left? Not many. There are eight weeks. Maybe this will be forgotten. Maybe there will be something else. But I think this has certainly damaged Senator Kerry.

And I think it's partly his own doing. He can't lay out -- I remember in '96, I was the veteran in the race. Bill Clinton avoided the draft. And we didn't have all this trouble over my service versus his non-service. There wasn't much written about it. People accepted the fact that I had a record.

Now there's all the talk about Bush's National Guard service. Has he told the truth? Has he released the records? And one way, I think, for John Kerry, who I consider to be a friend, is to maybe apologize to all these people for something he may have said at a very early age, and let us have those records he's given to the author...

BLITZER: Douglas Brinkley.

DOLE: Douglas Brinkley, the records and the journals...

BLITZER: Who wrote a book about his experience.

DOLE: Yes. But somebody ought to find out the facts. I think this is going to be -- could be the sleeper issue.

BLITZER: Based on what I'm hearing you say, you tend to suggest that these Swift Boat Veterans have a point when they go out and make the statements they're making. If so, you would seem to disagree with John McCain, who's also a friend of yours...

DOLE: Yes, but, John wasn't there. He was up in the air. He wasn't any...

BLITZER: He was a POW.

DOLE: Well, yes. But he wasn't -- he was in Vietnam, but he wasn't on the swift boat.

BLITZER: But listen to what he said only this past week. I want you to listen to this.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I believe that President Bush served honorably in the National Guard, and I believe that service in the National Guard is honorable. And I believe that John Kerry served honorably.

And there are more compelling issues. Today, probably, an American will die in Iraq, a young American. We should be focusing our attention on winning that war, not trying to refight one that's been over for 30 years.


DOLE: And John McCain is absolutely correct. But as I recall, it was Terry McAuliffe who made reference to President Bush as being AWOL. They dragged up all the stuff. I think there were 80 stories in the media about the National Guard. There's only been about eight or 10 on the so-called Kerry flap.

So it seems to me they've initiated it, and now they've got into some rather murky area. But I don't -- I wish they'd forget it. It's not about whether or not you're...

BLITZER: There's a lot more important issues in this campaign that should be focused on. But McCain earlier said that these attack ads against John Kerry, who he says is a friend of his, are dishonest, dishonorable, and he would like the president specifically to disassociate himself from these ads.

DOLE: Well, then he is cooperating with the committee. Then he is coordinating. I listened to John O'Neill the other night, who is one of the sponsors of these ads, saying in no way...

BLITZER: He's the author of this new book.

DOLE: Yes, he's the author of the book, "Unfit for Command," saying we're not going to listen to the president. There isn't any coordination. That would be coordination.

President Bush has disavowed the ads. What else can he do?

BLITZER: He's disavowed all these 527 ads, these so-called organizations, these independent organizations.

DOLE:, which is funding all these vicious attacks against President Bush.

You know, I would like to talk about -- you know, I think they ought to talk about the record. But Senator Kerry's record in the Senate, I served with him for 14 years, I can't remember a single piece of legislation that bore his name. And maybe he did a lot of good work, but it wasn't very obvious.

BLITZER: What a lot of Democrats are saying, they're suggesting there's a pattern here in going after John Kerry's Vietnam war record, similar to what Republicans did to John McCain in the South Carolina primary in 2000.

At that time, John McCain was in a neck-and-neck battle with the president for the Republican presidential nomination. I want you to listen to what he said to the president in that debate on February 15, 2000.

DOLE: I saw it.


MCCAIN: But let me tell you what really went over the line. Governor Bush had an event, and he paid for it, and stood next to a spokesman for a fringe veterans group. That fringe veteran said that John McCain had abandoned the veterans.

Now, I don't know how if you can understand this, George, but that really hurts.

BUSH: Yes.

MCCAIN: That really hurts.


DOLE: Yes, that does hurt. I mean, I'm a veteran. And these same people now are going after Bush. I didn't see them going after Clinton in '96 because he didn't serve at all. They were going after me on my record.

That's why I say we ought to get back to the issues. Let's talk about the issues. Let's talk about taxes, the environment, jobs. John Kerry -- very articulate. You know, he's not a...

BLITZER: Well, because one of the things you're suggesting -- and I want to make sure our viewers are not left with the wrong impression, Senator, is that you seem to think there is some doubt whether John Kerry deserved those ribbons and medals that he got, serving in Vietnam.

I want you to listen to what Senator John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a friend of yours, he was on this program sitting in that seat only one week ago. He was secretary of the Navy when John Kerry got that Silver Cross. Listen to this.


SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: We did extraordinary, careful checking on that type of medal, a very high one, when it goes through the Secretariat. So I'd stand by the process that awarded him that medal, and I think we best acknowledge that his heroism did gain that recognition.


BLITZER: The Silver Star he was talking about. You obviously believe Senator Warner.

DOLE: Yes, but I don't think Senator Warner drafted the citation or even, you know, they'd gone so far as to say Kerry wrote up his own record.

BLITZER: But what Senator Warner said is there was a process that, when it got to him, the secretary of the Navy, he had total confidence that it was justified. And that if he got the Silver Star, John Kerry, he believes it was justified.

DOLE: I don't quarrel with that. I said John Kerry's a hero. But what I will always quarrel about are the Purple Hearts. I mean, the first one, whether he ought to have a Purple Heart -- he got two in one day, I think. And he was out of there in less than four months, because three Purple Hearts and you're out.

And as far as I know, he's never spent one day in the hospital. I don't think he draws any disability pay. He doesn't have any disability. And boasting about three Purple Hearts when you think of some of the people who really got shot up in Vietnam...

BLITZER: And speaking about people getting shot up in Vietnam, the Democrats, at least some Democrats, are now going after the president and the vice president for avoiding service in Vietnam. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, Democrat...

DOLE: He's not a very good one to complain because he was hiding out in Japan, claiming he was a Vietnam veteran.

BLITZER: Well, that's another matter.

DOLE: Yes, I know it is.

BLITZER: Let's talk about what he said. He said this. He said, "Those of us who served and those of us who went in the military don't like it when someone like a Dick Cheney comes out and he wants to be tough. Yes, he'll be tough. He'll be tough with somebody else's blood, somebody else's kids, but not when it was his turn to go."

So there's two sides to this type of debate.

DOLE: Oh, no doubt about it. You know, this is a very sensitive -- a lot of mothers and a lot of fathers and a lot of wives who have lost their husbands and a lot of mothers who have lost their sons -- this is a very, very sensitive area. And it ought to be treated that way.

Somebody ought to be, somebody like Wolf Blitzer, ought to take a week off and go out and give us the facts because people, the American people, will believe you.

Right now, there's probably a certain amount of truth here and a certain amount of truth there. But we don't know what the real truth is.

BLITZER: I'm not so sure the American would believe me if I...

DOLE: Well, I would.


BLITZER: Maybe you would.

Let's talk about the convention a little bit. How is this race shaping up right now?

DOLE: Very tight. Very close.

BLITZER: How tight?

DOLE: Well, you know I'm one of these junkies, so I watch all the polls. I watch the battleground states. I see two points, one point -- nobody really knows at this time.

But I'd say right now Kerry has the edge.

BLITZER: Because of the battleground states? So you're looking at the Electoral College...

DOLE: I'm looking at the Electoral College in the battleground states. And even though they didn't get a bounce in the convention, you know, people got to know John Kerry. I think most people liked what they saw. There's a little backlash now because of all the Vietnam thing. But he's probably ahead. So Bush has got his work cut out for him.

BLITZER: What does he need to do at the convention, the president, in order to get a bounce out of his own convention?

DOLE: What he needs to do is what I was never very good at, and that's sticking to your message and talking about leadership and talking about global terror and talking about taxes and talking about values and talking about what he's done for Medicare, the Medicare drug benefit.

BLITZER: What's more important, reaching out to those undecided, moderate -- the moderate middle, the swing voters, or making sure you have your real conservative base in front of you so that they can go out and get out the vote and get their friends to vote?

Because these are two different audiences and you have two different appeals going to the conservative wing of the Republican Party as opposed to the more moderate wing.

DOLE: Well, I'm planning on a very -- you know, I tried to reach out to the moderate base. And some of the real conservatives, the ones that are way out there, never really trusted Bob Dole.

I wasn't one of them. I wasn't tough enough, da, da, da. You know, my voting record was OK, but -- but when you reach out and try to expand the base, which I think you should do whether you're a Democrat or Republican, and that's what I think George Bush should do.

He ought to reach out -- most people are in the middle in this country. They're not on the far right or the far left. They're out there in the middle where Eisenhower was and where Harry Truman was, where most of these great leaders were.

BLITZER: Speaking of the far-right wing of the Republican Party, Pat Buchanan has a new book that's coming out. The New York Times reported on it today: "Where the Right went Wrong."

And he goes after the president, this President Bush, just as he went after his father in '92. "The Iraq invasion is the greatest strategic blunder in 40 years. If prudence is the mark of a conservative, Mr. Bush has ceased to be a conservative."

Pat Buchanan I assume still has some following out there among some conservatives.

DOLE: Some. You know, Pat's a great writer. But he's always been sort of an isolationist. So it doesn't surprise me. But you know, he's one of those.

Is he going to vote for John Kerry? I don't think so. I think he'll support Bush. He's disappointed in Bush when he measures him by his standards. But Buchanan didn't get a nomination, as I know of, as I recall.

But anyway, that's his right, it's his view. It's a free country. It's the same with the people on the swift boats, on both sides. It's a free country. All these people might be telling it how -- truthfully as they see it some 30 years later.

BLITZER: But you're still a political news junkie, huh?

DOLE: Oh, yes. I don't give up.

BLITZER: You still watch all this stuff.

Thanks very much, Senator, for joining us.

DOLE: Thank you. Thank you.

BLITZER: Still ahead, Najaf at the center of a firestorm in Iraq. We'll ask two U.S. senators what should be done to end the standoff.

Then, as Republicans prepare for their convention in New York City, we'll debate the party's election-year message with Republican Senator and convention deputy chairwoman Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

The Bush administration is facing questions and criticism about its plan for the largest U.S. troop deployment since the end of the Korean War. 70,000 U.S. troops will be affected, primarily in Europe and Asia.

Joining us now to talk about the potential impact of this decision, as well as the overall situation in Iraq and other key issues, two members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In his home state of Florida, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson. He also serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And in his home state of Minnesota, Republican Senator Norm Coleman.

Senators, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back.

I want to get to that. It may not be the largest troop redeployment since the Korean War, since there was a huge troop deployment in the early '90s at the end of the Cold War, but we'll get to more on that coming up.

Let's talk a little bit about this Swift Boat Veterans uproar that's going on. Senator Nelson, where do you come out on this?

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Well, the truth has a way of being very powerful. And day by day, we see the revelations, including the editor at the Chicago Tribune today, who was the commander of one of those swift boats right along with John Kerry. And, you know, the truth is coming out. And that's going to hurt the other side. This is the same tactic that was used against John McCain in the South Carolina Republican primary in 2000. You put it off, let other people do your dirty work, and then you try to keep your hands off of it. This time, John Kerry's not going to let that tactic work.

BLITZER: There's a poll, Senator Coleman, that just came out this past week asking the question, did John Kerry earn all of his medals? Fifty-nine percent said yes, 21 percent said no, 20 percent were unsure.

What's your stance on this?

SEN. NORM COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA: I think the truth is that we should be talking about what John Kerry has or hasn't done the last 20 years. He had a video of his life shown at the convention. He spoke for an hour. And I think he spent less than a minute on the last 20 years. It's as if he was a hero in Vietnam, went into a coma, just awoke, and is running for president.

The issue shouldn't be about what happened 37 years ago. There's a great debate going on, and Americans can speak out. But I really think, Wolf, we have to talk about, what is -- can you trust John Kerry? Can you trust him to do what he said at the convention, where he said that he's going to ask the tough questions about intelligence? When he served on the Intelligence Committee for eight years, he missed 38 of 49 meetings.

My colleague, Bill Nelson, by the way, who's not on the Government Affairs Committee, has sat in on every meeting that we've had the last couple weeks on the 9/11 Commission. That's the way you demonstrate leadership.

That's what this election is about, leadership, and John Kerry hasn't demonstrated that, and we're diverted to talking about what happened 37 years ago.

BLITZER: Senator Nelson?

NELSON: My goodness, I love Norm Coleman, but he's just dead wrong on this.

John Kerry's got a lifetime of experience. And when you wrap that up, at the end of the day, who are you going to trust when the truth is being told? I think it's going to be powerful. And then finally we can move on from the Vietnam War and get to the issues that Norm is talking about.

BLITZER: Well, let me get the specific, Senator Nelson. He made a specific charge and other Republicans are making the same charge, that when Senator Kerry was on the Senate Intelligence Committee, this is before 9/11, but still an important committee obviously, he missed most of those public meetings.

Have you looked into that? Is that true?

NELSON: I don't know if that's true or not. But I know that he has a very distinguished record of going on 20 years in the Senate. And I know, of those years, he's been on the Foreign Relations Committee.

And I know of the things that he's done and the legislation that he's passed. And look what he did when he led the effort about the supposed POWs, trying to find out missing in action in Vietnam. I mean, there's a lifetime of public service.

BLITZER: All right. Let me make a -- let me bring back Senator Coleman.

But Senator Nelson made a specific charge, as well. I want you to respond. He says Republicans are trying to smear John Kerry right now the same kind of way, using so-called front organizations, as they did to Senator McCain in the South Carolina primary in 2000. I want you to respond to that.

COLEMAN: First, John Kerry is not John McCain.

And Wolf, again, the response is, let's start focusing on leadership. Let's start focusing on Kerry's record. Senator Nelson's talked about...

BLITZER: What do you mean that Senator Kerry is not Senator McCain?

COLEMAN: Well, you know, the grouping together is diverting folks from the real focus on this election. That is, the ability to lead based on your record, not based on what you did or didn't do 37 years ago, or whether is spending millions beating up on the president, or Republicans are beating up on John Kerry. Talk about the record.

Senator Kerry was on the Intelligence Committee. In 1994, he proposed a $6 billion cut, billion dollar cut, in the intelligence budget. In 1995, he proposed a $300 million cut for five years. He got 20 votes. Seventy-five people -- excuse me, 25 votes. Seventy folks against him.

That's the record. It's a terrible record. And the American public should judge people on what you've done the last 20 years, not this debate about what happened 37 years ago.

BLITZER: You want to add to that, Senator Nelson?

NELSON: His record speaks for itself. Let's go on and talk about the issues. Who is better capable to lead this country at a very difficult time, when we are being stressed abroad, when the economy is in shambles here at home, when we're facing a record deficit, when senior citizens don't have the health care they need? Who is the leader that we need to run this country?

BLITZER: We'll go through those points point by point, the substantive issues, but we're going to take a quick break.

We're going to ask the senators to stand by. They'll also be taking your phone calls when we come back.

Up next, we'll get a quick check of the news, what's happening in the news this hour, including the latest on an averted terrorist attack in Pakistan.

And later, ghosts of Vietnam. We'll debate why a war that ended more than 30 years ago is pushing emotional buttons in this year's presidential campaign.

"LATE EDITION" will continue right after this short break.


KERRY: Why are we withdrawing unilaterally 12,000 troops from the Korean peninsula at the very time that we are negotiating with North Korea, a country that really has nuclear weapons?


BLITZER: Democratic presidential nominee taking issue -- the Democratic nominee, John Kerry, taking issue, that is, with President Bush's plan to go ahead over the next 10 years, withdraw some 70,000 U.S. troops from Europe and Asia, bring them back to the United States or to other locations around the world.

We're continuing our conversation with two members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida, Republican Norm Coleman of Minnesota.

I want you to respond, Senator Coleman, to this specific charge that Senator Kerry made in reacting to the president's plan, that this is sending the wrong message to Kim Jong-Il, the dictator of North Korea, at a time when he's building nuclear bombs, for the U.S. to unilaterally pull out 12,000 forces from South Korea.

COLEMAN: Well, first of all, what's stunning is that Senator Kerry, going back over his record, I think as far back as 1990, he was saying what the president and what common sense tells you today is we don't need 70,000 troops sitting in Germany protecting us against East Germany or Russia. The war is not being fought there anymore.

We've got 12,000 troops in Korea that -- they're there as kind of -- you know, if the North Koreans strike, they get hit, and then we jump in. That's not the way wars are fought.

And that's not the way, by the way, you stop Kim Jong-Il from developing a nuclear weapon. You do what this president has done. You get the Chinese involve, who's a patron of the North Koreans, and you tell the Chinese, "If you sit back, the Japanese are going to develop a nuclear bomb." They don't want that to happen. And so you affect it that way.

You don't do it the way that the Clinton administration did, which sat down bilaterally with North Korea, signed all sorts of agreements, gave them nuclear reactors, and then, behind our backs, they developed nuclear weapons. But those troops -- I think every American would tell you that we don't need to have Cold War mentality deployment of troops. Wars are being fought a different way today. Kerry understood that in the past. I think most Americans understand it today.

BLITZER: What about you, Senator Nelson? Where do you stand?

NELSON: The problem is that all of this is being judged in the prism of politics.

Clearly North Korea is one of the big threats to the interest of the United States. And every move that we make should be made, at the end of the day, to get rid of those nuclear weapons in North Korea and to stop the production of nuclear weapons in Iran.

Now, should there be realignment? Yes. And that should happen particularly from Western Europe to Eastern Europe.

You have to question the timing and the forum in which this was used to announce. It was a political rally in Ohio that this announcement was made, hardly not a political prism. And as a result, you know, it has now been tainted with politics when, in fact, we ought to be looking at the security of this country and its realignment.

BLITZER: Senator Coleman, I think the point that Senator Nelson is making is that the Bush-Cheney campaign paid for that trip to Cincinnati where the president made that announcement before the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

If this was an issue simply being used for substantive policy decisions, why not simply go into the Rose Garden and make the announcement instead of going to a political event?

COLEMAN: Two things: First, listen, this is a political season. The president, in part of this political process, is going to be talking about a vision for the future.

That's what we should be doing, rather than Senator Kerry talking about what happened 37 years ago in Vietnam and ignoring the last 20 years of his life in the United States Senate.

The reality is, Don Rumsfeld has been working on this for three years.

And I think Senator Nelson and I are in fundamental agreement that there have to be redeployments, that the nature of war has changed.

And Senator Nelson, by the way, I just want to mention another issue: Iran, the threat of Iran getting nuclear weapons. That's a big issue.

And we should be talking about the future. The president is doing that. He articulated a vision for the future. What was stunning was Senator Kerry's reaction, contradicting what he has said in the past, articulating a position of simply being against because the president's for.

BLITZER: Well, how far should the U.S. go in dealing with threat of a nuclear bomb in Iran, Senator Coleman? Should, the U.S., for example, preempt?

COLEMAN: I think every option has to be on the table. The prospect of Iran getting a nuclear weapon is a very dangerous prospect. They are the largest sponsor of state-supported terrorism in the world today.

And so every option has to be on the table. The Iranians have to understand that. What we can't do is say we're going to sit down and start having more conversations. They have to know that it is untenable for them to develop a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: We only have 10 seconds, Senator Nelson. How far should the U.S. go in dealing with an Iranian nuclear bomb threat?

NELSON: We better be successful in this one because Iran has a missile that can go a long way. If they put a nuclear bomb on the top of that, that changes the whole balance of power.

BLITZER: All right. We'll leave it right there. Senators, thanks very much for joining us. Senator Coleman, Senator Nelson, always good to have you on "LATE EDITION."

COLEMAN: Thank you, Wolf.

NELSON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, the campaign controversy that simply won't go away, at least not yet. How much are those ads about Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's Vietnam War record influencing the race for the White House? We'll get special perspective from Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.

"LATE EDITION" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

The overall message of both the Bush and Kerry campaigns, right now at least, is being overshadowed by a series of television political ads focusing in on Senator John Kerry's and President Bush's military service during the Vietnam War.

Joining us now to talk about this and other political issues, two guests. In Texas, Dallas, Texas specifically, Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. She's also the deputy chairwoman of next week's Republican National Convention in New York. And in Miami, Democratic strategist and former manager of Al Gore's presidential campaign, Donna Brazile.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

And I want to play for you what Senator Kerry said Thursday in taking the offensive in going after the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, their ads that have been running. Listen to the specific charge, Senator Hutchison, that he leveled.


KERRY: They're funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas. They're a front for the Bush campaign.

And the fact that the president won't denounce what they're up to tells you everything that you need to know. He wants them to do his dirty work.


BLITZER: A very, very serious charge, Senator, from John Kerry. Your reaction?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: Wolf, I think that these 527s on both sides have been hard-hitting and in some instances unfair. That's the campaign law that we are under today. I don't like the 527s.

I don't like the focus on Vietnam. I think we ought to talk about what President Bush is doing now in Iraq, what President Kerry would do. And I think president -- a President Kerry has avoided the issue. He won't talk about what he will do in Iraq. He won't talk about how he would extract us from Iraq. And I think that's the issue that people are looking for.

President Bush is out there. He has positive plans. And that's what we ought to be talking about.

BLITZER: All right. Donna Brazile, you want to weigh in?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, Senator Kerry had to respond to these scurrilous attacks on his character as a smear campaign. Deja vu all over again. Same hired guns went after Senator McCain in 2000 and Max Cleland in 2002 in his Senate race.

So I think it's important that John Kerry has been trying to offer alternatives. He is the challenger, after all. He has put out a real solid plan on economic growth, on health care. He's talked about Iraq. He talked about what he would do differently.

But I think the president should disavow these -- this specific ad, and to remind the American people that this is a president who said he would unite us and not divide us.

BLITZER: Senator, there was a lengthy article in Friday's New York Times reporting on what they said was a web of connections. No formal link, but a web of connections between the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad campaign and Republicans, influential Republicans, especially in Texas.

And they referred specifically to one Merrie Spaeth, who was involved in putting this together, as well as involved in that John McCain ad that ran four years ago in South Carolina.

They also suggested she had some connections to you. I wonder if you'd want to speak about that.

HUTCHISON: Well, Merrie Spaeth is an active Republican. She is a friend of mine. She's been active in Republican politics for years in Texas.

But I have never heard that she was involved in anything dealing with John McCain, and she certainly hasn't consulted with me about these ads. I've never heard her really talk about this. And it is my understanding from what I've read in the papers that the Swift Boat Veterans wanted to give another side.

This is a free country. They went out to people they thought might donate to help them, and from what I have read in the newspapers they've gotten a lot of donations in small amounts from all over the country.

You know, I think President Bush has denounced the 527s on both sides. He said, I don't want to focus on this and I don't want them to focus unfairly on me. I think we ought to be talking about the issues. And I've not heard John Kerry talk about what he is going to do. He says vaguely, well, I'm going to bring in more allies.

I think it has been proven that the allies that he is talking about have financial interests in Iraq and they have not stepped up to the plate. Those very allies have not even been willing to forgive the debt to Saddam Hussein to let Iraq get up and going with an economy in its country. So I think he needs to be specific.

BLITZER: All right. Donna Brazile, on this specific charge that Senator Kerry is making, that this swift boat group is simply a front for the White House, The New York Times in that lengthy article didn't have any specific, hard evident of that. They had sort of innuendo. Although there is over the past 24 hours one advisory group member for Veterans for Bush who was forced to resign because he was involved in that, one Ken Cordier.

But do you see any evidence that the White House or the Bush campaign is directly involved behind these ads?

BRAZILE: Well, what you see in many of these 527 organizations is not someone with their fingers in the pot, so to speak, but they're stirring it up. They're stirring up this controversy. They're giving these guys aid and comfort by allowing them to go out there and make, you know, very disingenuous attacks.

I mean, just a few years ago many of those so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth supported John Kerry. They stood by his side when he ran for re-election in 1996. And now more veterans are coming to John Kerry's defense. And of course, the official U.S. Navy said that John Kerry's story is truthful. So...


BRAZILE: I think it's a side issue, Wolf. I think the chattering class has had enough of this, and it's time to move on to talk about those real issues and challenges that Senator Hutchison mentioned, where John Kerry has a specific plan to get us out of Iraq and to bring allies into the battle on terrorism.

BLITZER: But, Donna Brazile, as you well know, in this new age of the McCain-Feingold law, these 527, these independent organizations, the Democrats are fully engaged in this war as well. There are plenty of Democrat 527 organizations that are spending millions of dollars in trying to go after George W. Bush and trying to prevent him from getting re-elected.

Aren't both sides deeply involved in this whole new political warfare?

BRAZILE: Oh, guilty as charged. Absolutely, both sides. I mean, look, Democrats should not disarm just because, you know, the president team has launched over $80 million...

BLITZER: But $62 million in these kinds of 527 ads against the president?

BRAZILE: Absolutely. And if it takes more money, I'm sure they'll raise more money to continue to defend Democratic values and what the Democratic Party and what independent voters want all Americans to stand for.

Look, the truth is that the Bush campaign has spent well over $80 million in discrediting -- trying to discredit John Kerry and attacking John Kerry's character, and what we haven't learned and perhaps we'll learn at the Republican Convention is what George Bush stands for. Why should the American people give him four more years of service when the last four years have not been the greatest of times?

BLITZER: Listen to this other charge made by the Democratic nominee, Senator Hutchison. Listen to this.


KERRY: The president keeps telling people he would never question my service to our country. Instead, he watches as a Republican-funded attack group does just that.

Well, if he wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: Bring it on.


BLITZER: That seems to be a direct reference to the president serving in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War and to the vice president avoiding service, military service, at all, because of a series of deferments.

Do you want this to become part of the debate right now?

HUTCHISON: Honestly, Wolf, I don't think this is relevant at all. President Bush has a legitimate record. He was in the Guard. And that is -- that's important service to our country.

But I don't think we ought to be talking about Vietnam. You know, you talk about these ads. Harold Ickes is a member of the Democratic National Committee, and he's one of the funders of these 527 ads. So that's a direct connection.

Some of the ads against President Bush have been outrageous. They've been mean-spirited.

I don't like the 527s. But what I think we ought to be talking about is what are you going to do for the next four years? What have you done in the Senate?

I think John Kerry's record in the Senate, which is much more relevant and much more recent, is fair game. And he voted against -- he voted to go in, and then he didn't vote for the funding for our troops to have the equipment they need to do the job. That's outrageous.

I don't think that we ought to be talking about the past so much as what are you going to do? And we haven't heard anything.

And President Bush is lining up what he's going to do. He's going to be bold. He's always going to put America's interest first. And he's not going to wait for somebody else to do the job that we are able to do and willing to do to protect our freedom.

BLITZER: We have a caller from Kansas with a question.

Go ahead, Kansas.

CALLER: Yes. I was wondering if -- why is the political action group so influential in elections, both nationwide and on the state and local levels?

BLITZER: These 527 groups. Donna Brazile, why don't you answer that?

BRAZILE: Well, with the impact of the McCain-Feingold rules, there's been a proliferation of these so-called 527 independent organizations. They are able to go out there and raise an unlimited amount of money and to challenge the American people on the issues that they believe are important.

Of course, they cannot endorse any particular political candidate for office. They have run ads on both sides, some derogatory, and in fact Senator Kerry last week denounced some of the ads that's been out there. I think that shows tremendous leadership and courage, that Senator Kerry is willing to go out there and to denounce stuff that's coming from so-called groups that are perceived as being liberal or progressive, while President Bush hides behind, you know, the mantle of his office and will not condemn this ad from the Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth.

HUTCHISON: Actually...

BLITZER: We only have a few seconds left, but I'll give you the last word, Senator Hutchison.

HUTCHISON: Well, actually, President Bush has denounced all the 527s, both this ad and the Kerry ads.

I think the McCain-Feingold bill opened up an unaccountable ability for people to go out and run negative ads. It's wrong. I think we should go back to the party funding these campaigns, where there is accountability, and where you can't hide behind some kind of false group that's going to do all your negative hit jobs. It's awful on both sides, and we need to change it.

BLITZER: Senator Hutchison, Donna Brazile, thanks to both of you for joining us.

HUTCHISON: Thank you.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Let's take a look and see what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States.

U.S. News and World Report features America's best colleges.

Time magazine explores how to live to be 100 years old and not regret it.

And Newsweek magazine looks at the race to unearth the Bible.

That's your "LATE EDITION" for Sunday, August 22. Please be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

Next Sunday, we'll be live from Madison Square Garden in New York City.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.


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