Skip to main content
U.S. Edition


Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Ceneral George Casey; Tom DeLay's Troubles; Hurricane Katrina Reaction and Aftermath

Aired October 2, 2005 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 11 a.m. in Washington, 10 a.m. in New Orleans, 4 p.m. in London, 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
We'll get to my interview with the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General George Casey, in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now.


BLITZER: While hurricane recovery efforts have been dominating the headlines here in the United States in recent weeks, U.S. forces in Iraq are still battling a very lethal insurgency. And in two weeks, Iraqis are scheduled to vote on a draft constitution.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad with the latest developments there.


ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good morning. It is the latest U.S. military push against the insurgency. Launched yesterday morning, Operation Iron Fist began in the town of Sa'da. That is in the western al Anbar province, a hotbed of insurgent activity.

The 1,000 U.S. troops that are involved in this assault have now moved to the town of Korabella (ph), where we understand they are being met with small-arms fires as well as RPG attacks. And also they have thwarted a number of insurgent attacks including a potential car bomb.

The military has also dropped some three 500-pound bombs on a suspected insurgent compound in the town of Korabella (ph).

It is a sweep-and-clean operation as far as we're being told. They are going house to house, Wolf, really to try and curb support for the insurgency in this key western part of the country but also stop the flow of weapons and foreign fighters, not just into the country, but specifically into the capital and into polling areas around the country as we are now just two weeks away from that critical October 15th vote when this country will go to the polls to vote on a referendum.

So another push back by the U.S. military against this insurgency in that key area where we are seeing a large number of insurgents operating support for them. But now the military able to start dwindling that support and try and curb the insurgency throughout the country, Wolf.

BLITZER: Does it look like that referendum is going to pass, that the constitution will be ratified?

RAMAN: Well, we think it will, by all indications on the ground. But it will do so, Wolf, really by a slim margin. It seems it will do so without the support of the Sunni population. That had always been the opposite of the intent of both the negotiators in this process as well as U.S. and Iraqi officials. They see any stability in Iraq really necessitating the Sunni voice being brought into the political fray.

The Sunnis are viscerally against this document. Three provinces, Wolf, need to vote with a two-thirds majority to reject this constitution. The Sunnis have those numbers, we think, in two provinces, but not really in another, Wolf.

Aneesh Raman in Baghdad, thank you very much.

And just a short while ago here in Washington, I spoke with a top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Army General George Casey.


BLITZER: General Casey, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to Washington.


BLITZER: Let's get to the issue of Iraqi troops getting ready for war: 119 Iraqi battalions, 86 in the army, 33 special police forces.

A few months ago, you told visiting senators that three of those battalions were ready to operate independent of the U.S. military. Now you're telling the U.S. Congress only one Iraqi battalion, one out of 19, is ready. That seems to be going in the wrong direction.

CASEY: Yes, let me explain how this all came about.

First of all, the progress that we're making with the Iraqi security forces is significant, and the transition teams that we have placed with the Iraqi army and special police battalions are having a great impact, one, on our insights into their readiness and, two, on their capabilities of operating with us.

We designed a readiness reporting system for Iraqi units in May of this year. And we specifically designed that system to support our strategy. And we broke it out into four levels. The first level, for which we set a very high standard of ability to conduct independent operations -- we set that because we know that before we leave, we want the Iraqis to have the capability of carrying on the counterinsurgency mission without very much support from us. So we set a very high standard for that category.

BLITZER: But there were three that were ready a few months ago. So why is only one ready now?

CASEY: Here's the deal...

BLITZER: And that's not even one of the three that was ready. CASEY: When you start a new system, a new reporting system, and we told ourselves this, it takes several iterations to get it right so people clearly understand the standards. And the three came off of the very, very first one we did. It was almost -- we called it a test.

So yes, there are a small number of battalions in the level one, but that's not the one I'm concerned with right now.

We know, because of the logistics support, the Iraqi institutions that have to be built, it's going to be awhile before the Iraqi military gets there. We're focused on level two.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about level two. Right now you have one Iraqi battalion that's ready to operate independently.

As far as the level two, there are 35 Iraqi battalions, according to your numbers, that are ready to operate; that's with U.S. assistance. Eighty-three are at level three, which is not very good at all right now.

Well, why is it so good that 35 are at level two?

CASEY: I'm not sure where you get those numbers. I mean, those aren't -- those are classified numbers that...

BLITZER: These numbers have been reported in the media.

CASEY: OK. I can't confirm those numbers...

BLITZER: And our sources over at the Pentagon gave us those numbers.


BLITZER: They confirmed it to us.

CASEY: I can't confirm those numbers as being accurate.

BLITZER: Can you tell us they're not accurate?

CASEY: They don't look like the numbers that I just saw.

BLITZER: All right, well, give us a ballpark number. How many are at level two right now?

CASEY: I think you've got -- it's fair to say about a third, about a third.

BLITZER: So that's about a third.

CASEY: It is about a third. Yes.

BLITZER: So it's fairly accurate.

CASEY: It could be. It could be. Again, the important thing is it's both level one, two and three are participating with us in operations around Iraq every day.

To give you an example what that means, in May there were only about 160 combined or Iraqi independent operations. In September, there were over 1,300. So these are Iraqi forces either participating with us in operations or conducting their own independent operations. They get better every day.

BLITZER: Here's what General Abdulqader Mohammed Jassim, commander of Iraqi ground forces, is quoted as having said in the New York Times, August 27.

"Soldiers with Kalishnikovs and pickup trucks is not an army. To make the Iraqi army stand on its own without American or coalition forces, we need command and control equipment, transport vehicles and training."

And what they point out, the Iraqis themselves, is they have Nissan pickup trucks. They don't have well-armored or up-armored vehicles. They have AK-47s, old kind of Soviet-era rifles. They want M-4s. They have these rocket-propelled grenades, these old systems.

BLITZER: They want RPG-29s, better systems. They have no air support of their own, virtually. They want at least helicopters.

As long as the United States does the work for them, what incentive do they have to go out and really take charge on their own?

CASEY: That is exactly a key element of our strategy. Because we told ourselves, as we built this strategy, to gradually enable Iraqis to take charge of their futures. That's exactly what we said. We told ourselves that the longer we carried the brunt of the counterinsurgency fight, the longer we'd carry the brunt of the counterinsurgency fight.

And this whole strategy, level two, is to put the Iraqi security forces in the lead. You know, right now, in most places, we're in the lead and they're in support.

BLITZER: So the U.S. should start reducing its footprint in Iraq and telling the Iraqis, "You know what? The United States has done a great deal of work for Iraq. It's time for the Iraqis to take charge right now."

CASEY: Again, another key element of the strategy, and I got this question a couple of times on the Hill and in some press conferences I've done here. But the people want to know what's the number of Iraqi battalions that they have to have before we start drawing down U.S. troops. And I said there's not that number, because this drawdown will be condition-staged, and it will be progressive around the country as local Iraqi security forces become more and more ready.

We have two brigades and about eight battalions in Baghdad area that are doing it right now. And that's going to happen more frequently around the country as these security forces progress.

BLITZER: A former U.S. ambassador, Peter Galbraith -- he worked on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for many years -- has written this in the New York Review of Books: "There is exactly one mixed battalion, with troops contributed from the armed forces of the main political parties, and it is in Baghdad. While the officer corps is a little more heterogeneous, very few Kurds or Shiites are willing to serve as officers of Sunni Arab units fighting Sunni Arab insurgents."

Is that true? CASEY: Not as stated. In fact, I think that comment about the battalion with the political parties in Baghdad is very dated. That happened back in '04 and it's really not relevant anymore.

The Iraqi army is representative of the population of the country. Now, there may be -- the Shia may be slightly overrepresented and the Sunni may be slightly underrepresented at the rank-and-file level.

At the officer level, in the army particularly, the Sunnis are overrepresented. So we are working very hard to build an army that's representative of all of the different elements of the society. And I think we're succeeding on that.


BLITZER: And just ahead, is Iraq, though, on the verge of a civil war? More of our conversation with a top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General Casey.



MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER DIRECTOR OF FEMA: My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional.


BLITZER: The former FEMA chief, Michael Brown, passing blame. Congress demanding answers. We'll talk with two top members of the House Homeland Security Committee about what went wrong with the early federal response to Katrina.

And later, she's an Academy Award-winning actress and a United Nations goodwill ambassador. My special conversation with Angelina Jolie about her mission away from the cameras.

"Late Edition" continues right after this.


BLITZER: Our Web Question of the Week asks this: What's the most important economic issue facing the United States? Gas prices, jobs, natural disasters or the war in Iraq? You can cast your vote. Go to We'll have the results at the end of this program.

Up next, more of my interview with the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General George Casey. We'll talk about a potential exit strategy for U.S. forces.

You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." More now of my interview with General George Casey, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq.


BLITZER: Is there a date, or an approximate target date, when you think the Iraqis will be able to take charge so that U.S. troop levels can go down?

CASEY: I don't want to get into a date. As I said, this reduction in coalition forces is an integral part of our overall counterinsurgency strategy, and it will be conditions-based and it will happen progressively around the country as Iraqi security forces step forward.

BLITZER: Because when we met in Baghdad earlier this year -- in March when we met in your residence there -- you suggested to me that in the spring of next year, the U.S. could start withdrawing troops if a series of events took place. You still hold that?

CASEY: I do, and I thank you for reminding everyone that, when we did talk, there were assumptions and conditions that we made on that. But as I said in -- I was asked the same thing on the Hill, and I said, I do still believe that we can make coalition reductions in '06.

BLITZER: Talk a little bit -- you know, what kind of coalition reductions?

CASEY: As I said, they will be progressive as the Iraqi security forces come forward.

BLITZER: And right now, there are about 140,000, 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. How many troops at this time next year would you envisage being in Iraq?

CASEY: I wouldn't even want to go there, wouldn't even want to go there. Again, it's tied to the situation on the ground, the progress of the Iraqi security forces, and I'm not going to put any estimates on that.

BLITZER: In the new issue of Newsweek magazine coming out today, Ali Kamal of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior says there is an undeclared civil war going on in Iraq right now, which is consistent with what a think tank, the International Crisis Group, has just released in their report.

"The U.S. has" -- and I'm quoting now. "The U.S. has repeatedly stated that it has a strategic interest in Iraq's territorial integrity but today the situation appears to be heading toward de facto partition and full-scale civil war."

Is that right?

CASEY: I don't agree with that. One, I don't think it's headed toward de facto partition. I think if you look at the constitution, the implementation instructions for the provisions of the federalism have been pushed into this next assembly. And so the laws that will be passed to implement the provisions of the constitution have yet to be decided.

BLITZER: It looks like there's a Shiite majority in the country, and they want to control the south, which they do. The Kurds are in control in the north. The Sunnis have maybe three provinces -- the Al-Anbar Province around Baghdad -- that they want to control.

It looks like sort of the potential is there for the disintegration of the Iraqi nation.

CASEY: Certainly, there is potential. But what I see all the time is that there is an Iraqi identity, that the people of Iraq think of themselves as Iraqis. And people are not interested, necessarily, in seeing the fragmentation of the country, and I don't see that happening.

Let me get back to your comment on the civil war, because there is an active effort by foreign fighters and the Iraqis that support them to foment sectarian violence. They are actively out pursuing that.

And on the 14th of September, when Zarqawi killed almost 100 day laborers, men standing in line to get a job so they could support their families, and then declared war on the Shia, the Iraqis reacted against that. Senior Sunni members of the government spoke out against that.

And Iraqis are seeing that they need to take a stand against the foreign fighters and the Iraqis that support them so they can get on with their future.

BLITZER: Jalal Talabani, when he was here in Washington, suggested recently, and I'll put it up on the screen, "In my opinion at least 40,000 to 50,000 American troops can be withdrawn by the end of the year."

Is that anything you've heard about? CASEY: Nope. Heard about it when he said it, but that's...

BLITZER: He's the president of Iraq.

CASEY: Right. But that's certainly nothing that we discussed in Iraq. And there's no -- there was no relevance to that number.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq. Are you planning on having permanent U.S. military bases over many years in Iraq?

CASEY: No, we're not. And we're not having any discussions about that with any Iraqis, because those discussions, we think, are best left to the constitutionally elected government that's going to be elected here on the 15th of December.

BLITZER: There's some concern, deep concern, that Iran is going to have an inordinate influence on what's going on in Iraq. Newsweek magazine this week says, "U.S. officials believe that Iranian intelligence agents have infiltrated the most senior levels of the Iraqi government."

Do you believe that?

CASEY: I believe they are trying to. I believe they are trying to exert influence in Iraq, particularly in southern Iraq, and they're using a variety of means to do it. Some of it's just financial support. Others do include trying to penetrate elements of the Iraqi government and security forces. Iran is not, in my view, is not necessarily being helpful to their neighbor, Iraq.

BLITZER: Is there an alliance of sorts between some Shia radicals and the Sunni insurgents?

CASEY: We have not seen that yet. And occasionally you get sporadic reports of one individual in one of those groups talking to an individual in those other groups. But I certainly would not characterize it as an alliance between those two groups.

BLITZER: Is Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric in Iraq, is he part of the solution or part of the problem?

CASEY: That's a good question. Lately, he has been part of the solution. But he still controls a militia that he can put in the street in 48 hours.

BLITZER: Your predecessor once said he was one of the most wanted men in Iraq. He had blood, American blood, on his hands.

CASEY: And at that time, was probably in April of '04, and that was -- that's probably true. But he appears to be renouncing violence and to be moving toward using the political process to accomplish his ends, which frankly is what we want all of the insurgents in Iraq to do.

BLITZER: You and I are old enough to remember Vietnam. Let me put these numbers up for you in this new Newsweek poll, "How is Bush handling the situation in Iraq?" Thirty-three percent of the American public approve of the way the administration, the Bush administration is handling the situation in Iraq; 62 percent disapprove. These numbers just out today.

The homefront, the battle for homefront is very important in understanding what's going on because we all remember what happened on the homefront during the Vietnam War.

How concerned are you that you're losing the American public?

CASEY: Well, we are concerned, and I think those polls are an indicator, but as you know, polls can indicate many things. I think it's important for the American people to understand that we should not be afraid of this fight. This is a tough fight. Their armed forces members are committed to this; the Iraqis are committed to this. This is 25 million-plus Iraqis, who suffered under the regime of Saddam Hussein for three-and-a-half decades, wanting something better. And there's a small, relatively small portion, less than one-tenth of 1 percent is the number I've used, of Iraqis and foreign fighters that are trying to deny them that future.

This is worth it, and we have a plan and a strategy in place that will allow us and our Iraqi colleagues to prevail.

BLITZER: Do you sometimes worry that the nearly 2000 American troops who have been killed in Iraq may have died in vain?

CASEY: No, I don't worry about that. Not yet -- we're not there yet.

BLITZER: General, good luck to you. Thanks very much for joining us.

CASEY: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: And just ahead: starting over. Does the federal government have the right plan for rebuilding New Orleans and other hurricane ravaged areas? We'll talk live with the Republican House Homeland Security Committee member Chris Shays and the panel's top Democrat, Bennie Thompson.

Up next, though, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest information coming from Bali.

Stay with "Late Edition."


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition."

This special programming note: A one-hour edition of "Reliable Sources" will air today at 1 p.m. eastern. That's about 90 minutes now. Stay tuned for that. Joining us now to talk about Iraq, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and much more are two key members of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee: in his home state of Connecticut, Republican Congressman Chris Shays; and in his home state of Mississippi, the committee's ranking Democrat, Bennie Thompson.

Congressmen, welcome back to "Late Edition." Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Congressman Shays, let me begin with you. Before we get to Katrina and other issues, what's your reaction to what we just heard from General Casey? Are you upbeat or downbeat, looking down the road in Iraq?

REP. CHRIS SHAYS, (R) CONNECTICUT: Well, I've been there nine times; I'm going back for my tenth time next week. And I've gotten to see the ebb and flow. And if Americans realize that in April of 2003, we were at a certain level and now we're up or down a little bit -- but what they don't realize is we went into a huge hole. And when you realize how deep that hole was, you would see significant progress.

We left a huge void when we disbanded their army, their police, their government, their border patrol. Now we're training their troops. We're training their border patrol. They have a government functioning. They have over 100,000 police. Every month they're more experienced. And they're making progress -- significant progress.

BLITZER: Do you agree, Congressman Thompson?

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON, (D) MISSISSIPPI: Well, I think what you see in the latest polls, Wolf, is clearly the public now finally deciding for itself that there are some problems.

We were told we would go into Iraq. It was not as difficult a situation, even though we were going alone. But what we see now is almost 2,000 of our men and women killed, thousands hurt, and still no real sign of stability, other than government that's been propped up. So I think what you see in the minds of Americans is that whether or not going there was indeed the best thing, or whether or not we should have brought other allies along.

BLITZER: I'm going to move on in a moment, but a quick follow-up question to you, Congressman Shays.

At the end of the interview, I asked General Casey if he thought that those nearly 2,000 American troops might have died in vain. He said, not yet. He's not ready to come up with that conclusion yet. Yet those words, "not yet," they're still ringing in my ear.

At what point would this entire U.S. military operation have been in vain?

SHAYS: Well, let me just say, they ring in my ears as well. But when we had our war of independence against Great Britain and we became these United States, we needed a miracle. The Iraqis don't need a miracle. What you don't talk about, generally, in the press is, while there is the bombing -- and by the way, if the press moved to Al Gut, it would be in Al Gut, because the bombing is for our consumption, not the Iraqis. They can deal with this bombing. They've dealt with it for 30 years.

But the bottom line is, there is a constitutional convention. They missed a week, and we said a failure. We had the Articles of Confederation. We have a Constitution of these United States that said a black person was three-fifths a person and a slave. I think they're doing quite well.

And I guess I just want to make this point to you. Polls are not the way you look at war. Historians said during the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, one-third didn't know there was a war and couldn't have cared. One-third supported Great Britain, and only one-third supported the war. And in this case, going to the Civil War, Lincoln lost 10,000 Americans a month -- a month. We've lost 2,000 in two and a half years.

BLITZER: That's still a lot, 2,000 troops.

Congressman Thompson, let me let you wrap this segment up. As you look down the road, what do you see?

THOMPSON: Well, I see some difficult decisions that we're going to have to make -- financially, what this war is going to cost. I hear people in my area saying, why are we building schools and hospitals in Iraq? Because now we have that need in the Gulf Coast of our country.

Every reason that we went to war we've found not to be that reason. We still have not brought in allies to support our effort. Why are we there? I see our men and women coming back and saying, you know, "They don't want us there." I'm committed to the war on terrorism, like most of the members in Congress. But we need the truth told to us, and I think that's what you're hearing from the American people. They just want to know the truth.

SHAYS: Wolf, can I disagree with one point? To say they don't want us there I think is just really not accurate. When I ask Iraqis what their biggest fear is, they say, "That you might leave us." They watch CNN and they realize Americans are not as supportive as they were, and they're fearful we may leave. And in some cases they're trying to hedge their bets. They need time.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on to another huge story that erupted here in Washington this past week: the forced resignation, if you will, of Tom DeLay as the House majority leader after being indicted by a Texas prosecutor.

Congressman Shays, listen to what the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) U.S. REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Every step of the way, this Republican caucus and almost every member of it has supported the leadership and the ethical -- the low ethical standard of Tom DeLay. Certainly all of the leadership and all of the members share responsibility.


BLITZER: He's saying today, Tom DeLay, on another television network, he's suggesting that, for all practical purposes, he's still going to be in charge. He's giving up the title, but he's still going to play a very active role.

What do you say?

SHAYS: Well, he will play an active role as a member. I mean, he has so many contacts, so many relationships. But he's no longer the majority leader. He's lost his office. He's lost his staff. And he's now basically a rank-and-file member who has a lot of friends and will still have influence.

But, you know, Nancy Pelosi is having a field day right now. I realize that. This administration needs to resolve some issues, and this Congress needs to resolve some issues. We got elected basically by saying we would live by higher moral standard, and I don't think recently we have.

BLITZER: What do you say, Congressman Thompson? Is this a field day for the Democrats? There are plenty of problems the Democrats have as well.

THOMPSON: Well, there's no question Tom DeLay is damaged goods. If he continues to assert himself as a leader in the Republican Party and if the party continues to embrace him, that can only hurt the party. We've had an ethical lapse on his part and some of the other people.

And I think we're only a good institution as we police ourselves. So if the Republicans continue to allow the former majority leader to go out and become a poster child for everything that's bad, then it's to their discredit.

The real benefit comes to Democrats. And I hope they continue to let him go out and say just what he's saying.

BLITZER: When I interviewed Tom DeLay, Chris Shays, earlier in the week he suggested that he had evidence, although he declined to release it, evidence of a direct link between the Democratic leaders in the House, Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel, a congressman from Illinois, and the prosecutor in Texas, Ronnie Earle.

Do you believe that there is such a direct conspiracy, a direct link between the prosecutor and the Democrats in the House?

SHAYS: Well, I think it's very possible. I mean, he had impaneled more than one grand jury before he got an indictment. And I'm not a lawyer, but lawyers tell me prosecutors using the grand jury can indict a tomato.

But Tom's problem isn't just this. It's continual acts that border and go sometimes beyond the ethical edge. They may not be illegal, but he's always pushing that ethical edge to the limit.

BLITZER: Well, you're a moderate Republican, Chris Shays, and you've always been elected in your district in Connecticut as a moderate Republican. Do you feel comfortable with Tom DeLay as your leader?


BLITZER: Well, that's a straight answer from Chris Shays.

Bennie Thompson, let me put some numbers on the screen for you, some recent poll numbers and get your reaction.

"How are things going in the United States today?" -- this according to the new Newsweek poll. Thirty-one percent say they're satisfied; 61 percent of the American public say they're dissatisfied.

Another number, "How is President Bush handling his job as president of the United States?" Forty percent approve of the way he's doing it; 53 percent disapprove of the way he's doing it.

"How is Congress handling its job?" In this new Newsweek poll, only 32 percent of the American public believe Congress is doing a good job, 32 percent; 56 percent disapprove.

The American public seems to be losing confidence in the way the federal government is dealing across the board.

THOMPSON: Well, there's no question, Wolf, when you look at it. Our deficit is the worst it's ever been. We continue to give tax breaks to the wealthiest people in America. We refuse to do a prescription drug benefit plan for the neediest of Americans.

And so when they see all of this, and you ask them, you say, "Well, what's the problem?" Clearly, we have a Republican in the White House. We have Republicans who are running Congress; Republicans who are running the Senate.

Democrats are the loyal opposition, but where we've gotten over the last five years is with the help and the support of the Republicans who are leading things.

BLITZER: All right. Let me let Congressman Shays respond to that.

Go ahead.

SHAYS: Well, 50 percent of the American people -- 5 percent of the American people are paying 50 percent of the taxes. And 50 percent of the American people are paying 96 percent of the taxes.

It's hard to give a tax cut to 50 percent of the American people who pay less than 4 percent of the taxes. That's one of the challenges we have.

But the bottom line is this: I think that this Congress has got to recognize what got it into power. And that was that we would be different, that we would have an agenda that we were proud of, that we would live by a higher ethical standard, and we need to get our roots back. And we need to do it real quick.

BLITZER: All right. Congressmen, stand by.

We're going to take a quick break and continue our discussion with Congressmen Thompson and Shays. We'll move on and talk about Hurricane Katrina -- what happened right, what happened wrong.

Also ahead, on the scene in Louisiana's fifth largest parish. We'll talk live with the president of St. Tammany parish about how recovery efforts are actually going on right now. Is FEMA helping or hurting, as far as his parish is concerned?

"Late Edition" continues right after this.



UNIDENTIFIED NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: This whole thing to me was more -- it started with the disaster in leadership. And that's why the whole disaster of the mistreatment of the displaced people happened.


BLITZER: A New Orleans resident offering her opinion about how the government's response to Hurricane Katrina has been working out.

Welcome back to "Late Edition."

We're continuing our conversation with the Republican House Homeland Security member Chris Shays of Connecticut and the committee's top Democrat, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.

What's the current situation, Congressman Thompson, right now? Are you satisfied with the way the federal government, including FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, are dealing with Mississippi and Louisiana, the other areas of this hurricane's ravaged Gulf Coast?

THOMPSON: Well, Wolf, it's a work in progress. I think we got off to such a slow start, we're still playing catch-up.

I'm still talking to local elected officials who have yet to see someone from FEMA. They're putting a state office in my district. They're still trying to staff it up.

So many of the things that you would have expected that would have been prepositioned and already planned, we're just getting there. So consequently, the public is suffering. BLITZER: What about that, Congressman Shays? What's your bottom-line assessment right now more than a month after Hurricane Katrina hit?

SHAYS: Well, I agree with Bennie's answer.

But I also want to say, this was a storm of biblical proportion, in the sense that we know no other storm like this this. When we traveled down there, I mean, it was incredible what we saw in New Orleans. But then when we flew by helicopter for an hour along the coast of Mississippi, as far as the eye could see, all we saw was just sticks. I don't even know what they're going to do with all the debris.

So I'm amazed, frankly, that we didn't lose tens of thousands of people. So some folks in Mississippi must have done a heck of a lot of things right to get their people out and to protect so many.

The bottom line with FEMA is, it's a dysfunctional agency. It knows how to say "no" more than it knows how to say "yes." There are legions of examples of inept actions by this department.

But we can start from the beginning and we can say that in New Orleans, the mayor totally failed. The governor of Louisiana totally failed. And then FEMA failed. I mean, all three just fell apart.

BLITZER: Michael Brown, the former FEMA director who resigned under pressure, was before your committee, Congressman Shays, and he offered several explanations for what went wrong. Listen to these excerpts we put together.


BROWN: My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional. I very strongly, personally regret that I was unable to persuade Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences, and work together.

FEMA doesn't own fire trucks. We don't own ambulances. We don't own search-and-rescue equipment. What could FEMA have done in terms of the evacuation? What could FEMA have done in terms of communications, law enforcement? Those are not FEMA roles. FEMA doesn't evacuate communities.

I guess you want me to be the superhero that is going to step in there and suddenly take everybody out of New Orleans.


BLITZER: I want you to respond to all of that, but do it briefly, Congressman Shays. Then I'll let Congressman Thompson respond. Because there's a suggestion that he's being made a scapegoat. But go ahead and respond to what you heard during the committee hearing this week, Congressman Shays.

SHAYS: First off, 90 percent of the response is local and state. So the burden is clear on local and state governments. But when local and state governments can't meet the need, the federal government and FEMA is supposed to step in.

We had a hurricane tabletop exercise a year before that predicted almost everything that happened. And the director simply, Director Brown simply ignored that. He should have known months in advance what need to be done, and he chose not to do it. And then he just stood and watched it all unfold.

BLITZER: Several members, Congressman Thompson, did respond like Chris Shays during that hearing, and they really berated Michael Brown. Listen to this excerpt.


SHAYS: That kind of, you know, look in the lights like a deer tells me that you weren't capable to do the job.

(UNKNOWN): You folks fell on your face. You get an F-minus in my book.

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE KAY GRANGER (R-TX): I don't know how you can sleep at night. You lost the battle.


BLITZER: Is that criticism of Michael Brown fair, or does it, as some suggest, leave other administration officials, federal government officials off the hook by making him seem like such an incompetent federal official?

THOMPSON: Well, Wolf, there's no question, Michael Brown wasn't up to the task. He demonstrated that at every level. Unfortunately, the plan was in place; we just didn't have anyone in a leadership position to execute it.

Unfortunately, he's still not accepting responsibility for his failure during Katrina. Unfortunately, the people of Louisiana suffered because the plan did not get implemented. It was an incident of national significance, the first time we'd ever had it. But we didn't carry out what the plan called for.

Our federal assets clearly come in the absence of state and local assets. We didn't have them prepositioned enough to respond until four or five days after the hurricane. We knew the hurricane was coming, so we had a job, FEMA, DHS, as an entity, to put things together, and they didn't do it.

Michael Brown failed. Chris was absolutely right. He couldn't even describe his coordinating role during the hurricane. If the man at the top who's charged with that responsibility can't pull it off, then clearly he's failed.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Chris Shays, but I want you to respond to that story that appeared in the New York Times on Monday. Among other things, it pointed out this: "More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition."

Doesn't that open up the system to some irregularities?

SHAYS: Absolutely. But if we're going to have bids, we need to make sure they can happen quickly, otherwise nothing happens.

BLITZER: One of those areas of bids involves these Carnival Cruise Lines that have been brought in, $236 million agreement with Carnival Cruise Lines. And it seems to be costing the taxpayers more to put people on those cruise ships than it would if they were actually going on a real cruise.

SHAYS: If you're asking me, I'm outraged by so many things that FEMA's done. And that's high on my list.

BLITZER: What about that, Congressman Thompson?

THOMPSON: Well, we've already asked the inspector general to look at some specific cases of this sole-source no-bidding effort that's taking place. But clearly, again, we could have had things in place, to be certain services before the hurricane. We didn't have to go pick existing contracts and do it.

We should have had the foresight to see that hurricanes happen every year, and that we need to have competition. And when we don't have competition, we have just what we have occurring now, contracts that are absolutely exorbitant.

BLITZER: Bennie Thompson, Chris Shays, both of you, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition." We'll leave it there.

And to our viewers, please don't forget our Web Question of the Week: What's the most important economic issue facing the United States -- gas prices, jobs, natural disasters or the war in Iraq? Log on to to cast your vote.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: There's much more ahead on "Late Edition," including Republican Congressman Tom DeLay talking about this week's indictment that forced him out as the House majority leader.

And later, my special conversation with Angelina Jolie about her mission of love in Africa.

"Late Edition" continues right at the top of the hour.


This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) (UNKNOWN): We also owe the American people a full accounting from all levels of government concerning what went right and what went wrong with the initial Katrina response.


BLITZER: The long road to recovery. We'll ask the president of Louisiana's hard-hit St. Tammany Parish about relief efforts one month after Hurricane Katrina.


U.S. REPRESENTATIVE TOM DELAY (R-TX): This act is the product of a coordinated, premeditated campaign of political retribution.


BLITZER: A legal "hammer" hits Capitol Hill. What will Tom DeLay's indictment mean for the GOP and for his own political future? The embattled Republican leader speaks out in an interview.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Senate has confirmed a man with an astute mind and a kind heart.


BLITZER: A new chief justice: What impact will John Roberts have on the Supreme Court? And who will President Bush appoint to fill the court's second vacant seat? Former Clinton White House Special Counsel Lanny Davis and former Republican Party counsel Ben Ginsberg weigh in.

And actress and U.N. goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie talks about her mission to help the world's refugees and AIDs victims in Africa.

Welcome back. We're going to talk with the president of Louisiana St. Tammany Parish in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's making news right now.


BLITZER: In New Orleans, efforts today to return to at least a small sense of normality. A mass is being held at the St. Louis cathedral in the city's French Quarter for the first time since Hurricane Katrina hit.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is in New Orleans. He's joining us now live with details.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've talked a lot over the past few weeks about the physical reconstruction of New Orleans.

Today is really the first step in the city's spiritual rebirth. We're standing with the banks of the Mississippi on one side and the French Quarter right below us. There's the historic Cafe Dumont still unfortunately closed down.

And as we look over here, you're getting a sense of what the French Quarter, the edges of the French Quarter look like.

It's somewhat of a dichotomy here as you look at the church standing at the edge of the French Quarter. New Orleans has that reputation as a decadent, raucous city, but it is a city very steeped in Christian faith, specifically the Catholic faith.

As we take a look now live inside you can see the first mass since Hurricane Katrina hit this area so hard, more than a month ago now.

And when Archbishop Alfred Hughes talked to the parishioners about what it means to re-open this church and have mass again, he said it's almost as if the structure that covers the soul of our city has come back to life. He welcomed firefighters and police officers from all over the country and thanked them for coming to the city.

And he asked the question of the parishioners, "How do we approach such a catastrophe in the context of faith?" Those are the kind of things he will try to guide some of the people through.

We met families earlier who lost their entire home. They've been living in a hotel. They will be trying now to try to get some hope from this service and start to again to rebuild that spiritual faith that is as much a part of New Orleans as jazz, as the French Quarter and everything else that people think of.

BLITZER: All right, Chris Lawrence in New Orleans for us.

Chris, thank you very much.

Let's move to the north of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. That's where St. Tammany's Parish is. It's Louisiana's fifth-largest parish; took a massive hit from Hurricane Katrina.

Joining us now to talk about how relief efforts are going on the ground where he is, is the president of St. Tammany Parish, Kevin Davis.

Mr. Davis, welcome to "Late Edition." Thanks very much for joining us.

How is it going?

KEVIN DAVIS, PRESIDENT, ST. TAMMANY PARISH: Good morning. It seems to be going much better at this point. It's been going into our sixth week at this time. It's been real hectic.

We're very organized in St. Tammany Parish. Our issues are more with our federal partner and trying to help my citizens get back to some part of a normal life. Certainly that's not called normal in my book but hopefully we're moving toward those directions.

BLITZER: President Bush came to New Orleans, delivered a speech to the nation in which he said whatever you need, whatever it takes, the federal government will be there for you.

Is that what has been translated practically speaking on the ground to St. Tammany Parish?

DAVIS: First let me say, Wolf, that I met the president personally. I actually drafted a note and he signed it, and it said, "We are going to help you." And I think he was sincere. He hugged me and I believe in him.

There is a disconnect apparently from that point down through the FEMA program. I have FEMA people with me. They're wonderful. They've been sleeping on cots. They're trying to help me.

It's the bureaucratic part that once they make the request for me on my behalf for the past five weeks, I don't get a response.

So we've taken some drastic steps. We've been very prepared, very organized. I meet every day with all elected officials.

We're actually going to start our schools tomorrow, and I'm so proud of our school system and those teachers.

But there's still -- when I give you that information, there's still tremendous devastation in St. Tammany Parish: people living in homes with just 2x4 walls and those kind of things. So we've been requesting temporary housing, which is travel trailers, for five weeks.

I've met with so many FEMA officials outside of my liaison officer; it's just I can't get a response.

BLITZER: When you say you've taken some drastic measures, what are you doing?

DAVIS: Well, as of Thursday I announced to the media and I told them if I didn't receive the travel trailers for my residents as we've been requesting for five weeks that we were going to mobilize, and I was going to come take them. They had them in staging areas around the state.

I don't know who is talking about dysfunctional. The governor has been talking to us.

It's just that disconnect in the higher echelon of the FEMA program. It's just...

BLITZER: Who are you talking with directly at FEMA, the acting director, David Paulison? Are you speaking with the vice admiral of the Coast Guard who's the point man on the ground there for the federal government. Who are you talking to? DAVIS: Yes, sir, I met with the admiral. He's working on tremendous issues, and then I deal with the Baton Rouge, they call it the JFO FEMA representative in Baton Rouge who is supposed to be the point person.

I finally Thursday after five weeks of kind of being a little rude, which is not in my character, I want to make a good presentation on behalf of my citizens. Thursday I just had kind of had enough and said that I know where the travel trailers are, and I'm going to go deploy and my citizens will follow me and go get them...

BLITZER: Well, what does Vice Admiral Thad Allen say to you, or General Russel Honore, who is the U.S. military commander on the ground or other FEMA officials, what do they say to you when you cry out for help?

DAVIS: "We're taking care of that. That's going to happen."

Now, the general, the vice admiral has been on other projects, and we've been going through the channels like we're supposed to up through the FEMA connection here, and go directly through Baton Rouge.

And that's one of the things we tried to explain to him here, and I told the president of the United States, I'll be personally responsible for the expenditures, if someone could just help me, tell me "Yes, Kevin, move forward with that."

I mean, I have still people living in shelters, and I don't know if the rest of the country realizes that.

DAVIS: I've had meetings with the mayor of New Orleans, my other counterparts, and I knew the need of the cruise ships and those things. And we need temporary housing for our first responders, teachers, our firemen, everybody, city employees.

BLITZER: So, Mr. Davis, what I hear you saying, as opposed to the former FEMA director, Michael Brown, who said Louisiana was dysfunctional, what I hear you saying, correct me if I'm wrong, the federal government from your perspective is dysfunctional?

DAVIS: Yes, sir, and that's not accusatory. Believe me, I've got a gentleman named Scott and a guy named Roger, my team from FEMA, one's housing and one's my liaison officer. They have been making requests for five weeks. I mean, can you imagine? Water, fuel, MREs for food. It took us several weeks to get that rolling in here after just hollering and screaming.

You know, you've seen some of the pictures of the New Orleans region. St. Tammany on my eastern side but even on my roll side, homes completely destroyed. People living in tents out front. It's the saddest thing you've ever seen. And I just wanted to get them travel trailers to their home to try to give them a little piece of what life is, and it will -- we will rebuild in St. Tammany Parish.

BLITZER: Kevin Davis, good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in St. Tammany Parish. DAVIS: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: Good luck to everyone hit hard by this hurricane.

Up next, the embattled Republican Congressman Tom DeLay talks about having to step aside as the House majority leader and his next move after being indicted for violating Texas campaign laws.

Then a new era on the United States supreme court. We'll get legal analysis on Chief Justice John Roberts and his potential impact on key cases before the court.

Also ahead, the actress and the activist Angelina Jolie. She'll talk about her work on behalf of the United Nations for refugees and AIDS victims.

"Late Edition" continues right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Republicans in Congress are dealing with a major political shock wave. The former House majority leader Tom DeLay was forced to relinquish his position after being indicted in Texas for violating state campaign laws.

I spoke with Congressman DeLay after his indictment was announced.


DELAY: I have not been indicted for conspiring to move money. I don't know what I've been indicted for because it's not in the indictment.

BLITZER: Well, it says here you and two others were indicted as part of your relationship with, reading from the indictment that the district court of Travis County, Texas, released, that you were indicted for your involvement in this PAC, Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, and the money that allegedly was funneled illegally to state politicians.

DELAY: Well, if you're quoting exactly then I'll take your quote, but the indictment I read didn't read that way.

BLITZER: Well, I'll read it specifically, since you raised the issue, that the three of you did enter -- this is a quote -- "did enter into an agreement with one or more of each other or with general purpose political committee known as Texans for a Republican Majority PAC that one or more of them would engage in conduct that would constitute of the offense of knowingly making a political contribution in violation of subchapter," and then it goes on for those specifics. That's what I was referring to.

To our viewers who are confused right now, what was your relationship or what is your relationship with this PAC, TRMPAC as it's called, Texans for a Republican Majority?

DELAY: Well, Wolf, back in 2002, we wanted to really increase our effort to win a Republican majority in the Texas House of Representatives. Texas had become a very strong Republican state, but because of the way you draw the maps in the state legislature, we did not have a majority of the Texas House. After they redistricted, we wanted to make sure that we got that majority so I came up with the idea to create a political action committee, totally legal.

Went out to my friends and put it together. The two gentlemen, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, ran it. They were instructed to check with lawyers on every decision, check with accountants, never do anything that was illegal. Then I joined the advisory board.

I had nothing to do with the day-to-day operation and there's no way because they ran it. I went to some fund-raisers and helped them raise money. There's no way that you could claim conspiracy to do something that, frankly, is legal. BLITZER: Did you engage in any conversations with these two individuals in which you would raise money for this Texas PAC, give the money to the Republican National Committee, then give them a list of which Congressional -- which candidate Texas politicians should receive this money, in other words, the allegation being money laundering in political terms?

DELAY: Not at all. I didn't know that they did this legal activity with the Republican state election committee. I did not know who they had targeted. I did not know where the money went. I had nothing to do with the day-to-day operation of TRMPAC. That's the whole point.

BLITZER: Did you have anything to do with raising these corporate funds?

DELAY: I certainly did. I went to fundraisers. And the corporate funds are legal, by the way, raising corporate funds.

BLITZER: They're legal to raise corporate funds. But I take it under Texas law and several other states, it's not legal to give corporate funds to state politicians.

DELAY: That is true, and that did not happen.

BLITZER: Well, somehow these politicians got the money...

DELAY: No, they didn't.

BLITZER: ... from the Republican Party.

DELAY: No. The corporate money -- and, look, I was not involved in the legal transaction that John Colyandro and Jim Ellis did. They did a legal transaction that's done by Democrats and Republicans, totally legal, totally legal and has been done for years back in the days when you had soft and hard money.

BLITZER: Under Texas law, a prosecutor does not have to release the evidence that he or she has in the indictment. And there is no evidence in this indictment that specifically backs up the claim that this prosecutor Ronnie Earle is making.

Have your attorneys, though, in conversations with him or have you directly in conversations with Ronnie Earle, you met with him in August, been told what evidence they may or may not have?

DELAY: Absolutely not. They don't have any evidence. All they wanted to do is indict me so that I would have to step aside as majority leader temporarily. That's the only reason I got indicted.

If the Republican conference did not have that rule, I would not have been indicted. All they cared about was getting this indictment. They don't care about the case later. They have drug my name through the mud for two years. That's the way Ronnie Earle does.

He did it to Kay Bailey Hutchison, did it to (inaudible). That's the way he operates. He drags your name through the mud, then he indicts you if he indicts you. And in this case he made sure I was indicted because he knew that I had to step aside as majority leader.

And that is what's going on here. It is a political witch-hunt trying to do political damage, and worse than anything and very dangerous, criminalizing the election code. Moving elections into courthouses is dangerous to our system of democracy.

BLITZER: We invited him, by the way, Ronnie Earle, to come on the program. He declined...

DELAY: I bet he did.

BLITZER: ... our invitation. But he and his supporters point out that he's indicted 12 Democrats and three Republicans in the past. In other words, he's indicted a lot more of his fellow Democrats than he has indicted Republicans.

DELAY: Ronnie Earle has been district attorney in Travis County since 1976. In 1976 there were no Republicans. Certainly no Republicans other than governor, and he didn't get elected until '78.

There were no Republicans. The fights were between conservative Democrats and liberal Democrats. Ronnie Earle does this to all his public enemies, political enemies. He did it to conservative Democrats. He's a liberal Democrat. He did it and he does it to Republicans. And particularly in my case, he did it in conjunction and working with the Democrat leadership here in Washington, D.C.

BLITZER: Well, that's an explosive charge you make, that there's some sort of collusion or conspiracy between Ronnie Earle and Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders in the Congress. What evidence, if any, do you have to back that up?

DELAY: It's very good evidence that they announced this strategy publicly. They put it on their Web site, and this strategy is in their fundraising letters.

BLITZER: Who specifically? Who announced this?

DELAY: The DCC, the Democratic Campaign Committee, run by Chairman Rahm Emanuel.

BLITZER: They announced that they were working with Ronnie Earle to get you an indictment?

DELAY: No, they didn't do that...

BLITZER: Well, what evidence is there they consulted with Ronnie Earle, that they talked to him or they had any dealings with him whatsoever?

DELAY: That evidence is coming, but the point is they announced the strategy And it's very funny that two weeks ago when Ronnie Earle said publicly that I was not part of the investigation, that I hadn't been investigated and then turns around in two days or over the weekend -- he now is going to indict me.

It is quite obvious because the Democrats announced this strategy and I -- we all know how this place works. They worked -- I'm sure they worked closely with Ronnie Earle on this strategy.

BLITZER: When is the evidence going to be made available? You say it's coming. When are you going to make that evidence available?

DELAY: When it's timely.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

DELAY: When it's timely.


BLITZER: Tom DeLay speaking with me earlier in the week. Up next the former Clinton White House special counsel, Lanny Davis, and the former Republican National Committee counsel, Ben Ginsberg. We'll get their expert legal analysis on the Tom DeLay indictment, the new chief justice of the United States, John Roberts and more.

And there's still time for you to weigh in on our Web Question of the Week: What's the most important economic issue facing the United States -- gas prices, jobs, natural disasters or the war in Iraq? Cast your vote. Go to

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

The indictment of Tom DeLay is just one of several key legal issues making headlines here in the United States. John Roberts was sworn in as the new chief justice. There was a major development in that CIA leak investigation and tomorrow the Supreme Court begins a new term with a vacancy still to be filled.

For special insight into all these issues we're joined by our guests: here in Washington, the former Clinton White House special counsel, Lanny Davis, and in Boston, the former Republican National Committee counsel, Ben Ginsberg.

Gentlemen, thanks to both of you for joining us.

Let's start off with Tom DeLay. How much trouble do you sense, Lanny Davis, having been around Washington for a long time, do you sense Tom DeLay is in?

LANNY DAVIS, FRMR CLINTON WHITE HOUSE SPECIAL COUNSEL: Well, first of all, I'm going to start by doing for Tom DeLay what he was never willing to do for Bill Clinton or any other Democrat when he was launching partisan attacks. Let's give this man the presumption of innocence and his day in court.

The facts are very bad, but I don't know what the legal conclusions are. He's attacking the prosecutor rather than addressing the facts that you asked him to address in your interview so we can talk about the facts that are undisputed.

But what he did to Bill Clinton was to jump to conclusions and accuse people of guilt before they had their first day in court. I don't think we Democrats should be doing that to DeLay. Let's give him a dose of his own medicine and let's let him hang out there; let the court and the jury decide, not Mr. DeLay and his spin machine.

BLITZER: Let's go through the specifics, Ben Ginsberg. Listen to what the prosecutor in Texas, in Austin, Texas, Ronnie Earle, said in announcing the charge, the conspiracy charge against Tom DeLay.


RONNIE EARLE, TEXAS PROSECUTOR: The indictment describes a scheme whereby corporate money which cannot be given to candidates in Texas was sent to the Republican National Committee where it was exchanged for money raised from individuals and then sent to those Texas legislative candidates.


BLITZER: In short he's accusing Tom DeLay...


EARLE: Criminal conspiracy is a state jail felony punishable by six months.


BLITZER: All right, never mind. In short he's accusing Tom DeLay of conspiracy to launder federally raised funds into a state election, which is illegal in Texas.

BEN GINSBERG, FRMR RNC COUNSEL: Well, the important point about what Ronnie Earle is not saying and cannot say is that any illegal money was spent in the state of Texas.

The fact of the matter is, is that the Republican National Committee had far more money -- legal under Texas law -- available in its accounts than $190,000. And perfectly legal contributions were given in the state of Texas, which is why this indictment is ultimately going to fall apart, Wolf.

And the travesty of it is that this was a practice that back in 2002 when it was legal went on all the time. I can assure you that the majority of Texas Democrats participated in corporate fundraising events in 2002 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or the Democratic National Committee. Those two committees spent perfectly appropriately money -- legal under federal law -- in their Texas races. That's all that was going on with Tom DeLay. It's why this indictment fails.

BLITZER: Why are you smiling, Lanny?

DAVIS: My good friend Ben Ginsberg was on the air in the last couple of years when it was the Clinton White House campaign finance practices being investigated denouncing conducting illegal contributions through another vehicle in order to money launder it back to the vehicle where they wanted to contribute.

The facts that Ben has not denied...


DAVIS: Ben, let me finish, my friend.

The fact that Ben has not denied is what you asked Tom DeLay, which he couldn't deny illegal contributions cannot be made in Texas of corporate money. So what they did is they sent that money to the Republican National Committee in Washington, washed it and sent it back to Texas.

And according to Ben, that makes it legal. But those are undenied facts. Let's let a jury and let's let a judge decide whether they are legal or not, but the facts cannot be denied.

BLITZER: He didn't release his evidence, Ronnie Earle, Ben Ginsberg, in that indictment. Under Texas law he doesn't need to do so. He's had the grand jury bringing witnesses.

Supposedly if you believe the Texas press, he's got witnesses, Republican party officials, who say that that money was laundered in the way he alleges.

GINSBERG: I'm confused about what this word "laundered" means. Money raised legally in Texas went up to the Republican National Committee, which could accept that money and spend it legally in 27 states that allowed corporate money at the time.

The Republican National Committee is allowed to spend money legal under Texas law, which is precisely what it did here, in Texas House races. Those Texas House races were obviously targeted races; the Texas legislature was important.

There is no illegal money that has been spent in the state of Texas. So, therefore, where is the violation of law?

BLITZER: Well, let me ask you this hypothetical question. It may not necessarily even be hypothetical, Ben Ginsberg. If that $190,000, which Tom DeLay's PAC, TRMPAC, as it was called, gave to the Republican National Committee, the RNC, and subsequently they gave the RNC a list of candidates, Texas candidates, that should be given that money in exchange, in return, would that be illegal?

GINSBERG: No. Do you think that the Republican National Committee shouldn't consult with Tom DeLay about the races in his own state and which ones were important? The key to a campaign finance violation is spending illegal money in a state. That's what Ronnie Earle won't be able to prove.

BLITZER: What about that?

DAVIS: Look, let's be absolutely clear to your viewers. Ben Ginsberg is now saying it depends on your definition of the word "launder." Does anybody see the hypocrisy and the irony of Republicans now trying to thread the needle that it's OK to do something through the Republican National Committee that's illegal to do directly.

And Tom DeLay does not deny that he was aware of that. He has a great lawyer like Ben Ginsberg trying to thread the needle. Rather than attacking the prosecutor, attacking his motives, changing the subject, why don't we have Ben Ginsberg and Tom DeLay say what they should have said about Bill Clinton.

DAVIS: Let's wait for the courts. Let's wait for the evidence. Let's wait for the facts. Let's not attack the prosecutor and change the subject.

GINSBERG: I'm not -- sure, I'm not attacking the prosecutor, although I think there are plenty of grounds to do that. I'm saying that your Democratic congressmen from Texas raised corporate money for their party committee and got clean federal dollars back.

Why isn't that the same laundering that Ronnie Earle has indicted Tom DeLay for? The answer is it's not laundering, and what the prosecutor has done, Lanny, is indict Tom DeLay so he'd have to step down, cause some embarrassment to the Republicans. But that's not a valid indictment.

DAVIS: Ben, here's the difference and you're a good enough lawyer and maybe the expert to know the difference. This money was designated for specific individuals, and it was routed through Washington, not through the word "consult." It was designated and returned to the designees. That makes this case interesting. Let's let a jury decide who's guilty.

GINSBERG: And, Lanny, if that money, if the Republican National Committee can show that the money that came from Tom DeLay was actually spent in other states, and the money that was spent in Texas was, were it raised from other sources, legal under Texas law, then you have to agree under that construct that this indictment falls apart.

DAVIS: Well, I think that it would depend on your definition of the word "launder," but let's let a jury decide, Ben.

GINSBERG: It's a clever phrase that your guy Bill Clinton put into the vocabulary but it's not relevant here.

BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about the broader problem that Republicans might be facing right now, Ben Ginsberg. It's not just Tom DeLay who's got a cloud hanging over him right now but Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, the Republican leader in the Senate. He's being investigated allegedly for some insider stock deals involving some stock, some stock trades.

And the highest-ranking procurement officer at the Office of Management and Budget over at the White House, David Savian (ph), he's been arrested because of supposedly being involved in illegal activities. What kind of problem do you see the Republican leadership having as a result of all of these questions being raised?

GINSBERG: Well, I think you have to separate this into two different categories. One is the sort of political public perception problem, and these are not happy days for Republicans. I'm confident that the Bill Frist matter is going to prove to be a sort of a red herring in pretty short order, but the second question is, what happens to the policy agenda?

And I do believe that the Republicans have a positive policy agenda that they'll be implementing in the Congress with a great deal of dedication and, in fact, perhaps even a bit more determination because of this. Because what Republicans have been about, and what the Republican revolution has been about, is passing legislation and getting that agenda through and I think that's the salvation to those problems that you mention.

BLITZER: Let's move on. Lanny, I want to move on to the CIA leak story, the leak of the name of a covert CIA operative. Judy Miller of the New York Times was in prison for three months for refusing to testify. She finally agreed to testify this week. Listen to what she said as she emerged from jail.


JUDY MILLER, JOURNALIST, NEW YORK TIMES: As soon as I received a personal assurance from the source that I was able to talk to him and talk to the source about my testimony, it was only then and as a result of the special prosecutor's agreement to narrow the focus of the inquiry, to focus on the way -- on that source, that I was able to testify.


BLITZER: All right. Her source, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the chief of staff for the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney. Another top White House official, the deputy chief of staff Karl Rove is now -- people have suggested he was releasing information about this CIA operative.

What do you sense about this special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald? Is he getting close to indicting anyone?

DAVIS: Well, I don't know. It seems to me that he's gone as far as he had -- that he's gone -- that he's got to be close to an indictment. And if he ends up with no indictment it will certainly raise a lot of questions why he put Judy Miller in jail.

Look, Wolf, we know that a covert CIA operative's name was published and, putting her life and her contacts' lives in danger. We know that people in the White House contributed to that. Whether they violated the law or not, I don't know. And we absolutely know without any doubt that Scott McClellan misled the country, or himself was misled, when he said that nobody in the White House was involved in the outing of this CIA operative. Whether there's a crime or not, we have to leave to the independent prosecutor.

But the fact and the unfairness of what happened to this woman, and the fact that Scott McClellan misled the country, McClellan owes an explanation as does President Bush as to who knew that Scott McClellan was misleading the country and why.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we are all out of time for this segment. But thanks to both of you for joining us, Lanny Davis, Ben Ginsberg. We'll continue this down the road.

Still ahead, her star power and personal life is getting a lot of press, but the actress Angelina Jolie is on a very serious mission for the United Nations. She talks about her work in an exclusive interview. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Angelina Jolie is one of the world's most popular actresses, but she's also on a serious mission beyond the cameras. She's working with the United Nations on behalf of AIDS victims in Africa. She also just adopted an infant daughter in Ethiopia.

I recently spoke with the Academy Award-winning actress about her U.N. work.


BLITZER: How do you divide up your domestic priorities, helping people in this country as opposed to helping people around the world?

JOLIE: I don't. To me it's not a different thing. I don't kind of say a bit here, a bit there, I think.

And I tend to hear a lot of that now. People say, well, we're doing this here. Like recently the idea of funds possibly because of Hurricane Katrina, they'll say, well, there are funds going there so maybe it might be taken out of the Petfar (ph) Fund for AIDS, or it might be taken out -- I don't understand that.

My personal view is give everything you've got to everything that is necessary, find a way, and it's not...

BLITZER: But are you concerned that Americans are going to now look inside and forget about the needs in Africa or elsewhere around the world?

JOLIE: I hope not and I don't think -- that's not the American spirit. It's not their heart, but I think they're very also affected by the news. And if they just see headlines after headlines of just one emergency, it will be hard for them to remember how many other human rights abuses are going on and crises and civil wars and AIDS, and all these other things that they need to be focusing on, as well.

And there isn't this idea that, well, we can only give to one -- that tends to happen. Give to one; you focus on one and the others don't go away.

BLITZER: How did you get involved and you're a U.N. goodwill ambassador. How did this happen that all of a sudden one day a very glamorous movie star like yourself winds up going around the world including in these refugee camps and you're working to try to do something about HIV/AIDS?

JOLIE: I just -- I feel very, very fortunate that I started traveling with work, and my eyes were opened through meeting people of other countries and seeing what life was like for them in countries like Cambodia and Sierra Leone.

And realizing that I couldn't just rely on what was being taught to me at school or basic news. I needed to go out and really try to see for myself.

And I met a lot of amazing people, so it's been nothing really but inspiring and gives me strength and hope. And I've met the most wonderful people who are refugees or child soldiers who have taught me just about life. And so I'm just blessed to be able to work with them. It's a great thing.

BLITZER: You adopted a young kid. Talk a little bit about her. Zahara is her name.

JOLIE: Zahara. She's from Ethiopia. She is an AIDS orphan, and...

BLITZER: What does that mean, an AIDS orphan?

JOLIE: It means that they -- that's what they believe -- how she lost her parents.

BLITZER: Both her mother and her father?

JOLIE: Yes, they didn't have a track on the father. I think the mother was -- I think there wasn't like a marriage. I think it was just a woman got pregnant. BLITZER: Does Zahara have AIDS?

JOLIE: No, she doesn't, but we didn't know that at first.

BLITZER: And she's not HIV positive?

JOLIE: She is not, no, but we didn't know that, and there were a lot of -- I think the most upsetting thing for me and then was that I came here.

She had to go to the hospital for dehydration and malnutrition. When she got there there were lots of other things they were concerned about that were showing up but turned out to be different things. They thought there was a mass in her arm. It turned out to be a rickets fracture from being malnourished...

BLITZER: How old is Zahara now?

JOLIE: She is 9 months soon. But there was a fear that she had HIV. And the upsetting thing was I was sat down and it was explained to me that, don't worry, because in this country, it's not a death sentence, which is also saying to me, because she's not in an area where she's poor, now she can live because she's not in an area where she can't access medicine. It's such -- it was such a kind of horrible thing to hear.

BLITZER: Because in Ethiopia she would die?

JOLIE: Because what they're saying is, yes, this is something that because you're in a wealthier country you have more of a chance to -- but at the end of the day I was terrified but prepared because it is something I think we should all be prepared to take on. It's not a -- it's a very real, very serious, very scary thing, but at the same time we should not be scared to adopt children that possibly could have AIDS; it's OK. But she does not.

BLITZER: Which is very good, and I'm sure you're thrilled.


BLITZER: Bono, another star who has been deeply involved in trying to help people around the world. He was quoted in Time magazine in June as saying, "The most important and toughest nut is still President Bush. He feels he's already doubled and tripled aid to Africa, which he has. But he started from far too low a place."

Are you getting involved in the politics here in Washington, as well, trying to excite people, Democrats and Republicans?

JOLIE: I didn't mean to but this morning I ended up in it. Just because I this morning found myself questioning and genuinely questioning not trying to make -- have an opinion in Washington, but I found myself genuinely questioning, when it was brought up, how much was spent.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Angelina Jolie speaking with me earlier in the week here in Washington.

Coming up next, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show roundup, highlights from the other Sunday morning programs here in the United States. Stay with us.


BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

On NBC's "Meet the Press," the head of the U.S. military's Central Command, General John Abizaid, said that despite the continuing insurgency, progress is being made in Iraq.


ABIZAID: The war is two-and-a-half years old, and when you think of where we were two-and-a-half years ago, where we essentially didn't have any Iraqi security forces in the field, to where we are now, where we've got close to 200,000 Iraqi security forces in the field.

We've come a long way. Moreover, it's very important that people here in the United States understand that Iraqi soldiers are fighting and dying out there for their country. They're standing with American forces in the field.


BLITZER: On ABC's "This Week," U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer talked about the importance of diversity on the highest court.


BREYER: Presidents don't get necessarily the judge they want. If they mean to appoint a judge whom they think will always decide in their favor, that doesn't happen. But probably they want persons of an outlook that they think is somewhat compatible with their own.

Therefore, you end up with a court of people with different outlooks. That means sometimes, there's a lot of disagreement. But that's good. That isn't bad. Because we're a big country, and there are people with many different points of view.


BLITZER: On "Fox News Sunday," former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay insisted his indictment won't derail the Republican Party's agenda.


DELAY: The way you counter this politics of personal destruction is you go, and you're aggressive, and you move fast, and do something about the gas prices. We're doing that next week.

Do something about spending. We're cutting spending through the appropriations process. Do something about protecting our borders and enforcing illegal immigration. Do something about reforming this government, reforming entitlements. Move aggressively and boldly with our principles.


BLITZER: And on CBS's "Face the Nation," Republican Congressmen David Dreier and Jim Leach discussed the potential impact of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and the Tom DeLay indictment on next year's midterm elections.


DREIER: There is really no, no plan that has come forward from Democrats on any issue whatsoever. And they made a determination early on that they were going to attack Republicans on the issue of ethics.

LEACH: Oh, I think this could be a very competitive election coming up. Anyone that says otherwise, I think has their head in the sand.


BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

Let's take a quick look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines in the United States.

Newsweek explores the Republican Party's power outage.

Time magazine focuses in on the battle over gay teens.

And U.S. News and World Report examines the question of America's best health plans.

Up next, the results of our Web Question of the Week: What's the most important economic issue facing the United States -- gas prices, jobs, natural disasters, or the war in Iraq? We'll let you know. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: And that's your "Late Edition" for Sunday, October 2. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'm also in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday.



CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNNAvantGo Ad Info About Us Preferences
© 2007 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines