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Bush Taps Judge Samuel Alito for Supreme Court; CIA Leak: What's Next?

Aired October 31, 2005 - 10:59   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to start with Iraq. And a tragic statistic for the month of October, 90 U.S. military deaths. That is the most in nearly a year.
Six U.S. soldiers were killed today in two separate bombings. Four were members of Task Force Baghdad. The others belonged to the 29th Brigade Combat Team on patrol north of Balad. The 90 U.S. troops killed in October makes it the most deadly month for American forces in Iraq since 107 were killed last January.

Also in Baghdad, police say a gunman opened fire on a police car, killing one officer and wounding another.

And in another incident, mortar rounds exploded at an intersection, killing one civilian. Iraqi authorities also say five others were wounded when a car bomb went off in northwestern Baghdad.

Other news today, the Pentagon estimates that nearly 26,000 Iraqis have been killed or wounded by insurgent attacks from 2004 until September of this year. Those figures did not include casualties caused by coalition forces.

Just a little bit of extra news, Wolf. We'll toss it back to you in Washington.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Daryn. We'll get back to you soon.

The obvious glee on the Republican right seems to be matched by the disappointment among many Democrats and liberals. The Supreme Court nomination, that is, of circuit court Judge Samuel Alito is making this another intense day here in Washington after last week's withdrawal by Harriet Miers for the job and the CIA leak indictment. President Bush is billing his new high court pick as experienced in the courtroom and in confirmation hearings.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In 1990, President Bush nominated Sam Alito at the age of 39 for the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. Judge Alito's nomination received bipartisan support and he was, again, confirmed by unanimous consent by the United States Senate. Judge Alito has served with distinction on that court for 15 years, and now has more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in more than 70 years. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president of the United States making the announcement about three hours ago over at the White House.

Standing by, our White House correspondent, Dana Bash, our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry.

Dana, let's start with you on who this all went down. Go ahead, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, really, right off the bat, as soon as it became clear that Harriet Miers was going to withdraw her nomination, that Samuel Alito was going to be the president's pick. And as a matter of fact, the chief of staff, Andy Card, called him on Thursday, the same day Miers withdrew, to make it clear he was going to be asked to come to the White House and nominated for the high court.

But it was the president who called him on Friday at about 12:40, right when he came back from a speech that we showed here when he was talking about the war in Iraq. He was in Norfolk, Virginia. And right before, ironically the indictment came down against the former now, Cheney chief of staff, Scooter Libby.

But actually, Wolf, it wasn't until this morning at 7:00 a.m. that Mr. Bush offered him the nomination. And that was in the Oval Office. And the rest we're seeing here right now.

This is something that the White House made clear they were going to go for also because of the many, many lessons that they learned from the Harriet Miers debacle, frankly. And the first and foremost is that they took the bait from Democrats and others who said that there was an appetite out there for somebody outside the judicial monastery, somebody without any judicial experience.

Well, in hearing the sound bite that you just played, it is very, very clear from the White House that they are trying to show that Samuel Alito has exactly what Harriet Miers didn't, tremendous, basically unprecedented judicial experience for the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: I suspect there will be one important person behind you who will be disappointed; namely, the first lady of the United States, Laura Bush, who had lobbied openly, publicly, that a woman replace Sandra Day O'Connor. There are nine justices, as you know, and as our viewers know, Dana, on the Supreme Court. If Alito is confirmed, there will be one woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, out of nine.

I suspect that will be a source of disappointment to a lot of people out there.

BASH: Well, certainly it could be interesting to be a fly on the wall in the White House residence about that discussion, no question. But when it comes to picking a woman, the possibility of picking a woman, there are a couple things. First of all, I think they feel that politically, because they did first nominate Harriet Miers, a woman, they probably wouldn't be susceptible to criticism for not picking a woman, if you will. But the other thing that's really key is that, in what they were looking for, the criteria now was clearly deep, deep judicial experience, somebody with a long record. And the women that fit that bill, the women who were conservative, the women whom conservative groups and others really very much liked, had a longer record and some think, perhaps, a record that would have caused even more a fight with Democrats than someone like Samuel Alito.

So that is another interesting reason, perhaps, we understand, why the president didn't end up picking a woman, because there wasn't anybody who would not cause a huge fight because of their judicial record.

BLITZER: All right. Dana, thanks very much.

Let's go up to Capitol Hill. Our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry, is standing by, picking up reaction left, right, middle.

Everyone is reacting very quickly, Ed. Give our viewers an update.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And it mirrors exactly what Dana is saying over at the White House. It's almost the difference between -- this nomination and Harriet Miers -- night and day.

We heard so many Republican skeptics, we even heard a lot of skepticism from the moderate chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Arlen Specter had some concerns about the nomination, an open mind. He wanted to move ahead on Harriet Miers, but had some concerns about his own private meeting with her. He just spoke a few moments, though, ago about Judge Alito.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Initial independence mandates that not be a question put to a perspective nominee, but within the range of fairness. So, the Judiciary Committee, you can be assured, will give Judge Alito's nomination a very, very thorough review.


HENRY: Two Republican skeptics on the right of Harriet Miers now coming forward and saying some really positive things about Judge Alito, Sam Brownback and George Allen. Senator Brownback commending the president for this nomination. Senator Allen -- Allen saying that he's "impressed by Judge Alito's credentials."

That's what we're hearing from Republicans immediately -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The confirmation process, the timetable, it's unlikely there will be hearings anytime soon. I assume December at the earliest. Is that right?

HENRY: That's right. The bottom line is that the average in recent years has been 50 days in the time between a nomination and the actual start of the hearings. So that would get to you December 20, right around there, where you would have the start of hearings, let alone a floor vote.

And based on the early Democratic opposition we're already hearing, you can be there are going to be a lot of questions, a lot of hearings. That easily puts us past Christmas, into January -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And unlike some of the other nominees, there's a lot of paper trail here. He's been involved for 15 years on the court of appeals. And he's been directly involved in some 300 decisions that people are going to want to read very carefully.

HENRY: Yes. It's almost comical to think back, all that we heard from both sides of the aisle about the lack of paper trail with Harriet Miers. Now the Democrats have all the paper trail they want to try to take shots at.

The Republicans have all the paper trail that they wanted in terms of being a little reassured. They felt Harriet Miers was a blank slate.

It's boomeranging a bit on the Democrats. We've heard from Democrats from Frank Lautenberg, Ted Kennedy, had very positive things to say about Judge Alito 15 years ago when he was first up for this appellate judgeship. They're now back-peddling a bit and saying, well, that was before he had a paper trail.

Now, based on those decisions you're talking about, Wolf, Lautenberg, Kennedy and the others taking some shots at Alito. You can guarantee there's going to be a lot of fodder made about that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're expecting to hear soon from Senator Charles Schumer of New York. Thanks very much. We'll get his immediate reaction to this nomination.

There's a live picture from the press gallery over at the U.S. Capitol. Senator Schumer should be coming in there soon, and we'll go there live, once we do hear from him.

Let's bring in our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield. He's watching this with all of us, as well as our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin.

Jeff Greenfield, first to you. The president's pick, what do you think?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: I think this is exactly what the conservatives have wanted for months. The most interesting quote that I saw was offered by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, who said to ABC News, "To think that we're going to reverse the liberal activist court without a fight is wrong. There's going to be a fight. There needs to be a fight. We are ready to rumble."

What the conservatives have wanted for a long time is an absolutely unvarnished conservative, credentialed, who is the living symbol of their effort to turn the court in a fundamentally different direction. I think they're not only ready for a fight, it seems to me that if the Democrats move toward a filibuster, and the question then becomes, are there six Republican senators willing to stand with the Democrats to oppose a change in that rule as for judicial filibusters, this nomination makes it much harder for the Democrats to get what they want, unless during the hearings Judge Alito reveals himself to be more like Bork than Roberts.

I mean, this -- the idea that last Friday we were talking about the break in the Republican base and conservatives unhappy, I think it's a very different picture today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Listen to Senator Schumer. He's about to speak right now on Capitol Hill. I suspect he's going to be critical.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: This morning, I went and visited Rosa Parks in the Capitol Rotunda to pay my respects. Being in the presence of Ms. Parks was awe-inspiring. This was a woman who changed history with one thin dime. She paid her fare and took her rightful seat on the bus, and America was never the same again.

Like Rosa Parks, Judge Alito will be able to change history by virtue of where he sits. The real question today is whether Judge Alito would use his seat on the bench, just as Rosa Parks used her seat on the bus, to change history for the better, or whether he would use that seat to reverse much of what Rosa Parks and so many others fought so hard and for so long to put in place.

Judge Alito's visit to Rosa Parks this morning was appropriate. His record, as I'm sure Rosa Parks would agree, is much more important. A preliminary review of his record raises real questions about Judge Alito's judicial philosophy and his commitment to civil rights, workers' rights, women's rights, the rights of average Americans which the courts have always looked out for.

Now, it's sad that the president felt he had to pick a nominee likely to divide America instead of choosing a nominee in the mold of Sandra Day O'Connor, who would unify us. America needs unity now. America needs reaching out to one another more than ever. But the president seems to want to hunker down in his bunker, and is more concerned about smoothing the ruffled feathers of the extreme wing of his party than about governing all of America and changing history for the better.

This controversial nominee who would make the court less diverse and far more conservative will get very careful scrutiny from the Senate and the American people. The president had an opportunity to nominate someone in the mold of Sandra Day O'Connor, a mainstream, albeit conservative, who would unite the country, not further divide us. At first blush, Judge Alito does not appear to be a Sandra Day O'Connor. It is an immutable law of history that when a president tries to govern from the extreme, his presidency and the country end up losing. Democrats learned this when we governed from the far left. President Bush will learn this as well.

As for Judge Alito, there is still a lot to be learned about him. Many of the opinions that he has written over the last 15 years cast real doubt on whether he can be a fair, mainstream, albeit conservative judge, who strives to protect the rights of all Americans instead of a judge who will use his power to restrict those rights and legislate from the bench.

Now a word about timing.

I know that the president and his supporters have suggested we need to rush a hearing and a vote by the end of this year. When there is a controversial nominee for a pivotal swing vote on the high court, the procedure should not be short-circuited, shortchanged or rushed.

We need to be careful here. This is a nominee who could shift the balance of the court and thus the laws of the nation for decades to come.

As I said, there is much to be learned. We need to review his 15 years of judicial opinions. There will be thousands of documents from his time in the Reagan administration, just like there were with Judge Roberts. And like with Judge Roberts, it will take time to assemble those documents from the Reagan library and renew -- review them.

We will need to review these documents and, perhaps, take testimony regarding his time as a prosecutor and as a Reagan Justice Department official. The documents will require particular close scrutiny given that Judge Alito has been nominated for such a crucial swing vote on the court. We will also need to meet Judge Alito personally, and we'll need thorough, fair, full hearings.

So, there's a lot to fit in between now and Christmas, particularly when there is so much else to do on behalf of the American people before this session of Congress is complete. No one should seek to delay this process for the sake of delay. But even more importantly, no one should seek to rush these hearings through simply to make a point, distract from other issues of the day, or avoid a thorough review of this nominee.

I'm ready for your questions.

QUESTION: Why do you think the president nominated Judge Alito?

SCHUMER: Well, as I said, I think the president received so much criticism from the extreme wing of his party that he felt in his position right now, that he couldn't afford to alienate them further. And they demanded fidelity to their viewpoint.

That's what it appears. But we'll have to give a thorough review of Judge -- we'll have to give a thorough review of Judge Alito. BLITZER: Senator Charles Schumer in the U.S. Congress, making it clear he's not very happy with this nomination of Samuel Alito to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor.

We're going to continue to get other reaction as well. We're standing by to hear from the Reverend Pat Robertson. We'll hear from James Carville, Bay Buchanan, Lanny Davis, Dick Thornburgh. Much more of our special coverage on this day coming up right after this.


BLITZER: Getting some new information on Lewis "Scooter" Libby. He was indicted on Friday.

Let's go to our national security correspondent, David Ensor, standing by with that.

David, what are you hearing?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a first court appearance has been scheduled now for Mr. Libby. It will be Thursday this week at 10:30 in the morning. This will not be an arraignment, but the charges will be read to him, to the court, and Mr. Libby's defense attorneys, the prosecutors and the judge will work out a timetable for their work in the coming weeks. There will be plenty of it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And any indication that he's getting a new attorney? There was some suggestion that his Philadelphia-based attorney might not necessarily be up to this major assignment, representing him before the courts. Are you picking up anything along those lines?

ENSOR: We haven't heard anything official yet about another attorney joining the team or anything like that, but it would be -- it would be normal that -- and we expect that Mr. Libby will want an attorney who's experienced in criminal matters to join the team, yes.

BLITZER: All right. David, thank you very much.

The other major story we're following, the president of the United States picked Samuel Alito today to succeed, if confirmed, Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Let's get some reaction. We just heard from the liberal Democratic senator, Chuck Schumer, of New York. The Reverend Pat Robertson is joining us on the phone.

What's your reaction, Reverend Robertson?

REV. PAT ROBERTSON, HOST, "THE 700 CLUB": I think this is a grand slam home run. I think the president has picked one of the most distinguished jurists in America.

And I was listening to Charles Schumer, who would vote against anybody I think Bush put up. But to say that a man who was editor in chief of "Yale Law Review' is out of the mainstream, is sort of stretching (INAUDIBLE) a bit.

BLITZER: Did you -- correct me if I'm wrong, you went to Yale Law School yourself, didn't you?

ROBERTSON: I did. Wolf, I tell you, it's a fast track.

Eighty-eight percent of my classes were Phi Beta Cappa, or its equivalent. We had the valedictorian from CCNY, the valedictorian from Notre Dame. And to be the top of the top is quite an accomplishment. I take my hat off to anybody that could be up editor- in-chief of the "Yale Law Review."

BLITZER: You thought Harriet Miers was up to the job. A lot of your fellow conservatives didn't like her, as you well know. Not necessarily personally, but didn't think she was qualified. I guess you don't have any doubt about the qualifications of Judge Alito?

ROBERTSON: There's no question about. To think of what he's done, he was a crime-fighting U.S. attorney for New Jersey. He served in the Solicitor General's Office. He tried about 12 cases or so before the Supreme Court. He's been sitting on the federal bench for 15 years, taking up hundreds of cases.

So this man is eminently qualified to sit on the highest court in the land.

BLITZER: Is there -- do you know him personally, have your paths crossed?

ROBERTSON: No, I don't. Jay Sekulow of our American Center for Law and Justice is familiar with him. And he likes very much his decisions. I've read a number of the decisions that seem to be in controversy. And I'm quite pleased with the way he writes.

BLITZER: One of the most controversial decisions that he wrote, that he was involved in, a dissenting decision, one that was -- that the Supreme Court took a different stance than he did, was a law in Pennsylvania that required a woman to give notification to her husband when she was about to get an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional.

He was in the minority. You understand why he was in the minority?

ROBERTSON: Well, it's a pretty reasonable point of view, it seems like to me. A man, after all, contributes half to a child in a marriage. And it seems like to me, the man ought to have some voice in whether that life is going to be terminated.

And all Judge Alito said, it seems to be reasonable to give a husband -- for a legislature to give a husband a say-so in something that's so vital in the life of that marriage. Interestingly enough, Chief Justice Rehnquist cited Alito's dissent when he dissented on the Supreme Court on the Casey decision.

BLITZER: And he was overruled by the majority on the Supreme Court.

One final question, Reverend Robertson. Do you have any doubt that if confirmed, and he becomes a justice, an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, he will seek to overturn Roe versus Wade?

ROBERTSON: Wolf, I have a great deal of doubt about it. If you read his decisions, he followed O'Connor's reasoning. I hate to use the term "slavishly," but it was.

He talked about the undue burden, and then he reasoned in relation to what she had said. In certain religious liberties cases, he ruled in relation to the lemon test, which, you know, Scalia has said was like a ghoul that rose from the grave and needed a stake through its heart. So I'm not at all persuaded from what he has written as a circuit court judge that he's going to be in there overturning cases.

I would be-- frankly, I would be very surprised if he did vote to overturn Roe versus Wade.

BLITZER: Reverend Pat Robertson. Thanks very much for joining us.

ROBERTSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's get to today's strategy session. Our political analysts here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Bay Buchanan and James Carville, are joining us.

Let me get, James, your reaction first to what we just heard from Pat Robertson and to this decision by the president.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, you've got Pat Robertson very enthusiastic. Bay and Pat Buchanan are very enthusiastic. Gary Bauer, James Dobson, Phyllis Schlafly.

And I think what happened is the president is -- 55 percent of the country said this president has failed. He's had this whole thing about this CIA leak case. Just October 90 U.S. soldiers and Marines were killed in Iraq. It's the bloodiest month as in January.

And he sends a signal to the American people, I'm going hard right here. I'm going to make Bay Buchanan, Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson, Jim Dobson, Jerry Falwell happy. And I understand the strategy, but I don't think people are going to be very enthusiastic about this.

The 30 -- 66 percent of the people that don't fall into that category are going to say, gee, we wish he would have reached out. We wish he would have put somebody else, Senator Schumer so eloquently said, in the mold of, say, a Sandra Day O'Connor.

So, it remains to be seen. This is going to be a long playing field here. Right now, this president is regarded by 55 percent of the American people as a failure. He's got to come back. I don't think playing this strategy is going to get him back. BLITZER: Bay Buchanan, you were strongly opposed to the Harriet Miers nomination. How do you feel about Samuel Alito?

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Thrilled. We're just thrilled. This is a great way to start your week, I must say, especially after a week like last week.

This is the -- the conservatives, those who actually elected this president and have fought and made certain that we have the House and the Senate, James, I might add, those are the people that the president is appealing to. He promised his constituents, those he asked for a vote, that this is the kind of judge he would provide for the Supreme Court, the nominee for the Supreme Court.

He has done that. He has kept his promise. He energizes and excites those who actually elected him. And those -- and on top of that, it's what he said he believed, in which I do believe this is somebody in his...

BLITZER: Bay, wasn't there a woman that would have fit that bill as well?

BUCHANAN: Oh, absolutely. Several. Edith Jones would have been outstanding.

BLITZER: So why -- why do you think he decided to go for a man? And that Supreme Court, if he's confirmed, will continue to be now -- will become 8-1, men versus women.

BUCHANAN: Well, I don't think that's an issue. This is not an affirmative action...

BLITZER: Well, a lot of people think it is an issue. Sandra Day O'Connor always spoke about the need. She was the first woman on the Supreme Court to get a different perspective. Ruth Bader Ginsburg says, you know, as much as judicial philosophy is important, gender is important as well.

More than half of the country are women.

BUCHANAN: They certainly are. But at the same time, this is -- this is our Olympics for the judiciary. You get the very best and the brightest.

I understand that the president met with a many number of jurists, of which were many women. And this is the person that if he went with a judge, somebody with judicial experience, this is the individual he felt most comfortable with.

The best for him. He felt this person would be excellent. It should not be something that we choose on the basis of their sex, but on their qualifications and on their judicial philosophy.

CARVILLE: Well, I think Bay and I have a rare point of agreement here. That's right, this is making Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and Bay Buchanan and Pat Buchanan and Jim Dobson very, very happy. I think that's the wrong strategy for a president who the substantial majority of Americans thinks is already a failure, that is stuck in Iraq, that has tremendous ethical problems, two people indicted within this White House.

And I think it's the wrong strategy. But you can't fault the man for -- his strategy is clear. Obviously, he's saying that the women that he interviewed weren't going to please the right as much as this is.

This was a direct -- and personally, I'm glad that you're so excited about this guy.

BLITZER: Very quickly, because we're out of time, should the Democrats filibuster?

CARVILLE: Oh, I think they're going to look long and hard at this, because I think that President Bush sent a message not just to Democrats but moderates everywhere, is, you're not part of my coalition. And I think the Democrats are going to take a long, hard -- I think Senator Schumer was very, very eloquent. He was as eloquent as I've seen him.

He's a very bright guy. They're going to take a long, hard look at this and say, if you don't want us to be part of this, fine. And if you don't want moderates of every strike to be a part, fine, too.

BUCHANAN: He tried that with Harriet Miers, a woman who pleased the Democrats. It worked real well, didn't it? No. He's made the right decision here, and he's kept a campaign promise, which is what we expect...

CARVILLE: I think -- Bay and I agree, he went -- he pleased Bay and her people.

BUCHANAN: His base. His base.

CARVILLE: I think that we're going to have -- I think this will be an interesting time. And it's very likely that the Democrats...

BUCHANAN: A welcomed battle. We welcome it.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. We'll continue this later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

James Carville, Bay Buchanan, thanks very much.

Lanny Davis and Dick Thornburgh are standing by to weigh in on this, as well as the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby. He'll be making his first court appearance this Thursday in Washington.

Much more of our special coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.



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