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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Massacre at Virginia Tech; Interview With Senators Wyden, Brownback
Aired April 22, 2007 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. here in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4 p.m. in London and 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." We begin with this week's massacre at Virginia Tech.
In Chantilly, Virginia, family and friends gather to remember 18- year-old Reema Samaha, only one of what will be far too many such memorials in the days to come. My special interview with Reema's father later on this program.
But joining us now is Virginia's attorney general, Bob McDonnell. He can't just view this tragedy, by the way, as a law enforcement officer. He has a very personal connection. His nephew studying engineering right now at Virginia Tech. The attorney general is joining us from Richmond, Virginia.
Attorney General, thanks very much for coming in. And our deepest condolences to everyone deeply affected clearly by what happened at Virginia Tech. Bottom line question, knowing what you know right now, approaching one week after this tragedy, could it have been averted?
ROBERT MCDONNELL, VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, Wolf, that's the question I'm sure many people are asking. There's a lot of fear and anger and hurt and shock still here in Virginia. The old saying is hindsight is 20-20. I can only assure all the citizens of Virginia, the families that I've known personally, that we're going to leave no stone unturned in this criminal investigation, which is still ongoing.
We're going to look at every one of our statutes and regulations dealing with mental health and firearms and others to see what, if any, changes need to be made. But you know, Wolf, this week is really a week of taking care of the families and taking care of the Virginia Tech community.
I've spent a few days on campus. I've been to the hospitals to visit with some of the -- a couple of the young men that were shot, to spend time with them, to encourage them. And you know what? I found out they encouraged me with their strength, their resilience, as much the same with the students on the Virginia Tech campus at the candlelight vigil. So, we are taking time here in Virginia to mourn, to allow these families and parents to bury their children. And then we're going to move quickly to look at every possible aspect of this to find out what could we do better in the future. BLITZER: As the attorney general, though, of Virginia, are there any immediate steps you want to take right now, not even a week after this tragedy, that could avoid such a tragedy at any other campus in Virginia or, indeed, a high school or other facilities in your state?
MCDONNELL: Well as you know, we're doing internal and external reviews. The governor appointed a commission to look at every aspect of this, from the mental health issues from a year and a half ago to what happened the morning of the shooting. And they're going to be completely independent to give full credibility.
And I fully support what they're doing. My office, though, is immediately reviewing the state and federal regulations and statutes to see if we need to do something now. There is obviously some evidence that the federal regulation dealing with bans on those who are mentally ill and a danger to self or others is some what different than our state statute that only requires a ban of people procuring firearms if they've been committed to a mentality health facility.
That's a disconnect that we're going to -- I've got my lawyers working on right now to try to find an immediate fix going forward in the future, Wolf, so that we don't have people unauthorized by federal law to procure firearms in Virginia.
BLITZER: Because he was deemed a threat, at least to himself if not to others, by a justice, by a court in Virginia at the end of 2005. The New York Times had a story on this yesterday suggesting that perhaps his purchase of those two handguns in Virginia could have been a violation of federal law.
Among other things, The Times writing: "Mr. Cho's ability to buy two guns despite his history has brought new attention to the adequacy of background checks that scrutinize potential gun buyers. And since federal gun laws depend on states for enforcement, the failure of Virginia to flag Mr. Cho highlights the often incomplete information provided by states to federal authorities."
Was there a violation of federal law by his purchase of those two guns in Virginia?
MCDONNELL: We're looking at that exactly. The 1997 federal regulation that passed has language that appears to ban both the purchase of firearms by those that have been declared mentally defective, whether they get inpatient or outpatient treatment. That's different than the state statute that only deal with inpatient treatment as a ban to buying firearms.
And again, that was a federal regulation changed in 1997. We're taking a look that right now to determine what can we immediately do to remedy the difference between state and federal law. But you know, Wolf, we're looking at a number of other things. One of the things that's come to light is whether or not, when someone is ordered by a court to undergo mental health treatment on an outpatient basis, as it appears was this case, what's happening to make sure that is actually being done? And so there was a statute, Kendra's Law, passed in 1999 in New York, that we're looking to adopt in Virginia that requires court-ordered supervision and mental system oversight to be sure that the treatment actually occurs.
That seems to be a national gap. And so we're going to look at every aspect of our mental health and firearm system. We're going to look at whether the reporting done by our clerks in our courts to our state police, whether that's done administratively correctly to be sure that every aspect of state and federal law is being complied with.
BLITZER: So, just quickly, because I want to move on, did someone slip up now in the case of Mr. Cho specifically? Because he was deemed a mental health problem, a threat to himself by the justice system in Virginia, yet he still was allowed to buy these two guns. Was there a screw-up there?
MCDONNELL: Our lawyers are still looking at that. It was clearly authorized by state law. We're taking a good look at whether the federal law would have been an absolute disqualifier.
But the gap clearly is there in the state and federal law. And we don't have enough full information. We're doing the analysis now. And as soon as we make a full determination, we're going to take immediate steps to correct both the procedural deficiencies that might exist, as well as the gap with the state law.
BLITZER: According, Attorney General, to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and I'll put some of these facts on the screen, the attorney general in your state -- correct me if I'm wrong -- cannot regulate guns by himself or herself.
Is there a waiting period on gun sales in Virginia? According to the Brady Campaign, no. Is there a license or permit required to buy handguns? Once again, no. And they give your state in their 2005 report card a C-minus on laws shielding families from gun violence.
Do you think it's time for your state to take a close, hard look at the availability of gun purchases in the aftermath of what happened at Virginia Tech?
MCDONNELL: Well, certainly as it relates to those who have been deemed to be mentally incompetent by our court. Whether they need inpatient or outpatient treatment, the answer is yes.
But I would say, too, a few things. We have excellent criminal justice and firearm laws overall in Virginia. We've got one of the lowest crime rates in the nation. We have an outstanding public safety system and police force in Virginia that routinely enforced those laws well. I know the FBI has indicated we're one of the top states in reporting those that are mentally defective to the state police for disqualification for buying firearms.
But we are going to do the best we can to fix it even more.
Here is my concern, Wolf, is there will be people that suggest that we need to rein in the rights to purchase firearms as a way of solving this. There will be others who say that if one of the professors or students in the classroom had a firearm, they could have averted the tragedy, and there's examples of that in other parts of the country.
Here is my thought at this point. We are still a grieving state at this point. We need time to allow these parents to bury their kids. I know I went to a funeral yesterday and mourned with one of these families. But out of all these tragedies, whether it's Oklahoma City, or 9/11 or whether this senseless tragedy at Virginia Tech, we are a nation that enjoys the broad protections of the Bill of Rights.
We enjoy freedoms in our democracy. What we don't want to do is overreact that we rein in our freedoms and our liberties because of the acts of one madman. But we are going to take every reasonable review of these regulations and statutes to provide better safety. I owe that and the state owes it to the students in Virginia.
BLITZER: Attorney General, there is a report that Mr. Cho purchased ammunition on eBay, is that true?
MCDONNELL: Our best information is that's correct.
BLITZER: Would that be a violation of the law?
MCDONNELL: Not that we are aware of at this point.
BLITZER: Are they are allowed to sell ammunition on eBay?
MCDONNELL: Well, actually, let me say I don't have information per se about ammunition. My understanding was there were some clips or some magazine cartridges that might have been purchased electronically. I am not aware of any ammunition at this point.
BLITZER: The first person he killed was Emily Hilscher, a young woman, student, at the dorm Monday morning at Virginia Tech. Do you have any indication so far that that was deliberate, that he was going after her or it was simply random?
MCDONNELL: Wolf, I wish we had a good explanation for the families and for the nation about why he targeted Emily Hilscher on the fourth floor of a dorm that happened to be right next to his. We don't have any information about a connection. The state police are going through a full investigation. It is not done yet, and as they close out their factful determinations, if they can come up with any connection, it will announced.
The other thing we haven't ruled out is we want to find out if there is anyone at any point in time that would have aided or assisted Cho in any aspect of this horrible tragedy. So there's more that we still want to learn.
But I do think it's important to commend both our state, local and federal authorities with that immediate response to Emily's dorm within three minutes after the 911 call. They were both police there as well as medical personnel to attend to this situation.
BLITZER: We're out of time, Attorney General, but do you have any preliminary information there was someone, one individual or others, who aided him in any way? MCDONNELL: We are trying to rule out whether there was any assistance. Every indication is it was this madman Cho acting alone. But we have directed the state police to not stop until they've ruled out every possible theory.
BLITZER: Bob McDonnell is the attorney general of Virginia. We'll end this interview the way we started it, our deepest condolences, Attorney General, to everyone affected by this horrible, horrible crime.
MCDONNELL: Well, I appreciate the support and prayers of the entire nation. I've seen some of the kids shot in the hospital. We talked to the students. And the bright spot here is the resilience of our young people in Virginia. They're going to summon the courage to move on. Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, Attorney General.
And here to come here on "Late Edition," bells tolled on Friday as survivors mourned in Blacksburg, Virginia. What changes will emerge from this tragedy? I'll discuss that and more with three CNN reporters who were with me this week at Virginia Tech.
Also, can the attorney general of the United States, Alberto Gonzales, survive his unforgettable testimony to a Senate committee? Two attorneys with White House experience weigh in.
But up next, my special conversation with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times on Iraq, energy independence, politics and more. This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
The majority leader, Harry Reid, said this week that because of President Bush's policies, the war in Iraq was lost. In response, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said he couldn't imagine how the troops in the field would react when they heard the Democratic leader declare the war a loss. Coming up on "Late Edition," I'll get the views of two U.S. senators: Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, Republican senator and presidential candidate Sam Brownback of Kansas. That's coming up.
But first, I sat down with the New York Times Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist Thomas Friedman to discuss Senator Reid's remarks, politics and energy independence. He's the author of "The World is Flat" and has a special documentary airing this weekend on the Discovery Channel called "Green: The New Red, White and Blue."
BLITZER: And joining us now is Thomas Friedman.
Tom, thanks very much for coming in. TOM FRIEDMAN, NEW YORK TIMES: Great to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction to Harry Reid. He said this on Thursday, the Senate majority leader: "The war in Iraq is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday." Do you agree with him?
FRIEDMAN: Well, to me, Wolf, there's one metric to measure the surge by, and that is whether it's producing a political solution that will allow us to remove our troops.
BLITZER: Is it?
FRIEDMAN: Right now, I don't see that negotiation happening, let alone a conclusion that you say "Wow, the parties are really coming together. They are taking advantage of this, you know, little breathing spell to come together for a solution." And that's really what I'm waiting for.
To me, the metric of the surge is not whether the violence is down 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent. It is, are the parties coming together?
BLITZER: Because there is no military solution -- is this what you are saying?
BLITZER: But there has to be a political solution. For there to be a political solution, what needs to be done?
FRIEDMAN: Well, clearly, you need to see whether the parties, first of all, have the will.
BLITZER: When you say the parties, you mean Iraqi Shiites, the Sunnis, the Kurds?
FRIEDMAN: I mean you've got Shiites, Sunnis, the Kurds, whether they have the will to really come together. You know, when I first heard the surge idea, Wolf, my reaction was -- you know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of a couple. They get married. The marriage doesn't quite take and they say "You know what? Let's have a baby." You know, somehow that if you put more pressure on this, somehow that will come together.
And I feel that about the surge, that unless the underlying thing is there, the willingness of the three parties to cut a deal to share power, revenue and space together, there is no possible solution.
BLITZER: So when Harry Reid says the war is lost, you are not there yet. You haven't come to that conclusion yet.
FRIEDMAN: I mean, I certainly think that we're on our very, very, very, very last legs. You know, we certainly haven't won, that's for sure. And I see no sign right now that we're winning because the question I'm looking for is, is that political deal coming together? And I don't see it.
BLITZER: What is the Bush administration, in its final two years in office, what do they need to do immediately to try to bring that political settlement around?
FRIEDMAN: Well, the thing that's always baffled me, Wolf, really for a long time now is the fact that there has been no high level effort urgent to bring the parties together as we did in Dayton around Bosnia.
BLITZER: Zalmay Khalilzad tried when he was the U.S. ambassador.
FRIEDMAN: He did try. Now, one of the -- in fairness to the administration, one of the problems is that the parties aren't so clearly defined. You know, there are clear leaders in the Sunnis and clear leaders among the Shia. That's certainly one of the problems.
The other thing that's really disturbing me right now, Wolf, and it certainly explains why people like Harry Reid would say the war is lost, is this. We have 140-some thousand some troops in Iraq.
BLITZER: It's about to go up to 160,000.
FRIEDMAN: Right. Every day though, Wolf, another bombing, another three bombings, another four bombings. You know what it seems to me? We have no intelligence. I mean, this has been going on now for years, yet we don't seem to be able to get to the root of it at all. What does that say? It says no one, or not enough people are really cooperating with us.
BLITZER: What would it take for me to wake up one morning and see a headline in a Thomas Friedman column on the op-ed page of The New York Times, and the headline is, "The War is Lost"?
FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, I think that we're going to come to a conclusion very soon. General Petraeus has told us by the end of the summer that he's promised, we're going to see whether the surge is working or not. And certainly, I'm ready to wait for him.
I personally think we should be setting a deadline right now, so I'm not -- I was never a big supporter of the surge to begin with. So, I think that one of the problems we have now, Wolf, is that the parties themselves, nobody -- we are everyone's protector and everyone's target. We're the Shiites' protector, and we're their target. We're the Sunnis' protector, and we're their target. That's an untenable situation to be in.
The reason I favor a deadline is that everyone has choices except us. And we've got to create a situation where basically if they want to continue with this violence or continue being pig-headed around their negotiations, they're going to have to pay retail for their positions, not wholesale. While we're there holding up the floor, basically keeping a lid on things, everyone pays wholesale. BLITZER: Here's what President Bush said Thursday, speaking about the hypothetical consequences of failure for the U.S. in Iraq. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: If the United States were to leave a chaotic Iraq, not only would the vacuum of our failure there to help this young government enable extremists to move more freely and embolden them, but I also believe it could cause the Middle East to enter into a nuclear arms race.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Not only that dire scenario, but others have suggested, including John McCain, that it could cause genocide. As bad as the situation in Iraq is right now, it could get a whole lot worse.
FRIEDMAN: Well, my two reactions to that, Wolf. First of all, if it was that important, and I agree it was important, then why did you send just enough troops to lose? If it was that important?
You know, the president summons us to D-Day and originally, you know, sends just enough troops to lose. So let's ask first of all why we're in this situation.
But now let's put that aside. OK, what happens if we do leave? No one really knows, Wolf. One can make an argument that all, you know, heck is going to break loose in that part of the world. That's certainly one scenario.
Another scenario says there will be a period of fighting. The parties will eventually reach an equilibrium, and we may even have a better chance for a deal. I'm not here to tell you I know which it will be. All I'm telling you is, the president doesn't know either.
BLITZER: You're not very optimistic right now.
FRIEDMAN: No, I'm not.
BLITZER: I remember that column you wrote after the war. You described yourself as a worried optimist. You supported the war. Going into the war, you thought it was a just war. Later, you called yourself a worried optimist. How would you describe yourself right now?
FRIEDMAN: Oh, I'm just worried right now, Wolf. Just worried.
BLITZER: The optimism has gone away?
BLITZER: I want to move on to some other subjects, but let me play this other clip from what President Bush said this week about some consequences, including the al Qaida issue in Iraq. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Two of the biggest issues we face for the security of this country today and tomorrow is al Qaida and Iran. And yet, their influence is being played out in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. The al Qaida issue in Iraq, and the Iran issue in Iraq. Maybe al Qaida wasn't a major player in Iraq before the war, but the argument is, it is right now.
FRIEDMAN: Well, there's no question al Qaida is there. They're having an impact. The question though, Wolf, is to what degree are we part of the problem, and to what degree are we part of -- our leaving would be part of the solution?
Our presence there clearly attracts certain forces to Iraq. There's no question about it. Now, are we 30 percent of that? Are we 70 percent?
In other words, if we leave, to what extent does the violence go down? To what extent do we create a context where Iraqi Sunnis would want to take these people on? I just don't know, but neither does the president.
So he's casting this all in one way, as if it's about winning. There is no more winning to be done there, OK? All that's left is to protect American interests and to be able to get out in a way that leaves some chance, some chance, Wolf, that we'll get some equilibrium in place there that won't destabilize the whole region. I think that's all that's left.
BLITZER: And when we come back, we'll go to your e-mail, see what you have to say about the Virginia Tech tragedy. Also, part two of my interview with Tom Friedman. Who does he think has the most credibility in Iraq when it comes to the U.S. presidential candidates?
All that's coming up. Friedman will tell us what grades he would give Arnold Schwarzenegger's and Al Gore's plans to fight global warming? Later, as the entire country mourns those lost at Virginia Tech, we'll hear the intensely personal stories of the families themselves.
Don't go away. "Late Edition" will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back. You just heard New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's biting criticism of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq. We also discussed presidential politics and the environment when we sat down earlier in the week.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Which presidential candidate, Democratic or a Republican, do you think has the most credibility when it comes to talking about what to do in Iraq?
FRIEDMAN: You know, I really would have a hard time rating any of them, frankly. Not up or down. We're not allowed to endorse candidates as columnists, so I'm a little...
BLITZER: Don't endorse. But does a Hillary Clinton, a Joe Biden, a John McCain, who really understands the issues there and comes to the table with a lot of knowledge?
FRIEDMAN: I mean, if you are asking right today, Wolf, the person I think who has been where I've been, you know, from the very beginning, seeing the potential, you know, that this could have for a positive outcome, but really, really cautious and worried all the time that we weren't doing it right was Joe Biden.
I think Joe Biden's been on top of this from the very beginning. He was on top of the opportunity, he was on top of what stakes we needed, what we needed to do to get some chance of realizing that opportunity. And he's been on top of saying this isn't working. So if there's anyone I felt in sync with from the very beginning, I would say it's Joe Biden.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the Discovery Channel documentary that airs this weekend, "Green, the New Red, White and Blue." All right, talk a little bit how you came up with that title, and what's the basic message you're trying to convey?
FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, one thing I do in the commentary business, is I'm a big believer, if you can name something, you can own it. If you can name an issue, you can own the issue.
And one of the things that's always struck me about this issue green, is that it was subtly named by its opponents. It was really subtly named by all the people that kind of didn't like it, wanted to disparage it. And they named it liberal, tree-hugging, girly man, sissy, unpatriotic, vaguely French in order to undermine it.
But what I've been trying to do through my column, through this piece and through this Discovery documentary is try to rename green, rename it geopolitical, geostrategic, capitalistic, patriotic. Because I think only if you rename it and create a bridging ideology between liberals and conservatives around this green idea, when we really get the scale we need to do what we need to do to really address all these...
BLITZER: Because I know you are deeply worried. Let me read to you a quote from the cover story you did in the New York Times Magazine back on April 15th, and you are referring to the title of the Al Gore documentary, as will be evident. "Here is really inconvenient truth. We have not even begun to be serious about the costs, the effort and the scale of change that will be required to shift our country and eventually the world to a largely emissions-free energy infrastructure over the next 50 years."
Give us the thought that you had in writing those words.
FRIEDMAN: Well, we have a lot of politicians highlighting the dangers now. That's a good thing.
BLITZER: Everyone agrees that it's...
FRIEDMAN: It's a problem.
BLITZER: ... at least most people agree that global warming is a problem.
FRIEDMAN: A problem we need to address. We have other people talking about the really easy solutions. We're going to invest more in ethanol or coal sequestration research. But no one is really talking about the real scale of the problem, Wolf. In very rough numbers, the scale is this. The world in 2000 will have used about 13 terabits of energy. That's 13 trillion watts. In 2050, we're going to use about terabits, 26 trillion watts, if growth continues along these lines.
If we want to avoid crossing the red line on global warming, on CO2 in the atmosphere and grow from 13 terabits to 26 terabits, we need to, Wolf, basically save as much energy as we're now using, 13 terabits, and we need to produce from clean, emission-free sources -- wind, solar, biofuels -- another 13 terabits of energy. If we just did this by nuclear power, Wolf, it would mean we would need to build a new nuclear facility every day for the next 36 years.
BLITZER: Which is obviously not going to happen because there's been no nuclear reactor facility built for power in this country -- what -- in two decades.
FRIEDMAN: Yes, exactly. And no one -- that is the truly inconvenient truth, Wolf. No one is talking to the American people, let alone the world, about the incredible scale of the industrial project that would be required to combat global warming.
But there is another side of it. It's an also incredible economic opportunity. Why is it an economic opportunity, if I can take your role here for a second? Because to make something green or to make an engine, a building, any kind of appliance greener or cleaner, the only way to do it is by making it smarter, more efficient, more knowledge in it.
What do we do well? That's what we do. We have a comparative advantage in making things smarter and more efficient. What does China do well? They make things cheaper. So to the extent that we move the debate to making things greener, we actually create an opportunity for many more manufacturing jobs in this country, jobs that can't be outsourced.
BLITZER: All right. Let me get back to your original point about framing the issue. Here is what else you write in the New York Times: "A new green ideology properly defined has the power to mobilize liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and atheists, big business and environmentalists around an agenda that can both pull us together and propel us forward. We need the first green president."
Who is that? Who is the first green president if you look at all the candidates out there?
FRIEDMAN: Not one that I see on the horizon. The first green president, if he didn't have an Austrian passport, would be Arnold Schwarzenegger.
BLITZER: You like what he's doing out in California?
FRIEDMAN: I really admire what he's doing. It's the real deal. It's not just a mirage. It's the real deal.
BLITZER: And none of these Democrats or Republicans right now, none of the frontrunners, none of the second tier candidates has that vision that you like?
FRIEDMAN: I will say this. John Edwards in the past few weeks has come out with a series of proposals I'm now studying which strike me as probably the most forward-leaning of all the candidates so far.
BLITZER: What if Al Gore jumped into the race?
FRIEDMAN: If Al Gore jumped into the race, that would be terrific from the green point of view, provided he jumps in with the same things he's been talking about on the outside. He's talked about a carbon tax, he's talked about a gasoline tax. Would Al Gore the candidate be pushing those as much as Al Gore the green evangelist? I don't know. That would be very important.
BLITZER: Here was another intriguing line from that article, and we're going to wrap it up with this: "The politician who actually proved just how effective this can be was a guy named George W. Bush when he was governor of Texas. He pushed for and signed a renewable energy portfolio mandate in 1999. President Bush, though, is no Governor Bush."
So you've seen him flip on that.
FRIEDMAN: Well, Governor George W. Bush in Texas signed a bill that resulted today in Texas being the biggest wind power in America. He mandated that Texas utilities had to produce a certain amount of megawatts -- kilowatts from wind. And the result of that has been all these wind companies came into Texas. And Texas today is the leading wind state in America.
Unfortunately, that same approach of having the government, Wolf, set really high standards and then let the market reach them he's not brought to the federal level. BLITZER: Thomas Friedman's documentary on the Discovery Channel airs this weekend. It's entitled "Green: The New Red, White and Blue." His best-seller "The World is Flat" coming out with a new edition, 3.0, later this summer. It's been on the New York Times best-sellers list now for some two years.
Thomas Friedman, thanks for coming in.
FRIEDMAN: Great, Wolf. Great to be with you.
BLITZER: And when we come back, we're going to move on to other subjects, including legal subjects. We'll take a short break. Even some sources, though, at the White House now saying the attorney general of the United States went down in flames on Capitol Hill. We'll talk to two lawyers who know what the hot seat is all about.
And for our North American viewers, right after "Late Edition," Tom Foreman hosts "This Week At War" as they look at a tragic week in Iraq and new fighting in Afghanistan. Don't miss it. That airs 1:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Seventy-one times -- according to the Associated Press, that's how many times the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he could not recall or could not remember during a single day of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And that raises this question: Can he survive?
Joining us now to discuss this and more, two veteran attorneys here in Washington: Lanny Davis, special council in the Clinton White House; and David Rivkin who served as counsel in the White House and the justice department under the first President Bush.
Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.
David, start with you. Adam Putnam, the number three Republican in the House of Representatives, normally a loyal ally of the Bush administration said this on Friday following Gonzales's testimony: "I think that they would be well-served by fresh leadership. He did not distinguish himself in the hearing. There remains a cloud over the department."
Can he survive?
DAVID RIVKIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I think he can. I think it's quite unfair to say that he did not do well. If you look at the hearing, most of the people, to state the obvious, came into it with preconceived notions. The Democrats, of course, are quite happy. This is really very partisan on their part.
The Republicans who were after him, frankly, were after him not because of the firing of the U.S. attorneys. He is the key architect of a key legal decision this administration has made regarding enemy combatants, Guantanamo, Patriot Act, NSA wiretapping. In a way, he is caught in a perfect storm. I frankly don't know what people expected to accomplish, what miracles could have happened as a result of his testimony.
BLITZER: What do you think, Lanny? Can he survive as the attorney general?
LANNY DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I think a political world where you have Senator Coburn, Congressman Putnam, Senator Lindsey Graham, who I think is the most apt to...
BLITZER: All Republicans.
DAVIS: All Republicans, questioning his ability to be effective. And I think it's a personal decision. I happen to be sympathetic with Attorney General Gonzales because I just felt sorry for him. He's been badly advised. He should have simply, from the earliest days, said "We screwed up badly and we did not have the right to fire some of these U.S. attorneys who were performing very well."
BLITZER: But they serve at the pleasure of the president. They can fire anybody they want.
DAVIS: Who were performing very well on grounds of performance. The problem they had from the day that the Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said these firings were performance-based, was immediately saying, "Oops, that's wrong." As Lindsey Graham said, "You replaced these people because you wanted to have other people in there and that's it," and that would have been the best thing for the A.G. to have said. He didn't say that. He hid behind "Well, I apologize for mismanaging the crisis." It's more than that.
BLITZER: What do you think?
RIVKIN: I think he had the full right to replace people. Look, personnel business, first of all, is always murky, never is pristine. But the notion people that people who served there for four years, that it's somehow illegitimate, Lanny, to bring in fresh blood, even if people have done a good job, there's nothing illegitimate about it.
These are jobs that are filled with a lot of political considerations. Unless -- and there's zero evidence of that -- you fire them to impede specific cases, it's absolutely, perfectly...
BLITZER: OK, and on that point -- on that point I want to play a clip from what Alberto Gonzales said. Listen to this, Lanny.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GONZALES: I firmly believe that nothing improper occurred. U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president. There's nothing improper making a change for poor management, policy differences or questionable judgment, or simply to have another qualified individual serve.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, at the start of the Clinton administration, an administration you served in the White House, President Clinton, he removed -- what -- all 93 U.S. attorneys at one fell swoop.
DAVIS: Yes, everybody agrees with that. If I had been asked advice, which I wasn't, I would have said to the attorney general, "Say nothing improper occurred begs the question. The question is, why did you fire Paul (sic) Iglesias specifically?"
BLITZER: He was the U.S. attorney in New Mexico.
DAVIS: Was it about Senator Domenici not only improperly, maybe illegally, making phone calls that, as Mr. Iglesias said, pressured him about prosecutions or absence of prosecutions?
Why the Senate is focusing on the attorney general is ignoring, as far as I'm concerned, what might be a serious misconduct act by Senator Domenici. So for me, that's the issue that the attorney general should have said "That was wrong, we should not have allowed that phone call."
BLITZER: Here is a problem the attorney general has, and I'm going to play a little clip that underscored it because he was ridiculed as a result of this. Watch this
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GONZALES: I do not recall what I knew about Mr. Bogden.
I don't recall any dissent.
I don't recall remembering -- I don't recall the reason.
I don't recall specifically the genesis of the idea.
I don't recall -- I don't recall exactly when the decision -- I made the decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But he didn't recall exactly when he made get the decision. Even Senator Session, who is a staunch supporter of the Bush administration, said these events did not occur 10, 15 years ago. They were only a few months ago. And for him to argue, "I don't recall, I don't recall," raises questions of his credibility.
RIVKIN: Let me say two things. I understand it looks bad and the comics had fun with it, but these are decisions that have been stretched out over a period of a year or more, among hundreds of other decisions he's made. With all due respect to the position of U.S. attorneys, they're not the most exulted, not the most important decisions the attorney general makes. It's quite possible that you don't remember some details about it.
One other interesting point, because he wanted to be correct. He has not consulted since this whole brouhaha has begun to prepare for his testimony with any of his aides because, as he said, he didn't want to appear like he was influencing their testimony. So think about it, here's the attorney general, sitting, preparing for his testimony, not being able to ask any of the people giving him advice. That's a hell of a pickle to be in.
BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by because we are going to continue this conversation and we're going to get to other subjects, as well, including guns, the Second Amendment.
And the U.S. Supreme Court makes a major decision this week on abortion. All that coming up.
We should also note that we'll be continuing our special coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy later here on CNN this evening. At 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Kiran Chetry will honor the students and teachers whose lives were cut short, "32 Lives To Remember."
Then at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Soledad O'Brien and CNN's special investigation unit take you inside the mind of a madman. That's CNN SIU, "Massacre at Virginia Tech," two programs you won't want to miss.
"Late Edition" will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Joining us once again, Lanny Davis, a special counsel to the Clinton White House, David Rivkin who served as a counsel in the White House and the Justice Department under the first President Bush.
The United States Constitution Second Amendment says this: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
The Washington Post in an editorial on Friday, after the Virginia Tech massacre, wrote this: "It is lunacy to assume that the right to bear arms implies a right to do so unconditionally with no meaningful waiting period or thorough examination of a purchaser's potential for violence. There is no assurance that tighter restrictions would have averted the slaughter on the Virginia Tech campus Monday, but surely faced with a buyer of Mr. Cho's profile, a sane society should have thrown up obstacles to his obtaining deadly weapons."
Do you agree with that, David?
RIVKIN: I agree with the bottom line but, unfortunately, they have a little bit of ideology going on behalf of our good friends at the Post. The bottom line is this: violent crime in this country has been going down since '91. You have a situation here where he was not using infamous assault weapons.
He was using handguns. It's very difficult for me to envision any regulatory regime short of a total ban that would have had a meaningful impact on this individual's ability to get guns.
Now, we know that he was not eligible for it, but we clearly could invest more money in making sure that the system at the state level is working well.
BLITZER: Because he was deemed mentally unfit, a danger to himself by a court in Virginia, and yet they went ahead and sold him two handguns.
RIVKIN: But to be fair, from what we know now, it was not the case that this information found its way onto their records that the store...
BLITZER: That's a problem. What do you think, Lanny?
DAVIS: Well, first of all, I'm a strict conservative when it comes to interpreting the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment is about militias. It's not about individuals. Only liberals would say that that's about individuals.
Of course, conservatives tend to be intellectually inconsistent on that by suddenly being liberal constructionists, saying the Second Amendment talks about individuals. It doesn't. It talks about militias. The framers had in mind organized militias.
So let's see who's strict and who's liberal in talking about the Second Amendment.
Having said that, I think it's ridiculous to try to go to the issue of gun control when you're looking at this lunatic with violence and literally...
BLITZER: But shouldn't there be steps to make it more difficult...
DAVIS: Of course there should be.
BLITZER: ... for mentally ill people to just go into a store and buy a gun?
DAVIS: Of course there should be, but they will still have the opportunity to do what this young man did. And to go to the issue of gun control, as if that might have been relevant, to me was just over the top.
BLITZER: The U.S. Supreme Court, David, this week ruled 5 to 4 that this late-term abortion procedure called partial-birth abortion was unconstitutional, that the law that was passed banning it was constitutional. What does that portend for abortion rights for women in the United States down the road?
RIVKIN: I think the critics who are claiming this was a momentous change, that women's right to choose is in jeopardy, are wrong. This is a very modest decision. If you look particularly at Kennedy's views on that, he re-emphasized the relevant standards expressed in such cases...
BLITZER: Justice Kennedy.
RIVKIN: ... Justice Kennedy, in such cases as Carhart and Casey. Talked about no undue burden. He emphasized the fact, Wolf, they are only banning one procedure. It's not about banning late-term abortions. They're banning one procedure.
I think it is a very, very limited decision. The only thing that, frankly, is stunning to me is that the folks that view that abortion should be unlimited are so used to getting their way that one small change, one small regulatory change, who by the way (ph), in the original framework of Roe had extensive opportunities to regulate, are screaming now.
DAVIS: Let me disagree with my friend. It is very clear every presidential candidate in light of this decision, the first time since Roe that the health of the mother was not taken into consideration. Every presidential candidate must be asked, do you favor overturning Roe versus Wade? Yes or no?
Mayor Giuliani cannot get away with saying, I'm just a strict constructionist. You've got to answer that question because we are looking at a 5-4 vote to overturn Roe versus Wade if Justice Kennedy's logic is applied to Roe, where the health of the mother is not taken onto consideration.
BLITZER: All right. We'll leave it there, guys. Lanny Davis, thanks very much for coming in. David Rivkin, thanks to you as well.
In just a moment, the violence in Iraq seems to have increased this week. Is the security plan working? We'll ask two key U.S. senators.
And it may have looked like an everyday baseball game, but for the students at Virginia Tech, it was a symbol of moving on with life. We'll try to find what lessons we can learn from this horrible tragedy when we return with "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: There's much more ahead on "Late Edition." Does the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, have any support left on Capitol Hill? We'll check in with two key U.S. senators.
And some of the reporters who worked with me to cover the terrible events at Virginia Tech talk about how quickly this story became intensely personal. Much more of our special coverage, including my conversations with two family members. All that when "Late Edition" continues.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, says the war in Iraq is lost. His comments setting off a firestorm of criticism, mostly from Republicans.
Joining us now to discuss the war and more, two U.S. senators. Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee. He's also a candidate for Republican presidential nomination. Senator Brownback is joining us from Topeka.
And with us here in Washington, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. He's a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence. Senators, thanks to both of you for coming in.
And I'll start with you, Senator Brownback. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, the majority leader in the U.S. Senate, he blamed the president's policies for the failures, in his words, of Iraq, adding, "This war is lost, and the surge is not accomplishing anything, as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq."
It was a horrible week in the Baghdad area. Hundreds of Iraqis were killed in several major attacks. Is Senator Reid right?
REP. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: No, he's not right, and this is poor of him to say this. And I think it's harmful, actually, of him to say this. When we have troops involved in this situation, and we certainly have some policy disputes about a time deadline for pulling people out, but to almost declare defeat by your majority leader in the United States Senate is a very bad thing for the country for him to say such a thing as that.
BLITZER: What do you think, Senator Wyden?
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Wolf, for many months, Henry Kissinger, perhaps the premier senior Republican foreign policy specialist, has indicated that the problems in Iraq cannot be solved with a military solution. We've got to come up with a political settlement here. We've got to find a way to bring the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds together. That's essentially what Harry Reid was talking about.
BLITZER: Is that your understanding, Senator Brownback?
BROWNBACK: That's not my understanding, but I do agree with Ron that we need a political solution. And I've had my own problems with the surge.
But what I think you have to do is mix both the military and the political with this, and that's why I've been joining with people like Joe Biden, and I would presume probably Ron, too, to push a three- state, one-country solution in Iraq, where you have a Kurdish state which basically already exists, a Sunni state and a Shia state with Baghdad as the federal capital and a loose, fairly weak, federated system.
But you're going to need a long-term military presence to ensure that, the same as we do in Bosnia right now. BLITZER: Well, let me ask Senator Wyden. Senator Biden has been speaking about -- he doesn't call it partition, but effectively three separate areas along the lines of what Senator Brownback is saying. Is that something you think makes sense?
WYDEN: I'm still skeptical of that approach. We've got to find a way to reduce the sectarian strife. That's what the National Intelligence Estimate, the most recent one, says is the central problem.
Some have said, oh, the big problem is al Qaida. The big problem is Sunni-Shia violence, and right now, we're even seeing walls being built up between these various areas. I don't think that's the way to go.
I don't think gated communities are going to do this. We've got to find a way to build bonds between the Sunnis and Shias, not create more opportunities with walls for sectarian strife.
BLITZER: Here is what the president said this week, speaking in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: So far, the operation is meeting expectations. There are still horrific attacks in Iraq, such as the bombings in Baghdad on Wednesday. But the direction of the fight is beginning to shift.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator Wyden, do you agree with the president that things slowly but surely are moving in the right direction?
WYDEN: I don't see it, and we don't get that. Again, I can't talk in a classified way, but we don't get that on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Our policies, what we do know, are creating more jihadists rather than fewer. What we're seeing is that our troops are being asked to stay on longer tours.
Every objective measure indicates that this surge is not working. We ought to look at approaches like the Iraqi Study Group and start redeploying our troops and focusing on helping the Iraqis with counterterrorism, but not primarily the combat role.
BLITZER: Senator Brownback, do you see progress on the ground in the Baghdad area?
BROWNBACK: I think you're seeing mixed results right now. Anbar, there's improvements taking place there. The number of attacks in Baghdad are decreasing, but you're seeing more attacks in other places. I think you're seeing a mixed set of results. The full scale of the deployment on the surge has not taken place yet. I don't think we can put a full judgment in.
But I just don't think we have enough of a political solution on the ground. And there I would agree with Senator Wyden about it. It's just I think the only way you're going to move forward is really provide some space and some separation between Sunni and Shia. We're not going to resolve the Sunni-Shia fight. The United States is not going to get that resolved.
BLITZER: There is a standoff, Senator Wyden, right now between the White House and the Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate over funding for the troops for the war right now. The president seeking another $100 billion in emergency funding. The Democratic majority in the house and the Senate say you can have that money, but there has to be a timeline of when U.S. troops should start pulling out, a target date of getting them out.
Right now, the president says if you send them that bill with those kinds of restrictions, he'll veto it. So what happens?
WYDEN: Democrats are going to stay at this to make sure that we're on line with what the country called for last November. The country said we've got to change course, and there ought to be timelines to ensure that there is a new policy. We're also absolutely committed to making sure that the troops have the armor and the equipment that they need.
I believe that not only is the country moving in our direction, but you're seeing Republicans every day move our direction. For example, Olympia Snowe just in the last couple of days has indicated that she's going to stake out a new approach to ensure some accountability. She's talking about benchmarks and timelines. That's what the country wants.
BLITZER: The latest CNN opinion research poll, Senator Brownback, would suggest that Senator Wyden is right. We asked the question, who are you more likely to side with in the Iraq dispute between Bush and Congress? 60 percent said Democrats in Congress, 37 percent said President Bush. It looks like that's a pretty lopsided majority for the Democrats.
BROWNBACK: Well, it may on that opinion there but, Wolf, the date we set a deadline to pull out is the day that al Qaida will declare victory over the United States. And much of the world will agree. And I don't think the United States public wants to see that taking place.
The problem here is, the solution involves both Republicans and Democrats. I think it evolves more of a political solution on the ground that we don't have in place in Iraq, and we're going to need to have a long-term military presence in Iraq or this will continue to have civil war-type features and devolve into a terrorist state. We cannot have that taking place.
BLITZER: I'm going to move on to some other subjects, but a quick point. You're a member of the Intelligence Committee. You don't have to reveal any classified information, but do you get the sense, Senator Wyden, that the U.S., the military, the civilian establishment, has a good understanding of the nature of this insurgency, of what's really going on in Iraq? WYDEN: If you read that National Intelligence Estimate, what you're seeing again is we're not headed in the right direction. They're making it clear, for example, with the Sunni and Shia violence, that, if anything, this is a more extensive than a conventional civil war. So we're going to have to take a different approach than simply putting the primary focus on the military side.
BLITZER: But in terms of an understanding, the nature of the threat that exists in Iraq right now, does the U.S. intelligence community have a good understanding of that?
WYDEN: I think they understand the key fundamentals. The Bush administration doesn't seem to share that view. They're not following the judgments of the intelligence specialists. They're not following the judgments of the Iraqi Study Group. It seems to me their approach is not putting a lot of pressure on the Maliki government. They have used our courageous soldiers as a crutch for too long. We ought to change course.
BLITZER; Let's talk about a domestic issue, Senator Brownback. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. You're a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. You were there during his testimony that day. Here is what your Republican colleague from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, said, and it raised a lot of eyebrows. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM COBURN, R-OKLA.: It was handled incompetently. The communication was atrocious. It was inconsistent. It's generous to say that there were misstatements. That's a generous statement.
And I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered. And I believe the best way to put this behind us is your resignation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. What do you think? Can the attorney general survive this uproar? Should he survive this uproar or should he step down?
BROWNBACK: Well, I think he can survive, and the opinion that matters here is the president of the United States, the attorney general himself. And I asked him specifically about the U.S. attorneys that were terminated and go down through the specifics of why each was terminated, because that's the factual set of issues we ought to be looking at.
And remember, Wolf, and you know this. These are U.S. attorneys that are appointed by the president. They serve at the will of the president. They can be terminated for cause or without cause or because they just have green eyes. They don't have to have any reason to terminate.
But what we're looking for to see if there was an untoward reason they were terminated, and it didn't come out during the hearing. I think he's got difficulties. I think he has problems, but if he has the confidence of the president, I really think it's probably time to move on.
BLITZER: Does he have your confidence?
BROWNBACK: Well, I have some real questions about how it was managed and how the department is being managed, but I don't think it serves us well to just continue to harp on that. I think it's time for us to move on, and we've got a whole bunch of issues that we can look at and we need to be looking at in this country.
BLITZER: Senator Wyden, this is how, in part, the attorney general defended himself. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GONZALES: I would never, ever, make a change in a United States attorney position for political reasons or if it would in any way jeopardize an ongoing serious investigation. I just would not do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you believe him?
WYDEN: It was one of the few times he actually gave a direct answer. I will tell you he clearly didn't distinguish himself in this particular testimony. And my concern is, is whether or not he's essentially being a scapegoat for this administration almost like we saw with Brownie in the case of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. You have got a lot of people, in effect, saying he's a dead man walking. Not all the facts are in.
And I can tell you, Wolf, from having dealt with the White House on U.S. attorney appointments, they're pretty involved in this area, both with respect to the selection of an appointment, whether or not that person comes and goes.
And I, for one, am concerned that some of the people who are saying he's a dead man walking are essentially trying to have Mr. Gonzales walk the plank for the administration when we still ought to be digging into exactly what the role of the White House was.
BLITZER: Senator Brownback, two other issues I want to get to very quickly, if you'd give me a quick thought.
BLITZER: The Supreme Court decision, 5-4, saying that the restrictions passed by Congress on late-term abortion procedure that critics call partial birth abortion, was, in fact, constitutional. What happens next from your perspective? I know you oppose abortion rights for women.
BROWNBACK: I would rather put it, if I could, Wolf, that I am pro-life, that I believe all life, at all stages is unique, is beautiful, is sacred. It's a child of a loving God and that applies to a child in the womb and the child in Darfur, I might add, rather than you saying about abortion rights. I think we ought to start looking at this child.
And we're talking about a procedure where you're mostly delivering the child and then literally crushing its head to go ahead with the abortion, and that's why over 70 percent of the American public finds it gruesome and wrong and they think it ought to be limited. And I think that's why the Supreme Court ruled the way it did on this clearly very gruesome procedure and I think they're starting to find life in the Constitution and not death.
BLITZER: Senator Wyden, let me get your response.
WYDEN: Elections have consequences, Wolf, and there's no question the court now is moving to chip away at Roe v. Wade. Historically, there's been an exception for the life of the mother. This decision doesn't comport with that. I think in the days ahead, this court is going to threaten the basic proposition that women ought to be left alone on this point in order to make their own choice.
BLITZER: In the aftermath of Virginia Tech, Senator Brownback, is it time to tighten up gun laws so that an individual who is clearly mentally ill can't simply walk into a store and buy a pistol?
BROWNBACK: Well, we have the Second Amendment, Wolf, just as we have the First Amendment, and I believe in the Constitution. And I believe it says what it does, and you can have experts, I guess, looking at different points, but there are imitations on what we can do because people do have the right to bear arms.
What I would hope we could do as a Congress is step back and take a long view of violence in this country and what it is that we can and can't do within the constrictions of the Constitution, both the First and the Second Amendment. We need to do that on a bicameral, bipartisan basis and it really is called for after Virginia Tech.
BLITZER: All right. Let me let Senator Wyden weigh in.
WYDEN: Taking a long view does make sense, but certainly the Congress -- and there's a promising development recently with folks from the National Rifle Association working with some of the gun safety groups to make sure that when you're talking about a mentally imbalanced individual and somebody at the state level knows about it, that the databases that have that information are communicated to the federal databases so that somebody doesn't walk into a gun shop and people don't check to see if that person's mentally imbalanced. I think we can deal with that.
I'll tell you also...
BLITZER: Hold on. Just very quickly, do you agree, Senator Brownback, on that specific point?
BROWNBACK: I think that's a good point. And it looks like there was a weakness in the system on this one. We need to be able to get that information out to the states for them to be able to use. BLITZER: On that point of agreement, we have got to leave it, unfortunately. But a good discussion.
WYDEN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Senator Wyden, thanks for coming in.
Senator Brownback, always good to have you on "Late Edition" as well. Thank you.
BROWNBACK: Thank you, Wolf.
Thank you, Ron.
WYDEN: Thanks, Sam.
BLITZER: And coming up here on "Late Edition," the Virginia Tech marching band playing for wounded students on Friday. We're going to bring you some of the stories of how the students there have proved their strength in the midst of horrible tragedy.
And the story in Blacksburg, Virginia -- was it one where reporters could simply stand back and be objective? I'll look back with three CNN correspondents who were there on the scene.
Plus, former White House Press Secretary Jim Brady and his wife, Sarah, were on CBS this morning speaking out about the importance of gun control in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings. Don't go away. "Late Edition" will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
In just a few moments, we'll hear directly from some of the Virginia Tech parents as they remember their children murdered in what should have only been the beginning of their lives.
But, first, I'm joined by three of our CNN team that covered this tragedy: "American Morning" anchor Kiran Chetry is here, her partner in the mornings, John Roberts, and CNN's homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in on this Sunday.
John, we were all there and I sensed -- but you were there longer than I was, that there was clearly a mood change as every day went on, on that campus.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first day, of course, it was shock and trauma. The second day it was sort of the disbelief of, "How could something like this happen?" The third day was, "How are we going to get past this?" The fourth day was starting to lay the groundwork for getting past it. And that's also when the move toward the coverage began to shift as well. They seemed to be very happy to have us there. A lot of people were coming up and talking to us. They wanted to talk this out. I remember the first thing that I did when I got on campus, I looked up my son's best friend to make sure he was OK. We also talked with him on camera, put some of that on the air. Larry King ran some of it as well.
People wanted to talk, they wanted to understand. I think they were thankful that we were there so that they knew that there was a lot of people who really cared about all of this.
But then as time went on, I remember on Thursday morning we had a woman come up to us when we were by the drill field. She said, "I just wanted to thank you all for being here. You've done a great job. Really appreciate your coverage. Now it's time to please leave."
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that the airing of the NBC tapes really changed a lot of things for people. I think that there were a lot of people who felt that was an affront, and after they saw that, some of them wanted us out.
ROBERTS: I think it was heading in that direction anyway.
MESERVE: There were townspeople who came up to me and said "Why are you shooting this? You have got enough. Will you leave us now, please."
BLITZER: Was that your impression, Kiran, too?
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: It was unbelievable, because it was an idyllic campus and then you look around and there's thousands of satellite trucks, people milling about, and really, I think, as John said, because of the shock on the first couple of days, people were just coming over, but after awhile they said, you know, "We need to get together, we need to be together as our community and figure out what we're going to do."
I mean, these answers don't come easy and I'm sure if ever, they're never going to get over this. They're going to move on and do the best that they can. And there was a real sense of community. And I was not familiar with the "Hokie spirit," as they call it, at Virginia Tech. And they take it very seriously.
It's not just that they're rooting for their athletic teams to do well. It truly is the feeling and the spirit that they're going to come together and do whatever they need to do for one another.
BLITZER: And John, I'm sure you came across with this impression that I certainly did from the beginning, that so many people, even as they were grieving, felt, you know what, this could have been avoided.
ROBERTS: You know, there are people that are asking those questions, and there are people who are saying that the media is looking for a scapegoat, looking for somebody to blame. And I can tell you from my perspective, I'm not looking for anybody to blame. I'm hoping that we can...
BLITZER: Because there were a lot of warning signs that he was projecting, Mr. Cho.
ROBERTS: I'm hoping that we can help to understand this by looking at the development of this guy. Maybe it goes all the way back to his childhood. I don't know.
And how many red flags were raised, and how many times along the lines should his name have gotten into some records somewhere, some federal record that wouldn't have allowed him to buy a weapon?
CHETRY: And you know what people said after 9/11, no one ever again is going to be able to take over a plane and to work their way into a cockpit. We as the American people wouldn't allow it. And I think that, you know, the warning signs of a clearly disturbed person who everybody came in contact with, felt he was disturbed.
I don't think that anyone's going to allow that to go unnoticed because of what happened at Virginia Tech.
BLITZER: You looked closely into this part of the story, Jeanne. How did that happen that he sort of slipped through the cracks there?
MESERVE: They weren't connecting dots. In some cases, they couldn't connect dots because of some of the confidentiality requirements that area put on mental health records in particular. So there was just a failure to put it together.
And when it came to him getting guns, the Virginia State Police said he could get one. There was nothing in his record that indicated he could not get one. It was at variance with federal law. The problem is, there's a disconnect between the federal law and the state law. Legislators obviously should be looking at perhaps bringing those things into sync so that sort of thing doesn't happen again.
BLITZER: We spoke to the attorney general in the first half hour of "Late Edition," who said, yes, they have to take a close look at why that could happen, that there was this difference between state law versus federal law.
John, let's talk about guns right now. Back in 1990, the question was asked, would you support stricter gun laws? Seventy- eight percent of the American public at that time said yes. It's gone down over the years. In '95, 62 percent; 2001, 54 percent; 2007, 49 percent.
There have been some stricter gun laws enacted over the years. That may in part explain the reduction. All these numbers obviously taken before Virginia Tech. But look ahead for us. What do you sense happening on this issue of guns now and gun control as a result of this horror that we endured at Virginia Tech?
ROBERTS: There's going to be no question here, Wolf. It's coming up in Congress very soon. The same sort of debate over guns and gun laws and gun accessibility that we see every time something like this happens. We heard it during Columbine. We heard it after the Luby shooting. We heard it after the McDonald's shooting in San Ysidro way back when.
Every time something like this happens, there is a national convulsion over the issue of guns and who should be allowed to get them. You can tighten up the laws, you know, renew the assault weapons ban or reauthorize the assault weapons ban. But when it comes to these handguns, if somebody who clearly is not eligible for a gun by one statute is eligible for a gun by another statute, that shows a gaping hole here that needs to be closed.
You'd mentioned that one much your guests earlier on was talking about that. So perhaps if anything can come of this, it's to be able to keep better records of people who should not have access to guns. So just looking for a second at the issue of this video, I think if we learn anything from the video, we learn what the profile is of the emerging psychosis of a killer, and if somebody can see those signs somewhere along the lines, identify them, perhaps bring them to somebody's attention, then maybe something like this could be prevented.
BLITZER: You've covered the story over the years, Jeanne. What do you think?
MESERVE: Well, I'll tell you, the aspect of the story that's intriguing to me is the homeland security side of it. First of all, should they have notified the student body after those first killings? Did they have the means to do so? They sent out eventually an e-mail.
Well, what about text messaging? Is that a better way to get to students all across a campus on short notice? How do you lock down a campus when it's got 26,000 students and 7,000 staff members and it's sprawling? Physically, how do you do that?
You have the campuses in the middle of cities, many of whom have been sited as targets, and there has to be some serious thought given on that front to coming up with the strategy for communicating with students, for securing students, for keeping the campuses safe, be it gunmen or be it terrorists.
BLITZER: Kiran, you have a special that's going to air tonight on CNN 7 p.m. Eastern. I want to run a little clip of something that's going to be on, because you're paying tribute to those young kids as well as the older people, the professors, who were killed. Thirty-two lives. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FERN MARTIN: They told me, said, Lauren's (ph) not with us anymore. I said, why? Is she on her way here? And he said, no, they had a shooting over there.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: That was Fern Martin. Her great-granddaughter, Lauren, was killed at Virginia Tech. Tell us what you're going to be doing in this special tonight.
CHETRY: Every single person who was killed last Monday is going to be remembered. We're not focusing on some of the other issues we're talking about, like the shooter, like gun control, what happened on the campus.
It really is a tribute to 32 lives and it is stunning as we -- and I had a chance firsthand to talk to a few people who knew some of the people who were killed. But every single one of these people had a story to tell. They all had such bright futures.
I think that's one of the things that really hit all of us very hard is that every one of these people had future goals and was working towards something and really bettered and beautified the lives of those around them, from the professors to the students, and so it is heartbreaking to know that they're now not here with us. This special is about them and to remember them.
BLITZER: It's going to be a very, very moving tribute. All right, guys, stand by, because we're going to continue this conversation. We're going to turn to politics. CNN's special coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings will continue tonight, as we just told you, 7 p.m. Eastern. Kiran will host "32 Lives to Remember."
Then at 8 p.m. Eastern, Soledad O'Brien and CNN's Special Investigation Unit takes you inside the mind of a madman. "Massacre at Virginia Tech," that airs at 8 p.m. Eastern. Two programs you'll want to see.
"Late Edition" will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We'll have more of our conversation with our panel in just a moment. But first, let's take a look at where some of the U.S. presidential candidates will be spending some time over the next few days.
On the campaign trail, Senator Hillary Clinton will be barnstorming across Iowa today and tomorrow. She's back in New York to receive an award. Senator Sam Brownback, who was just here on "Late Edition," will be in Boston on Monday to attend a forum on Catholic senators and presidential candidates, "Faith and Public Policy." He'll be joined by Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, fresh from a Sunday tour of New Hampshire.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will be speaking to a Republican dinner in Florida on Monday, while Senator Barack Obama will be at an Earth Day rally in Iowa today, heading to Chicago on Monday for a speech on foreign policy.
Congressman Tom Tancredo is on a three-day visit to New Hampshire. That started with motorcyclist in Manchester on Saturday and is ending with a town hall meeting in Henniker on Monday. On the campaign trail with all of various candidates.
Coming up next, more of our discussion on politics, a lot more, our panel standing by for that. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're joined once again by CNN's "American Morning" co-anchors Kiran Chetry and John Roberts, and our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve.
John, I want you to listen to what Dana Perino, the deputy White House press secretary, said about the attorney general right after his hearing, even as he was being criticized not only by Democrats but several Republicans.
She said this. She said "He has done a fantastic job at the Department of Justice. He is our number one crime fighter. He has done so much to help keep this country safe from terrorists."
A lot of people are wondering, though, given the fact that not only Democrats but Republicans are being increasingly critical of him, can he survive?
ROBERTS: Yes, I mean, contrasting that, Josh Marshall from Talking Points Memo blog said that he was running the Justice Department like Brown was running FEMA, so definitely a variance of opinion.
BLITZER: A heck of a job.
ROBERTS: I mean, I know Dana and I've known her for a long time and she's got to toe the party line. But here is the thing is, it doesn't really matter what anybody says at the moment. Unless there is a huge groundswell among Republicans against Gonzales, the only person's opinion that's going to matter is that of President Bush.
And these guys go way, way back. He was President Bush's personal attorney. He was on the Supreme Court of Texas. He's not about to throw him overboard because of this. Also the White House doesn't want a confirmation battle. Certainly, they might be able to appoint the deputy A.G. on an interim basis. Perhaps, could they take that to the end of the term? Maybe, but they don't want another confirmation battle.
BLITZER: But even Paul McNulty's role in some of this, he may have a problem himself, the deputy attorney general. But on an interim basis, you're probably right.
Go ahead, Jeanne.
MESERVE: I've heard an awful lot of people say in the last several days, though, they can't see Gonzales staying over the long term, that he won't be going immediately, that there will be a little grace period here, but because his credibility has been so undermined...
MESERVE: Because they wanted to let him go with dignity.
CHETRY: They're saying June. That's some of the buzz going on, that the hearings have taken place, let a little bit of time go by. It's also if you want to take a look and you can edit together some of the bites of the president saying "I have the fullest confidence in so and so, so and so," and you see shortly after that defense chief Rumsfeld stepping down, shortly after that FEMA director stepping down, Harriet Miers. So when he says he has the utmost confidence still in Gonzales, it makes one wonder, is that the kiss of death?
MESERVE: I was interested today -- I'm sure the Sunday talk shows, your own included, will change the rhythm of the news, but when I glanced at the papers this morning, there was virtually no mention of the Gonzales story, as huge as it is. Now, it's true we've all had our attention diverted by Blacksburg and the horror that happened there, but I'm wondering if the cycle has already moved on to a certain degree.
BLITZER: Well, let's talk about Iraq, because this was a big week, a horrendous week as far as the attacks in the Baghdad area are concerned. In this CNN poll -- I want to put it up on the screen, John, are things going badly for the United States in Iraq? In June of 2006, 54 percent said yes. In October of 2006, 62 percent said yes. Now 69 percent say things are going badly for the U.S. in Iraq.
ROBERTS: Which is why Harry Reid came out last week and said that the war is lost, the surge isn't working, time to regroup and do something else. If anybody is going to be able to turn things around in Iraq, it's General David Petraeus. A very smart guy. I talk to him a lot. He knows his stuff. He has the confidence of a lot of people. But if he can't do it, then maybe you have to reconsider whether or not it could be done without throwing another 200,000 troops in.
BLITZER: And, Jeanne, you and I have been around Washington for a long time. As brilliant as General Petraeus might be as a military commander, as somebody who has written, literally, the book on insurgencies and counterinsurgencies, there's a political environment here in Washington that puts a deadline on all of this in effect. MESERVE: And it's pretty fierce. What was pretty interesting this week is to hear the defense secretary starting to say, "Well, maybe a deadline would be useful to a certain degree." That certainly reflected some sort of change at a level where I wouldn't have expected it.
BLITZER: Because when he goes -- when Robert Gates, the defense secretary, goes to Baghdad, Kiran, and he tries to put some pressure on the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, he can say, "Look what's happening in the U.S. Congress. You guys got to get your act together. You got to bite the bullet and do what you have to do." CHETRY: Yes, if anything, as many talk about the timetable being a disadvantage for us because it lets the insurgents know, "Hey, this is the date we're going to be out of here," on the flip side, the Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi police and Iraqi army need a fire lit under them in some ways when it comes to being able to do it on their own.
And that's one of the things and that was the message delivered by the defense chief when he went there. This isn't an open-ended commitment on our part, and we need to see progress. So if this timetable happens, maybe it's advantageous on that side.
BLITZER: You heard this weekend Hillary Clinton suggesting that if she's elected president, she's got a mission in mind for her husband.
ROBERTS: I think he'd probably just get paid for what he's doing now -- ambassador to the world to, as she says, repair the damage to America's image around the world. I mean, people will debate the latter point, but I don't think there is any debate that he is a tremendous ambassador and he would do a good job.
I traveled around the world with him when I was a White House correspondent during the last 18 months of his administration, and he would draw crowds like you've never seen before. Well, you've covered him before, Wolf.
CHETRY: He's a rock star. He's a rock star on the world stage. I mean, former President George H.W. Bush used him. He was his ambassador after the devastating tsunami in Indonesia and Banda Aceh. I mean, he was the face of America's charitable giving to the world.
BLITZER: So he would do, in effect, what he's already doing, Jeanne?
MESERVE: Exactly. Exactly.
BLITZER: And he does that quite well.
MESERVE: But, you know, there might be a real need for it at this point in time. I was talking to someone at the White House Correspondents' Dinner last night, talking about American image abroad and how important they feel it is to get someone out there presenting the United States and its point of view who has goodwill. And he appears to. He appears to.
BLITZER: But is that going to be too close for comfort for a lot of people? Hillary Clinton president...
ROBERTS: ... sending her husband around the world to conduct a parallel foreign policy.
BLITZER: Remember, when he ran in '92, you got two for the price of one. She can argue the same thing. MESERVE: Right, and look how popular it was when she did health care.
CHETRY: Didn't Rudy Giuliani say the same thing? I mean, his wife could sit in on cabinet meetings if she wanted to? It's all in the family apparently for these candidates.
ROBERTS: And I want to know if Bill Clinton will sit in on the cabinet meetings. Can you imagine that?
BLITZER: If he wants to, he will. All right. Thanks very much for coming in. Jeanne Meserve, always good to have you here. John Roberts, Kiran Chetry, the new co-anchors of "American Morning." Kiran, you have a big special tonight, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. I want our viewers to catch that as well. And catch Kiran and John every morning Monday through Friday 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., "American Morning," the most news in the morning.
This week's senseless murders at Virginia Tech a very, very tough story for all of us to cover, but when we come back, parents will tell us of their lost children.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer. Welcome back to "Late Edition." Reema Samaha and Jeremy Herbstritt, two young people with tremendous, tremendous promise. Two young lives cut tragically short in Blacksburg, Virginia, this week.
Their parents told us how they were dealing with this tragedy and how much they would be missed.
BLITZER: Tell us a little bit about Reema. I'm just amazed that you have the ability to discuss this right now. I'm sure a lot of our viewers are -- you're so strong and obviously, you want to talk about your daughter.
JOSEPH SAMAHA, FATHER OF MURDERED VIRGINIA TECH STUDENT: Well, people deal with their grieving in different ways. I absorb Reema's energy at this point. She just is a terrific, dynamic person, a great smile. She loved show business. She was a shy person until you got to know her, and then she had tons of friends.
And they're all very good friends. And so I remember that and I keep her in my mind. Her face is in my mental vision, and it keeps me going.
BLITZER: How's your wife doing?
SAMAHA: My wife is not taking it as well as I am. She's very distraught, very distraught.
BLITZER: And you have other children.
SAMAHA: I have a son who graduated from Virginia Tech last year, and I have a daughter who's a third-year student at UVA, and they're both here with me.
BLITZER: And your other children, how are they doing?
SAMAHA: They're fine. They're strong. Very great kids. They are absorbing it as best they can.
BLITZER: It's a horrible, impossible situation. I want you to tell us a little bit about Reema, the dancing, the show business, the smile. Talk a little bit about your loving daughter.
I can feel the love. I know that there is a deep love there, and I've seen the pictures of her, and she just seemed like such a great, great kid.
SAMAHA: Yes, very dynamic. She's a motivator. She keeps me going. She kept, you know, her brothers and sisters, she broke the tie when she came to tech, since the elder went to Tech and the next, my second -- first daughter went to UVA, and she broke the tie coming to Virginia Tech.
But, you know, dance was her life. She loved to do choreography. She was so diverse. She loved the world. She loved to travel. She was planning to go to France this summer to do her summer abroad program to strengthen her French and, again, that was the class she was in when she was killed.
BLITZER: Are you a religious man?
SAMAHA: I am.
BLITZER: So God works in mysterious ways sometimes.
SAMAHA: He does.
BLITZER: And we don't understand...
BLITZER: ... why this could happen...
SAMAHA: That's right.
BLITZER: ... why bad things happen to good people.
SAMAHA: Absolutely. We just -- we just believe.
BLITZER: I know this is very hard for you to talk about your son under these circumstances, but tell us a little bit about your wonderful, loving son. PEGGY HERBSTRITT, MOTHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM JEREMY HERBSTRITT: Jeremy had a lot of energy. From the time he was born and even through graduate school, I don't think he slept more than a couple hours a day. He loved life. He did everything to the fullest. He was never afraid to try anything, either. Whether he thought he was going to succeed or not, he just jumped right in.
MIKE HERBSTRITT, MOTHER OF SHOOTING VICTIM JEREMY HERBSTRITT: He was a great son. He was the best son in the world I ever had. You know, I have two sons. I love them both. And Jeremy was a son that -- he worked with me side-by-side. My son Joe does the same thing. Joe is a very beautiful son, and I have two daughters. And Jeremy sometimes, he'd tell me -- he said, Dad, we're going to put up a fence. And to Jeremy, it wasn't just working four hours or eight hours. When he said you're going to put up a fence, you worked 12 hours. And he worked until he got that fence done.
And he loved this Blacksburg area. Jeremy was a hiker. He was a biker. He ran in marathons. And he was a good kid. Everybody that met him liked him. You know, and he was happy, and he lived his life happy.
BLITZER: Peggy, is there anything else you'd like to say? I know this is very hard for you to do this, but if there is anything you'd like to say, you know, go ahead.
PEGGY HERBSTRITT: It is. It will not seem real to me until I actually see his body. But I want to say to my other children, Jeremy loved you very much. I know right now you think of him as being dead, but we can keep him alive in our hearts. We will find a way to make this -- make some kind of positive out of this. So, please, guys, stick together, OK?
BLITZER: How are your other kids doing?
MIKE HERBSTRITT: It's tough. It's tough. They're sad. They're missing their brother. And it's hard to lose your brother. It's hard to lose your son.
And on Monday night I was watching some of the newscasters, and I don't think the newscasters really understand how hard it is to lose your son. It's really hard. And it hits you right in your heart. You know, that's the whole thing that -- but we have to go on. We've got to celebrate Jeremy's life for the rest of our lives.
BLITZER: We're trying to do that.
MIKE HERBSTRITT: The rest of our life is going to be to celebrate his life and say what he did good, you know, and to say, that Jeremy was a good boy, a good man, and we're going to love him forever.
UNKNOWN: That's right.
MIKE HERBSTRITT: That's what we're going to do. We're going to love him.
BLITZER: God bless him. And God bless all of you, and thank you for sharing his story with us.
BLITZER: I am sure I speak for all of our viewers when I say those parents are truly amazing, their love for their children so powerful. I was reminded this week while on the campus of Virginia Tech that people do grieve in very different ways.
Some need isolation with only the closest family and friends. Others want to speak publicly about their loss, about their kids. Those parents and relatives who spoke to us this week did so because they really wanted to let everyone know about their children, how terrific they were and how much they will miss them.
BLITZER: I repeatedly told them there was absolutely no pressure to do any of these interviews, absolutely none, only if they really wanted to do so. They insisted they wanted to speak out, and we wanted to give them the platform.
There is no sense to the killings of these 32 wonderful people, young and old, but the country must begin to learn the lessons from this tragedy, lessons involving mental health, guns, campus security, and privacy and probably a lot more than that.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: I want to remind our viewers about our primetime coverage tonight, special coverage, the aftermath at Virginia Tech, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, "32 Lives To Remember," 8:00 p.m. Eastern, a CNN Special Investigations Unit, "Massacre at Virginia Tech," and then a special edition of "Larry King Live" at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
Let's take a closer look now at how the Virginia Tech story is reflected on the covers of this week's major news magazines here in the United States, all of them focusing in on some way in the Virginia Tech tragedy. Newsweek features "The Mind of a Killer." Time magazine's cover is "Trying to Make Sense of a Massacre." And U.S. News & World Report leads with "How Safe Are Our Colleges?"
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. All the shows this morning focused in on the tragedy at Virginia Tech and what could be done to prevent something like this from happening again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. CHARLES STEGER, VIRGINIA TECH PRESIDENT: I think we find ourselves still in a stage of shock, but we also draw a great deal of strength from the enormous outpouring of support that we have received from around the world. And what we're trying to do now is to focus our attention on supporting these families and also getting the school back on track with the classes opening tomorrow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I do think it's important to look at the context of Virginia Tech, like many campuses, was supposedly a gun-free zone. In states where people have been allowed to have concealed weapons, in Mississippi and Kentucky, there have been incidences of this kind of a killer who was stopped because, in fact, people who are law-abiding people, who are rational people, who are responsible, had the ability to stop them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL BOLLING (R), VIRGINIA LT. GOVERNOR: It's kind of natural, I guess, in the wake of a tragedy like this that you hear folks on one hand saying, "Well, if we had had tighter gun laws, this wouldn't have happened." And on the other hand you hear folks saying, "Well, if we would have just let people arm themselves, this wouldn't have happened."
The truth is we don't know the answer to that question and, to be quite frank, I don't have a lot of time for folks on either side of that issue right now who want to take advantage of a situation like this to ride their political hobby horse. We still have families who are burying loved ones and that's where our emphasis is right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH BRADY, CAMP. TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE: What we had here, unfortunately, has come out in the last day or so, is that the system did break down. Although the National Instant Check System does a wonderful job with felons, with felony records and criminal records, they are only as good as what the states provide them as far as mental health records.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
And that is your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, April 22nd. Please be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern. We're on for two hours for the last word in Sunday talk. We're also in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, another hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
Until tomorrow, thanks very much for joining us. For our North American views, "This Week at War" with Tom Foreman starts right now -- Tom.
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