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Interview With Georgian President Saakashvili; Interview With Defense Secretary Gates

Aired August 17, 2008 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

SAAKASHVILI: I want the world to know -- never, ever will Georgia reconcile with occupation.

BLITZER: Russia agrees to a truce with the Republic of Georgia, but will it hold? We'll talk with Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili.

Plus, we'll go live to Moscow for the Russian view.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: With its actions in recent days, Russia has damaged its credibility and its relations with the nations of the free world.

BLITZER: Is the conflict the start of a new Cold War? Defense Secretary Robert Gates joins us for a rare Sunday interview.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Today, we are all Georgians.

BLITZER: For the presidential candidates, this crisis was a chance to demonstrate leadership.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: The United States and the international community must speak out strongly against this aggression.

BLITZER: Did it work? We'll discuss both policy and politics with Democratic Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, and Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana.

OBAMA: I believe in -- that Jesus Christ died for my sins.

MCCAIN: I'm saved and forgiven.

BLITZER: And in an emotional forum, both candidates talk about their deepest values with Pastor Rick Warren. As we count down the days to the Democratic Convention, how will this affect the race? Insight and analysis from three of the best political team on television. The first hour of "Late Edition" begins right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: It's 11:00 a.m. here in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:00 p.m. in Tbilisi, Georgia. Wherever you are watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."

Let's go right to Georgia right now, where Russian forces remain despite a cease-fire agreement. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Tbilisi with the latest. Fred, what do we know?

PLEITGEN: Wolf, we know that the Russian forces are not only not withdrawing from their positions, they are also not giving any indications that they are even preparing to withdraw from their positions.

I got off the phone with Georgian authorities only a couple of moments ago, and they say they believe that the Russian forces are moving their troops a little bit, but they say they believe that behind the front lines, the Russians are actually broadening their presence here on the ground in Georgia, going from those larger towns into smaller villages as all of this goes on.

Of course, we know that the Russians are still on Georgian soil in full force, and they seem to be giving indications that they will leave, if they will leave, they will leave on their own time.

Now, the Georgians, of course, are also accusing the Russians of severely damaging Georgian infrastructure. A railway bridge that was blown up yesterday, the Georgians say it was Russian forces, but Russians say it was not, and both sides hurling those accusations at each other.

On the humanitarian front, Wolf, we are seeing humanitarian aid getting to some of the people in those mostly -- in those very damaged and damage-inflicted areas. What we are hearing out of there, though, is that it's very difficult for humanitarian aid organizations to operate there simply because there are so many Russian army checkpoints they have to get by, provide documentation. The Russians, they say, are very skeptical of that humanitarian aid coming through, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Fred. Thanks very much. Fred Pleitgen on the scene for us.

Let's stay in Tbilisi, Georgia right now. The president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, is joining us live from his office.

President Saakashvili, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." Is the cease-fire, based on everything you know, holding?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, Wolf, we've signed cease-fire, we agreed to sign it several days ago. Russia has given continuous promises to hold it, but in fact, they are continuing their actions. They are creepingly (ph) widening their zone of occupation. And now, together with the international community, we ceased on the fact that it's up to Russia now to decide whether it will continue to defy the world and to try to advance toward my capital, or to have -- to accomplish its final goal of regime change in Georgia, and basically ending Georgia's independence.

BLITZER: Because they say they will really start the withdrawal and do it on their timetable as early as tomorrow. I guess the bottom line is, do you believe your counterpart, the Russian president?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, you know, it's -- they have been continuously lying and trying to cheat the world for all this period, as well as through the whole -- for the whole years leading to the conflict. You know, how -- it's not -- it's not he said/she said, I'm not in blame game now, but the fact is that Russia has broken all its promises continuous for the last several days. The foreign minister of Russia yesterday clearly said openly that they have their own goals to fulfill. It looks like these goals mean blowing up Georgia's bridges. And you know, they said they didn't do it. Surely, Georgians couldn't have blown up their main railway bridge. Mining other economic objects. You know, there are still cluster bombs thrown around, and people still get blown up on them.

They are destroying our pipeline and port infrastructure. So they are just rampaging and going -- looting. You know, New York Times, I was told, I haven't seen it, but has a picture of a Russian tank carrying looted furniture, carpets, belongings of people, loaded on them, and going -- and this is liberation, Russia style, you know, intervention Russian style.

These people go around, you know, there are -- many of them walk around in uniforms of Georgian officers because they stole uniforms from our military base, and basically, they now -- because these are American uniforms, we buy them in America, they probably parade themselves in them (ph).

But you know, Armenia is blocked now. Armenia has huge problems, because these transit communications are also for Armenia. Armenia is now in an even more desperate situation than Georgia now.

BLITZER: Is it your understanding, Mr. President, that those Russian peacekeepers who were in South Ossetia before the violence started about 10 days or so ago, will they be allowed to remain as they were earlier?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, you know, there is no such real thing as Russian peacekeeper. I mean, these are obvious Russian interventionist forces, Russian occupiers.

What we have as a temporary agenda (ph) is that the biggest force to move out from this almost 2,000 tanks, as we have them now in our territory, to leave. And for this so-called peacekeepers -- and this is certainly a very, very cynical term for these people there -- to be there until there will be international observers on the spot and until we have robust international peacekeeping force to squeeze them out, to make them...


BLITZER: How long will that take, for peacekeepers from the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe and other peacekeepers, international peacekeepers to come in?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, the monitors can come to this part very fast, but these are just monitors to monitor cease-fire. With regards to genuine international peacekeeping force from the European Union or other impartial countries, well, that's up to international community to step up pressure on Russia.

Clearly, Russia's goal was to, you know, take over the whole Georgia. Now, the international community hit back, you know, for a while. That had a big sobering effect. I can tell you that, you know, President Bush's statement somehow coincided with the fact that they halted their advance toward the capital. That was the exact chronology in time, you know, the time connection there.

But, now, they are obviously carefully trying the patience of the world. You know, they believe that the world -- that it all depends on how the world reacts to what they are doing here or what they have done here.

BLITZER: All right. The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, said this on Friday, and I'll read it to you. He says, "After what happened, it's unlikely that Ossetians and Abkhazians will ever be able to live together with Georgia in one state." These are the two areas of Georgia where there has been this dispute that's been ongoing for a very, very long time.

Are you open to the possibility of allowing the Ossetians in South Ossetia, the Abkhazians to have a free and fair referendum to decide whether they should remain as part of Georgia or get independence or do something else?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, I think the whole methodology of this question is incorrect, because that's what Medvedev said, clearly betrays one of the goals of Russia's aggression, the dismemberment of Georgia.

Abkhazia has been -- from Abkhazia, they expelled more than 80 percent of Abkhazia's population. So who is to decide? Those 20 percent that remain under Russian occupation? It's like Sudetenland Germans being under German military rule and they should have decide whether they want to be part of Czechoslovakia or not. It's like Karelia cleansed of Finns and then deciding to join the Stalin's Soviet Union. Don't you see the exact parallels from the history? This is a clear-cut military conquer and alienation (ph) of the territories.

With regards to South Ossetia, as we speak, there is a policy of ethnic cleansing openly proclaimed and carried out there. Can world ever live with this? Georgia will never live with it. President Bush yesterday clearly said, never, ever will the United States reconcile with territorial dismemberment Georgia and undermine its territorial integrity. Democracy has nothing to do with it because we are talking about places that were militarily taken over. We are talking about separatists that was never genuine in the first place because it was separatists financed, abated and organized by the Russians.

SAAKASHVILI: It was always part, you know, a formal territorial incursion.

So there is no -- there are of course naive people out there saying, oh, what's wrong, you know, these places don't want to live there. But it's not about those places. It's about fundamental principles of international law and justice and about the future of the world.

Because if Russians get away with what they've done, and if they have the upper hand, as you've said, you know, carrying it out, and they want to leave anymore with these territories, then it will be a never-ending story of territorial conquests, breaking up countries, you know, killing people, and then justifying it with some kind of -- this kind of pseudo-democratic terminology.

BLITZER: The Russian president also said this on Friday, Dmitry Medvedev. He said, "The entire responsibility for conflict, for the cruel actions committed rests upon the shoulders of the Georgian leadership."

And other Russian officials are going one step further and accusing you of being a war criminal for your initial steps in using military action in South Ossetia, which, in effect, started this round of violence.

Do you want to respond to President Medvedev?

SAAKASHVILI: Absolutely. It was very clear from the outset that this action has been prepared very carefully for almost a year.

The entire Russian -- almost the entire Russian land force and almost the entire Russian air force attacked Georgia within a few hours.

Even the United States, which is much more powerful, certainly, than Russia, can hardly mobilize this kind of force if they don't prepare for weeks and months and months.

How could Russia -- even if, supposedly, as they were saying, that Georgia initiated anything, respond within a couple of hours?

And in fact, they were already inside my territory. The truth was that we fired back at Russian incursion, to exercise the right of self-defense against the people who were already inside our territory. And these were Russian officials armed by Russia, trained by Russia, commanded by Russia, and 100 percent controlled by Russia.

And so, you know, if you want to find the reason why you should intrude other countries, you can always -- they always said that. Afghanistan provoked them; Czechoslovakia provoked them in 1968; the Hungarians provoked them in 1956; and the Finns provoked them in 1939.

But the reality is the following, that basically they brutally attacked my country. They had purpose to get our territories, to throw out people from there. They're throwing out people from there. And then they're there to speak for the rights of the people and for the rights of -- I saw, today, hundreds of children crying at the doorsteps of the presidential palace.

And, you know, the point here is that the world should recognize that, no matter what, we will never reconcile with the idea that somebody would act the way they've acted here.

And you know what? The world already knows. All these claims about Georgian genocide -- there were human rights organizations on the spot, and there is a Human Rights Watch report, Amnesty International report, clearly saying that the Russian claims were false. They were false pretenses from the outset. And, you know, they only used them to justify their own brutality, their invasion. And now it's clear to the world.

I mean, look at this report. These are not my words. These are their words, their studies. These are brave people. I'm grateful they got to the spot. I'm grateful they've obtained all this information.

And let's make it very clear. I mean, there's a clear case of intervention, invasion, classically taken from old history textbooks, unfortunately taking place in the 21st century and in my peaceful country.

BLITZER: We're out of time, but a quick question and a quick answer, I hope.

Does Georgia still expect -- I know you want to be a member of NATO, but do you still expect membership, at some time, any time soon?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, President Bush said, yesterday, very clearly, the free world should rally in defense of a free Georgia. And what's the net value of the free world if it cannot stand up for its principals?

One of the goals of the Russian invasion was to deter NATO from every coming here. You know -- but I think that's exactly the way, when freedom is being hid; when freedom is being squeezed out, freedom always strikes back; freedom always stands up for its principals. And freedom always prevails.

There is no way these brutal Russian invaders, the people who hate the whole idea of freedom, who have come from a background of slavery and want to enslave the others -- there is no way they can defeat the free world if the free world sticks to its principles. We all believe in it. That's why Georgia survived. That's why Georgia's capital stands, despite all these attacks. That's why most of Georgia is resisting, because we believe that we are not alone, that we will be free, but will be free because the free world also wants us to be free.


SAAKASHVILI: And that also concerns issues like NATO.

BLITZER: Does that mean, Mr. President, you still want to be a member of NATO? SAAKASHVILI: We will be members of NATO. We will go to it. We will stay as close allies to the United States and all the free world, so -- you know, "shining city on the hill" -- this is Ronald Reagan.

I mean, for Georgians here, despite all the bad hits we took because of us being friendly with the United States, because of our close ties, because of President Bush coming here and praising us, because our soldiers served in Iraq, because we wanted to be members of NATO, because we wanted to have a free market economy and values of a free society. Despite all these things, I still believe in the Reagan vision of a shining city on the hill, because I believe my people believe in that.

And that shining city would never be extinguished by any Russian tanks. And they cannot blur for us this vision. They can never overshadow it. We will stay calm. We will stay united. We will keep our territory and we will never ever surrender, never, ever give up our freedom.

BLITZER: Mikheil Saakashvili is the president of Georgia. Thanks very much for joining us.

SAAKASHVILI: Thank you so much, sir.

BLITZER: And later, we'll get a different view. We'll go live to Moscow and hear from a top Russian official. We'll also ask that official, when will the Russian military start leaving Georgia?

But up next, a week away from the Democratic convention, we'll talk to someone on Barack Obama's vice presidential short list, the governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. A lot more coming up on "Late Edition."


BLITZER: We're standing by to go live to Moscow, get a very different perspective from the Russians. Stand by for that.

As this conflict between Russia and Georgia escalated, over the past week, foreign policy took center stage in the U.S. presidential race as well.

One person often mentioned as a potential vice president pick for Senator Barack Obama is the governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson. He's joining us now, live from Santa Fe.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

RICHARDSON: Thank you. Good morning.

BLITZER: Good morning to you. I'm going to play for you a sound bite of what Senator McCain said earlier in the week, in terms of what's going on right now.

BLITZER: Listen to this.


MCCAIN: Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin must understand the severe long-term negative consequences that their government's actions will have for Russia's relationship with the United States and Europe.


BLITZER: All right, what do you say, because he's taken a very, very hard line from day one in this dispute?

RICHARDSON: Well, my -- my response is that he is correct. There should be consequences for what Russia has done. We should stand with Georgia and their territorial sovereignty.

But the issue is what leverage do we have over Russia? My view is that, because of our intensive preoccupation with Iraq, we've neglected the relationship with Russia. It is at an all time low, and we need leverage over Russia.

Russia right now, for instance, wants to join the World Trade Organization. It wants a security in trade pact with Europe. Needless to say, those need to be put on hold.

But what we need is an aggressive engagement relationship with Russia with a lot of skepticism. Russia is important in if we're going to deter Iran from building nuclear weapons. We need Russia in the fight against global terrorism.

Russia has vast energy supplies, including that pipeline across Georgia, the three pipelines, the axis transportation energy routes, and we want Russia to do something about loose nuclear weapons, nuclear proliferation.

BLITZER: All right.

RICHARDSON: We want an arms control agreement with them.

So what we need is to establish some red lines and baselines based on tough, aggressive diplomacy, not bellicose threats. We have very little leverage over Russia right now. We need to create that leverage. And Senator McCain -- you know he's making a lot of rhetorical, bellicose statements, but without any specific policy. What we need right now in Georgia is international monitors.

BLITZER: All right.

RICHARDSON: We need to give access to humanitarian relief, access to the Red Cross with the displaced civilians. We need to get the Russian troops out.

BLITZER: Last Monday -- last Monday you said this. Because Senator McCain for a long time has been saying Russia should be kicked out of the G-8, the eight major industrialized nations in the world -- they should go back to being the G-7.

I'll play the little clip of what you said.

RICHARDSON: I saw Senator McCain saying that he wants to expel Russia from the G-8, the industrialized nations. Well, that's only make -- going to make matters worse. That's to the right of President Bush.

BLITZER: Do you still stand by that point?

RICHARDSON: Absolutely. The G-8 is a group of industrialized countries meeting. The World Trade Organization is meaningful.

The point I was trying to make is that Senator McCain wants to isolate Russia. That's the last thing we need to do. We need to engage them.

If you isolate Russia, there's going to be more moves there towards radicalism, towards resentment. Look, they're a major power. They're acting irresponsibly. We have to stand fully with Georgia.

But what we need is the European Union. We need NATO. We need allies to come upon Russia and say to them, "Look, you've got to stop your expansionist motives. You've got to stop using oil as a political weapon. You've got to respect the territorial integrity of several of your former states like Georgia."

BLITZER: So you -- so -- so Russia should remain in the G-8 according to you. Is that right?

RICHARDSON: Yes. I -- I don't -- I don't think that is much of a lever. What you want is Russia denied access to the World Trade Organization. You want Russia -- the Europeans not to give them that trade and security pact they want.

We need ways to bring international public pressure on Russia to move forward and get their troops out of Georgia.

BLITZER: Should they be kicked out? Should they be kicked out if they refuse -- this cease-fire collapses, and they keep those Russian troops in Georgia? At that point would you start saying, "You know what? Maybe it's time to remove them from the G-8." RICHARDSON: Well, you use all possible levers. I don't think the G-8 is a big lever. I think there are many others.

But the point is that we need a unified effort against Russia, and we don't have it. We have limited leverage over Russia because of their enormous oil wealth, because we have in many cases snubbed them, and I -- I believe with little justification.

And -- and what we need is a realistic, tough diplomacy. And this is what Senator Obama has said. He has been consistent in saying we respect the territorial integrity of Georgia. We want international monitors there. He said that from the very beginning.

He has said we need to build a relationship with European countries and the EU to put enormous pressure on Russia -- international public opinion. That's what we need, Wolf. BLITZER: All right.

RICHARDSON: And what we don't have is any leverage now. So we can't just engage in rhetoric. You've got to act.

BLITZER: The -- the McCain campaign has been harsh in criticizing Senator Obama's initial response to what's been going on in Georgia.

Senator Lieberman last Tuesday said this. He said, "If you read the statements from the beginning -- Senator McCain and Senator Obama -- one had kind of moral neutrality to it that comes, I think, from an inexperience."

And McCain's chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Sheunemann, said this on Wednesday. He said, "There's a depth of knowledge, a breadth of knowledge, and extent of historical experience that doesn't compare between the two on Russia policy. You can't compare a 15-year historical record to three or four statements over the course of 15 months."

I want you to respond to that criticism that Senator Obama showed inexperience, naivete earlier on in this crisis.

RICHARDSON: Well, Wolf, I totally reject that. Look, I've been to Russia. I've been to -- I've been to Georgia as U.N. ambassador. You know what is needed now is the Eduard Shevardnadze's in -- in this kind of diplomacy.

Consistently, Senator Obama said we're on the side of Georgia. Russia needs to get out. We support the territorial integrity of Georgia. We need humanitarian access. We need international monitors. We need to go to international fora and build alliances to contain Russia.

But what we also need is engaged diplomacy, tough diplomacy -- smart and tough -- with Russia, which we have lacked because of our intensive preoccupation with Iraq.

All our resources are in Iraq. All our attention is in Iraq.

BLITZER: All right.

RICHARDSON: And we've neglected the flight against global terrorism -- Afghanistan. We've neglected our relationships in Europe. We've neglected to build solid eyeball relationship with countries like Russia and China.

That's what Senator Obama is saying, and he would practice that tough diplomacy that was lacking and that -- that today were -- were nowhere. We had little leverage.

BLITZER: A couple of quick political questions, Governor, before I -- I let you go. A lot of us remember James Carville, the Democratic strategist, calling you a, quote, "Judas" for endorsing Barack Obama, as opposed to Hillary Clinton, during the primaries. Yet today you're going ahead with two fundraising events in New Mexico for Hillary Clinton to help her pay off her enormous debt. Have you made up with the New York senator?

RICHARDSON: Well, look, it's not a question of making up. Senator Obama wants the party united. I want the party united. The Clintons have been long-time allies of mine. I know what it is to have a presidential debt. I have one myself.

So we've put two good fundraisers together in Albuquerque and Santa Fe -- a lot of Obama people, a lot of Clinton people. We're having a rally in northern New Mexico for Senator Obama starring Senator Clinton in Hispanic northern New Mexico, where she was very strong.

So the Clinton and Obama camps are coming together. And -- and they're coming together in political fundraising and many other areas. But in all my relations...

BLITZER: Are you comfortable that her name is going to be placed in nomination?

RICHARDSON: Well, yes, I am comfortable now, because it's going to be placed in nomination in recognition of the 18 million votes that she got -- her historic candidacy.

But then she is going to pledge her delegates to Senator Obama so that it's a unanimous -- a unanimous election. That -- that gives me comfort.

Until that had been worked out, I was a little uneasy about there being just a roll call without any transference of that support to Senator Obama.

But the point is the party is united. We're coming together. You know I'm going to welcome Senator Clinton. She's a long-time friend. She ran a great race. And the Obama team is doing everything we can to bring all her supporters to the fold.

BLITZER: Governor Richardson, we'll see you in Denver next week. Thanks very much.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: And up next -- religious faith and presidential politics. John McCain and Barack Obama get very personal as they talk about their greatest moral failings. You're going to want to hear what they have to say.

Stay with us. Late Edition continues right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Standing by in Moscow, the chairman of the Russian parliament foreign affairs committee. We'll go, live, to Moscow shortly.

But, last night, here in the United States, senator John McCain and Barack Obama appeared together, briefly, at the California mega- church of evangelical pastor Rick Warren.

Here's a question that was asked.


RICK WARREN, EVANGELICAL PASTOR: Looking over your life -- everybody's got weaknesses; nobody's perfect -- what would be the greatest moral failure in your life?

And what would be the greatest moral failure of America?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: Well, in my own life, I break it up in stages. What -- I had a difficult youth. My father wasn't in the house. I've written about this. You know, there were times where I experimented with drugs and I drank in my teenage years.

And what I trace this to is a certain selfishness on my part. I was so obsessed with me and, you know, the reasons that I might be dissatisfied that I couldn't focus on other people. And, you know, I think the process, for me, of growing up was to recognize that it's not about me. It's about...

WARREN: I like that.



I like that.

OBAMA: It's about...


Absolutely. So, -- but, look, when I -- when I find myself taking the wrong step, I think a lot of times it's because I'm trying to protect myself instead of trying to do God's work.

WARREN: Fundamental selfishness.

OBAMA: And so, that, I think, is my own failure. Now...

WARREN: What about America?

OBAMA: I think America's greatest moral failure, in my lifetime, has been that we still don't abide by that basic precept in Matthew, that whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.

WARREN: You do for me, yes. And that notion of...

(APPLAUSE) That basic principal applies to poverty. It applies to racism and sexism. It applies to, you know, not having -- not thinking about providing ladders of opportunity for people to get into the middle class.


BLITZER: And coming up on "Late Edition," we're going to bring you Senator John McCain's answer to that very same question about moral failings at last night's forum. Stand by for that. Remember, you can see an encore presentation for the presidential candidate's forum with the evangelical pastor, Rick Warren, right here on CNN. That begins tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Up next, we're standing by to go live to Moscow for the Russian perspective on the conflict in Georgia. Stay with us. "Late Edition" continues right after this.


BLITZER: This note, coming up in our next hour, the U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates on the rising tensions with Russia over the conflict in Georgia.

Now, though, let's get the perspective from Moscow. We're speaking to the chairman of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee, Konstantin Kosachev, who's joining us, live, right now.

Mr. Kosachev, thanks very much for joining us. We understand the Russian troops, according to President Medvedev, are supposed to start leaving Georgia tomorrow.

Will all those Russian forces, except for those so-called peacekeepers, be out of Georgia, including in those two disputed provinces of Ossetia and Abkhazia?

Will all Russian forces be out of Georgia?

KOSACHEV: Sooner or later, yes. But how much time it will take, it depends, definitely, on how Georgians will continue to behave. If I would ask you, in response, the same question, how fast the American forces can leave Iraq, for example, the answer would be, as soon as we have guarantees for peace and security there.

The same answer would be toward this situation, as soon as we are assured that Georgians will not continue to use military force against South Ossetians and against Abkhazians.

Yes, the Russian troops will leave these two regions, having still in place the peacekeepers. And I believe that Georgians have no further right to participate in the peacekeeping after breaking all the previous agreements and shooting against Russian and Ossetian peacekeepers there.

BLITZER: Well, here's what the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, says about these two areas. I want you to listen to this little clip.


SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Georgia has been attacked. Russian forces need to leave Georgia at once. The world needs to help Georgia maintain its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, and its independence.


BLITZER: Do you recognize -- and I'm speaking of Russia -- do you recognize these two areas as territorially integral parts of the Republic of Georgia?

KOSACHEV: First of all, I do not recognize this description by Condoleezza Rice, because South Ossetians were attacked, not Georgians, and that started the war which Russia was trying to avoid until the very last moment.

KOSACHEV: Secondly, the current construction of territorial integrity of Georgia, so-called territorial integrity. Yes, it has existed de jure, but more or less never de facto, for the reason it was invented during the '20s by Comrade Stalin, and is now being supported by some leaders in the United States, in Europe, but it is a very artificial construction, and either Mr. Saakashvili or anybody else from Tbilisi will manage to convince South Ossetians and Abkhazians by political means to live together in an integrated state, or there will be no territorial integrity of Georgia. It will be ruined by Tbilisi itself, by attempts to use military force, like it happened the previous days, unfortunately.

BLITZER: Do you understand how much criticism Russia is getting right now? The president, Dmitry Medvedev, the prime minister, Vladimir Putin. A lot of criticism for what you are doing in Georgia, including threats that Russia could be kicked out of the G-8, the major industrialized nations, and prevented from admission into the World Trade Organization, among other sanctions?

KOSACHEV: I feel sorry about that. But I believe that what we speak about right now is credibility of the so-called West. The previous discussions were about human rights, they were about freedom, they were about democracy, they were about shared common values. Suddenly, at this moment, when South Ossetians are being killed in thousands by Georgians, there are no more speeches about freedom, about human rights, about anything. Everything is about this geopolitical game, and countries are being supported, not people.

And I feel sorry about that. I feel sorry about this double standards. I would have preferred to have our organizations, our common organizations like the OEC (ph) and others being still devoted to common values, not being devoted to the ideas of supporting this country and criticizing the other country whatsoever happens.

BLITZER: It sounds like this crisis is going to continue, given the dispute over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the fact that Russia doesn't really regard those areas a part of Georgia. And the Georgian government, we just spoke to President Saakashvili, says they are integral parts of Georgia. It sounds like there's a recipe for not only continued crisis, but for a long-term escalation.

KOSACHEV: Unfortunately, yes. And we do not want to have that escalation, but I believe that in case the United States and some other countries had not recognized Kosovo, disturbing the territorial integrity of Serbia the previous months, the consistency of these statements could have been much more clear. It was not started by us, again. We want to finalize this conflict as soon as possible, but we protect the population there in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, we protect Russian citizens living here, we protect freedom and stability in the region.

BLITZER: Konstantin Kosachev is the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian parliament. Thanks, Mr. Kosachev, for coming in.


BLITZER: And coming up next, John McCain gets personal. He talks about his greatest moral failure with the evangelical pastor Rick Warren. Stand by for that. "Late Edition" continues right after this.


BLITZER: Just a short while ago, we brought you a very personal statement by Senator Barack Obama at last night's presidential forum at the evangelical pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California. Now, let's turn to Senator John McCain.


WARREN: What's been your greatest moral failure, and what has been the great -- what do you think is the greatest moral failure of America?

MCCAIN: They don't get any easier.

WARREN: No, they don't get any easier.


MCCAIN: My greatest moral failing -- and I have been a very imperfect person -- is the failure of my first marriage. It's my greatest moral failure.

I think America's greatest moral failure has been -- throughout our existence, perhaps we have not devoted ourselves to causes greater than our self-interest, although we've been the best at it of anybody in the world.

I think after 9/11, my friends, instead of telling people to go shopping or take a trip, we should have told Americans to join the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, the military, expand our volunteers, expand what you're doing -- (APPLAUSE) -- expand what you're doing, expand the great missions that you are doing, that you are carrying out, not only here in America but throughout the world, especially in Rwanda. And I hope we have a chance to talk a little bit about that later on.

And you know -- a little pandering here. The first words of your very successful book is "this is not about you." You know what that really also means? Serve a cause greater than your self-interest.



BLITZER: At that same forum last night, Senator Barack Obama said Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana was one of the wise men he intends to consult when it comes -- if he's elected president -- when it comes to foreign policy.

Senator Lugar is here, in our studio. He's standing by live. We'll have a conversation with him right after this.



OBAMA: There are people like Sam Nunn, a Democrat, or Dick Lugar, a Republican, who I have listened to on foreign policy.


BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama at last night's forum at Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California. And joining us now is the man, he senator referred to at that forum last night, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar of Indiana. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

You know, he has also mentioned you in commercials, including in Indiana, your home state. He says he reaches out to people like Dick Lugar of Indiana, when it comes especially to the issue of loose nuclear weapons. How do you feel about that?

LUGAR: I have shared with Barack Obama my experiences with Sam Nunn during the last 16 years in Russia. I hope they have been helpful to him and to others. I have shared the fact that during that period, since we saw Boris Yeltsin in a bad mood, Russia has moved beyond that to Vladimir Putin, who has in fact created a state that is rich. It has oil resources, it has ambitions, and in this particular crisis was looking for an opportunity to make a statement following what it feels were slights of NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, or Kosovo.

BLITZER: So who is more responsible for this crisis right now? Georgia, the government of Georgia, or the government of Russia?

LUGAR: Well, the government of Russia is more responsible, because they have taken ruthless, brutal action. The facts are, however, that our State Department advised in the personages of two or three people for Mr. Saakashvili not to attack, because the Russians were armed. They were ready. They were in the tunnel.

BLITZER: So they were looking for a provocation, is that what you're saying?

LUGAR: They were looking for an opportunity at far range, understanding that we are preoccupied and stretched elsewhere, that we do have problems with our allies. It was an opportune moment to make a statement, to make it boldly and brutally, and with the full idea that it would create difficulties not only for Georgia, but for us.

BLITZER: This comment from Senator Joe Lieberman, the independent Democrat, as he likes to call himself, who is supporting John McCain, has caused somewhat of a stir. I am going to play it for you, because you know Senator Lieberman and you know Senator Obama as well. Listen to this.


SEN. JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN, I-CONN.: Between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not.


BLITZER: One candidate who has not, quote, "put the country first." Do you agree with Senator Lieberman that Senator Obama has not put the country first?

LUGAR: No. I think that was a clear partisan statement at a rally. I respect everybody's opinions in a political campaign, but that's all that was.

BLITZER: All right. Well, that's a clear enough statement.

Let's talk a little bit about some of the criticism that President Bush has been getting from the right, specifically from the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who wrote this in the London Telegraph on Friday. "The United States fiddled while Georgia burned, not even reaching the right rhetorical level in its public statements until three days after the Russian invasion began and not, at least to date, matching its rhetoric with anything even approximating decisive action. This pattern is the very definition of a paper tiger."

Is he right in his criticism of the Bush administration's reaction to the Russian invasion of Georgia?

LUGAR: No, I think the Bush administration has reacted appropriately. The president, secretary of states, likewise Secretary Gates.

The facts are that the United States has to work with Russia on Iran, on nuclear problems of proliferation, on a whole raft of trade issues at a time in which the United States has a huge domestic deficit. We have a huge foreign debt, deficit. We are working, trying to bring together allies... BLITZER: Because Senator McCain, the man you support for president, says Russia should be kicked out of the G-8, the major industrialized nations. Do you agree with him on that?

LUGAR: Probably not a good idea, simply because Russian business at this particular time, we've tried to bring about. We've tried to institute with Russians banking systems, a market system. They have utilized that, but with a different authoritarian model. BLITZER: Should Russia be admitted into the WTO, the World Trade Organization, which is what they want, but it seems unlikely given the current political environment? What do you think?

LUGAR: Well, that should be further negotiated, as should a number of things. You know, we have been working with Russia on a one, two, three agreement to try to work with other nations so they won't get into nuclear weapons. We've got nuclear without that (ph). We have been trying with Russians to continue to reduce the number of warheads on missiles aimed at us. This is a fact of life.

BLITZER: Because you and Senator Nunn, the Nunn-Lugar amendment, as a lot of us remember, you wanted to deal with those so-called loose nukes, those nuclear weapons all over the former Soviet Union. How worried are you right now, in Georgia specifically, especially in some of those disputed areas, that there could be some loose nukes out there and that this crisis right now could be small potatoes compared to what it could be?

LUGAR: I think it is unlikely there are loose nukes in Georgia. But the fact remains, that although we started with 13,000 nuclear warheads on missiles aimed at the U.S., we are only down to a few thousand. We are still working with the Russians, we're still working with them at Sochi (ph) to try to neutralize their chemical weapons. They had 40,000 metric tons.

These are facts of life in which the United States' relationship with Russia, thank goodness, for 16 years, has worked steadily toward nonproliferation and toward reduction of threats to the U.S. Not to Georgia, but to the U.S. now.

We have got to keep our eye on the ball. This doesn't excuse brutal actions by the Russians. They took advantage of a situation in which we were far away. But at the same time, we need an agenda with Russia, even as we are discussing the agenda with Georgia.

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there. Senator Lugar, thanks for coming in.

LUGAR: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up, the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, right after this.


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


GATES: I think that Russia is already facing some serious consequences from the actions that they've taken.

BLITZER: What impact will Russia's power play in Georgia have on long-term U.S.-Russian relations? In a rare Sunday interview, Defense Secretary Robert Gates weighs in on that and more.

MCCAIN: I will be a pro-life president, and this presidency will have pro-life policies.

OBAMA: I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe v. Wade.

BLITZER: The candidates talk about their deepest values in a unique forum. We'll assess the impact with McCain supporter, Congressman Eric Cantor, and Obama supporter, Congressman Chris Van Hollen.

And with only days to go before the Democratic convention, Barack Obama returns to the campaign trail. But did a week in Hawaii hurt him? Analysis on that and much more from three of the best political team on television. Late Edition's second hour begins right now.


BLITZER: Welcome back to the second hour of Late Edition. Both sides have now agreed to a cease-fire, but as of right now, Russian forces remain in Georgia.

Matthew Chance is following developments for us on the ground. He's joining us from the capital of Tbilisi.

What's the latest, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's no reports of any fighting. It just seems that the cease-fire in those terms is holding.

But as you mentioned, there are still thousands upon thousands of Russian troops not just in the South Ossetia and Abkhazia conflict zones, but also in Georgia proper. They're dug in in their tanks and their armored personnel carriers. They've set up checkpoints along the main artery road from east to west across this country.

And they've really made their presence felt in a nice station just about 45 kilometers -- about 30 miles or so -- outside of the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

As I say, from what we've seen, they're not showing any signs of moving back to their positions under the terms of the cease-fire, although we hear from Moscow that the president of Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev, has said that that pull-out will begin in earnest on Monday morning.

But everybody here in Tbilisi -- everybody in Georgia -- is waiting to see what actually happens on the ground, Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance, stand by. We'll be checking back with you.

Russia's actions in Georgia are prompting calls here in the United States for a reevaluation of U.S. policy toward Russia. I spoke about that and a lot more with the Defense Secretary, Robert Gates.


BLITZER: Secretary Gates, thanks very much for joining us. As we speak right now, is the cease-fire between Georgia and Russia holding?

GATES: It seems to me holding, Wolf. The -- there don't seem to be any aggressive Russian actions going on. I think that the -- the fighters and bombers are pretty much grounded.

So the Russians are still patrolling and still around Gori and -- and outside of Abkhazia, but -- but there doesn't seem to be any significant fighting going on.

BLITZER: Are they -- they're supposed to withdraw all their combat forces, all their troops from Georgia. How long do you give them in order to do so?

GATES: Well, I think it partly depends on how fast the OSCE monitors can get in there, and -- and in numbers enough to -- to do the kind of job that everybody expects them to do.

My own view is that the -- that the Russians will probably stall and -- and perhaps take more time than anybody would like. I think we just need to keep the pressure on and -- and ensure that they abide by the agreement that they've signed, and do so in a timely way.

BLITZER: Will they be allowed to keep those so-called Russian peacekeepers in these two -- I guess breakaway regions what they're called -- Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Those Russian peacekeepers, who had been there for years -- will they be allowed to remain? GATES: My understanding is that the -- that the Russians will be allowed to keep the same number of peacekeepers in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia that they had before these -- before these military operations of theirs got under way.

BLITZER: As far as the United States is concerned, both of these areas -- Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- are -- are integral parts of Georgia. Is that right?

GATES: Well, it's not just the United States. Georgia's territorial integrity and its international boundaries are recognized by U.N. resolutions and by the Russians themselves in supporting those resolutions in the past.

BLITZER: Because the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said this on Thursday and I'll quote it to you. "One can forget about any talk about Georgia's territorial integrity, because I believe it is impossible to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state."

Clearly the Russians don't believe that these two provinces, these two areas should be part of Georgia.

GATES: Well, I think that the key is that no one should try and force them back into a full relationship with Georgia, but the relationship between Georgia and these two areas should be negotiated between the Georgians and them, and the conclusion of what should be the case not brought about by Russian military force.

The Russians are saying that the Georgians can't force the South Ossetians and the Abkhazians back into integral parts of Russia but then -- integral parts of Georgia, rather -- but then the Russians turn around and use force to try to bring about the opposite conclusion. So I think there is some kind of strange rhetoric coming out of Moscow these days.

BLITZER: Here is what you said on Thursday at your news conference, and I'll play it for you because I need some elaboration. Listen to this.


GATES: My personal view is that there need to be some consequences for the actions that Russia has taken against a sovereign state.


BLITZER: All right. What are the consequences that you're thinking about?

GATES: I think that Russia's already facing some serious consequences from the actions that they've taken. What I also said on Thursday was that virtually the entire world now is looking at Russia through a different set of lenses. They are seeing a different kind of Russia than we and the Europeans in particular have been trying to cultivate and work with through three American presidencies.

Our hope had been to coax Russia into closer relationships with the West, integration economically, greater democracy at home, and so on. The actions that the Russians have taken in Georgia suggest that we have not been as successful at that as we had hoped we were.

I think there are other things that can be done as time goes along. There is no need to rush into anything. We don't want to do it unilaterally. I think we need to work with our allies and other countries around the world, but I think there needs to be a strong, unified response to Russia, to send the message that this kind of behavior, characteristic of the Soviet period, has no place in the 21st century.

BLITZER: Should Russia be removed from the major industrialized states, the so-called G-8? Should it go back to the G-7? GATES: Well, there are a lot of possible actions that the West could take. As I say, the integration into many of these Western institutions has been premised on certain kinds of behavior by Russia, and we'll just have to work with our allies, and I think how Russia behaves from here forward also has an influence on the nature of those consequences.

BLITZER: What about making sure that Russia is not allowed to join the World Trade Organization? Is that one of the sanctions you're considering?

GATES: Well, there's a broad menu of possibilities, and I don't think there's much benefit in getting into the specifics. The Russians know what those institutions are. There may be other opportunities. I think we just have to work with our allies, and above all we need to look at what Russia does from here on in terms of the severity of whatever measures may be considered.

BLITZER: Given what's happened over the past week, is it still possible any time soon that Georgia could be admitted as a member of NATO?

GATES: Well, I think the NATO alliance, first of all, unanimously in Bucharest last spring invited Russia -- invited Ukraine and Georgia to become members of NATO, and clearly whether or not they are offered MAP in NATO will be on the agenda, certainly, at the December foreign ministers meeting. That was the arrangement that was made in Bucharest.

BLITZER: So it's still on the table, eventual membership for Georgia and Ukraine in NATO, despite the Russians' opposition?

GATES: I would say that it's very much still on the table. I think that one of the consequences of what Russia has done, frankly, is to make all of their neighbors very apprehensive.

GATES: Those in the near abroad, those in Eastern Europe and others who had experience with the Soviet Union in the bad old days.

And I think that they've seen some familiar behavior here and they don't like it.

BLITZER: Given what happened, the Russian move into Georgia, did that in fact spur Poland, a member of NATO -- a former member of the Old Soviet Bloc -- did it spur Poland to sign a deal with the U.S. for a missile defense system that would be based in Poland?

GATES: I don't know the answer to that, Wolf. I know that we had made great progress with the Poles and we were very close to an agreement a week or two ago so it may have just been a coincidence of timing but whether the Poles were affected by these actions I just don't know.

BLITZER: This is what the president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday and I'll read it to you. "It is a fairy tale that the U.S. defense shield missiles would be aimed at pariah states. The missiles will be aimed at Russia."

Those are strong words from the new Russian president who is totally opposed, as are everybody in Russia, to this missile defense system in Poland and elsewhere in Central Europe. What's your response?

GATES: Well, I think that's ridiculous, to tell you the truth. We are going to have 10 interceptors in Poland.

Even if there were larger numbers, where they are placed would not enable them to provide protection against Russian missiles but the notion that this very limited deployment of 10 interceptors, a deployment where we have agreed along with our partners in Poland and the Czech Republic to give the Russians access both physical and technical access so they know what's going on every step of the way.

We've agreed not to even make the interceptors operational until the Iranians have test-launched a missile that has the range to hit much of Western Europe, not to mention Russia.

So this is really an old song that they're singing, and it really just doesn't -- it doesn't play.

BLITZER: It may be an old song but the Russian deputy chief of the general staff have said this on Friday. "Poland, by deploying the missile defense system, is exposing itself to a strike, one hundred percent."

He's referring to a potential Russian nuclear strike on Poland. Those are incredibly powerful words.

GATES: Well, and I think it's very loose rhetoric and I think it's unnecessary. And, frankly, it's empty rhetoric. The Russians aren't going to launch nuclear missiles at anybody because 10 defensive missile interceptors are located in Poland.

So, you know, I think some of the leadership of Russia needs to get a better handle on the rhetoric of some of the folks there.

BLITZER: Who's in power in Russia right now?

Would it be the new president, Dmitry Medvedev or the new prime minister and former president, Prime Minister Putin?

GATES: I think that the relationship between the two of them is not as -- has not evolved in the direction that we had been led to believe that it would, including by then-President Putin's words and actions, in terms of allowing power to flow to the new president, and so that he would actually be the leader of Russia.

I'm not sure that that has happened. And this looks, frankly, to me more like decisions made by the prime minister than by the president.

BLITZER: So he's still in control -- is that what you're saying? He's still the power? GATES: That's my view.

BLITZER: Are we back to the bad old days of the Cold War?

I ask that question because you were a top official in the CIA during all those years. You remember those years well. Are we back on the verge of those bad old days?

GATES: No, I don't think so. The truth is that we're not staring down the barrel of a nuclear confrontation with the Russians, as we did from time to time with the Soviets. The likelihood of a military confrontation, I think, is very small.

We still have a lot of problems and challenges around the world, North Korea, Iran and others, that we probably are going to need to work together on.

But I do think that the tone of the relationship certainly has been changed by the actions that the Russians have taken in Georgia. And I think that it has prompted a fairly serious reevaluation in the United States about the breadth of the kind of strategic relationship and cooperation that we might be able to have with the Russians, going forward.

My hope is that their actions in the weeks and months ahead will provide some reassurance that this -- that these actions in Georgia are an aberration and not symptomatic of a new approach by Russia to the rest of the world and to their neighbors that looks a lot like the old Soviet Union.

BLITZER: Secretary Gates, thanks very much for joining us.

GATES: My pleasure, Wolf.


BLITZER: And up next, we'll turn to politics, the presidential race, John McCain and Barack Obama: What's going on? We'll talk about it with congressional supporters of both candidates when "Late Edition" continues.


BLITZER: Barack Obama is campaigning, once again, after a nearly week-long vacation. John McCain used that time to press his own case, while hitting his Democratic opponent hard.

Let's discuss what's going on in the race for the White House. Joining us is the deputy Republican vote counter in the Congress, Eric Cantor of Virginia. He's a strong supporter of John McCain, has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate.

Also joining us, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. He, of course, is backing Senator Obama.

Congressmen, thanks very much for coming in.

And Congressmen Cantor, I'll start with you. We heard this question and answer, last night, for Senator McCain at this faith forum with the evangelical pastor, Rick Warren. Listen to this.


WARREN: What point is a baby entitled to human rights?

MCCAIN: At the moment of conception.


I have a 25-year pro-life record in the Congress, in the Senate.

MCCAIN: And as president of the United States, I will be a pro- life president, and this presidency will have pro-life policies.



BLITZER: All right, Congressman Cantor, I heard that, and then I heard, earlier in the week, what he told the conservative publication The Weekly Standard, when he said, "Tom Ridge is one of the great leaders, and he happens to be pro-choice. And I don't think that would necessarily rule Tom Ridge out."

What is it, as far as abortion rights are concerned?

Would he be, as he says last night, or is he open to bringing in someone like Tom Ridge, who supports abortion rights?

CANTOR: You know, Wolf, I think we take John McCain for his word and for his record. As he indicated last night, he has been a pro- life individual for his entire professional career.

So I don't think we take anything other than the fact that this is going to be a pro-life administration, and that we will see the institution and continuation of this same record and the same policies that John McCain has stood for throughout his career in Washington.

BLITZER: So why does he say he's open to having a vice president, a heartbeat away from the presidency, who supports abortion rights for women?

CANTOR: You know, I didn't take his words earlier last week, Wolf, to be that. What I said, and what I heard was that John McCain thinks highly of individuals, such as Tom Ridge, who happens not to be pro-life.

But in my opinion, of course, this is John McCain's choice to make. In my opinion, we ought to have a pro-life vice president. And again, I am confident that John McCain is going to continue the policies he's stood for all along, which is a pro-life policy. BLITZER: Congressman Chris Van Hollen is a supporter of Barack Obama. He had this exchange with Pastor Warren last night, on another sensitive issue. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WARREN: Define marriage.

OBAMA: I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman.


BLITZER: All right. He was applauded at that church, last night, on that. But as you know, a lot of gays, homosexuals and lesbians -- they want to get married and they want to have those rights as well. And he is disappointing them when it comes to that sensitive issue.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, what he also said, last night, was he was in favor of civil unions. He wanted to make sure, if you had a gay partner and that partner was sick and in the hospital, you would have the right to be able to visit your partner in the hospital.

And those are the kind of arrangements that he supported. Those are the kind of things that have developed in many states.

And essentially what he said was this is an issue where states are experimenting on their own; let's not have the federal government step in and be big brother.

BLITZER: Do you agree with him that homosexuals should not be allowed to get married?

VAN HOLLEN: I support his position as he stated it last night.

BLITZER: That there should be civil unions but not marriages?

VAN HOLLEN: But I do not support a federal constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriages, that would prohibit the states from moving forward in their own right on these issues.

BLITZER: And there's not much daylight, there, between, Congressman Cantor, between Senator Obama and Senator McCain, is there?

But correct me if I'm wrong.

CANTOR: Well, I think what we heard last night, Wolf, was that John McCain indicated that he believes that states ought to take the action that they deem appropriate in their own state.

He did, I think, refer to a situation in his state. And if there were some type of judicial action that would threaten the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, that he would then be supportive of an constitutional amendment at that level.

BLITZER: Would Senator Obama be supportive of a constitutional amendment, if, for example, a federal court, as Senator McCain said last night, insisted that what is allowed in Massachusetts be forced on people in Maryland, where you live, or in Arizona or any place else? Would you believe that Senator Obama should then come forward and support a constitutional amendment, which Senator McCain says he would support, then?

VAN HOLLEN: I'm not sure what Senator Obama's position is on that. I'm sure it will come out during the campaign, as they have this debate one-on-one, the two candidates, going forward.

BLITZER: What's your position?

VAN HOLLEN: My position is that I think that states should have the right to move forward in these areas, and that, under the equal protection clause of the United States, other states should respect the decisions of the states that have made these decisions.

However, I think it's an open area. And I look forward to the debate. I'm not sure it is a settled -- certainly not a settled question.

BLITZER: On the issue of energy, Congressman Cantor, Tom Friedman, the columnist for the New York Times -- he wrote a very biting column going after Senator McCain, who says he's in favor of green proposals, clean energy, if you will.

"Senator McCain did not show up, he writes, for the crucial vote on July 30th, and the renewable energy bill was defeated for the eighth time. In fact, John McCain has a perfect record on this renewable energy legislation. He has missed all eight votes over the last year, which effectively counts as a no vote each time. Once he was even in the Senate and wouldn't leave his office to vote."

So, as far as clean energy is concerned, how can Senator McCain insist he's in favor of clean energy, when he's missed eight consecutive votes?

CANTOR: Well, listen, Wolf, I think, if you're looking at the context of this election and the leadership that John McCain has provided, he is the only candidate that has put out a comprehensive energy plan, frankly, that will bring down gas prices.

And that's the concern facing America right now. That's where families are feeling the pain at the pump every time they pull into a gas station and pay $60 and $70 to fill up their car. That's where we need to go.

We need to make sure a energy plan is in place, starting with offshore drilling, starting with bringing down gas prices, and then making sure that we institute a comprehensive plan to reduce our reliance on foreign oil.

It is just ludicrous for us to be spending $700 billion a year over to foreign oil producers. Sixty percent of that goes to the Middle East and to Africa, to unstable regimes that, frankly, don't like us a lot. And that's where John McCain has led. And that's what the people are expecting. You know, for a long time, Wolf, Washington has just been inactive. There's been no action, as far as solutions, to come out of Congress.

John McCain has said, consistently, he will fix that. And he has got the record in place, consistently, that he's shown he can work with others across the aisle to make things happen.

BLITZER: There is a new McCain add, Congressman Van Hollen, that goes after Barack Obama, specifically on the issue of taxes -- and tax increases, those that Senator Obama is recommending. Listen to this.


ANNOUNCER: Saying John McCain cost Ohio jobs -- oh, it's just not true. It's Obama's taxes that will hurt Ohio's families: higher taxes on your paycheck, your life savings, your electric bills. His taxes are a recipe for economic disaster.


BLITZER: All right. He says he is going to raise taxes. He minces no words about that. That's Senator Obama.

VAN HOLLEN: Obama is not going to raise taxes on anybody who earns less than $250,000. He's been absolutely clear. In fact, for families below $250,000, he is going to give them tax relieve.

BLITZER: Except for the capital...


BLITZER: He says he's going to raise the capital gains tax. And there are a lot of families who earn under $250,000 a year who buy and sell stocks, for example, who have investments. And they would pay higher capital gains.

VAN HOLLEN: No. For those individuals and families who earn over $250,000, you would be paying the 20 percent. For those under...

BLITZER: Fifteen percent right now.

VAN HOLLEN: Currently 15 -- so if you earn over $250,000, yes your capital gains will...


BLITZER: But anybody -- any family that earns under $250,000...

VAN HOLLEN: They would remain at 15 percent capital gains.

BLITZER: So what you're saying -- and I'm going to get to Congressman Cantor to respond to it -- you can guarantee that, if Senator Obama is elected president, he will not support any tax increases for families earning under $250,000 a year? VAN HOLLEN: Senator Obama has been absolutely clear on that point. And the Republican distortions on this are an attempt to clearly mislead the American people.

One point on energy policy for John McCain...

BLITZER: Hold on. Let me get to that in a second.

VAN HOLLEN: All right.

BLITZER: I want Congressman Cantor to respond. Go ahead, Congressman.

CANTOR: Wolf, you know, I think that, when you look at the economic plans of the two candidates, the difference is very stark. John McCain believes we ought to work very hard to create an environment in which jobs can be created. That's why he is not for increasing taxes. That's why he is for a comprehensive plan.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, looks like we just lost the satellite.

We apologize to Congressman Cantor. We'll try to fix that.

But go ahead. You wanted to make a quick point on energy policy.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, when Senator McCain had a choice to vote to eliminate the taxpayer giveaways to the big oil companies and use those funds instead to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency, he voted with the big oil companies. And that has been a pattern we've seen not just from Senator McCain but from the Bush- Cheney administration. And that's one of the things we need to change as part of a comprehensive energy strategy.

BLITZER: But, in 2006, when there was a chance for both of them to vote for an energy bill, Senator McCain opposed the president on that, because he said there were too many giveaways to big oil, yet Senator Obama voted for that energy bill?

VAN HOLLEN: The provisions in that bill were provisions that provided greater tax incentives to renewable energy and energy efficiency. And Senator Obama has been very clear that it's important that we provide those incentives because we've got to break our addiction to oil.

When we're in a position we are now, where you see the president having to go over to Saudi Arabia and beg them to increase their production, we need to find alternatives. And that has been the focus of Obama, clean, green alternatives.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there. Congressman Van Hollen, thanks very much for coming in.

We'll thank Congressman Cantor as well. We apologize once again. At the very end of the interview, we lost his satellite.

And coming up, John McCain and Barack Obama face a tough question from the evangelical pastor Rick Warren. Who on the U.S. Supreme Court right now would they not have nominated?

You're going to hear their answers when "Late Edition" continues.


BLITZER: Welcome back to Late Edition. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

One of the most important decisions the next president of the United States will make involves the Supreme Court. There could be two or three possible openings over the next four years, and the new court will impact Americans' lives for 20, maybe 30 years and beyond.

Both Barack Obama and John McCain face the question who on the current Supreme Court they would not have nominated when they sat down at a presidential forum with the evangelical leader, Rick Warren.


WARREN: Which existing Supreme Court justices would you not have nominated?

MCCAIN: With all due respect, Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, Justice Souter, and Justice Stevens.

WARREN: Why? Tell me -- tell me why.

MCCAIN: Well, I think that the president of the United States has incredible responsibility in nominating people to the United States Supreme Court. They are lifetime positions -- as well as the federal bench.

There would be two or maybe three vacancies. This nomination should be based on the criteria of proven record of strictly adhering to the Constitution of the United States of America, and not legislating from the bench.


Some of the worst damage has been done by legislating from the bench.


And by the way, Justices Alito and Roberts are two of my recent favorites, by the way. They really are. They're -- they're very fine.

(APPLAUSE) And I'm proud of President Bush for nominating them.

OBAMA: I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas.


I -- I don't think that he was an -- a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation, setting aside the fact that I profoundly disagree with his interpretations of a lot of the Constitution.

I would not nominate Justice Scalia, although I don't think there's any doubt about his intellectual brilliance, because he and I just disagree. He taught at University of Chicago, as did I, in the law school.

WARREN: How about John Roberts?

OBAMA: Yes, John Roberts I -- I have to say was a tougher question only because I find him to be a very compelling person you know in conversation individually. He's clearly smart, very thoughtful.

I would tell you that how I've seen him operate since he went to the bench confirms the suspicions that I had and the reason that I voted against him.


BLITZER: On this important programming note, you can see an encore presentation of the forum featuring Barack Obama and John McCain right here on CNN tonight. It begins at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Up next with the countdown to the political conventions now under way, speculation is rampant about a possible vice presidential pick. Stay tuned for analysis that you can't get anywhere else from three of the best political team on television.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: A week or so to go before the start of back to back political conventions here in the United States, let's talk about the race for the White House, Obama versus McCain, with our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley -- she's joining us from Los Angeles -- our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- he's with the CNN election express in Park, Kansas, as he makes his way to the Democratic convention in Denver -- and here in Washington, our chief national correspondent, John King.

Candy, you were there at that faith forum last night. We watched it on television, but what was it like inside? What was the reaction from the thousands who had gathered at that church?

CROWLEY: I have to tell you when Obama had his first hour -- he came before McCain -- I thought, wow, this is a pretty pro-Obama crowd. He got a standing ovation when he walked in. He got repeated applause throughout the entire hour.

And then out came John McCain, and it was the same thing. So it wasn't really one way or the other.

And I think it was much more the answers here that got the loudest applause, and they were on what you would consider sort of the typically faith and values questions. Abortion was one of them, particularly for John McCain, when he said life begins at conception -- that kind of thing.

So it was very hard to read the crowd, because again, I think this was about the answers and less about the candidates themselves.

BLITZER: That's a good point. John, you know, I was sort of surprised at how nicely Barack Obama was received. You would expect John McCain, who has got a long record opposing abortion rights for women and other sensitive issues, but Obama was received pretty well at that forum. Didn't you think?

KING: A very polite crowd, a very polite audience, and Pastor Rick Warren made it clear that he wanted it to be welcoming so they could air out the issues.

Stylistically, I found it a vivid display of how these guys are very, very different. Obama is the old law professor and he was having a one-on-one conversation with the host, Pastor Rick Warren. He addressed him directly. Very rarely did he turn and talk to the people in the church or address the more global audience watching on television.

McCain came in, he would start his answer talking to Pastor Warren, and then turn to the crowd, try to bring them in, and play to the bigger audience.

Remember, Wolf, they have very different challenges right now. Barack Obama, as Candy noted, is trying to be a Democrat comfortable in his skin on faith. So if you are a conservative Democrat in the hills of Virginia, out in West Virginia, and you voted for George W. Bush in the last two presidential elections, Obama is saying, you can trust me, I get it, church and faith are important to me.

McCain is going into his convention where a lot of his base, Christian conservatives, social conservatives, still have a little bit of mistrust and distrust. So they both went in with very different but very clear agendas, and you could tell by their answers that's what they were trying to do.

BLITZER: Four years ago, Bill Schneider, among those voters who described themselves as evangelical Christians, most of them voted for George W. Bush, but about 20 percent actually voted for John Kerry. What do we see in the polls this time around?

SCHNEIDER: We are seeing still strong support for the Republican candidate, John McCain. Not quite as strong as it was four years ago for George W. Bush. McCain is getting about 67 percent of their vote right now with Obama getting a little over 20 percent -- 24 percent, I think. Last year -- last election, George W. Bush got closer to 80 percent of their vote. It's not just a question of what share of the vote they get, but how many of them come out to vote. This year, among evangelical voters and other voters, the situation isn't nearly as divided, as polarized as it used to be. A lot of evangelical voters aren't entirely comfortable with John McCain. And Barack Obama can talk the language of faith and values and makes an overt appeal to them more than other Democrats have. So the situation isn't nearly as polarized as it has been in recent elections. BLITZER: One of the dramatic moments, and we played those exchanges, Candy, was when both of these candidates were asked about the Supreme Court. And you heard, all of us heard a very, very different response. And this issue for a lot of voters out there could really resonate because if the next president has two or three nominations for new justices in store, that could affect Americans' lives for 20 or 30 years or even longer.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And it has always been a Republican rallying cry, mostly along the lines of the abortion issue. But nonetheless, the idea of who is going to be put on the Supreme Court, who is going to be in charge of nominating those Supreme Court nominees has always been an issue that's brought out conservatives for the Republicans.

I don't know that we heard any surprises in the answers. Obama, I did hear Obama for the first time take out after Clarence Thomas, saying basically he didn't think he was ready for the job. But what they did, basically, McCain said he wouldn't have appointed the more liberal members and Obama saying he wouldn't have supported the more conservative members.

BLITZER: And on the issue of when life begins, John, this very sensitive issue, we heard no hesitation from John McCain at all. Human rights for children, for babies, he said, begins at the point of conception. And Barack Obama basically said, you know, that kind of theological question is above my pay grade.

KING: And you can bet, Wolf, bottom dollar, McCain campaign, conservative organizations will use Obama's answer in those places I just talked about. In electoral politics, we elect a president state by state. In a place like rural small town America, West Virginia, Virginia, Iowa, southeastern Ohio, the places that tend to decide a competitive presidential election, what the McCain campaign and conservatives will say is, it may be above his pay grade from a theological perspective, but a president has to pick and make tough policy decisions. And Barack Obama punted. We know what John McCain's answer will be. Trust me, in the mail from pro-life organizations, anti-abortion organizations, radio ads, that will be a big deal.

BLITZER: And quickly, Bill Schneider, before we take a break, on the issue of abortion rights, who is this more important for, those who oppose abortion rights or those who support abortion rights? In other words, who is more passionate in terms of this being a priority issue in an election? SCHNEIDER: In the past, the more passionate voice has come from the right, from those who oppose abortion rights. But now, the situation may be changing, simply because the court is right on the knife edge, the Supreme Court. And with one or two more appointments, the entire court could tilt against abortion rights, might even reverse Roe v. Wade. A lot of people in the abortion rights community are very aware of that. And when that happens, they start to vote the issue. They usually don't, but this year, they may be voting the issue.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We have a lot more to talk about. Also, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, discussed the U.S. response to the Russia/Georgia conflict today. You are going to hear what she has to say. That's coming up in our very popular "In Case You Missed It" segment right after this.


BLITZER: We'll get back to our political panel in a moment, but now, "In Case You Missed It." On NBC, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, suggested Russia would lose the trust of the United States and its allies if it failed to follow through on a cease-fire agreement with Georgia.


SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The Russian president said several days ago Russian military operations would stop. They didn't. The Russian president told President Sarkozy that the minute that cease-fire was signed by President Saakashvili, Russian forces would begin to withdraw. They didn't.

Now, he has said that tomorrow, midday, Russian forces will withdraw and withdraw to their pre-August 6th, 7th lines. This time, I hope he means it.


BLITZER: Condoleezza Rice earlier today, some of the highlights here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

Coming up right after "Late Edition" at the top of the hour, a special edition of "Fareed Zakaria GPS." Guest host Jill Dougherty will examine the crisis in Georgia from all angles. Stay tuned for "Fareed Zakaria GPS" right at the top of the hour.

But up next, more of our political panel. Will Hillary Clinton's roll call vote damage the cause of Democratic unity? We will get the latest from the best political team on television.


BLITZER: We are back with three of the best political team on television.

John, Hillary Clinton wanted a roll call vote, her name placed in nomination at the Democratic Convention in Denver, and she is going to get it, although a lot of Obama supporters were at least very worried that this could just, you know, reignite some of that controversy.

KING: They are still, Wolf, talking to liberal blogosphere about is there some secret plan by Hillary Clinton to try to steal the nomination in Denver. Her campaign says, come on, give it up.

Look, it is very important how Barack Obama not only manages that moment, but manages this relationship, because if you look at all the polling, talk to all the Democrats and the smart Republicans, they will tell you, he has two big weaknesses right now. That the fundamentals favor Obama, but in small town rural America -- we talked a little bit about that earlier -- and among white suburban women, Barack Obama still runs way behind against John McCain than if you put Hillary Clinton's name on the ballot. So those are his weaknesses still, and those are the areas where Senator Clinton did quite well.

So he needs her help, put simply. He needs her help or he needs something like her help.

So because he has not made up enough ground, significant ground in small town rural America and with white suburban women, he -- this is especially -- he cannot offend her right now.

BLITZER: And the polls show, Bill Schneider, and correct me if I'm wrong, that even now, among those Hillary Clinton supporters, maybe 20 or even 25 percent say they are going to vote for McCain or they don't know who they are going to vote for. So there seems to be a lingering problem that Obama has with Hillary Clinton's supporters.

SCHNEIDER: There is. And a lot of them argue that there was sexism in the Democratic Party, sexism in the media. They -- I don't appreciate the way she was treated. Remember, it was a very close vote.

But remember one other important thing. There were no huge issue differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and their supporters. This wasn't a battle over issues or ideology. The biggest single issue difference they had was over universal health care, where she favored a mandate and he said he wanted to make it affordable without imposing a mandate. Well, the Democratic platform are really finesses that issue. It gives some ground to Hillary Clinton. It's a compromise between Obama and Clinton.

So as difficult as this relationship is, what's important is, it really isn't based on a fundamental difference like over a war, or over a big issue. It has more to do with the way she was treated in the primary.

BLITZER: Candy, how much bad blood is there still between these two campaigns?

CROWLEY: Listen, Hillary Clinton is going to do in public exactly what she promised to do. She will go out. She has been campaigning for him.

But are there tensions between these two campaigns? There obviously remain tensions, not just among the voters and the supporters, but among the two principals.

Having said that, we all know that in a convention, 10 people can create a ruckus enough to make the headlines on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. This is a -- you know, conventions are aimed at not making any news, sort of presenting PR for the party.

In the end, a roll call vote for Hillary Clinton, a parade for Hillary Clinton in the streets of Denver gets outshone by a boffo speech Thursday night by Barack Obama. Now, you know, we all know he can give a boffo speech. And that is going to be the takeaway from this convention.

So the Obama campaign is not that worried or worried at all about what's going to happen at the convention. They are going to give her, her night on Tuesday to talk. They are going to give her the roll call vote. But they know that when people walk away from that convention, it's going to be about that Thursday night speech.

BLITZER: John, what are you hearing about a vice presidential pick? The timing? Because the convention starts a week from tomorrow.

KING: I thought Candy and Bill wanted to jump in on that one. No, look, I'm told that both of these candidates are essentially comfortable with the process and now it's go off into your private moments and make your decisions.

As to when? There was a lot of talk Obama would wait until Friday. I heard a Democrat the other day say maybe Wednesday or Thursday. The McCain people right now say they will let Obama go first and go probably after the Democratic Convention, but I was just told this morning by a senior McCain adviser he is essentially done. Now it's just reaching a comfort point.

So the quick answer to your question is, who knows.

BLITZER: All right, we'll leave it right there. KING: Soon, though.

BLITZER: Whenever it happens, we will be all over that story.

Guys, thanks very much.

We have an important programming note. John King will do a special documentary on John McCain, "Revealed," that airs Wednesday night 8:00 p.m. Eastern, and it's followed by Suzanne Malveaux's Obama documentary at 9:30 p.m. Eastern. You are going to want to see that Wednesday night here on CNN. "Late Edition" continues after this.


BLITZER: And that's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, August 17th. Please be sure to join me again next Sunday. We'll be live from the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Denver and we will start at a special time, 10:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. We will also be on the air next Sunday for three hours, all live from Denver, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

I will be in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "Fareed Zakaria GPS" with guest host Jill Dougherty starts right now.