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CNN Late Edition - Transcript

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CNN Late Edition - Transcript
Sunday, July 17, 2005


KING: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."

We're joined now by two key members of the United States Senate: Here in Washington, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. He serves on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. And in his home state of Delaware is Senator Joseph Biden. He also serves on the Judiciary Committee and is the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senators, welcome to "LATE EDITION." I want to spend time talking about domestic politics in a minute, but let's start on some international issues.

Just had the British defense minister on, talking about the possibility, the possibility, of bringing troops home from Iraq beginning next year.

Senator Biden, to you first. Is that feasible, in your view?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: It's possible. It's unlikely. It depends on how rapidly we train up the Iraqi forces. He uses the figure 170,000 trained. There's 170,000 in uniform, about less than one-fifth of that trained.

But they're making progress. It is possible but I don't think likely.

KING: You agree with Senator Biden?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I don't disagree, except for one thing. Last year we had one battalion trained. This year there are over 100 battalions. Now, they're not all perfectly trained, but nevertheless it's a far cry from last year, and we're making a lot of headway.

As far as leaving, I think this is a much longer-term situation, and we're just going to have to have to be there until we can win this thing.

KING: Well, one of the key issues, of course, is not only how fast are the Iraqis trained, but how does this political transition under way go?

There is a report in The New Yorker about an effort by the administration, then aborted, or they decided against it in the end, to have a covert effort to support some individual candidates in the Iraqi elections several months back.

Let me start with you, Senator Hatch. You're on the Intelligence Committee. Did the administration come and say, "Here's our plan"? What were they thinking? And why did it not happen?

HATCH: Well, I can't talk about that. All I can say is that the administration has tried everything to try to bring about a successful conclusion over there.

It's critical that we have a successful conclusion. You know, if we're successful there, it brings democracy to the Middle East in a way that's never been done before, puts pressure on every country there.

It creates -- democracies don't fight each other, generally. And as a matter of fact, it would solve a lot of problems over there that never could otherwise be solved. I think we're on a grand activity there that hopefully will result in peace in the Middle East for a long time to come.

KING: Senator Biden, I assume Senator Hatch says he can't talk about it because it's a classified matter. Did you know about this plan?

BIDEN: You know, one of the things that you're going to be talking about later in the program with Karl Rove, one of the things that most people don't know, we would violate the law, Orrin and I, if we confirmed or denied an official report without us having cleared whether or not it's still classified. So I hate to say this, but I can't comment on it. KING: I can appreciate that, and we may use these statements later when we do get to the discussion about Karl Rove.


Let's talk about the terror investigation now under way in London and whether there are any ramifications here at home. Again, without getting into classified information, you're on the Intelligence Committee. The United States is helping Britain in this investigation. Egypt detained someone. Prime Minister Blair has said that he might need help from Pakistan and others.

Anything you know about this investigation that you can share with the American people about where it's going from here, and especially whether there should be any concerns here in the United States?

HATCH: It ought to be amazing to everybody how fast they're uncovering information, identities, bomb-making facilities, et cetera. I think it sends a message to everybody in the terrorist world, we're going to get you.

You may be successful with some of these suicide bombing situations because it's almost impossible to stop them, but in the end, we're going to get you. And we're going to get the people who helped to you to do it.

And we just have to keep doing this. We cannot allow international terrorism to take over our country or any other country in the world in the sense of countries that are important to us.

KING: But, Senator Biden, did not the terrorists send a pretty scary message here by the use of suicide bombs for the first time in a major Western city?

BIDEN: Absolutely, positively.

And two messages should come from this: that fighting terror is not merely a military problem, it is also a police problem. And we need closer cooperation. It's good cooperation. We need even closer cooperation with our international friends on the police side as well as the military side.

And, secondly, it should send a message to us. Look how the Brits were able to identify these groups. They had cameras in the stations, cameras around. We virtually have nothing remotely, remotely similar to protect our transit system and to be able to follow up if anything happens here in the United States. And we've been derelict.

KING: What about on the issue of these types of explosives that could be used for suicide bombings? What do we do compared to what the British do? Are we better? Worse?

BIDEN: We are worse, as it relates to protecting transit, because we have virtually no detection capability. We do not even have dogs that are sniffing people getting on and off -- baggage getting on and off trains. We do not have ventilation. We do not have lighting. We do not have escape routes in our tunnels.

We only have -- I'm allowed to, but I'm not going to tell you the number, but we have a paltry number of police in our stations.

For example, tomorrow morning at rush hour in New York City, there's going to be more people sitting in six tunnels built in 1917 under New York City in aluminum tubes, cars, than in five to seven full 747 trains, with virtually no escape, no ventilation to take out chemical or biological weapons, et cetera. I mean, we have to move, and we're not.

HATCH: Well, let me just add, I think we have a way to go, but I differ with Joe somewhat, because in the short time that we've had to really get prepared, yes, we're not the same as the British -- they have cameras everywhere. We've seen that in how they've uncovered things. But we've had, under our homeland security people, they've done an awful lot of things with regard to detection.

But we can do a lot more, and we're going to have to do a lot more. I agree with Joe on that.

BIDEN: John, if I could say one thing.

KING: Quickly, Senator, quickly.

BIDEN: Chernoff, the head of Homeland Security, said rail is a state problem. Rail is for the localities because it's not like airplanes.

You can kill thousands of people in Union Station or up in New York City. I don't know what he's been reading, where he's been. It is a federal responsibility.

KING: Well, that debate will continue as well.

And we will continue our conversation with Republican Senator Hatch and Democrat Biden. But up next, a check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on Hurricane Emily. Stay with "LATE EDITION."


KING: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION." We're talking with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch and Democratic Senator Joseph Biden.

I want to turn now, gentlemen, to the homefront and the battle over the Supreme Court.

We at least know for now the president will have one, not two picks. And we know that because of this statement put out by Justice Rehnquist as the week drew to a close. The chief justice saying, quote, "I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement. I'm not about to announce my retirement. I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits."

So we have one vacancy, Senator Hatch. You will have a key role in that. The president says he is consulting. Do you have any sense now, has he narrowed the list? Is he down to two or three?

HATCH: Well, I'm sure he has a pretty good idea of who he wants to pick.

But this has been the most amazing consulting that I've seen in the whole time I've been in the United States Senate. They've consulted with well over -- almost two-thirds of the senators, maybe more by now, but last time I heard.

Normally, the president will consult with the leadership and then the chairman and ranking member and then members of the Judiciary Committee. But they've really made an effort to try and get as many ideas as they can. So it will be interesting to see who he picks.

KING: Well, Senator Biden, I talked to you the other day, and you had not been consulted as of yet. Are among the one-third to not get a phone call?

BIDEN: No, no, I have gotten a phone call. I got a phone call, and I actually misspoke when I told you that, because Andy Card called me immediately after and said, "Joe, don't you remember we talked?"


And I said, "Yes, we talked for two minutes or so." And he said, "Yes, it was short, but we talked." But no, we have talked since then, and he asked my advice as to what I'd suggest to the president. And I told him that he should do what Clinton did with Orrin Hatch and also put Senate leaders on the line. Say, "Here are the 10 or so people I'm thinking about," like Ronald Reagan did with me, ran down the list and said, "If I nominated him, what would happen, nominated her, what would happen?" So that he had a sense of what was going on.

KING: You have one pick here to replace Justice O'Connor. Now she was a swing vote on many issues. So you have, as both of you know well, groups on both sides, not just members of the Senate, but the interest groups of both sides, ready for what they believe will be a feisty, polarizing, perhaps multi-million-dollar fight.

I want to bring one issue into the debate, and that is abortion. Many view Justice O'Connor as a swing vote, if you will. There's still enough votes, probably even without her, if a conservative took her place, to uphold Roe v. Wade.

But look at this CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll: "Should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade?" Sixty-eight percent say no.

Senator Hatch, you're a conservative. I assume your personal opinion is that Roe v. Wade was a mistake. Should a president take the mood of the country into account when he is picking to fill a vacancy that he knows could swing the court either way? HATCH: Well, I don't think any single litmus test should determine who's picked for the United States Supreme Court. And that certainly has been a litmus test for certain Democrats and Republicans. And I think it's too bad that it is.

But I can cite liberal law professor after law professor, including Justice Ginsburg, who said that there was no justification for deciding Roe v. Wade under constitutional law. But they still are pro-choice.

So these are matters that whoever is picked is going to have to really weigh. And whether the 32 years that Roe v. Wade has been in existence makes it settled law or makes it so that it's very difficult to overrule, they're going to have to make that determination long after they're confirmed.

KING: Senator Biden, the president says he won't ask a nominee or potential nominee his or her position on this issue. Do you believe that that will have already been asked in the preliminary stages?

BIDEN: Well, I don't know. I take the president at his word.

You know, there's a lot -- there's so much more at stake than that one case.

I mean, the real question behind this -- and Orrin knows it well, as do you, John -- is, how much is government able to intrude into your personal life, like the Schiavo case or like abortion, or, more fundamentally, is there a right to privacy in the Constitution?

And there's a real debate among constitutional scholars in that. I happen to think there is, but many don't. So it's a big issue, and it goes well beyond Roe v. Wade.

KING: I want to move on to the debate and the controversy over Karl Rove and his involvement, alleged involvement, in the CIA leak investigation.

I want to begin by using a quote from Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, to set the parameters of our discussion. Let's listen, this is the White House press secretary on September 29, 2003, talking about the standards Mr. Bush sets for those who serve in his administration.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has set high standards, the highest of standards, for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Senator Hatch, you're an attorney. You're on the Intelligence Committee, the Judiciary Committee. You just refused to talk to me about whether there was even a plan, a potential covert plan, to get involved -- the United States -- involved in the Iraqi elections.

We now know that Karl Rove spoke to at least two reporters. And he continued a conversation that involved a CIA operative. Now, he says he broke no laws. In his training, should not a red flag have gone up the minute somebody mentioned CIA, said, "Can't talk to you about that; got to go"?

HATCH: He may not have even known that some thought she was a covert agent.

KING: She's a CIA -- this is a CIA operative.

HATCH: Be that as it may, I said from the beginning that I did not think she qualified as a covert agent. First of all, she hadn't been outside of the country in the last five years, and there's a real question whether she even deserved that status. Some out there are political and may have thought that she did, but not under the law does she deserve that status. So that shouldn't even be a question.

But secondly, Rove did not disclose her name. He did not do it with -- he did not say Joe Wilson's wife with malice. He certainly was not trying to break the law. And I don't think he even intended to. And he said it on background to this reporter. But he also gave everybody authority to, through the grand jury process on through, to use whatever he'd said.

So, you know, I think this is a tempest in the teapot. And you know why I think that? I think that a lot of Democrats and a lot of anti-Bush people, knowing that Karl Rove is one of the most effective people we've ever had in Washington, knowing he's an ebullient, straightforward, decent, honorable guy, they want to get rid of him. And they want to damage the president in the process.

And that's what this is all about. It isn't about covert action or the wife of Joe Wilson.

In fact, if you look that over, it's an unsavory affair from their standpoint, too, because Joe Wilson didn't tell the truth on a number of occasions. I was on the Intelligence Committee. We heard the information. The Intelligence Committee basically came out and said he was dishonest in some of the comments he made.

KING: Senator Biden, I want to let you into this conversation, I promise. I want you first to listen to a comment by your leader, Harry Reid, on the Senate floor just this past Friday.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: This is a cover-up, it's abuse of power, and it's a diversion. They have no interest, my friends, in coming clean and being honest with the American people. And the American people are seeing through this.


KING: Now, Senator Biden, the floor is now yours. But as you speak, I'd like to ask you, one, talk about what Senator Hatch said. And two, there's an old rule in politics that if your enemy's on fire, why throw more fuel on it? Just let your enemy burn. Why don't the Democrats just stay out of this? If Karl Rove has a problem, we'll find that out.

BIDEN: You know, we can look at this from a political standpoint, and we can look at this from a standpoint of what this is all about in fact.

Politically, it's above my pay grade to know what's the best way to deal with this if you're looking about political gain.

But practically, you know, you've got to ask yourself, is there no honor here? I mean, look, anybody who's ever made a mistake in this administration has never paid at all. Everyone who has been right in this administration has been fired.

You know, this is so much bigger than Karl Rove. This is about the question -- remember the underlying issue here is, whether or not Joe Wilson said things rightly or wrongly, he was right, flat right, that Niger was not selling yellow cake to Iraq, which was a justification for going to war.

Remember how that was being brought up at the same time that the vice president was on shows like this, on one Sunday when I was on, saying that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons.

This was all about -- this is all about whether or not those who had access to intelligence information in this administration used it appropriately, not just whether or not the agency was right.

But with regard to Karl Rove, I mean, one thing no one has ever argued, starting with John McCain and what happened in South Carolina, is that Karl Rove doesn't play the hardest hardball attack politics of anyone that I have known in my 34 years of elective office.

He's entitled to do that, but let's not turn this guy into the honorable, straight-shooting, you know, guy. This is the guy's job. The guy's job is to torpedo the opposition. He did it with John in South Carolina, and he tried to do it with Joe Wilson here.

And the real issue is, it's just unsavory. I mean, we should just get on with this. I think the president -- well, I'm not going to say anymore.

KING: We're out of time for this segment, but Senator Hatch wants to say something.

So I want to give you 15 seconds, sir, and Senator Biden 15 seconds, and we'll have to close this up. HATCH: Well, the fact of the matter is that the Intelligence Committee report said that what he did in Niger was not accurate. The Butler report, the British report, said that, if anything, you know, he was certainly not accurate, and that the matter of yellow cake was more serious than people have thought.

And last but not least, look, Karl Rove -- I've known him for all these years -- he was raised in Utah in part. And I can tell you one thing, he's a straight shooter, but he is a tough player, and he has to be to be at that level. And I think that's what's involved here. They want to get rid of him.

But, you know, they can't make a case, in my opinion, that this was a covert action person who was disclosed. And even if they could, it was on background that he gave this information, to try and get the reporter to not misreport. And last but not least, there certainly was no intent to disclose an agent at the CIA. And I think it's an over-reach for the Democrats to try and make that case.

KING: Last word, Senator Biden, quickly?

BIDEN: Middle-class people can smell a phony when they see it. This is phony.

HATCH: Well, he's not one of them, I'll tell you that.

KING: All right. Senator Biden of Delaware, Senator Hatch of Utah, gentlemen, we thank you. We wish we had more time.


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