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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer - Transcript

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BLITZER: President Bush speaking out Friday about the need for U.N. forces on the border of Israel and Lebanon. But the fact is, few nations so far are signing up, and the cease-fire could be in deep trouble.

Joining us now to discuss this and much more, two guests: Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. He's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Specter is joining us from Jerusalem, where he's been meeting with top Israeli officials. Also joining us, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. She serves on the Judiciary Committee as well as the Intelligence Committee. She's joining us from her home state of California.

Senators, thanks to both of you for coming in.

Senator Specter, I know you've been meeting with top Israeli officials. Based on what you're hearing, is this cease-fire going to work?

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER, (R) PENNSYLVANIA: I think there's a realistic chance that it will work, Wolf. It depends upon whether the United Nations fulfills the commitment to put a robust force on the ground. They're looking for 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers to supplement the 15,000 in the Lebanese army. And the United States is squarely behind the arrangement.

And the progress has not been too good so far. There's been a little disappointment that the French have not put up a substantial force, which they had committed to, but it is early yet. And I talked to the prime minister today, and the defense minister, and they are both optimistic that there will be a U.N. force and that it will stabilize the situation.

BLITZER: Is it hard, Senator Specter, for the U.S. to be encouraging France and other countries to deploy thousands of troops to that border, clearly a dangerous area, when the U.S. itself is gun- shy, doesn't want to get involved?

SPECTER: Well, I think Israel has made it plain that their preference is that the United States not be involved, for many reasons. And the United States has been such a strong supporter of Israel, and justifiably so, for good reason at our national self- interest, that they're looking for other troops, and there has never been any suggestion that the United States would be a part of this U.N. force. So, there's no change in not having the U.S. participate.

BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, you've not been shy over the years in criticizing President Bush on foreign policy issues or other issues. What do you think he should be doing right now? Is he doing it just about right as far as the Israeli-Lebanese situation is concerned?

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: Well, I think Secretary Rice and her team did a good job in putting together this cease-fire and shepherding it through the security council. I think very important in all of this is a resolution to the Shebaa Farms issue. Shebaa Farms is just a rocky, very small area up in the north of Israel. And Syria has laid claim to it historically. But I heard on your show a minister from the Syrian government essentially say that Syria's position was that Shebaa Farms should go to Lebanon.

And I hope that that is the result of what the secretary-general comes up with in the next 30 days. I think deciding that really does take away one of the major organizing tools of Hezbollah, who has laid the claim that parts of Lebanon are occupied. And, of course, one of those parts is Shebaa Farms. So if that issue could be solved, I think it would go a long way.

BLITZER: Senator Specter, when you spoke with the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, today, did you discuss that issue of Shebaa Farms?

SPECTER: We did not discuss that. We focused mostly, Wolf, on the part that Iran and Syria have played in backing Hezbollah, and what is not really broadly recognized is that Hezbollah has had enormous support in advanced military equipment and advanced training.

And one of the things that I had made a floor statement in the Senate before we adjourned for the August recess was that we ought to be trying to bring Iran and Syria before the United Nations for violating the U.N. resolution which calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah. And the principal part of the discussion that I had with the Israeli prime minister today was Iran's participation, and that Israel has really been fighting Iran through the surrogate of the Hezbollah terrorists.

BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, I want to pick up on one thought, then I want to move on to warrantless wiretaps here in the United States.

The U.S. re-establishing a high-level dialogue with Syria, clearly a key player in this region. Is it a good idea for the president of the United States now to authorize high-level discussions with Bashar Al-Assad?

FEINSTEIN: Absolutely. I don't really support this business that we only talk with people that we agree with. I think you talk with people you disagree with. I think it is a mistake to isolate governments. You isolate governments and they become more recalcitrant, not less recalcitrant.

Therefore, I think it is very important -- I think it's very important to clear up the fact that Iran is shipping rockets and missiles from Tehran to Damascus. I believe we stopped one cargo plane full. The question arises, are there others coming through this way? And I think it's extraordinarily important to sit down, when you have a point of difference, and talk with the nation. And, for the life of me, I have never understood this reluctance to do so.

BLITZER: Well, talk about that stopping of that cargo shipment. Some of our viewers might not be familiar with what you're referring to.

FEINSTEIN: What I'm referring to is that there have been rumors for some time that rockets and munitions were coming out of Tehran in, well, actually, commercial planes, going into Damascus. And I believe one was actually stopped. It was a cargo plane. And if there's one, you can be sure there have been more than one.

And I think this alone is worth very serious discussions, rather than long-range threats, which I don't think are really effective. I strongly believe that diplomacy can work, strong diplomacy can work. And I think an example of that, although it was somewhat late, was Secretary Rice and her team putting together this cease-fire.

Now, what also needs to come out of this cease-fire, I think, is a much more general agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and get this solved. I think that that is the one thing that could really be seminal and positively effective in terms of the American relationship with the Muslim world.

BLITZER: I want you to respond, Senator Specter, and then we'll take a quick break, and we'll pick up on the other side of the break with the warrantless wiretapping issue. But go ahead, Senator Specter.

SPECTER: Well, before coming to Jerusalem, I was part of a Senate delegation in Beijing, China. And I raised the point with the Chinese officials that China is selling missiles to Iran, and Iran is transferring them to Hezbollah, and one of them hit an Israeli ship.

And in the arrangement between China and Iran, there's a commitment by Iran not to transfer the weapons.

SPECTER: And I put the question squarely to top Chinese officials: When Iran breaches that agreement, are you going to stop selling Iran missiles? And the Chinese wouldn't answer.

We know that the Russians have sent equipment to Syria with a non-transfer arrangement. And Syria has turned them over to Hezbollah. And the Russians have stopped selling that equipment to Syria, so that we're really facing, with the Israeli battling the Hezbollah, weapons from China, from Russia. It's quite a heavily stacked deck.

BLITZER: Senator Specter, Senator Feinstein, please stand by. We're going to continue this conversation.

Lots more to talk about, including the political battle unfolding here in the United States over the warrantless wiretapping program of the president.

But up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on the Jon-Benet Ramsay suspect, John Mark Karr. He's on his way to the United States right now.

And this quick programming note: Now, more than ever, you need to know your enemy. This Wednesday, the stories only CNN can tell you about the man who became the world's most-wanted terrorist. Don't miss "In the Footsteps of bin Laden," a CNN Presents special two-hour investigation. That debuts Wednesday night, August 23rd, 9 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're talking with two U.S. senators, Republican Senator Arlen Specter -- he's joining us today from Jerusalem -- and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. She's joining us from San Francisco.

Senator Specter, put on your hat now as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Let me read to you what U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor wrote about the president's warrantless wiretapping program in a ruling this past Thursday.

"It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights. There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all 'inherent powers' must derive from that Constitution."

Was she right when she said this warrantless wiretap program is illegal and unconstitutional?

SPECTER: Well, I think she's expressed her opinion. But I think, ultimately, Wolf, that question has to be answered by the Supreme Court of the United States. I've introduced legislation with the view to have that determined.

There is no doubt that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is being violated, because it requires the exclusive remedy to go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court to get a warrant.

The president has contended that he has inherent powers. And Judge Taylor has disagreed with the president, which is the role of a federal judge. And now, what I will be looking for is to find a way to get the appellate process working, to get it to the Supreme Court of the United States for a definitive decision.

Meanwhile, if I may elaborate just a bit, Senator Feinstein has introduced legislation that she can comment about, which would give additional strength to the court to enforce the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And I have co-sponsored that.

But ultimately, the Supreme Court of the United States is going to have to decide the issue that Judge Taylor has decided against the president, and that involves a weighing of the importance to security to have these wiretaps contrasted with the invasion of privacy. And it's in the national interest to get that decided.

BLITZER: Senator Feinstein, I'll let you hear what the president said, reacting to that federal judge's decision. Listen to what Mr. Bush said.


BUSH: Those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live. This country of ours is at war. And we must give those who are -- whose responsibility it is to protect the United States the tools necessary to protect this country in a time of war.


BLITZER: Is the president right when he says that this program is legal? And he and his attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, have insisted that no new legislation is required as a result, because the program, as it exists right now, is legal.

FEINSTEIN: I think the answer is no. I also think it's potentially very dangerous for any president to have this wide swath of executive power, because it means that a president could order the wiretapping of the telephone calls of really tens of thousands of Americans. And the protection against unreasonable search and seizure would be effectively done away with.

There have been misuses of domestic surveillance in the past. That's what led to the FISA bill, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was passed in the 1970s. It was amended in the 1994, following the Aldrich Ames situation, to include physical searches and seizures. I think it's a very important piece of legislation.

It is one thing to go before the court and get a program approval of what is called meta data, which is the collection of official business records of telephone companies and e-mails, the number of origin, the point of receipt, the time of the call. It's another thing to allow the broad wiretapping of the conversations of American persons.

BLITZER: All right. FEINSTEIN: And I believe that should be done with individual warrants. And let me say one other thing. I have been briefed on this program, and it can fit within the boundaries of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. BLITZER: Senator Specter, Alberto Gonzales strongly defends the program, the legality of the program, and strongly insists that the legislation you've introduced, the legislation that Senator Feinstein has introduced, is simply not needed because the program is legal right now as it currently stands. Listen to what he said the other day.


ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: This is an important program. We have leaders of the intelligence community who have testified to Congress that it's been effective in protecting America. And so, we're going to do everything that we can do in the courts to allow this program to continue, because it is effective, has been effective in protecting America.


BLITZER: What chance does your legislation or Senator Feinstein's legislation or any legislation have of getting passed when the White House insists no legislation is necessary?

SPECTER: Well, I believe that Attorney General Gonzales is wrong when he says no additional legislation is necessary, because I think if we gave the court seven days instead of three days and increased the resources that a great many of the wiretaps now in effect would be subject to a warrant issued by a judge. When he comes to the issue of inherent presidential power, he may be right or he may be wrong. That involves a weighing of the risk to the nation.

And the president is correct that we're in a tough war against terrorism. And the terrorists could strike at any time. And the threat to the United States has to be weighed against the intrusion of privacy. Now, we've had the opinion of one federal judge, and I respect that.

But that's not the final word. This is a matter of sufficient importance that we need to structure an appellate process to get it to the Supreme Court of the United States, so we have a judicial determination -- which is the tradition of our country -- that what is going on by way of wiretapping electronic surveillance is constitutional.

BLITZER: Senator Specter, Senator Feinstein, thanks to both of you for joining us.

Senator Specter, have a safe trip back here to the United States.

SPECTER: Pleasure being with you. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Thanks to both of you.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: And in just a few minutes, at the top of the hour, we'll speak live with a spokesman for the Israeli ministry about the very shaky cease-fire on the border between Israel and Lebanon right now.

But coming up next, we'll turn our attention to Iraq, where more bombings, more murders are happening than ever before. Is Iraq on the brink of civil war? We'll speak with the Iraqi industry minister, Fawzi Hariri, in Baghdad. That's coming up next.


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