CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer
February 8, 2004
GUESTS: Howard Dean, Carl Levin, John Warner, Wesley Clark, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Michael Deaver
BYLINE: Wolf Blitzer, Kelly Wallace, Dana Bash, Brent Sadler
Interviews with Democratic presidential candidates Howard Dean and Wesley Clark.
BLITZER: Up next, is Howard Dean's presidential run over? He says no. We'll have my conversation with the Democratic candidate.
And we want you to weigh in on our Web question of the week: Did the CIA provide adequate pre-war intelligence on Iraq? Go to cnn.com/lateedition to cast your vote. We'll tell you the results later in this program.
”LATE EDITION” will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
Howard Dean says the February 17th Wisconsin primary is his last stand. Within the past hour, I spoke with Howard Dean on the campaign trail in Maine.
BLITZER: Governor Dean, welcome back to “LATE EDITION.” Thanks very much for joining us.
You're in Maine right now, an important caucus state. The results will be coming out tonight. Must you win in Maine?
HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we try to get as many delegates as we can everywhere. We'd like to win in Maine. Then we're going to go on to Wisconsin and try to win there.
BLITZER: Well, how do you think you'll do in Maine tonight?
DEAN: Hard to tell. We've got a great organization, but, you know, Senator Kerry has a lot of momentum.
We think that Democrats ought to have a real choice for this nomination, and the public ought to have a real choice, in terms of who's going to be the next president of the United States.
And what I believe is that I can offer the American people an agenda for action that it's actually been done. Senators are, you know, smart people, but they mostly talk. Governors do.
We have health insurance for every child in my state under 18. We have a third of our seniors with prescription benefits. We have balanced budgets. Nobody I'm running against has ever balanced a budget on either side of the aisle.
BLITZER: That's been your campaign theme now for weeks and weeks. In Michigan and Washington state over the weekend, yesterday, it didn't resonate, although you came in second in both states. Take a look at the numbers: 52 percent for Kerry in Michigan, 17 percent for Dean. In Washington State, 48 percent for Kerry, 30 percent for Dean.
What happened? Why couldn't you carry those two states, where that message should have resonated more dramatically?
DEAN: Well, I hate to be-totally gild the lily, but, in fact, our second place finishes are stronger than any we've had since New Hampshire. We're starting to come back. I think the people in Wisconsin, particularly, and in Maine today, are going to have a real choice.
Look, there's been a huge momentum after Iowa and New Hampshire. And Senator Kerry is the beneficiary of that momentum. With 15 percent of the delegates selected so far, I question whether Democrats really want to choose somebody that they don't know that much about. And I'd really like the opportunity to show there's a different way of taking on George Bush.
In the beginning, I was the only one willing to take on George Bush. All the other Democrats, including Senator Kerry, voted for the war, they voted for No Child Left Behind.
Now, the question is, what are you going to do when you're standing next to George Bush in the debates and he turns and says, “Well, Senator, you supported my agenda on the war, you supported my agenda on No Child Left Behind, you supported some of my tax cuts. What makes you think that I can't execute my agenda better than you can?”
BLITZER: Governor, the next two states after Maine, Tennessee and Virginia, poll numbers not very encouraging for you. And I know you're jumping over these states, but I'll put them up on the screen anyhow.
In Tennessee, Kerry's at 32 percent; Edwards at 21; Clark, 20. You're down at eight.
In Virginia, Kerry's at 35; 22 for Edwards; 17 for Clark. You're only at nine.
Why are you skipping these two important states in the South?
DEAN: They are important states, but we-as you know, after Iowa and New Hampshire, we hardly had any money at all. We've gotten some back now. Wisconsin's a state with a lot of independent voters.
The question is, is John Kerry going to be the nominee of this party? And are all the Democrats in New York and Florida and Ohio and California willing to sign off on that right now? I think the answer to that is no.
We have to beat George Bush. My argument is that Senator Kerry, who's a fine person, has taken more special-interest money than any other Democrat in the Senate in the last 15 years, as reported by The Washington Post. Voted for the president's agenda on education, voted for the president's agenda on war. I just think the Democrats ought to be very careful about this.
And Maine and Wisconsin, the two states that I'm doing next, are areas where our-parts of the country where independent-thinking people really are going to take a close look at this.
I'm going to support Senator Kerry if he's the nominee. But I don't think Senator Kerry provides the kind of contrast to George Bush, because he himself is a Washington insider. That's ultimately going to repel lots of new people to vote in this election to send George Bush back to Crawford, Texas.
BLITZER: Governor Dean, how worried are you, though, that these kinds of criticisms that you have of Senator Kerry could hurt him?
It looks like he's going to get the nomination. He's certainly won nine of 11 contests so far. He looks well-positioned in Tennessee and Virginia to continue that momentum.
How concerned are you that the criticisms you're leveling against him now could hurt him in this overall competition, hypothetically, against President Bush?
DEAN: I'm not concerned about that at all. I got all those criticisms when I was the front-runner five or six weeks ago. And I think we're all going to come together at the end of this and support whoever the nominee is.
But there's a substantial difference between myself and all the other people running. They're insiders in Washington. They're in the Senate. In the Senate, they talk; they don't do. I balance budgets, I deliver health care.
I also say things that are true, even though they may not be politic from time to time. But Harry Truman did that, and he was one of the great presidents in the last 60 years of this country. I think it might be time for the truth in Washington.
BLITZER: It's been almost amazing to see how you've slid in the national polls among registered Democrats over the past month. The latest CNN-Time magazine poll out this weekend, which shows Kerry ahead among registered Democrats 43 percent, you're down at only 6 percent. You were at 22 percent in January.
And in the same poll, they ask whether various candidates among registered Democrats should drop out. Almost half, 49 percent, of registered Democrats want you to drop out right now for the benefit of the party.
What do you say about that?
DEAN: What I say is that I'm the only person who made this Democratic Party stand up for what it should be believing in when I first started this campaign. I've got 700,000 people behind me in our net who raised $1 million in four days so that I could compete in Wisconsin. And that's exactly what I'm going to do.
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about Wisconsin a little bit. You've said-and I'll quote you exactly-“This entire race has come down to this. We must win Wisconsin.” You went on in that e- mail to say, “A win there will carry us to the big states on March 2nd and narrow the field to two candidates. Anything else will put us out of the race.”
I take it to mean if you don't win Wisconsin, you will drop out. Is that right?
DEAN: Well, I've actually studiously avoided answering that question by saying we're going to win in Wisconsin. And I have every intention of winning Wisconsin, and we're going to win in Wisconsin.
BLITZER: But when you wrote in the e-mail, “Anything else will put us out of the race,” why can't you simply say the obvious: if you don't win Wisconsin you're out of the race?
DEAN: Obviously, we better win in Wisconsin, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, let's take a look at this American Research Poll that's come out in recent days, over the past couple days. In Wisconsin, Kerry's now at 41 percent; Clark's at 15; Edwards at 10. Dean is at 9 percent.
That's not very encouraging, looking ahead to Wisconsin.
DEAN: No, but for the first time since New Hampshire, we have some money. We're going to be on the air. I've spent an enormous amount of time in Wisconsin already.
I think Wisconsin people need two things: jobs and health care. I've created jobs as a governor. I've balanced budgets. And I've delivered health care. There's not one other person on the Democratic side that's done that.
I was willing to stand up for unions when nobody else would, except Dick Gephardt. I was willing to stand up against the war when nobody else would. I was willing to stand up against No Child Left Behind when nobody else would.
I think the people of Wisconsin deserve a real choice for the presidency. Wisconsin elected Bob La Follette to the Senate and elected him governor. I think Wisconsin is interested in the kind of candidate who's willing to stand up against Washington interest groups and Washington insiders. And I think that's what we have to do.
BLITZER: If the polls in Wisconsin, between now and a week from Tuesday, February 17, when the primary takes place in Wisconsin, show you running a distant third or fourth, is there any-likely any chance you might drop out before the actual balloting in Wisconsin?
DEAN: Wolf, that's like asking me, should we elect the president of the United States by a poll or should we have real voters? Real voters are going to decide who the nominee is-real voters.
Fifteen percent of people who've gotten a chance to vote yet. I'm not about to disenfranchise the people of Florida, who vote around the 9th or so of March, for the second time in four years.
I think real voters get to choose who the Democratic nominee is. And that's what's going to happen. It's going to happen in Wisconsin.
BLITZER: So you will definitely stay through Wisconsin?
DEAN: Wolf, I'm going to try to win the Democratic nomination. I think this party wants a real change and a real choice.
And with all due respect to Senator Kerry, it would be great to have any Democrat in the White House. Any of us would be better than George Bush, who not only was, evidently, not truthful about the war, but apparently is now not being so truthful about the economy, judging by this morning's interview on “Meet the Press.”
What I really want is a real change in presidents. Ordinary middle-class people and working people have been forgotten in Washington by both parties for a long, long time. What I want is for those ordinary people to control their government again, like the Constitution gave them the power to do.
BLITZER: You pointed out that you stood by the unions. And at least one of the major unions, AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has now backed away from their support for you. This must be a serious disappointment.
DEAN: Well, you know, any time a supporter changes their mind, it's a serious disappointment.
But we're in this for the long haul. We think a lot of AFSCME workers will vote for us in Wisconsin. I think they probably will in Maine, too.
I think the time is long gone, as unfortunately we've seen, where the workers and unions just do whatever the boss says. I don't think that's going to happen anymore.
We've still got a great coalition in Wisconsin. The SEIU and the painters' union has been great to us. But this is going to come down to ordinary people.
I was at a teachers' convention in Wisconsin this past week. Those folks, 2,000 of them, are really suffering under No Child Left Behind. Their salaries are being-are stagnant. Their schools are having larger class sizes. Property taxes are going up. I'm the only person who stood up against No Child Left Behind. People remember that.
If you stand up for somebody when it's not popular, that's when people know that you're going to stand up for them. If you only stand up for people when it's popular, as all the other folks are doing, then what-why should voters believe you're going to stand up for them when it's not popular?
That's what people know about me. They know that I'm going to stand up for what I believe in. And I think it's important to have president who's willing to do that.
BLITZER: You've already raised $40 million, maybe closer to $45 million by now. Not all that much money left over.
The L.A. Times has a story in today's paper saying that, what, $7.2 million went to Joe Trippi's firm for media ad buys. That sounds like a lot of money going to Joe Trippi, your former campaign manager's, firm.
DEAN: We spent a lot of money on television. They're entitled to get paid for what they do.
BLITZER: Did they get a significant commission for that $7.2 million? It looks like Joe Trippi walked away, but after having made a lot of money.
DEAN: No. Joe has been, you know, was a good campaign manager. I brought in Roy Neel because we needed more organization. I asked Joe to take a strategic role. He didn't want to do that. I think that's fine. But I don't think those guys took money that wasn't theirs.
We put a lot of money on television. We were the front-runner, we had a lot of momentum. That was lost after Iowa and New Hampshire, and now we've got to try to get it back again.
BLITZER: I want you to clarify, if you don't mind, what you said about possibly accepting the vice presidential nod if that were up. You said on Friday to a Wisconsin radio station, “I would to the extent do anything I could to get rid of President Bush. I'll do whatever is best for the party.”
Are you suggesting that, if asked, you would accept the vice presidential nod?
DEAN: What I'm suggesting is I hope to win the nomination. And if I don't win the nomination, I'm going to do whatever I can to help whoever does win the nomination beat George Bush.
George Bush is the most destructive president to America that we've had in my lifetime. Enormous deficits. Surpluses-a $280 billion surplus turned into a $500 billion deficit. 2.2 million jobs lost. Sending our troops to Iraq, 500 people killed, 2,000 wounded, without telling the truth to the American people about why we're going there.
This president has served America very, very badly. He needs to be replaced. I will do whatever I can. If I'm the nominee, I'm going to do everything I can to beat him. If I'm not the nominee, I'm going to whatever the nominee asks me to do to beat him.
BLITZER: You, like me, you've lived through the Nixon presidency. Are you saying that President Bush's presidency is more destructive to America than the legacy of Watergate and Richard Nixon?
DEAN: Yes, because in the long term, half-trillion-dollar deficits are going to destroy this country for our grandchildren. His environmental legacy is a disaster for our grandchildren. This president has put us in debt both environmentally speaking and in terms of our money for a long time to come.
It will be a long time before we recover from the first four years of George Bush. And God help us if there's another four years.
BLITZER: My interview with Howard Dean coming up. Also, a quick check of the hour's top stories.
”LATE EDITION” will be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to “LATE EDITION.” We return now to my interview with Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about President Bush's interview on “Meet the Press” earlier today. He expressed his strong support for George Tenet, the CIA director, saying, “I strongly believe the CIA is ably led by George Tenet.”
Do you have confidence in George Tenet?
DEAN: I don't know. I have called for George Tenet's resignation because he clearly was trying to cover up for a higher-up somewhere in the White House and administration. Somebody did not tell the truth about why we went to Iraq.
We now know that there were no weapons of mass destruction before we went into Iraq, which means that over 500 people have been killed, over 2,000 people have been wounded, many permanently, we spent $160 billion to get rid of someone who was a terrible person, but was never a danger to the United States.
The president's entire case for going into Iraq was that Saddam was an imminent threat to the United States because he had nuclear weapons-excuse me, because he had weapons of mass destruction. We now know that was not true.
BLITZER: Did those American troops die in vain?
DEAN: They died because the president sent them there without telling the truth to the American people. I never believe that a soldier dies in vain doing his duty for the president of the United States or for the American people. The military did their job; they did it well.
They were sent there without the American people knowing why. That is something that no commander in chief ever ought to do. If there were a Democratic Congress right now, there would be a full- blown congressional inquiry into why the president misled this nation and took us to war without telling us why.
BLITZER: As you know, the president established a commission to investigate pre-war intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
And in the interview on “Meet the Press” earlier today he said they need time to come up with answers. He said, “The reason why we gave it time is because we didn't want it to be hurried. This is a strategic look, kind of a big-picture look about the intelligence- gathering capacities of the United States of America.”
The results won't be out until March of next year, well after the election.
Do you have confidence in the people who are going to be investigating pre-war intelligence on this commission?
DEAN: Most of the people on that commission are well-known, well-respected people.
What I don't have is confidence in a commission that's going to investigate the behavior of the president of the United States appointed by the president of the United States.
What I don't have is confidence in a commission whose deadline for a report has been well pushed back past the next election, when Tony Blair's commission, investigating exactly the same thing, is going to have their report out in a matter of months.
This smells more like cover-up to me than it does like a true attempt to get the information before the American people in a timely way.
BLITZER: The point, though, that the president keeps making-and he made it once again earlier today-was that despite, perhaps, some intelligence failures, the world, the United States are better off with Saddam Hussein in prison, as opposed to ruling Iraq.
He said, “Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and I'm not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman. He's a dangerous man. He had the ability to make weapons, at the very minimum.”
You're happy Saddam Hussein is in prison?
DEAN: Of course. We're all happy Saddam Hussein is in prison. But since Saddam Hussein was not a principal threat to the United States-we now know that because of David Kay's report-why isn't the president taking such measures against North Korea?
North Korea is known to have developed a nuclear bomb while President Bush was in office. North Korea-the president is doing almost nothing about North Korea.
He has been convinced by hard-liners in his regime that North Korea will collapse of its own weight. Well, suppose that doesn't happen, and suppose they continue to sell technology to terrorist groups or to rogue nations.
If the president has claimed that Saddam Hussein is a danger, then somehow, he's missed a much greater danger to the United States, a country where we know they have not only weapons of mass destruction, but we know they have nuclear weapons, or are very likely to do so.
The president's explanation simply doesn't wash. He picked the third-greatest danger to the United States, one which we now know was no imminent threat whatsoever.
Osama bin Laden is still at large. Al Qaeda required, because of their threat, that planes be-or flights be canceled from Europe coming into the United States, that the flights that were there had to be escorted by F-16 American jet fighters.
The president has ignored the real threats, which are-not ignored, excuse me-the president has not spent the time needed on the real threats, al Qaeda and North Korea, while chasing his obsession with men and women, with lives and with dollars, with Saddam Hussein.
Saddam Hussein was never the great threat to the United States the president pretended. David Kay has now acknowledged that. We do have real threats to the United States security. Al Qaeda and North Korea are those threats. Why is not the president dealing with those and spending our real-expending our real efforts in those areas?
BLITZER: Governor, the president also responded to critics, including Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic Party, who have raised questions about his own military service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.
Terry McAuliffe suggesting the other day that the president was, quote, “AWOL” during part of that service.
Listen to what the president said on “Meet the Press” earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: They are just wrong. There may be no evidence, but I did report. Otherwise I wouldn't have been honorably discharged. In other words, you don't just, you know, say I did something without there being verification. The military doesn't work that way. I got an honorable discharge, and I did show up in Alabama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You have any reason to question what the president is saying?
DEAN: I am concerned about the president's military service. My military record, the fact that I was denied the right to serve in the military because I failed a physical, was part of the discussions earlier on in the press. I think the president's military record is fair game as well.
The question is, had the president not been a son of a congressman, would he have been able to be honorably discharged under the circumstances? And I don't know the answer to that.
But I think Tim Russert pointed out in that interview that we have a right to see the president's military records. Mine were made available to the press. I think the president's should be made available to the press. And I think there's some hard questions that have been asked that the president needs to answer.
BLITZER: Have you given any thought, Governor, to what you might do if you don't get the Democratic presidential nomination?
DEAN: Well, I am really focused on getting the Democratic presidential nomination right now, and if I don't get it, I'll give some thought to it afterwards. All I can tell you is that, if I don't get it, I'll be supporting whoever the Democratic nominee is as hard as I possibly can.
BLITZER: Governor Dean, thanks so much for joining us. Good luck to you.
DEAN: Thank you very much.
Content and programming Copyright 2004 Cable News Network Transcribed under license by FDCH e-Media, Inc.