CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

January 8, 2006

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And welcome back to our special "Late Edition." We're reporting live from Jerusalem. It's been a week of dramatic developments, not only here in Israel, but in Washington as well, with one of the city's most powerful lobbyists pleading guilty in a bribery investigation and a potentially major shakeup among the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.

Joining us now to talk about all this and more is the chairman of the Democratic party in the United States, Governor Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us. On the Samuel Alito confirmation hearings which begin in Washington tomorrow, do you think Democrats should realistically go ahead and filibuster if necessary to prevent his confirmation?

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: There are a couple of problems with Judge Alito. First of all, he appears to be outside the mainstream of where most Americans are on privacy for individuals, not just women's issues, but strip searching, OK'ing a strip search of a 10-year-old, these kinds of things.

The other thing which is also troubling is the conflict of interest case where he owned $400,000 worth of mutual funds and was willing to sit on a case involving the company. His order was later vacated.

Now, he promised the American people when he was confirmed that he would recuse himself.

So, the question that I have is, when he's answering the questions from Senator Leahy and Senator Specter or others, how are they going to know he's going to tell the truth, because he did not tell the truth when he said to the Senate Judiciary Committee 15 years ago that he would recuse himself from cases in which he had a financial interest.

BLITZER: Well, he later explained, though, that that was really a technical slip-up for which he apologized. That's not a good enough explanation for you?

DEAN: Well, the chief judge disagreed with him. The chief judge removed him from the case and ordered a new judge to hear it. So, you know, this is an ethically charged climate in Washington. There's enormous corruption scandals in both the White House, involving the chief procurement officer and Karl Rove and the vice president's office and the Senate and the House.

I don't think we want scandal to begin to touch the Supreme Court. So, I think we're going to watch very, very carefully to what the answers are to the Judiciary Committee.

I think there's some very disturbing questions around Judge Alito and I think we'll be looking forward to seeing what the answers to those questions are next week.

BLITZER: So, on the issue of a filibuster, where do you stand?

DEAN: Well, I don't have a vote on that one. That's going to be decided by Senator Leahy and Senator Reid and others. They'll decide, after they hear the answers, whether Judge Alito belongs on the bench or not. And that's what their prerogative is in the Senate.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Iraq. The president sought to reach out to some of his critics earlier in the week, bringing in some former secretaries of state, including Madeleine Albright, among others -- William Cohen, the former defense secretary during the Clinton administration.

Are you satisfied right now that the president's getting enough information from a variety of sources to better move forward as far as the situation in Iraq is concerned?

DEAN: Well, most of the reports that came out of that meeting, Wolf, were that the president engaged in a filibuster of his own in there. He talked at them for some time and then went in for a photo op and really didn't bother to ask most of them for their advice at all.

So, I think these photo op ideas that he's going to get advice and they're really nothing more than photo ops -- I think we're in a big pickle in Iraq.

The president, frankly -- I was disgusted when I read in the New York Times yesterday that 80 percent of the torso injuries and fatalities in the Marine Corps could have been prevented if the Pentagon, the secretary of defense and the president had supplied them with armor that they already had.

They requested that from the field; the Pentagon refused. You know, I, two years ago, thought Secretary Rumsfeld ought to resign. He ought to resign.

These people are not qualified. They haven't served themselves; they don't know what it takes. They ought to protect our troops. Our troops are doing a hell of a job and they deserve better leadership in Washington than what they're getting.

I was incensed when I saw that story, 80 percent of the torso-based wounds that led to fatalities in the Marine Corps -- surely our Marines are worth something more than that.

BLITZER: About a month ago, Senator Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic vice presidential nominee spoke out, urging his fellow Democrats, including yourself, to restrain themselves in criticizing the president's position on Iraq. Listen to what Lieberman said.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander-in-chief for three more critical years, and that, in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril.


BLITZER: What do you think? Is that advice good advice from Senator Lieberman?

DEAN: No. This president has lacked credibility almost from the day he took office because of the way he took office.

He's not reached out to other people. He's shown he's willing to abuse his power. He's not consulted others. And he's not interested in consulting any others.

And I think, frankly, that Joe is absolutely wrong, that it is incumbent on every American who is patriotic and cares about their country to stand up for what's right and not go along with the president, who is leading us in a wrong direction.

We're going in the wrong direction, economically, at home; we're going in the wrong direction abroad.

Look at what's happening in Latin America. This president, while saying that he wants to further democracy and capitalism, is driving people in the opposite direction.

We need real leadership in this country and we don't have it right now.

BLITZER: Are you blaming the president on the elections in Bolivia or on the elections in Venezuela? Is that what you're saying?

DEAN: We had an enormous opportunity, when this president took office, and he said he was going to reach out to Latin America. Instead, he has turned them off. He's been high-handed with them; he's rejected them.

He's ignored the economic plight of their folks. And so, we're getting something that I think most Americans wish we didn't have, which is left-leaning regimes in these places. We need a president who will work constructively and cooperatively with our allies around the world so that we really can move capitalism and democracy further into the world and not turn off people. When you turn people off, as the most powerful nation in the world, they are obviously going to do something that is not in our best interest. And that's exactly what's going on right now.

BLITZER: Getting back to the war in Iraq, you were highly quoted when you suggested -- I guess it must be about a month or so ago, that the war was really not winnable any longer. Later you clarified your remarks.

But in the aftermath of the elections, which seem to have been pretty smoothly run -- lots of violence still unfolding in Iraq -- there are plenty of people that say it's still winnable if certain things take place.

Where do you stand on the winnability, if there is such a word, of the war in Iraq?

DEAN: Wolf, I laid out a strategy that I thought would make the war on terror winnable. We need to win the war on terror. We have to protect ourselves. The question is, do we have the kind of leadership in Washington that's going to allow that?

There is a plan put together by Lawrence Korb and a fellow by the name of Bruce(sic, actually Brian) Katulis, who -- Lawrence Korb was in the Reagan administration. It's a plan that I think makes a great deal of sense. It's a moderate plan, calls for strategic redeployment of our troops. While we're removing them from Iraq, we're keeping some in the region to fight the terrorism that the president's invasion of Iraq has spawned in Iraq.

That's a sensible plan for defending America. Right now we have a lot of happy talk. We have some, frankly, folks who aren't treating our troops properly, not arming them and equipping them properly. That doesn't give me confidence about the leadership in this White House.

BLITZER: Should Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, who has now pleaded guilty to bribery charges, among other charges, a Republican lobbyist in Washington, should the Democrats who took money from him give that money to charity or give it back?

DEAN: There are no Democrats who took money from Jack Abramoff, not one, not one single Democrat. Every person named in this scandal is a Republican. Every person under investigation is a Republican. Every person indicted is a Republican. This is a Republican finance scandal. There is no evidence that Jack Abramoff ever gave any Democrat any money. And we've looked through all of those FEC reports to make sure that's true.

BLITZER: But through various Abramoff-related organizations and outfits, a bunch of Democrats did take money that presumably originated with Jack Abramoff.

DEAN: That's not true either. There's no evidence for that either. There is no evidence...

BLITZER: What about Senator Byron Dorgan?

DEAN: Senator Byron Dorgan and some others took money from Indian tribes. They're not agents of Jack Abramoff. There's no evidence that I've seen that Jack Abramoff directed any contributions to Democrats. I know the Republican National Committee would like to get the Democrats involved in this. They're scared. They should be scared. They haven't told the truth. They have misled the American people. And now it appears they're stealing from Indian tribes. The Democrats are not involved in this.

[Long pause where Blitzer appears to be at a loss for words.]

BLITZER:(Sigh.) Unfortunately Mr. Chairman, we got to leave it right there.

Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party, always speaking out bluntly, candidly.

Appreciate your joining us on "Late Edition."

DEAN: Thanks, Wolf. Safe flight back.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

--- End ---
Originally posted on CNN's transcripts site.
Video (Thanks, CrooksAndLiars and the DNC Blog for heads-upping it.)



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