CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

August 29, 2004

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's noon in New York City, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6 p.m. in Paris, and 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for this special "LATE EDITION."

. . .

Joining us now from Burlington, Vermont, the man who would have liked to have been president of the United States, the former Democratic candidate, Howard Dean. Now the former governor of Vermont, as well.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us.

Let's take a look at the latest poll numbers that we have. Time magazine, our sister publication, their brand new poll, has Bush at 46 percent; Kerry, 44; Ralph Nader, a man you debated, at 5 percent.

Incredibly close race right now. Doesn't get much closer than that, does it, Governor?

HOWARD DEAN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF VERMONT: No. But, of course, as we all know, if polls meant a lot, I'd be sitting where John Kerry's sitting right now.

So, you know, it's going to come right down the end. It's going to be a very close race, and I think John's going to win.

BLITZER: Well, take a look at three battleground states that had polls this week. The L.A. Times had polls in Ohio, for example. Bush ahead in that key state, 49-44 percent. Look at Wisconsin, the L.A. Times poll, Bush ahead 48-44 percent. In Missouri, 46 percent for Bush, Kerry for 44 percent. Those are states that this president desperately needs, obviously, but John Kerry needs them, as well.

DEAN: Sure. And I think in the end, John's going to win. The reason I think so is, if you're president of the United States, you've got to get two things right: You've got to get foreign policy right, and you've got to get the economy right. And this president's gotten both of them wrong.

After 9/11, he's taken some actions that have put us at greater risk. He's picked on the wrong country, Iraq, which is a relatively -- you know, Saddam was a tin-horn dictator who couldn't punch his way out of a paper bag, but the president's allowed Iran and North Korea to become nuclear powers on his watch.

On the economy, we know we've lost a million and a half jobs, the first president in 70 years to have lost jobs on his watch.

BLITZER: Governor, let me interrupt for a second. When you say Saddam Hussein was a tin-horn dictator, couldn't get his way out of a paper bag, your candidate, John Kerry, voted to give the authority to the president to go to war against him. If he was nothing, did he make a major mistake?

DEAN: First of all, that's not the same thing as actually going to war. Second of all, the president just simply was not capable of defending the United States. He sent over 135,000 troops we have in Iraq now. Now he's talking about cutting down troops elsewhere, including in South Korea, which John Kerry has correctly said was a mistake.

I think this president has gotten us in a lot of trouble, trouble that we didn't need after 9/11.

BLITZER: The favorable/unfavorable ratings of John Kerry are very interesting right now. This Time magazine poll, I was looking at that: favorable, only 44 percent; unfavorable, 33 percent.

He still has a problem, doesn't he?

DEAN: Well, his biggest problem is what the campaign is about. He is not that well-known. And most people are not going to pay attention to -- or the most undecided people are not going to pay attention until the last two weeks.

John is a very strong closer. I can tell you that from personal experience. And I think he's going to do fine.

He has the right message: jobs, national security policy that's consistent with American morality, health insurance and public education. The Republicans get zero for those.

The president has decided that he's going to be on the far right. I think somebody in the center like John Kerry will have a better shot at running the country right and a better shot at winning the next election.

BLITZER: In that Time magazine poll, "don't know," among those who don't have a favorable or unfavorable attitude, 22 percent. So there's still a big chunk of the American public who not made up their mind about John Kerry.

DEAN: That's right.

BLITZER: The last time, Governor, you were on "LATE EDITION," you made a commotion, you made a lot of news by pointing out -- that was the same day that Tom Ridge, the secretary for homeland security, raised the threat level in parts of New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., amid terror reports. And you suggested, at least partially, politics was behind that.

I wonder if you've had a chance to rethink those controversial words since then.

DEAN: Yes, I think it's very likely. Now it seems, given the past events, that it's extremely likely that politics have something to do with it.

We now know that the president has broken the law. The president's campaign had two of its members working in cahoots with this Swift Boat ad, which turned out not to be true.

And so, the president himself is now responsible for an ad that's been on television that's not true. There will be an investigation about that. Unfortunately, the results won't be known until after the election.

You know, you wonder why so many people are demonstrating against the president. It's not the president's policy. It's his integrity that's in question here.

Whether the president of the United States told us the truth when we went to Iraq, whether the president of the United States told us the truth when his people put an ad on television that wasn't true, questioning John Kerry's service.

The president gets to have it both ways. He says, "Oh, no, we don't question John Kerry's service"; his own people are in cahoots with the people who put those lies on television.

This is a president whose word is no good. At least many Americans believe that, including me.

BLITZER: When you say he broke the law, those are strong words. And Governor Marc Racicot, the chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign, was on this program earlier. He made the point that lawyers, when they're giving legal advice, that's not necessarily the same as having an active political operative working for a campaign, working for the so-called 527 advocacy groups.

Because, as you well know, Governor, if you take a look on the Democratic side, there are a lot of Democratic Party activists who are intimately involved in those same or advocacy 527 groups, as well.

DEAN: Well, now, Wolf, you sound like the Republicans. Their defense is, "Oh, the Democrats are doing it too." The truth is that there's a firewall that you're -- those groups are not allowed to talk to John Kerry or his campaign, and they haven't.

However, what we have seen is two people, both of whom have resigned, which ought to tell you something, who have been intimately involved, and one of whom appeared in the ad.

That is against the law, and we're going to find out, unfortunately not until after the election.

This, really, I've often said that this administration reminds me very much of the Nixon administration. We hope we won't have the opportunity to find out after the election whether they've broken the law. We hope the American people will look at what they're doing.

You know, I'm tired of this. We saw this in the first Bush campaign, with Lee Atwater attacking, with racist ads. Then we saw it in previous times against John McCain in the primaries in South Carolina, where this president besmirched John McCain's Vietnam record.

BLITZER: All right.

DEAN: I'm sick of this. I think the American people are sick of it. We need a new president, and I'm hoping we'll get one after November.

BLITZER: We're all out of time, but one quick follow-up, Governor. When you said earlier that politics were partially behind the terror alert, raising of that level, and you pointed to the fact there hasn't been any terrorism since then, is that really what you meant to say?

DEAN: I didn't say that. What I said was, it appears from the political goings-on that there was very much of a connection. Secretary Ridge himself went out to lavishly praise the president during his announcement. Several newspapers have looked at this, including The New York Times and The Washington Post.

I might add, I'm surprised there hasn't been more play with The New York Times story this morning, or yesterday, that showed that the Abu Ghraib scandals may well reach into Secretary Rumsfeld's office.

What is going on in this administration? How come you guys aren't paying more attention to it?

BLITZER: Well, we're paying attention. Those reports, the Abu Ghraib prison investigation reaching the office of the secretary of defense, that was widely reported, once the reports, those two reports came out, the Fay report, the Schlessinger report came out last week.

Governor, unfortunately we're all out of time. We're trying to do the best job we can covering all the news here on CNN. Governor Howard Dean...

DEAN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... the former governor of Vermont, thanks very much.

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