New Report Puts Spotlights Vice President's Fund-Raising Abuses; McCain Withdraws from Race But Leaves Impact on Presidential PoliticsAired March 10, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Al Gore's campaign fund-raising headaches revisited -- new information gives George W. Bush fresh ammunition.
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BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Are you sure this is a new movie? Sounds a lot like a rerun to me.
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WOODRUFF: Bruce Morton puts the latest twists on the Gore- Clinton money trail in perspective.
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JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are lessons to be learned, some things to be remembered as campaign 2000 goes on absent John McCain.
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WOODRUFF: John King on McCain's legacy.
ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff.
WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. Bernie is on assignment.
In the same week that Al Gore secured a clear path to the Democratic presidential nomination, one of his most vulnerable areas politically is back in the news: campaign fund-raising. At issue: new disclosures from a confidential report by the Justice Department's former chief campaign finance investigator, Charles LaBella. As "The Los Angeles Times" first reported and CNN has confirmed, LaBella accuses senior Justice officials of, quote, "legal contortions" to avoid appointing an independent counsel to investigate Clinton-Gore fund-raising in 1996.
As you might expect, George w. Bush's campaign is seizing on portions of the report that deal with Vice President Gore, specifically, LaBella's allegation that Gore, quote, "may have provided false testimony," end quote. That stems from Gore's fund- raising for the '96 campaign, when he used White House telephones to raise cash for the Democratic Party. Gore had told investigators that he believed no so-called "hard money" was raised, which would have been in violation of federal election law. Democratic records proved otherwise.
In other new disclosures, sources say former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta told FBI agents that he remembered Gore, quote, "attentively listening" to discussions noting that hard money was part of the fund-raising drive.
And there are new indications that photographs exist showing Gore looking at papers related to this issue, which he said he did not recall seeing.
Now Gore has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and the LaBella report does not specifically accuse Gore of specific criminal violations.
Now let's bring in CNN's Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas.
Pierre, is there anything new here? And does it all change the bottom line for Al Gore?
PIERRE THOMAS, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, as you recall, in 1998, Reno conducted a preliminary investigation looking at this very issue: Did Al Gore lie to the FBI when asked about soft money and hard money? That investigation concluded that he did not lie or that there was no reasonable grounds to conclude that he lied.
Now with the new information coming out today, which is somewhat problematic for perhaps Gore and the Justice Department, is that the Justice Department considered information, accounts, that conflicted with what Gore had to say, i.e., Leon Panetta having a differing account. So that is problematic information because it shows that while Reno concluded there were no reasonable grounds to conclude Gore had in fact lied, there were indications other people had differing accounts.
WOODRUFF: Now what does this, Pierre, what does this LaBella report tell us, if anything, about his disagreements with Attorney General Reno?
THOMAS: Well, having covered this particular story, privately officials had told me that there was a significant rift between LaBella and some of Reno's top aides. And what the language tells you is just how strong that rift or why that rift was, intentionally -- saying that they were intentionally dishonest, saying that they engaged in legal contortions to avoid seeking an independent counsel.
Now Justice Department officials flatly deny this, and they say that Mr. LaBella had a way of personalizing policy disputes. And they said, look, investigators disagreed. There was disagreement within the Justice Department, and here you have LaBella saying it was an attempt, a political attempt, to protect the president. They said that just did not happen.
WOODRUFF: And finally, Pierre, there is also something in this report about LaBella's views of the current campaign finance laws and how he sees the parties complying with them.
THOMAS: Well, one of the things that we know from talking with LaBella and talking with people close to him is that he felt that the campaign finance laws were weak, and also he felt that both parties had a sort of blatant disregard for these campaign finance laws. In fact, his memo says they spent more money and time on the red, white and blue balloons than they did seeking to keep their campaigns within the limits of campaign finance law.
WOODRUFF: All right, Pierre Thomas, thanks very much. We appreciate it.
Well, the Gore campaign is dismissing LaBella's report as "old news." A top Gore aide says LaBella's disagreement with Attorney General Reno has been common knowledge for years. As for the allegation that senior Justice Department officials went to great lengths, quote, "not to investigate Gore and the Clintons," the Gore aide says there is nothing to it. And he points out congressional Republicans have spent millions investigating every charge and essentially came up blank.
(voice-over): Even before the LaBella report broke, Gore's role in the campaign finance scandals of 1996 was already red meat for the Republicans.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a man who went to a Buddhist temple to raise money. And my only point is, Mr. Gore, I'm not going to let you get away with it. I'm going to remind people of how you've conducted your business in the past and how you're conducting it today.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to give him a controlling legal authority, a controlling ethical authority, and then I'm going to beat him like a drum and send him back to Tennessee where he belongs. That's what I'm going to do with Al Gore.
WOODRUFF: The chairman of the Republican Party:
JIM NICHOLSON, RNC CHAIRMAN: Al Gore has demonstrated that he's not trustworthy. Look, last week in this city, Maria Hsia was convicted on five felony counts of violating the campaign law. She organized the fund-raiser for Gore in a Buddhist temple.
WOODRUFF: A constant barrage of criticism all designed to paint the vice president as dishonest, evasive, in the Republican lexicon, Clintonesque.
Gore's vulnerability is most visibly acute on two pieces of videotape: this of the vice president at the Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles, and this, his legalistic response to questions about fund- raising phone calls made from the White House premises.
ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My counsel tells me there is no controlling legal authority that says there was any violation of any law.
WOODRUFF: Al Gore has denied any wrongdoing and is answering the accusations by turning the tables, challenging Bush to support campaign finance reforms needed to end all the abuses for good.
GORE: I've learned from my mistakes. I know it's time to change a broken system. I will challenge the Republican nominee to join me right now in banning so-called "soft money" and then going even further to eliminate all the 30-second and 60-second radio and TV ads and instead debate twice a week.
WOODRUFF: Bush, who has refused both, has faced questions about his own fund-raising, including his decision to opt out of the federal matching funds system in order to raise unlimited money for the 2000 elections. Then there was Bush's refusal to ask his friend, Texas multimillionaire Sam Wyly to pull these ads off the air during the primary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, REPUBLICANS FOR CLEAN AIR AD)
NARRATOR: ... care about clean air, so does Governor Bush.
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WOODRUFF: Ads Wyly spent some $2.5 million of his own money to run.
Whether the Republicans will be able to damage Gore more than he has already been hurt by the fund-raising scandals is an open question. What is clear is that the vice president will fight fire with fire, making campaign money among the most incendiary issues of the general election.
WOODRUFF: And as Republicans try to use Gore's fund-raising against him, a new effort is under way here in Washington that might strengthen the GOP's hand on the campaign finance issue. It might also build a bridge between John McCain and George W. Bush.
For details, we bring in our Washington bureau chief, Frank Sesno -- Frank.
FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Judy, very interesting what's happening now, because as George Bush says, I want John McCain's support and I want his supporters, and John McCain's camp makes it quite plain that that support is dependent upon a sense that George Bush has a commitment to reform, here in Washington an ally of John McCain, Senator Chuck Hagel is in the process of crafting, in fact has crafted, his own bill on campaign finance reform. And I'm told it could form the nub of compromise, at least in, first and foremost, in the Senate among Republicans who have been bitterly divided with John McCain over this issue.
This bill would cap, would limit, soft money to the parties. It would raise the amount of money that an individual can give to a candidate -- now it's $1,000, this bill would raise it to $3,000 -- and it would call for much more disclosure to include those independent expenditures like that ad from the Wylys that we saw a moment ago.
Now I am told that one very influential senator, Senator Mitch McConnell, who's opposed campaign finance reform in the past -- because he says to put caps and various things in place would limit free speech -- has delivered a wink and a nod here -- a source very close to McConnell, familiar with his thinking says that -- and that others believe this could be a vehicle for compromise and could be a way to unite the party, and that's in the words of a very influential senator I spoke with just today. If it works there, it could spread out and involve Bush and McCain themselves. It will involve compromise on all sides, Judy. Hearings next month, a deal nowhere near close, though.
WOODRUFF: Just quickly, Frank, who else is signing on, maybe, and what's George W. Bush's position?
SESNO: Signing on, such senators as Spencer Abraham, who's in a tough race. He's a Republican, obviously. He's got a tough race of his own coming up. He's cosponsoring this, as is Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas, not known to be exactly a liberal on the subject of campaign fiance reform.
George W. Bush's position is, spoke to his campaign today, what's happening in Congress is up to Congress, we're not going to get involved with that. But there are conversations behind the scenes. Bush's spokesman says he has his own version of campaign finance reform. He stands by it. This would require a compromise by everybody. But it's very interesting, Judy, because here could be the beginning of something.
WOODRUFF: Very interesting, thank you, Frank Sesno. We appreciate that reporting.
Now let's find out a little bit more about where the Bush camp stands on that new campaign finance proposal, as well as the governor's reaction to disclosures from the Charles LaBella report on Clinton-Gore campaign fund-raising.
Our Candy Crowley is in Austin, Texas, where George W. Bush is taking a day off from the campaign trail.
Candy, first, is there any reaction to this legislation that Frank was just describing?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think you pretty much heard it from Frank. They'd like to keep hands off of this. This is all a part of that sort of delicate courtship of John McCain. And the Bush campaign really is in -- this is delicate for a couple of reasons. First of all, they want to look at the broader pictures, they say not a single line in a campaign finance reform bill. They want to emphasize what the two men, Bush and McCain, have in common. And they say there's so much more of that than there are their differences. They also want to key in on what they believe is a healing factor of time. They think that once this has been given a rest, particularly when Senator McCain has had some time off the trail away from, you know, the raw wounds of this sort of brass knuckles campaign, that that will go along way toward the healing.
What they don't want to do is be in the position where they look to be wheeling and dealing and giving away positions for someone they have beaten in the campaign. On the other hand, they don't want to, you know, reject the very deep concerns of Senator McCain so, they're walking a fine line, allowing this to go on between intermediaries on the Hill to see what they can come up with. I will say it is very hard to believe that if a campaign finance reform bill comes up that both John McCain and Mitch McConnell like, hard for me to see that George Bush would walk away from that.
WOODRUFF: Now, second issue, Candy: What are the Bush people saying about these disclosures coming out in this LaBella report -- or not coming out, but are now being disclosed in the LaBella report on the Clinton-Gore fund-raising?
CROWLEY: Well, as you mentioned, Bush is taking a down day here, but he did put out a written statement. As you might imagine, what they're keying in on are the Gore aspects of this report. In particular, this which appeared in the "L.A. Times" -- the report said that Gore, quote, "may have provided false testimony." The campaign immediately put out their own press release and said, "The vice president needs to clear up what role he played in raising money from the White House. He needs to explain why his testimony conflicts with statements of the former White House chief of staff."
Bush went on to call upon Gore to authorize release of those photos that you talked about that apparently show the vice president looking intently at documents that he said in testimony he doesn't remember seeing, and he also called on the Justice Department to release all parts of the report that wouldn't jeopardize an ongoing investigation.
Look, this was a political manna from heaven, this report. The Bush campaign has signaled all along that it intends to focus on both issues and character. They believe that this kind of thing focuses on the character of Al Gore as it relates to the Clinton administration. You know that George Bush has already taken to calling Al Gore -- the Clinton/Gore -- Clinton/Gore says this, Clinton/Gore administration. So it is as though he's taken on a new name so the Bush campaign can tie Al Gore in to as much of the questionable aspects of Clinton administration as it can.
So this report, I'm sure you will hear on the campaign trail -- and we have also heard in your report, Judy, that Bush has already taken out after Gore on campaign finance reform saying -- well, he's calling for it now. He must think we have amnesia. This will be more fodder for them. I am sure -- I know they intend to use it, as is witnessed by the fact that they put out this written statement. Bush, we expect to hear more from later in the week, beginning Sunday. He's back out on the campaign trail -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Candy Crowley. We know you're going to be with him.
Candy, in Austin, Texas, Thanks.
And ahead on INSIDE POLITICS: How does Hillary Clinton fit into the renewed focus on White House fund-raising? And what is Rudy Giuliani saying about it? And we'll talk more about Al Gore and whether campaign finance questions are hurting him.
This is INSIDE POLITICS.
WOODRUFF: Now let's talk about election 2000 and the issue of campaign fund-raising and more with Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times" and E.J. Dionne of "The Washington Post."
E.J., to you first, how damaging is this story in Ron's newspaper -- we have to give him a plug -- about the vice president?
E.J. DIONNE, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think if you're Al Gore, you were in an excellent mood this morning or last night until you woke up and learned that this story was in "The Los Angeles Times," and that he was riding high. He has good reason to be happy with what happened on Super Tuesday and the weaknesses of George Bush, and all of a sudden this gives him a new peg for a story that he does not want in the news, and it raises some of these old questions about, did he fully tell the truth? Did he -- could it really be true that he didn't know what was going on when he made those phone calls?
I think the story very interesting, because it also raises some other questions. It says, did Janet Reno apply different standards to Gore and to Clinton and to Mrs. Clinton than he did to say Bruce Babbitt? I think it's quite possible she tightened her standards as more and more independent counsels were called and decided maybe she called too many in the first place. It might be helpful if she actually explained that, because there's actually a case to be made for tightening the standards.
WOODRUFF: What about the vice president, Ron? How badly hurt is he?
RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, it was William Faulkner that said "The past is never behind. It is never even past." And by Election Day 2000, Gore is certainly going to feel that way.
George Bush, as Candy said in her piece, has made very clear in his speech Tuesday night, in his speech Tuesday night, his first real general election speech, that he was going to focus very heavily on these ethics issues. You have got a country that is largely content with what's going on in the country -- economy, social trends -- but a great deal of unhappiness about the tenor, and style and scandal of politics in Washington. And anything that keeps that in the news, as my intrepid colleagues Bill Rempel and Alan Miller did today, is not good news for Al Gore. It's more questions for him to answer and, you know, more -- more mixing of his message.
WOODRUFF: So, it's an unmixed blessing then for George W. Bush, E.J.?
DIONNE: Well, of course it's an unmixed blessing when anything focuses on Gore's promise of campaign reform. One of the questions was the question raised by Senator McCain which is, is George Bush the best candidate to raise campaign finance issues, given the issues raised by his campaign, not that there was anything illegal but again he is a candidate who is raising lots and lots of money. McCain argued during the primaries I am the guy who can beat Al Gore like a drum because he has taken a much harder line on campaign finance reform. Having said all of that this is one of Bush's best issues because he really doesn't have a huge package of issues given the country's general contentment, this is one area where he has to as the president likes to say, focus like a laser beam.
WOODRUFF: And yet, Ron, George W. Bush is clearly not where John McCain is on campaign finance reform. So how much can he make of...
BROWNSTEIN: I think for reform-minded voters as we talked about before I think neither one of these candidates is a great fit. I mean, Al Gore carries the legacy of the Clinton scandals of '96, and the impeachment scandal and just a general sense of the way they have conducted politics.
And George W. Bush is a guy who raised $70 million, abandoned public financing limits and has benefited from all sorts of controversial independent advertising campaigns. It's hard to see voters who are driven primarily by desire to reform Washington, really attaching themselves to either one of the candidates very easily. So, I think could have a fair amount of volatility in this election because it may not be a perfect fit. People may move back and forth.
WOODRUFF: McCain left this presidential race where, E.J.? I mean his suspension of his campaign leaves things where?
DIONNE: I think it leaves things where John McCain is saying, maybe I'll support you, buddy, but you have got to wait a little bit. And that I think what was so striking about that, his speech was that it was kind of bifurcated. On the one hand he said I am a loyal Reagan Republican and I'm going to to stick with this. But I am also deeply committed to reform and I'm going to continue this fight.
And I think what was left out there was a kind of challenge by McCain to Bush, what are you going to give me on reform? What is the Republican Party going to give me on reform?
I thought what Frank said earlier was very interesting because Chuck Hagel has floated that proposal before this compromise and when he was floating it earlier, Mitch McConnell and the Republicans who were deeply opposed to campaign finance reform, didn't want to buy it. The fact that they might be willing to buy it now suggests that McCain has already changed things.
WOODRUFF: Ron, what about McCain's ideas? Where do they go, I mean, campaign finance reform is surely one of them. But what about you know his views on -- his very different ideas on taxes?
BROWNSTEIN: And I think that really doesn't go anywhere. I mean George W. Bush is basically locked into a very large tax cut which he proposed in December when he thought the challenge in the primary was becoming essentially from the right. He thought of it as a shield, he then used it as a sword against McCain. Now it could be an anchor -- mangle the metaphor a little, but...
WOODRUFF: We get the point.
BROWNSTEIN: It is something that -- it is something that he's going to have to defend at a time when the exit polls in every major Republican primary. A Republican primary electorate found most Republican voters agreeing with John McCain that the surplus should be used primarily for stabilizing Social Security, and paying down debt. If you're having trouble selling it the Republican primary, it is clearly going to have to be a challenge for him in the general election.
WOODRUFF: And E.J., the McCain supporters, what happens to them?
DIONNE: Well, I think what was so striking when you went through all of those exit poll numbers for Super Tuesday, this is a very moderate constituency and McCain supporters were hemorrhaging to Gore in a very substantial way. Thirty to 40 percent of McCain voters, many of whom are Democrats and independents were saying that they prefer Gore to Bush.
Bush needs a much bigger percentage of this constituency is if he's going to win the election. And that's why I think McCain is in a position when he issued that challenge by not taking a stand on Bush, he's in a position to get something because Bush needs those votes and he's not getting them now.
BROWNSTEIN: Bush does have some -- some assets to reach centrist voters though. I mean if you go back to where he started he can get back to some of those themes, particularly educational reform, entitlement reform. He is not without assets to try to reposition himself for those voters in the general election.
WOODRUFF: All right, gentlemen, to be continued.
DIONNE: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Ron Brownstein, E.J. Dionne. That's right, we do have eight months, don't we? Thank you both.
Well, Al Gore isn't the only candidate who is getting flack today in the area of campaign fund-raising. That newly disclosed LaBella report offered the first indication that the Justice Department's campaign fund-raising task force also looked at Hillary Clinton's conduct in the 1996 controversy.
While Mrs. Clinton campaigned in New York today, the campaign of her likely Senate rival Rudy Giuliani, jumped on the report saying that it should be released immediately so that Americans can evaluate the charges in it. The report said that a Justice Department Task Force investigation had not found overwhelming information against the first lady. But it said the information was sufficient to warrant further inquiry.
On a day in which the spotlight is shining anew on campaign fund- raising matters, our Bruce Morton has been getting a sense of deja vu.
MORTON (voice-over): Wait a minute, wait a minute! The president and the first lady and the vice president may have broken the law on campaign financing? And the attorney general is being political, not going after them? Are you sure this is a new movie? Sounds a lot like a rerun to me.
One of Harry Truman's aides was accused of accepting a gift, a freezer. I guess they mattered more back then.
Dwight Eisenhower was Mr. Clean and a war hero, but it turned out his chief of staff took a coat and a rug from a businessman and he had to go.
John Kennedy ran a pretty clean White House -- messed up the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba but took responsibility for it himself.
And nobody back then bothered to write about the women. But hey, then came Richard Nixon. Bugged his own aides' telephones, had burglars operating out of the White House. And the Watergate coverup? The president telling his aides, sure, they could raise a million dollars to pay off the burglars, while acknowledging it would, of course, be wrong.
Tried to get the CIA to cover things up and that didn't work. Most of the campaign finance laws we have now, the ones that don't work, were created back then as reforms.
And then Jimmy Carter, who promised a government as honest and decent as the American people that worried some of us right away. But he lost control of the economy, couldn't get Iran to release American hostages it held, so when Ronald Reagan asked, are you better off now than you were four years ago, most Americans answered "no."
And then Reagan, who denied trading arms to Iran for hostages, and then, just once, admitted it and then somehow managed to convince himself that, no, he'd never done anything like that, though he had.
So if all the latest mess in Washington sounds like some repeat movie, you can see why. The LaBella report on the 1996 fund-raising excesses is interesting, saying neither party paid more than lip service to the law in 1996. But each party spend less on making sure its fund-raising was legal than on balloons for election night.
(on camera): The report does not add, though it could have, that we'll be seeing that "no controlling legal authority" tape a lot in Republican ads this year. And that neither party has done anything to strengthen for campaign 2000, the laws that were evaded so successfully in campaign '96.
Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
WOODRUFF: And much more ahead on INSIDE POLITICS. Still to come, they've earned their party coronations just about, but what does new polling show about a race between Al Gore and George W. Bush? Plus...
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MCCAIN: I'm going to fight until the last breath I draw to give the government back to the people of this country.
KING (voice-over): But in the end he lost, so some will argue McCain's message doesn't have a home.
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WOODRUFF: Our John King on whether the McCain campaign will have any lasting impact.
And later, our Bill Schneider on why antiestablishment politics did not earn the political "Play of the Week."
WOODRUFF: We will have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories.
The mother of 10-year-old Jessica Rodriguez is thanking the girl's cantor for releasing her alive. Jessica disappeared after getting off the school bus Monday in Trenton, Florida. These are the first pictures we have seen of Jessica since she was returned home yesterday.
Last summer's endless airport delays disgusted more than passengers, and the federal government says it has a plan that will help. President Clinton says the changes will take effect starting next week. Among them: an FAA Web site providing weather and flight information and new technology that will improve the use of air space and keep runways working even in bad weather. Seventy-five percent of last year's delays were weather related. The president says that is unacceptable.
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WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now until we work out a way to get Mother Nature to cooperate, storms, delays and cancellations will always be with us. And the American people understand that. But they also understand if we can photograph and analyze weather patterns from space, we ought to be able to tell passengers why they're delayed and for how long. (END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: Your flight may not be delayed as often but -- this summer, but thanks to rising oil prices, it could set you back more. Continental Airlines is raising its round-trip ticket prices by as much as $40. That is the third and most dramatic hike in six months. Continental says it is raising the fares because of higher fuel costs. So far, no other airline has followed suit.
The National Transportation Safety Boars is investigating the deadly crash of a medical evacuation helicopter. The helicopter picked up a 4-month-old baby in Boise City, Oklahoma, this morning and was on the way to a hospital in Amarillo, Texas, when it crashed. The baby, the pilot, and two crew members died in the crash.
A Memphis firefighter is charged in Wednesday's attack that killed his wife, two other firefighters and a sheriff's deputy.
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WALTER CREWS, MEMPHIS POLICE DIRECTOR: We charge Mr. Frederick Williams with four counts of first degree murder, criminal attempt of a felony, to wit first-degree murder one count, and one count of aggravated arson. We have a statement of admission from Mr. Frederick Williams that he committed these acts at his own hand.
The Memphis police official says Williams set his house on fire shortly after killing his wife. He then shot the others as they arrived to help put out the fire. Williams is under guard at a hospital, where he is recovering from bullet wounds to his leg.
When INSIDE POLITICS returns, our Bill Schneider takes a look at the latest poll numbers in the presidential race.
WOODRUFF: Now we look at the first presidential poll numbers since Al Gore and George W. Bush all but wrapped up their party's nominations on Tuesday.
Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins us.
Bill, where does the race stand?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Judy, as you may know, every poll taken over the past year has shown Bush ahead of Gore. Well, hang on to your hats because we're moving fast. Last month, Bush was eight points ahead of Gore. And now? For the first time since January, 1999, Gore is in the lead by a nose, 48 to 46. That's well within the margin of error, so it's too close to call. But it's a big shift in Gore's favor. The primaries were not kind to Governor Bush. Where did Gore's gains come from? Mostly men. Gore's now tied with Bush among men. Remember the alpha-male thing? It worked.
WOODRUFF: So what happens if you factor in a Reform Party candidate?
SCHNEIDER: Well, Judy, essentially nothing. Let's say the Reform Party nominates Pat Buchanan. Buchanan gets only 5 percent of the vote, far below the 15 percent he needs to qualify for the October debates. Gore still runs slightly ahead of Bush.
Now some people in the Reform Party are talking about putting John McCain on their ticket, although McCain says he's not interested. What if McCain did run as the Reform Party candidate? How would he do? A whole lot better than Buchanan, 18 percent, enough to get invited to the debates but not nearly enough to win, as of now. Now one theory says that a McCain candidacy would split the GOP vote and ensure Gore's election. But that's not what we see here. What we see here is that McCain takes about equally from Gore and Bush and leaves the outcome still too close to call.
WOODRUFF: But suppose McCain went on the ticket with Bush?
SCHNEIDER: Oh, well, lots of Republicans seem to be making that happen -- and with good reason, as it turned out. Suppose the race were between a Gore-Bradley ticket and a Bush-McCain ticket. It helps the GOP a little. Bush moves slightly ahead of Gore. Still too close to call. But if this race stays as close as it looks right now, every move will matter.
And by the way, just for the fun of it we asked people how they would vote if Bill Clinton were eligible to run for a third term, making it a Clinton-Bush race. And you know what? It's a dead heat: Clinton 48, Bush 48. That's why the Gore-Bush race is so close. Voters are not sure they want the Clinton era to end -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Bill Schneider, thanks. We'll see you a little bit later.
SCHNEIDER: "Play of the Week."
WOODRUFF: Up next, Gore and Bush: their strengths and weaknesses. We'll go around the nation with our journalists' roundtable.
WOODRUFF: Joining us now from around the country to talk more about election 2000, David Nyhan of "The Boston Globe," David Yepsen of "The Des Moines Register," and Carla Marinucci of "The San Francisco Chronicle." Carla, I am going to begin with you. If the nominees are going to be George w. Bush and Al Gore, which one has a steeper hill to climb?
CARLA MARINUCCI, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": In California, I think there's no question that George W. Bush has a steeper hill, Judy, on issues that really matter to Californians. We're talking about environment. We're talking about abortion and guns. Bush is not there where most Californians want to be. Two to one Californians support gun control. And on abortion, I'll give you one clue. I just came from a pro-choice lunch here in San Francisco. I sat with a table of Republican women. I could not find one who was going to support Bush in the fall. He's going to -- he's got a big problem on that issue in California.
WOODRUFF: All right, let's move from California to Iowa. David Yepsen, from where you sit, from where you stand, who's got a tougher road ahead?
DAVID YEPSEN, "DES MOINES REGISTER": I think if you look at the state-by-state polling numbers, George W. Bush is closer to 270 than Al Gore. I think Al Gore has a lot more upside potential. The reason I say that is because George Bush has still got a lot of problems left over from that primary contest with John McCain. So this -- as Bill Schneider reported, I think this race is going to be close. It is very early. There are lots of factors that are going to change it from the convention to the nominee for vice president. But right now, I'd have to give an edge to Bush. I think he's got more electoral votes than Al Gore.
WOODRUFF: David Nyhan, in Boston, what about from your New England perch?
DAVID NYHAN, "BOSTON GLOBE": Well, New England is McCain country. McCain won five out of six up here. Well, the reason I start out with that, Judy, is I think he would be the strongest running mate that Bush could pick. And if Bush were smart enough and secure enough in his political persona, I think McCain could do him more good up here than anybody with the exception possibly of Colin Powell, who I don't think will be unavailable.
WOODRUFF: David Nyhan, are you saying without the two of them, Gore would have the advantage there?
NYHAN: I think so, certainly the way I would analyze it. California and New York are beyond Bush's reach, just as I think Florida and Texas are impossible for Gore to capture. So you give Bush a lot of the South and the mountain states and Gore the traditionally Democratic states, and the question is in my mind, as I look at the map, who wins that band from the Mid-Atlantic over to Ohio -- New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan. I think that's where the action will be, and I think the choices of running mates will reflect that.
WOODRUFF: Carla Marinucci, what about the folks who were either supporting, had voted for John McCain or were thinking about voting for him? What happens to them? Where do they go?
MARINUCCI: Those folks in the moderate middle, Judy, at least the exit polls out here show, are tacking Gore's way. And this is going to be a big problem for George W. Bush. Right now, the economy is the issue here in California, here in Silicon Valley. People are happy with those 401(k)s. They're happy with those stock returns. And that's the issue that people are going to be looking at in the fall.
McCain made a lot of headway here in California. I followed him around lot, got big crowds, and Bush is going to have a challenge picking up those people and exciting them the way that McCain did -- that's his challenge going toward the fall here in California.
WOODRUFF: David Yepsen, I know you've been talking to folks not just in Iowa, but around the country. What role do you see McCain playing?
YEPSEN: Well, I think it's something we're going to talk a lot about now. I think it's -- John McCain has made campaign finance reform an issue, so did Bill Bradley for that matter. Before this campaign, all of us believed that voters didn't respond to that issue, that it had no traction, was way down in the polls. Well clearly, they do. It seems to me that both Al Gore and George Bush have to find ways to now become the reformer, if they want to connect with those pivotal voters in the center. David is right, this is going to be a battle ground for the heartland. Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania -- those states are too close to call, and how they go is going to determine who is going to get to 270.
WOODRUFF: David Nyhan, is it even -- is the Reform Party even going to be a factor here?
NYHAN: I think it will be a bigger factor because I expect their men will be Buchanan, and I think he will go bananas on China and the World Trade Organization and try and tap into that energy that you saw rioting in the streets of Seattle. I think in the long run, it will hurt the Republican ticket a shade more than it will pull votes from the Democratic ticket, but I don't see Buchanan doing more than five or six percent.
The number -- I know you started your show tonight, Judy, about campaign finance reform, but to me, more ominous for Gore is the price of gasoline. I think fuel prices continue to go up, if we have $2 a gallon gasoline, I think that puts a big dent in the Gore bandwagon.
WOODRUFF: Carla, are there any other hidden worries at -- out West for the Democrats?
MARINUCCI: Well, I think Dana is right, the campaign finance issue -- California is used to being used as an ATM for all of those candidates. So everybody looks equally dirty on this one, I have to say. But yes, if the economy goes south, Al Gore does have a problem. I think -- on the issue of moral or social issues, that's where Bush has a problem here -- the confederate flag, Bob Jones, this is still going to play hard for him out here. We have already seen him move a little bit toward the center. He told us last week that he wants to meet with the Log Cabin Republicans, the gay Republicans' group. That got him some good press out here, and we'll see how that plays. But the economy is first and foremost in California and Silicon Valley.
WOODRUFF: And just quickly, David Yepsen, you mentioned right off the bat potential problems for George W. Bush because of the primaries. What were you referring to?
YEPSEN: Well, John McCain. I think Al Gore comes out of the primaries in much better shape than George W. Bush, and George W. Bush has got a lot of work to do inside -- just inside his own party, I think, to stitch things up a little bit here. WOODRUFF: All right, David Yepsen, David Nyhan, Carla Marinucci, we thank you, all three, and we'll see you again very soon.
The competition to win over the John McCain supporters may be an indication of the senator's impact on presidential politics.
Our John King takes a closer look at what else McCain brought to the campaign trail and what he leaves behind.
KING (voice-over): There are lessons to be learned, some things to remember as campaign 2000 goes on absent John McCain. The Arizona senator wants a week or so to rest and reflect. In the meantime, intermediaries are in contact with the Bush campaign about brokering a truce and engineering a McCain endorsement, but making peace will be difficult because of the many policy and philosophical disagreements, not to mention the lingering personal animosity over campaign tactics.
MCCAIN: Governor Bush's cronies in Texas are doing exactly what Clinton and Gore did in 1996. It's a disgrace.
KING: One important lesson is the difficulty of winning a party's nomination when you campaign against so much of its orthodoxy. McCain calls himself a Reagan conservative, but like Democrat Bill Clinton, talked of putting 60 percent of the federal surplus into Social Security.
His biggest applause lines came out of Ross Perot's playbook, promises to pay down the national debt and wrestle the government out of the grip of big money special interests.
MCCAIN: I'm going to fight to the last breath I draw to give the government back to people of this country and get young people connected back again their government.
KING: And McCain challenged the notion that primary victories go to the Republican with the biggest tax cut.
MCCAIN: Governor Bush wants to spend every penny on tax cuts. Thirty-eight percent of his tax cut goes to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. I don't think Donald Trump needs a tax cut right now.
KING: McCain argued the GOP was off on a dangerous course, too beholden to wealthy special interests, too captive to the Christian right. But he interpreted Super Tuesday's results as proof a majority of rank-and-file Republicans disagreed.
MCCAIN: I respect their decision, and I'm truly grateful for the distinct privilege of even being considered for the highest office in this, the greatest nation in the history of mankind.
KING: There were town halls by the dozens, 114 in New Hampshire alone, and one memorable lesson of McCain's journey is that mixing politics and patriotism makes for powerful moments. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never saluted the officers when I was in. Didn't have respect for them. But for you, sir, I'd like to say thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to thank you for being a veteran and standing up for the principles of this country. I'm a Persian Gulf War veteran.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You and I have something in common. And you're my man.
MCCAIN: Thank you, sir. Thank you.
KING: The Arizona senator also demonstrated the power of the Internet not only as a communications tool, but also as a fund-raising vehicle, taking in more than $5 million.
There were constant reminders that party loyalty isn't what it used to be.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I vote straight Democratic most of the time. I will not in the next election. I will vote for you.
KING: But in the end, he lost, though some will argue McCain's message doesn't have a home.
(on camera): but 4 1/2 million people voted for John McCain in the six-week sprint that decided the Republican nomination battle, and the candidates remaining ignore them and the lessons of McCain's candidacy at their own peril.
John King, CNN, Sedona, Arizona.
WOODRUFF: Still ahead, our Bill Schneider has the political "Play of the Week."
WOODRUFF: Much has changed in the presidential race over the last few days. The big March 7th primaries have come and gone. And with two more candidates now out of the running, a single entity can claim victory. Our Bill Schneider is back to explain -- Bill.
SCHNEIDER: Judy, you know, it got kind of exciting there for a while, watching two insurgent candidates take on the powers that be in their respective parties. But sooner or later, you knew the crushing power of the establishment had to come down on them. And it did this week on Super Tuesday. The "Play of the Week" is over, the establishment said. Now let's get serious.
(voice-over): John McCain railed at "the man."
MCCAIN: The walls raised by a self-interested elite who would exclude your voice from the highest councils of our government.
SCHNEIDER: Bill Bradley also railed at the man, thoughtfully.
BRADLEY: What do I mean by creating a new politics in America? I mean a new politics that's not polluted by money.
SCHNEIDER: For a while there, back in New Hampshire, it looked like the man might be in trouble. You see, New Hampshire voters don't like the man. They get a kick out of taking him down a peg or two.
Who is the man? He the man.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will rebuild the military power of the United States of America.
SCHNEIDER: He the man, too, though he pretends not to be.
AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are committed to the people and the principles of America, not to the powerful, the comfortable, and the complacent.
SCHNEIDER: The insurgents set out to change things.
MCCAIN: I hoped our campaign would be a force for change in the Republican Party.
SCHNEIDER: Was it? Well, he got the man talking about campaign finance reform.
BUSH: An agenda that he thinks is important and I think is important, and that's banning corporate and labor union soft money from politics. That would be a major reform.
SCHNEIDER: Bradley forced the man to make a startling discovery.
GORE: And I believe that anyone who seeks the presidency also has a special responsibility to trust the people.
SCHNEIDER: Armed with that kind of keen insight, the man fought back this week and won, everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. McCain is well on his way to becoming president of New England. But the man won big everywhere else.
The insurgents did not go down gently.
MCCAIN: Keep fighting, my friends, keep fighting!
SCHNEIDER: The man's reply? Get over it.
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: We left the light on for John McCain. We thought probably he'd be coming back.
SCHNEIDER: In the end, the challengers learned a lesson.
BRADLEY: And it shows how difficult it is to run against entrenched power in this country, whether you are running against the entrenched power of the Republican Party out of office, or certainly whether you're running against the entrenched power of the Democratic Party in control of the White House.
SCHNEIDER: The lesson is you can't beat the man. The man gets the "Play of the Week."
SCHNEIDER: And what do the insurgents get? The right to say, "I told you so," to whichever one of the two parties loses this November. You lose, you not the man -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Could you say that again?
SCHNEIDER: You the woman.
WOODRUFF: OK, Bill Schneider, thank you.
And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS, but of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com.
These programming notes: former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis will be discussing the fallout from the LaBella report tonight on "CROSSFIRE." That's at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.
And Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott will be the guest tomorrow on "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS." That's at 5:30 p.m. Eastern.
I'm Judy Woodruff. "WORLDVIEW" is next.
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